Catholics and The Nov. 2 Election

I cannot recall an election that ever mobilized Catholics so much to register, get out the vote and even pray for the "right votes." These mobilizations are coming from conservative Catholics, liberal Catholics and everything in beween.

Yesterday, an ad ran in the New York Times paid for by readers of Sojourners magazine headlined "God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat." It said: "We will measure the candidates by whether they enhance human life, human dignity, and human rights; whether they strengthen family life and protect children; whether they promote racial reconciliation and support gender equality; whether they serve peace and social justice; and whether they advance the common good rather than only individual, national, and special interests."

Read about the ad.

National Catholic Register posted an article listing various election-related efforts nationwide, including rosaries, novenas and prayer sessions.

"Priests for Life, the organization that encourages priests to promote the sanctity of life from the pulpit, is urging Christians to engage in "intense prayer" over the course of nine weeks, from Aug. 31 to Nov. 2. Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life describes the urgency to the prayer campaign as twofold.

"First of all, the magnitude of whom we’re electing — the president and senators," Father Pavone said in an interview. "Secondly, we seem to be at a point where the country is so divided on such basic issues. Life continues to be primary, and the candidates are clearly opposite each other on this question."

"The group is asking participants to sign up at its website ( so it can collect a "spiritual bouquet" for America."

Read article.

Catholics Join Protest En Masse

Roman Catholics joined in a massive protest against President Bush's policies in New York City yesterday. It's an interesting read in National Catholic Reporter.

"The parishioners joined a throng of activists estimated at between 150,000 and 400,000, comprising some 800 groups affiliated with United for Peace and Justice - organizer of the demonstration. They moved from Washington Square and the streets of Chelsea up Seventh Avenue to Madison Square Garden, where this week the Republican National Convention will nominate George Bush to serve a second term as president.

"If these demonstrators had anything to say about it, the script would be different. Their protest was not a rally for 'Kerry for President' so much as a giant public critique of the Bush administration's policies on war, the economy, healthcare, social security, nuclear weapons, trade policy, education, the environment, immigration, labor and human rights."

Read the article.

Authenticity: A Priest's Story

One of the positive trends in the church these past few years is the increased freedom Catholics seem to feel to write about their experiences of church in a more honest, authentic way. Any reforms coming must be based on these authentic experiences.

Found a delightful essay by Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, in Commonweal. He's 83 and has been celibate 59 years. He explores the reality of living out that vow.

It's honest, well-written. Check it out.

Pope: Icon or Leader

Is Pope John Paul II becoming an icon for suffering while losing his role as church leader? That's the tension John Allen of National Catholic Reporter explores in his good essay out of the Pope's recent trip to Lourdes.

"John Paul repeatedly slumped, winced and struggled to speak over these two days, but he seemed to connect with the faithful on a much deeper level. The Lourdes trip may thus be remembered as the moment when John Paul’s long transformation from governor of the Catholic church into living symbol of human suffering, almost an icon of Christ on the Cross, was complete."

Read the whole thing.

Mark Your Calendars

The Catholicism for a New Millennium committee announced its 2004-2005 speakers series. Here's the list.

Disclosure: I am a member of the committee. It's made up of Gonzaga University faculty and some "townies" like me. The series last year was a huge success with hundreds of people showing up to hear the speakers.

Fall Season

Tuesday, September 7, 7:30pm Cataldo Globe Room
John Whitney, SJ (Provincial: Oregon Province)
“The ‘Jesuit’ University.”

Thursday, September 30, 7:30pm Cataldo Globe Room
Patricia Beattie Jung (Loyola University: Chicago)
“Gay Marriage & Civil Unions: A Catholic Reflection”

Thursday, October 7, 7:30 pm Cataldo Globe Room
Vincent J. Miller (Georgetown University)
“Consuming Religion:
Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture.”

Thursday, November 11, 7:30 pm Cataldo Globe Room
Jeannette Rodriguez (Seattle University)
“The Gospel of the Americas”

Thursday, November 18, 7:30 pm Cataldo Globe Room
Alice Bourke Hayes (Bishops’ Lay Commission)
“The Sex Abuse Scandal: What Now?”

Spring season

Thursday, March 31, 7:30 pm Cataldo Globe Room
Charles E. Curran (Southern Methodist University)
“Vatican II: Forty Years Later”

Thursday, April 7, 7:30 pm Cataldo Globe Room
Gary Macy (University of San Diego)
“Misogyny and the Catholic Church”

The Real Deal

Deal Hudson, a Bush advisor on how to garner the Catholic vote, recently resigned. He said at the time a liberal Catholic publication was going to publish an article about him dredging up his checkered past. Here's the article about the controversy from National Catholic Reporter.

And here's Hudson's side of it from National Review on-line

Chicago: No More Secrets?

A blog reader, Matt Abbott of Chicago, is a freelance writer for several on-line Catholic publications. He e-mailed me an article he wrote recently for about an effort to pressure Andrew Greeley, priest and writer, into revealing what he knows about an alleged clergy pedophile ring in Chicago in the mid-1980s.

It's kind of a strange tale. Here's the link. You judge for yourself.

One Final Thought

One final thought on the Vatican's women document. I promise it's the final one. In 1995, the newspaper sent me to a women's conference that tied into the big women's conference in Beijing. The women speakers there talked about "the sunset effect" when power transitions are going on.

Sunsets can be dramatic and filled with color and energy. But they are sunsets just the same. The sun is leaving. When men sense they are losing traditional power, there is much drama and energy. But the power is leaving.

I thought of the sunset effect when I pondered the timing of the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World.

The timing didn't make a lot of sense to me. I wonder if it was sent out as distraction against another brewing sex crisis, this one in an Austrian seminary where a pornography ring was discovered. See article.

The letter about women and men was released Aug. 1. The seminary was closed a week later. It's a huge scandal and incredibly seamy.

These sex scandals are unraveling the power the men hold. In the sunset effect, you hold on any way you can. Telling women of the world that the best use of their talent is motherhood is one way of trying to hold on to power that is already passing away.

If Vatican III reforms turn out to be in favor of women's increased power and influence in the church, then this ill-timed letter might be mentioned as one of the indicators that the men of the Vatican were deeply out of touch with the experience of modern women.

One More Thought on the Vatican's Women Statement

I can't help but think that part of the outrage by some women, myself included, over the document on feminism released by the Vatican Aug. 1 is this: We wonder whether the men who wrote the document have ever actually met and talked with any feminists.

Hard to know. It sounds as if they wrote it based on old models of what it means to be a liberated woman. I wonder: Do they work with any women? Did any women help draft the document? If they have no understanding of modern women, can they even be writing anything about women? Mmmm. Just some thoughts.

The lack of knowledge goes both ways. We feminists don't know anything about the Vatican men who worked on the document. Because we don't, it makes it easy to criticize them. Iris St. John wrote a letter to the editor at The Spokesman-Review with this line in it: "Well, isnt this an ironic criticism from a bunch of senile old men who like to wear long dresses and drape themselves in big jewelry!"

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a dialogue? Let the Vatican men meet some American feminists. Then maybe the stereotypes, and the harsh criticisms, would be lessened.

A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility

In our bulletin at St. Al's Sunday, the social justice folks referred parishioners to a good Web site at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops titled: Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.

The debate over Kerry's Communion-worthy status has taken away from the social justice issues that can guide Catholic votes, too. This Web site articulates these points well.

Here are two excerpts:

"A Catholic moral framework does not easily fit the ideologies of "right" or "left," nor the platforms of any party. Our values are often not "politically correct." Believers are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the values of Scripture and the principles of Catholic social teaching. Our responsibility is to measure all candidates, policies, parties, and platforms by how they protect or undermine the life, dignity, and rights of the human person, whether they protect the poor and vulnerable and advance the common good."

"Politics in this election year and beyond should be about an old idea with new power--the common good. The central question should not be, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" It should be, "How can ‘we'--all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable--be better off in the years ahead? How can we protect and promote human life and dignity? How can we pursue greater justice and peace?"

More on the Women Thing

Tired of the discussion on the Vatican's women pronouncement? I'm not. Here's an excellent editorial on it from National Catholic Reporter.

"So in the midst of this document on the 'Collaboration of Men and Women,' one finds an incongruous paragraph that seems intent on diminishing the sexual lives of married men and women and reestablishing celibacy atop some hierarchy of sexual expression.

"While married people 'characterize the love that never ends,’ their 'temporally and earthly expression of sexuality is transient and ordered to a phase of life marked by procreation and death. Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom seeks to be the prophecy of this form of future existence of male and female.'

"Such language is indicative of the ping-ponging back and forth between sex as a kind of cosmic symbol and sex as a limiting factor to real-life humans that often plagues discussion of sexual matters in Catholic documents.

"As with the taboos, celibacy has long ceased to be a valid measure of holiness for most Catholics.

"Coming 40 years late to a movement, feminism, that has had worldwide significance would be an embarrassment for most institutions, but it is excused in the church as an acceptable arc of progress for a 2,000-year-old organization not known for quick reactions."

Jimmy Breslin's Thoughts on Church Reform

Journalist Jimmy Breslin, a champion of the little guy, has a new book out titled The Church that Forgot Christ.

A Reuters article on the book reads, in part:
"Although he says he seldom misses a Sunday mass, Breslin has long been at odds with his church, opposing its stands on abortion, homosexuality and women in the priesthood, as well as being outraged by its failure to crack down on the priest sex scandal.

"The present pope has four subjects on his mind: abortion, abortion, abortion and Poland," Breslin says in his book before launching into an imaginary conversation with the pontiff.

"For me the sex scandal highlighted what was wrong. You can't have a church without women and married priests. The church has been in office too long. It needs an infusion."

Read article.

A Retrospective on The Pastoral Letter on Women's Concerns

The Vatican's recent comments on women, and the response to it, was a trip back to the past for me.

Four years ago, while working on my master's degree in pastoral ministry at Gonzaga University, I wrote a paper for my Contemporary Church class on the struggle to write the Bishops Pastoral on Women's Concerns.

In 1985 and 1986, United States bishops listened to thousands of women. Their goal was to write a pastoral letter on the concerns of women. They tried. But nine years and four drafts after the idea was first proposed, the letter died.

In the paper, I applauded the process of listening that bishops did throughout the country. "The final tally of participants was impressive: 100 dioceses representing all regions of the country; 60 college campuses and 45 military bases, plus the women representing the 24 Catholic organizations. Grand total: 75,000 women!"

The first draft of the pastoral letter was excellent, authentic to the diverse experience of women at the time. "In all, 60 women are 'heard' throughout the first draft via direct quotes. Names are not used, but identified are the women’s diocese, military base, college campus or church organization. These identifiers also add life to the document because readers can place the woman quoted in a region of the country or in a passage of her life. Listen to this woman from the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia: 'As I reflect upon my experience as a Catholic woman, what stands out the most for me is that I choose to participate in an institution that is discriminating against me as a woman. As a black woman, I would never even consider participating in any group that was blatantly racist – yet I maintain membership in a church that is blatantly sexist. That’s a mystery to me in and of itself! And, it strengthens my commitment to do anything I can to help my beloved church move toward a position of justice in regard to the status of women.'''

By the second draft, 37 of the direct quotes had been cut. Then, the Vatican got involved. Here's what I said about the final draft:

"There are no direct quotes, in regular typeface or in italics, from any women. The document contains significantly more sentences that begin with the word we. This we means the bishops of the church, the men. The pope’s teaching on women’s ordination, and the tradition he cites to support it, are given much more space. The draft deals with the sin of sexism, as did the three prior drafts, but with an added twist. Radical feminism is called 'evil' and blamed for the sin of sexism. The language used to convey this is angry and scolding. Radical feminism, the letter states, 'exalts the gifts and traits of women while belittling the gifts and traits of men. At times it seems to label maleness evil in itself.'''

In the end, the Bishops Pastoral on Women's Concerns was never released. Fortunately, the bishops realized it would do much more damage than good.

Because of the history of the pastoral, I was not surprised at the Vatican's recent discussion of women. Sad, yes, but not surprised.

Register, Pray, Vote

The always interesting Sojourners magazine and Web site has a voter registration drive going. It gives me hope that so many organizations, secular and non, are working to get out the vote.

Editors there wrote: "Once you've registered and told your friends, we encourage you to prayerfully examine the issues and candidates according to biblical principles of justice, peace, and concern for the most vulnerable in society. No candidate or party will ever perfectly measure up against these standards - it takes careful contemplation of these values and the choices available to truly vote one's conscience."

Check out the registration form.

The Women Weigh In

Some women columnists weighed in today with their thoughts on the Vatican's comments on women and feminisim.

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, in National Catholic Reporter, writes:

"The interesting, if not tantalizing, thing about Vatican documents that purport to deal with the subject of what it is to be a woman in church and society is that they usually manage to confuse the issue more than they clarify it. The latest word on women from Rome, 'The Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and In the World' is no exception. If anything, it reads like a scene out of Fiddler on the Roof as Tevye, in his monologue with God, vacillates between 'on the one hand' and 'on the other hand.'''

Read entire column.

Also in NCR, Pia de Solenni, a moral theologian who works as the Director of Life and Women's Issues at the Family Research Council, in Washington, DC., analyzes the document from a more conservative viewpoint.

She writes:
"A woman should not be measured solely in professional or economic terms. Many women choose to marry and have children. Their contribution to society is irreplaceable, not because they can change diapers and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (anyone can do that) but because of who they are. Part of the conversation that the document proposes is a discussion of who woman is. Many women have already proven, even to thick-headed chauvinists, that they can do just about everything as well as, if not better than, a man. Now it's time to turn the discussion towards who woman is and who man is rather than simply what they do. Given that the church starts with the understanding that sexual differences are good and that the body plays an essential role in comprising the person, it follow that who we are as women and men should contribute to whatever we do even when our professions and tasks are the same."

Read entire column.

John Allen on the Vatican's Feminist paper

Read John Allen's take on the Vatican's women document.

He's National Catholic Reporter's Rome correspondent.


"In one intriguing theological assertion, the document says that male/female differences are so fundamental that they will endure even in the afterlife. The distinction is seen as 'belonging ontologically to creation, and destined therefore to outlast the present time, evidently in a transfigured form' it says.

The Vatican on Feminism: The Full Text

Here's the full text of Letter To The Bishops Of The Catholic Church
On The Collaboration Of Men And Women
In The Church And In The World

Useful links
About Rebecca