Friday, July 30, 2010

The pope & the ritually unclean

Women religious are the best thing the Catholic Church has going for it—their effective ministry in schools, hospitals, inner-city and third-world neighborhoods, parishes, colleges, and spiritual centers stands in obvious contrast to the botched management of the sex abuse crisis by male clerics.

A National Catholic Reporter editorial asks readers to Speak up for our women religious as they are being harassed in two separate Vatican investigations, 1) the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on doctrine, and 2) women religious communities on how they live.

What’s eating the Vatican? It must be that women religious avoid mindless conformity to its directives, that they think for themselves. It wants control. The Vatican is “assessing” three areas of “doctrinal concern” in the Leadership Conference: 1) ordination of women, 2) homosexuality, and 3) the primacy of the Catholic faith.

The last doctrine Pope Benedict XVI reasserted just a few weeks ago, saying that other Christian churches are defective or not true churches (Never mind the world's other great spiritual ways!). In plain terms, it means that the Catholic Church controls the way to heaven (Let’s not forget that then he, as its leader, has the keys to the kingdom).

It's laughable, or it would be if the institution didn’t have so much control over millions who have to accept or at least live with its ludicrous claims unless they want to risk careers and/or their accustomed spiritual practice.

NCR comments that, while the Vatican repeats pretty statements about the dignity of women and gender equality, it insists that celibate men—whose culture at best excludes women, at worst shuns them—these men are the only ones qualified to make major decisions for women. “The hypocrisy is embarrassingly evident.”

Meanwhile, the Church as a whole evolves in understanding. My friend Marilyn sent this item from the St. Martin Parish church bulletin on July 18:
Today's Gospel clearly is about hospitality -- but whose? At one level, the hospitality is clearly that of Martha, who accepts Jesus into her home. But it's also the hospitality of Jesus, who says it's proper to talk to women about the things of God -- quit worrying about artificial ritual impurities.
“Ritual impurities” is a reminder that the Church used to consider women ritually unclean during menstruation—one of the reasons it used to marshal against the ordination of women. The priest who put this in the bulletin as well as other Catholics with integrity find thoughtful ways to proceed for now, but how much more damage can this pope do to the crippled institution?

Marilyn emailed this follow-up:
Remember, Jeanette, that after we had a child we had to be cleansed. When my children were baptized in the 60s, I had to undergo this cleansing. To remove the stain of childbearing!!! Men were not to have intercourse with an unclean woman so this was necessary—and it was done immediately after the child was baptized.
Right. Church history brings up the embarrassing fact of manic obsession with sex, menstrual blood, and the “revolting conditions” of the womb, as “St.” Jerome, a Church “Father,” termed childbirth. The history is entertaining reading. To be fair, Christianity inherited the prejudice against women from Judaism and Greco-Roman culture.

According to gospel stories, Jesus of Nazareth violated the taboo by teaching women, treating them like human beings, and even touching them when they were ritually unclean (the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ daughter). We can’t rely on gospel stories for factual accuracy in their details, but we can be sure they would not depict Jesus breaching ritual taboos if he had not done so. The man was a rebel.

You can easily find more Church history on this subject, by googling, using some phrases in this post.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Womenpriests defy the Vatican

July 9
The words, feelings, and thoughts in Women Find a Way: The Movement and Stories of Roman Catholic Womenpriests mirror my own. The book contains the stories of 36 validly ordained Catholic women priests. I do not have the vocation to be a priest, but I identify with their stories of facing down fear. I admire their courage, I'm inspired and heartened by them.

Like them, I act independently of official Church teaching. Like them, I’m accused of wanting to start my own religion. Like them, I could not ignore what I was assigned by Spirit to do. Like them, I woke up and wake up others to what’s wrong in the familiar picture. Some passages hit the bull’s eye for me.
“Step by step,” I followed my internal compass.
(Joan Houk, validly ordained Roman Catholic womanpriest)

Some situations oblige us to obey God and one’s own conscience, rather than the leaders of the Church.
(Cardinal Walter Kasper, Vatican Pontifical Commission for Christian Unity)
Pushback from Church officials is predictable. Raymond Burke, Archbishop of St. Louis, is notorious for his hard-line positions, which have been vented on abortion, birth control, the Harry Potter children’s series, and politicians who dissent. Most recently, he fumed at the Catholic Health Association for openly dissenting from Catholic bishops on the president’s health plan and helping to get it passed. Also predictably, Burke’s record on clergy sex abuse looks suspicious, and, also predictably, he used all the guns at his disposal to threaten womenpriests.
Burke’s response was to have us “served” at the synagogue, immediately at the conclusion of the ordination liturgy, with the Summons and Canonical Admonition to appear in court the following month. We did not respond to this “summons” because we would have had to plead “guilty” to the charges of heresy and schism, and recant, which is of course a lie; or plead “not guilty” and prove him and/or “them” wrong, which is of course impossible.
Elsie Hainz McGrath, validly ordained Roman Catholic womanpriest
I see myself as one of thousands who are facilitating a paradigm shift in human consciousness. For Christians, this means letting go of guilt for thinking new and unfamiliar thoughts.

Florian objected in a COMMENT on July 12, 2010:
There is no such thing as a "validly ordained woman priest". What does "valid" mean but that it is okay according to the official teaching of the church? But women priests are not valid in the eyes of the church.

I think Jeanette uses "valid" to mean that the women priests were ordained by (heretical/ schismatic) bishops who were themselves validly ordained. It is true that the church teaches that even schismatic bishops can validly ordain priests, though they may be unauthorized to do so. This is because the sacrament of holy orders works automatically if it is performed according to the intention of the church. The church hierarchy is not more powerful than the Lord Jesus, and so they cannot prevent the Lord's sacraments from being effective.

However, the problem in the case of women priests is that women are not valid "matter" for the sacrament of holy orders to begin with, at least in the eyes of the church. So, ordination of women priests is not valid, even if "ordained" by bishops who are intending to properly administer the sacrament, because no sacrament takes place anyway without the proper matter.

(Similarly, a priest cannot turn crackers and grapejuice into the body and blood of Jesus no matter how hard he tries; for the proper matter of bread and wine is not present.)


On May 30, 2008, I wrote:
National Public Radio announced it this morning: the Vatican has excommunicated Roman Catholic Womenpriests, all of them. Now we’ll see whether its repression succeeds in squelching this movement and other efforts to open minds and hearts.

It's no big deal anymore, seems to be the attitude of Catholics, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Catholics take excommunication casually because disobeying Church law often means following one’s conscience.
When friends of mine attended the ordination of two women in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement in February in Sarasota, Fla. I pointed out to them, after the fact, that the Florida papers quoted the local bishop as saying that Catholics who participated in the event were excommunicated. The response of my friends, both of whom are weekly communicants, was a dismissive wave of the hand.
Oh, just like that abortion case in Brazil, where everyone was excommunicated except the rapist.
This speaker reflects the growing attitude that the Church's model of morality cannot be trusted.

Archbishop Burke
Raymond Burke rose rapidly from Bishop of La Crosse, to Archbishop of St. Louis, to head of the Vatican Supreme Court. I said Burke’s record on clergy sex abuse looks suspicious, but the most recent NCR report on Burke says more than suspicious. Apparently his abuse policy in Wisconsin led to Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict being suspected of covering up the molesting of 200 deaf boys.
In La Crosse, someone accusing a priest of sexual abuse would have to provide a greater degree of proof than the church’s rules expect. “Some priests or deacons could still be in active ministry who would not be there if the correct standard of proof were used,” said Connell.
Another predictable fact in this interesting story—the Vatican elevates a man who’s tough on the Catholics he supposedly shepherds while letting clergy get away with crimes. Salient case in point—Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston, whisked off to a post in the Vatican when law enforcement in Boston gathered evidence of his crimes.
Not so predictable—the public and the media now, finally, are calling the hierarchy to account, uncovering the facts, and connecting the dots.

July 17, 2010. Missteps by the Vatican continue.
On June 15, the Vatican issued a clarification of its canonical procedures for how dioceses should handle priests who sexually abuse children. The statement added that the "attempted ordination of a woman" has now been added to the list of "delicta graviora," or most serious crimes in church law, alongside the sexual abuse of minors.

The next day 27 international Catholic organizations issued a joint statement, saying in part:
We take great offense that good faith struggles for gender equality could be misunderstood as a sacrilege and placed on par with the sexual abuse of children. In 1976, the Vatican's own Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded there is no valid scriptural reason for denying ordination to women.
They objected to the Vatican repackaging its sexual abuse policy without adding that abusers’ names be released and global child protection policies be implemented. But that would mean naming bishops who participated in the cover-up, to which Tom Doyle in NCR commented,
This would obviously nail the majority of U.S. bishops, both retired and active. This crime is just as devastating as the sex abuse itself because it obviously enables continued rape and molestation of innocent children and adults.
As Bryan Coynes in US Catholic commented,
In the minds of many people who will read the news, [the Vatican’s statement] seems to equate the "attempted ordination of women" with the rape and torture of children. . . .
it is an outrage to pair the two . . .

The Vatican has in effect given legitimacy and momentum to what is still an incredibly tiny movement with this clumsy legal maneuver, tantamount to the United States dropping a nuclear weapon on Luxembourg—only more ridiculous because this will do absolutely no damage to the women's ordination movement. It is more like a gift. None of those women are afraid of excommunication any longer; indeed, it is now the Vatican that appears fearful.
I can’t say it better. Anyone who knows Roman Catholic Women Priests personally will be outraged by this latest Vatican move. Some women priests were motivated to become priests by their ministry to women and children who were molested by men priests.

Good priests who maintain their integrity must squirm at each new tyrannical step of the Vatican.

Florian commented: Yeah, let's get our priorities straight. It is more important to condemn sex abuse than to condemn the ordination of women. BUT it is also much more important to fight abortion and advocate for life than to fight the church over the issue of women priests.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) offer this response to the Vatican's blunder of listing women's ordination among its most serious crimes:
Roman Catholic Womenpriests numbers have erupted from seven to over 100 in the last eight years since the first ordination in 2002 on the Danube in Europe. The Vatican continues to respond to women’s ordinations with condemnation of everyone who supports the movement for women priests within the Catholic Church. However, Womenpriests are being supported widely by the hundreds of Catholics attending every public ordination.

The Roman Catholic Womenpriests wonder how answering a spiritual call to serve through priesthood could possibly be in the same category of “sin” as pedophilia. Instead of the many excommunications and condemnations the Vatican issues against women priests and their supporters, it would be better to take responsibility for the damaging behaviors of patriarchy especially the abuse of spiritual power. We suggest that the Vatican begin this process of reconciliation and renewal by listening to the pain of those who suffer from clergy abuse: nuns, women priests, and lay women in the Church who have been as much victims of the church as the survivors of sexual abuse.
There’s no better rebuttal of the pope’s stance against women priests than his own statement when he was Cardinal Ratzinger:
Over the pope . . . stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.
He couldn't have realized then that conscience would motivate women to disobey him when he became the pope. He still doesn't.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Releasing religious fear

June 5
Last Sunday I met with a group who are reading and discussing God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. One in the group likes it but confessed it isn’t what he wanted. What did he want? A book telling him why he should stay in Christianity. I said I can’t imagine writing a book like that, although I stayed. I found the sentence in my book stating,
I expect that, as the twenty-first century progresses, a formal religious setting will become increasingly irrelevant to many spiritually aware people.
The questioner’s statements suggested to me that he needs to leave. Each person has to decide according to his or her situation.

God Is Not Three Guys had an incubation period of twenty plus years. When in the 1980s I told a monk my desire to write it, he said, “They’ll throw bricks at your house,” voicing exactly my fear. I considered writing anonymously but knew it was impossible. I imagined being gunned down and leaving my kids motherless. I imagined various scenarios for protecting myself and them.

Nothing prepared me for what happened when my book came out—two contrary realities:
• A swing away from the gains in the 1980s when Jesus Seminar articles exposed the true nature of scripture—its scant factual content—back toward literal, dogmatic, and even preachier old-time religion,
• An astonishing number of people who eagerly pounce on my message, people who get it. It continues to surprise and gratify me when I find such people.

At this point while writing this, I was interrupted by a phone call telling me of another book club working through my book. I feel warmed.
I continue to ask myself the same question that drove me in the beginning of this process: What is my purpose in writing and speaking? Why do I go on?
My answers vary but center on distinctions:
• between facts and symbols
• between literal and figurative interpretations of religious language
• between Jesus the man and Jesus Christ the myth
• between faith and belief

I was born to teach. In grade school my aspirations rose with each grade, “Oh this is the grade I want to teach.” My level of aspiration continued to rise as I taught high school and then college and adults. At this time in my life, my primary assignment is to educate adults who are ready to defy the religious threat of eternal damnation. For those who are ready, that threat is laughable or at least weak enough to let in new information; for others it still has the power to quell their questions; and still others seem to be sincerely innocent of any questions.

I speak only to those who are ready to unlearn the distortions of religion. One member of my family obviously is not ready. He actually thought he could persuade me to stop knowing what I know. I gasped when I realized his expectation—so far removed from reality. I’ll quote myself again:
We cannot go back to the halcyon days of blithe belief in the gods of the past any more than a child of twelve can go back to believing in Santa Claus.
Those who respond enthusiastically to my writings are not alone in leaving literal beliefs. Theologians grapple with the distinctions I outlined, but they generally don’t write for ordinary people. I do.

God in America October 20, 2010

One in 10 US adults are former Catholics headlines the National Catholic Reporter and, among those who still call themselves Catholics, the rituals of First Communion, first confession, confirmation, and even marriage in the Church have fewer and fewer participants.
But Catholics are only leaving in numbers comparable to those of other denominations. Half of all Americans have changed their faith affiliations. Increasingly, spiritual motives propel people into the ranks of atheists, agnostics, and “non-affliliated.” These are spiritual orientations, although many atheists fail to realize it.

Why do Catholics say they’re quitting? Because they disagree with official teaching on sex issues—divorce and remarriage, abortion, gays, birth control, and the treatment of women. But I think another factor underlies these—“God” is not what It used to be. It’s no longer a “He” who tells people what to do and think.
Religious Sister Theresa Kane says,
In 1978, Pope John Paul I said publicly, and I have never forgotten this and continue to proclaim it, “We need to call God ‘mother’ as well as ‘father.’ ” It was a powerful statement. I can still remember him saying it on television. Because until we do that, our language of God remains exclusive, patriarchal and militaristic.
This was John Paul I. John Paul II would never have made such an insightful statement. His long papacy is the reason that the Catholic hierarchy, clergy, and current crop of male seminarians studying for the priesthood have lurched to the right.
Christian speaker Maxine Moe says,
If we feel we MUST call God by only male names we have broken the first commandment.
Well stated! Yes, if we worship three guys in the sky, we worship idols.
A character in a book says,
I always thought of God as Universal Intelligence that is way bigger than what conventional churches claim to.
As our concept of divinity expands, traditional religions no longer monopolize the conversation about spiritual subjects, and God is Universal Mind, Creative Energy, All That Is—readers, find your own synonyms for this Mysterious Presence.
Doing so frees us from the confining box of authoritarian, institutional religion. Thus we can cherish our tradition without its exclusive claims and its SHOULD NOTs. We can participate in the huge spiritual shift from traditional religion to something beckoning but not yet defined.

God in America (October 14)
The PBS special on religion, “God in America,” was excellent—I had to miss some of it and would like to watch the whole again soon. It didn’t dare to predict the future of religion in America, but I venture a prediction. I predict that during this century spirituality will increasingly move away from religions, the human institutions that for centuries have mediated spiritual reality to people.

The signs that traditional religion is dying are already here, as Pope Benedict XVI admitted:
There’s no longer evidence for a need of God, even less of Christ. The so-called traditional churches look like they are dying.
While politicians vie to display their religious credentials, educated and thoughtful people leave religion. If they’re famous enough, that gets headlines. I rejoiced at the reasons novelist Anne Rice gave for quitting Christianity—it’s too anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-science.
I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.
She says she follows Christ? I wonder what she means by that. I distinguish between Christ and the spiritual master, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was a man who actually lived on earth and preached a spiritual message of value for every human person. Christ is the God- image of a particular religion but also symbolizes a reality much larger than comprehended by most Christians.
Readers who accept Christ as an expansive symbol can add their own thoughts about its significance and why they “remain committed to Christ.” I refer you to Chapter 10 of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky and excerpts HERE.

While I applaud her objections to anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-science Christians, I differ from Anne Rice in another way—my Christian friends are knowledgeable, broadminded and aware. They are the reason I stay in the Church. But I don’t encourage people who have no personal ties to a Christian community or any other religious community to stay in their religion. I encourage people to understand the difference between religions and spirituality. Therein lies the future of spiritual advances and spiritual wisdom.