Monday, November 26, 2012

Palestine, Birth 2012 and more

The latest military upheaval in Gaza has reawakened a passion in me—my indignation at Israel’s continued oppression of Palestinians— and, worse, my government literally aiding this brutality by sending weapons to Israel. Of course, Israel’s action is called “defense” while retaliation by Gazans is called “terrorism.”
My recent writing on this bias in our government and media was published in the St. Cloud Times on Saturday. I argued that American media don’t give the Palestinian side and I gave some facts leading up to Israel killing Ahmad al-Jabari.

Israel wins the propaganda war by playing the victim surrounded by hostile forces, thus cleverly blaming the real victims, the Palestinians. In this way it justifies its brutality and humiliation of Palestinians, which our biased media do not report to Americans. 
The Times included my wish that Hamas would stop trying to win justice by military means and move to non-violent protests, but it did not include my reference to the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s, which awakened the conscience of Americans. Such an awakening is needed if justice is to come to the Middle East, and we all know that there can be no peace without justice.

Besides writing, I pass on many articles that come my way. Seeking background for those who do not follow the dire conditions in Palestine—Gaza’s children are malnourished and stunted—I found this written in 2011, before the latest explosion, and showing the U.N.perspective. It explains that humanitarian relief is welcome but a long term solution must stop Israel from undermining any progress toward economic independence for Palestinians.
Unemployment (at 30%, and 43% for under-30s), manufacturing and agricultural decline (despite a recent upturn), large-scale revenue losses, "dire" humanitarian conditions, worsening socioeconomic indicators—all these issues and more are linked explicitly and repeatedly to the political situation.
More cheerful news emerges from another passion of mine, the shift in global consciousness that we are living through right now. The evidence that we are is presented in this analysis by retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. I passed it on to my personal email lists of politically interested. “It is really excellent,” responded my friend Sondra. “His historical framing of shifting attitudes is like looking through a microscope that is a little out of adjustment, a little fuzzy, and bringing it into really sharp focus.”
I appreciate Spong’s sharp critique of religion’s role in “the birth pangs of this new consciousness.” He understands that, “No new consciousness is raised without rampant anger from those being displaced.”

Finally, I recommend the incomparable S. Joan Chittister speaking about women oppressed. I love her for her eloquent expressions of outrage and her forthright criticism of religious oppression.
I do not stay silent and take as my reward the responses I get to letters in National Catholic Reporter, pieces in the Times, and my posts here. Thank you.

Mother & Yitzhak Rabin     November 4, 2015

My mother died 20 years ago on November 1. I remember being at the funeral home when I heard the news that Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated by Israeli right-wingers who wanted to stop his peace efforts with Palestinians.
My sister wondered why I groaned a little at the news. It seemed odd to me too that Rabin’s death hit me worse than Mother’s. But my concern was justified. Mother died at the age of 94 and had sunk into dementia. The sad part about her death I’m writing in my memoir.

I expected Rabin’s death would have fearful consequences for the Middle East and thus for the U.S. I was right. I will not guess what the official relationship of the 2 sides would be today—whether Palestinians would be free of Israeli occupiers—but I am sure relations would be better if peace had not been delivered that decisive blow. It fueled opposition to the Oslo accords, the closest Palestinians ever came to getting justice, although not their own state.

After that, Israel and the U.S. hardened their attitude toward Palestinians. It is exasperating that land grabs by Israelis, daily humiliations suffered by Palestinians, and brutalities committed by Israeli soldiers get little press in our country, but every time Palestinians retaliate with ineffectual rockets or whatever, it gets media attention. Israeli deaths and injuries—almost minimal in comparison with Palestinian casualties—draw media attention but not those suffered by Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s pretended interest in peace is treated as if it were authentic. His cooperation with Israeli settlers in their relentless land grabs does not seem to interest the American press. And don't get me started on politicians of both parties in the U.S. getting slapped down if they dared to tell the truth. They quickly back off.
I have to stop writing about this now because the injustice disturbs me too much. Please visit this site for the facts. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Inquisition revisited

November 13, 2012
I received a message showing the power of the hierarchy to intimidate. Fear is gripping some Catholics. This came home to me in a personal way when I learned more this past week about how a community I love is restricting its educational outreach for fear of reprisals from the hierarchy. Signs of this growing fright have been dribbling out during the past months as we wait to see who will be appointed the new bishop.

I wish I could give details but they are not mine to give. Think fear of the Inquisition and you will be in the neighborhood. This is overblown because the Inquisition carried out physical punishment. But parallels exist, and ultimately leading the charge is the pope who used to be Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, head of the Vatican office formerly called the Inquisition. Pope John Paul II began the campaign to reverse the fresh-air reforms of Vatican II, his chief ally Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI. These two popes repudiated the Council, refused to share power, and appointed bishops they knew would carry out their repressive agenda. Fear of such a bishop infects this monastery.

I was studying for my masters at the School of Theology from 1986 to 1988 and was fortunate to have as an instructor the renowned Fr. Godfrey Dieckmann, one of the periti or experts educating bishops at Vatican II. Among the memorable moments in that class were Godfrey’s admissions that some of his views would not be approved by the Vatican and frankly asking for our silence regarding them.

“Epistemic closure.” This is the phrase David Brooks, conservative commentator on National Public Radio, used to describe his own conservative side. “Epistemology” is the science of knowing and this phrase means closing one’s eyes to what one does not want to know. He was referring to the pre-election Republican conviction that Romney would win, despite the polls indicating an imminent Obama victory. E.J. Dionne, the liberal counterpart in the conversation on NPR, applied Brooks’ phrase also to the Republicans’ denial of global warming despite the evidence produced by science.

I apply it to the Christian right’s denial of evidence refuting traditional beliefs on a wide range of issues—biblical interpretation, the rise of women, the legitimacy of non-Christian religions, and advances in moral awareness, particularly gay rights.

Catholic bishops campaigned against gay rights and greater access to contraception before the last political election. They were defeated. Contributing to the defeat were religious leaders who campaigned against the repressive amendment in Minnesota. Especially courageous were prominent Catholics who spoke out for justice. They won. The bent of history is clear.
Another sign of history’s direction is the flourishing Catholic womanpriest movement, which has the only liturgies that do not suggest God is exclusively male.

Would that my beloved monastic community placed itself on the side of history and of courage! Fear never rewards. It diminishes us as it cramps more and more. It robs our integrity, thus alienating us from our Beloved Source. I plead with you to release the resources of intelligence, learning, wisdom, and compassion in your community to educate, to model, to inspire, to spread the true message of Jesus of Nazareth.  Let creativity and freedom ring!

Inquisition revisited, December 9
Every time I hear about another punishment meted out by the Vatican for acts of grace and courage I wonder what it will take for the Church universal to finally unite in opposition against the tyranny. Now it’s a 92-year-old Jesuit who is barred from priestly service for supporting a womanpriest. The Province of Jesuits “regrets” Brennan’s act. It chose the wrong act to regret. What will it take?

Inquisition, December 5
The Vatican takes ever bolder control of Catholic lives. The latest jaw-dropping move of this increasingly oppressive regime was to expel Roy Bourgeois from his Maryknoll community because he supports the priestly ordination of women.  Bourgeois has been internationally acclaimed for his peace and human rights activities. The Maryknoll superior general from 2002 to 2008, Fr. John Sivalon, decried the Vatican’s order as meddling in Maryknoll affairs and interfering in the integrity of the society. How will Maryknollers around the world, both men and women, respond?

I would like to see the society publicly, calmly, and courageously embrace Bourgeois as one of their own and commend him publicly, calmly, and courageously for his heroic actions in behalf of peace and justice.
He won a purple heart for his service in Vietnam.
He lived and worked among the poor in Bolivia for five years.
When his friends, Maryknoll sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, along with two other women, were raped and murdered in El Salvador, he became an outspoken opponent of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.
He has served nearly five years in federal prison for non-violent protests.
His courageous stand for women priests against the sexist stance of the Vatican continues this heroic action. No greater prophet or saint lives among Catholics today. And it is no surprise that the Vatican opposes such a person. Bourgeois acknowledges that many priests fear losing their jobs, pensions, and sacramental power if they speak out about the ordination of women. But, he said,
I’d rather eat at a soup kitchen and be free rather than not do something that I’m called to do.
There are parallels between our time today and the reign of the Inquisition. This was a tribunal searching for and combating heresy during the twelfth through fifteenth centuries when Roman Catholicism dominated in Europe. Heresy was any belief different from the prevailing opinion held by the hierarchy of the day. In our popular consciousness, torture and the Inquisition go together, and this association is not without justification. Today we do not see the rack or thumbscrews; we do see banishment, excommunication, and financial hardship.

Also fear and excessive caution. I am angry that the greater Church lets itself be bullied by the Vatican, but I understand that the majority of “the faithful” still live in a Catholic culture of exaggerated respect for orders from the hierarchy. It’s of one piece with awe and respect for the Sacred, which hierarchs presume to define. Those who know better, who are aware of hierarchical abuse, have given their lives to the institution and see no practical way to oppose it without incurring the painful consequences that Bourgeois appears willing to accept. Would I be as courageous?  I don’t know.

Free of institutional ties, I would abandon this religion if I did not have dear personal ties to it and spunky articles in the National Catholic Reporter that model integrity and courage. Often it’s the editorial, such as the latest one explaining why the Vatican’s stance against women’s ordination is untenable.
NCR joins its voice with Roy Bourgeois and calls for the Catholic church to correct this unjust teaching.
In another NCR article, AnthonyRuff responds to the clumsy Mass translation imposed by the Vatican after refusing to accept a well-crafted one. He writes,
When it comes to liturgy, Catholics are quite patient. Most Catholics have no reason to track the dirty politics behind the scenes of how the Vatican centralized and micromanaged the translation process beginning in 2001, threw away 17 years of transparent and collegial work on a very fine revised English translation, and botched the new missal by making some 10,000 mostly ill-advised changes at the last moment.

And when they're attending liturgy, most Catholics are probably also not tracking the convoluted and inelegant language of the new missal. . . . people's reduced attention to liturgical texts is a significant piece of why "it worked."

The new missal has shown us how a secretive central authority, absent mechanisms of accountability, can impose its will.
My disgust with liturgical language centers on sexist God-talk, which reduces the Holy Source of All to a set of humanlike males. I was hoping that the linguists and other experts working for 17 years would come up with language that conveyed a truly exalted sense of the Divine. We never got to see the fruits of their work. Instead, the Vatican imposed words even more worshipful of male gods.

Vatican attacks on fresh, evolving developments in spiritual awareness are increasing rancor between hierarchy and Church universal. But its attempts to hold the Church in the traditional mindset will not stunt spiritual growth. Spirit does not take orders from the pope.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Holy Misogyny

October 25, 2012
I’m reading a book titled, Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter, by April DeConick.  Its revelations on vilification of the female in the first centuries of Christianity would repel even most conservatives today. I had encountered much of this material before but had forgotten the details—who said or did what outrageous thing. The ugly story presents a backdrop to contemporary events and helps to explain the glacial pace of change today in the treatment of women and girls.

In these excerpts “Church Fathers” reveal prejudices so contorted as to call into question their soundness of mind.
[Jerome, translator of the Bible into Latin,] spells out all the details of fostering a virgin whose body would become the temple of God. The girl child must be kept in total seclusion . . . She should be taught such shame of her female body that after puberty she should never bathe again, being humiliated by the mere thought of seeing herself naked. She should learn to mortify her body, to subjugate it and live in deliberate squalor to spoil her natural sexiness.
Epiphanius claims that women are
“unstable, prone to error, and mean spirited.” Death entered the world through a woman’s action. As a consequence, she cannot be trusted or obeyed.
Tertullian earns his reputation as supreme woman-hater with these lines:
Do you not know that you are an Eve? . . . You are the Devil’s gateway. You are the unsealer of that forbidden tree. You are the first deserter of the divine Law. You are she who persuaded him whom the Devil was not valiant enough to attack. . . . On account of your desert, that is death, even the Son of God had to die.
Jerome opposed marriage and held up virginity as the only acceptable Christian lifestyle. Augustine finishes this picture of extreme asceticism verging on emotional disorder.
According to Augustine, the “hideous” unwilled erection of his penis was the consequence of sin and woman was its source.
Augustine considered all carnal desire to be sinful. He was the first to teach the fiction that woman’s body, when accepting semen in the sex act, becomes like soil to seed sown by her husband. He also was the first to argue that a woman has no authority over her own body, her husband does.

In the fourth century, even those who argued against Jerome’s denigration of marriage and Augustine’s conflation of sex with sin agreed that woman was inferior to man, subordinate to man, and must be submissive to man. So complete was fourth century contempt for the female that women could earn respect only by becoming men. This belief found its way into Saying 114 in the Gospel of Thomas, which has Jesus saying of Mary Magdalene,
I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Some women went into the desert to starve themselves until they lost their breasts and stopped menstruating.

It is tempting—I have done it—to dismiss opinions of the woman-hating “Church Fathers” as so grotesque they can’t possible influence any one today. But their weird misogyny peeks out from the statements of Catholic bishops who fight against equality for women in the Church today. When bishops came out against the Affordable Care Act and nuns dared to dissent from that opinion, the bishops were aghast that sisters would publicly disagree with them. Their words reflected this deep reservoir of misogyny in our tradition—the conviction that a female can have no authority.

The hierarchy’s arguments against women’s ordination obviously hearken back to the same early-centuries misogyny, echoing the patristic belief that woman’s body is shameful by claiming that her body does not constitute the correct sacramental “matter” for ordination. Catholic women do not stand alone in enduring abuse. In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention revoked women’s ordination and excluded them from all pastoral ministry that involved leadership.

In the secular realm the fight for women’s equality is progressing a bit faster, but apparently our religious tradition also puts a brake on progress there. Reverberations of its sex and gender distortions pop out in the clumsy campaign rhetoric of conservatives. That such statements have caused huge controversies and fodder for comedians seems to me a healthy sign. It suggests we are moving out of the diseased view presented so graphically in books like Holy Misogyny.  

Holy Misogyny 2, November 2
I’m sorry that comments I “publish” are not really published by blogger. It has happened several times and is annoying. Usually, however, I get a flurry of email responses that do not go through blogger. As a result of one exchange, I add this to the previous post.

The misshapen views of  “Church Fathers” on women cannot be separated from their theology, which reflects their opinions on gender. Imagining God to be entirely male with no vestige of the feminine fits their twisted view perfectly.

We are trained to respect the "Fathers," but knowing what we know today, we should critically examine their words. Because of their contempt for half of humanity and creation, we will find distortions in their thoughts about God and human relationships—the heart of spirituality.
They were not the first to believe in and teach patriarchy. Scholars debate its origins, but we know that it did not exist in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies. By the time of classical Greece, the intellectual origins of the West, patriarchy was firmly embedded. Plato, Aristotle, and other classical greats had the unshakeable conviction that women were inferior to men, and it imbues their writings. Aristotle, for instance, said that a female is an incomplete male, “as it were, a deformity.”

Our Judeo-Christian tradition was imbued with the same, as is abundantly evident in the Bible, where “the Lord” jealously competes with other idols for exclusive worship by “his people.” Raphael Patai, historian of ancient Hebrew culture, wrote in The Hebrew Goddess,
Every Hebrew-speaking individual from early childhood was imbued with the idea that God was a masculine deity. No subsequent teaching about the aphysical, incomprehensible, or transcendental nature of the deity, could eradicate this early mental image of the masculine God.
When I was studying at the School of Theology in the 1980s, I found a delightfully eloquent refutation of the patriarchal view coming from a people close to the earth. Rodney Venberg, a Bible translator for a people of Southwestern Chad in Africa, wrote that their word for God (Ifray) was related to their word for mother, This made his job of translating the Bible difficult and produced a weird kind of speech among Christians that confused their neighbors. Converts wanted to know if it was necessary to change their talk to become a Christian. Venberg wrote,
To speak of God (Ifray) with such terms as "he" and "Father" was totally inconsistent with their grammar and went against their whole notion of the creation (after all had a man ever given birth to a child?).
Fortunately, we are today moving out of the male-dominated era as part of a huge shift in human consciousness. Because the female is associated more closely with nature and less with dominance, I expect a non-patriarchal world will do a better job of addressing political, economic, ecological, and nuclear threats to the planet and all its inhabitants.
Comment:  Kathleen said:
Comedians observe behavior they perceive as discrimininatory or biased and then communicate it to their audiences in a humorous way. A current example is how Stephen Colbert is offering a humorous million dollar challenge to Donald Trump with the same deadline of October 31 that Mr. Trump is giving President Obama to provide information to Mr. Trump. Mr. Colbert implies that his request is just as outrageous (and silly) as Mr. Trump's.

If only we could joke about women's issues, but, unfortunately, as long as we have mostly male legislators who feel they can decide what's best for women's bodies and their healthcare, it's a man's world. We can call it the United States, but it's still ruled by and for men.

The imaginary lord god, October 3, 2012
On October 13 and 14 I will be at the Women & Spirituality Conference in Mankato, MN to give a presentation and attend other presentations. My topic is Sexist God-talk.
God as exclusively "HeHimHis" describes male power as natural, normal, proper, and right, and female power as unnatural, abnormal, improper, and wrong. In this way, the Christian “Lord” promotes male domination and therefore gender abuse. In fact, it promotes all types of inequality by establishing hierarchy and domination as the essential, even sacred, structure of the universe.
Those of us still in the Christian tradition can help to transform sexist God-talk with its immoral power structure by taking every opportunity to insert inclusive God-talk into liturgical and everyday language. This workshop will suggest many ways to diminish the power of “the Lord” by naming the Holy with feminine and non-hierarchical terms.
This is timely after we watched Half the Sky and maybe cried a little to see how little girls are sold into slavery and getting their genitals cut in the practice of female genital mutilation, called less graphically “female circumcision.” They need us to pay attention to this cruel practice.

The reason for cutting little girls’ genitals? To make sure they will not get pleasure from sex, the better to control their bodies. I’m not making this up. A practitioner said as much in her own language.

The reason she had no intention of stopping it?  She’s making good money at it—it’s what she said. Every day she cuts about 30 girls around eight years of age, without anesthesia or sterilization. Without warning the girls are suddenly grabbed by their mothers or grandmothers and taken to the hut of the practitioner. Their legs are tied to prevent kicking, and their screams are ignored.
Don’t imagine that this is like male circumcision. The clitoris is removed, not only cut. In 15% of the cases, the genitals are cut off entirely. All that’s left is a hole to let urine and menstrual blood flow through.

So what’s the connection between girls used as sex objects and sexist God-talk?
Religious God-talk trains people to worship an idol, an imaginary lord god who endorses male domination. It teaches everybody, not only religious people, that females have no status. Real transformation can come only if we allow women to become confident and powerful.  This requires cleaning our religious language of God-talk that reduces the Source of All That Is to a lord or lords, definitely male and definitely lording it over others, especially women and girls because female terms for God are forbidden.

It’s not hard to clean up the sexist stuff. Just cut out the “HeHimHis” and “Lord,” and add  Mother” in equal portions to “Father.”  There are many enlightening terms for God that would gently and persuasively teach people about the ineffable Transcendent One.

I understand the impediments to change. But refusing to make any effort to reduce sexism in God-talk, out of habit or because of church authority, I find unconscionable.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Catholic sisters in shift

Barbara Marx Hubbard and LCWR, August 17
Listen to Barbara Marx Hubbard tell of “the most remarkable experience of [her] life,” having addressed the 900 sisters at the LCWR convention. She said she had made two important addresses in her life—the first in 1984 at the national Democratic convention and this one at the LCWR convention with 900 women deciding how to respond to the decree from the Vatican. The difference for her was stark:  “Here, you’re already doing it.”

She saw 900 women in a few days make a cooperative decision. The leaders “leaned into” what everyone at the small discussion tables believed should happen and the participants informed the leaders of the decision. It was to open the field for more dialogue, more telling of their truth. It was the best example of democracy at work that she has ever seen. At this time in the evolution of humanity, when old structures are failing, she saw the sisters demonstrate a new structure of oneness, wholeness, and goodness to help the planet emerge as co-creative, cooperative humanity.

At the standing ovation, she recognized the seedbed for the future of humanity—caring for each other and for the unmet needs of humanity. The democratic structure she saw was new to her, not new to them. She felt privileged to be invited and feels like an evolutionary sister of the sisters.

Paul Ryan v. S. Simone, August 26, 2012
Of course I root for S. Simone, leader of the nuns on the bus, in this exchange with Robert Royal, a Catholic defending the Ryan budget. I wanted her or Moyers to say more about big money in Congress getting the tax code structured so that the wealth created by middle class labor is directed to a few financial elites. Productivity of working people has risen impressively but they are not enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Over the past 30 years, a larger and larger portion of America's income growth has gone to those in the top 10% of incomes, and outlandish portions to those in the top 1%. This is a major change from the prior 60 years, in which the top 10% and the bottom 90% shared income gains. Wages have been steadily falling, while profits have been steadily rising. Financial elites have piles of money but are not investing in businesses because middle class consumers lack enough money to create the demand that investors need to create jobs. People have needs and wants but lack enough money to pay for them.

So diverting wealth away from the middle class hurts the entire economy. Wealth inequality not only is unfair; it hurts everybody, including the wealthy. They also depend on a healthy society. There’s plenty of supply—fabulous wealth lies ready to be used—but the demand is lacking. This is the root of our sick economy.

The Ryan budget has everything exactly wrong. Its tunnel-vision sees only the budget deficit and as a solution looks only at cutting funds for domestic needs. It looks at one tree and fails to see the whole forest of our sick economy. Middle class people work harder and harder just to stay in place. Families with two incomes still are struggling, still are falling behind. Adjusting for inflation, 85 to 90% of Americans have made no financial gains in the past 50 years, while CEO earnings have exploded.

The speaker in the last video thinks the solution cannot come from government. He thinks those with excess profits need to be convinced to pay fair wages for their own benefit, because systems don’t stay out of balance for long. They correct themselves. Either there will be a quiet revolution or a noisy, disruptive revolution. He may be right, because this imbalance will not go on for long. I hope enough financial elites catch on soon enough to avoid bedlam.

Those of us who recognize the inner world as the source of solutions can do more than pray. We can stay informed and help to educate our society dying from the illness of wealth disparity.

2 comments:  Florian said...

So have you finally come around to the truth that the solution cannot come from government? Have you then finally seen the light and so now will stop voting for stupid democrats?

The Ryan budget is at least a budget, which is more than the Democrats have. The Democrats do not want a budget so that they have a campaign issue: blast the Republicans for the budget cuts they propose. But even the Democrats know budget cuts are needed because government spending is out of control; they are just not being honest about it.
August 27, 3:31 PM
Democrats have consistently taken the position that fixing the deficit requires both budget cuts and revenue enhancement (raising taxes). Responsible Republicans agree, but they have been out-shouted by Tea Party extremists, who forced Boehner to walk away from the deal he and Obama were close to making. Now Boehner pretends it's Obama's fault.
Another example of Republican irresponsibility as a result of Tea Party pressure: Republicans overwhelmingly voted for sequestration, which would cut from all programs, including the military. Now Republicans are complaining about that law, which they voted for. Their rhetoric would make it seem it was an Obama thing. Not the truth.
One has to stay informed to know what is really going on politically.
September 14, 5:16 PM

S. Simone at the DNC, September 6, 2012

Click and listen to S. Simone Campbell at the Democratic National Convention, and to the thunderous ovation. It will lift you up.

Shift to a new earth, September 11, 2012
The Shift network describes itself as a group of global co-creators, that is, awake and aware evolutionary pioneers who intentionally participate in the Birth to the next era of our evolution. They have arbitrarily chosen December 22, 2012, as the birthday of a new earth, a world that works for everyone. The “undisputed planetary midwife” of this movement is futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard.

In this excerpt of her address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Barbara Marx Hubbard claims an a-religious, agnostic, materialistic, secular, Jewish background, and wonders at the opportunity of her presence at the LCWR conference. The anomaly of Roman Catholic nuns having her speak at their conference stirs her immensely.
No one could have planned it this way, but perhaps the higher consciousness of the Divine is at work . . .
She claims,
a shared sense of mission” with the sisters at this most critical time in the history of humanity. We’re facing a moment of choice because the system is not sustainable as it is. . . . [It will shift] one way or another—toward radical breakdown, or innovation, creativity, love, and breakthrough. How the system tips depends on what happens, and this is happening.
By “this” I think she meant the linking of her secular spiritual movement with the sisters.

In the conscious evolution she intuits, we are at a chaos point, the critical tipping point in an evolutionary trend out of the present state of behavior, which cannot continue. The system is launched on a new trajectory to a new structure, a new mode of operation. The timing is perfect for this exact situation to have occurred. With intuitive, evolutionary eyes, she sees this as a 13.7 billion year trend, a pattern of breakdowns and breakthroughs.

My friend Sondra Lewis has this reflection on the movement:
This whole shift is like a tsunami that is still way out in the ocean. Without any sophisticated monitors you don't see it coming until it hits shore. Our sophisticated monitor is noticing and connecting what is happening below the radar.
This “sophisticated monitor” operates in every human breast but on a level not acknowledged by most. I think it explains the panicky fear and fanatical resistance to change exhibited by some. When I get discouraged by political and religious events, I hold in mind these thoughts, and I am consoled.

Self and soul, September 18, 2012
Two submissions of mine were published in the last few days. In “Economy stifles middle class with unfair tax cuts,” I quote several conservative economists who refute the right-wing belief that tax cuts would stimulate and cure our country’s sick economy, resting my statement on the economic model of supply and demand. We don’t need more supply—billionaires have plenty of money to start businesses. What’s lacking is demand—customers with enough money to demand services and products.

My other published submission is not available online. It was a letter in National Catholic Reporter responding to an article in the previous edition of NCR. My letter prompted, in turn, a phone call I received from an 81-year-old in Phoenix, Arizona.

The article in NCR bemoans the shift of emphasis from soul to self in religious writing “because soul is a key word in a world that gave structure and meaning to a spiritual way of life.” The writer claims that changing the focus to the dignity of the individual was the root cause of changes in religious life over the past 50 years, writing,
With the eclipse of the soul, religious life found itself bereft of its essential focus.
She implies that religious communities have lost their souls and this caused their demise. She does not appreciate the vibrant spiritual health of religious sisters today.

I take a radically different view of the shift from soul to self. Traditional talk of saving our souls assumed that we had souls, disconnected things attached to our persons like appendages, white things pictured in religion class with black marks from our sins. Having moved past traditional Catholic training, I say we are souls; they are our essential selves, our whole selves.

The word “self” does not denote egotistical narcissism. Soul and self both refer to my deepest, divine self, my Higher Power, my inner Beloved, the “Christ in me,” to quote Paul in Galatians. This higher self, distinct from my ego personality, guides me, encourages me, brings me up short when I need it. I welcome the change in thought from having souls to being souls, our essential selves. Rather than a retreat from spiritual values, this incorporates spirituality into the whole of life.

The caller from Phoenix was very happy to see my statement, an insight she had come to from working through suffering.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bp. Patricia Fresen

Our womanpriest community, Mary Magdalen, First Apostle, yesterday welcomed Bishop Patricia Fresen from Germany, originally a Dominican nun in South Africa, now an ordained priest and bishop in our movement. We celebrated Mass, presided over by our pastor Mary Smith, who, as usual, delivered a homily that compares with the best researched homilies I have heard from theologians who teach in a school of theology.
After our liturgy and a snack, we listened to Fresen describe her dream of an inclusive non-hierarchical church without top-down power. There would be no popes and cardinals dictating commands and inciting fear by excommunicating those whose conscience directs them to disobey. Power would reside in the people, all the people. Leadership positions would circulate to prevent corruption and abuse.

In the discussion afterward, we heard about hopeful developments in our movement, but one young, idealistic theology student was troubled by our criticism of the present structure. Aren’t we just as bad when we argue against them? Saying women should be ordained and violating our church’s rule? And why bother with ordination when we criticize the status ordination has?

Bishop Fresen briefly described her journey with its Yes to the divine call that welled up in her, a vocation that clearly was not an ego-driven decision, but entailed painful losses. She explained that women claim ordination as a way to counter the hierarchy’s use of ordination as a tool of exclusive power. By getting ordained, to use an expression by another member of our group, we’re getting right into their garden.

I answered his point about argumentative criticism and say more here. Every reform movement has to explain the need for reform; it has to state what is wrong with the present structure. This necessarily involves an adversarial stance—standing against something. We can’t always loll in the lap of sweetness and light; we can’t be all pleasant when someone or something needs to be corrected. Then we have to criticize, to oppose, to say what is bad and how we want to make it better. This often involves anger, and that’s good. Yes, it is. Anger in the service of improving a bad situation is good.

Also good was the opportunity to hear the young man’s statement. We were glowing in the affirmation that streamed in from all sides, and this sobered us by showing the need for deep reflection and more work to spread our message.
One more point. Harsh rhetoric does not characterize dissent in our church. If anything, the hierarchy is still tiptoed around, and I attribute that to the wall of fear they built. Consider the gentle way people of conscience oppose the bishops, the way women theologians intellectually correct the hierarchy, the reflective and quiet way nuns deal with the Vatican’s oppression.
I am proud to participate in a worldwide challenge to patriarchal power that is manifestly motivated by divine inspiration.

July 24
I received an email from Patricia with this request:
I have just read your blog and it is so good, in contrast to the article by the young journalist in the Times. Since you write so well and have such a solid theology, could I ask you a favour? Could you possibly write a short response to the article, making two very important corrections?
The journalist states that I am dreaming of establishing a church which is all that I described. As you know, that is not at all the case. I, and we in RCWP, are not wanting to establish a church at all but are hoping for and working towards very different structures in the church, as you explain so well. The other point that really concerns me is that the journalist talks about different churches, as though we in RCWP are in a church other than the Roman Catholic church. These two misunderstandings really worry me.
The Times later published a correction.

Shift from top-down power, August 7, 2012
I ended my previous post by saying I’m proud to participate in a worldwide challenge to patriarchal power that obviously is spurred by Spirit. A shift in consciousness is happening, with evidence of it popping up everywhere.
The Shift Network, Inc. seeks to unite many smaller movements in this “growing global movement of people who are creating an evolutionary shift of consciousness.” The network aims to empower “a more enlightened society, one built on principles of sustainability, peace, health, and prosperity.” Overturning top-down power makes up a huge part of this movement, and our Catholic womanpriest movement addresses this directly. Scroll down to the previous post for more on it.

Another piece in the movement is the surge of support for nuns in response to the Vatican's attacks on them and all women. This week, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is conferencing to consider its response to the Vatican. What I find most significant is that Barbara Marx Hubbard, futurist and visionary, is addressing them. Barbara promotes conscious evolution, urging us to participate actively in our expansion of awareness, and she plays a large role in the Shift Network.
My friend Sondra Lewis commented,
This whole shift is like a tsunami that is still way out in the ocean. Without any sophisticated monitors you don't see it coming until it hits shore. Our "sophisticated monitor" is noticing and connecting what is happening below the radar.
This is all so exciting. Consider, by contrast, the words of Stanley Kubrick, filmmaker best known for 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, quoted in The Week:
The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.
What a bleak, empty life it would be to believe this, to have no awareness of inner reality! I couldn’t live like that. No creative artist works without inspiration from the inner world, but many lack awareness of this Source of their creativity. I wonder how aware he is.

May all my readers grow in awareness of their divine connections.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bishops' campaign twists logic

Stories about what “the church” does, thinks, teaches usually refer to the hierarchy, but we all need to be reminded that Vatican II defined church as the whole community of people—we are the church. Catholic bishops who disapprove of contraception—including Benedict XVI—are out of step with the morality of the church as defined by Vatican II. Without question, the Catholic Church as a whole accepts contraception as a blessing, not a sin, because it prevents a variety of health problems for women and enormous financial stress for the poor.

When the Health and Human Services Department of the Obama administration ruled that religious organizations must offer contraceptives in the insurance packages of their employees, I rejoiced. Then the outcry from Catholics, even those who use birth control (Why??), followed by what I thought was brilliant—the administration saying that insurance companies will bear the cost (in the long run, no cost, because contraceptives save money). The bishops stubbornly refuse to accept this and wage a campaign claiming the Obama administration violates religious freedom. What twisted logic!

The Catholic hierarchy wants to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to all persons who work for their organizations. A tiny minority wants to impose its standard of morality on the majority, inflicting real hardship on some. The administration will not let them do this. And it is accused of violating religious freedom!

I understand the point that the HHS definition of religious organizations excludes some that should be included in the definition, but the practical results are fortunate—more religious freedom because less moral tyranny by a religious minority. It should be obvious that the egregious violators of religious freedom are the bishops who want to deny birth control, thus preventive health care, to persons who need it.

Orthodox Rabbi Arthur Waskow has it exactly right:
Claiming [the HHS rule] violates religious freedom is an Orwellian perversion of thought—attacking religious freedom in the guise of defending it.
Campaigning for “religious freedom” sounds so righteous, but it is a defensive move by a group fearful of losing its status and feeling cornered. Consider only a few actions of Catholic bishops:
• Attacking those who uncovered sex abuse
• Criticizing nuns for not condemning the bishops’ pet sins—contraception, homosexuality, and women’s ordination.
• Attacking women priests and those who support them
• Attacking nuns who corrected them about health care
• Attacking renowned women theologians
• Attacking the leadership conference of nuns
• Attacking the rights of gays
• Continuing to cover up the cover-up of clergy sex abuse by the top of the hierarchy
Doesn’t it all sound like paranoia? Like patriarchs protecting their power?

Psychologist, Kathy Galleher worked with men who committed sexual abuse and resisted taking responsibility for it. They became aggressively defensive. She sees the parallel in the Catholic hierarchy and gets it exactly right:
. . . feels like someone is picking a fight, and the intensity of it hints at the enormous amount of still unworked pain at the heart of the church’s sexual abuse crisis. . . . this fight looks like a distraction.
Galleher is talking about the bishops’ fight with nuns and Waskow is talking about the bishops’ fight with the Obama administration, but I apply their points to the whole story of the Catholic hierarchy lately. Think of the scene in Hamlet where the queen says, “The lady doth protest too much.” The bishops do protest too much.

How many Catholic bishops are appalled by the posturing of their fellow bishops? Would it not be interesting to find out! It must be painful for them.

Francis affirms Benedict's rebuke, April 17, 2013
The news that PopeFrancis reaffirmed Pope Benedict XVI's rebuke of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious does not promise changes that both Colman McCarthy and I want from the hierarchy.

McCarthy asks, “What will it take to get me back?” For me the question is, “What will it take to get me back to respecting Catholic leadership?” Besides some changes, McCarthy demands some confessions from the hierarchy:
  •  “Go to confession collectively . . .”
  • “Confess to the sin of harassing the American nuns, . . .”
  • “the sin of stonewalling the appeals of pedophile victims.”
  • “the sin of expelling Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the priesthood . . .”
  • “the sin of demeaning gays and lesbians, . . .”
  • Give the laity equal status.
  • Put an end to priestly celibacy, male-only clergy, bans on contraception and altar girls.
A pretty thorough list that still leaves out a critical piece for me—stop the sexist God-talk. This tops all the rest because correcting it would naturally correct all the rest.
Readers, look at McCarthy’s list and see if you can find one not related to male domination. You think maybe pedophilia?  Can you really believe the scandal would have happened if women had been equally represented in clergy and hierarchy?

Official and non-official explanations of sexist liturgical language insist that the He’s and Him’s do not stand for worshipping a set of males. Then why insist on keeping it? Why continue training the Christian world to value male over female? I believe Catholic leadership is conditioned and sabotaged by its own sick God-talk. Its deep-seated core belief, its North Star, is belief in the supremacy of males.
Speaking in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis repeated the old saw that women have “a special role,” code for no role in leadership or decision making. Combined with affirmation of Benedict’s rebuke of LCWR, this signals an intention to bar women from leadership. Francis’ rejection of papal pomp and his solidarity with the poor, welcome and attractive as they are, do not make up for his apparent acceptance of female subordination.

He can’t succeed, of course. Inside and outside of the Church the rise of feminine power proceeds, because Spirit does not take orders from the pope. To unseeing eyes it is not apparent, but we are moving toward equality between males and females, between colored and white, between various sexual orientations, between ethnic groups, and between religions. We are moving away from European and male domination of the globe. Despite loud splashes of evangelical color in the media, the Christian era is closing in the West as we move into the post-Christian era.

What would it take for me to respect Catholic leadership? I only ask the question rhetorically because I don’t expect the hierarchy to change collectively. I do expect continuing challenges to the official narrative, including those by individual bishops and cardinals. Little explosions of resistance will pop up here and there, in starts and stops, in a relentless, inexorable process of crumbling hierarchical domination and intimidation. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Catholic atheist?

On public radio I called myself a Catholic atheist, or did I say I’m an atheist Catholic? I can’t remember. In any case, people ask me, “How does that work?”

Culturally I am Catholic. Every school I graduated from—grade school to grad school—was Catholic. From the beginning of my life to the present, Catholicism informs me, shapes me, inspires me, piques my interest, and suffuses the air I breathe.

I am an a-theist or a non-theist because I do not have belief in a god or gods, which is theism. If you’re a religious person, you may protest,
I don’t believe in idols; I believe in God!
But I think you believe in a being outside of yourself, external and superior to nature. I don’t. I believe in a Source not superior to nature, but in nature, enlivening nature—“God” in all and all in “God.” I imagine you protesting,
That’s what we believe in!
If you agree with me that “God” is not outside of us but within us (the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t like this), I may accept that you don’t believe in an idol. But I know my idea of what we call “God” differs from you if you never refer to this Transcendent Reality as “she” or “it.” If you worship “Him,” you worship a particular image—an idol.

I notice that atheists who argue against religious belief consistently refer to the “God” they argue does not exist as “He” or “Him.” Dead giveaway. They’re talking about an idol I don’t believe in either. HeHimHis dominate God-talk not only among religious persons—it infests the God-talk of all people. I do not believe in someone, in a personality or individual outside of and superior to us, as most of our Bible and religious literature endorses.

So this is how I differ from most Catholics. I also differ from atheists, those who deny the existence of any spiritual reality. An atheist mystic—yes, I believe he’s a mystic—whom I respect for his honesty and deep spirituality writes,
Spirit is not the cause of nature.
I believe the reverse. Spiritual reality and physical reality are two sides of the same All That Is (“God”), but spirit or consciousness is prior to its physical manifestation.
What we call “God” surpasses any language, but the words of my friend David Steeves come closer to my experience than most religious language does:
I tried to be an atheist, but it goes against my personal experience of reality. Like you, I have core beliefs about the existence of something which is universal in all things in the universe. I can feel it, in meditation I have experienced it, but it is not something that can be described. I believe it to be the source of all religious expression, all religions.
Each person, each culture filters experience and creates belief according to their understanding. How we form our belief says more about us than it does about anything else.
Religious myth presents a huge problem for non-believers. I know many religious people who are perfectly aware that religious myth is myth. They distinguish between fact and myth. They distinguish between religious myth and “myth” in popular parlance where myths are simply foolish beliefs. Religious myths, however, are stories that convey messages impossible to spell out in rationalistic prose.

Conversely, I know atheists who demonstrate a high level of ethical integrity and a yearning for spiritual communication. I believe they deny spiritual reality because they conflate the term “religious” with “spiritual.” When I hear atheists interviewed, it’s obvious to me that they haven’t “lost faith” as I understand faith—trust in spiritual power (also the definition I heard at the School of Theology in the 1980s). What these atheists have lost is religious belief; they figured out that the religious myths they were told to believe lack factual truth. This does not render the symbolic stories useless; it does make believing them inappropriate. Atheists are right to reject literal belief in religious myths.

Here I say more to explain my claim to be a Catholic atheist. If this subject fascinates you, as it does me, you’ll like the book, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville.

A Catholic atheist 2, July 6, 2012
Mary Lou asked a great question.
I am wanting to know how you come to the understanding that God is not superior to creation [in previous post]. I am open to hearing your explanation. I have always thought of God as superior to us creatures.
Thank you. I await hearing from you to help me evolve in my understanding.
I happen to know that her humble manner belies surpassing spiritual intelligence.
I do relate to God as “superior to us creatures,” and when I wrote the post, a little niggle in me said it required an explanation. So here goes.

The God-image of a superior personality is used to justify hierarchy and power-over, and I chafe at this. That is what was working in me when I objected to the word “superior.” Transcendence is way beyond us and in that sense superior, but for the sake of correcting a troublesome concept of church authority, it’s more useful to think of God as Source than as superior being.

To elaborate, divinity is within all creation—God in all and all in God. With that understanding, I believe we creatures all are
Begotten offspring of God,
Born of Source before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light,
True God from true God,
Begotten not made,
One in being with Source.

Jesus Christ symbolizes and personifies this reality within us, so deeply recessed that our ego personalities frequently have no inkling of it. Another way of conceiving and expressing the mystery is to say that physical creation manifests The Within or Divinity; it’s the outer form of an inner reality we call “God.”

I encase “God” in quotation marks to remind us that our images of this Source are only images; our words always are inadequate, always miss the mark. But words are important because they shape us, guide us and inform us.

I should add that, in difficulty of any kind, yielding to Spirit/Source and trusting it utterly brings peace. It’s a sure-fire prescription, a silver bullet for every ill—trust guidance from Within. Would that world powers knew this.
If trusting God utterly means God is superior, so be it. But I do not accept the statement, “God is a superior being.” The little article "a" conjures up an individual, an idol.

While I’m commenting on my previous blog, I’ll continue. I implied that our religious literature endorses the idea of God as a personality or individual. Christian God-talk personifies God, as do all religions—that’s how we get idols. If the personifications were treated correctly by, for instance, mixing female with male images, the God-talk would not generate idolatry. But Christian religious leaders not only fail to educate in this manner, they actively campaign against it.

Priests do not dare change “Father” to “Mother” in the Mass. They do not dare replace “Lord” with non-hierarchical terms. Thus, imposed liturgical language contributes to ignorance and to idolatry.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Father's Word waning

Father's Word Waning, August 2, 2013

Host of the Internet radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Karen Tate indignantly addresses those
safely insulated in that cocoon of media-sanctioned callousness. Don’t learn how your religion has devalued women and decimated cultures. Don’t explore how history has been re-written. Those things don’t touch you. You’re comfortable. Why should you care?
That suffering is the plight of The Other, those people not like you. The ones that don’t really count, at the margins of society. Their suffering is their punishment for not being like you and playing by your rules and worshiping your God, or more accurately your version of religious dogma written by men. . . .
Will you care when it’s your daughter’s life in danger but she cannot have an abortion because white Christian men have obliterated the separation between church and state with their ideology?
Next time you go shopping do you know, or care, that the cashier standing there works a 38 hour week rather than 40 so her employer does not have to pay her any benefits and her wage is so low she has to get tax-payer funded food stamps, . . .
No more will we tolerate a world of injustice and inequality. No more will we allow the destruction of Mother Earth. No more will we sit quietly and obediently as our dignity is stripped from us and our futures stolen. No more will our sexuality and reproductive rights be in the hands of religious zealots and their handmaidens.
Surprisingly, this strong voice in Goddess spirituality resonates with themes articulated by Jesuit priest Bert Thelen. He explains why he is leaving the order and the priesthood and returning to the lay state. Thelen is almost 80 years old, has served as parish priest, provincial staff member and provincial during 45 years of service. He says,
We need conversion—conversion from the prevailing consciousness . . .
we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity.
As Jesus commanded so succinctly, 'Don't Lord it over anyone ... serve one another in love.' As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me.
These are ideas and phrases similar to ones I and other advocates of women’s equality have written. That they come from a former Jesuit provincial is gratifying.

Pope Francis’ triumphal appearance on the world scene has strengthened the impression that institutional leadership in the Catholic Church retains firm control. I couldn’t be happier about honors shown him because they come for the best reasons—attention to the poor and a long-overdue impetus for reform of Curial activities.
But ferment underneath the exterior belies the outward appearance of a Church continuing as before, as articles in National Catholic Reporter disclose. 

Angry priest Gerald Kleba bemoans the climate of distrust created by members of the hierarchy who tighten ranks to thwart investigations of clerical molestation. Because of consequent “decrees that a clergyman can never be alone with immature people,” it is no longer acceptable for him to put his arms around a needy Black youngster in loving assurance.

Another sign of unrest in the institution is results of a survey conducted by St. John’s School of Theology (where I earned my Master’s degree) in Minnesota showing that 59 percent of American priests dislike the mass prayers imposed by the Vatican in 2011. A much higher estimate—nearly 80 percent—of priests disliking the new texts comes from former chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Bishop Donald Trautman. He says of one cumbersome sentence,
It's not English; it's not pastoral; it's impossible. I couldn't make any sense of it.
Helmut Schüller leads the progressive Austrian Priest’s Initiative (video), for which he was stripped of his title of monsignor. On a speaking tour in the U.S., Schüller calls for systemic change in the Catholic Church, not just a new face at the top.
Governance of the Church, he says, is not facing the need for change. It is not addressing “sorrows” at the Catholic base over rejection of divorced and remarried people, gay people, married priests, and women priests. The Church needs control over those who have control. To an American, this means a system of checks and balances—a basic democratic principle and a way to ensure accountability.

Germans have a particular familiarity with the need for disobedience, he says, to counter unjust governance from the top. On the ground level during Nazi days there was silent disobedience, as there is silent disobedience today in the Church [for example, 90 percent ignoring the decree against contraception].

Schüller praises “prophetic women of the Church” being ordained now and says they should “come in the front door, not the back door.” Women played a central role in the earliest communities of the Church. Some advocates for change in the Church say it would be easier to dialogue with bishops if he’d drop the issue of women’s ordination from his agenda. But out of conviction he refuses to exclude it.

During the Q & A, a woman lamented the “future of the Church,” the young, extremely conservative, priests who give uninspiring sermons. Schüller corrected her. The future of the Church is not these priests who give letter-of-the-law, anti-lay sermons spouting the official line taught in seminaries.

Schüller grew up near the Iron Curtain and watched as the Berlin Wall fell down. The sudden event in 1989 that changed Europe dramatically had been awaited for decades but could not have been expected at the beginning of that year. He says we are today moving toward a similar tipping point in the Church, and he challenges us—What could be our contribution toward the change?

I note that the video shows many white heads among the listeners and no young people that I can see, only people of my generation. To me it is another indication of “Father’s word waning.” More next time.

August 13
In George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan, Joan of Arc’s principal adversary Cauchon asks,
Has she ever in all her utterances said one word of The Church? Never. It is always God and herself. . . . What will the world be like when The Church’s councils of learned, venerable pious men, are thrust into the kennel by every ignorant laborer or dairymaid whom the devil can puff up with that monstrous self-conceit of being directly inspired from heaven? . . . Let all this woman’s sins be forgiven her except only this; for it is the sin against the Holy Ghost; and if she does not recant . . . and submit herself to the last inch of her soul to her Church, to the fire she shall go.
Because Joan’s interrogators are locked into a conceptual paradigm that sees divine power proceeding through certain men, Joan’s replies are incomprehensible to them, as this exchange demonstrates:
Inquisitor:  If the Church Militant tells you that your revelations and visions are sent by the devil to tempt you to your damnation, will you not believe that the Church is wiser than you?
Joan:  I believe that God is wiser than I . . . I shall mind God alone, whose command I always follow.
Ladvenue:  Do you not believe that you are subject to the Church of God on earth?
Joan:  Yes. When have I ever denied it?
Ladvenue:  Good. That means, does it not, that you are subject to our Lord the Pope, to the cardinals, the archbishops, and bishops   . . .
Joan:  God must be served first. . . . My voices do not tell me to disobey the Church; but God must be served first.
Cauchon.  And you, and not the Church, are to be the judge?
Joan:  What other judgment can I judge by but my own?
Shaw’s characters illustrate the illegitimacy of the Catholic Church’s hierarchical power, also critiqued by Helmut Schüller (scroll down to previous post). With devastating accuracy, Shaw and Schüller poke at the ludicrous claim to authority that lacks valid authority. Both demonstrate the need to disobey this invalid authority.

But a kind of hierarchy exists in almost every human institution. It is not easy to avoid some people having more power than other people. We looked at this challenge yesterday at the forum that follows our monthly Mass for Mary Magdalene, First Apostle. We noted that Catholic religious women have a better handle than most on achieving a good balance of power in their communities. The Vatican and the bishops appointed by Popes John Paul II and Ratzinger/Benedict could learn a lot from these women. Instead they want to boss them around. 

The latest hint of intractability appears in a statement by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Religious. He took issue with the Vatican's order against LCWR because it was made without consulting his office, which normally deals with matters of religious life. “Jealous of his power?" I ask. But I gather from his statement that Braz de Aviz sincerely wishes to defuse power conflicts in the Church, and he seems to have genuine respect for religious women, acknowledging “sisters who practically live lives of martyrdom.”

What discomforts me is his statement that “doctrinal issues are extremely important" and "the central point of the dialogue.” He added that Pope Francis confirmed the doctrinal assessment that the sisters’ “erroneous vision of the Catholic faith” needs correction. Notice in this assessment promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Inquisition) the expectation of John Paul II that religious stand in “obedience to the Bishops and especially to the Roman Pontiff.” Shades of G.B. Shaw’s telling drama!

We can conclude that the Vatican will keep on demanding that Catholic women religious—and of course all Catholics—submit to hierarchical condemnations of contraception, homosexuality, and women’s ordination.
Fortunately, the Vatican’s positions on these issues are so thoroughly rejected by Catholic theologians as well as all educated 21st century intellectuals that I don’t worry about them beyond concern for the challenge religious sisters have in dealing with the Vatican. Anyone with common sense can see that society will not go back to condemning homosexuality, contraception, and women’s ordination just because the Catholic hierarchy wants it to.

More important is the issue I frequently write about and that provides the foundation for most global ills—worship of a male god. The issue is illuminated by Sisters Sandra Schneiders IHM and Elizabeth Johnson CSJ. Both Schneiders (Women and the Word) and Johnson (“The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female” Theological Studies 45, 1984) deplore exclusively male imagery in reference to what is called “God.” Both support and provide evidence for the point I make—worship of a solely masculine god is idolatry, or in the succinct words of Mary Daly,
If God is male, then male is God.
Christians must become aware of the hypnotic effect created by repeating the words “Father” and “Lord.” They must become aware of the danger in consistent references to “Him”; spiritual maturity is blocked by typical God-talk in Christian churches.

The Vatican can go on bashing gays, women priests, and women minding their own bodies, for all I care; its power to do harm on these issues is limited because the educated world simply ignores its scolding on these points. The more grave injury to humankind comes from its demand that all English speakers pray in language that worships a god instead of opening awareness to the ineffable Transcendent Mystery.

Hostility but gotta laugh, May 30
I had planned to post less here in order to leave time for work on a sequel to God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. But the power struggle in the Catholic Church holds too much interest for me because of its tremendous importance to the paradigm shift occurring in the whole world.

The Catholic Church
• Is the oldest Christian denomination, its history spanning changes in belief and practice from the time of the Roman Empire,
• has the largest global reach of Christian denominations,
• has the most visibly sexist governing system of Christian denominations,
• has a large body of women—religious sisters—esteemed for their illustrious contributions to society,
• has officials visibly uncomfortable with today’s evolving changes in gender balance.

S. Theresa Kane
gained prominence when she greeted Pope John Paul II on his visit to the U.S. in 1979 and asked him about ordaining women. Her thoughts, briefly excerpted here, about the Vatican’s power play over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious are fascinating.
. . . LCWR has not been received well at Vatican institutions, . . . We have spent an enormous amount of our membership money on this whole project, and now we're being asked to do it again. And it's just really not fair to the members.

. . . at the LCWR assembly this summer . . . I think those men should be at that meeting and it should be a priority and they should attend all of it. . . . They should be coming to us now.

. . . there is great hostility toward the LCWR. I think it's probably woven among the American bishops as well as the men in the Vatican, and I don't know how we get through that kind of a blockage.

We're calling for full participation of women in the church. That means that women have to fully participate and have an equal voice.

Cardinal (Timothy) Dolan, the president of the U.S. bishops, is here in New York, and I haven't heard him say one single word about this.

There was a time when U.S. bishops who were working with sisters would come to our assembly, and we really had some good dialogue. And then I think there was a real shift after Pope John Paul II became pope.

We don't want to upset the priests or bishops too much because we've worked very closely with them for so long. And we have a nice, comfortable relationship.

What do you think about the idea of LCWR letting go of its canonical recognition and just becoming a voluntary organization?
I think there are forces in the Vatican and the hierarchy that would be happy if we did it.

If you go noncanonical, you remove yourself as the thorn in the Vatican's side.
That's correct. That's absolutely right. . . . But who knows? . . . there's much of divine intervention and divine providence that can come along.

June 1

The Leadership Conference of Religious Women released a statement saying the Vatican critique
was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency, . . .
Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.
As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity, . . .
Church men in charge are terrified and bewildered by the changes they feel in their bones. Desperately they’re hanging on to power as it slips away from them. I imagine them thinking,
“What’s this world coming to if we can’t even condemn the same sins anymore? Homosexuality, contraception, divorce, radical feminism—it used to be so easy to judge. Women! Acting as if they had the right to make decisions on their own. It’s all discombobulating.”

I have seen no more succinct and incisive summary and analysis of the whole affair than this by a parish priest.
The problem with the Vatican approach is that it places the nuns squarely on the side of Jesus and the Vatican on the side of tired old men, making a last gasp to save a crumbling kingdom lost long ago for a variety of reasons.
He explains why “the structure of the church itself” caused the present-day problems.


Catholics and others who follow religion news are holding their sides, hooting and swaying with laughter over the antics of Catholic hierarchs. U.S. bishops are investigating Girl Scouts, suspicious that they might contradict church teachings on contraception and abortion. I can’t give a better response than Dennis Coday’s in National Catholic Reporter:
First they came for the women religious, then they came for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, then they came for St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, and now the Girl Scouts.

The problem is clearly stated in the Girl Scout mission: "Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

I bet those courageous, confident girls also learn to think for themselves and ask questions. I bet some of them learn leadership skills. That can’t be good.
Serenely unconscious of their comical effect, right-wing bishops keep on playing the fool. Sensible bishops have had enough, revealed Catholic columnist E.J. Dionne. Instead of just dissenting internally, moderate bishops now say publicly that the bishops’ campaign charging the Obama administration with “threats-to-freedom” (scroll down to my “View from the left”) amounts to anti-Obama politicking.

Unseemly behavior from bishops, and there are more signs that Church authority is losing dignity.

The pope, vying for a position in hierarchical pettiness, orders Germans to stop saying Jesus died for all and to say he died "for many." Only one of the changes in liturgical language that invite derision.

The Vatican is roiling after the pope’s butler was arrested for leaking information that breaks the Vatican code of secrecy.
The Italian press has been filled with speculation that the butler, one of a limited number of people who have access to the Pope's private quarters, was a pawn in a game of intrigue and struggle for power inside the Holy See.
And a monsignor in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is grilled on the witness stand. A priest identified as a sexual abuser, AWOL from his archdiocese and from his treatment center, showed up in Florida.
Didn't you wonder whether he still had young people staying at his house, the prosecutor asked. Didn't you worry that he might sexually abuse more young people?

"I didn't think so at the time," Lynn told the grand jury. And what evidence did you have to go on that Gana wasn't abusing anybody, the grand jury prosecutor wanted to know.

"Only his word," the monsignor said. . .

[Why didn’t he investigate?] “I guess if I wanted to go down, I could have. It didn't occur to me . . . It wasn't that big of a deal at the time.”
Not a big deal at the time—the time when children and women counted much less than men in the hierarchy. But now their power is crumbling. The Vatican is moving closer to its own Arab spring.

We can stop getting angry at ridiculous lords lording it over us. It's time to laugh at the foolishness.

May 23

Every time a group of Catholics breaks new ground, it gets flak from some controlling power—an archbishop, the Vatican, a group of bishops, maybe a priest. In this patriarchal institution, religious women frequently rouse hierarchical censure because their high level of intelligence, education, and administrative experience leads to independent thinking, unwelcome in this bastion of male privilege.
After Vatican II, many communities of nuns changed their dress, rules, and practices. When sisters in his Archdiocese of Los Angeles moved out of medieval habits to reform their ministry in keeping with the Council document Perfectae Caritatis, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre displayed a classic instance of power abuse.

S. Anita Caspary led her sisters through the Vatican II reforms, enduring McIntyre’s wrath and hierarchical politics. Now deceased, she is quoted in a Huffington Post article:
Slowly we came to realize that what we claimed for ourselves—the right to make decisions affecting our personal lives—we could not surrender. . . .
Women were always secondary among priests, governors, and men in general. The dependency of women religious on the hierarchy wasn't a choice, it was prescribed. And we didn't believe in it.
Pope John Paul II threw male power at women in a number of ways, and that’s why I find his cult and the process of canonizing him exceedingly distasteful. In his 1995 decree, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, he ordered the entire church to stop discussing women’s ordination, apparently hoping in that way to kill the whole idea. We know that his power play ultimately did not succeed.

The fact of Catholic women priests cannot be denied, and they bring a new vibrancy to Catholic ministry. On April 15, Bernie Sykora of our womanpriest congregation, Mary Magdalene, First Apostle—we owe our founding to Bernie—was ordained a deacon on her way to becoming a priest. Ordaining her was our bishop, Regina Nicolosi, who described the new, vibrant ministry of women priests to people on the margins:
The elderly are cared for with love and respect, including an older Catholic priest. The Gospel of justice, inclusivity, love and compassion is preached by you to all, to straight or GLBT people, black or white, wealthy or poor, male or female.
Frequently Regina (this movement is not fond of titles) refers to “our Brother Jesus,” and she has suggestions for “our brothers in the hierarchy.”
Tell them to change their discussion about women to a discussion with women. . . .

Tell our brothers to shift the emphasis away from the bedroom to the sacristy when they are dealing with women’s issues. I would imagine that celibate, elderly male bishops have more expertise in the latter than in the former.
I often hear progressives lament low levels of understanding and the slow pace of change. I get entrapped, too, in worries over the world’s injustice and violence. Then I remind myself of a truth expressed by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in "We Were Made for These Times":
It is not given to us to know which acts, or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing . . .
Each of us can do what she is guided to do each day—it is enough—and the larger picture changes over time. Pinkola Estes says,
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. . .

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
Who knew that defiance of power abuse is simply showing soul?
Ah, but the meaning of showing soul . . . that takes some contemplation. The Leadership Conference of Religious Women (LCWR) has released the Pinkola Estes quotation as a prayerful response to the Vatican’s censure. I trust these religious women to understand better than most what it means to “show soul.”

How long super orthodoxy? June 21
Catholic religious leaders—monks and nuns, theologians, musicians, parish coordinators and educators—must endure moments of anguish as they watch their church officials shoot themselves in the foot over and over again. But it is humorous for those of us who for decades have watched the power shift in gender relations. (Years ago I had a letter in NCR saying that burgeoning woman-power scares the hell out of the men in the Vatican.)

The latest foolish move by Catholic officials was banning the award-winning book Just Love by S. Margaret Farley, a respected Catholic moral theologian. Amazon sales of the 6-year-old book surged dramatically as a result, indicating in a comic way the effectiveness of Vatican censure. In the book, masturbation, homosexuality, and remarriage after divorce are treated with an evolved moral understanding instead of parroted official statements.

The action by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Inquisition, comes after the same body ordered the Leadership Conference of American nuns to revise its activities and obey an archbishop appointed to oversee them, and after U.S. bishops criticized another award-winning work by another Catholic nun and esteemed theologian, S. Elizabeth Johnson. Hierarchical rebukes lack their intended effect. U.S. theologians applaud their censured fellows and rallies around the U.S. support nuns in what seems a rebuke of the Vatican.

The chickens are coming home to roost after the campaigns of two popes. The second Vatican Council in the 1960s tried to disperse institutional power concentrated in Rome to bishops around the world, but Pope John Paul II reversed the reforms of the Council. During the nearly thirty years of his tenure, he appointed bishops and cardinals loyal to his power center in the Vatican. Chief advisor in opposing Vatican II reforms was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who headed the office formerly known as the Inquisition and became Benedict XVI, triumphing over “stop-Ratzinger” liberal cardinals. I know one gay priest who nearly despaired over the news that Ratzinger had turned pope.

Forward-looking bishops now are in the minority. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, once a strong voice promoting social justice and opposing war, has degenerated into an ultra-right body. It struggles to be taken seriously with its demands to be obeyed as “the magisterium” while taking stands that few intellectuals respect—opposing the Affordable Care Act against the considered opinion of Catholic health care experts (nuns), and to the delight of comedians, announcing its investigation of the Girl Scouts.
I don’t regard it a coincidence that patriarchal church officials direct many of their criticisms at females, and I wonder how much fear of woman-power motivated the Vatican’s overthrow of ICEL. Currently U.S. bishops are campaigning for “religious freedom” while campaigning against gays being allowed to marry and continuing their discrimination against females. Does the irony in this need to be spelled out?

Power struggles have been part of church history since Jesus of Nazareth died—Paul was a very controversial guy. We need go no further than epistles in the New Testament to see that the Church has a long history of dissension and polemic. Today, gender and sex play a prominent role in religious power contests. Like John Paul, Benedict poses as a nice old man reaching out to the world, but super orthodoxy and anti-feminine power grabs emanate from his Vatican.
Taking the long view, we can be assured that ultra-conservatism will not rule in perpetuity.