Thursday, May 17, 2012


Dear President Obama

3, 623, 013

That is the number of children who will die before their fifth birthdays, between this week's G-8 Summit and the General Election in November.

this ad appeared in today's Washington Post sponsored by HungerFree and it was signed by twenty prominent Americans, mostly religious leaders--the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches, President of the Hispanic Evangelical Association, General Minister and President of the Disciples of Christ...I could go on...but not one Catholic Prelate. I guess we are too busy making sure those unruly nuns stop talking about ordaining women, that gay people don't get the benefits (and grief) of civil marriage, that priests translate calix as chalice and not cup, that Catholic social agencies don't distribute condoms and that our religious liberties are duly protected from the Hitler and Stalin-like Socialist Administration that threatening to ban God from public life--oh yes, and to make sure that the Girl Scouts are not getting indoctrinated by Planned Parenthood. Gosh we have a lot on our agenda!!! Who has time to worry about three million plus kids who will die in the next six months? Get a grip guys--WWJD.

I will be away the next two weeks doing some study and research and postings will be sporadic at best. hope to pick up again by June 1. in the meantime keep me in your prayers and I will pray for you--and the Church.

Oh—and check out

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

So Maybe The Da Vinci Code Isn't Fiction?

The Opus Dei administered Basilica
of Sant'Appolinare in the center of
Rome--less than a mile from the Vatican
This is just what the Vatican (and the Church) doesn’t need right now—a lurid story of a kidnapped teen, a drug mobster, n cigar-smoking archbishop who runs a bank, the FreeMasons, an exhumed corpse in an Opus Dei Church and Dan Brown’s tales coming to life.  Granted all the individuals mentioned are dead and most of the events happened some time  back, but still—this is more than just another nail in the Church’s moral credibility.      
Enrico de Pedis (1954-1990)  was an Italian mobster who despite (or because of) his involvement with the Drug Trafficking in Rome had ties to both the Vatican and to the Italian Secret Service.  He was a suspect in the unresolved kidnapping of Emanuela Orlandi, the fifteen year old daughter of a Vatican employee.  The kidnapping itself seems to have been linked to the Vatican Bank scandal that involved the 1982 murder of Roberto Calvi, the head of the Banco Ambrosiano in which the Vatican Bank was a major stockholder and which was heavily involved in money laundering for the Italian underworld.  The Banco Ambrosiano had gone bankrupt in 1982.  Calvi was a member of an illegal Italian Masonic Lodge (illegal because it had been expelled from The Grand Orient of Italy, the Italian Masonic organization) to which many powerful Italian, politicians, and Mafiosi also belonged.  It was rumored that there were several Vatican officials, including American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, head of the Vatican Bank at the time, belonged.  It has been theorized that the Orlandi kidnapping was part of the mob’s warning the Vatican that it had better cover the losses of the bankrupt Banco Ambrosiano.  Whatever—the whole thing is a mess.  Who’s in bed with whom in the Vatican is an issue that needs to be resolved and cleaned up with far greater urgency than the “problem” of  American nuns. 
        When de Pedis was gunned down in a Roman street in 1990 his family reputedly paid the Vatican more than a half million dollars to construct an elaborate tomb in the Church of Sant’Appolinare a Vatican-owned basilica administered by Opus Dei.  And here we thought The DaVinci Code was just a piece of improbable fiction!  It was the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, at that time Cardinal Ugo Poletti, a man of many questionable ties, who argued on the family’s behalf.  (de Pedis had been married in that church and expressed a wish to be buried there.)   Supposedly de Pedis had reversed himself and persuaded his fellow mobsters to back off pressuring the Vatican over the Banco Ambrosiano debts and for this act of piety he was accorded such a privileged burial place.  It all boils down to: Hey you guys in the red dresses, leave the nuns alone and go clean your own house.  There simply is no integrity left to the Vatican’s reputation  and this is a formula for disaster.  O, and guess what--the Vatican wants closer clergy supervision over Caritas Internationalis, the lay administered charity fund that distributes billions annually to the poor of the world.  Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities are the American agencies that are part of Caritas.  No, Holy Father, better leave this to the laity.  We have had enough scandals. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Times They Are a Changin'

Sister Mary Spano, an American
Religious Sister working in Haiti
Years ago when I was living in Rome finishing my doctorate I volunteered one afternoon a week at a soup kitchen run by a phenomenal group of committed Catholic laity called the Community of Sant’ Egidio.  Four days a week they served approximately 1500 meals to the poor of Rome.  The place was a madhouse as the lines to get in snaked down the street and it was our task to serve the meals—excellent meals prepared by the kitchens of Al Italia, the Italian airline---to the crowds in a room that seated about 150.  You had to keep moving people through.  Get them in, get them seated, get the food in front of them, and then move them out to make room for those waiting to be next.  The room was noisy and brightly lit and the narrow aisles between the tables congested with people trying to find a place to sit and eat and volunteers trying to deliver the dinners.  One afternoon amid the chaos arrived Cardinal Josef Glemp, at the time the Archbishop of Warsaw in Poland.  These were the peak days of the John Paul pontificate and Glemp was a powerful figure in Rome as well as at home in Poland.  He had a huge retinue—several bishops, a half dozen monsignori, and a band of priests.  They had come to see the soup kitchen but spectators were the last thing needed—there was no room as it was and the servers couldn’t negotiate their way around the phalanx of dignitaries and the whole work began to congeal and grind to a halt.  An older Spanish nun in her gray habit and veil pushed through to the Cardinal and with her hands on her hips and looking him straight in the eye demanded: “have you come here to serve?”  (In Italian it would mean “have you come to wait on tables.”)  The Cardinal was startled by the question and jumping back a bit, said “no, of course not.”  Then she said with disgust:  “That’s too bad; The Son of Man has come to serve not to be served.” And with a contemptuous gesture she turned her back on him and started ordering people out of the way to make room for the waiters.     Another prelate might have put on an apron and gone to work but His Eminence’s visit was a short one and the entourage was soon speeding away in their black Vatican Mercedes from the lines of the poor waiting to be fed. 
     Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote in his book on Catholicism that the first millennium of the papacy was about witness; the second about power; and the third will be about service.  I think one could expand this insight from papacy to the Church as a whole.  The first thousand years were the years of great witness as the Gospel spread through the then-known world.  The second millennium was the consolidation of power—political, social, and economic—of the Church.  Hopefully we are on the cusp of the millennium of Service in which the Church will focus on how it can put itself, its personnel, and its resources (spiritual and temporal) at the betterment of humankind.  But this shift in the Church’s tectonic plates is frightening to those who know only what has been and cannot see the mission ahead.  When someone like our friend Raymond Burke has waited for years to get his red cape with the nine yards of scarlet silk and ermine trim and now sees that the new tune is about waiting on the tables of the poor—it scares him to the core.  And this isn’t just for the boys who buy their glad rags at Gamarelli’s (or as one campy Monsignor friend in Rome calls it “Glamorrelli’s”), but for the newly ordained parochial vicar in Gaithersburg or Madison (or your town or mine) who wears his collar and cuffs clerical vest and six hundred dollar black suit.  I was invited to lunch in one rectory in the Diocese of Arlington recently.  It was a spontaneous invitation—I had been to a funeral and when the pastor heard I was a Latinist he asked me to look at some books he had bought and help identify them—but the lunch was fabulous—soup, salad, entrée, desert—all served on Lennox China on top of a damask table cloth with matching napkins.  There was a good White Burgundy (from France) in Czech crystal goblets.  This wasn’t over the top and given the neighborhood of the parish was not ostentatious display but it does bespeak a model of priesthood which is oriented towards privilege. 
     I think that is really what the attack on LCWR and so many other areas of tension in the Church are about.  In the days of large motherhouses with polished floors and silver candlesticks on the altar, in the days when a white-veiled novice brought Reverend Mother her tea and cookies on a silver tray every afternoon at four,  in the days when the Sisters taught piano in the parlor to little girls scrubbed pink and in organza dresses,  in the days when the Sisters had to be picked up and driven to a funeral or a meeting with the bishop—it all bespoke hierarchy, good order, and a world in which the Church had power.   The Nuns Story, Sound of Music, and Trouble with Angels, anchored a certain view of Church into the minds not only of Catholics but of the general public.  The “nuns” were the public relations success of the Church.  Today’s nuns, on the other hand, wearing jeans and sweat-shirts, getting their hands dirty at work in women’s shelters,  speaking up in advocacy for abused women and children, and not taking s*** from no one—even the men in expensive black suits and high starched collars—are a sign that the days of Father Chuck Bing Crosby O’Malley and Sister Mary Ingrid Bergman Benedict are over.  That may be a pity but the times they are a changin’ and Saint Mary’s has done lost its bells (and belles).  So get used to it and put on your big-boy pants get busy on turning the model around from power and hierarchy to service and preferential option for the poor.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Faithful Women

A few entries ago I mentioned that I wanted to differentiate between Nuns and Sisters as I think this clarification will help us see that the women of the LCWR are indeed being faithful to their foundresses and their charisms.     Sisters were not meant to be nuns.  
    A nun is a Religious woman under vows who belongs to a contemplative community that practices some form of cloister or enclosure.  A Religious Sister is a woman, normally under vows, who is not bound to cloister or enclosure so that she is free to engage in the public ministries of the Church.  Women  become nuns for the life of prayer.  Women become Sisters to collaborate in the apostolic life of the Church.  Sisters are not un-cloistered nuns--they are and were originally meant to be--lay women who consecrate themselves to Chirst's mission in the world. 
      Nuns normally come from the monastic orders—Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians—or the Mendicant Orders—Carmelites, Franciscans (Poor Clares), Augustinians, Dominicans.  Some of the later religious congregations—the Passionists and Redemptorists to mention two—also have communities of enclosed women affiliated to them.  Several communities of women founded at the time of the Council of Trent who, according to the norms of Trent and its Reforms, practice some degree of enclosure are also nuns, e.g. the Visitations.  The Ursulines were organized as companies of lay women, consecrated virgins, by Saint Angela Merici,  but were forced to accept enclosure in the late sixteenth century, by becoming nuns.  Their enclosure was never as strict as that of the mendicant or monastic nuns and by the Second Vatican Council they had been able to return to the original vision of their founder and so should be considered as Sisters. 
        Religious Sisters were never intended to be cloistered and date, for the greater part, from the seventeenth century.  Two of the first communities of Sisters were Mary Ward’s Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) founded in 1609  and Vincent De Paul and Louise de Marillac’s Daughters of Charity founded in 1633.  Mary Ward had tremendous difficulty having her community recognized by the Church because they refused to accept enclosure.  The community was suppressed in 1630 but the women did not disband and within nine years had revived, but it did not receive papal approval until 1703 and canonical status until 1877.  Mary Ward intended her Sisters to have the same freedom to respond to the needs of the Church, especially the education of women, that Ignatius had given the Jesuits.  To that end the Sisters did not originally wear distinctive garb or adopt various monastic customs.
        The Daughters of Charity—because they stayed in France and flew under Rome’s radar—had a bit more success but they faced the same challenge of Mary Ward’s group in as that Canon Law at the time required women under religious vows to be cloistered.  Vincent de Paul’s solution was that the Daughters of Charity would not take perpetual vows but make their vows for only a year at a time.   They still renew thier vows annually.  This provided the required canonical loophole.  Vincent de Paul explicitly did not want his Daughters to be nuns and he gave them the following admonition:

for a monastery, only the houses of the sick,
for cell, a rented room,
for chapel, the parish church,
for cloister, the streets of the city,
for enclosure, obedience,
for grille, the fear of God,
for veil, holy modesty

Boy wouldn’t that drive the boys over in Rome crazy today—no veils, living in apartments, coming and going as they need.  Well, actually most of the boys in Rome have gotten used to it as Italian Sisters are, for the most part, not unlike their American counterparts.  It is some Americans—both living in Rome and here in the U.S.—that aren’t happy with the Sisters.  
      Other congregations were founded on like models of communities of women founded not for the purpose of prayer or monastic observance, but for apostolic work—especially among women.  One of the most significant of these groups was the Sisters of Mercy founded in Dublin in 1831 by Catherine McAuley.  McAuley also saw her community as a group of lay women banded together to provide assistance to women and children but it was Archbishop Murray who insisted they become a non-cloistered religious institute. 
       Other women were recruited to communities who, like nuns, were affiliated to the mendicant communities but whose purpose was for education or nursing.  Thus various congregations such as the School Sisters of Saint Francis, the Amityville Dominicans, or the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm—to name only three of literally hundreds—were formed.  The Sisters usually wore a religious habit similar to that of the nuns affiliated to the Orders but they were not nuns, and were not thought of as nuns, because they did not have enclosure. 
        Then there were monastic women who came to this country as nuns from the great Benedictine Abbeys of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.  Usually recruited from those abbeys by monks who had made foundations in America, the nuns arrived and found that they were needed for teaching or nursing.  Consequently, while they came from cloisters in Europe, they were not cloistered here and gradually—especially with the 1917 Code of Canon Law—slid over from being nuns to being Religious Sisters.  Several groups of Dominican nuns who had come from Europe also gave up the cloister and became Sisters to undertake needed apostolic work in the United States. 
       A final category of Sisters are groups such as the School Sisters of Notre Dame or the Religious of the Sacred Heart who were organized in Europe for educational work in the late 18th or in the 19th centuries.  They too were never meant to be nuns but Sisters but, influenced by the romantic revival of the early 19th century and the love for all things medieval, adopted many of the monastic customs of the enclosed Orders and sometimes a watered down version of monastic spirituality.  Monastic or mendicant nuns’ customs such as the wearing of a wedding dress and veil on the day one received the habit (and thinking of oneself as a “bride of Christ”—a monastic characteristic), or the covering of the face with a veil during communion, the sitting in choir stalls in chapel, even the breaking of sleep for a “midnight office” in chapel were borrowed by some of these communities to give their Sisters a sense of being set-apart from the laity.    
        A particularly interesting community of Religious Women are the Daughters of the Heart of Mary who were established in France in 1791—in the middle of the French Revolution—when the Church and its institutions were being dismantled by the anti-clerical government.  Consequently the members of this Society dressed in ordinary clothes and went by the title “Mademoiselle”  (Miss) rather than by “Mère” (Mother) more common among French nuns and Sisters.  The Daughters of the Heart of Mary never adopted either a habit or a religious title and yet they were canonical religious.  
       I hope by this we can see that all this nonsense about wearing habits and not living in apartments  and the dropping of the vestiges of monastic customs that never were proper for Religious Sisters is just so much hooey.  These good sisters who are under attack these days by the likes of Cardinal Law and Archbishop Lori and Fat-Cat Anderson of the Knights of Columbus are what they should be and were founded to be —good and generous lay women who have given their lives to the service of women, of children, of  the poor and of those who have no one else to serve their needs.  You go girls.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Men Are Next

A visiting Carmelite nun speaks visits
with her sisters through the grille
This is turning into a nun’s blog, but I am amazed how many people have been interested in the problem of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith challenging the American communities of Religious Sisters who belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  I want to go in two directions in this entry.  One is to talk about the strategy of Vatican challenges to Religious Orders and the other is to clarify the difference between Religious Sisters and Nuns so that people can see the different expectations the Church can rightfully have from each group without confusing their roles. 
      Early in the reign of John Paul II there were signs of tension between the Holy See and the Jesuit Order because of the emphasis on “Liberation Theology” that was flourishing under then Superior General Pedro Arrupe.  When Arrupe suffered a stroke in 1981, the Holy See intervened in the Society’s internal administration  and contrary to the provisions for such a crisis made in the Order’s constitutions appointed two Jesuits, Giuseppe Pittau and Paolo Dezza to shepherd the Order until a general congregation could be held to elect a new superior-general.  Their appointment was a clear sign that the Vatican wanted to bring the Society of Jesus more into line with Pope John Pauls’ reluctance to champion the cause of the oppressed in Latin America and to confirm the traditional relationship between the Papacy and Society where the Society was there to do the Pope’s bidding.  Dezza would go on to become a Cardinal for his efforts to reassert more direct papal control over the Jesuits but when the General Congregation was finally held in September 1983 the Jesuits signaled their displeasure in how they had hijacked by the Vatican and elected Peter Hans Kolvenbach as Superior General.  Kolvenbach, a Dutchman, was not the Vatican’s choice for the position and allowed the Society to keep on the Social Justice track mapped out by Arrupe.  Consequently relations between the Vatican and the Jesuits has been more strained than amiable since.  I wouldn’t want to push this too far as the Holy See continues to entrust major parts of its mission such as the Gregorian University and the Pontifical Biblical Institute (both in Rome) to the direction of the Jesuits.  Indeed the Church could not function without the gifts the Society brings to it and it is without a doubt the most important Religious Order of Society in the Church today. Nevertheless it is true to say that today the Society walks a tightrope of intellectual and moral integrity balanced by a wary reluctance to agitate the Holy See to the point of another intervention.   
       Even before the tension with the Jesuits was resolved (if indeed it has been resolved) the Holy See next took on the Carmelite nuns.  Let me clarify the distinction between nuns and Religious Sisters.  Nuns are contemplative religious, almost always to some extent enclosed (cloistered) and without active ministry beyond their cloister.  Note: almost always to some extent enclosed.  The rules of enclosure differ from Order to Order according to their Constitutions.  Carmelites were among the most strictly enclosed—along with the other mendicant orders—the Poor Clares, Dominican Nuns, Augustinian Nuns, Servite Nuns and perhaps some other nuns affiliated with the mendicant orders that I am overlooking. 
      In the years after Vatican II the Discalced Carmelite Nuns—like other orders of monks, friars, nuns, canons, clerics, etc.—began redesigning their Constitutions (book of customs and daily rules) according to the norms laid down by the Council and by various Papal decrees.  Room was given for some moderation in the enclosure as well as questions of religious habit, fast and abstinence, and other disciplines.  The Carmelites began to coalesce around two positions in a tension that goes back to the heirs of Saint Teresa when Nicolas Doria, the Superior General of the Discalced Reform, stressed strictness of observance and Jerome Gracián, the principle disciple of Saint Teresa in her reform, stressed contemplative prayer.  Doria argued for observance; Gracián for emphasizing contemplation.    Don’t get me wrong—Doria believed in contemplative prayer but he was more concerned about observance; and Gracián wanted observance but he saw it as a means to deeper prayer and not as an end in itself,  much less as the heart of Carmel.      
      In the early and mid-eighties several Spanish Carmels who belonged to the rigorist group—the group stressing observance, began to get nervous that the contemplative-oriented nuns would prevail and the expected new constitutions the Superior General was preparing would be too “open.”  A Spanish Carmelite nun, Mother Maravillas de Jésus (died 1974, canonized 2003) had founded a string of monasteries that were known for their austerity.  The rigorists lobbied the Holy See to impose these very strict constitutions of the Maravillas monasteries on all the nuns of the Order, undoing most of the adaptations for the nuns that the Order had made after the Second Vatican Council.  The protests of the Superior General of the Order and his Council were overlooked and Rome tried to enforce its will on the various monasteries.  In the end, a second set of Constitutions had to be devised for the nuns who were unwilling to accept the rigorists’ rules and customs.   This caused a serious split among the Discalced Carmelites, the wounds of which are not yet healed.   
        Why did the Holy See pick on the Society of Jesus and the Discalced Carmelite Nuns?  I remember  when I was studying secondary education—years and years and years ago—one professor said: you go into the class, grab the biggest kid by the collar and smack him and you will have no problems with discipline the rest of the year.  This was not a good idea then and it is not a good idea  now, but it is how some people exercise authority.  The Jesuits are the largest  (and wealthiest and most powerful) religious community of men in the Church.  The Discalced Carmelite Nuns are the largest community of enclosed or cloistered women in the Church.  The Dominican Nuns or the Poor Clares or even the Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance (the Order from which the Discalced had been separated at the time of Saint Teresa)  have not had any of the problems that the Discalced Carmelite women have had.  Discipline is maintained by fear.        
       Now we have this tactic of  bullying the biggest kid to force everyone else into line being used again.  Go after the LCWR and everyone else will fall into place.  Well, actually, this time I don't thik everyone else will fall into place but I do think that this was the faulty thinking behind thye Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in handling the Leadership Conference of Women Religious this way.  The Religious Men had better wake up and smell the coffee--they are next.  The Bishops are very wary of the relative indepndence that the Religious Orders and Societies have and are determined to bring them under control.  Men, unfortunately, have nowhere near the brave hearts of women and will fall like wheat before the wind when the bullies in red dresses come after them and their autonomy. 


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bishops Wage Another Moral War Against Worthy Adversaries

Have our bishops lost their collective  minds?  I saw the following news item today

NEW YORK — Long a lightning rod for conservative criticism, the Girl Scouts of the USA are now facing their highest-level challenge yet: An official inquiry by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find offensive, as well as assertions that the Scouts associate with other groups espousing stances that conflict with church teaching. The Scouts, who have numerous parish-sponsored troops, deny many of the claims and defend their alliances.
The inquiry coincides with the Scouts' 100th anniversary celebrations and follows a chain of other controversies.

First the Vatican takes on the nuns at the behest of American prelates (the infamous ) Cardinal Law, (the vicious) Archbishop-Designate Lori, (the supercilious) Cardinal Burke, and (the self-important and overpaid) Grand Poobah of Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson.   Like they’re going to win a contest with Sister Vere Amata, the revered blue-haired 89 year old relic of the sweet young thing in a veil that prepared us for our first communion back in the days of Pius XII and the Eisenhower administration.   Got news for you guys in red dresses—and you in the cape and feathers and sword—you guys don’t stand a chance against the nuns.  But now the home guard of the Episcopacy is going after The Girl Scouts?  Who is running this show? 
      Meanwhile our silly friends over at the “Freedom From Religion Foundation” are running ads in the Washington Post calling on Catholics to leave the Church “en Mass”  (Check blog entry for March 10 this year for previous ad.) Save your money, folks, the bishops are far more successful in emptying churches than you could ever hope to be. 
       More on this over time but in the meantime  buy the cookies.  I’ll take the Girl Scouts over the bishops any day.   

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Tale of Two Nuns

I'm sorry, but those days are over and the
toothpaste doesn't go back into the tube.
The poor lady is lucky that she didn't break 
her neck
Sunday was an interesting day.  I had to sit through commencement exercises where I saw several Sisters affiliated with LCWR led communities—Sisters of Mercy, Daughters of Charity. Dominicans of Peace—get their theology degrees.  And when I got home I had an email telling me that another Sister was leaving her congregation after almost 20 years.  This Sister—a very dedicated religious—belongs to a community affiliated with the Vatican coddled Congregation of Major Superiors of Women Religious.  She too had been educated by her congregation—an advanced degree in Business and summer school for Chinese and French.  The difference was that her congregation was educating her so that they could use her in some specific work they had in mind.  The other Sisters were educated to that they could develop intellectually and spiritually and bring those gifts to whatever ministries they found themselves in.  My friend decided to leave her religious order when she came to the conclusion—and this after two years of spiritual direction—that she was perceived no more than as a tool to be used in the work of the Congregation. Her spiritual welfare was not a concern for her superiors.  She was in a miserable assignment in a foreign country living with a group of Sisters who were all task-oriented rather than community oriented.  The mother superior was a rage-aholic whose passive aggressive behavior had caused two sisters to have a nervous breakdown.   They were there for the work and not for each other.  She came to see that her congregation runs a business more than embraces a mission.

And it is my experience that this is often the difference between the CMSWR and the LCWR affiliated congregations.  I am sure that there are many fine sisters in thye CMSWR congregations and many wise superiors but I have found that the some of the basic premises of how authority is exercised are unsound.  I don’t care that the Nashville Dominicans or the Alma Michigan Mercies or Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist wear habits; I mention these three congregations specifically because I have encountered them directly and the Sisters whom I have met are good women but joyless.  They may be giddy at times—running bases or skipping rope in their long skirts—but I have found them to be utterly without the deep joy that I know in Trappistines (who wear habits),  Carmelites (who—for the most part—wear habits),  the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Charities, the Mercies of the Americas and other groups who—for the most part—don’t wear habits.   

Of course the habit isn’t the issue—even Rome accedes to that.  The issue is the ability of the Sisters to chart their own futures—to discern the Will of God for them and their work—without external supervision from the hierarchy.   Rome says—for example—no women priests; case closed; Roma locuta est, causa finita est.  And the Sisters –who are in no position to ordain women and know that—say: well, we want to at least talk about it.  We have questions and we have competent theologians who can lead us in the discussion.  And you know—that is fair enough.  It is demeaning to tell educated and competent adults that there are areas off limits for discussion.   We are children of Mother Church, but adult children.  And if anyone thinks people are going fall in line just because a bishop says so—even the Pope—they are being simply delusional.  Those days are over.  On the side of the faithful there must be obedience—but on the side of the magisterium there must be an openness to dialogue.  And this is true not just with the Sisters and the Vatican, but with the laity and their relationship with their pastors, with their bishops, and even with the Holy See.  The challenge today isn’t to get people to obey blindly; it is to form them in our Christian and Catholic faith so that they can make sound decisions because decisions they are making and we can only give them the information and enter into the dialogue so that those decisions will be soundly rooted in Gospel values and Catholic Tradition.  Com’on guys—trust the Holy Spirit and hold the reins a bit less tightly.  There is nothing to fear—this is God’s Church.   

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Good Shepherds and Bad--Mostly Bad

I referred to trouble brewing in the Diocese of Madison in a recent post and I want to look at that issue because it is a harbinger of trouble to come.   At Vatican II the bishops told us “to read the signs of the times” and that advice is never better taken than right now—and the word “Trouble” is in bright lights these days on the Madison Marquee. 
Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison—like a lot of American bishops—has had to face declining numbers of clergy to serve his diocese, and like many American bishops he has looked overseas for ready-made vocations.  Bishop Morlino, a former Jesuit who became disaffected with the Society during the years of Pedro Arrupe’s leadership and at age 37 left the Society of Jesus to become a secular priest in the diocese of Kalamazoo, brought in a community of priests from Spain to take over a cluster of parishes in southwestern Wisconsin.  This community—the Society of Jesus the Priest (not to be confused with the community of prelates known as the Institute of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest) regularly celebrates the Catholic Liturgy in both the Tridentine and current Rites, but even in the “new mass” does not permit girls to serve at the altar, laity to serve as ministers of the Eucharist (even to bring the Eucharist to the homebound), insists on the faithful receiving communion on the tongue and kneeling.  It is not simply a matter of liturgical back-pedaling  but essentially a question of the relationship of priests and laity. The Midwest has long been among the most progressive sections of the Catholic Church in the United States and Wisconsin, in particular, was quick to embrace the changes at Vatican II. I think this openness has had to do with a long tradition of progressive archbishops in Milwaukee but also the combination of Lutheran and Catholic populations—groups similar enough to have been able to learn from one another in matters liturgical and ecumenical.  In any event, the laity in the parishes “served” by the priests of the Society of Jesus the Priest have not been happy with the direction things are taking and complained bitterly about these practices being foisted on them but the priests show no openness to listening to the legitimate complaints of their people.  Their model of Church is one where “Father” holds all decision making to himself.  The Church belongs to the clergy and the laity are granted the privilege of paying for it.
Well, many of these parishioners are not paying for it.   One Monsignor in the Diocese of Madison told me that “all hell is breaking loose.”  Faithful Catholics are driving fifty and seventy miles to attend Mass elsewhere—some even crossing State lines as they are “fed up” not only with the priests of the Society of Jesus the Priest, but with Bishop Morlino who has shown himself to be utterly unsympathetic to their grievances.  (And to think, last Sunday was Good Shepherd Sunday with the Gospel speaking to us of the wise and compassionate Shepherd.)  Others have begun attending the local Methodist and Lutheran churches.  Still others have simply stopped attending Mass.  One man was in tears telling me that his 87 year old mother, bedridden from a stroke, had been receiving Holy Communion twice a week from a Eucharistic Minister but now was told that “Father would bring her Communion on first Fridays.”  They told “Father” he could stay home.  A generous parishioner has offered instead to drive 35 miles to a town where the priest will give him the Eucharist to bring to this homebound woman who says a rosary every day for vocations and a second one for “the Pope and our bishop.” 
Collections have fallen drastically as parishioners have deserted the parishes in and around Platteville WI where these priest are “serving.”   In Platteville, a parish that had been thriving under its previous pastor, the parish school will close this June because collections are down at least 40%.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Bishop had threatened parishioners who complain with ecclesiastical censures including being refused Holy Communion and Christian burial.  What is going on? 
I have several reasons for saying this is a sign of the times.
1.     There is an increasing number of clergy, both American-born and foreign, who have taken a sharp “turn to the right” in terms of undoing the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council.  Moreover the liturgical abuses they propagate are not simply idiosyncratic aberrations but bespeak a view of authority that is entirely “top down” and without accountability to the Church—that is to the people whom they are ordained to serve.  There is no dialogue here—it’s Father’s way or the highway. 
2.     The shortage of vocations to the priesthood has caused bishops both to look overseas for supplemental clergy and to lower the standards—intellectually and psychologically (which means morally)   of the candidates they are willing to accept.  (Check back and read the blog entry for May 20, 2011.) 
3.     There has been a drastic shift in our hierarchy with an increasing proportion of bishops who see the Church primarily in institutional terms and do not consider themselves responsible for and to the faithful.  This episcopal arrogance is typified by Cardinal Law who, in his days as Archbishop of Boston, considered himself totally unaccountable to anyone and even to the Laws of the State of Massachusetts, in dealing with pedophile priests.  Law’s mistake was huge and not only cost him his see but turned the sex-abuse issue into a national crisis as the Cardinal became the poster-boy for protecting sex-abusers.   This sort of episcopal arrogance also led to Raymond Burke being relieved of his duties as Archbishop of Saint Louis, though it gained him a red-hatted desk job in Rome.  (And doesn’t that say something?) This hierarchical presumption that the Church consists pretty much in men in red dresses nicely accented by the appropriate jewelry has led to Archbishop Lori’s attack on the American nuns.   Any view of Church that consists of the community of the Body of Christ is definitely relegated to the dust bin of Vatican II enthusiasm. 
4.     All of this is an indication that the future of the Second Vatican Council, at least for the American Church, is very much in question.  Ecumenism is dead in the water, the liturgical advances are being dismantled in favor of a neo-traditionalism, parish advisory boards and Diocesan finance councils are reduced to being rubber stamps, open and honest discussion whether of diocesan policy or serious theological issues is a thing of the past. 
The signs of the times are ominous for those who drank the Vatican II Kool-Aid. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Angels of Light; Angels of Dark

Here are two perspectives on the issue of the Vatican and the American nuns.  Give them a watch and see who you think is speaking the message of Christ.  (just click on them and they should take you to the videos).  

Cathedral of Spoleto, Fra Lippo Lippi
"Dancing Angels"  I think they belonged
to the LCWR-at least they look like
those liberal nuns

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Axis of Evil--Catholic Style

Just yesterday I wrote about my suspicions of who is behind the evil conspiracy against the American Sisters in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  I had some suspicions and wham, if one of my regular readers didn’t send me the following article from America about London Tablet’s  Rome correspondent Robert Mickens and his analysis.  As a long-time Rome resident with a lot of friends still on the scene, let me tell you that Robert Mickens is an unimpeachable source—in my book even more reliable than John Allen, the Dean of the Roman Correspondents.  Mickens sees Supreme Grand Poobah of the Knights of Columbus (and former Reagan advisor) Carl Anderson behind this (what did I tell you yesterday about who is in bed with whom) but also implicates such fine upstanding characters as Cardinal Bernard Law (speaking of being in bed, remember him from the Boston priest scandal cover-ups?) and Archbishop-Designate of Baltimore, William Lori who is one of the nastiest eunuchs for the kingdom to ever wear a miter.  Just thinking about these boys makes you want to take a shower and change your clothes from the skin out.  And these pots are worried about the nuns’ kettle?  Give me a break.     Anyway, I realize that I am being far too polemical for a historian and I need to make my bias a bit more subtle, just a bit—but this is a serious problem for credibility.  Neither Law nor Lori nor Anderson have credibility with today’s rank and file Catholics but the Sisters do.  If the American Church is to be taken out of its tailspin we need to use those factors around whom there is some stability to anchor the Church.  Just yesterday I received another email about the situation in the Diocese of Madison Wisconsin where we see Catholics being disaffected on a mass scale because of a bishop’s unwillingness to take his faithful seriously.  This isn’t a crisis of leadership in the American Church, it is becoming a failure of leadership.  Anyway, read the article—I have copied it here below. 

The Tablet: Who Was Behind the LCWR Investigation?

Posted at: Thursday, May 03, 2012 12:36:19 PM
James Martin, S.J.

In a "Current Comment" this week America's editors asked some questions about the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's (CDF) "Doctrinal Assessment" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). "First, there is the history of the assessment. Catholics in the United States and elsewhere are curious about where it came from. How did it originate? Who were the petitioners?" Now Robert Mickens, the Rome correspondent for The (London) Tablet focuses on this question in the Tablet's latest issue, in an article entitled "Rome's Three-Line Whip." He begins as far back as the 1980s, but the story picks up in the 1990s, as Mickens reports. 
       By the late 1990s, they [conservative bishops in the US, according to Mickens] began taking their complaints about the sisters to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. The CDF, under the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, even issued a doctrinal warning against the organisation in 2001, though the last remnant of a more conciliar group of US bishops was able to stave off any direct Vatican intervention.
       The saga entered a new phase in 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. He quickly appointed the then Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco to his old post as CDF prefect. Significantly, the soon-to-be Cardinal Levada was also chairman of the doctrinal committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). According to sources in Rome and Washington, his successor at the conference’s doctrinal office –the then Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut – was the man who formally petitioned the CDF to launch the current doctrinal investigation of the LCWR. Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 because of his perceived mishandling of the clerical sex-abuse crisis, was reportedly the person in Rome most forcefully supporting Bishop Lori’s proposal.
      Both Cardinal Law and Archbishop Lori (he was appointed to the prestigious see of Baltimore in March) have long supported women’s religious orders that have distanced themselves from the LCWR. Cardinal Law, 80, staffs his residence in Rome with the Mercy Sisters of Alma (Michigan) and Archbishop Lori, 61, helped set up several traditional communities of sisters during his tenure in Bridgeport (2001-12). All these communities, marked by their loyalty to the hierarchy, belong to the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), which broke away from the LCWR in 1992. 
       Incidentally, Cardinal Law was a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious when it launched its own visitation – separate from the CDF investigation – of women’s communities in the US. According to news reports, that project was at least partially funded by the Knights of Columbus, a wealthy fraternal order of Catholic men for whom Archbishop Lori has been supreme chaplain since 2005. Under the leadership of an influential Washington lawyer and former Reagan White House official, Carl Anderson, the knights have increasingly backed conservative causes and routinely make sizeable donations to the Holy See. Mr Anderson is a member or consultor of several Vatican offices, and one of the five-man board of directors for the so-called Vatican Bank. His close association with the Vatican and Archbishop Lori, and the archbishop’s own determination to bring the LCWR into line, should not be underestimated.
      After appointing Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo (Ohio) to conduct the initial phase of the controversial investigation of the Leadership Conference, the CDF has now asked Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead phase two. He heads a three-man team (which includes Blair) to reform the organization or, in the CDF’s sanitised words, “to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the Church”. --Robert Mickens


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sing a New Church Into Being

Sister of Mercy Betty Campbell welcomes
visitors to the house of refuge she runs for
women in Ciduad Juarez, across the border
from El Paso.  Catherine McCauley would
be very proud of how her spirit is kept alive
by women like Sister Betty. 
“Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner, OSB
Tune: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Summoned by the God who made us
Rich in our diversity,
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
Richer still in unity:

Let us bring the gifts that differ
And, in splendid, varied ways,
Sing a new church into being,
One of faith and love and praise

Radiant risen from the water;
Robed in holiness and light,
Male and female in God’s image
Male and female God’s delight:

Trust the goodness of creation;
Trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised
Sprung from seed of what has been.

Bring the hopes of every nation;
Bring the art of every race.
Weave a song of peace and justice:
Let it sound through time and space.

Draw together at one table
All the human family;
Shape a circle ever wider
And a people ever free.

I was at Mass this morning with a group of Religious Sisters (one affiliated with the LCWR) and as they sang the hymn “Sing a New Church into  Being” I could not but help see the connection between Rome’s “crackdown on the nuns” and the issues surrounding Father Guarnizo and the refusal of communion to a woman at her mother’s funeral because the woman is in a same-sex relationship.

Summoned by the God who made us
Rich in our diversity,
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
Richer still in unity:

Let us bring the gifts that differ
and in splendid varied ways,
sing a new church into being
one of faith and love and praise

Songs like this point out that there are two Churches today and that the Sisters have a radically different idea of “The Church” than do the clerics who are taking them to task.  It is not so simple as to talk about Magisterium and “rebels.” Now I am not going to make theological claims here, but as a historian I have to speak about differing theological opinions and how they play out.  Just as in the ninth century Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus held conflicting theologies of the Eucharist, so too we have to talk today about the conflicting theologies of Church held by some who belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and some who are members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 
      “Well,” some will object, “there really can’t be a conflict—CDF has the final word on the faith of the Church and so any opinions they judge erroneous are just that—erroneous.”   Well, you might think so, but that is precisely the problem.  The one theology of Church is top-down and “the faith” is determined by what the magisterium declares it to be.     The other theology of Church is “ground-up” and the faith of the Church is what the people actually believe.  While for the last century and a half or so the “top-down” model has prevailed, throughout the history of the Church’s two millennia there have been times when the faith has been a matter of “top-down” and times when it has been a matter of “ground-up.”  In the Arian controversies of the fourth century, for example, orthodoxy was not defined by the bishops (the majority of whom were Arian) and magisterium, but of the rank and file faithful whose faith in the divinity of Christ put them in opposition to an alliance of hierarchy and Emperor. In fact even Pope Liberius faltered in orthodoxy, acceding to a semi-Arian formula proposed by Basil of Ancyra that did not accord the consubstantiality  of the Divine Nature to the Holy Spirit.  It was the dogged faithfulness of the faithful themselves that maintained the orthodoxy of Trinitarian belief against the “magisterium” of the day.  
      And this is an issue not to overlook in this conflict between Rome and “the nuns”—the alliance of hierarchy and Emperor for the preservation of power.  True, there may be more Emperors these days but rank power has taken on other, more modern, incarnations.  It is very significant that the Sisters have been criticized for being “too involved in Social Justice,” as if one could be too involved in proclaiming Good News to the Poor.  What is going on here if this is the criticism?  Who has the true faith?
      The nuns, in their commitment to social change through groups like Network, represent a challenge to the existing power structures not only in the Church but in society.  One has to ask oneself these days if the hierarchy is being true to the Gospel or is it, as it was in the days of the Byzantine Empire,  “in bed” with the powers-that-be of the saeculum, (the fancy Latin name for whatever constitutes the current socio-political-economic  distribution of power.)  The nuns are on the side of the powerless—the poor, women, minorities.  I can’t help but wonder if the internal persecution of the nuns isn’t about their prophetic voice being raised for those who have no voice.  True, bishops—and the Roman See as much if not more than most bishops—have to worry about support from big donors while the nuns depend on their own work and the appreciative nickels and dimes of those whom they have helped over the years, but that makes me wonder all the more how much Rome sings to the tune of those ”devout” Catholics  such as Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus or Tom Monaghan, former CEO of Domino’s Pizza,  and other fat Cat’licks on whom the Holy See depends for the substantial donations that keep it out of the “red.”  (Or, depending on how you look at it, keeps them in those red dresses.)  As we all know nullum prandium gratuitatem—just to put it into ecclesiastical Latin—“there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
      Look at this song: “diversity,”  “male and female in God’s image,” “we’ve a song of peace and justice,” “drawn together at one table, all the human family,” “Shape a circle ever wider, and a people ever free”—my God, this is the stuff of Les Miserables; this is a world upside down.  This may be “Good News to the Poor, freedom to captives, sight to the blind,  liberty to the oppressed, and a time of God’s favor” but it surely is a song that threatens the saeculum.  Of course, read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and be even more shocked about God’s plan to cast down those in power and to send the rich away hungry, but this is the heart of the problem.  These women take God seriously at his word.  As I pointed out in Monday’s blog—this is the crisis of spirituality today when so many of the men responsible for leadership may  be deep in piety  but have never matured in their spiritual life.  If they had the Church which they have been called to lead would be truly an evangelical Church rather than a faltering institution bleeding members who have been so disillusioned by the failure of faithful leadership that they can no longer stomach the pretense that this institution is the spotless bride of the Lamb.   

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Of Catholics, Socialism, May Day, and Catholic Workers

I had missed in the Sunday Times the editorials by Maureen Dowd and Nicholas Kristof supporting the nuns of LCWR in their Vatican-initiated struggle.   I never got to the editorial page Sunday; fortunately while having dinner with friends Sunday evening the subject came up and the newspaper was produced and the essays read.  I would encourage you to go on line and read them too. (Kristof) and (Maureen Dowd).  But that is not what I want to write about today.  The article I did catch in the Times celebrates the 79 years of the Catholic Worker Movement led by Servant of God, Dorothy Day.  The “Servant of God” title comes from her cause for sainthood—something she never wanted and actively disdained—having been introduced into the Catholic Church.
      Day is a most improbable saint—which is how she saw herself.  It is not that she wasn’t a holy woman but more that her holiness doesn’t easily fit into the institutional packaging of John Paul II/Benedict XVI Catholicism.  If today’s Vatican has issues with today’s good nuns, I can’t imagine how it would cope with Dorothy Day.  
       Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was born into a middle class WASP family with very little religious interest.  Her father was a journalist—as she herself would later become.  While still in her teens she would be reading socialist and communist authors.  (There is a difference between socialism and communism, something of which many semi-literates of the modern right seem to be ignorant.  That is not to cushion Dorothy’s views—Day would move far to the left of main-stream socialism even in her Catholic years.)   Returning to New York before she was twenty, she wrote for a number of socialist newspapers and joined the Industrial Workers of the World (the ‘Wobblies.’)  That wasn’t the worst of it; this was the time of World War I and Day was an ardent pacifist as well as working for women’s suffrage. 
       Day’s family was nominally Episcopalian but rarely attended Church. nevertheless, Dorothy herself showed a curious interest in religion from an early age.  She was fascinated by the bible and while still a young girl began attending Episcopalian services and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church.  What she loved and what drew her was the liturgy.  She was not one to buy the party line, however, however, and although she attended Church she considered herself an agnostic.  In her New York years she became increasingly bohemian in her lifestyle entering into a common law marriage and having at least one abortion.  Her partner, Forster Batterham, was, like her, a social activist, but he was also a scientist and had an intemperate contempt for anything religious.  Though deeply in love with Batterham, Dorothy found herself drawn to religious practice.  As so many of the immigrant poor whose cause she championed were Catholic, she found herself attending Mass when she wanted to attend church.  She remembered the psalms and canticle from the Episcopal liturgy of her younger days and found herself praying them again.  She was given a rosary and began to say it.  Her spiritual growth put her at odds with Batterham and the relationship become somewhat on-again, off-again.  When she became pregnant and refused to have another abortion, Batterham left her,  He tried to come back after the birth of their daughter, but Dorothy refused him. 
       Dorothy met a Sister of Charity (one of the groups now affiliated with LCWR), Sister Aloysius, on the street and spontaneously asked about how to go about having the child baptized.  Sister Aloysius arranged for the baptism (see, even in those days the Charities were radical) and Dorothy named her daughter Tamara Teresa.  Dorothy had read the autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux—at that time the spiritual best-seller of the day—while in the maternity hospital and this increased her bond with the Catholic Church.  Dorothy herself was received into the Catholic Church in December the following year (1927). 
      In 1932 Dorothy met Peter Maurin, a vagabond French immigrant who had briefly been a de la Salle Christian Brother.  Maurin was without much formal education but had a brilliant mind and was widely read.  He knew the Fathers of the Church, the papal encyclicals of the previous half-century, and had a natural bent for sociology.  He was even more radical than Dorothy.  Maurin also had a deep spirituality very much modeled on the radical vision of Saint Francis of Assisi who had renounced the comfortable life-style of his family to live among the poor as one of them in order to preach the Gospel with credibility.  Day and Maurin began publishing a penny-newspaper, The Catholic Worker, 79 years ago today, May 1, 1933.  Building on the foundation of papal social teaching and Christian pacificism they opened the first Catholic Worker House, a “house of hospitality,” a voluntary community  of Catholics who lived in poverty welcoming the poor to share what little they themselves had.  By 1941 and the outbreak of World War II, there were over thirty of these communities across the United States.  Today there are several hundred in the U.S., Europe, and Australia.  
      Day became a Benedictine oblate—that is a lay affiliate of the Benedictine Order of monks and nuns and this anchored her spirituality in an ancient tradition.  In many ways the Benedictine charism is stamped into the identity of the Catholic Worker Houses.  Her radical ideas—the renunciation of private property and advocacy of what might be called a Catholic socialism, her pacifism, and her independence of Church authority made her highly suspect in many Catholic circles of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, but the Second Vatican Council vindicated her vision of what the Church is called to be.  Cardinal Spellman had tried to force her to drop the word “Catholic” from her newspaper and movement since they were not under ecclesiastical supervision.  (Today, I must admit, I would probably back Spellman on this issue and I guess I need to give this some thought when I say that Michael Voris should be forced to drop the word “Catholic” form his internet-television project.  Blades have to cut both ways.  At the end of the day, I think Voris’ claims of Catholicity forces me to side with Spellman.)  However, Paul VI invited her to be among the lay observers for the final session of Vatican II in the autumn of 1965. 
      Day’s final years were a time of recognition for her prophetic words and action in the Church.  Ironically, fifty years ago she was far to the left of these “radical nuns” of LCWR yet the Church came ‘round and the Gospel won out.  It will win out again.  The Holy Spirit always has to swim against the current when She is forced to deal with Church bureaucracy but in the end God Triumphs and men surrender. 
     Dorothy Day died in 1980 in New York City and Cardinal Cooke introduced her cause for beatification in 1983.  She had always declared that she did not want to be “trivialized” by being made a saint.  And she was much better in flesh and blood on the streets with the poor and she could ever be in plaster in a darkened nook of some suburban church.