Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ex-Monk Says Celibates' Wanting to Have Sex and Keep It Secret Fuels Sex Abuse Crisis

The National Catholic Reporter has posted a difficult but very accurate analysis of the clergy sex abuse crisis by Richard Sipe, whom NCR describes as "a mental health counselor and author who earlier spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest."

What is difficult about the article is that Sipe's writing style is sometimes an obstacle to the insights he wants to communicate. For example, in the first paragraph of his analysis, Sipe comments: "the sexual abuse of minors by declared celibate clerics poses special issues. There are three factors that draw special attention to the sexual practices of Roman Catholic clerics today." After several readings of the entire posting, I still can't fathom what the three factors are.

But what I do get--and, from my own experience, strongly agree with--is Sipe's diagnosis of the pathology of the Roman Catholic clerical culture.

His research and clinical experience lead him to conclude that requiring celibacy is the major factor that leads clerics to abuse minors--yet not among the clerics and vowed religious who are actually practicing celibacy, but among the large numbers of their confreres who can't live that ideal (Sipe estimates about 50%), who are furtively having sex and trying desperately to keep it a secret. Their need to keep their sex lives hidden and maintain the fiction that almost all priests are celibate impede them from restraining and reporting the much smaller percentage of priests whose sex lives fixate on minors.

Sipe asks pointedly: "What is the connection between this requirement of sexual abstinence and deprivation and sexual activity with minors? If one is going to be sexually active in defiance of a vow, why involve a minor? Is mandated celibacy alone causal to sex abuse of a minor?" He answers:

"As the single factor the answer is no. Vowed celibacy does not drive a bishop or priest to have sex with minors. The answer, however, is also yes. Required celibacy in concert with the clerical culture of entitlement and secrecy is a prominent element for some clergy seeking out minors as sexual partners."

He goes on to describe the pathology in strikingly accurate detail:

"Many priests who abuse minors were themselves abused as special friends of older priests or others. These kinds of liaisons are frequent in seminaries where solitary or mutual masturbation is looked upon as an 'innocent' failure. Secrecy about all clerical sex is sacrosanct within the system.

"Roman Catholic clerical culture favors doctrinal rigidity, conformity, obedience, submission and psychosexual immaturity, mistaken for innocence, in its candidates. These are the personality elements that lead to advancement and power in the clerical system. Single men are more easily controlled if their sexuality is secret. Double lives on all levels of clerical life are tolerated if they do not cause scandal or raise legal problems. Sexual activity between bishops and priests and adult partners is well known within clerical circles. The secret system forms a comfortable refuge for unresolved gay conflicts. There is a new emerging awareness of the systemic nature of sexual/celibate behavior within the Roman Catholic ministry that is increasingly destabilizing to the church."

Sipe's observation that "the secret system forms a comfortable refuge for unresolved gay conflicts" is also accurate. But it has led some who have commented on NCR's website to say that Sipe is confusing homosexual priests with pedophiles. I don't read him that way. I hear him saying that priests who feel compelled to be sexual beings and yet pretend that they are not sexual beings tend to feel those compulsions even in the case of a pedophile colleague. They can't out the colleague without fear of outing themselves and the entire culture of secret sex that a whole lot of 'celibates' actually live.

I was a member of two Catholic religious orders for ten years, from 1969 through 1979. For the first seven years I lived in novitiate and seminary settings, completing a masters degree in theology and eventually a Ph.D. I was ordained in 1976 and served my first year as the Catholic chaplain at a public university and then two years as one of three co-pastors of a suburban Catholic parish.

Without getting into some of the grimmer details, I can testify that I experienced many of the behaviors Sipe describes. I would say that I experienced them more so in the diocesan parish setting than the earlier ones. But I can affirm that I was aware of seminarians and priests having sex with each other and with lay people as well as non-Catholics and non-Christians, both male and female, and trying their utmost to keep it secret.

My concern at the time was how could we be effective or credible shepherds if we had to lie every day about who we really were. Lecturing others on sexual morality struck me as beyond hypocritical. Ironically, in those years I was never aware of pedophile behavior by any priest. In that respect, I learned much later how limited my experience had been. Perhaps the worst revelation was that a seminarian I was quite close to emotionally for several years abused several children a few years later; I learned this after he was convicted and sentenced to prison. I never saw that coming in the time we lived together.

I should finish that part of my personal story by saying that in 1979 I fell in love--and out of favor with my religious superiors--and that my partner and I have been together ever since. So the celibacy culture was not for me, and I continue to say "Thank God."

I agree with Sipe that exposing the "secret sex in the celibate system" could mean either of two outcomes. If the People of God are willing to face "the truth about clerical celibacy and its systemic corruption" the present crisis offers the opportunity for much needed reform. If on the other hand the traditionalists in Rome continue in denial about this pathology, Humpty Dumpty may be too kind a metaphor for the demise of European Catholicism.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pope's Obstruction-of-Justice Immunity Might Be Overturned, Houston Attorney Says

The Houston Press published a potentially significant article yesterday titled The Man Who Sued the Pope.

It tells the story of Daniel Shea, a Houston attorney who filed a civil suit against the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on behalf of victims molested by a Catholic seminarian.

In December 2004 Shea added as a defendant one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then in charge of the church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The amended filing charged Ratzinger with participating in an international obstruction of justice in clergy sex abuse cases, based on a letter he sent to all Catholic bishops on May 18, 2001. It said allegations of abuse should be reported only to the congregation and not to local public officials. Shea highlighted a footnote in the letter citing Crimen Sollicitationis, a 1962 Latin document from the Holy Office which, he said, set the stage for the obstruction by requiring secrecy in similar matters back then.

The article reports that Ratzinger was actually served with papers to testify in a Houston courtroom and scheduled to appear.

Not long after, however, Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican asserted he had immunity from prosecution as a head of state, the U.S. State Department told the court it agreed, and the judge dismissed the pope from the case.

Shea says the broadening sex abuse scandal in Europe and Latin America leads him to hope that some other government may reject the immunity argument. After all, Ratzinger was not acting as a head of state when he set policy for handling sex abuse cases and allowed at least some offenders to go unpunished. And his handling of the controversy since becoming pope was in his capacity as the official leader of the Catholic Church, not as the head of the Vatican state. Shea hopes that some government will buy that distinction and hold Ratzinger accountable in court.

Shea has another hope, but the outcome is less likely. He suggests that Ratzinger was elected pope because the conclave sought explicitly to give him immunity against child abuse lawsuits. If that could be proven, it would taint the papal election and bring calls for Pope Benedict XVI to resign because of the appearance of impropriety.

While such intrigue would exceed those imagined in The DaVinci Code, it is implausible the electors of the College of Cardinals would be savvy enough to concoct it. And getting anyone who was behind the closed doors of the Sistine Chapel to admit to it seems even more far fetched. However, it is important to note that critics of the pope are thinking along these lines and that they are being lured in that direction because the assertion of immunity feeds the strong suspicion that Joseph Ratzinger really does have something sinister to hide.

I have emailed several editors and reporters at the National Catholic Reporter to alert them about the article and suggest that they might want to look into it in more depth.

I would also note that on its website Village Voice Media, the national group of newspapers to which the Houston Press belongs, recommends the article as its pick of the week. So it's likely to cause ripples far beyond Houston.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Case Against Sainthood for Pope John Paul II: Sex Abuse Exhibits A, B and C

Recent reporting and analysis by the National Catholic Reporter offers a treasure trove of reasons why Pope John Paul II should not be canonized. Not surprisingly, three of them document the revered pope's failure to discipline priests and bishops who perpetrated the sexual abuse of children. Let's call them Exhibits A, B and C--in the order I read about them, though certainly not in order of magnitude. Undoubtedly there will be more: easily enough to exhaust the alphabet, bless his heart.

Exhibit A: John Paul II approved a letter from the cardinal who headed the Congregation for the Clergy, congratulating a French bishop who refused to report a sexually abusive priest to the police. On April 15th the Vatican tried to use this revelation to show that at the time Joseph Ratzinger was doing more to control pedophile priests than the other cardinal. But in implicitly condemning the cardinal, the Vatican damns John Paul II's sainthood.

Exhibit B: "Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, recently said that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, had wanted to investigate charges that Vienna’s former Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër molested novices at a Benedictine monastery in the 1970s, but was blocked by John Paul II. Schönborn said Ratzinger told him at the time, 'The other side won.' Schönborn intended that as a defense of Benedict, but it was also implicitly a criticism of John Paul..."

Exhibit C: Guided mainly by his personal secretary Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz (now a cardinal) and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pope John Paul II repeatedly blocked Ratzinger's efforts to investigate charges that Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the rich and powerful Legionaries of Christ, sexually abused between 20 and 100 seminarians, in addition to fathering children with several mistresses. Only when John Paul II was in declining health did Ratzinger launch the investigation in earnest. After he became Pope Benedict XVI, Ratzinger removed Maciel from priestly ministry for a "life of penitence and prayer." But Maciel was not given a full church trial due to his advance age. Cardinal Sodano, by the way, is presently the Dean of the College of Cardinals, who during this past Holy Week said, infamously, that criticism of Pope Benedict XVI was akin to persecution of the Jews. Cardinal Sodano doth cover his own ass too much, methinks--and John Paul II's much too little.

And that just the beginning of the sex abuse exhibits. One could start a separate set of exhibits on John Paul II's apostasy from the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

Monday, April 19, 2010

'We Are Church': Urge Bishops to Revolt Against Rome's Attempts to Thwart Vatican II

We Are Church, an international group of lay Catholics who have worked since 1995 to resist papal efforts to undo the reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council, is marking the fifth anniversary of Joseph Ratzinger's election as Pope Benedict XVI by arguing that the ever-widening sexual abuse crisis makes the need for reform even more obvious and urgent.

In an April 17th press release also posted on its website, We Are Church says:

Now is the time to start these reforms:

1. The People of God have to be allowed to participate at all levels of our Church so that innovative ways to meet the pastoral challenges of our time can be started. The faithful should have a say in the appointment of their bishops, otherwise Rome will continue appointing bishops who care more for the institution than for their flock.

2. Ecclesial misogyny should come to an end and women be admitted to all church ministries, which need to be ministries of service and not of power.

3. Celibacy should become optional, so that marital love is no longer a taboo for clerics.

4. The results of Human Sciences concerning sexual morals should come to be acknowledged and the primacy of the individual informed conscience should be respected.

5. The Gospel should be proclaimed as an invitation to life in fullness and not a means to discipline people through intimidation.

Perhaps more significantly, We Are Church is urging Catholics to read Hans Küng's April 16th open letter to the world's Catholic bishops--a manifesto that calls on the bishops to revolt against Rome's efforts to stifle Vatican II, and to take concrete actions to ensure that the Council's reforms become reality. The text of Küng's letter follows:


Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and I were the youngest theologians at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. Now we are the oldest and the only ones still fully active. I have always understood my theological work as a service to the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I am making this appeal to you in an open letter. In doing so, I am motivated by my profound concern for our church, which now finds itself in the worst credibility crisis since the Reformation. Please excuse the form of an open letter; unfortunately, I have no other way of reaching you.

I deeply appreciated that the pope invited me, his outspoken critic, to meet for a friendly, four-hour-long conversation shortly after he took office. This awakened in me the hope that my former colleague at Tubingen University might find his way to promote an ongoing renewal of the church and an ecumenical rapprochement in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Unfortunately, my hopes and those of so many engaged Catholic men and women have not been fulfilled. And in my subsequent correspondence with the pope, I have pointed this out to him many times. Without a doubt, he conscientiously performs his everyday duties as pope, and he has given us three helpful encyclicals on faith, hope and charity. But when it comes to facing the major challenges of our times, his pontificate has increasingly passed up more opportunities than it has taken:

Missed is the opportunity for rapprochement with the Protestant churches: Instead, they have been denied the status of churches in the proper sense of the term and, for that reason, their ministries are not recognized and intercommunion is not possible.

Missed is the opportunity for the long-term reconciliation with the Jews: Instead the pope has reintroduced into the liturgy a preconciliar prayer for the enlightenment of the Jews, he has taken notoriously anti-Semitic and schismatic bishops back into communion with the church, and he is actively promoting the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of not offering sufficient protections to Jews in Nazi Germany.

The fact is, Benedict sees in Judaism only the historic root of Christianity; he does not take it seriously as an ongoing religious community offering its own path to salvation. The recent comparison of the current criticism faced by the pope with anti-Semitic hate campaigns – made by Rev Raniero Cantalamessa during an official Good Friday service at the Vatican – has stirred up a storm of indignation among Jews around the world.

Missed is the opportunity for a dialogue with Muslims in an atmosphere of mutual trust: Instead, in his ill-advised but symptomatic 2006 Regensburg lecture, Benedict caricatured Islam as a religion of violence and inhumanity and thus evoked enduring Muslim mistrust.

Missed is the opportunity for reconciliation with the colonised indigenous peoples of Latin America: Instead, the pope asserted in all seriousness that they had been “longing” for the religion of their European conquerors.

Missed is the opportunity to help the people of Africa by allowing the use of birth control to fight overpopulation and condoms to fight the spread of HIV.

Missed is the opportunity to make peace with modern science by clearly affirming the theory of evolution and accepting stem-cell research.

Missed is the opportunity to make the spirit of the Second Vatican Council the compass for the whole Catholic Church, including the Vatican itself, and thus to promote the needed reforms in the church.

This last point, respected bishops, is the most serious of all. Time and again, this pope has added qualifications to the conciliar texts and interpreted them against the spirit of the council fathers. Time and again, he has taken an express stand against the Ecumenical Council, which according to canon law represents the highest authority in the Catholic Church:

He has taken the bishops of the traditionalist Pius X Society back into the church without any preconditions – bishops who were illegally consecrated outside the Catholic Church and who reject central points of the Second Vatican Council (including liturgical reform, freedom of religion and the rapprochement with Judaism).

He promotes the medieval Tridentine Mass by all possible means and occasionally celebrates the Eucharist in Latin with his back to the congregation.

He refuses to put into effect the rapprochement with the Anglican Church, which was laid out in official ecumenical documents by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and has attempted instead to lure married Anglican clergy into the Roman Catholic Church by freeing them from the very rule of celibacy that has forced tens of thousands of Roman Catholic priests out of office.

He has actively reinforced the anti-conciliar forces in the church by appointing reactionary officials to key offices in the Curia (including the secretariat of state, and positions in the liturgical commission) while appointing reactionary bishops around the world.

Pope Benedict XVI seems to be increasingly cut off from the vast majority of church members who pay less and less heed to Rome and, at best, identify themselves only with their local parish and bishop.

I know that many of you are pained by this situation. In his anti-conciliar policy, the pope receives the full support of the Roman Curia. The Curia does its best to stifle criticism in the episcopate and in the church as a whole and to discredit critics with all the means at its disposal. With a return to pomp and spectacle catching the attention of the media, the reactionary forces in Rome have attempted to present us with a strong church fronted by an absolutistic “Vicar of Christ” who combines the church’s legislative, executive and judicial powers in his hands alone. But Benedict’s policy of restoration has failed. All of his spectacular appearances, demonstrative journeys and public statements have failed to influence the opinions of most Catholics on controversial issues. This is especially true regarding matters of sexual morality. Even the papal youth meetings, attended above all by conservative-charismatic groups, have failed to hold back the steady drain of those leaving the church or to attract more vocations to the priesthood.

You in particular, as bishops, have reason for deep sorrow: Tens of thousands of priests have resigned their office since the Second Vatican Council, for the most part because of the celibacy rule. Vocations to the priesthood, but also to religious orders, sisterhoods and lay brotherhoods are down – not just quantitatively but qualitatively. Resignation and frustration are spreading rapidly among both the clergy and the active laity. Many feel that they have been left in the lurch with their personal needs, and many are in deep distress over the state of the church. In many of your dioceses, it is the same story: increasingly empty churches, empty seminaries and empty rectories. In many countries, due to the lack of priests, more and more parishes are being merged, often against the will of their members, into ever larger “pastoral units,” in which the few surviving pastors are completely overtaxed. This is church reform in pretense rather than fact!

And now, on top of these many crises comes a scandal crying out to heaven – the revelation of the clerical abuse of thousands of children and adolescents, first in the United States, then in Ireland and now in Germany and other countries. And to make matters worse, the handling of these cases has given rise to an unprecedented leadership crisis and a collapse of trust in church leadership.

There is no denying the fact that the worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (1981-2005). During the reign of Pope John Paul II, that congregation had already taken charge of all such cases under oath of strictest silence. Ratzinger himself, on May 18th, 2001, sent a solemn document to all the bishops dealing with severe crimes ( “epistula de delictis gravioribus” ), in which cases of abuse were sealed under the “secretum pontificium” , the violation of which could entail grave ecclesiastical penalties. With good reason, therefore, many people have expected a personal mea culpa on the part of the former prefect and current pope. Instead, the pope passed up the opportunity afforded by Holy Week: On Easter Sunday, he had his innocence proclaimed “urbi et orbi” by the dean of the College of Cardinals.

The consequences of all these scandals for the reputation of the Catholic Church are disastrous. Important church leaders have already admitted this. Numerous innocent and committed pastors and educators are suffering under the stigma of suspicion now blanketing the church. You, reverend bishops, must face up to the question: What will happen to our church and to your diocese in the future? It is not my intention to sketch out a new program of church reform. That I have done often enough both before and after the council. Instead, I want only to lay before you six proposals that I am convinced are supported by millions of Catholics who have no voice in the current situation.

1. Do not keep silent: By keeping silent in the face of so many serious grievances, you taint yourselves with guilt. When you feel that certain laws, directives and measures are counterproductive, you should say this in public. Send Rome not professions of your devotion, but rather calls for reform!

2. Set about reform: Too many in the church and in the episcopate complain about Rome, but do nothing themselves. When people no longer attend church in a diocese, when the ministry bears little fruit, when the public is kept in ignorance about the needs of the world, when ecumenical co-operation is reduced to a minimum, then the blame cannot simply be shoved off on Rome. Whether bishop, priest, layman or laywoman – everyone can do something for the renewal of the church within his own sphere of influence, be it large or small. Many of the great achievements that have occurred in the individual parishes and in the church at large owe their origin to the initiative of an individual or a small group. As bishops, you should support such initiatives and, especially given the present situation, you should respond to the just complaints of the faithful.

3. Act in a collegial way: After heated debate and against the persistent opposition of the Curia, the Second Vatican Council decreed the collegiality of the pope and the bishops. It did so in the sense of the Acts of the Apostles, in which Peter did not act alone without the college of the apostles. In the post-conciliar era, however, the pope and the Curia have ignored this decree. Just two years after the council, Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical defending the controversial celibacy law without the slightest consultation of the bishops. Since then, papal politics and the papal magisterium have continued to act in the old, uncollegial fashion. Even in liturgical matters, the pope rules as an autocrat over and against the bishops. He is happy to surround himself with them as long as they are nothing more than stage extras with neither voices nor voting rights. This is why, venerable bishops, you should not act for yourselves alone, but rather in the community of the other bishops, of the priests and of the men and women who make up the church.

4. Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone: Although at your episcopal consecration you had to take an oath of unconditional obedience to the pope, you know that unconditional obedience can never be paid to any human authority; it is due to God alone. For this reason, you should not feel impeded by your oath to speak the truth about the current crisis facing the church, your diocese and your country. Your model should be the apostle Paul, who dared to oppose Peter “to his face since he was manifestly in the wrong”! ( Galatians 2:11 ). Pressuring the Roman authorities in the spirit of Christian fraternity can be permissible and even necessary when they fail to live up to the spirit of the Gospel and its mission. The use of the vernacular in the liturgy, the changes in the regulations governing mixed marriages, the affirmation of tolerance, democracy and human rights, the opening up of an ecumenical approach, and the many other reforms of Vatican II were only achieved because of tenacious pressure from below.

5. Work for regional solutions: The Vatican has frequently turned a deaf ear to the well-founded demands of the episcopate, the priests and the laity. This is all the more reason for seeking wise regional solutions. As you are well aware, the rule of celibacy, which was inherited from the Middle Ages, represents a particularly delicate problem. In the context of today’s clerical abuse scandal, the practice has been increasingly called into question. Against the expressed will of Rome, a change would appear hardly possible; yet this is no reason for passive resignation. When a priest, after mature consideration, wishes to marry, there is no reason why he must automatically resign his office when his bishop and his parish choose to stand behind him. Individual episcopal conferences could take the lead with regional solutions. It would be better, however, to seek a solution for the whole church, therefore:

6. Call for a council: Just as the achievement of liturgical reform, religious freedom, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue required an ecumenical council, so now a council is needed to solve the dramatically escalating problems calling for reform. In the century before the Reformation, the Council of Constance decreed that councils should be held every five years. Yet the Roman Curia successfully managed to circumvent this ruling. There is no question that the Curia, fearing a limitation of its power, would do everything in its power to prevent a council coming together in the present situation. Thus it is up to you to push through the calling of a council or at least a representative assembly of bishops.

With the church in deep crisis, this is my appeal to you, venerable bishops: Put to use the episcopal authority that was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council. In this urgent situation, the eyes of the world turn to you. Innumerable people have lost their trust in the Catholic Church. Only by openly and honestly reckoning with these problems and resolutely carrying out needed reforms can their trust be regained. With all due respect, I beg you to do your part – together with your fellow bishops as far as possible, but also alone if necessary – in apostolic “fearlessness” ( Acts 4:29, 31 ). Give your faithful signs of hope and encouragement and give our church a perspective for the future.

With warm greetings in the community of the Christian faith,

Yours, Hans Küng

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taxed Enough Already? Not If You Want a Viable Country, Newsweek Analysis Says

Doing its part to impart a dose of reality to TEA Party protesters on Tax Day, Newsweek says they might want to thank their lucky stars for April 15, 2010--because taxes will never be this low again! As David Stockman warned conservatives in February, "Game Over" for Tax Cuts. If we want to remain a nation, taxes will have to go up. Newsweek's Robert J. Samulson explains why:

Almost nobody likes tax day, but people may look back nostalgically on tax day 2010 and those of earlier years because, almost certainly, taxes are going up in the future, and they may go up a lot. With hindsight, tax day 2010 may seem almost dreamy.

Why? For starters, almost half of U.S. households aren't paying any income taxes on their 2009 earnings. The exact figure is 47 percent, says the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, two think tanks. Among elderly households, 55 percent pay no income tax; among all households with children (including those headed by single parents), the nonpaying share is 54 percent. By contrast, only 38 percent of married couples filing jointly don't pay. (Of course, this doesn't mean people pay no federal taxes; about three quarters of households pay more in Social Security payroll taxes than in income taxes.)

The personal exemption and standard deduction, combined with the child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, shield many poor and middle-class families from the income tax. In 2009 they got extra protection from President Obama's Making Work Pay tax credit, which was $400 for single workers (phasing out at $75,000 of income) and $800 for a couple (phasing out at $150,000 of income). Without that credit, probably only 40 percent of households or less wouldn't have paid income taxes. President Obama has proposed that the credit be renewed for 2011. But given the massive federal budget deficits, there's a good chance that the credit will someday expire.

So that's one pressure for higher taxes. But it's peanuts compared to the real threat: an aging America. As almost everyone knows, the huge baby-boom generation is edging—or collapsing—into retirement. Its first members, born in 1946, turn 65 in 2011, when they will qualify for Medicare. Some have already taken Social Security as early as 62 at a reduced rate. Boomers collecting benefits, combined with uncontrolled health costs, are the underlying engine for rising federal spending and endless budget deficits.

To which there's at least one obvious solution: raise taxes. By all estimates, the budget outlook is daunting. The latest projections of the Congressional Budget Office reckon the cumulative deficits under President Obama's policies to be $12.7 trillion from 2009 to 2020. In 2020 the estimated annual deficit will be $1.25 trillion, or 5.6 percent of the economy (gross domestic product), despite assumed "full employment" of 5 percent. And the deficits get larger with every succeeding year. Given unavoidable uncertainties, these precise projections are likely to prove wrong. But their basic message seems incontestable: there's a large and growing gap between the government's promises and the existing tax base.

How big a tax increase would be needed to close the gap? Well, huge. To put things in perspective, all federal taxes (income, payroll, and excise) averaged 18.1 percent of GDP from 1970 to 2009. Under CBO's assumptions about Obama's policies, taxes in 2020 would already be slightly higher, at 19.6 percent of GDP. But on top of that, there'd need to be a further tax boost approaching a third to balance the budget, because spending is projected at 25.2 percent of GDP. Needless to say, this would be the largest tax burden in U.S. history, even including World War II.

A recent study by Rosanne Altshuler, Katherine Lim, and Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center shows what this would mean for income tax rates. Their study uses earlier and somewhat more optimistic CBO projections. Moreover, the study assumes only that the budget deficit is cut to 2 percent of GDP—not that it's balanced. Still, income tax rates would have to rise sharply to reach even this goal. If all income tax rates were increased proportionately, today's lowest rate of 10 percent would go to 15 percent and the highest rate of 35 percent would go to 52 percent. If only today's top two tax rates of 33 percent and 35 percent were raised, the new top rates would be 86 percent and 91 percent. At those astronomical levels, the study says, the well-off and wealthy would work less and pursue aggressive tax avoidance. Tax revenues would suffer.

These bleak estimates demonstrate why politicians of both parties have avoided confronting the government's long-term budget deficits. Anything they might do—raising taxes or cutting retirement benefits such as Social Security and Medicare—risks a public backlash. Some experts urge new taxes, such as a value-added tax or energy taxes. Others talk of "broadening" the income-tax base by eliminating or reducing tax breaks (deductions, credits, or exemptions). But of course, none of these steps would be popular. Hardly anyone wants to pay higher taxes, and most big tax breaks (the home-mortgage interest deduction, credits for college tuition, the charitable deduction) benefit major constituencies.

Almost all the pressures on taxes are in the same direction: up. It will be hard for President Obama to keep his promise not to raise taxes on households with incomes below $200,000 (for singles) and $250,000 (for couples). It will be hard for economic conservatives or the tea party to achieve meaningful tax reductions. Just about everyone will be tempted to deplore federal budget deficits—and do nothing about them. But this escape route may close; many economists warn that endlessly large deficits risk big jumps in interest rates. Someday, higher taxes may be unavoidable.

So, the lesson for tax day 2010 is simple: enjoy it while you can. It's not going to get any easier.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pope's #2 Under Fire for Blaming Sex Abuse of Children on Homosexual "Pathology"

MSNBC has posted a Reuters article reporting that gay rights groups, the French Foreign Ministry and even some pro-Vatican Catholic blogs have denounced Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone for repeating the universally discredited canard that gay priests and nuns are to blame for the church's sex abuse of children.

As noted here last November, such scape-goating has even been rejected by researchers studying the U.S. sex abuse scandal on behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Excerpts from the MSNBC posting follow:

Gay groups and politicians condemned Pope Benedict's number two on Wednesday for calling homosexuality a "pathology" and linking it directly to sexual abuse of children.

The comments made by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone during a visit to Chile, and the controversy they caused, were splashed on mainstream Italian newspapers on Wednesday.

The French foreign ministry and some Catholic blogs that support the pope also condemned the cardinal's remarks.

Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, who is sometimes called the "deputy pope," told a news conference in Santiago on Monday:

"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and pedophilia, but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia.

"This pathology is one that touches all categories of people, and priests to a lesser degree in percentage terms," he said. "The behavior of the priests in this case, the negative behavior, is very serious, is scandalous."

Gay rights activists reacted with derision and outrage.

"This is a scientific absurdity. The World Health Organization calls homosexuality a variation of human behavior. It is pedophilia that is a pathology, a crime, not homosexuality," said Franco Grillini, a former parliamentarian who was at the vanguard of Italy's gay rights movement.

"Because they have their own problems with the abuse crisis and don't know how to handle it, they are trying to pass their 'cross' from their shoulders on to ours," Grillini told Reuters.

The French foreign ministry called it an "unacceptable linkage that we condemn."

Some pro-Vatican Catholic blogs said more controversy was the last thing the Vatican needed.

"Pedophilia and homosexuality: Bertone trips up — again — on gays," read a post in the Italian-language "Blog of the Friends of Pope Ratzinger."

A front-page editorial in Rome's left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper titled "The Confusion in the Church" said Bertone's comments would end up causing the Church more "harm to itself, not homosexuals."

Bertone was also criticized by Alessandra Mussolini, a right-wing parliamentarian whose grandfather, wartime Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, sent gays into internal exile.

"You can't link sexual orientation to pedophilia ... this link risks becoming dangerously misleading for the protection of children," Mussolini said.

ArciLesbica, Italy's main lesbian rights group, accused the Vatican of using "violent and deceptive statements" to divert attention from its abuse scandal and said Italian parents should consider removing their children from Church-run institutions.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pope Should Resign for "Not Being Truthful" on Sex Abuse, Massachusetts Pastor Says

Boston TV channel WCVB reports that a Massachusetts priest who previously withheld funds from his neighboring Springfield diocese until it defrocked an abusive priest has called for Pope Benedict XVI to resign because "he is not being truthful" about clerical sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

Rev. James Scahill says that due to his parish's opposition to priest child-abusers he has lived in fear, with his stomach in knots, for the last eight years. "But when a person comes to the point of not being afraid to die, how can you then possibly fear what anyone or any institution will do to you?" This link includes the WCVB video. WCVB's written account follows, minus some self-indicting criticism from the bishop of Springfield:

The uproar over the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is reaching a new level -- a call for the pope's resignation coming from inside the church.

That call comes from Massachusetts -- the epicenter of the abuse scandal in the United States. An East Longmeadow priest is demanding action from the Vatican.

It is not the first time the Rev. James Scahill has criticized the Pope or the church hierarchy. But this time he minced no words and left nothing to anyones imagination.

"The pope should step down if he's not prepared to embrace the truth relative to this matter," said Scahill. "I would think he is not being truthful."

In his eight years at St. Michael's Church, Scahill has withheld money from the Diocese until Richard Lavigne was defrocked and has accused church leaders of ineptitude.

"By placing these weak men in further temptation, they frankly were as culpable of the victimization as the victimizer," he said.

Some say Scahill has been disobedient.

"The church will not have myopic obedience from me like the myopic obedience of the soldiers of Hitler," he said. "There is nothing more prolife than the better protection of children from exploitation of any kind from anyone, and yet this church has remained patently silent about this."

His sermon on Sunday was neither surprising nor out of character.

"They couldn't help but rise to their feet and applaud him for his bravery," Sister Betty Broughan said.

"We had 1,700 families. We're up to 2,300 in just eight years when other churches are closing," said Patti Baran, of St. Michael's.

"Of course I'm afraid. My stomach has been jumping off and on for eight years. Of course I'm afraid. But when a person comes to the point of not being afraid to die, how can you then possibly fear what anyone or any institution will do to you?" Scahill said.

Friday, April 09, 2010

"Strongest Declaration of Christian Faith Ever Uttered by a Sitting President"

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of Houston's Windsor Village United Methodist Church, attended Tuesday's post-Easter prayer breakfast at the White House, along with 90 other Christian activists and church officials, including Joel and Victoria Osteen, pastors of Houston's Lakewood Church, widely touted as the largest congregation in the country.

After President Obama's five-minute speech to "my brothers and sisters in Christ," Caldwell called it "one of the clearest, if not the clearest, strongest declaration of Christian faith ever uttered by a sitting president." Caldwell added: "If anyone ever doubted his Christianity or beliefs, yesterday's statements clarified it and then some."

An edited White House transcript of Obama's remarks follows:

One of my hopes upon taking this office was to make the White House a place where all people would feel welcome. To that end, we held a Seder here to mark the first Passover. We held an Iftar here with Muslim Americans to break the daily fast during Ramadan. And today, I’m particularly blessed to welcome you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, for this Easter breakfast.

With us are Christian leaders from all across America, men and women who lead small-town churches and big-city congregations, and major organizations in service of others; folks whose sermons are heard and whose examples are followed by millions all across the country. So I wanted to join you for a brief moment today to continue the Easter celebration of our risen Savior, and to reflect on the work to which His promise calls all of us.

I can’t tell any of you anything about Easter that you don’t already know. I can’t shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter’s meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ’s sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.

For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world -- that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life’s great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs -- by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It’s not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered -- by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging -- watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.

“Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God’s children.

So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption -- through commitment and through perseverance and through faith -- be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.

Many of you are living out that commitment every day. So we want to honor you through this brief program, celebrating both the meaning of Easter and the spirit of service that embodies so much of your work.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Creeping Clericalism: How Rome Contradicts Vatican II's Priesthood of All Believers

Yesterday's post focused on Rome's attempt to reverse Vatican II's stress on the church as the People of God, by increasing the scope of papal infallibility beyond anything authorized by the council or even Vatican I in the 19th century.

Today's post focuses on another National Catholic Reporter article on a related multi-decade crusade: Rome's campaign to deny the laity its essential, active role in proclaiming the Good News and in crafting and enacting the liturgy, by reasserting a neo-clericalism that departs significantly from Vatican II's emphasis on the priesthood of all believers.

The article is by Rev. Paul Philbert, a Dominican friar who lives in Raleigh, NC, and freelances as a lecturer and writer after many years as a professor of theology. He documents three specific ways in which this neo-clericalism explicitly departs from the theology of Vatican II. Extensive excerpts follow:

A type of clericalism has been revived over the last 20 or 25 years that is subduing the apostolic vision of the church sketched by Vatican II. It is overemphasizing the part played by the ordained in the life of the church. There are many symptoms, from cardinals unpacking their 15-foot trains of scarlet silk — cappa magnas (ceremonial capes) — to seminarians and young priests living full time in cassocks; from the disappearance of inclusive language in church texts and preaching, to the nearly exclusive focus upon clerical vocations in diocesan letters. Seminarians are in short supply, and officials fear that the generalized secularization of the culture and particularly the promotion of laypersons to ministries of service in the church will have the effect of discouraging vocations to the ordained priesthood. The consequent demotion of the spiritual dignity of the faithful and a chilling of social relations between clergy and people are all too clear among some church leaders. These details are debatable; they vary from place to place. Far more significant is the underlying vision and practice of what goes on in the local church.

I am trying to describe here an implicit popular theology of the church that appears to be widespread. These ideas represent not only people’s general understanding of what the church is about, but also much in pulpit preaching and in church documents as well. Here is a brief description of the problem:

(a) In this popular theology, the priest represents Christ, while the people represent those to whom Christ ministered. During this “Year for Priests,” we have heard lots about how important the figure of the priest is. However, I have yet to hear anyone echo the clear teaching of St. Paul that each of the baptized is an alter Christus — another Christ — and has a vocation to share the church’s mission through an apostolic life in the ordinary world.

(b) In this popular theology, the ordained presbyter (priest) is understood to be the one who is active in the Eucharist as the agent of reenacting Holy Thursday and Good Friday, while the people are sacramentally passive as recipients of the priest’s sacred action. Some of those who buy into this vision of the Eucharist are hungry to hear Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony and Latin texts while they are edified by the priest’s awesome rites. This reduction of the laity to passive bystanders instead of active participants in Catholic worship is the most characteristic manifestation of clericalism.

(c) One additional aspect of this implicit popular theology has to do with the Holy Spirit. It imagines that if the Spirit is bestowed on the faithful, it will come exclusively through the ministry of the ordained. It presupposes that the faithful are directly dependent upon bishops and priests for their sanctification. This ignores the rich teaching of Romans and First Corinthians that baptism gives the faithful the power to live and act under the impulse of the Holy Spirit and to be powerful witnesses to God’s action in the world.

Speaking through the council fathers, the Spirit at Vatican II left no doubt that all three of these theological manifestations of clericalism are wrong. In the “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” we read: “Jesus gave his whole mystical body a share in the anointing of the Spirit with which he was anointed. In that body all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood, they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ ... therefore there is no such thing as a member who does not have a share in the mission of the whole body” (Presbyterorum Ordinis 2). Put another way, each of the faithful, positioned in some way at the church’s periphery, has the potential to initiate a more dynamic expression of the living church, calibrated precisely to the real existing possibilities for life that are always emerging there.

To the idea that the priest celebrates the Eucharist and that the faithful are nourished from afar, the council insisted on the contrary: “The eucharistic celebration is the center of the assembly of the faithful over which the priest presides. Hence priests [must] teach the faithful to offer the divine victim to God the Father in the sacrifice of the Mass and with the victim to make an offering of their own lives” (Presbyterorum Ordinis 5). By offering themselves and their apostolic action in the world, the faithful bring the fruit of their baptismal priesthood (which is essentially non-liturgical and lived out in the world) to the church’s fundamental act of sacrifice and self-offering to God at Mass. When this role of the faithful is denied, then Sunday Mass becomes the place where people assemble not as a priestly people offering their lives to God, but as individuals praying private devotions as they watch the priest offer sacred rites on a distant altar.

To the idea that the faithful are sanctified uniquely through the ministries of the ordained, the “Constitution on the Church” clearly says: “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all their Christian activities they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the marvels of him who has called them out of darkness into his wonderful light” (Lumen Gentium 10). In other words, the vocation that the church offers to the faithful is not a secondary role as clients of clerical ministries, but a Spirit-filled participation as pioneers in the church’s role as herald of the kingdom of God.

The laity is supposed to be the link between the church and the world. Pope Paul VI describes laypeople as those whose vocation places them in the midst of the world, in charge of the most varied temporal tasks. He goes on to say: “Their primary and immediate task is ... to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 70). A church that forgets this and fails to commission the laity to this irreplaceable dynamic role in the culture has let go of the great commission that Christ left to the church as his last mandate: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark16:15; Matt 28:19). It is a church that has forgotten that it is baptizing and confirming missionaries “to make the church present and fruitful in those places in circumstances where it is only through them that it can become the salt of the earth” (Lumen Gentium 33).


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Creeping Infallibility: Popes Have Gone Way Beyond What Vatican Councils Authorized

Prominent Catholic canon lawyer Ladislas Orsy, S.J., says in a new book that recent popes have taken it upon themselves to expand the notion of papal infallibility way beyond what was defined and authorized by the First and Second Vatican Councils. So writes the National Catholic Reporter's John Wilkins in his review of Orsy's Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates.

Orsy sees this creeping infallibility as part of Rome's multi-decade project to undo Vatican II's stress on the church as the "entire people of God" and to deny the non-ordained any say in the governance of the church. Excerpts from Wilkins' review follow:

Throughout the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Orsy, teaching at the Gregorian University in Rome, marveled as the world’s Catholic bishops got to work. The council was the “awakening” of the “entire people of God,” he writes.

Exactly the same metaphor was used at the time by then-Fr. Ratzinger, who was at Vatican II as the expert adviser to Cardinal Josef Frings, archbishop of Cologne, Germany. In an overview of the council’s work, published a year after it ended, Ratzinger hailed “the awakening of the church” as “the true event” of Vatican II.

Vatican II spoke of the whole “people of God” as a communion, a key concept for Orsy, before it spoke of the pope and bishops as a communion within the communion. Certainly, as Orsy acknowledges, the lay faithful now have a greater place in the internal life of the church than they did before. “They work in chanceries, ecclesiastical courts, parish councils and other ministries.” Here they have an opportunity in particular to apply the virtue of prudence, which is not guaranteed to the ordained.

Yet canon law separates the laity out again, excluding them from decision-making. Only the hierarchy has the power of governance. Laypeople can cooperate with this power but cannot share in it. The 1983 Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II restores the negative definition of the laity as those who are not clerics. The code calls them “the other members of the Christian faithful.”

Orsy is among those who are alarmed that a previous tradition in the church finds no echo in the new code. In the first millennium, lay men and women summoned ecumenical councils; most participants at the Council of Florence (1438-45) on the reunion of East and West were not ordained; abbesses for centuries had a power of jurisdiction. Looking beneath the surface, Orsy warns: “If the present situation becomes a norm for the future, the church will be more clerical than it ever was.”

He sees “turbulence” in the church today, resulting from the collision of two currents. One tends toward a new church order based on communion; the other seeks to restore an absolute monarchy, and at present is dominant.

Orsy’s charge is that the scope of the doctrine of infallibility, previously carefully restricted, has in effect been hugely extended by recent documents of the Holy See. Neither at Vatican I nor at Vatican II did the bishops conceive of any such enlargement. His concern is with Pope John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter Ad Tuendam Fidem “(To Guard the Faith”), the attendant doctrinal congregation commentary signed by Ratzinger, and the expanded profession of faith and the oath of fidelity that, since 1989, all officeholders are expected to take. These initiatives establish, Orsy contends, a new category of “definitive” teaching that is proclaimed as “irreformable and attended by sanctions enshrined in canons inserted into the Code of Canon Law.

These developments seem to him to open up “a new and vast field for infallible teaching.” For what is the difference between infallible and “definitive”? Only the mode of promulgation, he thinks. “In the case of an infallible definition the pope must speak solemnly ex cathedra. ... In the case of a definitive teaching it is enough for him to indicate that his statement is intended to be definitive: No more is required.”

When it comes to Ad Tuendam Fidem, he stresses that the apostolic letter is authentic papal teaching that demands obedient respect. But he points out that Vatican II leaves no doubt that pope and bishops together in an ecumenical council can “abandon, supersede or modify earlier papal teachings which were not ex cathedra definitions.” As regards the commentary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he suggests that perhaps its status can be compared to that of the drafts put before the bishops by the curia at the start of Vatican II. And we all know what happened to those drafts: They were voted down.