Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Belgian Police in Sex Abuse Probe Detain Bishops, Search HQ, Homes and Tombs

The National Catholic Reporter has some excellent coverage of a Belgian police action against sexual abuse stonewalling June 24th: bishops gathered for a scheduled meeting were detained in their assembly room, their cell phones and some documents seized, and their headquarters searched, along with some of their personal residences and even the tombs of two deceased cardinals.

The coverage describes the Vatican as officially shocked and outraged at the conduct of the Belgian authorities. But the article about that makes it clear that the actions came after several years of investigators being stonewalled by the bishops.

A separate analysis by John Allen Jr., NCR's Senior Correspondent, provides additional background on the decades of sexual abuse and church obstruction that led up to the police action.

Perhaps Belgium will be the first nation to shatter the fiction that the church and its officials are immune from prosecution as functionaries of the Vatican State--and the first to subject a few bishops to criminal prosecution for an international conspiracy to obstruct justice in several countries.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Presiding Bishop Tells Canterbury That Episcopal Church Will Keep on Valuing Gays

The National Catholic Reporter has posted a June 8th article by Daniel Burke of Religion News Service, reporting that Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, has declared that the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion will continue to value gay people, gay priests and gay bishops, and will continue to resist the anti-gay moralizing of the Communion's more conservative national churches.

Bishop Jefferts Schori was especially critical of efforts by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to enforce global uniformity in the Communion's stance toward gay people. She insisted that each national church has the right and the obligation to develop its own moral, pastoral and liturgical guidelines toward gay individuals and same-sex couples--and that the Episcopal position reflects 50 years of discernment and debate from which the church will not retreat.

Schori's position reflects historic characteristics of Anglicanism that I have applauded previously here. Is it time for Catholics who agree more with the Episcopal position than Rome's to consider swearing allegiance to the Episcopal Church, and to bishops who are more open to what the Spirit is doing and saying in the lives of Christian people?

Excerpts from Burke's article follow:

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has forcefully defended her church's embrace of gays and lesbians, and firmly rejected efforts to centralize power or police uniformity in the Anglican Communion.

Anglicans should be led by local communities rather than powerful clerics, Jefferts Schori argued in a June 2 letter to her church's 2 million members. And, after 50 years of debate, the Episcopal Church is convinced that gays and lesbians are “God's good creation” and “good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones.”

In May, the Episcopal Church consecrated its second openly gay bishop despite warnings the move would increase tensions in the worldwide Anglican Communion, many parts of which view homosexuality as a sin.

Last month, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said Episcopalians, who form the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member communion, are out of step with fellow Anglicans and should not fully participate in ecumenical dialogue and doctrinal discussions.

Jefferts Schori firmly rejected the push to centralize power and discipline, saying that Anglicanism, and the Episcopal Church, were founded by Christians who wished to escape the strong hand of an established hierarchy.

“Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism; rather, diversity in fellowship and communion does,” she said.

Imposing uniformity on the 77 million Anglicans scattered across the globe runs the risk of repeating the “spiritual violence” and “cultural excesses” of colonial missionaries who built the communion on the back of the British Empire, the presiding bishop added.

“We live in great concern that colonial attitudes continue,” said Jefferts Schori, “particularly in attempts to impose a single understanding across widely varying contexts and cultures.”

The presiding bishop also said that criticism of the Episcopal Church often comes from parts of the communion that bar women from becoming priests or bishops; and charged that other Anglican churches allow gay bishops under an unofficial don't ask/don't tell agreement.

“In our context, bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a `failure of nerve,'” Jefferts Schori said.

Liberal Episcopalians applauded Jefferts Schori's letter, which was remarkable for its full-throated defense of Episcopal Church policies.

“It is an understated declaration of independence,” said Jim Naughton, editor of the blog Episcopal Cafe. “The presiding bishop is not going to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish the terms of the debate anymore.”

Jefferts Schori's rehashing of Anglican history may seem innocuous to outside observers, said church historian Diana Butler Bass, but her strong defense of democratic Anglicanism is a “call to arms.”

“Those are fighting words,” Butler Bass said. “She's saying, `this is our tradition and you're violating it.' She is accusing Williams of being an imperialist.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hierarchy Uses Sex Prohibitions as Last-Gasp Efforts to Control Priests and Laity

Author James Carroll has posted a commentary in the Boston Globe and the National Catholic Reporter saying that mandatory celibacy "cuts to the heart of what is wrong in the church today." Carroll says: "I write from inside the question, having lived as a celibate seminarian and priest for more than a decade when I was young."

On celibacy as a stand-alone issue, Carroll echoes many of the critiques of mandatory celibacy documented in earlier postings here. What is novel about his analysis, however, is how he ties together the hierarchy's attempts to control priests through celibacy with its efforts to control lay people with sexual prohibitions directed toward them, especially the teachings on birth control and abortion (although I would include other prohibitions, such as masturbation and homosexual relationships, as well).

Carroll sees these as parallel tactics in the hierarchy's last-gasp effort to cling to power by asserting an absolute right to control Catholics' sex lives. And he ties these tactics to the very interesting historical fact that birth control and celibacy were the only issues during Vatican II on which Pope Paul VI intervened and prevented the world's Catholic bishops from discussing.

Here are some excerpts from the NCR version of Carroll's commentary:

Celibacy began in the early church as an ascetic discipline, rooted partly in a neo-Platonic contempt for the physical world that had nothing to do with the Gospel. The renunciation of sexual expression by men fit nicely with a patriarchal denigration of women. Nonvirginal women, typified by Eve as the temptress of Adam, were seen as a source of sin.

But it was not until the Middle Ages, at the Second Lateran Council in 1139, that celibacy was made mandatory for all Roman Catholic clergy -- a reform bracing clerical laxity and eliminating inheritance issues from church property. But because the requirement of celibacy is so extreme, it had to be mystified as sacrificial -- “a more perfect way” to God. Monastic orders of both males and females had indeed discovered in such sexual sublimation a mode of holiness, but that presumed its being both freely chosen and lived out in a nurturing community... But when the monastic discipline of “chastity” was imposed on all priests as “celibacy,” something went awry. The system broke down during the Renaissance and the Reformation, with the Counter-Reformation hierarchy more attached to it than ever.

Not sex, but power was the issue. The imposition of sexual abstinence was a mode of control over the interior lives of clergy, since submission in radical abstinence required an extraordinary abandonment of the will. In theory, the abandonment was to God; in practice, it was to the “superior.” The stakes were infinite, since sexual desire marked the threshold of hell. The normally human was, for priests, the occasion of bad faith.

Obsessive sexual moralism, along with that bad faith, spilled out of pulpits. The confessional booth became a cockpit for screening “mortal sins,” with birth control emerging as the key control mechanism over the laity. If they were willing to abide by this intrusion and its burdens, it was only because the celibate priest could be seen to have made an even greater sacrifice. They were subject to an even greater control.

As is suggested by the contemporary hierarchy’s apparent equanimity about the exodus of tens of thousands of priests, and the crisis of ministry it has caused, church authorities will pay any price to maintain a vestige of that control. That is why bishops have exchanged their once ample influence on matters of social justice for a strident single-issue obsession with abortion, a last-ditch effort to control the intimate sexual decisions of laypeople. When it comes to their clergy, the single-issue obsession remains celibacy.

This nearly changed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), when the bishops prepared to reconsider both birth control and celibacy. Until then, an insufficiently historically minded church had regarded such contingent questions as God-given absolutes. What was the point of even discussing them, since change was out of the question? But change was suddenly in the air. What? St. Peter was married? Even before the council acted, the myth that these disciplines were eternally willed by God was broken.

The conservative wing of the hierarchy panicked. Pope Paul VI astonished the council fathers, and the Catholic world, by making two extraordinary interventions that violated the letter and the spirit of the council. In late 1964, just as the fathers were about to debate the question of “responsible parenthood,” the pope ordered them not to take up the question of “artificial contraception.” Snap! Birth control was “removed from the competence of the council.”

But there was every sign that the council fathers, when they inevitably took up the subject of the priesthood, were still going to discuss celibacy, as if change were possible there. Yet it was politically unthinkable that the church could maintain the prohibition of birth control, the burden belonging to the laity, while letting clergy off the sexual hook by lifting the celibacy rule.

Therefore, in late 1965, Paul VI made his second extraordinary intervention to forbid any discussion of priestly celibacy. A council had initiated the discipline, but a council was now not qualified even to discuss it. The power play was so blatant as to lay bare power itself as the issue. And just like that, Catholics had reason to suspect that celibacy was being maintained as a requirement of the priesthood because of internal church politics, not because of any spiritual motive. God was not the issue; the pope was.

The abrupt elimination of the mystical dimension of vowed sexual abstinence left it an intolerable and inhuman way to live, which sent men streaming out of the priesthood, and stirred in many who remained a profound, and still unresolved, crisis of identity. Paul VI sought to settle the celibacy question with his 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, which proved to be a classic instance of the disease calling itself the cure.

The celibacy encyclical, maintaining the weight of “sacrifice” on clergy, prepared the way for the laity-crushing Humanae Vitae in 1968, with its re-condemnation of birth control.

In response to the pope’s initial removal of birth control from the “competence” of the council, one of its leading figures, Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens of Belgium, rose immediately with a warning; “I beg you, my brother bishops, let us avoid a new ‘Galileo affair.’ One is enough for the church.” Galileo was famously forced to renounce what he had seen through his telescope, an imposition of dishonesty. (“And yet it moves,” he was reported to have muttered under his breath.)

Paul VI’s twin re-impositions of the contraception and celibacy rules plunged the whole church into a culture of dishonesty. Catholic laypeople ignore the birth control mandate. Catholic priests find ways around the celibacy rule, some in meaningful relationships with secret lovers, some in exploitive relationships with the vulnerable, and some in criminal acts with minors. If a majority of priests are able to observe the letter of their vow, how many do so at savage personal cost? Well-adjusted priests may live happily as celibates, but how many regard the broad discipline as healthy? Insisting that celibacy is the church’s “brilliant jewel,” in Paul VI’s phrase, defines the deceit that has corrupted the Catholic soul.

But the most damaging consequence of mandatory celibacy lies in its character as the pulse of clericalism. The repressively psychotic nature of this inbred culture of power has shown itself in the still festering abuse scandal. Lies, denial, arrogance, selfishness and cowardice -- such are the notes of the structure within which Catholic priests now live, however individually virtuous many of them nevertheless remain. Celibacy is that structure’s central pillar and must be removed. The Catholic people see this clearly. It is time for us to say so.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

BP's Gulf Gusher Proves: "Our Addiction to Oil Is Making Our Lives Dysfunctional"

National Catholic Reporter staff writer and columnist Rich Heffern specializes on Christianity's duty to steward God's creation in a way that upholds the inherent value of all creatures and to resist the self-destructive evil of every assault on the global environment. Yesterday he posted an important perspective on BP's oil attack on the Gulf of Mexico by Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine.

Wallis says that as long as we rely on fossil fuels for most of our transportation, each one of us is complicit in BP's crime. And we cannot re-wire our energy grid until we first re-wire "ourselves, our assumptions, demands, expectations, our requirements." Heffern's interview with Wallis follows:

Jim Wallis is an evangelical Christian writer and political activist, best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and of the Washington, D.C.-based community of the same name. He is author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (Harper) and The Soul of Politics (HarperCollins). I interviewed him June 2.

What are your feelings about the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico as the technological solutions continue to fail?

I think the announcement last weekend that the top kill had failed marked a critical shift in the issue. The conversation up until then has been dominated by technological issues, how to make oil drilling safe. The fact that they can’t fix it now until late summer shifted the whole picture.

To me, it’s a picture of addiction. What happens with addiction is that after a while it makes your life not work. There’s a lot of denial until you lose your job or family or home or self respect, then finally there is a moment of epiphany and conversion. “Hello, my name is John S. and I’m an alcoholic.” That’s a moment of redemption and redirection.

What we see in the heartbreaking pictures of out-of-work shrimpers, wheezing clean-up workers, or oil-soaked wildlife are the effects of this addiction. I was doing the Chris Matthews show last weekend; his focus was on politics, BP and Obama. But now these pictures from Louisiana show that our life as we have organized it isn’t working. Our addiction to oil is making our lives dysfunctional.

Whether it’s the Gulf coast wetlands, tourism, or livelihoods -- when this touches Florida then it will become a national issue. Mississippi, Alabama or Louisiana are just southern states but Florida is America, the destination state for East coasters.

What does our Christian moral and spiritual vision bring to the discussion?

It’s heartbreaking as we see how this is spilling out of control. The only redemptive thing here will be if it really does change us, if we take a long look in the mirror. It reminds me of Chesterton when asked what he thought was most wrong with the world. He responded, “I am.”

We did a powerful piece on our blog by a young woman, Tracy Bianchi, who drove her family from Illinois to Wisconsin on the Memorial Day weekend. She reflected on being in bumper to bumper traffic as Illinois people conveyed themselves to Wisconsin “ …so we could be next to a lake watching all this unfold and criticizing BP. But rarely do I hear anyone getting angry with themselves. Really though, I am part of the reason for that oil spill. As I sat on the highway with thousands of motorists, all fresh off a weekend that chugged down gallons of gas to fuel boats and other recreational toys, I was reminded once again of the total dichotomy that is my life. On the one hand I want to sit back all smug and hope for the demise of BP and all things petroleum. But I cannot be so quick to hate the oil companies since I really like their product. It gets me from point A to B on a daily basis and it launches me into the state of Wisconsin whenever I need a vacation.”

It’s not just that BP is lying. BP is a lie. Everything BP stands for is a lie. It’s not just them, though, it’s our participation as well.

I’m not often touched by advertising but some of the ads I’ve seen of soldiers who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that to change our lifestyle would be hard but no harder than what we all asked those soldiers to do in Iraq and Afghanistan, have gotten to me.

“I was fighting because I thought my country was under attack, not for oil companies,” they say.

We’ve had many teachable moments over the last 10 years, like 9/11 or Katrina, which we chose to move beyond without learning much. Whether this can be another moment we can miss or one that finally gets our attention is the question.

The faith community can and should now get involved. When it was a who’s in charge, who’s going to pay issue, there wasn’t much role for us but now there is. Chris Matthews told me: “Well, Jim, you’re going further and deeper than we usually get on this show.” He was right: Further and deeper is what is called for.

The nation needs a moral teacher. Matthews is convinced it can only be politicians but I think we of the Christian faith community need to step in. To move from fossil fuels to clean energy sources will take a re-wiring of our energy grid but it also will take a re-wiring of ourselves, our assumptions, demands, expectations, our requirements. I think this could be the beginning of a serious national reflection about our whole way of life. I’m not saying it will be so, because the forces against that are enormous, to keep us from really looking at how we live.

We have a moment of opportunity, especially as the quick fixes fail. It’s clearly a moral issue. It’s time for moral reflection about our whole way of life, and the Christian community has a key role to play. It’s bipartisan as well. Both parties are equally guilty. Once you move beyond politics it’s about a conversion process, about changing our habits of the heart, our way of living.