Posted in category "Social Justice"
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.”
This spring has seen a rash of coal mining accidents and disasters. Companies are in a hurry to get coal out the ground to feed the manufacturing demand for energy.
An accident at the Wangjialing Mine in northern China killed 38 men; an explosion in the Raspadskaya mine in western Siberia killed 66, with 100 injured and 44 still missing.
On April 5, 2010 29 miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia. The mine is owned and operated by Massey Energy Co., headquartered in Richmond, VA.
In the wake of an April 5th explosion, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, issued a pastoral letter on May 1 on mine safety in West Virginia.
In his letter, On My Holy Mountain, the bishop noted mine disasters in West Virginia: the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the Monongah Mine disaster of 1907 that killed 362 people and the Sago Mine disaster of 2006 that killed 13 miners.
A common thread: lax or disregarded safety regulations in order to speed production.
“The disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine,” the bishop stated, “raises concerns about the conditions within the coal mines across our state and the atmosphere existing in the coal industry’s corporate culture.”
“The church has an obligation to continue to remain vigilant in these areas to ensure that justice is served and human dignity protected. This is an essential part of proclaiming the Gospel of life.”
“Indeed, by virtue of human dignity, all persons have the right to a safe work environment and one in which unsafe conditions can e reported without fear of blacklisting or losing one’s job. Workers have the right to a living wage and to reasonable work hours. The church has long recognized and supported workers’ rights to organize. In the coalfields such organization has had measurable benefits in terms of safety, and we applaud all that the United Mine Workers of America have achieved.”
“We must discover why union mines have a lower fatality rate in West Virginia and appear to have a much better safety record.”
A long-time coal miner who spent the last 15 years at the Massey Energy Co. mine where 29 workers were killed in April said it was a “ticking time bomb” due to high levels of methane gas.
Stanley “Goose” Stewart, who was 300 feet into the mine when he felt a “hurricane strength” wind from the blast, was the first worker at the Upper Big Branch mine to testify publicly about conditions there.
Mr. Stewart, who has been a coal miner for more than 30 years, started keeping a notebook to document his working conditions when the ventilation system was changed last July. “With so much methane being liberated, and no air moving, it gave me the feeling of a ticking time bomb.” In July 2009 he wrote: “finding explosive levels of methane gas regularly.”
Gary Quarles, whose only son, Cary Wayne Quarles, was killed in the accident, said miners weren’t allowed to hang ventilation curtains or conduct any other safety operations if there would interfere with or delay the production of coal.”
Joe Main, the head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration told a Senate committee investigating the explosion that Massey thwarted stiffer enforcement action, such as closing down mines with a history of safety violations, by filing a series of appeals. He called on Congress to free up funds to help clear up a backlog of challenges filed by companies.
Mr. Main said Massey escaped tougher enforcement by contesting 78% of the $13.5 million in fines by MSHA in 2009. There are more than 16,000 cases pending review involving 89,000 violations.
Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, denied his company tried to “game the system.” “Rather,” he said, “we are exercising our rights to due process under the system Congress has put in place.”
The issue of mine safety hits close to home with Amber Helms-Chambers and her brother, Nick Helms. Their father, Terry Helms, died in the 2006 Sago Mine explosion.
Chambers is an employee of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese. She helped design the graphics and layout for the pastoral letter, On My Holy Mountain.
“Our uncles that are in the coal mines and our friends are still in the coal mines and I have a cousin going in the coal mines so it is really important to us to work for something that I know my dad was so passionate about as well and working on it just makes me feel that I’m doing my part as a designer doing what I can to help get thoughts out there and help out,” said Chambers.
“Coal-mining laws are written in blood”…”I never understood that saying until after Sago,” Nick Helms said. “Dad would say nothing would ever change until after something bad would happen. It’s a never-ending struggle, but it needs to be a never-ending topic in our government.”
“People were saying, ‘It’s cheaper to pay the fines than to do the safety.’ I know you need to make money, but not at the expense of people’s lives.”
The bishops of Appalachia in their 1975 pastoral letter, This Land is Home to Me recognized that “the coal-based industry created many jobs and brought great progress to our country,” said Bishop Bransfield.
“They also frankly acknowledged that ‘oppression for the mountains’ and suffering for many resulted from tragedies like the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. And they warned that the temptation toward ‘maximization of profit’ can lead to a disregard for human beings and their needs and lead to ‘a new kind of powerlessness.'”
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.
Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, warned that “spiritual toxic waste” is being exported to Africa by the First World.
During his address last week to the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, he said: “The Holy Father, in his homily during the Inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, pointed out, with a very incisive expression, how the First World ‘is exporting its toxic waste’ to Africa and other developing countries. One of these poisons is the so-called gender theory, which, heavily disguised, is starting to infiltrate associations, governments and even some ecclesial environments on the African continent, judging from what the Pontifical Council for the Family tells us.”
Cardinal Antonelli noted that people working for “various international institutions and organizations” start from real problems that must be “dutifully resolved.” Among these, the cardinal noted injustice and violence against women, infant mortality, malnutrition and famine, and problems of housing and work.
But, he lamented, “They propose solutions based on values of equality, health and liberty: sacrosanct concepts, but rendered ambiguous by the new anthropological meanings that are given to them.”
“For example,” the cardinal explained, “equality of people no longer just means equal dignity and access to fundamental human rights; but also the irrelevance of the natural differences between men and women, the uniformity of all individuals, as though they were sexually undifferentiated, and therefore the equality of all sexual orientations and behavior: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, polymorphous. Each individual has the right to practice–and change, should they wish–their choices in line with their drives, desires and preferences.”
During the January 2009 World Annual Meeting of Families in Mexico City, Cardinal Antonelli did offer an option: “the homosexual experience must stay within the confines of a private relation, a relation between friends.”
In other words, keep things quiet and private. No scandal. Society should not be shaken. This must have been his mantra as bishop of Florence.
Shortly before he became head of Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Antonelli had to deal with an ugly sexual abuse case in his diocese–serious enough (meaning it had hit the newspapers and the city criminal justice department) for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to send a special envoy to investigate.
20 women accused Fr. Lelio Cantini, 82, of having raped them when they were minors, from ages 12 to 17. The alleged victims wrote to the Pope, asking due punishment for the abuser. Confronted by their testimony, church authorities first transferred the priest to another parish, and then, out of the diocese.
Cardinal Antonelli admitted that the Church had settled the matter in secret after the accusations reached the Vatican.
But Fr. Cantini had never been disciplined. The priest admitted he coerced girls and teenagers in his parish to have sex. The rapes occured between 1973 and 1987.
After the investigative process, where the accusations were proved to be true, on April 2, 2007, Cardinal Antonelli issued the punishment for the priest: Fr. Cantini was barred from saying Mass and ordered to contribute a portion of his income to charity for a period of five years. In addition, for the first year, he was ordered to recite a psalm each day for a year begging for pardon over the sins he committed.
In case you are wondering, it’s Psalm 51 – the one that begins, â€œHave mercy upon me, O God â€¦ Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity.â€
Growing up in the pre-Vatican II church, I can tell you Cardinal Antonelli would have had a big line in front of his confessional as the “easy penance” guy!
So, all of this is a little confusing as to what “values” the good cardinal is promoting, except for the value of silence.
There were no chorus of “Huzzahs!” from American Catholic conservatives for Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”). The Vatican released the document on July 7, 2009 – just a day before the opening of the Group of Eight meeting in Italy and the week of president Obama’s visit with the pope.
In fact, there was very little coverage of it at all in conservative Catholic blogs and websites, except for a few who thought Pope Benedict had been hijacked by the Peace and Justice crowd, and that the liberal media gave short shrift on the pope’s passage on family protection and bioethics. In fact, in this document the pope linked economics to modern cultural issues. And ethics.
The pope used Caritas in Veritate primarily to criticize the current economic system, “where the pernicious effects of sin are evident” he growled. The pope urged financiers in particular to “rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity” and also called for “greater social responsibility” on the part of business. “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”
“Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise,” Benedict stated. “In the search for solutions to the current crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all.”
John Sniegocki, a professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, said one of the most controversial elements of the encyclical, at least for some Americans, would be the call for international institutions to play a role in regulating the economy.
“One of the things he’s saying is that the global economy is escaping the power of individual states to regulate it,” Mr. Sniegocki said. He also said the encyclical also contained elements “very critical” of how the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank “have required cuts in social spending in the third world.”
Caritas in Veritate has infuriated George Weigel, a conservative Catholic intellectual close to Pope John Paul II. Weigel ventured that this social encyclical is a hybrid, “blending the pope’s own insightful thinking on the social order with elements of the Justice and Peace approach to Catholic social doctrine…There is also rather more in the encyclical about the redistribution of wealth than about wealth-creation–a sure sign of Justice and Peace default positions at work.”
“Indeed,” he goes on, “those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate, highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.” (Get it…red marker…commie, pinko, socialist, bleeding heart liberal…sigh.)
Trying to come to terms with this awful document, Weigel opines: “Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain peace within his curial household.”
However, that pat on the head for Pope Benedict doesn’t change anything. In fact, a clue to how he really feels about our unbridled, Bush-era American capitalistic system–and how that opinion is reflect in Caritas in Veritate, came several months before the release of the encyclical during a question-and-answer session with 400 priests ministering in Rome. This session was reported by Zenit, the official Vatican new agency.
A pastor from a poor neighborhood asked how church members could do more to push for a real reform of the global economic system. Pope Benedict said he did not want to give a simplistic answer to a complicated question about the reality of global finance and said that, in fact, the complexity of the current situation is what delayed the publication of his social encyclical, tentatively titled Caritas in Veritate.
On the level of global economic systems, the pope said almost every person in every country is feeling the consequences of “these fundamental errors that have been revealed in the failure of the large American banks; the error at the basis of it is human greed.”
“We must denounce this (system) with courage, but also with concreteness because moralizing will not help if it is not supported by an understanding of reality, which also will help us understand what can be done concretely to change the situation,” he said.
While the global financial system must be reformed, the pope said, individuals also must accept the fact that they will have to make some sacrifices in order to help the poor and move the world toward justice. “Justice cannot be created only with economic reforms, which are necessary, but it also requires the presence of just people,” Benedict said.
Zenit reported that Lesley-Anne Knight, the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic agency “committed to combating dehumanizing poverty that robs people of their dignity and to promoting the rights of the poor,” said in a press release that the encyclical, which reflects on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (“The Development of Peoples”) “highlights how a blind pursuit of profits over ethics had become detrimental to people and the planet.”
Knight continued: “The crisis exposed systemic failures generated by careless speculation for the benefit of a handful of people and at the expense of millions of poor families. But the crisis offers a unique chance to refashion globalization to work for the majority.”
Read Caritas in Veritate here.
The last time Bishop Gaillot was feted in the United States was at the 1996 Call to Action Conference in Detroit. The title of his address was, “My Option for the Poor.” You can read it here.
After that, I haven’t heard about him. He is a man who deserves never to be forgotten, although that is what Pope John Paul II hoped, when Gaillot was removed from the Diocese of Evreux, France and appointed to an ancient and fictitious see, Partenia.
The See of Partenia, now located in the desert of Algeria, has not existed in reality since the 5th century when it was in Mauritania. But, thanks to the web, Gaillot managed to outwit the Vatican and continues to teach and pastor via the internet as a “virtual bishop.”
“As Partenia does not exist anymore” says Gaillot, “it becomes the symbol of all who feel like non-existing in society or in the Church. It is a huge diocese without borders where the sun never sets.” Travel to Partenia here.
Bishop Gaillot didn’t start off as a radical. Little by little, his contacts with people who came to see him and events to which he chose to respond led him to some unexpected places:
He called on all Catholics to persist in dialog without condemnation so that the church can, as Jesus did, embrace the dispossessed: those marginalized by poverty; those living with AIDS, those in prison, those ostracized for homosexuality; and ultimately, those struggling on the borderlands of their own Christian faith.
“If we take as our starting point the poor, everything will be renewed – liturgy, catechism, the life of the church. It changes the way we think, pray, our very lifestyle. But if we take as our starting point the Status Quo, we will never be able to catch up with the Good News.”
Gaillot infuriated members of the French Bishops’ Conference and the Vatican with his outspokenness on a number of issues including clerical celibacy, the use of condoms for the prevention of AIDS, ordination of women and married men to the priesthood, and especially, homosexuality.
“The church must be where there is need, and homosexuals have suffered innumerable discriminations. If the church doesn’t free people from oppression, what purpose does it serve?” he asked.
In 1988 Gaillot took the unprecedented step for a Roman Catholic bishop of blessing a homosexual union after the couple requested it in view of their imminent death from AIDS.
He was the only French bishop to participate in the ceremony of the transfer of the ashes of the Abbe Henri-Baptiste Gregoire to the Pantheon, a burial place for “the great men of France.”
Gregoire (1750-1831), a Catholic priest and bishop, was a leading French abolitionist at the turn of the 18th century, a participant in the Revolution of 1789, and a member of its governing assembly.
Gregoire was among the most active deputies of the Assembly, advocated abolishing Negro slavery and granting citizenship to Jews. He objected to some provisions of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, but agreed to swear the oath of allegiance and was the first member of the clergy to take it (1790). Because of this, the hierarchy of the church refused to give him the last sacraments. (Although he was given them by some sympathetic priests in defiance of the ban.)
After these and other “incidents,” Pope John Paul II relieved Bishop Gaillot of his responsibilities as bishop of Evreux on January 13, 1995. After being removed from his office Bishop Gaillot wrote the following statement:
“I had a dream: to be able to accompany the poor, the excluded, the ignored, without having to explain myself or justify myself to the rich, the secure, or the comfortable. To be able to go where distress calls me without having to give advance notice. To be able to show my indignation at destitution, injustice, violence, the sale of weapons, and managed famines without being considered a meddler in politics.”
“I dreamed of being able to live my faith within the church, but also in society, in my time and with my times. I dreamed of the freedom to think and express myself, to debate and criticise, without fear of the guillotine. I dreamed of the being different within the unity of faith, and remaining myself, alone and yet in solidarity with others. Ultimately, I hoped to be able to proclaim a Gospel of freedom without being marginalised.”
This week, Pope Benedict XVI received the U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, her husband and members of her entourage at the close of his regular Wednesday General Audience in Rome.
Pelosi, a self-proclaimed “ardent Catholic,” has sparked criticism from some conservative U.S. Catholic bishops for her pro-choice views. She arrived in Italy on Sunday for an eight-day official visit.
As Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi is second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency, behind only Vice President Joseph Biden, another Catholic who also disagrees with Church teaching on abortion and birth control.
Benedict’s willingness to meet Pelosi gave some pro-life Catholics agita.
By meeting Pelosi, Benedict signaled he wants lines of communication to remain open with the new American leadership, even though there is no meeting of minds over the issue of abortion.
Benedict and Pelosi each issued a statement following the meeting.
“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death,” the Vatican statement read, “which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life in all stages of development.”
In a statement issued by her office Wednesday, Pelosi said it was “with great joy” that she and her husband, Paul, met Benedict. She said she had praised “the church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel.”
“I was proud to show His Holiness a photography of my family’s papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren,” said the California congresswoman.
Pelosi’s statement did not mention the pope’s comments on abortion.
The pope’s statement can certainly be read as a rejection of Pelosi’s statements of last summer, when she suggested that the church’s position on abortion had been fluid and ill-defined; and that it’s acceptable for Catholics in public life to take a pro-choice position.
What was said–or unsaid–in that small room in the Vatican that fact remains each of these two Catholic leaders profess to care deeply about the welfare of children–those born as well as the unborn.
The pope cannot be a single issue Catholic–the way some U.S. bishops and pro-life Catholics are–if he is to attend to the Gospel’s work of justice for all, especially people in need.
Before she went to the Capitol to be sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi attended Mass at her (and my) alma mater, Trinity College in Washington, DC. The late Fr. Robert Drinan was the celebrant, and he offered the Mass in honor of the children of Darfur and Katrina, praying there that “the needs of every child are the needs of Jesus Christ himself.”
“He challenged us,” said Pelosi of the homily, “by saying ‘Imagine what the world would think of the United States if the health and welfare of children everywhere became the top objective of America’s foreign policy! It could happen–and it could happen soon–if enough people cared.'”
“He continued,’Let us reexamine our convictions, our commitments, and our courage. Our convictions and our commitments are clear and certain to us. But do we have the courage to carry them out? God has great hopes for what this nation will do in the near future. We are here to ask for the courage to carry out God’s hopes and aspirations.”
“As he led us in prayer that day, Father Drinan said, ‘We learn things in prayer that we otherwise would never know.'”
Two weeks ago Bolivian citizens voted to approve a new constitution. Exit polls estimated about 60 per cent of voters had approved the document that is designed to give more rights to the indigenous minority and give the government more control over the economy. It would also allow the president, Evo Morales, to run for a second five-year term.
Mr. Morales is an Aymara Indian who leads the ruling party, the Movement to Socialism. The campaign pitted poor, heavily indigenous western areas where Mr. Morales is revered against whites and mixed-race mestizos in the natural gas-rich tropical lowlands.
The campaign to change the country’s constitution sparked a religious battle.
Pre-referendum campaign ads by evangelical christians showed Bolivia’s leftist president dressed in the garb of a traditional shaman. An image of Jesus Christ arrived to knock Mr. Morales off the screen, and a document labeled “New Constitution” appears amid flames. “Choose God. Vote No” the ad advises.
At the heart of fight is the new constitution’s stated goal of “refounding” Bolivia as a “socially-just state guided by indigenous beliefs–including elevating the female Andean earth deity, PachaMama, to the same stature as the God of Christianity. Bolivia’s previous constitution allowed for freedom of religion, but specifies Roman Catholicism as the sole state religion.
The new constitution recognizes broad new rights for Bolivia’s Indians, termed “originating indigenous farming peoples” in the document, and demands “decolonization” of all aspects of society.
For Christians, whose faith arrived in Bolivia with the Spanish Conquistadors almost 500 years ago, the fight is over fundamental values, which they say the new constitution shoves aside, and replaces with ultra liberal concepts, or worse, indigenous religions.
They contend the new constitution appears to opens the door to abortion and gay marriage, although it doesn’t speak directly to either issue.
The Catholic church hoped the constitution would define life as beginning at conception, and marriage as being between a man and a woman. The text doesn’t offer a clear definition on either point, instead offering broad statements such as one that “guarantees the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights,” language that has religious groups worried. “One of the problems with the constitution is that it’s full of ambiguity,” said Robert Flock, vicar general of the Santa Cruz archdiocese. The constitution “could open the door to a civil law allowing homosexual marriage if there was a public will to do that.”
The Catholic church disavowed the evangelical christian ads, but followed with its own detailed critique of the proposed constitution, handed out after Mass in cities around Bolivia prior to the election. While praising Mr. Morales’ focus on the poor, it raised concerns about his effort to concentrate power in his hands.
In a country that is officially 95% Catholic, the stance by church leaders carries significant weight. So much so that on the day before the referendum Mr. Morales–who has actively promoted indigenous beliefs, including appointing traditional medicine men to his government–publicly declared himself a Catholic, though believing “quite a bit” in PachaMama.
I belong to a parish I adore. My pastor is a good man. I have a tremendous respect for him: his kindness, warmth and integrity. He makes everyone feel welcome and at home. You are happy to come to church every week.
The people of the community fit the same mold. It is a place where you strive, because you feel happy and loved, to live the values of the faith and try to do right every day.
But a situation came along this year to beckon me to live my faith in a prophetic way.
I recently made a commitment to be part of a community lead by a Roman Catholic Womanpriest. I am a little scared, but also very resolute in my commitment to my priest, her ministry and the community she is undertaking to bring to life. It is an honor for me to be part of this group.
The dual feelings of joy and apprehension are not new. It is worship on the shadow’s edge; gathering in discretion, hoping not to invite persecution at the hands of religious authorities, but understanding it is always a possibility.
The last time I experienced faith on the margins was in the early ’80s, when Dignity groups were tossed out of church facilities. Instead of going away quietly, gay Catholics found new moorings in liberal protestant churches and nondenominational facilities. Forced out of the gay ghetto, Dignity and CCL members expanded relationships with other reform and renewal-minded Catholics. There are now several hundred “gay-friendly”Roman Catholic parishes with supportive family and friends, and discreet, but out, gay and lesbian parishioners.
The priest of my new community was ordained in Boston on July 20, 2008. “The organization calling itself Roman Catholic Womanpriests is not recognized as an entity of the Catholic Church,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston. “Catholics who attempt to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the women who attempt to receive a sacred order, are by their own actions separating themselves from the Church.”
The Womenpriests organization says their ordinations are legitimate because Catholic bishops in good standing ordained their first members to become female priests and bishops. That means the women being ordained can claim apostolic succession, or direct descent from Jesus’ apostles.
The organization has not released the name of the bishops it says ordained the first women priests and consecrated the first women bishops, saying they would face sanction by the Vatican, but says it will release the names once the male bishops die.
The Boston ordination ceremony was presided over by Dana Reynolds of California and Ida Raming of Germany.
“We know only too well in how many ways Vatican church leaders refuse to acknowledge the equality in Christ that God has established between men and women, and how they constantly try to reimpose the precedence of men over women, which is unchristian,” Bishop Raming said. “We give witness to the whole world that it is not male gender which is the prerequisite for a valid ordination, but faith and baptism, the foundation of our dignity and equality.”
“I’m feeling such joy, I could rise up,” said one of the newly ordained priests, Judith A.B. Lee, said in an interview after the ceremony. She pointed out that she was wearing a cross from Dignity, an organization of gay Catholics. “I am a priest for the poor and for those who live at the margins, and we deserve the full sacraments of the church,” she said.