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.


Brenda Asterino said…
Nice article. You pull things together very well. People keep talking about the changes. What I am seeing though, unless some do go to another dimension that is diff. from this one is that I'm not for sure what will be left to live off of when the conservatists give out. Food, water, soil, air are so polluted:... well, some of the pollution will have a half life longer that that of the human species as we know it.

As a retired teacher, I used to see one or two children among a few hundred with soft signs of neurological problems. Now, I see huge percentages of that few hundred. The other day, in an active group of about 20 children like 30% of the boys with soft and hard signs of neurological problems. The girls are gaining.

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