All The Pope's Men

I love The Tablet, a British journal that considers itself a "paper of progressive, but responsible Catholic thinking, a place where orthodoxy is at home but ideas are welcome." It always has something thought-provoking to say about the trends and reforms in the church.

Came across this great review of John Allen's book "All the Pope’s Men: The inside story of how the Vatican really thinks."

An excerpt: "Allen's 'top ten Vatican values' are instructive. Authority is an expression of community and tradition: the assumption of the Curia is that 'power ennobles, because it flows from Holy Orders and draws on the grace of the Sacrament' - which is also, incidentally, the main reason it is not particularly women, but lay people in general, who fall far below the top rungs of decision-making. But few believe that ordination inoculates a man from being naïve, stubborn or simply wrong; the Pope's fiercest critics, he points out, are just down the corridor from him.

"He is also particularly good on the bella figura, the importance which the Vatican no less than Italians attach to keeping up appearances. This means steering clear of embarrassments and disagreements, which can result in a failure to face up honestly to problems (not least the sex abuse crisis). But it is also an attitude that life is a kind of art, and that efficiency and results are not the only goods. Beauty beats speed; formality trumps directness; the law's ideal must be upheld - even if privately those who fail to meet it will be compassionately dealt with."

"The Vatican sees itself as cosmopolitan ('officials have to think not just how something will play in Peoria, but in Pretoria and Peking and São Paulo') and objective, proud to be above the fray of local passions and insulated from lobbies and cultural pressures. Vatican officials do not see themselves as imperialists imposing their will on local Churches, but as defenders of the 'simple faithful' against avant-garde theologians, experimental liturgists, or bishops who believe themselves above canon law. Which helps to explain - although Allen does not mention it - why the Vatican takes seriously objections from self-appointed orthodoxy police in dioceses: not because it helps the Vatican to impose a line on local Churches but because it believes it is defending the 'simple faithful'. But sticking up for the little guys is selective, he observes. 'Since in general most Vatican officials tend to be theological conservatives, the populism of the Holy See tilts to the right.'"

Tucson's Bankrupt, too

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson declared bankruptcy Sept. 20. I was away from the office when it happened and didn't blog it, but I want to get it on the record here now. The purpose of this blog is to mark the church milestones that will lead, by necessity, to a Vatican III of some sorts.

These bankruptcies are big news in the scheme of things.

Tucson is the second diocese to do this. See story.

The Archdiocese of Portland was the first. (By the way, archdiocese is just the name they give to a big diocese.)

The cost of the sex-abuse scandal was a factor in both bankruptcies. The good that might come out of it is this might mean less secrecy all the way around in all dioceses, because financial details can come out in court.

Christian Science Monitor has a good story on that. Read here.

An African Pope?

John Allen of National Catholic Reporter just returned from a trip to Africa. Read his column about it.

If and when there is a Vatican III, Africa will be a huge player as Catholicism is spreading and rooting there in some very interesting ways. Some even suggest Africa would be the place to hold Vatican III to reflect how much the church has changed since Vatican II.

Allen spoke with Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki at his Nairobi residence on Sunday evening, Sept. 12. Here's an excerpt from his interview

Allen: "What do you make of the so-called "sects," small independent Protestant movements, that are growing rapidly in Africa."

Archbishop: "They come out forcefully, but they don't seem to keep their stamina. They seem to burn out quickly. … There is too much dancing and emotion, usually without a moment of reflection. Whereas traditionally, like in the area where I was born, when we met for worship there was a moment for talking, for chatting, and then a moment came when no one talked until the leader does this business around the tree, pouring water or oil or what have you, and then he sits down and starts talking. Even the children would keep quiet at that moment. This is traditional African religion. In the Catholic church, we have the moment when the priest prays, the consecration, when nobody else talks, so it's familiar to Africans."

Allen: "What is the relationship with Islam?"

Archbishop: "We worked together until a debate arose over the new constitution. The Muslims wanted Islamic religious practices inserted, and there we differed. They wanted their Islamic legal system, the shariah, their courts, to not only be recognized but financially supported. We wanted a clause that would recognize all religions and their rules, for example canon law, provided that religious law does not work in conflict with the national constitution. They walked out of the meeting, but we are trying to get them to come back. … Really, apart from areas where there is a heavy Muslim population, in Kenya we have no fight."

Allen: "Some say that the Catholic church has stood in the way of solving the AIDS question because of its opposition to condoms."

Archbishop: "For me, a condom is not the answer. In fact, in this country I would say without fear that the use of condoms has been the greatest means of increasing the cases of AIDS. … In this country, to provide a young person, a young Kenyan, with a condom is a license. It's like saying, "my son or daughter, you are free." And they do it."

Allen: "Many have talked about the idea of an African pope. Is the African church ready to produce a pope?"

Archbishop: "It's possible, if there is one who could be elected by the cardinals. Why not? Whoever thought there would be a pope from Poland?"

Have They No Shame?

Been out sick for a week, and reading an article by Reese Dunklin of the Dallas Morning News made me feel even more ill. Seems priests accused of sexual abuse, and some who covered up the scandal, have found refuge in Rome. I couldn't find a Web link to the entire story, but here's an excerpt:

"Here in the heart of Catholicism, church leaders are giving refuge to priests who face allegations of sexual abuse in other countries.

"The Dallas Morning News located the men – some of them admitted abusers – as part of a yearlong investigation into the global movements of accused priests.

"Some are stationed in the comfort of their religious orders’ world headquarters. One strolls by St. Peter’s Square en route to his job. Another leads English-language tours at ancient church burial grounds. And until recently, one man was serving his house arrest across the street from the Vatican. The priests would not discuss their cases at length. Their supervisors said they did not assign the men to Rome to help them elude law enforcement or victims. The goal, they said, was to give the priests a place to live and work away from children.

"It’s not the worst place in the world; that’s true," said the Rev. Michael Higgins, the Passionist order’s American leader. Last year, he sent to Rome a priest who had been investigated, but not prosecuted, on abuse claims. "But it’s not a reward."

"A former top administrator at a Catholic college near the Vatican said placing accused and even fugitive priests in Rome was "very detrimental" – especially at a time when the church is trying to restore its battered image.

"I don’t think they understand taking those people over there is a scandal," said the Rev. Lawrence Breslin, a retired priest who was the second-in-command at Pontifical North American College. "Rome is the center of the church. People see it as a holy place. It is not a place for harboring criminals."

Ministering to the Stricken

The Catholic priest who ministered at the Russian school massacre gave an interview to the Catholic News Service that is enlightening and sobering.

Here's an excerpt:
"Having been a priest for 22 years, I should perhaps have been better prepared, but having watched car after car bringing little children's bodies for burial, I'm deeply shocked," said Father Janusz Blaut, pastor of the Catholic parish in Vladykavkaz, capital of the North Ossetia province.

"The church's task will be to calm emotions and discourage people from answering evil with evil. But it won't be easy to convince a father who's lost his wife and four children -- not by some natural catastrophe, but through a human act of terror," he said.

Read article.

Protest at St. Albert in Boston

When Vatican III finally happens, one trend that might be noted is the way that lay people stopped acting like sheep -- finally. One example from today's news.

Parishioners at St. Albert the Great in Boston crowded a courtroom to try to stop the archdiocese from seizing and selling off the church's assets.

The parish was closed Sept. 1 by the archdiocese, one of the casualties of the clergy sex-scandal that pressed the finances of the Boston Archdiocese.

Here's an excerpt from
"More than 150 parishioners crowded into a courtroom in Suffolk Superior Court, standing in the back and alongthe sides, with the overflow sent to the balcony. The parishioners had rented three buses to take them from their embattled Weymouth parish to the courthouse for the first round in a legal battle that pits them against their archdiocese.

"The parish has filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese, saying the church belongs to them, not to the hierarchy. Despite the closing, parishioners have refused to leave the church, maintaining what they call "an eternal prayer vigil" since the final Mass was said Aug. 29."

Read the whole article.

Prayers for the Little Ones

The scene of the scared and naked Russian schoolchildren haunts the world this week. Pope John Paul II prayed for them, too.

The article in Zenit reads, in part: "The Holy Father began with a meditation in which he contemplated Mary as a child, and asked: "How can one not think of the many defenseless little ones of Beslan, in Ossetia, victims of a barbarous kidnapping and tragic massacre?"

"They were inside a school, the place where one learns the values that give meaning to history, culture and peoples' civilization: reciprocal respect, solidarity, justice and peace," he said.

"Behind those walls, instead, they experienced outrage, hatred and death, evil consequences of a cruel fanaticism and an insane contempt for the human person," the Pope added."

Read article

In Search of a Pope

Atlantic Monthly has an excellent article in its September issue titled "In Search of a Pope" by Paul Elie. Only a snippet of it is available on the magazine's Web site. See here.

He mentions several "candidates" for the next pope. He also does a great analysis of the current pope.
Here's an excerpt:
"Where the experts expected the papal role to diminish, John Paul has surprised them by taking it to the people. John Paul has made his entire pontificate a pilgrimage -- one full of implications for the pilgrimage of the ordinary believer.

"Through his trips he has made clear that the whole world -- not just a certain 108 acres within Rome -- is pilgrim territory. In recent years, by carrying on in public even though he is physically diminished, he has acted out the central Christian belief that it is in suffering embraced in faith that redemption is to be sought."

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.

Useful links
About Rebecca