Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Thursday, October 1, 2015

It's All So Calculated: Kim Davis and The Pope

When my pastor announced that our New York parish was running a lottery for giving away the two tickets apportioned to our Roman Catholic parish, he disclaimed: Ticketholders would have to line up several hours before mass. Getting to a restroom might be a problem. One might have to take off work. Those attending the mass would have to be in their seats a few hours before the introit. The priest wanted to be sure that frail persons in devout desperation to be in the presence of the Holy Father would not receive non-transferable tickets and die trying to see Francis in the flesh. How many devout Catholics People stood in the streets, travelled miles and miles, contested with urban parking and incurred expense just to catch a glimpse of the pope? 
It was difficult, no doubt, for the pope to grant many private audiences, yet the did have time for Kim Davis. 
Who is not even Catholic. 
Who though unemployed, flew or was flown from Kentucky to DC, on someone's nickel, possibly her own. 
Or maybe the president of USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) Joseph E. Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville--helped out. The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), under Timothy Dolan's leadership, devoted much time and effort to fighting same sex marriage
Pope Francis may be the "who am I to judge?" pope, but he still opposes same-sex marriage and has not said otherwise. "His Holiness" may be "a breath of fresh air" but he still views LGBTQ Catholics as undeserving of marriage. The pope's meeting with Kim Davis is disgraceful, in that he strung those who thought he might make change, along. But again, it should not surprise. 
Kim Davis did what saints do. She sinned in her female weakness, took a stand, found Jesus, threw down with God, lost her job as a direct consequence of her devotion, and found herself in jail for upholding God's law. She's a perfect totem now, for the DOMA true believers. 
Don't be surprised to see her convert to Catholicism. 
Granting Kim Davis an audience was the pope's way of looking over his shoulder and winking on his way out the door--at the old guard. 
Non-Catholics need to recognize that the "breath of fresh air" pope presides over a misogynist and homophobic hierarchy and is doing little to change that.
Catholics need to know that there is one way to make change in the leadership of the church. Cash. 
"It's all so calculation/she's such a calculator." That's Elvis Costello's line. If we want to see change, we should boycott the collection basket and Diocesan Appeals. 
I wish Pope Francis had devoted Kim Davis's 15 minutes of Catholic fame to seeing some of those lovely rosary-clutching ladies at my church who adore him. It would have required little effort for me to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. I didn't care to try. 
I'm the daughter of a NYPD cop. I know a Good Cop, Bad Cop scenario when I seen one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Richard Glossip is Scheduled to Die By Lethal Injection Tomorrow

So much has been written about Richard Glossip.
I write this because I cannot not write what I feel on this matter. 
My feelings and convictions as they pertain from the death penalty come purely and directly from my religious feeling as a mother of Jews (informed by learning and prayer in the Reform Jewish tradition), a practicing Roman Catholic, and Christian. 
Jesus was the victim of the Death Penalty.
In the North America, we in the U.S. alone employ the Death Penalty.
In the Americas we are joined by only a few nations who use the death penalty.
Most of the “civilized” nations of the world abandoned Capital Punishment long ago.
I believe the death penalty damages the selves of those who countenance it. 
I tend to believe that the executioner sustains more spiritual injury than any monstrous felon ever could.
I know, we all know that Capital Punishment does not make us safer. It does not deter criminals. 
Most men and women would, giving the awful choice, much prefer death to a life behind bars.
We grant ourselves lenience, not the man slated for death, when we decline to execute a prisoner. 
When we execute criminals in the state’s name we make murderers of ourselves, while ironically perhaps, granting the peace of death to those whose lives we end in the name of Justice.
Thanks to the advances in forensics, we have come to experience the unique spiritual anquish and and hideous remorse of knowing how much more common false convictions are than we might have previously imagined.
Richard Glossip was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his Barry Van Treese, his boss.
There were no witnesses to the murder in question. Only hearsay evidence ties Glossip to the crime in question. 
Glossip is not accused of stands physically murdering anyone. 
The man, Justin Sneed, claims he was commissioned by Glossip to carry out the murder.
Sneed, who beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat, is serving a life sentence, yet the man he claims hired him to kill Van Treese is scheduled to die tomorrow (September 30) by lethal injection.
Let us say for argument’s sake that the man who bludgeoned Van Treese to death is telling the truth. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that both men are guilty. Let us say that under certain circumstances Capital Punishment may be seen as just. Is justice served by the State of Oklahoma's choice to execute the man who commissioned the killing as it spares the life of the actual killer?
The actual killer, by the way, traded testimony for a lighter sentence. His parlayed this testimony to obtain life in prison. It is truly good that Oklahoma will not kill two men. 
Sneed traded his own life, in a sense, for Glossip’s. 
Richard Glossip has no prior history of violent crime.
Many of those who have been ministering to and counseling Glossip are people who oppose the death penalty under all circumstances. Read what they have to say about Richard Glossip.
Not only did Richard Glossip not commit the murder, he appears to be innocent of the crime.
If you are the praying kind, please keep Richard Glossip, his family, loved one's and defense team and the State of Oklahoma in your prayers.
If Governor Mary Fallin elects not to spare the life of Richard Glossip, she will need prayers too.
She wears a gold cross on her neck in her formal portrait. How curious. 
Governor Fallin, you might want to take that gold cross on a chain off your neck. You look ridiculous wearing it as you preside over the death of a possibly, probably innocent man. 
Please take a minute out of your day to let Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin know how you feel about this case. Go to go to Sister Helen Prejean’s Richard Glossip page and what you can do to prevent this grave injustice from transpiring tomorrow night.
Michele Somerville

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pope Francis and the Rebranding of Catholicism

As a Catholic who observed closely the resignation of the emeritus pope and the elevation of Jorge Bergoglio, in March of 2013, with hope and some suspicion, I find myself vexed by the profuse adulation Pope Francis I has received during his visit to the United States. The pope is a world leader and head of a sovereign state. Obviously news outlets should be covering his visit, but I find seeing secular media extolling Francis as the secular world's spiritual guide alarming. I've even heard talking heads compare the pope to Nelson Mandela, who spent his entire life danger and a third of it in prison;these strike me as almost obscene. But Francis does amaze and I am not immune to his graciousness. I love that we have a pope who unequivocally preaches that greed is a sin. Hell, I love that he's a Latino, that he's a cutie, that he has a twinkle in his eye. I believe I we have already seen him tweak, in subtle ways, the sex-negative message too often present (in my opinion) Roman Catholic education. The pope is indeed a charming man, but his charm is hardly accidental. Pope Francis was selected, in part, to stave off a schism in the church, to improve its complexion and to arrest the exodus of Catholics leaving the church in disgust. Pope Francis I is the face of the new brand.
I can not deny that there is a personal upside for me, in all the pope love. Most of my friends, colleagues are not Catholic or even religious. Many are intellectuals and feminists who may be too polite to say so, think my own Roman Catholic practice odd. It's nice to see all these people now regarding my devotion as a tad more legitimate. After all, what an amazing pope! Pope Francis may amaze, but he still believes married LGBTQ Catholics should not receive the sacraments. He still believes that terminating a pregnancy is murder. He still supports an all-male priesthood. Not only does he support an all-male priesthood, but also he continues to (to try, at least) uphold the prohibition (for priests and theologians in Catholic Universities) against discussing ordaining women--an injunction Pope Francis's predecessor put in place. Pope Francis continues to shelter a prelate who facilitated the rape of children. Priests who lost their frocks as a result of taking part in masses celebrated by women are still without frocks. I expect this failure to discern from chauvinistic "Father Says" Catholics, but it surprises me to see so many atheists, non-Catholics, progressives of all and no faiths, and progressive Catholics draining the chalice of papal Kool-Aid without giving a thought to all of this. 
Pope Francis won praise for quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in preaching against discrimination, yet he presides over a church currently engaged in unabashed discrimination. Let the religious leader who is not discriminating within his own church lecture Congress on that topic. Let the one without sin... A pope who will not ordain women has no standing when he preaches against discrimination. 50% of Roman Catholics are offered six sacraments; 50%, are offered seven. 
I am often asked whether the pope can decide to ordain women. "Yes and no" is the answer. The Canon Code spells out the requirement that only men may receive Holy Orders, but Canon Law can be changed and has been changed in the past. (Canon Law is complex.) An adequate discussion of would be too long for a short reflection such as this one. It is helpful to know that the Magisterium teaches that distinction between changing man-made laws and Divine Law is a critical one. The pope's Motu Propriomodification of in annulment proceedings is an example of amending the Canon Codeby changing a "man-made" law. How do we distinguish between man-made and Divine Laws? The Church fathers tell us which are which. On what bases have they decided? Sola Fide and revelation: faith and visions. Who can amend Canon Law? The Supreme Pontiff, of course. Is he willing to re-open the discussion of ordaining women? No. The door, he has said, is closed on that.
Everyone's favorite pope could open that door. He could invite the bishops and theologians to discuss the ordination of women, but Pope Francis does not much like the idea. He has said women must have a greater role in church leadership, but he has also said we are "the strawberry on the cake." (No, Your Holiness, we may be strawberries, but we are also very much cake.) Why such fear around discussion of the matter of ordaining women? The arguments are stronger, theologically on the pro-ordination side. Most of the clerics I know seem to think the Vatican will ordain women when doing so becomes an economic necessity--and not before.

I could not help thinking, as I looked at the photo of that precious child who provided Team Francis pope with a telegenic miracle of papal optics when she broke through the pontiff's security and handed the pope a card, of the children victimized by the cardinals and bishops the Vatican continues to protect. That little girl is growing up in a church that teaches her that she is unfit for priesthood. That is not a benign message. That is not a message that should be easily set aside by feminists, progressives, Catholics or parents of Catholic daughters for reasons of politeness or diplomacy. It is the promulgation of sexism which gives way to misogyny.

In recent years, I have had the honor serving as Confirmation sponsor to two intelligent and imaginative adolescent nieces. As exciting and spiritually powerful this was for me, I experienced disheartening moments-- and shame, really--when the topic of an all-male priesthood arose. The girls thought an all-male priesthood disgraceful and I agreed. I'm the progressive, artist, political-minded feminist aunt. How I could love a church that tolerates such sexism? The answer, to them and for myself, is that I love the church enough to imagine that it is capable of growth and change. 
The Supreme Pontiff's words are full of light, but, his having been "made to order" causes me to wonder whether the pope can will go beyond words. I pray he will put his money where his mouth is. We are the religion that celebrates the word made flesh. I pray his words will, in a sense, come to fruition. I love that he spoke out against capital punishment (as have his last few predecessors). I love that he, a man with some grasp of Science, warned the world (and forcefully) about climate change and the perils of greed. I love that he refrained from calling abortion "murder," that he militated for peace, highlighted the incarnation of Christ in the homeless and poor, and emphasized our obligation to welcome and honor immigrants. I am grateful for those words. I am waiting for more and hopeful that the Pope Francis I will go farther, but I want to see that more than the package has changed.

So shrewd is the pope's Public Relations campaign that he was able to slip into his itinerary the canonization of Junipero Serra a missionary sent by Spain in the mid-18th century to convert California's indigenous natives, by force if necessary. I suppose canonizing a saint sponsored by the Inquisition on Yom Kippur made sense to someone, but the timing struck me as hideous. There was an urgency, on the other hand, to add a to add an "Hispanic" saint to the beatific lineup. Serra fit the description. He converted a huge swath of indigenous California to Catholicism. Some of the churches he established are still in use. Anyone who has ever seen the film The Mission or read about Bartolome de las Casas, author of the Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies knows that the analysis of these men is rarely simple. Supporters of his canonization claim Serra developed a "love" for those he converted and that he protected his 'flock' against more violent Christians (than he). Serra was, no doubt brave and devout, and, of course, not, as canonizers like to say "a perfect man."

I read one defense of the the brutality of Serra in which the writer ignores the research on Serra's and defends the missionary's penchant for torturing those he aimed to convert by arguing that Brother Serra flogged indigenous Californians with loving intention and a mind on correction. Maybe there are two sides to the Junipero Serra story, (I don't think there are.), but whether Serra was more holy than demonic should not even pertain. Catholics need not look for perfection in saints, but we ought to at least exhibit restraint adequate to keep us from canonizing the monstrous. Furthermore, Christian feeling and a desire for repair should foreclose on any impulse to make saints of colonizing butchers dispatched the Inquisition.

California wanted its own "Hispanic" saint. Governor Jerry Brown, whose perspectives I generally I favor, likes Junipero Serra, but I think he is thinking more like a loving pol than like a Christian in this. I get that California Latinos want their own saint, but the Vatican should have looked further, and the multitudes of secular folk venerating Pope Francis should know that he just canonized a violent envoy of the Spanish Inquisition. Catholics should be making amends for the grave sins of the Inquisitions, not beatifying its perpetrators.

Never again should a Catholic associated with Spain's Inquisitions be canonized. 
While making his way home during the break in the day's Yom Kippur services, my Jewish spouse ran into a friend, a Catholic priest. The two men were chatting on the street when a Juan (not his real name) approached and began to complain about "los Judios," describing them as "malos." High Holy Day-parking rules had complicated trash pickup and in his frustration, Juan blamed it on the Jews. The priest pointed to my husband, perhaps hoping to enlighten Juan: "He's Jewish." Maybe Juan didn't know my husband is a Jew. Maybe Juan forgot that my husband understands Spanish. Maybe, like too many Roman Catholics, Juan is soft on anti-semitism. My husband, who is, himself, engaged in a profound spiritual transformation, let it go. Juan, he knows, is not well-educated, and has recently experienced great loss. It was, after all, Yom Kippur.

The following day I attended the 9:00 am mass. I shook his Juan's hand during the "sign of peace" moment, and stayed after mass to pray a rosary. As I left the church, I told Juan that I had included him in my rosary. He thanked me, and proceeded to tell me about his encounter with the priest and my husband. I was half-expecting an apology. Instead Juan embarked on disclaimer which took the form of a casual diatribe against Jews. They don't close their shops during "Semana Santa," he said. They and care only about "negocios y dinero." He used his hands to dramatize the greed. "But those days are not holy for Jews!" I explained in bad Spanish. He insisted Jews should then close their businesses out of respect. When I asked whether Christians should close their businesses for Yom Kippur, he laughed.

I am the mother of (Reform, non-Halakic) Jews. We celebrate Rosh Hashana. We observe Shabbos with some regularity. We atone and fast on Yom Kippur. Although I was hurt by his anti-semitic remarks, but I wasn't angry with Juan. He didn't know any better, and that sentiment came from somewhere. Not from the church he and I currently attend, but from the churches of his youth. I believe the Roman Catholic hierarchy still promulgates hatred of Jews from pulpits and in Catholic schools, subtlely, politely, and most of all in failing to push it away strenuously enough. I believe that canonizing men like Serra is one of many outward signs that the Church has yet to atone for of its own anti-Semitism. When intelligent, thoughtful people, downplay, or worse still, lend their support to this, they help perpetuate prejudice and bigotry.

I had the pleasure of reading Laudato Si while lying on a particularly exquisite beach on Cape Cod which was throbbing with beauty: flora, various sky, birds, cranberry plants and pines. The location pertains. Laudato Si a radical document, almost a poem in praise nature and the created world. As I read the encyclical, I kept noticing myself becoming hopeful. How moved I was by this work took my by surprise. I want very much to believe that Pope Francis is not just the new face of the Vatican brand redesigned to prevent schism and get tithing Catholics back in the pews.

I want to love the author of Laudato Si, but I will not downplay misogyny, and I will not say nothing while my church makes another Inquisition saint. I will continue to pray the rosary and hope to learn that the Holy Father is for real. I believe that opening the door to the conversation about ordaining women would be a good place for him to begin, because the leadership of our church, as the pope said, citing Martin Luther King Jr., in his address to congress, "defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it."                                

Michele Madigan Somerville
September 26, 2015 NYC

Friday, January 16, 2015

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Pope Francis I and the Nun-Busters and Why Catholics Should Buy "Quest for the Living God"

Last week Prefect of the Confederation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) Gerhard Mueller, condemned the Leadership Conference Women Religious (LCWR) for honoring Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson and her book Quest of the Living God. The CDF argues that the book fails to be in accord with Roman Catholic doctrine. This magisterial spanking aims to dictate to a group of highly intelligent, well-educated women which books are suitable for their honors; promises to uber-boost sales of an academic work; and, I believe, puts the pope in a tricky spot. (See my 2012 piece, "Just Buy 'Just Love' for more on how such condescending condemnation works.) The pope is the pope. He can speak when he likes. But I think this pope, thistime around, unlike the last time around, will have to say something.

Today's pope is, after all, everyone's favorite pope. At present, Francis I is re-examining the way the church hierarchy looks at LGBT Catholics, divorced and remarried Catholics, and so-called "artificial" contraception. This kinder and gentler pope has exhorted Catholics to respond more vigorously to the marginalized among us, and to look more closely at our (I'm Roman Catholic.) obligations to be conscientious stewards of the environment. This more Catholic-in-the-pew-friendly pontiff even appears to be more dramatically rethinking celibacy for priests. (That he's doing so as a means of staving off the clear call to examine more openly the case for ordaining women, though disconcerting to Catholic feminists, detracts only somewhat from the dramatic nature of this examination.)
We have seen a great shift in this Vatican's tone. But what have we not seen?
We have not seen the shift fully extend to the women of the church.
And we will not see Pope Francis I come down on this Mueller, despite that he ought.
Let Catholics recognize, at the very least, that this cuddly pontiff supports these Inquisitions, which had the Vatican monitoring women in convents. Let Catholics in the pews not pushy away the truth that the Vatican is still trolling its women religious--and that this campaign is conducted with the imprimatur of Pope Francis. Let Catholics be aware, as well, that it is women's ordination activists the inquisitors seek, who dwell, more often than not, in convents.
Our very cuddly pope may be taking a bold lead in some areas wherein reform and a change in tone are needed, but he has no interest at all in even opening the door to discussion of ordaining women, and every interest in cracking down on those bishops who would ordain them.
Perhaps because I follow Vatican news closely, I have found it difficult to share the enthusiasm many non-Catholics and Catholics alike have had for this new pope. I knew (and predicted) that the first order of business in 2013 when Joseph Ratzinger stepped down (in disgrace, I believe) would be to install an "anti-Ratzinger" who could forestall an official schism and arrest the exodus of Catholics leaving the church. Thus it went down.
The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was not long ago called The Holy Office of the Inquisition its prefect has long been the pope's enforcer. Pope, Francis I, inherited the prefect who served under Ratzinger, the author of these words written with regard to LCWR honoree,
author, theologian and (Sisters of Saint Joseph) Sister Elizabeth Johnson:
...It saddens me to learn that you have decided to give the Outstanding Leadership Award during this year's Assembly to a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian's writings. This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well...However, following the August Assembly, it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees.
Not only does Gerhard Mueller condemn the choice to honor Sr. Johnson. He implies that the failure to comply in the matter of future selections of honorees might result in punishment.
Those who have taken note of the Roman Catholic hierarchy's expensive campaign to prevent Catholics and non-Catholics alike from enjoying Equal Marriage Rights know that Peter J. Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle--who lobbied against Equal marriage rights legislation on his diocese's dime, and who really, REALLY wants to be promoted to cardinal--continues to take an active role in the nun-busting sister-crackdown.
Catholics should listen closely to Pope Francis's response and take note if the pontiff chooses silence.
Sr. Simone Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus introduced the world at large to intellectual tradition of Roman Catholic nuns. (See "Gunning for the Nuns" for more on this.) But in so many ways the "new" rebel nun is not new at all. While working as a New York City archdiocesan teacher in the 1980's, I came to know many progressive nuns. They were as expansive as they were faithful, departing from doctrine only when they had to. It was from such reverent, reserved, well-educated, quietly activist sisters that I first learned how deep misogyny promulgated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, in Christ's name, ran. And still runs.
In many ways, Roman Catholicism was radically early to recognize the worth of woman. So so substantial was Jesus's departure from his original religious practice (which had men and women worshipping separately) that the vestige of female divinity it persists--even in the canonical Gospels--and through our Marian traditions despite the Vatican's great efforts through the past 2,000 years, to eradicate and minimize it.
The synoptic gospels have women following Jesus, praying with men, standing at the foot of the cross when the men (among them the man the church considers the first pope) ran. Catherine of Sienna, Hildegarde, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux are doctors of the church. The most exalted fully human being in the Communion of Saints--Mary, mother of Jesus--is a woman.
The Gnostic Gospels provide us with a glimpse of the extraordinary lengths to which Catholic teaching, through the ages, went, as it sought to scrub the power of women from Catholic history and consciousness.
This new pope who has won the hearts of so many remains a steadfast enemy to any discussion at all of women's ordination while claiming to wish to see women gain a greater role in leading the church. I think Pope Francis I has some Christ-splaining to do, and it will be interesting to see whether he voices even the slightest challenge to the CDF's most recent storming of the LCWR.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Is the Pope Christian? Fr. Roy Bourgeois Writes to the the Pope

Today, excommunicated and defrocked Roman Catholic Maryknoll priest and peace activist Roy Bourgeois, published an open letter to Pope Francis I. In this letter, Father Bourgeois asks the pontiff him to look more closely into listen more fully to the hearts of LGBT Catholics and Roman Catholic women called to ordination. Bourgeois writes: 
Any movement rooted in love, justice, and equality is of the Divine and cannot be dtopped
I worship in a conventional Roman Catholic parish mostly, and in a community led by a female Roman Catholic priest when I am able, as well. So I have found it difficult to hear friends--non-Catholics and atheists alike--lavish praise upon a pope (Francis I) while so strenuously affirms, and reaffirms that the "door is closed to discussion of women's ordination."
I have held out hope that the pontiff everyone loves to love might prove that he truly is cut from some other cloth than that from which his two predecessors were cut by adopting a more Christlike point of view on the ordination of women. So far Pope Francis has yet to do this.
I have followed Father Roy Bourgeois's journey closely over the past few years, and having done so, have found it hard to push away the knowledge that Francis has done nothing at all to remove the excommunication of Bourgeois, whose offense was supporting the ordination of women. To add context, I note that hundreds of priests accused of raping children or serving as accessories in these crimes kept their frocks as Father Bourgeois--a Vietnam veteran and Nobel Peace Prize nominee--was being stripped of his.
In his letter to Pope Francis, Bourgeois cites the pain he has experienced as a consequence of being "kicked out of the church." This estrangement, he suggests, has deepened his feeling for fellow Roman Catholics who have been scorned and marginalized within their own church.
My pain at having been kicked out of the priesthood has allowed me to glimpse the exclusion and discrimination that people of color, women, and gay people in our Church have experienced for centuries.
Judaism, from which the first church of Christ came, began as a tribe of fervent, loving, fearful, brave, orthodoxy-challenging believers who yearned for and found a sacred locus for their worship. The Roman Catholic Church began as a cult, in small rooms, as fervent, loving, fearful, brave, orthodoxy-challenging believers yearned for and found a sacred locus for their worship. The ordination of Roman Catholic women, which is currently under way and is too big to fail, began thus in small rooms wherein the voices of women called to the priesthood were heard.
The ordination of Roman Catholic women, which is currently under way and is too big to fail, began when Roman Catholic (male) bishops stepped forward from their spots in the Apostolic Succession in Christ's name to ordain women in secrecy in order that God's will, as they understood it, might be done. Thanks to them, the Roman Catholic Women's Ordination genie is out of the bottle.
Conservative Catholics (including women who view their subjugated status as a somehow blessed condition) find the Roman Catholic ordination of women so distasteful they call Catholics who support and take part in masses celebrated by women nasty names: "apostates," "heretics," "devils," and (Cover sensitive ears.) "Protestants!" I puzzle over and find ironic that any Christian should, under any circumstances, think "Protestant" an insult, but these anti-woman's ordination crusaders are skittish and desperate and that may account for the puerile tone of their rhetoric. I notice they fixate, in particular, on the 'dress-up' aspects of Roman Catholic women priests--as if the daring to "vest" itself--to don the big dress, brocade and bling--were the most diabolical feature of the so-called apostasy!
I am neither a Canon lawyer nor a theologian, but I am a smart and wise student of Roman Catholicsm who has been studying doctrine and dogma informally and following Catholic news for a decade now. The more I read, the more I come to know that there is no authentic theological basis whatsoever for denying women ordination.
If the dogma and doctrine had been dictated to scribes by Jesus himself, those who hold both up as as clear evidence of God's desire that only people with male genitals are qualified to serve as priests might have a case. But Jesus did not write the Canon Code and they have no case. Men with political stakes in keeping women subjugated enshrined this prohibition; men driven by financial interests, men who were products of their time. Not Jesus. Not God.
There is no substantive theological barrier to the ordination of women. There is only white smoke and mirrors.
If this wiser, kinder gentler, more Christian Catholic pope is for real, he will respond to Father Bourgeois's letter. I pray the pontiff will be guided by Bourgeois's tender prose, and that Francis will be moved to lift the penalty of excommunication and to reinstate Bourgeois to the priesthood. If this wiser, kinder gentler, more Christian Catholic pope is for real, he will reach, with Christ in mind and heart, for the knob on that door he has called "closed."
If Pope Francis does reaching for the knob, the gesture will be symbolic in the extreme--because that door (to Woman's Ordination) has never really been closed.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pope Francis, Man of the Year? Not Yet

Within the past week or two we have seen the pope make the covers of TimeThe New Yorker and The AdvocateTime and The Advocate have designated Pope Francis as their publications' "person of the year." As a progressive Roman Catholic who is active in ministry, I find it pleasant to have a pope who does not come off as the kind of spiritual batterer Benedict XVI was. It's nice not having to constantly defend my choice to be a practicing Catholic. Atheist progressive friends who have never quite understood my peculiar willingness to worship in what one or two have called "a hate group" now make laudatory remarks about Pope Francis. My fellow Roman Catholic LGBT ministry members are delighted with our new pontiff. I imagine I might speak for many when I say that being a Roman Catholic is a tad easier now that our public relations has been so well-improved by Francis I. But man of the year? As Saint Augustine might say, "not yet."
Pope Francis may well be what he seems but it can not be denied that this pope is made-to-order. It is only by cutting through the "spin" that we can know how genuine Francis and the change with which he being credited actually are. A look at what was wrong with Ratzinger from a public relations standpoint reveals much. As a Catholic who has been watching the exodus of Roman Catholics from the church for years while chronicling developments in the church, I find taking this new pontifical upgrade at face value difficult. And facile!
Progressive Roman Catholics did not much like Joseph Ratzinger, but then again, neither did the traditionalist Roman Catholic fringe. Progressives objected to Ratzinger's anti-gay, anti-woman disposition, while ultra-conservative Catholics held against Ratzinger both his prominent role in Vatican II and his (later) failure to go far enough once he did become more conservative. Ratzinger resigned from a church that was lousy with financial and sexual scandals (I am one of those who believe we have yet to see the full impact of the Vatican sexual abuse scandal/crisis in the developing world.) and possibly on the verge of an all-out schism. The situation called for a man like Francis who could keep Catholics in the pews without amending teaching, a pontiff who could avert a schism and arrest the exodus of Catholics leaving the church in disgust. It's no accident that an Italian-Latino replaced the German; a warmer-blooded pope was called for, a pope with a glint in his eye, a pontiff more charming and less conspicuously royal than Josef Ratzinger. The church hierarchs knew that if they wanted LGBT Catholics and women sickened by the Magisterium's misogyny to remain in the church, they would have to elevate a cardinal capable of stepping away from dogma and doctrine both--but without challenging either outright. Pope Francis has been expert in finessing this.
In a December 2, 2013 piece that appeared (in translation) in National Catholic Reporter, Roman Catholic priest Hans Kung, a renowned theologian and former friend of Josef Ratzinger, included this observation in his discussion of Francis's pontificate: 
And worried observers are already asking whether Pope Emeritus Ratzinger is in fact operating as a kind of "shadow Pope" behind the scenes through Müller and Georg Gänswein, [Benedict's] secretary and Prefect of the Papal Household, whom he also promoted to archbishop.

Kung reminded of us the possibility that Joseph Ratzinger who continues to reside in the Vatican, may still, to some extent. run things. This is not a preposterous notion. Ratzinger's was one of the strong voices of the Second Vatican Council. He has been in the College of Cardinals since 1977 and is one of the world's most accomplished Roman Catholic theologians. The Emeritus Pope, who has wielded immense influence in the Vatican for half-a-century, could still be calling a few of its shots. 

While it is true Ratzinger wore more bling and fancier shoes than does the current Holy Father, Ratzinger steadfastly characterized greed and warfare as sinful. Under Ratzinger, cardinals in dioceses that desired it were invited to minister to LGBT Catholics in their parishes. Under John Paul II and Ratzinger, at the parish level, movement in the direction of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments was made. Under John Paul II and Ratzinger, we saw more and more women in pastoral ministry and working on altars, and the College of Cardinals was discussing an exemption to the prohibition of artificial contraception to arrest the spread of HIV/AIDS. Ratzinger made many horrendous remarks about "homosexuality" but when he did so he cited the very same doctrine (Roman Catholic Catechism) Pope Francis has yet to challenge, revise or update explicitly. (Francis has aimed to reframe some teaching in an implicit way.) Ratzinger did classify being homosexual as a "disorder," but--not nearly so often or strenuously as he ought to have--he also condemned homophobic abuse.

My aim here is not to suggest that Benedict XVI was a fine pope and that Francis I is not, but to notice, as a member of the church, that if any part of the elevation of Jorge Bergoglio were part of a Machiavellian strategy to improve Vatican public relations, it certainly is working.
What has really changed under Pope Francis beyond tone? Not much. Has Pope Francis formally challenged the Roman Catholic Catechism's characterization of homosexuality as "disordered"? He could. He has not.
Perhaps nothing so much suggests a disinclination to make real change in teaching as the pope's remarks on the matter of the ordaining women? On the well-publicized July 2013 interview on the airplane, Francis said the following about the possibility of conventionally ordained Roman Catholic women priests: 
The church says no. That door is closed.

Pope Francis extolls the importance of dialogue ("words which set hearts on fire") throughout In his recent (November 2013) encyclical Evangelii Gaudium<, yet reinforces his hierarchy's misogynistic ordination policy thus: 

...The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion...

The implication therein is that Catholics should discuss everything but ordaining women. I find this disgraceful.

Evangelii Gaudium is warm and lyrical. The author of Evangelii Gaudium firmly declares his disdain for greed, his ardent regard for the poor and the document boasts a conspicuous absence of homophobic rhetoric; all of that is good. Its focus, however, is evangelization--in 'Catholicspeak,' "evangelization" means "growth." Ratzinger was often accused of wanting a smaller, purer church. His successor appears to love his messier church, a church he describes (in Evangelii Gaudium) as 
bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined...

By elevating Jorge Bergoglio to the throne of Peter, the cardinals may have prevented an all out schism. The novel pope-love at hand, the likes of which the church has not seen since John XXIII, foreclosed on a schism and now seems substantive and powerful enough to keep the pews and Vatican coffers full. Who but an ultra-charismatic leader determined to preach on the divine character of humility could have pulled this off?

What kind of pope might have any chance at all of keeping the next generation of women in the pews without changing misogynist anti-woman's ordination doctrine? One who has won the hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The big losers in this are Catholic women and their daughters. 

I like the pope too, and I remain hopeful about his ability to steer the worlds' Catholics toward greater peace and increased justice. I understand that Rome was not built in a day and that the Roman Catholicism Church will not be healed in a day, but the truth is that while the tone of Pope Francis's message regarding LGBT Roman Catholics and women is gentler, the message has not essentially changed. The bigotry remains. Strip away the tone shift and the message under Francis, as conservative Catholic observers have been saying, is the same message that Ratzinger, Timothy Dolan et al have been promulgating all along. The bigotry persists.
The Magisterium continues to prohibit divorced and remarried Catholics and all Catholics who are sexually active (regardless of their sexual orientation) from receiving the Eucharist; that has not changed. Pope Francis has made clear his disinterest in even discussing the ordination of women; that has not changed. Dogma and doctrine on contraception has not changed, and while Francis has been bold on the avarice front, he has been relatively reticent in his response to those who have been sexually abused, as children, by Catholic priests. The looking the other way on this count has not changed enough.
Given the incredible damage done by the Vatican sex scandal and banking scandals; the continued support the Vatican offers to organizations that use collection dollars to make the world a bit less safe for women, LGBT people, and those who have been victimized by priests; given the sitting pope's disinterest in challenging his hierarchy's flimsy, self-serving and fallacious arguments against ordination of women; I believe it is way too early to take Pope Francis as an unadulterated, full-on breath of fresh air.
I will pray for Pope Francis, but this Catholic woman is not drinking from the papal Kool-Aid chalice. Not yet.