Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Little Lord Trump (Le Roi) and His MVP, Jesus

Jerry Fallwell, Jr. endorsed Donald Trump today. Anyone who watched the video footage of  Trump's speech at Liberty University last week saw this coming. What was especially harrowing about the Liberty speech was how it put Trump’s lack of spiritual development on full display. Liberty is a Christian University. Students were required to attend. Whatever one thinks of these students, one must concede that they take the Christian Bible seriously. News outlets had a great time with Trump's “Corinthians 2” moment, because Trump’s blunder, his manner of citing the pinch of biblical text he felt he needed to incorporate into his Martin Luther King Day address, revealed that Trump is not a churchgoer. Trump has called himself “an Evangelical,” identifies as Presbyterian, and has lied about being a regular worshipper at New York’s Marble Collegiate. He claims he has received the “cracker” (as he calls it) and the “wine” as part and parcel of his Presbyterian worship. For those who hold Holy Communion sacred, this characterization of Christ’s feast at the altar is (at least) some kind of low-grade desecration. 

Poking fun at one’s own religion is, in the view of most people, less disrespectful than lampooning one's neighbor’s religion. Yet Trump, who does not really have a religion, appeared before a large group of tuition-paying students who care enough about Jesus to matriculate at a Christian university and cracked wise, characterizing a verse of the Second Book of Corinthians as "the whole ball game."

The way Trump speaks tells us so much about him. He consistently exhibits an inability be precise, a penchant for reductive fallacy and a sophomoric approach to building a logical argument. He appears not to read for pleasure or edification, which, I suppose matters only to those of us who like the idea of a president who reads. Trump’s favorite book is one he appears not to have much read and his second favorite is one he claims to have written.  

Trump has no grasp of international relations. He has floated the idea that his attendance at an expensive Northeastern military school is a near substitute for military service. His over-reliance on puerile superlatives not only reveals him to be a weak statesman but also forces his audiences to wonder why a wealthy white man who managed to pick up a degree from an Ivy league school orates as if he were running for the captain of the prep school’s JV football team? 

I wouldn't call Trump stupid. He is an astute businessman and seems to be a facile grifter (if his Trump University scam is any indication)  and he has managed to go far in a presidential campaign without the advantage of rhetorical elan. The linguistic flair we are accustomed to seeing in “snake oil” peddlers is missing entirely. Does Trump believe his fan base too slow-witted to understand anything beyond “make this country great?” If “yes,” is Trump correct in that assessment? If “no,” why does he speak to his supporters as if they are children?

I think the problem is Trump his spirit and psyche, not his English language aptitude. Here's an illustration. When I taught Middle School and High School English I used to use a fast trick to ascertain where a student's education had stopped. I'd give the English student in question a math problem. I had taught 6th grade math. I knew there was a good chance a 10th grader who couldn't do a 5th grade math had stopped learning before or shortly after 5th grade. Trump is probably good at math. But his use of language strikes me as indicative of some kind of delayed development. 
Often linguistic development and psychological development are closely linked. My theory is that Trump stopped growing at some point. He stopped developing at an age at which greed, desire to have sex with hot girls, lack of empathy and lack of spiritual depth are perfectly normal and in high drive. What 13 year-old heterosexual boy wouldn’t look at very woman in his presence with an overarching concern for her degree of pulchritude? Who but a 13 year old boy would retaliate by calling her unattractive? What 13 year-old boy doesn’t want to win every contest, beat the best, dominate the game? 

I would be happy to have an atheist president. Indeed, I often think an atheist president, a leader untethered from the tyranny of organized religion would be very good for our nation. On the other hand, I am a Christian, and I find the promiscuous tossing about of God’s name for no purpose beyond getting votes repugnant. Donald Trump is ramping up his Christian status while dismissing most of what Jesus taught. “Two Corinthians, 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame” is a not even funny mockery made for political gain. Ironically, there's truth n that artless quip. To Trump the presidential race itself, as a game, and Jesus as a Most Valuable player.

Donald Trump is pimping out Jesus for props. Well-conceived blasphemy can be positive and I believe there's a place for even very irreverent jocularity in faith, belief and even ritual, but when I hear Trump, a man who so flagrantly embodies all that the Jesus of the New Testament is not, call Communion a "cracker," not I am offended. Not because I am sensitive to Holy Communion jokes--We make those at home-- but because it is clear that Trump has little use for Christianity beyond its potential to help him rack up votes. 

Back when I was in Catechism class, we called breaking the third commandment “using the Lord’s name in vain.” Trump, the rich man who can pass into Heaven as easily as a camel can pass through the eye of a needle, takes the name of Christ in vain when he plays at being a man of faith in exchange for votes. Trump has done the opposite of selling all he owns to follow Jesus. Trump has contempt for refugees. Trump is a warmonger and a scam artist. His acolytes may think he is the “Way” but even they know he is neither the “Truth” nor the “Light.” I don’t know whether Trump is a Christian--no one can know such a thing about another--but I can see that to Trump, that Jesus is his tool.

Catholic theology places much importance on the connection between words and creation, and holds as one of its truths that incarnation a is a culmination in which the word is made flesh. “In the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh.” (John, 1:1) As a Christian with a religious practice, I find the Donald's bible trumping appalling. As a writer, poet and educator who has taught students ages 5 through 83 to write, argue, and speak persuasively, I note that Trump’s puerile manner of speaking should alarm us. I fear Trump's struggle with rhetoric suggests the possibility of profound arrested development or something worse. 

Trump orates like a 12 year-old. He views women as a 12 year-old might. His conception of God is like that a 12 year-old would be expected to have. He fears strangers ('the other') as a 12 year-old who hasn’t been taught to value differences does. Trump approaches religious faith like a 12 year-old forced to go to Hebrew school or Catechism class in order to get the big party and prizes that come with a Bar Mitzvah or First Holy Communion. 

I had the honor of sponsoring two of my nieces in Roman Catholic Confirmation not long ago. Each girl was about 14 years old at the time,  highly intelligent, uncommonly imaginative, healthfully oppositional in their challenging dogma and doctrine. Their religious director was a stickler for keeping some meaning in the preparation, so I was required to engage in a protracted dialogue with both girls leading up to the sacrament itself. These discussions of faith Baptismal vows, which they endured and in which I savored,  constituted some of the most affirming moments of my life. The developmental role of intelligent, independent adolescents is to push back against the conditioning of religious education, to be annoyed with God, to mistrust the whole thing, to recognize that religious conditioning has led them to the point of the Bat Mitzvah, or confirmation. There is fire and holiness in that struggle. 

I think Trump is like the 12 year-old who wants to sleep late on Sundays. He'll stay in Sunday School with Jesus because right now, Jesus is a winner and there are parties and big prizes at the end of the Liberty ball game.Trump's use of Christian text for use in the service of xenophobia, greed and bellicosity suggests that he is either spiritually tone deaf or has no clue at all about what Christians believe Jesus the rabbi of Nazareth is believed by so many to have said. There’s something sociopathic in this pandering.  

It is disturbing to see how disingenuous to see so many so-called "Christians" compromising their "Christian"values in order to follow the weirdly messianic Trump with his promises to make "America great again." Tea Party patriots who champion Trump now confirm what those of us on the left have always suspected. They don't care about Christ, or "pre-born" children, or keeping "Merry Christmas" in the retail lexicon. They care about keeping their money and guns, and the Good Lord Jesus was just a means to that end. 

And what does "make America great again" even mean? A grown man with some facility for language and even a scant grasp of American history would be telling us when it was that America was great. What is that New Jerusalem of the past Trump to which Trump in Pom-Pom girl booster mode alludes? Besides which, Donald Trump has racist contempt for much of the Americas. 

A grown man does not stand on stages and call military opponents “very bad people.” A grown man does not describe the mass murder and torture of Christians as "very bad things happening in Syria," especially while mangling texts from their sacred book as a means of getting votes. Often stunted psychological growth and arrested spiritual growth go hand in hand. I think we are seeing both in Donald Trump and we should be alarmed. If Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination, the GOP will be throwing down with a petulant and fickle child. 

I disagree with Cruz on almost every issue but I can almost imagine Ted Cruz functioning normally in a congregation, caring about the person beside him in the pew. In Trump’s case, I can not see this. I see him sizing up the guy next to him in the pew. If she is a woman, he is assessing her pulchritude and assigning her a number between 1 and 10. Donald Trump has no interest in the divine light in all  people. With the Donald, people are either "great," "losers," or "pigs."  

As a progressive Roman Catholic, I am surprised to find myself in relative solidarity, in this, with those ultra Orthodox Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians who resist the Christian Right’s acceptance of Donald Trump. They are far less interested in whether “Christmas” returns to the Starbuck’s cup than they are in helping a thrice-married preppie grifter who, not so long ago supported “partial-birth abortion” hijack the  Republican party. They know a man who doesn't believe in anything but himself is likely to go rogue once in office. Most of them believe calling female colleagues “pigs,” cheating on one’s wife and children, bragging about one’s extramarital sexploits and divulging fantasies of dating one’s own daughter are not really compatible with Christian feeling and thinking. Many believe a tax-shelter “university” designed to relieve na├»ve working people of their 401Ks is both something upon which Jesus of Nazareth would frown. Most think the filthy rich should belong/tithe to a church make charitable donations. Many believe Trump should have used his clout to support efforts to obtain more help for 911 first responders.

It’s a stretch to call that the event at Liberty a worship service. On the other hand, it might be legitimate to call a multitude of Christians discussing Christianity an assembly of "two or more gathered in His name.” A crowd so record-breaking large had gathered at Liberty U to hear Trump speak on the day our nation chooses to honor Martin Luther King Jr., that Trump was moved to "dedicate the record" King (No further mention of King was made). But Trump wasn't there for justice. He was there, among those gathered in his name, to close a sale. To throw some money around, to hawk some doves. As I watched that video footage, I half expected to see some onward Christian soldier take a lash the Donald.

Like most progressives, I don’t much like Ted Cruz either. But I suspect Cruz may, in his personal and in his political life, try to allow his Christian feeling to inform his conduct. I have a hunch—there’s never any way to know—that Cruz is at least holds some conception of Christ in mind. 

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has put Jesus on his team because Jesus is a good guy. Jesus is a the best religious guy. Moses is good, but Moses can't won. Allah? Forget about it. Jesus is very big with the people. Jesus is the best for getting rid of the Muslims. Jesus is popular. Jesus is a real winner. Jesus is the Most valuable player. Trump’s fervent prayer is that Jesus might blow on his dice

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.