The Vatican Weighs in on Feminism

Just got this e-mail from Thomas J. Reese, S.J., the editor of America.

He's giving journalists a heads-up on a Vatican document to be released tomorrow.

He wrote:
"On Saturday, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is going to release a document on feminism. In order to put this in context, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

"While most people in the US think in psychological and sociological terms, the Vatican thinks and talks in philosophical and theological terms which most Americans find difficult to understand. What is interesting is that although most American feminist would express their ideology differently than the Vatican, on the practical level they are on the same page (in terms of equality in education, politics, workplace) except on abortion and women priests.

"If there are differences it is probably on the relationship between men and women in the family not in society. Here the Vatican is much more positive on the role of women as mothers and wives and believes that men and women have different but complimentary roles in the family. I don't think the Vatican is saying that men should not change diapers and do the dishes, but they believe that women have a special role in raising children. For the Vatican, the ideal is that a father be paid well enough so that a mother can stay home and raise the kids.

"Another way of looking at this is that when a Vatican official is talking about women, he has his mother in mind. When an American feminist is talking about women, she has herself and her peers in mind and some would be rejecting their mothers as a model. When the Vatican express doubts about mothers working, they are thinking of Polish women shoveling snow and Hispanic women cleaning toilets. When feminist promote women in the workplace, they are thinking of women lawyers, CEO's and politicians. The Vatican sees daycare as a necessary evil for mothers who have to work, not as an institution of feminine liberation."

Catholic Trouble in Spain

The bishops in Spain are trying to hold onto power and influence in a country where only 18 percent of Spaniards currently declare themselves to be Roman Catholics, compared with 98 percent 50 years ago. See article from The Guardian.

The Socialist government, which took power in March, canceled compulsory religion classes and says it will look at ways to use public money to fund education in many faith traditions, including Islam.

The Catholic heirarchy is also very upset that the new government says it will legalize gay marriage next year. See article from

Crisis in Sudan

I'm so glad that the world is finally waking up to the genocide in Sudan. The Pope talked about it the other day. And, according to a National Catholic Reporter article, "The British bishop in charge of the national church's refugee policy has called for a massive humanitarian aid effort for the Darfur region of Sudan, where more than a million people have been driven from their homes."

My interest in Sudan started several months ago when I viewed the documentary "Sudan: Path to Peace" by Spokane filmmaker Andrea Palpant. It's a powerful look at the crisis there that's been going on since the 1980s. See column.

Now that the Pope and Catholic Church have gotten involved, even more attention might be drawn to the crisis that's been ignored for so long because it's so complicated. This is my hope.

Hope Amid Crisis

Had a geat talk over the weekend with a Franciscan sister who is 86 years old and has lived through many changes in the church. She said not to despair over the current crisis and polarization. Great reforms often followed great crises in our church, she said.

An article in Crisis magazine explores this in some depth. Read here.

Here's an excerpt:
"Christopher Dawson once identified six great periods of Church history, and each one begins with a crisis. Nearly all of the 21 ecumenical councils have upset the Church’s equilibrium. The aftermaths of Nicea and Chalcedon shook the Church to its foundations in a way that makes recent decades look like a tea party. That most of the Church didn’t immediately “get” the teachings of Vatican II also has ample precedent. The same happened after the Council of Trent, whose decrees were ignored in France for almost a century. St. Augustine reminds us that the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church is slow, often imperceptible, but without interruption."

Childhood Churches: A Memory

The church of my childhood, St. Charles in Spokane, was vandalized this week. Someone spray-painted painted racial and anti-gay slogans all over the exterior walls. See story.

A friend called me who also grew up in that church. He visited to see the damage. He said he walked into the sacristy behind the altar area and it still smelled the same! I knew exactly what he meant. He was hoping to put together a painting party of alums to help clean up the damage.

When St. Charles was built in the early 1960s, it was a marvel of futuristic architecture. It's still a beautiful church.

I then thought of parishioners in Boston who saw 60 churches close recently due, in part, to the costs of the sex-abuse scandal. See story.

It's all very sad.

Kerry, The Catholic

Read Commonweal's editorial about John Kerry and the Eucharist.

"Admittedly, abortion is an especially complex legal and political issue, in that it is impossible to separate the life of the pregnant woman from the life of her unborn child. In a liberal democracy, no end to abortion can simply be imposed on women. But the church is right to remind Kerry and others that abortion needlessly pits the interests of the mother against those of the unborn. We all know there are better answers to the tragedy of unwanted pregnancy. It is the moral duty of every American, even a Catholic president, to say so."

Taxes and the Poor

The always interesting Sojourners has a good editorial on class war in our country, especially the way taxes are levied against those in poverty. Writer Jim Wallis believes we've gone from a war on poverty to a war on the poor.

Read why.

Peru Might Be The Place

If and when Vatican III is ever held, it might be appropriate to hold it in Peru. That country is now experiencing every tension of the modern church. The progressives vs. the traditionalists. The liberation theologians vs. the pastoral theologians. There's even a scandal afoot that would make a great plot line in the next installment of The Davinci Code, if the author writes another.

Anyway, here's the article by John Allen of National Catholic Reporter.

Tale of Two Scandals

Two scandals erupting on the Catholic scene this week.

In Austria, a bishop resigns after child pornography and gay sex photos of priests are discovered in a seminary near Vienna.
See story.

And Peru's Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, a member of the ultra-conservative and controversial Opus Dei says that there was a dirty-tricks smear campaign against him, including forged letters. The Vatican will try to shove this latest scandal under the rug, he claims.
See story.

The Mandatum

The Mandatum. It evens sounds like a command. The Mandatum is basically a bishop’s recognition of a theologian’s pledge to teach in communion with the Church.

Conservative Catholics bird dog university theology departments asking whether the professors have signed the pledge. And whether bishops have made it an issue.

Liberal Catholics see it as a threat to academic freedom and a chilling effect on sound debate about the modern church. And we applaud those departments that basically say it's none of your business which professors, if any, have taken The Mandatum.

I side with the liberals on this one, and I see it as one more example of threatened hardliners in the church trying to hold on by old-fashioned means.

Since I feel so strongly that way, I thought it only fair to include an article here that shows the conservative point of view on the issue. It was first published in National Catholic Register and then reprinted on

Read article.

Did the Vatican Approve?

John L. Allen, Vatican writer for National Catholic Reporter, answered my question well whether the Vatican approved the Portland, Oregon Archdiocese bankruptcy. Here's what he wrote in his most recent Word from Rome column.

Allen wrote: "When news broke this week that the Archdiocese of Portland in the United States was filing for bankruptcy under the weight of debts related to the sexual abuse crisis, several colleagues wanted to know if the step had required Vatican approval.

"The answer, at least on a technical level, is a bit of a canonical conundrum. Canon law requires that bishops received clearance from the Holy See for any "alienation of property," meaning a transfer of ownership, of $1 million or more in value, or any new indebtedness that exceeds $1 million. It's not clear that bankruptcy falls under this provision, since the purpose is to protect rather than to alienate assets.

"As I say, however, this is something of a technical debate for canonists to hash out, since on a practical level it's difficult to imagine a bishop would take such a dramatic step without some sort of "green light" from Rome.

"On this level, it's long been clear that Vatican officials are leery about the idea of a diocese going into bankruptcy. The last time we had occasion to discuss this was in 2002, at the peak of the crisis in Boston, when bankruptcy seemed a live possibility there. It's worth reviewing what I wrote at the time:

"Ostensibly, Law had come to Rome to explain bankruptcy to people in the Vatican with serious reservations. One concern is its possible impact on future giving, since going belly-up is hardly the sort of thing that inspires investor confidence. If contributions are already slumping in Boston and elsewhere, imagine the impact of a bankruptcy filing.
Perhaps even more worrying to Vatican officials is the prospect that a civil judge would, under American law, be assigned broad powers to review and oversee archdiocesan finances. For an institution that has fought pitched battles over the centuries to protect its assets in order to safeguard its independence, this is no small matter. A couple of Vatican officials privately invoked memories of the Nazi "gleichsaltung," a campaign to neutralize social institutions that might serve as centers of opposition by assimilating them to the state. Their point was not to compare an American judge to a Nazi thug, but merely to note that precedents are important. Law, and now his successor, thus face the challenge of persuading Vatican decision-makers that this step might actually be the best of all the bad options available.

"That logic still holds, which means that something truly dramatic has happened in Portland. Though other dioceses have considered bankruptcy, this is the first time one has actually done it. Whether the action sets a precedent that will be followed by other dioceses will certainly be monitored closely in Rome. (The Tuscon diocese, for example, is said to be contemplating a similar filing.). "

Bankruptcy Reactions

In the journey to Vatican III, surely the bankruptcy of the Portland Oregon diocese will be seen as some sort of landmark -- or landmine.

Here's some second day reaction from around the world.

In the Statesman Journal of Salem. "(Daniel) Gatti, a leading litigator in a wave of lawsuits accusing Catholic priests of decades-old sexual abuse in Oregon, found time to criticize church leaders for taking the unprecedented step. 'It's shocking what they’ll do to avoid compensating these victims,' Gatti said. 'They’re biding for more time and public sympathy.'''

The Vatican released its financial report today. It's allegedly in the red for a third straight year. See story.

Is this one more example of cutthroat politics by the church? A writer for the Boston Phoenix thinks so. She writes: "If the Catholic Church were a corporate giant like PG&E, its aggressive legal tactics might not seem unusual. But the Church is not a profit-driven corporation; it is a spiritual institution whose mission is to minister to its parishioners. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hold the Church to a higher standard."
Read article.


It is pretty shocking news that the Portland Diocese has filed bankruptcy, citing expensive sex-abuse scandal claims. See story.

None of the Catholic sites have done any analysis yet that I could find, because it's still a breaking news story.

Thomas Reese, editor of America magazine, alerted journalists to a chapter in his book "Archbishop: Insider the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church." As usual, it's very informative. See chapter.

Meanwhile, the Diocese's home page didn't have a mention of it as of Tuesday afternoon. Maybe they will make some comment there soon. Web site.

This is big news in Catholic land. A first. And a sad and disturbing first at that.

War: A homily by Father Stan Malnar

Homily by Fr. Stan Malnar. Given at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Spokane, Wash.., on Sunday June 20, 2004.

The Gospel begins simply enough with a question by Jesus: “Who do people say I am?”
The disciples answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others: Elijah or one of the prophets.”
Then he asks them: “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answers: “You are the Christ, the son of God.”
We are not surprised at that. It is what we would expect.
What surprises us is Jesus’ response.
He rebukes them and says: “The son of man must suffer greatly, be rejected, by the scribes and elders. And be put to death. If anyone wants to be my disciple, they must take up their cross and follow me.”
The cross of Jesus casts a shadow, intrudes into our celebration. I was not ready, not prepared for this Gospel about the cross, about suffering, violence and death.
He invoked the images of suffering, violence, death that surrounds us in war.
The first image was that of the Iraqi prisoners who have been tortured.
Do you remember them?
One picture haunts me. I can’t push it away.
The young man standing on a box, his head hooded, his body draped with a cloak, his arms outstretched attached to electrodes.
The second image is the picture of the American soldiers, men and women, who have died. They were printed in the paper, shown on “60 Minutes.” Did you see them?
The final image is the faces of the women, men and children of Iraq who have been thrown into the chaos and violence of war.
I would like to speak about war. It is not an easy subject to address, especially when we are in the midst of war.
I understand some will be uncomfortable with this, that it is a political issue that has no place in the pulpit. Or that this is the wrong time.
There is no good time to talk about war.
The Gospel invites us to look at war in an entirely new way. It is in that spirit that I speak this morning.
To speak about war, we have to start with principles, principles that are part of the Catholic tradition.
Principles are critical to this.
Conflict distorts things, blinds us, pushes us to act, to strike out.
Principles call us back, remind us of our blindness, make us pause, make us hesitate.
The first principle is about aggression. Every nation has the right to defend itself against unjust aggression.
There are qualifying words in that definition that are important.
Aggression must be: real, actual, significant, unjust. Not just the threat of aggression.
There is no place for preemptive strikes.
The second principle is more important. War must be the last resort. After everything else is exhausted, after everything has been tried, war must be the last resort.
The presumption is against war.
Why is that?
The human experience of war is that war has its own momentum, cannot be contained.
The First World War began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. It involved a handful of people. It ignited the region in war that engulfed all of Europe and extended to include the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.
At its end, it left more than 60 million people dead. All of Europe destroyed. And planted the seeds for the Russian Revolution and the Second World War.
War has its own momentum. It unleashes the worst, the darkest, within the human heart. Wherever it is — Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Rwanda — war unleashes the worst, the darkest within the human heart. Murderous rage. Revenge. Torture. The abduction of children. The systematic rape of women. Ethnic cleansing. Genocide.
It teaches us how to kill. And leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred that can last for generations.
Is there any way out?
I think there is. It is to see the human face of war. First to see the faces of the men and women who have been deployed honorably for us in our name. They bear the burden of war. To see their faces.
To see the faces of their families who wait for their return, who fear for their lives, who mourn at their deaths.
They may be people we know. We can name our neighbors, co-workers, friends, members of our own families. To see their faces.
We must also see the faces of the people of Iraq — women, men, children.
Harder to do. Conflict distorts things. Blinds us.
The Dominican sisters wear this pin. It says: “I have family in Iraq.”
They wear it to remind themselves of their history — they established communities in Iraq over 250 years ago that served in schools, clinics, hospitals — and to challenge themselves to see things in a new way, that we are all God’s children, brothers and sisters.
So that they can say — and we are called to say:
We are all Christians.
We are all Jews.
We are all Muslims.
We are black, brown, white.
We come from every region and continent, from every culture, race, language, way of life.
We are one family, fashioned in God’s image, brothers and sisters.
We yearn for peace.

The Perils of Polarization

John L. Allen Jr., the "Vaticanista" for National Catholic Reporter, gave a lecture recently at Catholic University of America, on the polarization of Catholicism in the United States -- and around the world.

It is an excellent talk that outlines the reasons behind the stalemate between conservative and liberal Catholics.

Allen writes: "A dialogue program is of no use to people convinced they have nothing to learn from one another. Perhaps, therefore, American Catholics haven't yet "bottomed out." They have not had the kind of illumination, the "ah-hah" moment, in which they grasped the sterility of ideological warfare."

Allen proposes a "spirituality of dialogue" that would help Catholics move beyond the stalemate.

The five elements of that spirituality:

1) A dose of epistemological humility. "We have to re-learn the discipline of withholding final judgment, realizing that we may not always have the requisite data or reflection to draw definitive conclusions."

2) A solid formation in Catholic tradition, as a means of creating a common language.

3) A proper spirituality of dialogue also requires patience.

4) A spirituality of dialogue requires perspective, meaning the capacity to see issues through the eyes of others.

5) "We must foster a spirituality of dialogue that does not come at the expense of a full-bodied expression of Catholic identity. There is no future for dialogue if convinced Catholics sense the price of admission is setting aside their convictions."

Read the entire speech

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