Posted in category "Musings"
The Orwellian obsession of some right-wing Catholics with same-sex marriage, abortion, and glorification of the hierarchy is about to take a punch to the gut.
The papal election of Francis, not John Paul III or Benedict XVII, has brought an immediate cultural change. The pomp and pageantry–the red shoes, the billowing magenta capes–are being replaced by a renewed emphasis on social justice for the poor, mercy and humility. Taking a cue from their new boss, some cardinals have already started to dress down.
If he hasn’t already, the new pope will soon have a crack at the secret 300-page dossier delivered to Pope Benedict on December 17, 2013. Benedict had appointed three cardinals–Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko and Salvatore De Georgi to investigate the leak of confidential Vatican documents in the scandal known as “Vatileaks Affair.”
Some claim this report pushed Pope Benedict into resigning. It may have been the last straw, if he admitted to himself he was too old, too frail and too entrenched to deal with the mess and scandal it described. The report was sealed, and put in a safe for his successor.
A story in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, claimed according to the report one fraction within the Vatican bureaucracy was “united by sexual orientation.” These powerful men formed a network of alliances, controlled careers, and were subject to blackmail over their sexual activities by the Mafia and other organized crime groups.
The threat of exposure has to be one key reason why the Vatican Bank never cleaned up. There are too many compromised individuals in the Vatican bureaucracy and elsewhere who would be ruined if their secret homosexuality or financial dealings came to light. Other corrupt members of the Curia, not homosexual, may have been happy to trade favors for friends, family and potential political allies.
What will happen if the pope decides to put the Vatican’s money in a commercial bank, and close down the Institute for Works of Religion?
I bet a few surprise names will join Cardinal Keith O’Brien in the news.
Cardinal O’Brien, who had a reputation for being anti-gay, was outed by his boyfriend and some seminarians he had sexually pressured just prior to the papal conclave. In the past, Cardinal O’Brien has referred to homosexuality as a “moral degradation.” He also labeled gay marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and that same-sex partnerships were “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved.”
What was Cardinal O’Brien thinking when he was coming on to or in bed with another man?… That whatever strictures are out there didn’t apply to him.
Fr. Maurice Chase died on November 20, 2011 at his Los Angeles home of cancer. He was 92. Fr. Chase started his life as a “society priest” and ended it on Skid Row. “I love it,” he said. “God has given me the happiest part of my life at the end.”
Nearly every Sunday morning, Thanksgiving and Christmas for almost three decades, the man they called Father Dollar Bill, Father Dollar or just D.B. for Dollar Bill showed up on a Skid Row sidewalk. Clad in a Notre Dame hat and a red sweater over his clerical collar, Father Dollar Bill would hand out crisp, new one dollar bills along with a handshake and a blessing. Father Dollar Bill was a hugely popular figure on Skid Row. Hundreds would gather each week to await his arrival, in a line that sometimes stretched for blocks. “He was just a glorious man,” said Beverly Taylor, who lived on Skid Row for decades. “He was just always there.”
Father Maurice Chase didn’t mind what name the destitute, penniless, homeless and addicts called him. He didn’t care how they spent the money. Nor was he bothered by criticism by other Skid Row service providers–that he was a self-promoting publicity hound whose cash assistance had little impact on the people who gathered to receive his dollar, handshake, blessing or hug.
Beginning in the 1980s, Father Chase gave out untold numbers of bills, about $3,000 each week. Almost all of them were ones, although to some he would offer larger notes, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. On holidays the total he handed out could rise to $15,000.
Some social service workers critcized Fr. Chase’s brand of charity, saying it had little impact. “I think his desire to bring people love was true, and can certainly be modeled by the rest of us,” said the Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive of the Union Rescue Mission. “But the last thing people on the street need is cash. A lot of people took the money and spent it in unhealthy ways.” People who waited in line for a donation often told Fr. Chase how they planned to spend the money. Many bought hamburgers, ice cream and other treats they couldn’t get at the shelters.
Fr. Chase acknowledge that in a neighborhood where drug abuse and untreated mental illness were common, a single dollar could not get someone off the street. But the money, he said, was not the point. He said what mattered was letting people know they weren’t invisible and that they were loved by God. “I’m out here to tell people I love them and God loves them,” he said. While he wasn’t afraid of potential trouble, a L.A. police officer quietly stood by in case of any problems.
“Maury Chase planted his feet right on the sidewalk, the last place on earth where the poorest of the poor live,” said Alice Callaghan, founder of the Skid Row advocacy center Las Famillas del Pueblo. “He didn’t attempt to single out the undeserving poor from the deserving poor. I’m sure he handed out money to thieves. But it wasn’t the dollar that mattered. It was the gift of human love.”
Fr. Chase began every trip to Skid Row with a prayer about serving the poor: “When you have done it to the least of men, you have done it to me.” Then he prepared the stacks of new dollar bills he had withdrawn from the bank earlier. “Everything is so dirty on Skid Row. I want to give them something new and fresh.” Fr. Chase said he always made sure to look each person in the eye. “By my looking into their eyes, I’m saying you have dignity, you’re a human being, you are made in the image and likeness of God.”
Fr. Maury Chase began his street ministry when he was a fund raising assistant to the president of Loyola Marymount University. His job was to persuade potential donors to write checks to the university. Through his friendship with actress Irene Dunne, he hit the Los Angeles party circuit and became known as “the society priest.” He was frequently mentioned in social columns. He provided photos and information to the editors at the Los Angeles Times to help the paper prepare its society columns.
He came up with his Skid Row charity after contemplating the instructions of Loyola Marymount’s president, Father Donald P. Merrifield, who hired him in 1985. Fr. Merrifield told him, “I’m sending you out among the rich and famous. You better have a balance in your life.”
So, after every society event, Fr. Chase would send letters to potential donors he’d meet, telling them how wonderful the party was. Then he pointed out that many people were less fortunate and needed their help. He often received letters back that included a check for the priest’s Skid Row ministry. After awhile, he began soliciting donations from wealthy benefactors including Bob & Dolores Hope, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin, Vin Scully, Bob Newhart, Jackie Autry, Rick Caruso and many others.
At a Thanksgiving dinner on Skid Row put on by the Los Angeles Mission word spread that Father Dollar Bill had died. “Dollar Man is dead,” called out Wendell Harrison, 54, to the other diners.
James Rory, 60, told a reporter his interactions with Fr. Chase had helped him to try to get off the street. “He’s definitely going to be missed,” Mr. Rory added. “Not because of the dollar. Because of what he offered me spiritually.”
The NY Post headline screamed, “‘Tango’ Sex Bomb Dies.” A little blurb appeared underneath: “Maria Schneider, the French actress who was Marlon Brando’s young co-star in the steamy 1972 film “Last Tango in Paris,” has died, her talent agency said. She was 58.” Maria Schneider died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
A quiet funeral was held at Eglise Saint-Roch on February 10, 2011. Among friends in attendance were director Bertrand Blier, actresses Claudia Cardinale, Andrea Ferreol and Christine Boisson, writer Jean-Henri Servat, and actor Alain Delon. Maria’s partner, Pia, spoke at the memorial. “Ciao Bella, Ciao Maria,” she said, saluting her for bravery in the long illness that took her life. Pia and Maria had been together since 1980. Maria’s ashes were to be taken form Pere Lachaise crematorium to later be scattered at La Roche de Vierge in Biarritz.
Born in 1952, the daughter of French actor Daniel Gelin and Romanian-born Marie-Christine Schneider, who ran a bookstore in Paris, Schneider began her career in the movie “Les Femmes” in 1969, and continued to star in French films until 2008 when she retired for health reasons. It is for her role in the movie “Last Tango in Paris” that she is remembered. This role defined her in a way she never wanted.
“I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol,” revealed Schneider in 2007. “I wanted to be recognized as an actress, and the whole scandal and aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown.
In the film, Schneider plays Jeanne, a girl engaged to an annoying filmmaker, Tom, who goes to view an apartment in Paris. There she chances upon Paul (Marlon Brando), an American expatriate whose wife has committed suicide. They start a passionate affair. Paul insists they don’t even reveal their names.
There is ample opportunity throughout the movie to see Schneider’s luscious body, but the scene everyone remembers is when Brando puts Schneider face down on the apartment floor, lubricates her with butter and anally rapes her. “That scene wasn’t in the script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea,” she said. “Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,” but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears…I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
Maria Schneider provided frank interviews in the wake of Tango’s controversy, claiming she had slept with 50 men and 20 women, that she was “bisexual completely,” and that she was a user of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.
In fact, bouts of mental instability, drug addiction and even a suicide attempt, prevented Schneider from moving ahead professionally. She also refused to let herself be typecast as a young sexpot ready to get naked on camera. “Never take your clothes off for a middle-aged man who claims that it’s for art,” she would later tell the Daily Mail.
In 1975, when Schneider was 23, she walked off the set of Rene Clement’s La Baby Sitter and signed herself into a Roman psychiatric hospital. Not for treatment, but simply to be with her inseparable companion of the past two years, American photographer, Joan (“Joey”) Townsend, 28, the daughter of ex-president of Avis, Robert Townsend, who also wrote the best-selling book, Up the Organization.
She later told film critic, Roger Ebert, that hers had been a gesture of support to a friend who was locked up at the facility. Townsend had been picked up at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, babbling irrationally. On learning that her lover had been taken to a psychiatric hospital, Maria rushed to join her. “They locked her up, and so I had to do it out of loyalty,” Schneider explained. Paparazzi snapped them in various embraces.
One of these photos appeared in People. Sitting in a dingy airport in Alaska, waiting for the weather to break to depart, I was idly thumbing through the magazine when I flipped to the page with the photo of Schneider and Townsend looking out the window of the hospital. Townsend looked wild-eyed and distraught. Schneider had her head next to Townsend’s, and her arm was around her protectively. Her tousled, curly black hair was a contrast to Townsend’s blonde. I didn’t want people to see me staring, but I couldn’t stop looking at the photo. I pretended to keep reading, but kept going back to that page. I can’t remember what was written, except that Townsend was her lover, and that Schneider had ruined her prospects as an actress by going to her.
I did something I never do–I surreptitiously tore the page out of the magazine and stuffed it in my backpack.
I had obviously seen pictures of other lesbians by then, but nothing made a positive impact until that photo of Schneider holding her lover close and standing by her.
The 1970s were turbulent years for Schneider, marked by drugs and a suicide attempt. “I was lucky–I lost many friends to drugs–but I met someone in 1980 who helped me stop. I call this person my angel and we’ve been together ever since. I don’t say if it’s a man or woman. That’s my secret garden. I like to keep it a mystery. Garbo had the right idea.”
A month after the Schneider obituary appeared the documentary “Making the Boys” was released in New York City. That film was the other gay icon of my youth. Directed and produced by Crayton Robey, “Making the Boys”tells the story of the meteoric impact of “The Boys in the Band,” both the play and the 1970 William Friedkin film. Mart Crowley, the playwright and screen writer, was foundering in Hollywood before he “wrote what he knew” and became a voice for many gay men. The documentary paints a vivid portrait of the era when the closet was the norm. Footage of a CBS report on homosexuality shows Mike Wallace announcing that Americans consider homosexuality “more harmful to society than adultery, abortion or prostitution.”
“I felt Mart had been undervalued,” Robey said wistfully. “His play is a classic–a masterpiece. The revolution of the “Boys” has such a great history in terms of theater and in terms of visibility of homosexuals in mainstream culture, and the mainstream press introducing it to the masses and starting a conversation. His story should really come forward a bit.”
Mart Crowley was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1935. His early life was deeply rooted in the Catholic Church; he attended a Catholic high school, and went from there to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, graduating in 1957.
He eventually landed a very coveted film job as a production assistant. He worked on such classics as “The Fugitive Kind” and “Butterfield 8″ before becoming director Elia Kazan’s assistant on “Splendor in the Grass.” That’s when he met Natalie Wood, the film’s star, who became a close friend. She encouraged Crowley and introduced him to people who helped “Boys in the Band” come to fruition.
First staged on April 14, 1968 at the off-Broadway Theater Four, “Boys” played more than 1,000 performances before heading off to Los Angeles, where it won a Drama Critic’s Award in 1969, and then to London. The film was released in 1970.
Themes include coming out issues, passing for straight, the unrequited love for a straight friend, the man who leaves his wife when he finally accepts the truth about himself, and the “Christ, I was drunk last night” syndrome.
“The Boys in the Band” is set in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where a surprise birthday party is being held for a mutual friend. The host, Michael, is a Catholic with a major drinking and self-image problem. He is in psychoanalysis–to change or come to terms with himself. Other characters include Harold, the birthday boy, who is increasingly morose about the loss of his youth. One of his presents is “Cowboy,” a hunky but not very bright hustler. Donald, a friend, house guest and occasional bed partner of Michael is also conflicted about his homosexuality. He left the city to spurn the homosexual “lifestyle.” Larry and Hank are a couple with monogamy issues. Larry, a fashion photographer, tricks constantly, and Hank is in the process of getting a divorce from his wife. Bernard is an an African-American who still pines for the wealthy white boy in the house where his mother worked as a maid. Emory is a flamboyant queen.
Alan, a surprise guest, was Michael’s roommate at Georgetown. He calls Michael from a pay phone, upset, teary, and asks to see him. He was anxious to tell him something. What that something is we never find out. It could be his sadness about deciding to leave his wife. It could also be that he is questioning his own sexuality. Michael has kept in touch with another friend from Georgetown, Justin, who told him that he and Alan were deeply in love until Alan couldn’t take it, dumped Justin and married a woman. Michael is convinced that is what Alan was crying about on the phone.
Mart Crowley admits that his plays are autobiographical. In his introduction to “3 Plays by Mart Crowley,” he refers to “The Boys in the Band” and says, “There was never a real birthday party attended by nine actual men…However, just before I began to write the play, I had…attended a party for a friend’s birthday and it gave me the idea of how to frame what had already been on my mind…All of the characters are based on either people I either knew well or are amalgrams of several I’d known to varying degrees, plus a large order of myself thrown in the mix.”
Michael: Forgive him father, for he know not what he do.
Harold: Michael, you don’t know what side of the fence you’re on. Say something pro-religion, you’re against it. Deny god, you’re against that. One might say youhave some problem in that area. You can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it. You hang on to that great insurance policy called the Church.
Michael: That’s right, I believe in God. And if it turns out there isn’t one, okay, nothing’s lost. But if it turns out there is, I’m covered. I’m one of those truly rotten Catholics who gets drunk, sins all night, and then goes to mass then next morning.
Michael is the character with whom Crowley most strongly identifies. The witty, self-deprecating, and cynical Michael has also been the focus of detractors of the play. His most famous line, “You show me a happy homosexual, and I’ll show you a gay corpse,” has been used to indict Crowley for promoting self-loathing and negative stereotypes.
Crowley has strongly defended his play. The play’s “self-deprecating humor was born out of a low self esteem, if you will, from a sense of what the times told you about yourself.” The movie came out as gay liberation was just getting going, and any kind of negative sterotyping was not welcome. ”But that’s an awful standard to hold to art,” he said. “The curtain can’t just go up on two happy people in rocking chairs saying ‘I love you,’ and the other one saying, ‘No, I love you more,’ and then the curtain coming down! Very positive images are not what dramatic fare is all about.”
“The Boys in the Band” is an honest, funny, gripping, perceptive, and powerful portrait of gay life before Stonewallâ€”one that in many ways remains as true today as it was 43 years ago. “Some things don’t change,” said Crowley. “Not ever. I mean, coming out is hard, even today. Growing old is hard.”
I saw the “Boys in the Band” when I was a freshman at Trinity College, an all-women’s college right next door to Catholic University. I believe the screen was at Catholic University(!), but perhaps it was at a theater close by. I remember I waited all week to see it. I felt a rolling succession of emotions watching the film-most of all–and intense curiosity and a delicious fear of discovery. While I was dating guys at Georgetown, I was also aware my strongest feelings were around a friend at Trinity. What did this mean? On some level I probably knew, and went to see the movie to help me pierce through the walls I set up between who I was, and who I was expected to be. As the feelings got stronger, so did the sense of denial. I did not come out until well after college, two years after my marriage ended, and I was living independently. Like Hank, I finally decided to stop living as a straight person.
The line in the film that resonated the most as I watch the film was Harold’s good-bye to Michael at the end of the party: “You’re a sad and pathetic man. You’re a homosexual and you don’t want to be, but there’s nothing you can do to change it. Not all the prayers to your god, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you’ve got left to live. You may one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough. If you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate. But you’ll always be homosexual as well. Always Michael. Always. Until the day you die.”
These words chilled me. I was terrified. I had homosexual longings. I wanted to explore them, but I was afraid. I also knew that no matter how many boys I dated, or when I got married, or whatever life I lived, these feelings were a part of me and never go away. When the lights went on I left. I didn’t mention the movie to any of my friends.
In the end, Donald and Michael are left in the living room. Hank and Larry are making love in the bedroom, so Michael can’t go to bed. Donald starts to leave, but Michael breaks down and begs him to stay. Michael wants to walk to clear his head of all the booze he drank. Donald tells him he’s going to finish the brandy but he’ll be back next week. Michael heads out into the night. “…there’s a midnight mass at St. Malachy’s that all the show people go to. I think I’ll walk over there and catch it.” Donald raises his glass and says, “Well, pray for me.”
In the closing scene Michael laments: â€œIf only we didnâ€™t hate ourselves so muchâ€¦if only we could just not hate ourselves quite so very muchâ€¦”
How could we grow up and not have avoided the miasma of anti-homosexual rhetoric, and the brutality and self-hatred that provoked? Family, friends, church, society, media and the arts were the endless source of queer jokes, put-downs and threats. Village Voice columnist Michael Musto reminds us, “Gays were not portrayed in movies generally, unless they were horrible victims or horrible perpetrators of crimes.” Being homosexual in that horrible environment was a terrible fate.
“The Boys in the Band” and Maria Schneider changed how I looked at homosexuals–and ultimately myself. They offered me the first opportunity to see people struggling in their attraction to a friend; who were bonded together in their same-sex attraction, who made a life for themselves as best they could, and took the world on for love.
I read in my local diocesan paper that the Rev. John F. Harvey, the founder of Courage, died on December 27, 2010. He was 92. An Oblate of St. Francis de Sales for 73 years, Father Harvey started Courage, a spiritual support group for homosexual men and women, in 1980 at the request of Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York and served as its national director until his death.
I did not have any contact with Courage myself, so I can’t comment on them from a point of experience. I did meet one or two ex-Courage members at Dignity/New York meetings in the early 1980s. Like Dignity, Courage was 98% men. From talking to them briefly it seemed they tried to abstain from gay sex, but the continual messages they received that homosexuals are immoral and sick drove them away.
The Archdiocese of New York, under Terence Cardinal Cooke, issued “The Rights of Homosexuals vs. Parental Rights” on January 11, 1978. The gist of this document is…”Catholics maintain unequivocally that homosexual activity is immoral and patterns of life that encourage homosexuality are gravely wrong. Without encouraging unkindness towards homosexuals, the Catholic moral position strongly reinforces parents’ and their surrogates’ determination to keep all children in their formative years free of any persons or influences that could draw them into homosexual practice.”
The sentiments behind that statement are the reason Courage has failed to attract most homosexual Catholics: be ashamed of who you are. Your longing and desire is dirty, immoral, disgusting. Hide it, or risk being expelled from the community. Stay in the closet.
Dignity in comparison was like a rush of fresh air: God made you who you are, and loves you as you are. Little wonder gay and lesbian Catholics flocked to Dignity instead.
About two years ago, I received an email from a woman member of the Courage group meeting at St. John the Baptist Church on West 31st Street in New York. She encouraged me to give up my lifestyle and come to the group’s meetings. I can’t recall if I replied or not, but after another note or two she gave up trying to recruit me.
The experience recalled an admonishment my mother gave to me as a little girl: “People who feel bad about something they’ve done want other people to do the same thing so they don’t feel alone and feel better about it.” Although that bit of wisdom was intended to deter me from mischief, it came to mind reading the insistent note from the lady Courage member.
Timothy Kincaid of the gay blog Box Turtle Bulletin posited that Fr. Harvey may have contributed to the Catholic Church’s inching towards tolerance of lesbians and gays by making the distinction between “inclination” and “behavior.” However, he focused his life’s work on counseling homosexuals to make tremendous personal sacrifices in order to maintain the church’s unmoving rejection of homosexuality. Questioning the church’s stance never came into play.
On a page dedicated to remembrances of Fr. Harvey, men and women who claim to “suffer” from same-sex attraction post their thanks. Here’s one woman’s plea: “I love you and miss you so much though I never met you. You are one of my heroes. Please intercede for all of those struggling with same sex attraction especially: J, J, T, L, S, H, S, S, E and M. Please intercede also for our country and all the countries of the world that they will see institutionalizing this behavior through the acceptance of same-sex marriages hurts the individuals involved, children, the family, the society, nations and the world. Help us understand and live and love chastity and purity.”
Timothy Kincaid said – “I have a certain amount of sympathy for those individuals who decide that their religious convictions preclude them from engaging in any form of sexuality that is not within the confines of heterosexual marriage. Each of us must be allowed the space to determine for ourselves what gives us meaning and happiness, and some may choose to prioritize their spirituality over their sexuality…So I am not opposed to ex-gay individuals or groups per se, provided they do not insist that others live according to their values, advocate for discrimination, or propagate lies.”
I agree with Mr. Kincaid. Well said.
I have personal respect for Catholic lesbians and gays who have made the decision to live chastely, but at the same time are out to themselves and others as a gay person.
One such person is Eve Tushnet; fervently Catholic, proudly gay and happily celibate. She does not see herself as disordered; she does not struggle to be straight, but she insists that her religion forbids her a sex life. “The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants,” Ms. Tushnet wrote in a 2007 essay for Commonweal. While gay sex should not be criminalized, she said, gay men and lesbians should abstain. They might instead have passionate friendships, or sublimate their urges into other pursuits. “It turns out I happen to be very good at sublimating,” she says, while acknowledging that it is a lot to ask from others.
Similar to Eve Tushnet, I am fervently Catholic, proudly gay and happily married..to a wonderful woman. I stopped struggling to be straight many years ago when I came out. And I believe, with my whole heart, God made me who I am. I was not created to suffer through involuntary chastity. Nor was I made to label and think of myself as “disordered.”
I take inspiration from Acts, Chapter 10, where Peter had a vision of the animals being lowered from the sky:
“The next day, while they were on their way and nearing the city, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime. He was hungry and wished to eat, and while they were making preparations he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all the earth’s four-legged animals and reptiles and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.” But Peter said, “Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean. The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”
Peter’s vision is the pivotal moment in the Acts of the Apostles: he is to be prepared to admit Gentiles, who were considered unclean like the animals of his vision, into the Christian community. Just as the Jewish Christians received the gift of the Spirit, so too do the Gentiles. “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean.”
If Peter could change, why not the Pope?
A landmark shift in the Catholic church’s hardline position on the use of condoms was published on November 23, 2010.
The pontiff makes the condom comments in a book-length interview with a German journalist, Peter Seewald, in “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.” In the interview, which took place in July 2010, the pope made clear that he didn’t consider condom use a “moral solution” to fighting the spread of infection, citing statements that put abstinence first.
But, the pope added: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.”
In his statement on condom use the Pope Benedict infused morality with common sense–use protection to prevent the spread of the disease. Protecting your partner from a deadly and fatal disease is more important than the notion of being “open to life” during the sex act.
Benedict’s statement will save lives, prevent suffering, and help to make the Church relevant in Africa, Europe and North America; where for too long fantastical church statements took priority over the lived experience–and common sense–of ordinary Catholics.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told a news conference on November 23, 2010 that he conveyed the media’s “perplexity” directly to the pope, asking whether or not it made a difference if the prostitute in question was male or female. He said the pope said his reasoning applied to both sexes.
“The point is to take a step towards responsibility, to take into consideration the risk of the life of the person with whom you have relations whether it’s a man, woman or transsexual,” Father Lombardi said.
Pope Benedict’s decision to articulate his views on condoms to a journalist, rather than formulating a doctrinal document, may be an unusual attempt to stir debate. But it was also a way for the Pope to speak directly to Catholics, health care professionals, and media with his comments being subject to “interpretation” from the Curia and their conservative Catholic allies.
As early as 1988 then Cardinal Ratzinger tried to speed up the process to get rid of sexually abusive and pedophile priests. Ratzinger complained that church law made it exceedingly difficult to remove abusers if they didn’t request to be laicized voluntarily. He asked to get around the problem by finding “a quicker and simpler procedure” than a cumbersome church trial. He was turned down on the grounds that the priests’ ability to defend themselves would be compromised.
Given that, and the ensuing holocaust of sexual abuse revelations he has had to deal with as pope, I am not at all surprised by Pope Benedict’s decision to speak to a journalist rather than formulating a doctrinal document. The pope made “only small corrections” to the text, Mr. Seewald writes in a preface to the book.
Though Pope Benedict did not endorse the general use of condoms, or change official church teaching –which still strongly opposes contraceptives — his words ricocheted around the globe, greeted with anger and dismay from some conservative Catholics and enthusiasm from clerics and health workers in Africa, where the AIDS problem is the worst.
“We’re in a new world,” said the Rev. Jon Fuller, a Jesuit priest and a physician at the Center for H.I.V/AIDS Care and Research at Boston Medical Center. The pope is “implicitly” saying, he said, “that you cannot anymore raise the objection that any use of the condom is an intrinsic evil.”
It took the pope to say what he did to change the debate on the issue of condoms. In 1987, the U.S. bishops’ conference issued the statement, “The Many Faces of AIDS,” that stressed limiting sex to marriage as the best protection against the virus, but said public education “could include accurate information about prophylactic devices” to prevent transmission. The document was criticized at the time by conservatives and some Vatican officials.
Catholic conservatives who believed Catholic teaching against contraception to be inviolable were reeling over Pope Benedict’s remarks. ”This is really shaking things up big time,” said Dr. John M. Haas, the president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, who serves on the governing council of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.
Dr. Haas, a moral theologian, said he had seen an embargoed copy of a new book in which the pope conceded there might be extreme cases in which there were grounds for the use of condoms. “I told the publisher, ‘Don’t publish this: it’s going to create such a mess,’”he added.
The president of “Les Femmes – The Women of Truth,”an independent media apostolate of orthodox Roman Catholic laity in the Diocese of Arlington, VA weighed in on the pope’s condom kerfuffle: “Certainly, a gay prostitute is not using a condom for birth control so that is simply irrelevant,” she said. “On the other hand, homosexual sex is unnatural, degrading, and morally sinful. Can using a condom out of concern for transmitting AIDS make it less sinful? I think I understand the point that it might signal an awakening sense in the sinner of concern for the partner in sin; but what kind of concern is it when one is in the act of buggery? What times we live in! I’d rather debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At least the thought of dancing angels in lovely.”
Lisa Sowle Cahill, a professor of theology at Boston College, said the pope’s new openness about condoms was significant even if it did not change church teaching. “I see it as a shift in attention, so that the politics of AIDS is larger on the radar screen than the politics of contraception, and to me that is a needed and appropriate shift,” she said. She added that the church had held firm against the use of condoms even to prevent AIDS because the birth control issue took so much precedence politically.
Dr. Haas could barely contenance Father Lombardi’s comments that broadened the debate to include women. “I don’t think it’s a clarification; it’s a muddying of the waters,” he said. “My opinion is that the pope purposely chose a male prostitute to avoid that particular debate.” And if Benedict was in fact opening that debate? – “I think the pope’s wrong,” Dr. Haas flatly stated.
“This is a game-changer,” declared the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer and editor. “By acknowledging that condoms help to prevent the spread of HIV between people in sexual relationships, the Pope completely changed the Catholic discussion on condoms,” Martin said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said he asked Pope Benedict why he agreed to the Seewald interview. The pope’s answer was that “obviously it wasn’t just to respond to Seewald’s questions, but because he thought that speaking to people today in a language that was simple, colloquial, on many questions that people pose would be a service he could render.”
“There is a type of magisterium found in official documents that are written, studied and rewritten; there is the magisterium in the homilies and catechesis of the pope; and then there is the communication of Pope Benedict in a colloquial, direct way” found in “Light of the World,” Father Lombardi said.
For many Catholics, the Devil and hell have faded from sight. The only time we ever hear of Satan is when he is referred to during baptismal vows, Gospel readings of his encounters with Jesus, or during old reruns of The Exorcist or The Omen on TV.
So U.S. Catholic commentators and ordinary folk were surprised a few months ago when Pope Benedict referred to the Devil as instigating the media exposure of priestly sexual abuse.
He said the “new radiance of the priesthood,” which he saw emerging from the Year for Priests, would not be pleasing to the “enemy” who “would have preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light–particularly the abuse of the little ones…”
“All evil is due to the intervention of the Devil, including pedophilia,” confirmed Fr. Gabriele Amorth, 85, an exorcist in the Diocese of Rome. Fr. Amorth is the author of An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories. A third book, Memorie Di Un Esorcista was published this year.
The sex abuse crisis engulfing Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican, he said, was the work of Satan who had even “infiltrated the Vatican corridors.” Fr. Amorth emphatically stated: “Legions of demons have lodged there.” “The majority of those in the Vatican do good work, but Pope Paul VI talked about the ‘smoke of Satan’ infiltrating the Vatican as long ago as 1972.”
He claimed another example of satanic behavior was the Vatican “cover-up” over the deaths in 1998 of Alois Estermann, the commander of the Swiss Guard, his wife and Corporal Cedric Tornay, a Swiss Guard, who were all found shot dead. “They covered up everything immediately,” he said. “Here one sees the rot.” (Read my post on the murders here.)
Fr. Amorth asserted that “Lust, success and power are the three great passions on which the Devil insists.”
The exorcist has claimed in his books and interviews that Vatican clergy are involved in Satanic sects. “There are priests, monsignors and also cardinals!” The exorcist claims he got his information from “those who have been able to relate it to me because they had a way of knowing directly. And it’s something ‘confessed’ most times by the very demon under obedience during the exorcisms.”
Father Jose Antonio Fortea Cucurull, another well-known demonologist and exorcist, said that Fr. Armoth had “gone beyond the evidence” in claiming that Satan had infiltrated the Vatican corridors. “Cardinals might be better or worse, but all have upright intentions and seek the glory of God,” he said. Some Vatican officials were more pious than others, “but from there to affirm that some cardinals are members of Satanic sects is an unacceptable distance.”
Sex, power, politics and the Devil have been around the Catholic Church for centuries. Two examples that quickly come to mind are the case of Cardinal Richelieu and Fr. Urbain Grandier as described in The Devils of Loudun; and the burning of (Saint) Joan of Arc with the connivance of Bishop Pierre Cauchon.
More recently, the Devil at work in the Church was raised by a pope. In his homily given on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, 1972, Pope Paul VI made a famous remark that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the house of God.”
The full text of the homily was not reproduced in the Vatican collection of Paul VI’s teachings (Insegnamenti di Paulo VI Vol. X, 1972). Instead, what’s included is a narrative summary of the homily, with occasional direct quotations attributed to him.
Since we don’t have the pope’s words in context, but someone’s retelling of them, it makes it unclear exactly what the pope meant, adding a layer of ambiguity and mystery. But what was Pope Paul VI intending to warn us about when he said “the smoke of Satan has entered the house of God”?
There are a lot of theories.
-A number of ultra traditionalists believed the Second Vatican Council and liturgical reforms that followed it were the work of the Devil.
- The blogger, Jimmy Atkin, in a very interesting and well written post, posits that Pope Paul VI was responding to the cultural crisis of the 1960s and 70s and its impact on the Church. Read it here.
- Virgilio Cardinal Noe, 86, Master of Liturgical Ceremonies during the Pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, disclosed in an interview with Petrus, his inside information on the comment.
“You from Petrus, have gotten a real scoop here, because I am in a position to reveal, for the first time, what Paul VI desired to denounce with that statement. Here it is: Papa Montini, for Satan, meant to include all those priests or bishops and cardinals who didn’t render worship to the Lord by celebrating badly (mal celebrando) Holy Mass because of an errant interpretation of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He spoke of the smoke of Satan because he maintained that those priests who turned Holy Mass into dry straw in the name of creativity, in reality were possessed of the vainglory and the pride of the Evil One. So, the smoke of Satan was nothing other than the mentality which wanted to distort the traditional and liturgical canons of the Eucharistic ceremony.”
Now we know the Pope hated guitar Masses, too…
Cardinal Noe had the reputation for being a big fussy and exacting stickler for ceremony. This may have influenced how he interpreted a private or public comment from Paul VI combined with his own distaste for modern Masses.
-The most delicious theory is that there are actual Satanists in the Vatican! In his novel, The Windswept House – A Vatican Novel (1996), author Fr. Malachi Martin vividly described a ceremony called “The Enthronement of the Fallen Angel Lucifer” supposedly held in St. Paul’s Chapel in the Vatican, but linked to concurrent satanic rites here in the U.S. on June 29, 1963, barely a week after the election of Paul VI. In the novel, before he dies, a pope leaves a secret account of the situation on his desk for the next occupant of the throne of Peter, a thinly-disguised John Paul II.
On pages 492-93 of “The Windswept House” Fr. Martin went another step to link gay and lesbian religious to Satanists during the reign of Paul VI.
“Suddenly it became unarguable that now during this papacy, the Roman Catholic organization carried a permanent presence of clerics who worshipped Satan and liked it; of bishops and priests who sodomized boys and each other; of nuns who performed the “Black Rites” of Wicca and lived in lesbian relationships…every day, including Sundays and Holy Days, acts of heresy and blasphemy and outrage and indifference were committed and permitted at holy Altars by men who had been called to be priests. Sacrilegious actions and rites were not only performed at Christ’s Altars, but had the connivance or at least the tacit permission of certain Cardinals, archbishops…”
In a June 9, 1997 article in The John Birch Society publication, New American, Martin confirmed that the ceremony did indeed occur as he had described it in the book. “Oh yes, it is true; very much so,” the magazine reported he said. “But the only way I could put that down into print is in novelistic form.”
Well, how could Fr. Malachi Martin be so sure it had occurred unless he had been there himself?
Through all these tendrils of smoke I see ugly lines of slander and innuendo developing: it is the devil who is responsible for dissent, discord and abuse. Secular culture, gay priests and women religious are its willing servants. They and the cardinals and bishops who support them are suspect of being Satanists or in league with them.
In 1995 Princeton University professor and noted theologian, Dr. Elaine Pagels, wrote “The Origin of Satan.” This book argues that the figure of Satan became a way for orthodox Christians to demonize their religious opponents, namely, other Christian sects and Jews. She traces the development of Satan in the Jewish community from a sort of roving agent acting on God’s behalf–always obstructing but not always evil–to an increasingly evil force identified more and more with intimate enemies, members of one’s own community with whom one is in conflict.
The reemergence of the Devil is timely for a certain segment of Catholics: clerics who want to absolve themselves for the root causes of the sex abuse crisis and their cover-up; people who never agreed with the changes initiated by Vatican II; the fractionalizing of Catholics over issues of sexuality, the nature of sin, clerical authority, roles of the laity, worship, and the increasing visibility of gay people and their families in society and the church. Surely Satan is behind all that?
In the novel, “The Name of the Rose”, Brother William of Baskerville, a former inquisitor, tries to explain to the abbot why there is a need in his monastic community for a supernatural explanation for a murder and undercurrent of fear: “Who am I to express judgements on the plots of the Evil One, especially,” he added, and seemed to want to insist on this reason, “in cases where those who had initiated the inquisition, the bishop, the city magistrates, and the whole populace, perhaps the accused themselves, truly wanted to feel the presence of the Devil? There, perhaps was the only real proof of the presence of the Devil was the intensity with which everyone at that moment desired to know he was at work…”
“Are you telling me, then,” the abbot said in a worried tone, “that in many trials the Devil does not act only within the guilty one but perhaps and above all in the judges?”
After multiple killings, several attempts to murder Brother William, and a slew of witchcraft and heresy accusations, the monastery is destroyed by fire. In an attempt to trap William and his novice, Adso of Melk, Venerable Jorge de Burgos knocked over a candle to put the room in darkness. Instead, the candle ignited a blaze which consumed the entire library and many of the monks.
William had discovered Jorge, the ancient librarian, had poisoned the pages of a book by Aristotle he deemed too dangerous to read. This poison killed any monk turning its pages. William deduces that the library is kept hidden because such advanced knowledge, coming from pagan philosophers, is difficult to reconcile with Christianity.
As they watched the library tower burn (and Venerable Jorge along with it) Brother William explained to his novice that unlike church teaching, the Devil is not merely a tempter of forbidden sensuality and knowledge: “They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit; faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt.”
Can’t you see few people–right now–that fit that description?…The Glenn Becks of the world, Pastor John Hagee, ex-Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Fr. C. John McCloskey of Opus Dei..We see their images in print, on blogs, on TV and sometimes–in the mirror.
There are defenses against Satan and his works. The usual antidote to pride is its opposite–humility–but one that springs from a willingness and effort to accommodate different kinds of people and stay together in bonds of prayer and friendship.
Adso observed: “We are fragile creatures, I said to myself; even among these learned and devout monks the Evil One spreads petty envies, forments subtle hostilities, but all these are as smoke then dispersed by the strong wind of faith, the moment all gather in the name of the Father, and Christ descends into their midst.”
This week, moderate and liberal Catholics are putting their heads in their hands wondering why we continue.
The Vatican made an announcement that priests who sexually abuse minors, view child pornography, or sexually abuse mentally disabled adults, along with those who ordain women or women who attempt to be ordained, will now be included among the list of “delicta gravioria,” or the most serious crimes against church law.
The ordination of women is now classified as a “crime against the sacraments,” which includes any action that defiles or desecrates the Eucharist.
At a Vatican briefing this week, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, denied that the Vatican equates women’s ordination with the sexual abuse of children. An illicit ordination, Scicluna clarified, is a â€œ”sacramental” crime, while abuse is a “moral” crime.
Women’s Ordination Conference Executive Director Erin Saiz Hanna commented: “The Vatican’s decision (to) list women’s ordination in the same category as pedophiles and rapists is appalling, offensive, and a wake-up call for Catholics around the world. The new canonical declaration which names women’s ordination as a serious crime against the Roman Catholic Church is medieval at best. The idea that a woman seeking to spread the message of God somehow “defiles” the Eucharist reveals an antiquated, backwards Church that still views women as “unclean” and unholy.”
This same week, Zenit, the Vatican news agency, announced Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, 74, president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, has been asked by the Pope to govern the congregation in his name “during the time necessary to complete the path of renewal.”
With a strong background in law and finance, Archbishop De Paolis essentially serves as chief auditor for the Vatican. The Legion’s estimated assets are valued at $33 billion.
The news agency noted that Archbishop De Paolis visited the Legion’s headquarters in Rome on Saturday, presenting its superiors with the papal letter naming him delegate, and handing them a personal letter in which he expressed his own thoughts and recommendations for the Legionaries.
Zenti went on to add: “The Legion of Christ is being guided by the Church in a renewal, following the discovery that its founder, Father Marcial Maciel, fathered children and was guilty of other crimes.”
That has to place first as the wryest, drollest, understatement of the year.
Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado raped and sexually abused underage seminarians and priests; kept mistresses on two continents; fathered at least three children; raped his sons; lied, cheated and stole his order’s money to support an illicit lifestyle. He was aided and abetted by senior members of the Legion. The organization was maintained by secrecy and deceit.
Maciel’s key supporters in the Vatican, who provided him with a protective shield, included Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state from 1991 to 2006; Cardinal Eduardo Martinez, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Cardinal Stanislaw Dzwisz, the Polish secretary of late Pope John Paul II.
Fr. Maciel’s biggest enabler was Pope John Paul II himself. Maciel brought in money and men to the priesthood; and that balanced the account as far as the pope was concerned.
Ponder this for a minute…..senior members of the Vatican hierarchy protected a serial molester and rapist, a priest that had several children with two different women—because this man had created an organizational structure that attracted seminarians and espoused traditional values and practices.
At the same time, they have set into place the most savage penalties for bishops and women who want to become priests, and refuse to consider the issue of priestly celibacy.
In the Zenit article Archbishop De Paolis said it is understandable that some Legionaries are “going through difficult moments, that some have already thought of a different path.” He cautioned that the “vocation is something too serious to be able to make a decision about it in a moment of disorientation.”
“Let’s be patient,” he said.
“Your vocation, like your congregation, is in your hands, is entrusted to your responsibility,” the prelate stated. “The Church accompanies you; the Lord is merciful and generous: He gives his Spirit without measure. His grace goes before you, it accompanies you, and it brings you to the goal.”
And so begins the fumigation of the Legionnaires of Christ.
“Disorientation” is a good word to describe the actions of the Vatican and the state of my mind.
The faith received a good smack this week.
Mary Daly, 81, died two weeks ago, mostly forgotten, certainly unshriven. Carolyn Moynihan, deputy editor of MercatorNet, noted that Daly “seems to have departed this life as a kind of orphan herself. The New York Times obituary notes that she ‘leaves no immediate survivors’. No family on earth? No father in heaven? I hope it really was not like that for Mary Daly at the end.”
After her two first two books, which stood the Catholic world on its head, Mary Daly spun off into the ether, writing books with titles like: Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage; and Quintessence..Realizing the Archaic Future. Daly created her own language, but most people weren’t interested in learning it. She lost her hold on the larger Catholic imagination.
In the 80s the lesbian herd moved past her, too, migrating on towards the mainstream–”Ellen,” “The L Word,” “Rachael Maddow,” “Suze Orman,” human rights, marriage rights and child rearing. The labrys pendant was lost or forgotten. Daly was, too.
Mary Daly was the quintessential Irish Catholic girl. Born October 16, 1928, in Schenectady, NY, she went all through Catholic schools, and received a BA from the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY and a MA from Catholic University in Washington, DC. After earning her doctorate in religion from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, in 1953, she went on to obtain two degrees from the University of Freiburg in Switzerland, since no U.S. institutions at the time offered theology doctorates to women.
Dr. Daly was hired as an assistant professor at Jesuit-run Boston College in 1967, when the school only enrolled men. She started as a reformist, and her first book, The Church and the Second Sex, (1968) she argued that the Catholic Church was patriarchal in nature and had systematically opposed women for centuries. In response, the college attempted to dismiss her, but the support she received from students and the public kept her in the classroom.
As a student in the early ’70s at Trinity, an all-women’s college in Washington, DC, I was thrilled about Mary Daly and her books. “Someone speaking for us,” I thought as I picked one up, “someone speaking the truth about what it’s like to be a woman in the Catholic Church.”
Sr. Joan Chittister reflected on Daly’s impact on history: “I learned how to look newly at things I’d looked at for so long that I was no longer really seeing any of them. Women need to thank Daly for raising two of the most important theological questions of our time: one, whether the question of a male God was consistent with the teaching that God was pure spirit, and two, whether a church that is more patriarchal system than authentic church could possibly survive in its present form. These two questions have yet to be resolved and are yet rankling both thinkers and institutions.”
Daly came out as a lesbian in the early 70s–when she was in her 40s. She began to study ancient cultures, and came to regard all major modern religions as oppressive to women, a view expressed in her second book, Beyond God the Father (1973). Her original critique of the Roman Catholic Church as a bastion of patriarchy was extended to the entire Christian tradition. She rejected Christianity’s focus on a monotheistic deity and what she attacked as its intrinsic patriarchy. She asserted that Christianity’s focus on Jesus Christ was just another dimension of its patriarchy–a Savior in a male body.
As Margaret Elizabeth Kostenberger explains, Daly’s “compete rejection of Scripture” on the basis of its “irremediable patriarchal bias” took her far outside the Christian faith. While other feminists called for the adoption of female or gender-neutral language for God, Daly attacked those efforts as half-measures that fail to take the “phallocentricity” of theism seriously.
Her famous dictum, “If God is male, then the male is God,” stood at the heart of her argument against religion. She accused Christianity of “gynocide” against women and suggested that all monotheistic religion–and Christianity in particular–is “phallocentric.”
“I urge you to sin,” she wrote to women readers. “But not against these itty-bitty religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism–or their secular derivatives, Marxism, Maoism, Freudianism and Jungianism–which are all derivatives of the big religion of patriarchy. Sin against the infrastructure itself!”
In 1999 Professor Daly left Boston College after a male student threatened a lawsuit when he was denied a place in her class on feminist ethics. She had long limited enrollment in some advanced women’s studies classes to women only, maintaining that the presence of men there would inhibit frank discussion.
What happened to Mary Daly, that she imposed the same gender barriers in her classrooms as she experienced? Daly went to Europe for advanced degrees because no U.S. Catholic university would accept a woman in a theology program. Years later, Daly bared men from her advanced courses in women’s studies because she felt their presence would have a negative impact on the other students. Men, she said, “have nothing to offer but doodoo.”
It may be retribution, but it doesn’t seem right. How do you rail against a system of discrimination, and then implement it with glee yourself?
So I am left with a mystery to solve: why did Mary Daly, a “post-Christian,” continue to affiliate with Boston College, an unabashedly Catholic institution? Love and hate are bound very closely. Daly was never indifferent.
Perhaps it began with a girlhood hurt. Daly wrote about her intellectual formation in a 1996 article in the New Yorker “Sin Big,” in which she recalled being mocked by a male classmate, and altar boy, at her parochial school because she could never “serve Mass” because she was a girl.
“(T)his repulsive revelation of the sexual caste system that I would later learn to call ‘patriarchy’ burned its way into my brain and kindled an unquenchable Rage,” she wrote.
Daly described herself as a pagan, an eco-feminist and a radical feminist in a 1999 interview with The Guardian newspaper of London. “I hate the Bible,” she told the paper. “I always did. I didn’t study theology out of piety. I studied it because I wanted to know.”
So with all that, how could she in good conscience continue to teach at a Catholic university?
Here’s what I think: at BC, Daly could be an outlaw, get a paycheck, credibility for book deals, and still have the protective mantle of identity that gave her cachet: a professor at a highly regarded Catholic university.
She lived on the piercing insights she fearlessly raised 40 years ago. But Daly had ceased to be a theologian, and even her philosophical writing declined into self-important gibberish. She should have taken her own advice–a person becomes stagnant if they don’t move on.
If you’re going to call yourself a Post-Christian, then be Post-Christian. If you have moved on… move on, and stop clinging to institutions that you say you no longer believe in.
A man wrote the best epitaph for Daly that I have read: “When I was in the seminary, attending class at B.C. during the eighties, Mary Daly was a joke. Imagine my surprise when, years later, as a purely cynical move to impress a feminist scholar, I cited Mary Daly in a paper, but was not able to put her work down. Although her work never persuaded me to abandon my beliefs, or my own thinking, Mary did push me to consider a whole world of concern that years earlier I would have dismissed as nonsense. Now, when I think of her, I do not think of a nut, or a totally whacked out feminist. I think of a pioneer, who, although not worthy of discipleship, is certainly worthy of being taken seriously as a thinker and a human being. I wish I had met her, although I’m not sure of how it would have turned out.”
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.”