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.