Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church Hierarchy’

Blessing and breaking bread

December 11, 2011

On Saturday, we had the annual Catholic Feast … Christmas-themed … at the prison. Seventeen offenders and eight volunteers were in attendance.

It’s a maximum security prison, and several of those present are serving either life without parole or are under a death sentence. All are serving hard time.

Beginning at 1:00 p.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m., we ate, read scripture, acted out the infancy narratives from Luke and Matthew, sang, prayed, and ate again.

Blessing and breaking bread, liturgy of the Word, prayer, Christmas hymns, preaching the gospel message (via skits), and the Divine Presence: “I was in prison and you visited me.” [Matthew 25:36]

Father Joe was unable to make it to the event, so we didn’t have Mass. Or did we?

A withering stigma

November 14, 2011

Comparisons of the sex abuse scandal at Penn State to those within the Catholic church are being made easily and without hesitation.

An examination of how things have been handled, however, yields little in common.  The cover-ups and disregard for the consequences of such indifference by the Vatican and involved dioceses are inexcusable. Such inactions and obliviousness have, in my opinion,  rendered the hierarchy  voiceless for some time to come on nearly any pronouncement or directive they bring forward,  especially any regarding pelvic issues – their ever-present, uninformed fixation.

Penn State’s Board of Trustees cleaned house. Perhaps if a few red hats or mitres were sent home to live with relatives … years ago … things could have been different, fewer young children would have been irreparably harmed, our faithful and effective priests would not be living and ministering under a withering stigma.

But I’m a Christian first!

September 12, 2011

Note: If you are really pleased with the Catholic Church as it is today, you may not want to  read any further.


There was an unexpected comment from inside a prison cell during my visit on Wednesday of last week:

“The one religion I have no use for is Catholic.” He’s Muslim.

“Really?” I said

“Catholics are creepy! All that sexual abuse of kids.”

“You know, I’m Catholic.”

“You are?”

“But I’m a Christian first!”

Ever since that exchange (and we did continue talking), I have wondered what prompted me to say that. My not identifying with the institutional church is certainly part of it. Wondering what bishops, cardinals, and the pope bring to the party is another part.

The thing that keeps me in the Catholic faith is that there is nowhere else to go. Also, I need to remember the influence of the Sacraments and of our tradition upon who I have become … along with God’s grace.

I’m simply not big on the hierarchy and all the pomp and trappings that go with it. I still imagine Jesus roaming around the Vatican or any diocesan office wondering how all this came out of his demonstrating and talking about leading a humble and loving life.

Our local bishop provides ceremonial, administrative, and managerial support to the faith communities in the archdiocese. That is good and necessary. But I don’t look to him for guidance in matters of faith and morals. I look to the members of our faith community under the guidance of our pastors.

To me, the bishops in this country have nothing to say. Perhaps they will someday, but for now their voice lacks credibility and is usually out of step with those in the pews. The corporate  insensitivity and cover-ups displayed toward the sexual abuse of our children can never be excused. Forgiven by some, but never excused.

I believe to be a good Catholic is to be a good Christian, to follow Jesus in his words and actions, to hear and keep the gospel message. Is that what we see and hear from the hierarchy? No.  What we see and hear is exclusion, intolerance, arrogance, a group that is tone-deaf, a group that fails to listen to the faithful (at least those of us without money).

We see and hear from the hierarchy an asymmetrical view of the human experience, an undue focus on sexual issues rather than on loving relationships. Other things in their portfolio of issues include abortion, gays, maintaining 7 Sacraments for men and only 6 Sacraments for women. Gee, that last issue said that way smacks of theological ignorance, except we know it’s all about power anyway and theology has nothing to do with it.

The U.S. bishops’ bi-annual inserting of themselves into the political process is nonsense and, as we have seen, can cause much damage through encouraging voting for those who are insufficiently pro-live, voting for those care more for the unborn than for breathing citizens in need. I should say that they claim to care for the unborn.

Our bishops also encouraged voting for and electing an administration filled with fear and vengeance rather than hope and forgiveness. But unthinking conservatism doe spawn more unthinking conservatism, and election time is just around the corner once more. The archbishop before this one thought the war in Iraq was a “just” war. And so it goes.

I could go on, but a conversation at a cell door does bring up many, many things to reflect upon.

Confusion among the faithful

June 19, 2011

Father’s Day. Lots of memories, reflections, gratitude. It is a good day.


Friday, I led a discussion on the Trinity following my third-Friday communion service at the prison. The information I drew upon came from Elizabeth Johnson’s book,  Quest for the Living God. Her chapter on the Trinity was very helpful. Much more helpful than the usual “three persons in one divine nature.” How understandable has that ever been?

I’m well aware that the bishops don’t like Elizabeth Johnson’s book. I loved it! In fact, if the bishops hadn’t objected, I most likely would have missed it. Thanks, guys. The book sits on my shelf next to  Roger Haight’s book, Jesus Symbol of God. The bishops really hated that one.

Both of those books I inhaled with great interest. I commented in an email to Sr. Johnson, “I don’t know where I would be without an inclusive theology that makes sense.” It remains a mystery to me what the bishops found objectionable in her book. I’ll admit I haven’t read their report, but I did read her book.

We know that pluralism does give the bishops indigestion. But I don’t want a God who thinks the Catholic Church is “the only way” to salvation. The God I know is the one described in the Gospels through the words and behavior of Jesus, open to everyone, not the one described through the words and actions of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Departing from official Church teaching is a no-no, that much I have gleaned from news reports regarding their objections. They would love to have every theology book require an imprimatur. But can you imagine if we never knew more than the bishops? If all we ever heard about was what the Church already thought she knew? Are we to be constrained by what is often the least common denominator in awareness of  living faithfully in today’s world? Isn’t it possible that the church can teach from below as well as from above?

My understanding is that the bishops don’t like her treatment of the Trinity. Granted it was understandable and relevant which could cause “confusion among the faithful.” Confusion of the faithful is really the province of  the hierarchy itself, not the work of our theologians.

I wonder …

February 19, 2011

I wonder if most of those who pay the top marginal income tax rate, 35%, were to have it raised back to 39.6%, would  even notice … if their tax accountant didn’t tell them. The folks don’t need the money, and the shortfall will be picked up by those who do.

I wonder how our Roman Catholic dioceses would be led  if there wasn’t a “red hat” to aim for? Or even an archbishop title? Or if there was no bishop at all? Couldn’t there be a rotational administrator for, say, a six-year term? Elected by fellow priests of the diocese? Or does it even need to be a priest? I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest there would be a more pastoral presence and less abusive, thoughtless, and unchristian displays of power … as in Phoenix, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis over the past several years.

I wonder why waterboarding (no segue intended) is referred to as “simulated” drowning. The person is actually drowning. A more accurate description would be: a drowning interrupted. Torture? Without a doubt. But regrettably prohibited by “quaint” international conventions, or so we were told Messrs. Chaney and Yoo. Care to try it gentlemen?

I wonder why the snowplow waits to come by until after I’ve cleared the end of the driveway?

I wonder why so many recent memoirs from the world of politics are listed under nonfiction? They do, however, provide good raw material for forensic historians. I saw one of the authors interviewed on television. He still has no idea what the hell happened under his watch!

I wonder why some gas station owners raise the price immediately … with underground tanks full of cheaper gasoline, but lower the price slowly until the storage tanks are pretty much depleted of more expensive gas?

I wonder why one needs to speak up to avoid being seated by the restrooms in a nearly empty restaurant? And with reservations no less?

I wonder why some people are so fearful of theocracies being established in other countries and yet seem to be doing everything they can to establish one here. If you want to see a horror show, live under a Christian theocracy … the history books are full of information if you are curious. “Kill the infidel” has been around for a long, long time under many guises. It all begins with orchestrating what our children read, or don’t read, in their textbooks, and what is taught, or not taught, in the schools. I’ll take a secular state, thank you.

I wonder why bloody, violent, psychopathic crimes will be displayed on TV as early as 8:00, Criminal Minds for example, but any steamy scenes (other than soaps while the kids are in school or playing outside) are on at 9:00 or later. Which can do more damage to our sensibilities?

But I still love the church

November 29, 2010

Several years ago, our monthly discussion group had a Mass around a coffee table in the lounge of a residence for religious. The celebrant poured wine into the chalice and set the bottle on the table. A few moments later he said, “We better move this bottle back to the counter otherwise we’ll consecrate the whole batch.” I remember wondering if he was joking, or if there  actually was some “rule” requiring that the bottle be moved.

Sometime after that, I read an article on invalid baptisms. Apparently some were baptizing using the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier.”  These baptisms would be invalid, the article said, since the words were not according to the formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

During the past week, there was an article on the mutual recognition of baptisms between the Roman Catholic Church and several Christian denominations. It was agreed that one need not be re-baptized if the proper formula was used and if documentation proclaiming the validity would be kept in the church records.

This last bit of information was a complete surprise to me. People are “received” into the Catholic church all the time without being re-baptized. Do we really do a validity background check? Does it matter?

I guess I take Saint Paul too seriously, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all”

Then I think back to the wine-on-the-table incident. Maybe the celebrant wasn’t joking after all. Perhaps the Holy Spirit really doesn’t know what she’s doing. Maybe it is the correct words for baptism  and the correct placement of wine bottles  that make the Sacraments work rather than the intent of those present. That the Holy Spirit comes forth only when the formula is correct to the last syllable and the ritual is followed to the tiniest movement.

So, one can only conclude that we worship a complete moron … in the eyes of the hierarchy. Can’t you picture the Holy Spirit descending toward the little infant surrounded by beaming parents and reverent godparents only to retreat with alarm and horror when she hears the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of …. ” Is there a cosmic alarm that goes off: ABORT BAPTISM! GRACE DENIED! ABORT BAPTISM! Is that poor kid going to go through life with the stain of Original Sin just because the recipe was botched?

But I still love the church and our local faith community no matter how silly things get in the front office.