Friday, June 20

Tons and tons of interesting links at Christianity Today's Weblog, including horrifying news from Uganda

Last week, Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda, ordered his troops to attack Christians in the northern part of the country."Catholic missions must be destroyed, priests and missionaries killed in cold blood, and nuns beaten black and blue," he said on a broadcast Thursday that, shockingly, aired on the local radio network used by the Catholic Church itself.Yesterday, the raids began. About 20 rebels attacked the parish church in Adjumani, taking 29 hostages — including several orphans, who are refugees from Sudan.

E.J. Dionne on This Week in Catholic History

But Keating's resignation reflected his differences with most of the board over strategy. The board is hoping that cooperative bishops will persuade the rest to join them, and it sees public fights with the hierarchy as, for the moment, counterproductive. The board holds a powerful hammer over the bishops: It will produce a report next year, and some board members have made it clear that they will name the noncomplying bishops.

Oddly, Keating's resignation may strengthen the board's hand by making it crucial for the bishops to reaffirm its independence. Precisely because of Keating's credibility with the angriest Catholics, the bishops can ill afford another resignation or more charges of recalcitrance..

But beyond the internal politics is a problem of spiritual leadership. "We're in month 18 of the most serious crisis in the history of the American Catholic Church," says Scott Appleby, a Notre Dame professor of religious history who, along with Steinfels, addressed the bishops last year. "And we have yet to hear from leading figures in the church about how we should make moral, ethical, theological and spiritual sense of what happened.".

Steinfels argues that much of the responsibility for doing this now falls on the lay board: "They have to write a final report that's not just numbers and statistics, but also explains to people why this happened -- and tells the truth." The truth may not protect bishops from lawsuits, but, as the New Testament says, it could make them free..

Got a lecture in a comments box on lay ministry. Let me assure you that I don't require lectures on this score. I have served in parishes and in dioceses in various capacities for almost 25 years. I was a DRE, have worked in music ministry and liturgy, have taught and organized everything from Vacation Bible School to Baptismal Prep classes to Confirmation to RCIA. I have taught in Catholic schools, have served on diocesan commissions and parish councils, and, of course, have worked in the Catholic press.

Most lay ministers are dedicated Catholics, as the commentor stated. Duh. They wouldn't be working weekends and nights (mostly) for paltry and unjust salaries if they weren't. But they are also mostly "churchy" types. Types who actually enjoy hanging around church, doing church things. To most of them, that is the most fulfilling way to live out their faith. In Church.

Trouble is, most people either don't feel that way or don't have the time to engage in such activities. They are too busy out in the world doing stuff, or they feel as parish programs don't meet their needs.

So here's the disconnect, and a disconnect that's totally opposed to the real spirit of VII, and the spirit of the Gospels:

My parish recently had "Ministry Sunday," as yours probably does once a year or so. It was part of a stewardship appeal, four weeks of preaching about our gifts and how we should use our gifts - to build up the Church.. Which was totally the focus of "Ministry Sunday." Your charism as a baptized Catholic Christian was apparently about using your gifts to build up the parish - not using your gifts to be Christ in your workplace or family or social life.

Granted, it's a symbiotic relationship. Parish programs are supposed to be about strenghtening parishioners to live the gospel out in the world. That would, you would think, be the point of religious ed programs or liturgy committee meetings.

My experience is that the interest and inclinations of those in charge - from clerics to lay employees to volunteers - works against this ideal final result. They are churchy types. They naturally think that the end goal of all Christians is really the same as theirs - to get "involved" in Church, so their heads are usually in that space, rather than in trying to really, really encourage those in their charge to go out and spread the Gospel. Their emphasis, in the end, often comes down to stay here and talk about the Gospel.

An example. Ages ago, when I was in college, I was already a churchy-type in the making. I loved my university campus ministry, and was on the core team that planned everything. (Hi Ed! Hi Meggan!) Our goal was always to get more kids involved in stuff at the center. One of the priests, though, wasn't quite on board with us. He didn't seem to support our activities as much as we liked. Instead, he hung out at the dorms, the fraternity houses, etc, being available to those kids, answering their questions, and not making a big priority of "getting them involved" in anything but going to Mass and maybe a retreat if someone would benefit from it. This priest wasn't perfect, but his example, and his responses to us when we challenged him on this - a simple explanation of what I said above - that not everyone is really into "being active" in Church, and those people need to be reached too, so that they can be better witnesses to Christ in whatever they happen to enjoy "being active" in - has stuck with me lo these many years, and been a very useful check on my own enthusiasms and plans and opinions on what I think the rest of the world should be about.

The Word from Rome

First, on the views of some in the Vatican on how the US bishops are dealing with the sexual abuse crisis:

First, the belief that power flows from Christ to the apostles and their successors in the apostolic college, meaning the bishops, is a core Roman Catholic theological concept. As early as end of the first century, Ignatius of Antioch urged the local church to be subject to the bishop. In the third century, Cyprian of Carthage wrote, “The bishop is in the church, and the church is in the bishop.” For 2,000 years, the bishop’s office has been a guarantor of Catholic identity, often in hostile situations; it has, in effect, stood the test of time. Those who believe the episcopacy is a matter of divine intention become nervous when they believe it is threatened.

Second, many in the Vatican believe that the heart of the American crisis lies in bishops failing to do their jobs. It is conventional wisdom in Rome that the American bishops did not need a new charter and norms to combat sexual abuse, that the Code of Canon Law gave them every tool they needed if they had been serious about confronting this behavior. The problem was not law, but will. Some bishops preferred to take the advice of therapists and formation teams and personnel boards rather than taking the situation into their own hands. Yet supervision of priests is a core episcopal responsibility; a bishop, according to the traditional theology, is supposed to be both a brother and a father to his priests.

Hence seen through Vatican eyes, the solution is not for America’s bishops to “pass the buck,” whether to independent advocates or national boards, but to step up and do the job that bishops have been ordained to do for 2,000 years. Ceding authority looks from this perspective not like a healthy dose of democracy, but malfeasance.

Plus, interesting stuff on Methodists and Catholics, liturgy and the EU.

Catholic reformers today:

An interview with VOTF president James Post


A long profile of Roman Catholic Faithful's Steve Brady.

I invite you to compare and contrast. What, if anything, unites them, do you think?

Articles on yesterday's bishops' sessions:

(Remember, today's are closed, with no press conferences afterwards. Because, you know, we're all about transparency)

From the Washington Post:

Roman Catholic bishops from California and several other states agreed today to provide information on the extent of child sexual abuse in the church after researchers promised to make "purely technical" changes in the way the data are collected, organizers of the study said.

The agreement by the holdout bishops, reached behind closed doors at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops here, clears the way for the $250,000 study to proceed without changing its goals, Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett said.

"No questions have been changed, no expectations have been lessened," said Bennett, a member of the National Review Board, a panel of prominent Catholic lay people established by the bishops a year ago to examine the sex abuse scandal and monitor the bishops' response to it.

....California's bishops, who had voted in early May to call for an immediate halt of the study, issued a statement saying they were "impressed with the responsiveness and professionalism" of the researchers from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "Next week, each diocese in California will undertake the reporting process for the survey," the statement said.

In the spring, the researchers sent a lengthy anonymous questionnaire to all 195 U.S. dioceses with the goal of determining how many priests have been accused of sexual abuse since 1950, how many victims they had, how their cases were handled and how much money the church has spent on legal fees, counseling and settlements with victims.

Kathleen L. McChesney, a former FBI official who heads the church's new Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the researchers agreed today to code some of the information on accused priests to protect their identities while ensuring that they are not counted more than once if they served in multiple dioceses.

No names are used in the survey, and the results are to be made public at the end of the year only in the aggregate, without a diocese-by-diocese breakdown. But bishops in California, Illinois and some other states had questioned whether the priests could be identified by their date of birth, ordination and other details, violating state privacy laws and possibly contributing to lawsuits.

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the pope's ambassador to the United States, opened the conference by urging the bishops to persevere in the face of adversity. "We all know that we are going through difficult times and that some real problems within the church have been magnified to discredit the moral authority of the church," he said.

That tone was echoed by several bishops at a mid-afternoon news conference. Anytime priests and bishops show "feet of clay, it's an opportunity for people who don't like what we teach to say we're hypocrites," Bishop Joseph A. Galante of Dallas said.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn said that the sex abuse scandal has "distorted the image of the church" and that "nobody knows the real story of what the church has done" to feed the poor, care for the sick and house the homeless.

Why, oh why is it so difficult for these people, who make a living of preaching personal responsibility, to accept responsibility? Why can't they say, "Our actions and the actions of the predator priests we have protected have conspired to conceal the real good that the Church does. Further, our actions have now put much of the good that the Church does in many dioceses at risk as services are cut because of financial problems brought on by our actions and, perhaps the potential pool of those interested in serving in leadership in the Church as priests is diminished as young men look at the way we do business and determine that this isn't something they want to be a part of. We're sorry that we made this destructive mess"

And form the NYTimes

In the only sessions open to reporters, the bishops never discussed the abuse scandal. Instead they debated policy statements on American agriculture, Native Americans, deacons, women and laypeople.

Michael Paulson of the Globe on the bishops' thoughts on a plenary council

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis, the chairman of an ad hoc committee examining the possibility of a plenary council, said his committee has polled bishops about what they would want to discuss at such a council. In a report to the bishops conference yesterday morning, he said the bishops' top priorities for consideration, in order, are ''the identity and spiritual life of priests and bishops,'' ''the need for catechesis of the faith,'' ''the role of the laity,'' and ''concern for the decline of participation in the sacramental life of the church.''

Today, behind closed doors, the bishops plan to hear presentations on those subjects, then offer their thoughts, as they prepare to decide whether to propose the plenary council. Convening such a gathering would require approval from the Vatican. Participation is restricted by canon law, and would include priests and lay people in a limited, nonvoting role.

Okay, but how about this. How about that a plenary council take as a major topic the major failure of the post-Vatican II era: that the mandate of the Council for the laity to live out their faith more vividly and powerfully in the world has been totally ignored in the United States, in favor of making laity feel that the crux of lay life is to get to stand in the sanctuary next to Father. Cool. The price? A laity - particularly laity in positions of power in the secular world - that is only nominally Catholic. A laity that follows the moral precepts of 21st century America in lockstep. A laity that is just as consumerist and materialist as their pleasantly agnostic neighbors, that aborts and contracepts at the same rates as their Unitarian friends, that has no interest - and I mean no interest in bringing the Gospel into the workplace or into the general public life.

One of the things that really bugs me about these bishops' gatherings is their location: hotels. Yeah, comfort, yeah, television and internet access, yeah. Okay, but the symbolism is powerful, and not in a good way. As they gather at the Hyatt, except for the Roman collars, they look like any other group of well-fed CEO's.

As I said this time last year, there are plenty of vast Catholic institutions, now empty, in which you could easily fit all the US bishops and their entourages for a few days of meeting. For example, take a look at the St. Charles Center in Carthagena, Ohio, the central house for the Cincinnati Province of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, but really a retirement center for the order. Its halls echo, the rooms are largely empty. It's out in the middle of nowhere. The isolated location would discourage all but the most serious press, supporting the bishops in their quest to eliminate a "circus" atmosphere. It would be far more apt to open sessions with prayer in the chapel there, rather than standing behind tables in a big meeting room in a hotel. And the symbolism would be powerful in a different way too - as they walk the halls of this institution, once filled with seminarians, the the bishops would be forced to confront the institutional vibrant past and relevance of the American Church and to contrast it with the ineffectualness of the present, and perhaps would be encouraged to dispense with their pointless position papers on issues no one cares about, and get to the real work that needs to be done.

Good piece from The Tablet on the EU constitution thing and the whole issue of the role of religion in European life

Those who want the constitution to recognise Europe’s religious past are not asking that the document should include a profession of faith, even less are they nostalgic for a return to some mythical theocracy, they simply wish to correct the text’s incomprehensible amnesia. How can one build the Europe of tomorrow if one ignores the debt owed to Judaism, to Islam and especially to Christianity? These religions have structured European society and provided the building blocks of European culture and civilisation.

....The major fallacy held by those who want to keep religion out of the public sphere (and hence from the European Constitution) is their fear that this will somehow undermine the principle of the separation of Church and State. This was the line taken by Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac in December 2000, before the Treaty of Nice, when the French demanded that the word “religion” be removed from the Preamble of the European Charter of Human Rights. Such a fear is groundless, however, since article 51 of the draft of the future constitution states clearly that the laws governing the place of religion in each of the member states will be fully respected. So the separation of Church and State in France will not be threatened, any more than will the status of state Churches such as the Church of England, the Orthodox Church in Greece or the Lutheran Church in the Scandinavian countries. Neither will the concordats with the Holy See in Italy or Ireland be affected.

The rise of sectarianism, fundamentalism and Muslim extremism in many countries explains the legitimate fears of the secularists that religion will be reintroduced into the public domain through the back door. On the other hand, many religious bodies and charitable institutions are tired of being called upon by the State to palliate its own weaknesses (in dealing with delinquents, drug addicts, illegal immigrants, extreme poverty, and the rest), while at the same time being accused of interfering when they ask to be consulted on major ethical problems (bioethics, sexual mores, racial discrimination, refugees). ,p>Whatever one’s opinion on the place of religion in society and the role of the Churches in the body politic, no one can honestly deny the part played by the major religions – for better and for worse – in European history. Those who want Christianity mentioned in the constitution merely wish to state the obvious.

In Dallas today...

A lay group, led by publisher Wick Allison is calling for the resignation of the bishop

About three dozen prominent local Catholics have asked Pope John Paul II's U.S. ambassador to remove Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann, signaling the latest and most serious fracture between the diocese's leader and his laity.

"The current sexual abuse and leadership crisis in the Diocese of Dallas has become a scandal and an embarrassment to the Church," the group wrote in a recent letter to Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo. "The local diocesan leadership is isolated and in denial about the gravity of the situation, and our concern grows daily."

The group said it would launch a petition drive and Web site unless the ambassador asked them not to by mid-June. The deadline passed without word from Archbishop Montalvo, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The archbishop is in St. Louis this week for a national meeting of bishops, who remain under fire for their handling of the church's sex-abuse crisis.

Here's the letter

We, the undersigned, are faithful Catholics who believe with the church fathers that the bishop is the vicar of Christ in his diocese. As lay Catholics, we also understand the obligation the church fathers have placed on us to protect and defend the Catholic faith. In keeping with that trust and in order to restore the dignity of the sacred office of bishop in our city, we are compelled by conscience and by a pragmatic assessment of the damage to the church in Dallas to petition you to act. We believe that daily harm will continue to accrue to the church unless this crisis is addressed.

We have chosen to act only reluctantly, after despairing of being heard through conventional channels. The local diocesan leadership is isolated and in denial about the gravity of the situation, and our concern grows daily. We do not take lightly our plea for intervention, and make it only after much thought and reflection, and only for the purpose of seeking relief from an untenable situation.

We respectfully request that you meet with several of us so that we can present a first-hand report on the gravity of the situation. We request this meeting outside of the normal juridic procedures of the church because the situation has become so serious that it requires the immediate attention of the Holy See.

Realizing that the signatures of a few may count for little on such a serious matter, we plan to begin a media campaign and to establish a web site within ten days to solicit the signatures of our fellow laypeople and devoted clerics and religious in Dallas in support of our petition. We have secured funds in an effort to ensure that every Catholic in Dallas is made aware of this petition drive.

Unless you request us not to do so before a meeting with you, we will proceed to gather this petition citywide in order to present to you and to the Congregation of Bishops a full picture of how deeply the Catholic community feels about the urgent need for the replacement of Bishop Grahmann.

If you are able to accommodate us, we would hope to meet with you at your earliest convenience. Representatives of the undersigned will be available to travel to Washington for any meeting you suggest. ...

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We realize that other matters urgently seek your attention, but due to major missteps by the bishop that have received widespread media attention and due to the recent announcement that Bishop Galante is leaving, the situation in Dallas requires immediate action.

The Texas Catholic reports here

and responds editorially here.

I really don't know what to think of this. On the one hand, I'm all for people with power using it for the good as they perceive it, but this move smacks of elitism and implies, "We're big donors, and we can make you do what we want because of it because if you don't do what I want I won't give my big bucks anymore." On the other hand, I've always been an advocate of lay Catholics using their donations or lack of them to send messages to The Power - not to make local parishes suffer, but to let diocesan structures know that their actions are not appreciated (and diocesan bureaucracies are like all bureaucracies and could all use a lot of pruning.)

But something about this gets my plebian mettle up. I'm open to having my mind changed on this, but at this point, that's what I hear.

All right, let's get going here.

I had a busy day yesterday, finishing The Book Against God, and then writing a piece on it, Saint Julian, and The Life of Pi

The common thread? Religious faith, hoped by some to be dead, but clearly alive, well, kicking and nagging at the modern soul, as these novels all show. The differences between the way they dealt with faith, though, was fascinating and expressive of the various ways we think of faith in the modern world. In Pi, the question was the quite modern one of faith as the "story" one depends on to intepret life and experience, in BAG it was the question of truth, suffering and a supposedly benevolent God (aka Job), and in Julian, it was..redemption.

I will post the whole review some time in July after it's published, but for now, I will just tell you that The Book Against God is really an excellent novel. It's fascinating because it's the first novel by esteemed (and quite marvelous) British literary critic James Wood, who was raised in an Evangelical Christian household, but lost his faith in his teens. His novel is not quite autobiographical - his protagonist is a failed doctoral student who is the son of an Anglican clergyman - but the reader can still tell that it embodies his own arguments - against God. However what takes the novel to another, intriguing level, is that Thomas Bunting, the atheist protagonist is a lying, deceptive, lazy insufferable jerk. And his father is a generous, gentle believing Christian who left university teaching for the quieter life of pastoral work.

In other words, Wood has done here what he has called other writers to do, in his criticism: to be honest and realistic in fiction, to not use fiction as a pulpit. His writing is fine, his metaphors apt and revelatory, his characters fully human and complex. And while the arguments against God are forcefully stated (and not new to anyone who's thought about these things), they are not left unanswered. To me, this novel, was an almost perfect portrayal of the modern conversation about belief and unbelief that goes on between people of good will - both in their words and in their lives. I highly recommend it.


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