He's Fired

As the political season heats up, high-profile Catholics working for Catholic organizations and stumping in high-profile ways should be careful. They might lose their jobs.

That's what happened to Ono Ekeh, program coordinator at the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for African-American Catholics.

In his National Catholic Reporter notebook column, Joe Feuerherd writes:

"Message to church employees who support John Kerry's presidential bid: public endorsement of the pro-choice Catholic senator could cost you your job.

"Just ask Ono Ekeh, founder and moderator of the Catholics for Kerry e-mail discussion list and, until March 9, program coordinator at the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for African-American Catholics. The 33-year-old father of two is now looking for work.

"It all started in late February when Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine and a key player in the Bush campaign outreach to Catholic voters, revealed in his widely distributed weekly "e-letter" that Ekeh hosted the pro-Kerry site. Hudson is a leader of efforts to get U.S. bishops to publicly confront pro-choice Catholic elected officials.

"Look," wrote Hudson, "it's one thing for a Catholic to be a pro-life Democrat -- that in itself is a perfectly legitimate position and consistent with our Catholic Faith. However, it's completely unacceptable to follow Ekeh and trade away our pro-life responsibilities."

Ekeh lost his job soon after. Read entire article.

The rock star rocked!

When they put up yet another row of extra chairs, I knew we were into something special. GU's Cataldo was packed last night for feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson's talked. I mean packed. The place seats 600. I'm not sure that many chairs were out, but people were standing. It was like old home week for Catholics young and old.

The Fordham professor and woman religious spoke about Mary and how we must allow her to climb down from the pedestal she's been placed upon over the centuries. She has much to teach if we allow her to be who she truly is.

Johnson says this means we cannot see Mary as the maternal image of God. This allows Catholics to continue to make masculine the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

"The mystery of the living God is beyond gender. It makes no lasting sense to use Mary as a cover-up for our defective notions of God. Let us understand God as a merciful mother who will not let her child get lost. If we do this, Mary will be relieved of her burdens.''

Johnson says Mary should also be freed of being touted as the ideal woman, ideal in this case meaning obedient and called to their highest calling -- motherhood. This ideal excludes women who are outspoken or not called to motherhood.

And Mary must be understood in her historical context. She was a poor woman living in a small village in a time when women had no civic voice whatsoever. And when she found herself pregnant without marriage to Joseph, she was in a potential scandal that would rival anything of today. Johnson's point was to meditate on what messages might be inherent in Mary's life. The preferential treatment for the poor and the voiceless, for instance. "And God is present in the midst of a scandal. That's the last place you'd expect to look."

Johnson said much much more. These are just my inadequate sound bites. She came across as brilliant with great humility. She received a standing ovation, very deserved.

Meet a rock star in Catholic world

Get Catholics talking on Mary the mother of Jesus, and you'll be in a conversation without end. Mary's been spun many different ways. Silent, suffering virgin. Meek obeyer. Strong woman not afraid to say yes to the spirit.

Feminist theologian and author Elizabeth Johnson writes of Mary in her new book Truly Our Sister: "The figure of Mary is extraordinarily complex. Whether studied from the point of view of theology, spirituality or culture, this Galilean woman has been interpreted and explained, imagined and rejected, loved and honored in ways so diverse as to be impossible to codify."

Liberal Catholicism has its version of rock stars (my judgment.) Elizabeth Johnson is one of them. She'll be in Spokane Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 pm in the new Globe Room of the Cataldo Dining Hall (across from St. Al's Church.)

She will be giving a feminist historical retrieval of Mary, entitled "Mary of Nazareth: Friend of God and Prophet."

Check it out.

Aloha, Welcome, Bienvenidos

Just returned from a much needed vacation. Went to Maui for the first time. Beautiful. I get sort of existential when I travel but in the past few years have discovered one way around that certain empty feeling that can hit while traveling, either for work or on vacation. I go to Mass.

One of the reasons so many Catholics stay in the church, despite the turmoil, the scandals, the struggles between conservatives and liberals, is this: We share a common language in the Mass. It's a great leveler. And it's always something familiar, despite cultural variations. And the Masses are always easy to find. I usually just ask the front desk, but there is a Web site that will help you locate Masses, too.

On Maui, the church we attended was Maria Lanakila Catholic Church. Tropical breezes blew in the church's open windows. The smell of exotic flowers wafted in. It was the Sunday for the children's Mass and beautiful Hawaiin children sat in the front rows. The priest's homily was excellent and aimed at their level.

After Mass, I introduced myself to the priest, said I was a Gonzaga grad, and he mentioned that he had once been at a conference where Fr. Bob Spitzer, president of Gonzaga, was the keynote speaker.

Catholics have those sorts of connections all over the world. That's what would be hard to give up. That's what provides some more common ground to erase differences.

Moment of Truth

The research study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice titled The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States was released last week and showed that the number of priests who have sexually abused young people was higher than anticipated. The study found that more than 4,000 priests abused more than 10,000 young people between 1950 and 2002. This translates to about 4 percent of all priests.

Much media attention was focused on the high percentage. And that was valid. But I believe the very fact that the study was done, commissioned by the U.S. bishops, will seem a watershed event in church history. It signals, I hope, a different kind of openness. Time will tell.

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