Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church’

Francis, the Pope of Hope

Thursday, January 1st, 2015
pope francis

Pope Francis … the smiling pope

By Bob Gaydos

Reflecting on the anger, bitterness and violence that punctuated much of the year just past, I resolved to start the new year with acknowledgment of some positive development. Some sign of hope, as it were. I found it in, of all places, the Catholic Church. Or rather, the Vatican. Actually, to be specific, in the Pope.

Pope Francis, the people’s pope, has been a revelation and a one-man revolution within an organization that has been entrenched in dogma and shielded by ceremony for centuries. Since his surprise election to the papacy nearly two years ago, the Argentinian prelate has seemed to revel in speaking and acting like a, well, like a man of God. A least what my definition of such a person would be: Humble, unassuming, honest, approachable, compassionate, non-judgmental, empathetic and realistic.

Francis, the 266th pope, brought a positive note to the end of a brutally negative 2014 by: (1) Convincing President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to reestablish normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, ending more than 50 years of pretending they weren’t neighbors; (2) announcing that the Catholic Church would be committed to fighting global warming. Diplomacy and science have not exactly been prominent issues for popes for some time.

These actions came at the end of a year in which Francis consistently and passionately criticized the culture of greed that has claimed much of the planet, resulting in the very rich getting even richer and much of the rest of the population struggling to simply exist. “The excluded are still waiting’” he has said of the false promise of “trickle-down” economics.

To top it off, in case no one was paying attention, Francis, who has shunned many of the papal trappings, used his Christmas address to the cardinals at the Vatican to scold them for their personal ambition, pettiness and attitude of superiority to the people they, in fact, are sworn to serve. In other words, time to change your focus, fellas.

Along the way, indicating that the Catholic Church is not, as some have suggested, totally anti-science, he has declared that the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are, indeed, real, and can co-exist with the Church’s teaching of Creation. “God is not a magician with a magic wand,” he has said.

He has also encouraged cardinals to be less-obsessed with birth control and homosexuality (“Who am I to judge?”) and more committed to helping the world’s poor. And he has moved decisively to remove more of the stain of sexual abuse by priests that has been the most dominant issue associated with the Church for several decades.

All of this has angered conservative Catholics and especially conservative politicians who have counted on implicit papal endorsement for their views (especially on social issues) for many years. Suddenly, the pope’s infallibility on how we should treat each other and the planet we share is open to, not just question, but outright challenge. Fox News is apoplectic.

So be it. As a leader with no armies, the Roman Catholic pope can sway millions simply with his words and actions. Yes, the church is wealthy. Yes, it has political influence. Yes, it has an investment in repairing its soiled image and attracting new followers to replace those who left it because of the sexual abuse scandals.

Still, whatever one’s religious views, I believe that sometimes a person comes along and takes everyone by surprise by doing the unexpected. In Francis’ case, by acting like a humble servant of his God, rather than like the exalted ruler of some chosen group of people. Given the symbolic power of the position, this is huge.

I am sure the former cardinal from Argentina — a supposedly safe,compromise choice — has many cardinals shaking their heads today and wondering, “Tell me again; why did we vote for him?”

And that may be the most positive thing of all about Pope Francis. He has begun a discussion within the Vatican, within the Catholic Church and, by his involvement in global issues, throughout the world, on what our role is in relation to each other. It may be a discussion that will reveal the hypocrisy and greed that permeate today’s society. Perhaps it will even answer the question of what it means to be thy brother’s keeper.

That’s pretty hopeful stuff to me.

Our Capacity for Abuse Appears Endless

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Boy Scouts of America logo

By Bob Gaydos

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my feelings about the Catholic Church and its continuing inability/unwillingness to come fully and honestly to terms with its scandal of priests sexually abusing young boys.

If only that were the extent of it.

Last week, lawyers in Portland, Ore., won a landmark decision which resulted in a judge granting them access to the Boy Scouts Of America’s confidential “ineligible volunteer list.” It immediately became known as the “perversion list’ and when the lawyers posted it on the Internet, more than 200,000 hits in the first few hours caused it to crash. (It’s up and running today.)

The 14,500 files, organized by state, detail decades of abuse cases — proven and alleged — dating from the organization’s founding to today, most of which never became public knowledge. For the Scouts, like the church, the preferred method of dealing with sexual predators, was to fire them, ban them from Scouting, and otherwise ignore them. Out of sight, out of mind, except for the list, which did at least serve to warn some future potential employers who bothered to check references.

And the victims? Well, criminal charges or civil suits would only hurt the image of the Scouts, wouldn’t it? How could the organization continue to berate homosexuals and forbid non-god-fearing youngsters from membership if people knew some Scout leaders were sexually abusing young boys? In many cases, police authorities were apparently complicit in cover-ups, such is the misplaced reverence with which BSA was viewed. It’s beyond appalling.

If only that were the extent of it.

Tuesday’s New York Times carried a story about a top executive at the British Broadcasting Corporation resigning over his decision to kill a story detailing decades of abuse of young girls (about 200 reportedly, aged 12 and 13) by Jimmy Savile, a popular British TV personality and disc jockey, now deceased. The furor over killing the program prompted another BBC program to do a full report on it.

Again, protecting the predators’ reputation — in addition to being a popular entertainer, Savile also was a well-known philanthropist — was deemed to be more important than protecting other potential young victims. A wink and a nod and lots of rumors were the norm, just like with the priests and Scout leaders. Like the Scouts case, the Savile case has just gotten started in Britain, so more lurid details are bound to be revealed.

If only that were the extent of it.

The same edition of the Times carried a story about Russian politicians turning suddenly anti-American after years of softening their political rhetoric. The source of the comments was an extraordinary parliamentary hearing: “On Problems in the Observation of Human Rights by the United States of America.” Apparently tired of being criticized by Americans for all sorts of abuses, Russian legislators let loose with a a volley of attacks, pointing to water-boarding of prisoners, Ku Klux Klan lynchings and, the pertinent one here, abuse of adopted Russian children.

Witnesses said such abuse is common because Americans view Russian children as inferior. A telling comment from a jury verdict in the case of a 7-year-old adopted orphan, who died of brain trauma, made the Russians’ point: “The boy was born in Russia, the boy was an orphan who was brought up in an orphanage, he had bad genetics, because, in fact, all Russian orphans are genetically underdeveloped, have an inclination to drug addiction, stealing, self-harm. It turns out the boy beat himself to death on an iron stove.”

If only that were the extent of it.

Several months ago, a German newspaper reported that “bestiality brothels” were spreading across Germany. You read that right. Apparently, posting bestiality on the Internet is illegal in Germany, but actually having sex with animals is not, including in brothels set up for just that purpose. Some referred to it as a “life style” choice. Given that the dogs and other brothel animals are not consenting partners, don’t get paid and are discarded after being defiled, one assumes their life styles were not considered. This is one of the sickest kinds of abuse imaginable, yet Germany is only now working on changing the law to make it illegal.

And no, that’s not the extent of it. Husbands beat wives. Parents shake infants. Boys torture cats. Grown men abuse dogs. Women are sold as sex slaves, or simply treated as non-entities. We used to throw people to the lions.

There are many more examples, but you get the idea and I am weary of the effort. On these specific cases, I can offer only some specific, preferable responses: Report all suspected cases of sexual abuse of children to police; eliminate the statute of limitations for such charges (the victims’ pain lasts a lifetime); file criminal charges against those who cover up such abuse; pursue charges against all cases where still possible; place concern for victims, current and potential, above any desire to protect the reputation of the abuser or his employer; do a proper screening of foreign adoptions and make the general information available publicly; pass a law making bestiality illegal for god’s sake.

Still, I am left, ultimately, feeling unsatisfied and wondering if this need to abuse other, more vulnerable, living things is part of the human condition. Is evil in our wiring? Our rearing? Can we overcome it? How? All I have now are the questions. Perhaps some day we will have the will and wisdom to search for the answers.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

Pacem in Terris? At Least in Warwick

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Pope John XXIII, artist Frederick Franck. From Pacem In Terris web page.

By Bob Gaydos

Spending a summer afternoon at Pacem in Terris, in Warwick, can be like being transported to another world. Which may well have been what Frederick Franck had in mind when he created his six-acre oasis/sanctuary/art museum/sculpture garden/spiritual retreat on the banks of the Wawayanda River. On special Sundays, magnificent music, such as was performed last Sunday in a stone grotto by the Loma Mar string quartet (playing Haydn and McCartney) , heightens the feeling of beauty and tranquility that is palpable almost everywhere one looks.

Franck, who died in 2006, was a pacifist, agnostic, painter, sculptor, dental surgeon, author and student of Zen Buddhism. Put prolific in front of everyone of those. A seeker of peace on earth and among all religions, he was among a select group of artists who sketched the sessions of Vatican II, presided over by Pope John XXIII, whom Franck greatly admired. Inspired by what he saw and heard, he came home to Warwick and created his “transreligious” sanctuary.

“Pacem in Terris,” of course, was the title of the encyclical issued by the pope in April of 1963, “on establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity and liberty.” That remarkable doctrine, among many other things, encouraged religious orders to modernize, to bring the Catholic Church actively into the life of the 20th century. For many orders, this meant opportunities for greater education and learning skills to advance the causes of justice, liberty, charity and truth within their communities, not just in churches. For many orders of nuns the encyclical was, in itself, a symbol of individual liberty and justice. Instead of simply repeating church doctrine, they could actively spread the pope’s message of peace in various community settings.

And they did. And they have continued to do so. And for that, with a succession of more conservative popes since John XXIII, thousands of American nuns now find themselves threatened by the Vatican. The same institution that encouraged them to become educated, to proclaim their individual rights and responsibilities, now wants them to cease and desist. The nuns, members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of American nuns, say this is not what Vatican II was about. Franck would likely agree. In fact, many lay Catholics agree with the nuns, staging demonstrations around the country to show their solidarity.

Last week, the nuns met in St. Louis to plan their response to a no-nonsense order issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The bishops said the sisters, through words and deeds had spread “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The Vatican was particularly concerned with the nuns’ interest in sexuality, contraception, same-sex marriage and women in the priesthood. Although the group has taken no official stand on any of those issues, it has engaged in open discussion about them, arguing that they are vital issues of social liberty and justice of the times.

Which apparently everyone but the all-male Vatican can see.

The long-building ultimate confrontation has yet to occur as the sisters took a little detour after their conference, at which they took no official position. Instead, they met with Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, assigned by the Vatican to redraw the mission of the sisters to more accurately reflect what the men in Rome want. The nuns said they expressed their concerns about the Vatican report honestly and openly with Sartain, who, they said, was a respectful listener. The bishop has been mum since the meeting, but then he probably feels, as the Vatican’s point man, that he’s holding all the cards in this game.

For their part, the nuns do not seem ready to fold. In the spirit of respectful dialogue of Vatican II, more meetings with Sartain are scheduled for the fall. But they also said they “will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission.”

Perhaps more tellingly, the LCWR also issued a statement saying: “The expectation of the LCWR members is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and — particularly for women — to have a voice in the church.”

One could say, in reading “Pacem in Terris,’ that a natural evolution of the church in light of a rapidly changing world, was what John XXIII had in mind. It would seem that any institution, even a religious one, must evolve with the people and society it professes to serve, else how can it continue to properly serve?

A voice for women in the Catholic Church? A radical idea? Maybe 50 years ago. Maybe not. Perhaps Sartain should spend a few hours in the gardens at Pacem in Terris reflecting on the spirit of “Pacem in Terris” before speaking to the sisters again.

 bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

Catholic Church’s Battle of the Sexes

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

 By Bob Gaydos

I venture with trepidation into the middle of a looming showdown of potentially historic magnitude. The trepidation is because the confrontation is of a religious nature and Americans have proven themselves incapable of conducting civil debate in this area. But my concern is not so much about the religious outcome of the showdown as it is with its more basic, universal, nature, if you will.

As I see it, the nuns of America versus the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church is a classic example of a group of women, given an opportunity to do and be more than silent, obedient servants within their institution, taking advantage of that opportunity and then being chastised and warned by the men who run the institution to, in effect, pipe down and remember their place.

Next week, American nuns will meet in St. Louis to discuss how to respond to a heavy-handed Vatican report that questioned the nuns’ loyalty to the church — a very male thing to do. The Vatican has appointed three bishops to oversee the restructuring of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization that represents 80 percent of Catholic women’s religious orders in the United States. The Vatican has made it clear that this will not be an all-voices-heard, collegial makeover, but rather “an invitation to obedience.”

The LCWR has drawn the ire of the entirely male hierarchy of the church by taking to heart an invitation issued with Vatican II to study the founding of their orders, review and discuss their missions and renew them. Vatican II, issued almost a half century ago and intended to bring the church into the modern world, also gave nuns unprecedented opportunities for higher education and advancement in the Catholic hierarchy in many areas, except for the priesthood, of course. The nuns seized the opportunity and over time became influential in many areas as heads of colleges and high schools, hospital administrators, lawyers and social workers, outspoken advocates for immigrants and the poor and activists for racial equality and protecting the environment.

This is, of course, the stuff of the modern world. So are same sex marriage, birth control and women’s rights. The nuns have discussed — but taken no official stand — on ordination for women as priests, abortion, artificial contraception and gay marriage. But to the bishops, the mere discussion of these issues — all  opposed by the Church —  is described as disloyalty to the teachings of the Church. That traditionally means case closed. Even though 95 percent of catholic women say they have used artificial contraception at some time and a majority of Catholics support same-sex marriage and any honest man or women you talk to readily agrees that if women were priests –and monsignors and bishops — there would have been no worldwide scandal of Catholic priests sexually molesting young boys.

The nuns have been given an ultimatum from the holy fathers who claim provenance over the teachings of the church. It is not clear what the Vatican will do if the nuns refuse to simply bow and return to silently serving their self-proclaimed masters. Is there such a thing as “replacement nuns”?

There are marches and vigils planned in support of the nuns. The Leadership Conference is considering a range of responses to the Vatican. Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the conference, told the New York Times that while the nuns see their questioning as faithfulness, it is seen by the Vatican as defiance. “We have a differing perspective on obedience,” she said. “Our understanding is that we need to continue to respond to the signs of the times, and the new questions and issues that arise in the complexities of modern life are not something we see as a threat.”

But clearly the bishops do. The Church has been run the way they have decreed for centuries. Now, some women (radical feminists?) want to change everything and, dare we say, maybe take some of the power? The bishops deny this. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the papal nuncio to the United States, told American bishops at a meeting in Atlanta, “We all know that the fundamental tactic of the enemy is to show a church divided.” I’m not sure to what “enemy” the archbishop was referring (another typical male tactic), but the voices of questioning here are coming from within the Church.

If I may venture ever so slightly into religion here, I believe a central teaching of most religions is to exhibit a degree of humility in one’s life. Let’s just say the nuns have done this for centuries. Let us also point out that in this fast-moving modern world there are far fewer nuns than there used to be and they are getting older.

History says the bishops will not blink. But history is written every day and often by intelligent, dedicated, passionate women. Who says they can’t be nuns?

 bob@zestoforange.com