Posted in category "Faith"
On March 16, 2010 the Holy See announced that Pope Benedict XVI will preside over the beatification of the Venerable John Henry Newman on September 19, 2010. The location for the Mass hasn’t been decided yet, but the site of the former MG Rover factory is now the â€œpreferred venueâ€ for Benedict XVIâ€™s beatification of Cardinal Newman. It is easier for security, and is closer to the place where Cardinal Newman will be venerated: Birmingham Oratory. One of the concelebrants of the Mass is sure to be the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminister and head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
In preparation for his beatification, in October 2008 authorities opened Cardinal Newman’s grave to exhume and rebury his body. Gay rights activists protested the separation of Newman from his longtime companion with whom he shared his burial place. The idea of Catholic pilgrims going to the gravesite of two men to venerate one of them as a “Blessed” was too uncomfortable for church authorities to tolerate.
In a queer coincidence on the eve of Newman’s beatification, Birmingham Oratory experienced an upheaval over a relationship between the provost of the Oratory and a young man. Their relationship appeared to echo Cardinal Newman’s relationship with a priest, Fr. Ambrose St John a century before.
At the heart of the conflict are the allegations surrounding a close but chaste friendship between the former Provost of Birmingham Oratory, Fr. Paul Chavasse, and a young man. Fr. Chavasse had also served as Actor for the Cause of Newman’s canonization. He has been replaced in both positions by the Very Rev. Richard Duffield.
“Around 2 1/2 years ago, in the autumn of 2007, Fr. Chavasse began to form an intense but physically chaste friendship with a young man, then aged 20, which the Fathers of Birmingham Oratory regarded as imprudent,” an Oratory spokesman said. The young man had been rejected as a candidate for the priesthood, and Fr. Chavasse had complained on his behalf. Fr. Chavasse assured skeptical members of the community that he was not sexually involved with anyone, but these men continued to confront Fr. Chavasse and informed Rome of their concerns and suspicions.
Fr. Felix Seldon was appointed to conduct an “apostolic visitation” of the Birmingham Oratory. Here is the upshot:
– Fr. Paul Chavasse “willingly” resigned as Provost of the Oratory and also as Actor for the Cause of Newman’s canonization in December 2010 – less than a year before Newman’s beatification. He was directed to leave for a long retreat, or a fund raising trip to America–depending on which news story you read. Anyway, he’s vanished.
– The three members of the Birmingham Oratory that complained the loudest about Fr. Chavasse–Fr. Philip Cleevely, Fr. Dermont Fenlon and Br. Lewis Berry have been ordered “to spend time in prayer for an indefinite period” in religious houses hundreds of miles apart. No date was given for their return to the Birmingham Oratory.
An Oratory spokesman downplayed the homosexual allegations of the conflict. He explained there had been disagreements in the community how best to approach the beautification of their founder, Cardinal Newman. Fr. Fenlon, Fr. Cleevely and Br. Lewis were described on one blog as “known upholders of tradition and conservative Catholic values.” They have publicly opposed an interpretation of Cardinal Newman as a patron of conscientious dissent. As a theologian, Cardinal Newman played an important role in developing the modern formulation of the primacy of conscience, which is of fundamental importantance to gay and lesbian Catholics who reject in good conscience the standard teaching on sexuality.
The three men have also publicly protested the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales lack of vigorous opposition to sex education and relationships policy in schools put in place by the British government. Archbishop Vincent Nichols is president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. He previously served as Archbishop of Birmingham from 2000 to 2009.
Bishops of any stripe don’t appreciate publicity-seeking troublemakers. With the halogen glare that will accompany the pope’s visit in September, I’m not surprised all four men were sent packing to distant monasteries.
Questions about Cardinal Newman’s sexuality revived when he was exhumed in 2008.
Newman, a founder and member of the Birmingham Oratory, was buried in the small cemetery at Rednal near the Oratory County house. At his request, he was buried with Fr. Ambrose St John.
At the request of the Vatican, the British government gave permission for the cardinal’s remains to be transferred from Rednal into a sarcophagus that will stand between the marble columns opposite the Holy Souls’ Altar in Birmingham Oratory Church. The Vatican is understood to have made the request so that Roman Catholic pilgrims could come and pray at Newman’s tomb. It is not traditional for veneration to occur at shared tombs.
Responding to recent insinuations in the British press that Cardinal John Henry Newman was gay and was an intellectual forefather of today’s dissenters from Catholic teaching, Fr. Ian Ker, the author of the “definitive” biography of Newman, called the claims that the cardinal was gay are “absolute rubbish.” He says there is “irrefutable evidence of Newman’s heterosexuality.”
This evidence rests in the “sacrifice” to a life of celibacy to which Newman felt he had been called at age 15. “A modern reader should not need to be reminded that in 19th century England homosexuality was illegal and generally considered to be immoral,” wrote Fr. Ker. “The only ‘sacrifice’ that Newman could possibly been referring to was that of marriage,” he said.
In a article entitled “John Henry Newman and the sacrifice of celibacy,” published in L’Osservatore Romano on September 3, 2009, Fr. Ker comments that “the decision to exhume the body of Venerable John Henry Newman has provoked reactions, in particular on the part of the homosexual lobby.” According to Ker, this “protest” carries the idea that “Newman wanted to be buried with his friend because he had some kind of bond with him or something more than just a simple friendship.”
When Fr. Ambrose St John, who was 14 years his junior, died in 1875, Newman compared his own grief to that of a husband’s for a wife. “I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or wife’s, but I feel it is difficult to believe that any can be greater, or anyone’s sorrow greater, than mine.”
Newman wrote in his diary about Fr. St John’s love for him: “From the first he loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable.” He later added: “As far as this world was concerned, I was his first and last…he was my earthly light.”
The cardinal repeated on three occasions his desire to be buried with his friend, including shortly before his death in 1890. “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John’s grave – and I give this as my last, my imperative will,” he wrote, later adding: “This I confirm and insist on.”
The two men had a joint memorial stone that is inscribed with the words he had chosen: Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem (Out of shadows and phantasms into the truth.”)
British gay rights activist Mr. Peter Tatchell observed: “It is impossible to know whether or not the relationship between Newman and St John involved sexual relations. Equally, it is impossible to know that it did not.”
“To be fair and to err on the side of caution, given both men’s rather orthodox religious beliefs,they probably did not have a sexual relationship. It is likely that they had a gay orientation but chose to abstain from sex. Sexual abstinence does not, however, alter a person’s orientation. A person can be gay and sublimate hteir gayness into spiritual and artistic pursuits, and into strong, intense platonic same-sex relationships, which is probably what Newman and St John did.”
“But many of these platonic relationships were, in fact, expressions of latent homosexuality which never fund physical expression because the men concerned lived in a homophobic culture where they either had no conception of the possiblity of same-sex love or, for religious reasons, dared ot express this love sexually.”
“Ker’s article is full of bald assertions that Newman was heterosexual, but it offers no proof or evidence. It dismisses the possibility that the Cardinal could have had a relationship with St John and even condemns the plausible suggestion that he might have been gay and celibate.”
The history of the Catholic Church is littered with popes, cardinals, bishops and priests who were secretly gay. Down the ages, lots of clergy have had gay relationships. Indeed, about one-quarter of the current Catholic priesthood is estimated to be gay. Why should anyone be surprised by the suggestion Cardinal Newman might have had a same-sex relationship?”
The sexuality of Newman has long been a subject for conjucture. Charles Kingsley’s famous attack on Newman for his dishonesty, insincerity and sexual ambiguity. Kingsley compared Rome’s Catholic descendants as treacherous and effeminate and the pagan Germanic people or their English Protestant descendants as honest, trustworthy, and physically strong defenders of truth. When in 1864 Kingsley asserted that “truth, for its own sake had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy . . . [and] Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be; that cunning is the weapon which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage,” Newman roared back with his seminal work Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
John Henry Newman’s first steps toward Roman Catholicism came from his participation, study and writings as part of the Oxford Movement. This religious movement began 1833 by Anglican clergymen at Oxford University to renew the Church of England by reviving certain Roman Catholic doctrines and rituals. This attempt to stir the Established Church into new life arose among a group of spiritual leaders in Oriel College, Oxford. Prominent among them were John Henry Newman Richard Hurrell Froude. Froude died in 1836 at the age of 33. Newman, 35 years old at the time, was profoundly moved by his death.
The idea that the Oxford Movement contained a significant stream of homoeroticism was popularized by Sir Geoffrey Faber in the book Oxford Apostles – A Character Study of the Oxford Movement, published in 1933. One commentator declared, “Of the mutually feminine attachment which bound Newman and Froude together, there is no need to say more.”
In his journal of the late 1820s Froude records his struggle against “vile affections” and, referring to an unnamed undergraduate private pupil, cautions himself “above all (to) watch and pray against being led out of the way by the fascination of his society.”
Newman’s poems of the 1830s echo similar themes (“A Blight”), but also use well-known Biblical male pairs to make suggestive homosexual statements (“David and Jonathan” and especially “James and John,” with its reference to a state where “man may one with man remain.”
To his elegiac poem, “Separation of Friends,” Newman added these final lines after the death of Froude in February 1836:
“Ah! dearest, with a word he could dispel
All questioning, and raise
Our hearts to rapture, whispering all was well,
And turning prayer to praise.
And other secrets too he could declare,
By patterns all divine,
His earthly creed retouching here and there,
And deepening every line.
Dearest! he longs to speak as I to know,
And yet we both refrain:
It were not good; a little doubt below,
And all will soon be plain.”
“But isn’t it about time,” said one commenter on a British news site, “that the Church stopped all this hypocritical nonsense and admit that the man they are about to beatify was gay, and that he was in loved with Fr Ambrose St John to the extent where they even wanted to get buried together. They may well have lived chaste lives and suppressed their sexuality successfully, but you cannot get around the content of the letters passing between the two of them.”
“And instead of branding Newman as ‘intrinsically disordered’, and effectively saying that he should never have been a priest, let alone a Cardinal, as the current regime would have to say, they should celebrate the life of a wonderful thinker, a truly gifted writer, and a man who was not ashamed to express his love for another man while at the same time observing a celibate life.”
“I can’t believe the irrational and inhuman knots this hierarchy ties itself up in.”
These two books provide interesting reading on Cardinal Newman’s sexuality and careful expression: in The Friend (2003) the late historian Alan Bray presented major research on the relationship between Newman and St John, sifting thorugh the Cardinal’s diary, letters and notes. Secret Selves: Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography (2009) by Oliver Buckton argues that literary “secrecy”–the very act of holding back information in a novel or memoir–was a primary and provocative indicator of Victorian homosexuality. One of the works he examines in his book is Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
A great deal more can be said by quite consciously saying much less.
My first Nihil Obstat post about Cardinal Newman – “Keep it Secret” – can be found here.
Jesuit priest Bob Carter’s obituary appeared in the New York Times on March 15, 2010. He was 82 when he died. I hadn’t heard about him in years, even through grapevine gossip from old Dignity friends.
Probably the last time I saw him was in the early ’90s at a Dignity event. I was part of a panel for Dignity New York’s 20th or 25th anniversary. They invited all the “outlaws” and other colorful characters from the past to bring their remembrances. Andy Humm was there and a member of the panel with me. I remember I sat next to John McNeill. I dressed up. It was probably the first and only time I was in a skirt at Dignity.
Bob Carter must have been on the panel, too. He was very much in the same mold as McNeill. He was a strong voice for gays in the Church, but “gay” meant “gay men.” McNeill didn’t have much use for women, and neither did Bob Carter.
McNeill had, as I recall, had one tiny section dedicated to the issues facing lesbians in the Catholic church in his famous and seminal book, The Church and the Homosexual. McNeill said, “I don’t know very much about lesbians, so I can’t write about them.” Unfortunately, he didn’t try to learn either. Mainly, I think, because women weren’t part of his life and he wasn’t particularly interested in them or struggles relevant to them, namely inclusive language and priesthood.
A lot had changed since those heady and turbulent days of the ’80s. Many Dignity members from that time had died from AIDS. Dignity had changed a lot of its language and attitudes to be more inclusive and welcoming of lesbian Catholics. Being thrown out of St. Francis Xavier Church had an impact. Not being able to congregate in a Catholic church with other priests, ex-seminarians and gay Catholic men helped to torpedo the homophile aspect of Dignity and bring them out into the wider world of outsiders. Once that happened it became a friendlier place to women, although it’s still mostly men. However, that’s not Dignity’s fault. By the late ’80s and 1990s most Catholic lesbians had given up on organized religion as too sexist and homophobic.
The Times obituary was a very good article on Carter and there is little I can add to it. You can read it here.
A picture of him marching in a gay pride day parade in full Roman collar with three other priests was used in the obituary. I would guess that photo was taken in 1981 or 1982. I remember it well — I was marching with them as part of Dignity New York. Besides Bob Carter and Fr. McNeill, Fr. Bernie Lynch marched in his collar, and another priest from Dignity who I recognize, but can’t member his name. I recall that he was a nice guy.
I can’t emphasize enough how incredibly brave it was for those four men to march at the head of the Dignity chapter in full Roman collars. It was a deliberate statement: we are Catholic priests. We are ministering to and members of an organization dedicated to full inclusion of gays in the Church. That active clergy expressed solidarity with gay and lesbian Catholics (just as Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Bob Nugent did with New Ways Ministry), gave heart to a generation of gay Catholic activists, their families and friends, and lent a certain credibility and sanction to efforts to change the church.
I will always remember that march, and the applause and roars of approval as the Dignity banner was proudly carried down Fifth Avenue to the Village. The four priests and Dignity group were applauded the entire line of the march. We applauded back at demonstrations of support.
Bob, (it was never Father Bob) saw no contradiction in being Christian and homosexual: “Since Jesus had table fellowship with social outcasts and sinners, those rejected by the religious establishment of his time, I consider myself to have been most fully a Jesuit, a ‘companion of Jesus,’ when I came out publicly as a gay man, one of the social rejects of my time. It was only by our coming out that society’s negative stereotypes would be overcome and we would gain social acceptance.”
That statement was vintage Bob Carter: the bravery and the homophile self-centeredness. That is what the men Bob Carter ministered to in the ’70s and ’80 wanted more than anything–a church that would accept them totally for who they were. For the most part, they were faithful, devout, traditionalist Catholics in every way – except for the fact that they were gay.
So I applaud Bob Carter for the work he did. I just wish he would have taken his gay activism up a notch to address the injustices lesbian Catholics had to face – the lack of access to power, and the lack of visibility in liturgical language.
As a Dignity New York board member, Bob Carter approved women speaking from the pulpit, so long as their sermons were called “non-homilies.” The homily was only reserved for priests. Gay or not.
A medieval poem –
Love brought me . And love wrought me . Man, to be thy fere. (companion)
Love fed me . And love led me . And love left me here.
Love slew me . And love drew me . And laid me on my bier.
Love is my peace, For love release . Of man I purchased dear.
For dread thee nought, I have thee sought . To anchor near.
To haven thee . Safe in my lee, And keep thee from fear.
And so, Lent begins.
To hear this poem sung by Medieval Baebes, click here.
On February 5, 2010 USCCB president Francis Cardinal George issued a statement publicly disparaging New Ways Ministry. Upon reading it, my first thought was: what little we have is even too much.
Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Bob Nugent, co-founders of New Ways, were like a lighted, open doorway in a dark alley. Many gay and lesbian people, myself among them, came home through them and their ministry. God knows what would have become of us without them. They were a beacon of welcome, friendship and compassion in a very hostile world.
For 33 years New Ways Ministry has been a source of comfort, support, affirmation and encouragement for lesbian and gay Catholics to come back and remain within the institutional church. It is the one place where we can be affirmed in who we are without any sense of shame, regret or self-loathing.
“Anyone who has taken the time to listen to the stories about the lives of lesbian/gay people will come to realize that guidance about sexual activity is not where they need help most,” said Frances DeBernardo, Executive Director. “It is in the areas of living truthfully, openly, honestly, and courageously–the areas that consume most of their time and energy–where they seek the support of the church.”
These are areas where the Church offers no support.
The starting point for New Ways Ministry has always been less of the teaching of the Magisterium and more towards the Beatitudes – the values expressed by Jesus. True, the organization has not admonished gay Catholics they must live chastely or to “strive” to live chastely, the way the officially-sanctioned Courage Apostolate does.
Cardinal George stated that since the founding of New Ways Ministry in 1977, “serious questions have been raised about the group’s adherence to church teaching on homosexuality.” “No one should be mislead by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice,” George said. “Genuine pastoral concern is based on respect for every person, no matter their sexual orientation, and acceptance of the truths of the Catholic faith,” he added. “These are the terms in which the church welcomes everybody and offers them a true home in Christ’s love and mercy.”
Why did Cardinal George pick this time to start a kerfuffle with New Ways: Could it have anything to do with the fact the Courage is having their 2010 annual conference this July at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois? Or, that New Ways Ministry is planning a workshop in March 2010 in the Chicago area?
This program – “Next Steps – Developing Catholic Lesbian/Gay Ministry,” is billed as a “weekend of prayer, presentations, dialogue, and planning designed to assist those seeking ways to include lesbian/gay people and issues in their home parishes, schools, or other ministerial settings.”
Is the notion of openly gay Catholics (chaste and not) in Catholic settings threatening? The possibility that people in the pews might experience doubt about the “intrinsic evil” of lesbian and gay relationships once they know us–their fellow parishioners–as caring people, as loving parents, as devoted and committed couples?
The condemnation of New Ways Ministry by Cardinal George has sparked a healthy debate among faithful Catholics online. I found the following exchange over at America magazine’ s website informative and heartening.
One writer, Jeffrey L. Miller posits: “They (New Ways Ministry) are a openly dissident group that has never believed what the Church believes on same-sex attraction and have damaged countless individuals by encouraging a disorder instead of helping them to live what the Church believes and to live a chaste life. Organizations like New Ways Ministry cooperate with evil by not teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and thus encourage sin. It is a spiritual work of mercy to help your brother repent, it is an evil act to tell them they don’t need to repent.”
“Jeffrey: I hereby encourage you to repent:” countered Jim McCrea.” ‘The Pharisees’ sin has come to be called ‘scotosis,’ a deliberate and willful darkening of the mind that results from the refusal to acknowledge God’s presence and power at work in human stories. If the neglect of Scripture is a form of sin, a blind adherence to Scripture when God is trying to show us the truth in human bodies is also a form of sin, and a far more grievous one… If it is risky to trust ourselves to the evidence of God’s work in transformed lives even it when challenges the clear statements of scripture, it is a far greater risk to allow the words of Scripture to blind us to the presence and power of the living God.’
“And it is even worse,” McCrea added, “to allow the words of a very fallible, defectible and historically indefensible human church to do the same.”
Steve Schewe drolly observed: “Mr. DeBernardo’s statement that ‘we have always been found to be firmly in line with authentic Catholic teaching’ seems disingenuous; I wish he would have acknowledged his organization’s long history of differences with the Catholic hierarchy, including the disciplining of Sr. Gramick and Fr. Nugent. This is all old news.”
“So why did Cardinal George let loose with his condemnation this week? Could it have anything to do with the testimony by U.S. military leaders in the Senate advocating a process to end DADT, and the relatively calm response to their testimony? A rising tide of tolerance towards gays and lesbians continues; it will be interesting to see how the attempt to overturn Proposition 8 in California turns out, particularly since one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiff, Ted Olson, is a leading conservative with impeccable credentials.”
“Given the growing national acceptance of gays and lesbians in secular society and among people of faith, Cardinal George’s attack brings to mind the late Jaroslav Pelikan’s quip that “heresy may be the result of poor timing.”
“Heresy may be the result of poor timing”–I’ll be sure to share that one with Sr. Jeannine Gramick the next time I see her. She’ll appreciate it.
For the last several months I have been contemplating observing the Sabbath as a day without “servile” work: answering email, mapping out projects, running errands, getting a head start on the week–stuff I do every Sunday.
Beginning tomorrow, the Sabbath–Sunday– will be spent relaxing: nothing planned, nothing scheduled–just enjoying the day as it unfolds.
I have been very hesitant to make a commitment to a “work-less” Sunday. I wasn’t sure about how I felt about not being busy, organizing the day with a list of things to do and accomplish.
But the racing around didn’t make me feel better–it made me feel less.
Earlier this month, I had the chance to ask a fellow blogger, Benny the Bridgebuilder from Bulls, if he knew where I could get a copy of Cardinal Suenens remarks on stress and leisure.
Benny very kindly send me a pdf of the article How to Relax, which appeared on page 25 of the final commemorative issue of The Word, published December 2008. The original article by Cardinal Suenens appeared in the August 1965 edition.
Here are some excerpts I found especially relevant to my situation. It was almost as if Cardinal Suenens took some time to sit down and talk to me about my life:
“Modern life is lived at high tension; its pace is intense and nerves get frayed. Whatever it costs, we must learn how to stop, when we need to, and draw a quiet breath. Many solve the problems of necessary recreation by taking more holidays. This is a step forward. But we must still learn how to relax, how to avoid being unbalanced by amusements, how to measure how this rhythm of fatigue and repose in the required mixture.”
“In order to acquire this art, we must learn particularly how to take advantage of the little opportunities life has to offer and become children at heart again. We must not live at such an intensive, hustling pace that we no longer have time to – have time. To be relaxed makes one accessible to others.”
“We must learn, or re-learn, to have time. Our Lord himself did not want His Apostles to live in a state of perpetual tension. He urged them to “come away into a quiet place” – “rest a little”, He said to them on days after they had finished their apostolic missions. In the wilderness and in solitude, He revealed to them the best of Himself and His message.”
“We stand in need of rest – in the ordinary sense of the word, and also rest in God. We must find a place for Him in the bustle of the day; a place for private prayer, for slow and mediative reading. We need this ‘oxygen.’ It is one of our vital necessities.”
“We need to get our breath back. That is why the Church is so insistent on Sunday being kept as a holy day; a day for public worship, certainly, but also a day of rest.”
“We must detach ourselves from our work, but only in order to attach ourselves more firmly to the one thing needful. We must stop, like the Alpine climber who has reached a high peak, to take breath for a moment, admire the view, fill our lungs with fresh air and go on to the next peak.”
“Sunday is the day to halt so that we can resume our march with a firmer tread. Do not let us neglect to fix our gaze on the sky until we can see the stars there. We make much better headway here on earth when we have a sense of direction and move forward with a firm step on solid ground. Looking at the heavens is the form of relaxation we can least dispense with if we want to keep things in their perspective and make the world a better place to live.”
Leo Jozef Cardinal Suenens (1904-1996) served as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, Belgium, from 1961-1979. He was made a cardinal in 1962. Suenens was a leading voice at the Second Vatican Council.
In May 1969 he offered a passionate critique of the Roman Curia during an interview with Informations Catholiques Internationales. Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, a high official at the Vatican, demanded he retract his remarks. Suenens refused.
Ten years later, Cardinal Suenens reflected on the event and said, “There are times when loyalty demands more than keeping in step with an old piece of music. As far as I am concerned loyalty is a different kind of love. And this demands that we accept responsibility for the whole and serve the Church with as much courage and candor as possible.”
– Benny, thank you so much for sending me the article. It really helped me.
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a story in Flannery O’Connor’s book of the same name. It is a tale of nostalgia, prejudice, relationships, superiority, resentment, and ultimately, the space between people who perceive the same thing differently.
The title is a quotation from Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who imagined an â€œomega pointâ€ at which the â€œrisingâ€ or evolving human being would meet God.
I see the rising as a metaphor describing the struggle, debate and entanglement of the many different strands and tendrils of thought, belief, and action over what it means to be Catholic. And, at the end, where the distances close as we all meet in God.
The debate over Catholic identity has exposed two extremes in Catholicism: what author and scholar George Weigel calls “Catholic lite,” meaning a form of faith sold out to seclarism; and what analyst and correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. terms “Taliban Catholicism,” meaning an angry expression of Catholicism that knows only how to excoriate and condemn.
In recent days there has been a very public exchange between Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, and Sen. Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island, over the senator’s support of an amendment to the health care bill before Congress. The amendment addresses public financing of abortions.
In a letter published in the diocesan paper and on their website, Bishop Tobin wrote to Senator Kennedy saying, “For the moment Iâ€™d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, â€œThe fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.â€ That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe itâ€™s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?”
“Although I wouldnâ€™t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents.”
“But letâ€™s get down to a more practical question; letâ€™s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?”
“Well, in simple terms â€“ and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership â€“ being a Catholic means that youâ€™re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.”
“In your letter you say that you â€œembrace your faith.â€ Terrific. But if you donâ€™t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?”
I cannot fault the bishop in the points he raises about being a Catholic and the questions he poses to Senator Kennedy publicly. In his role as teacher and pastor he should do so.
However, what I am uncomfortable is the reduction of anyone’s Catholic identity to one issue – abortion. It seems to me that “pro-life” Catholics –bishops included–need to have the same unwavering commitment to feeding, clothing, housing and educating children and young adults; and keeping them out of wars and death row prison sentences.
In a 2006 study by Elizabeth Oldmixon and William Hudson – When Church Teachings and Republican Ideology Collide: The Perspectives of Catholic Republicans in the House of Representatives, a sampling of Catholic Republicans justified not supporting Catholic Social Teaching by seeing its application to most domestic social issues as less authoritative than Church moral teachings on issues like abortion.
On March 10, 2006, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a “Statement on Responsibilities of Catholics in Public Life.” The bishops were very firm and unqualified in their oppositionto abortion, but their remarks were not limited to this one issue.
“Our faith has an integral unity,” they said, “that calls Catholics to defend human life and human dignity whenever they are threatened. A priority for the poor, the protection of family life, the pursuit of justice and the promotion of peace are fundamental priorities of the Catholic moral tradition which cannot be ignored or neglected. We encourage and will continue to work with those in both parties who seek to act on these essential principles in defense of the poor and vulnerable.”
I really liked what Kevin J. Farrell, Bishop of Dallas said in his May 17, 2009 commencement address at the University of Dallas, an independent Catholic University in Irving, Texas. “If and when others may disagree or have a different approach or have a different slant on Catholic teaching or belief, honest debate, not confrontation, true dialogue, where we seek to understand the other, not facile condemnation, should be the overreaching way we move forward together,” he said in his address.
Bishop Farrell posed the question, “What does it mean to be Catholic enough?” and offered several possible answers: “It means adhering to the magisterium of the church and taking very seriously the length, breadth and depth of Catholic tradition…It means taking very seriously the challenge which theologians in the church have always taken up – to face into and revere the contemporary culture and to relate revelation and our Catholic faith to that culture…It does not mean parroting words and phrases from one or another time and place in the church’s history as though that were the only way to speak of things divine and of things Catholic…It means being a leaven in a society that seeks insight, example and inspiration even as it claims to be postreligion, postchurch and post-Christianity.”
“It means being humble before God and each other, acknowledging that no one of us has all the answers to the question, What does it mean to be Catholic enough? We know well that no one of us can ever have all the answers. No theologian or professor or pope has ever had or ever will have all the answers to what it means to be authentically and fully Catholic.”
I found this interesting interview of Sr. Donna Ryan by Thomas C. Fox in a recent edition of the National Catholic Reporter. Read the whole thing here.
“I think the culture wars have been won,” says Mercy Sr. Donna Ryan. In the 13 years she has served as chaplain to a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics, she has seen growing acceptance of this community by society at large. “It is kind of like the church is becoming the last group in our culture to face this reality,” said Ryan.
HOPE, the organization she serves in the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri diocese, was recently asked to leave its meeting place in the Cathdral of the Immaculate Conception, but the group carries on, she says, because its members “care about the church and they care for one another.”
The diocese’s ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics has been going on since the 1960s, with few tensions. At first the group was called Dignity and at one point it was told it couldn’t use that name. So they simply began to refer to themselves as “gay and lesbian Catholics.” They met in different parishes.
When I came to the diocese 13 years ago, I was asked to be the group’s chaplain. We invited them to the cathedral. We thought the cathedral should be an umbrella for many different ministries. Soon after the group decided it wanted to call itself – HOPE. We wanted a better symbol to represent ourselves. We designed a logo and picked a scripture reading from Romans about hope.
At that time we worked very closely with the diocesan structure. Former Bishop (Raymond) Boland was very supportive. We met regularly at the cathedral once a month and had speakers and retreats. After Bishop (Robert) Finn came we were asked to leave the cathdral. So now we meet at a local Jesuit parish.
I am overwhelmed by their love and faithfulness to the church. We meet every month. I keep asking, “What other group of people would regularly spend a Sunday afternoon in a church basement?” They do it because they care about the church and they care for one another. I’ve found their witness very meaningful in my own life. In the end, they struggle with the same things that any couples do; to be faithful in their relationships.
Frequently members of the group hear someting like “You are intrinsically evil.” This is very offensive to them. As a minister I do wonder. I think the beauty of our Catholic tradition is that our sacramental life involves the blessing of the ordinary with rituals and with communal support. I think that anytime two people want to make a commitment to one another, and be faithful and fruitful, and to live generous lives of service, they should be able to. I yearn for a time when we can bless them and support them. In some ways, however, we already do.
The beautiful thing about the church’s sacramental life is that we have a book of blessings. One of the blessings is for the blending of families. I think there is also a blessing for friendships. Sometimes we have used these prayers to bless and support couples who want to make a commitment. These are very adult people. They are not dependent upon any particular statements by our church for their identity. But because they love the church, some of the statements have been especially hurtful.
They receive messages from society and the church that somehow they are not normal. When you feel that year after year after year, it is often difficult to break free. So as a chaplain I deal with that. Often we have parents who come to the group. Their child is someplace else in the country and they’re struggling to accept this piece of their family’s life. I am so proud that we have this group for parents and children and brothers and sisters to come together. We have these conversations of acceptance.
August 2009: Pope Benedict XVI laicized a Franciscan priest who served as a spiritual advisor to the Marian visionaries in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The pontiff, in a document issued “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), returned Father Tomislav Vlasic to the lay state and dispensed him from his religious vows as a member of the Order of Friars Minor.
Vlasic was confined to a Franciscan monastery in L’Aquila, Italy, in February 2008 after he refused to cooperate in a Vatican investigation of his activities for suspected heresy and schism.
He was also investigated for “the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspected mysticism, disobedience towards legitimately issued orders and charges contra sextum (against the Sixth Commandment not to commit adultery),” as stated in the interdict signed by Cardinal William J. Levada, perfect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
According to the congregation, all the charges against Vlasic were “in the context of the Medjugorje phenomenon.”
The Medjugorje phenomenon began on June 25, 1981, when six children told a priest they had seen the Virgin on a hillside near their town. Some of the children also claimed to have received ten secrets from Our Lady.
According to the Medjugorje seers, who currently range in age from 38 to 31 — Marija, Vicka, Ivan, Mirjana, Ivanka, and Jakov — the apparitions of Gospa (as Our Lady is referred to in their native language) are ongoing to this day; 21 years of nonstop messages from Mary, with no end in sight. As one priest who requested anonymity observed, “The Mother of God sounds like a Chatty Cathy doll.”
Marija, Vicka and Ivan report daily visions from Mary, while others claim to see her at regular intervals; to Mirjana, Our Lady comes on the second of each month and on March 18, Mirjana’s birthday; to Ivanka, on June 25; and to Jakov, on Christmas Day.
The visionaries have received more than 30,000 visits from Mary.
A log of the messages is posted on Medjugorje Web. Here are the latest messages:
July 25, 2009 Medjugorje message of Our Lady to Marija: “Dear Children! May this time be a time of prayer for you. Thank you for having responded to my call.”
Our Lady Queen of Peace of Medjugorje’s August 2, 2009 Message To Mirjana Soldso Given on the Day for Non-Believers: “Dear Children, I am coming, with my Motherly love, to point out the way by which you are to set out, in order that you may be all the more like my Son; and by that, closer to and more pleasing to God. Do not refuse my love. Do not renounce salvation and eternal life for the sake of transience and frivolity of this life. I am coming to lead you and, as a mother, to caution you. Come with me.”
In 1984 Vlasic wrote to Pope John Paul II to say that he was the one “who through divine providence guides the seers of Medjugorje.”
Retired Bishop Pavao Zanic of Mostar-Duvno did not believe the claims of the visionaries and accused Vlasic of creating the phenomenon. The current head of the diocese, Bishop Ratko Peric, said the church “has not accepted, either as supernatural or as Marian, any of the apparitions.”
“As the local bishop, I maintain that regarding the events of Medjugorje, on the basis of the investigations and experience gained thus far throughout these last 25 years, the church has not confirmed a single apparition as authentically being the Madonna,” he said. He then called on the alleged visionaries and “those persons behind the messages to demonstrate ecclesiastical obedience and to cease with these public manifestations and messages in this parish.”
“In this fashion they shall show their necessary adherence to the church, by placing neither private apparitions nor private sayings before the official position of the church,” he said. “Our faith is a serious matter,” he added. “The church is also a serious and responsible institution.”
November 1523: Inquisitor Mariana in Belmonte, Spain orders the punishment of a woman, Francisca la Brava, who claimed she spoke with Our Lady and received tokens from her.
“It is true that I saw Her,” Francisca la Brava said, “and it happened this way;” I got out of bed to urinate, and as it was at night and dark I could not find the door, and so I said, “Help me Our Lady” and “Why can’t I find this door?” And that Our Lady replied saying, “She is helping you,” and “I am Our Lady who sustains you on the face of the earth.” And that She put Her arm on my neck, and as I was naked, Our Lady put the skirt of her dress over my belly and said, “Do not fear, daughter.”
And Francisca la Brava said to her, “Protect me, Our Lady, if it is a devil who has come to deceive me,” and She repeated, “Do not fear, for I am Our Lady.” And Francisca said to Her, “Mother of God, they will not believe that it is you, even though I say I have seen you.” And Our Lady told her, “Then take this candle and a piece of silk and a magnet.”
Five weeks after the alleged apparitions the Inquisitor rendered a decision: “By rights we could have treated her more rigorously, for the above matter was very public and scandalous for the Christian faithful, since she attracted them and induced them to believe in what she said and made known, when it was all vanity and frivolity.”
“But in deference to certain just reasons that move us to mitigate the rigor of the sentence we decree as a punishment to Francisca la Brava and an example to others not to attempt similar things that we condemn her to be put on an ass and given one hundred lashes in public through the accustomed streets of Belmonte naked from the waist up. And that from now on she not say or affirm in public or secretly by word or insinuation the things she said in her confessions or else she will be prosecuted as an impenitent and one who does not believe in or agree with what is in our holy Catholic faith.”
Frank McCourt, a former New York City schoolteacher who turned his miserable childhood in Limerick, Ireland, into a phenomenally popular, Pulitzer prize -winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes, died on Sunday, July 19, 2009. He was 78 and lived in Manhattan and Roxbury, Conn.
“When I look back on my childhood,” McCourt said in Angela’s Ashes, “I wonder how I survived it at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”
The book’s hilarious and irreverent chapter on Mr. McCourt’s preparation for First Communion is reminicent of pre-Vatican II lessons on both sides of the pond.
“He tells us we have to know the catechism backwards and forwards,” Mr. McCourt writes. “We have to know the Ten Commandments, Divine and Moral, the Seven Sacraments, the Seven Deadly Sins. We have to know by heart all the prayers, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Confiteor, the Apostles’ Creed, the Act of Contrition, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary…He tells us we’re hopeless, the worst class he’s ever had for First Communion, but as sure as God made little apples he’ll make Catholics of us, he’ll beat the idler out of us and Sanctifying Grace into us.”
The day for First Communion finally arrives. He’s late to church.
“We ran to the church. My mother panted along behind with Michael in her arms. We arrived at the church just in time to see the last of the boys leaving the altar rail where the priest stood with the chalice and the host, glaring at me. Then he placed on my tongue the wafer, the body and blood of Jesus. At last, at last.”
“It’ s on my tongue. I draw it back.”
“I had God glued to the roof of my mouth. I could hear the master’s voice. Don’t let that host touch your teeth for it you bite God in two you’ll roast in hell for eternity.”
“I tried to get God down with my tongue but the priest hissed at me, Stop that clucking and get back to your seat.”
“God was good. He melted and I swallowed Him and now, at last, I was a member of the True Church, an official sinner.”
In fact, Frank McCourt ended up to be one of the Church’s principal public antagonists. He delighted in delivering bawdy riffs against what he saw as the church’s hypocrisy, cruelty and joylessness. “I was so angry for so long, I could hardly have a conversation without getting into an argument,” he once said.
Peter Quinn, the novelist and a practicing Catholic, wrote in an email that his friend was neither “contemptuous of believers in general nor Catholics in particular. On a trip we took together in 1998, he went to Mass with me on the Sunday morning that we landed. He respected the fact that I had reached my own peace with the Catholic Church. ‘It’s a good thing,’ he once told me, ‘that you’re raising your kids in the Catholic faith. At least they’ll have a map to follow or throw away. In either case, they’ll know where they are.'”
Mr. McCourt felt it was impossible to fully divorce himself from the church. So when he stood before Pope John Paul II in 2002, accompanying a delegation of 40 mayors from around the world, the little Irish Catholic boy in him took over. He knelt, took the pope’s hand, and kissed his ring.
“I got up and he’s looking at me with his dazzling blue Polish eyes and extraordinary complexion,” Mr. McCourt told the Commonwealth Club of California, “I had a feeling he knew. He knew what a fraud and phony I was. Then I walked away. And I have to admit, as turbulent as my relationship with the church has been (although they don’t know and they don’t care), I was walking on water practically. I was walking on air.”
Oscar Wilde, whose torrid affair with Lord Alfred Douglas scandalized Britain in the 19th century has won an endorsement from the Vatican.
In a review of a new study, The Portrait of Oscar Wilde by Italian writer Paolo Gulisano, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said that Wilde was much more than “an aesthete and a lover of the ephemeral.”
“What a surprise!” La Repubblica said. “A homosexual icon has been accepted by the Vatican.” Orazio La Rocca, a Vatican watcher, described the book as a bombshell.
The paper added that Wilde was often celebrated by “the gay world” as an example of an artist persecuted because of his homosexuality. But he was also “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false.”
Two years ago, some of Wilde’s best known aphorism were included in a book of witticisms for Christians collated by the Vatican’s head of protocol, Father Leonardo Sapienza. The book includes: “I can resist everything except temptation”, and “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
Hardly orthodox Catholic teaching.
Father Sapienza said that he had devoted the lion’s share of Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti-conformist Christianity to Wilde because he was a “writer who lived perilously and somewhat scandalously but who has left us with some razor-sharp maxims with a moral.”
Father Sapienza said that he wanted to “stimulate a reawakening in certain Catholic circles.” “Our role,” said Fr. Sapienza, “is to be a thorn in the flesh, to move people’s consciences and to tackle what today is the No. 1 enemy of religion–indifference.”
Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and they had two sons, but in 1891 he began a relationship with the much younger Lord Alfred Douglas.
In April 1895, Wilde sued Douglas’ father, the Marquis of Queensberry, for libel, after the Marquis had accused him of being a sodomite. Wilde lost, and after salacious details of his private life were revealed during the trial, was arrested and tried for gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years of hard labor in Reading Gaol.
The way for Wilde’s rehabilitation by the Vatican was paved six years ago by Jesuit theologian, Father Antonio Spadaro. On the centenary of Wilde’s death, he raised eyebrows by praising the “understanding of God’s love” that followed Wilde’s imprisonment in Reading.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 to a Protestant family but became attracted to Catholicism at Oxford. In 1877 he made the journey to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Pius IX, but declared: “To go over to Rome would be to sacrifice and give up my two great Gods: Money and Ambition.”
During his time in prison he read the works of St. Augustine, Dante and Newman. When he was released in 1897, with his reputation destroyed and in frail health, he moved to Paris. He was received into the Catholic Church shortly before he died, three years later.
L’Osservatore Romano described the writer’s conversion as a “long and difficult path”…”a path which led him to convert to Catholicism, a religion which, as he remarked in one of his more acute and paradoxical aphorisms, was “for saints and sinners alone–for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.”