07/22/17

Mary Magdalene: The Single Best Argument for Women Priests

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By Kerry Walters

On 22 July each year, the Christian community venerates a saint who is the single best argument for why women should be priests: Mary of Magdala, more commonly called Mary Magdalene and traditionally known as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Given what we know about her, it’s a scandal that some Christian communities—most notably the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention—still consider women unworthy of ordination.

The Roman Church’s refusal to ordain women is succinctly stated in its official Catechism:

The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry…For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. #1577

The Southern Baptist Convention bases its refusal on several passages in the Pauline letters to Titus and Timothy that seem to disallow women from serving as pastors. (Never mind that biblical scholars agree that the letters were almost certainly not written by Paul himself.) Predictably, perhaps, the Convention adds that pastoral ministry would interfere with women’s single-minded dedication to their God-appointed “family roles.”

Such objections to the ordination of women strike rational people, including millions of Christians, as absurd. But Dominican priest Wojciech Giertych, who served as theologian of the papal household for Pope Benedict XVI, adds risibility to absurdity when he argues that women simply don’t have the mechanical know-how of men, and so would be helpless when it comes to guy-stuff like church repairs.

I don’t know how handy she was with a hammer or screwdriver, but the scriptural accounts of Mary Magdalene certainly confound these arguments against women priests and pastors. Her prominence in the New Testament is indisputable.

She’s presented as one of the earliest disciples of Jesus, joining his band of followers after being cleansed of “seven demons” (Mark and Luke). Although she actually isn’t the New Testament “sinner” who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears or anointed them with precious oil she’s often thought to be—this is an identification invented by Gregory the Great in the 6th century—she’s still mentioned more often in the Gospels, no fewer than 12 times, than nearly all the male apostles.

The gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John recognize her as one of the women who followed Jesus to Golgotha, when all the male apostles except John had fled in terror. All four gospels also announce that she was either the very first person (Mark and John) or one of the first (Matthew and Luke), her companions also being women, to whom the Risen Christ appeared, and that she was the messenger who carried the good news to the male apostles.

Luke tells us that the other disciples didn’t believe her, either because she was a woman or because the tale was so fantastical, and ran to see the empty tomb for themselves. In the apocryphal Gospel of Mary, dating from sometime in the 2nd century, the disbelief of the male apostles, especially the brothers Andrew and Peter, is clearly rancorous. “Did he then speak secretly with a woman, in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?” In the later Gospel of Philip, another apocryphal text, the anger directed against Mary by the male apostles is even more intense.

These texts suggest that even at this early stage in the Church’s history, animosity toward women in leadership positions was present. But the more important point here is that both canonical and non-canonical texts affirm Mary as the witness-bearer for the risen Christ. There simply is no debate in the ancient texts about her centrality.

We have nothing but legend to fall back on for the rest of Mary’s life. She isn’t mentioned in either the Acts of the Apostles or any of the New Testament epistles. Some stories say she retired to Ephesus with Mary, Jesus’ mother, after the Resurrection. Others say that she undertook missionary work, even appearing before the Roman emperor Tiberias and astounding him with a miracle.

But these legends, charming as they are, aren’t necessary for establishing her bona fides. Scripture does that. Mary Magdalene, like so many women, was one of Jesus’ earliest followers; she remained loyal to him, at great risk to herself, when the male apostles fled in doubt and terror; the Risen Christ appeared first to her; and she carried the good news to the male apostles, who refused to believe her testimony. Even John Paul II, who declared the topic of women’s ordination settled and done (a position unfortunately affirmed by Pope Francis), acknowledged that this rightly made her the Apostle to the Apostles.

So if men are qualified to ordained ministry because of the male apostles, wouldn’t Mary’s primacy over them qualify women?

The answer’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

Complete Article HERE!

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07/17/17

3 Reasons Catholic Bishops Are Holding Their Tongues on GOP Health Care Debacle

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When President Obama proposed requiring health plans to cover common contraceptives without charge, the Catholic bishops howled like the world was coming to an end. Dire warnings about the future of religious liberty were issued on a regular basis by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then-head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who personally went to the White House to complain to Obama. A special committee was formed. Legislators were lobbied. Lay Catholics were called on to protest. A scorching letter was read aloud by bishops at masses across the country. And threats were made about the Catholic vote in 2012.

But now, even as the clearly deceptive and immoral Trump administration plunges further into chaos and the Republican Party uses it as a distraction as it plots to take health care away from millions, the nation’s Catholic bishops have remained largely silent.

There have been no condemnations of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, attacks on the press and outright mendacity. And while the bishops admit the GOP health “reform” efforts would be detrimental to the poor and marginalized and “fundamentally alter the social safety net for millions of people,” they have limited their objections to written statements from Bishop Frank Dewane, chairman of Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, a little known backbencher with virtually no profile in the national media.

As Michael Sean Winters noted in the National Catholic Reporter:

…there was no “postcard campaign” like the bishops launched on previous issues of less significance, no full court press as it were. It is clear that so long as they get rid of the contraception mandate, many bishops are willing to look the other way if millions are thrown off the insurance rolls.

It’s likely that the bishops are holding their tongues because, while they don’t love the health plan—except for the part that would further limit abortion services by private health plans—they still hope to get several much-wished-for goodies from the Trump administration beyond the promised roll-back of the contraception mandate. Here are three things the bishops are still hoping to gain from Trump and the GOP.

  1. A massive federal tax credit for parochial schools. As Politico reported:

Catholic leaders are meeting with GOP lawmakers and members of the Trump administration, hoping to shape a federal plan they believe could spur a rebirth of parochial education. The Trump administration’s consideration of a federal tax credit scholarship program could be a boon for Catholic schools … Catholic leaders are seizing the moment, pushing for a federal program that comes with few constraints. “We see this as game-changing,” said Greg Dolan, associate director for public policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Catholic education.

  1. The further marginalization of contraception and reduced contraceptive access. Make no mistake. The bishops’ real objection to the contraceptive mandate was that it threatened to enshrine contraception as an essential health benefit, which was a direct threat to the Catholic Church’s promotion of natural family planning. As Archbishop William Lori, head of the USCCB Religious Liberty Committee recently told Crux, preventive services should only “pertain to preventing diseases and not to … preventing birth.”

But, as New York Times reports, under Trump a number of anti-contraception activists have been given prominent roles in the administration. They are moving not just to finalize a rule that would allow any entity to opt-out of the contraceptive mandate for any reason, which has long been on the bishops’ wish list, but have a history of attacking contraception in general.

Katy Talento, who is now a White House domestic policy aide, has warned of the (false) health risks of oral and other hormonal contraceptives, charging that they are carcinogens, ruin women’s fertility and cause miscarriages. And, like the bishops, she suggests that natural family planning, which has the highest failure rate of any contraceptive method, is a suitable alternative:

“There are other ways to avoid pregnancy and to space children’s birth if necessary and appropriate, if a family or a woman wants to do that,” Ms. Talento said. “You don’t have to ingest a bunch of carcinogens in order to plan your family.”

Mathew Bowman, who is now a lawyer for the Department of Health and Human Services, came from the Alliance Defending Freedom, where he represented Conestoga Wood Specialties in its successful challenge, along with Hobby Lobby, to the contraceptive mandate. Bowman argues that there is no evidence that the mandate reduced the number of unintended pregnancies and has disputed that there are any ill health effects related to unintended pregnancy.

  1. Allowing Catholic Church-affiliated adoption agencies, such as those run by Catholic Charities, to refuse to provide adoptions to LGBT couples and individuals. The move by states to require any adoption agency that participates in state-funded adoption programs to provide services to LGBT couples and individuals was part of the original impetus behind the bishops’ “religious liberty” push. The bishops are backing the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017, which would “prevent the federal government, and any state receiving federal funds for child welfare services, from taking adverse action against a provider that, for religious or moral reasons, declines to provide a child welfare social service.” This would create a blanket exemption for faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to provide services to LGBT couples or individuals.

The bishops also would love any GOP health reform plan to include a wide-ranging “conscience” clause that would allow health care providers to refuse to provide any service for moral or religious reasons, which could be used to deny services to LGBT patients or single mothers. When it comes to the Trump administration, the bishops have apparently decided to hold their noses and see how much on their wish list they can get, literally selling their souls to the devil.

Complete Article HERE!

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07/7/17

The way ahead for gay Catholics

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Two years ago Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked me to be his liaison and chaplain to the Farm Street LGBT group in central London

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Two years ago Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked me to be his liaison and chaplain to the Farm Street LGBT group in central London. That same week I was invited to be chaplain to the London chapter of Courage, an international support group. My work includes one-to-one spiritual guidance, helping with reflection days and accompanying both groups as an official representative of the Church.

Ministry to homosexual Catholics (transgenderism would need a separate article) takes place in two main contexts. First, groups like the Farm Street group set up by gay people themselves or their relatives, where everyone knows they are welcome, whatever their situation, and issues can be openly discussed. Such groups often later seek the support of their local bishop and priests.

Secondly, bishops or priests can set up groups themselves, and even obtain Vatican recognition, provided they are explicit in their adherence to Church teaching. Courage is such a group, set up by Fr John Harvey in America with the support of bishops there, and now present in several countries. Members describe themselves not as gay but as “experiencing same-sex attraction” and aim at lifelong sexual abstinence – but not at changing their sexual orientation.

Pastoral care of homosexual people is essentially the same as all ministry: seeking to communicate the unconditional love of Christ and his Church, and to accompany people on their journey towards holiness. But in practice this particular ministry encounters powerful feelings of pain and anger which can cause difficulties.

LGBT people often feel hurt by the Church, either because of the way its teaching comes across, or through concrete experiences of rejection, or both. Those from non-Western cultures are sometimes even in danger of their lives, while some other Catholics seem threatened by the very existence of gay people and react angrily towards attempts to accommodate them within the Church.

There is also a wide range of attitudes, experiences and behaviour among gay Catholics themselves. Some long for a permanent relationship, while others admit that relationships are not important for them, and they simply want sex. With the availability of gay websites and apps, and well-known pick-up spots, most gay people in our society can easily have sex whenever they want.

We sometimes meet men who had a lot of casual sex but came to realise it did not make them happy. They may then seek help in leading a chaste life. Courage provides them with a supportive group, modelled on twelve-step programmes, in which personal sharing enables exploration of the relationship between sexual desires and other aspects of life, and so helps mitigate the compulsive element which can easily affect sexual behaviour. Others are looking for a long-term relationship, but may go through several sexual partners in the search, sometimes remaining good friends with them after the sexual relationship has ended.

But one thing is common to virtually all LGBT Catholics today: they will not take the Church’s teaching on trust, but must learn from experience. Even those who hold a very traditional attitude have likely arrived at it through many experiences.

This being so, ministers to gay Catholics need two main resources: a moral theology that can face the critical scrutiny of life experience; and a well-grounded spirituality of discernment. These can help LGBT Catholics look honestly at their behaviour, see where it is leading them and discover alternatives where indicated.

The moral theology I have found most helpful in this ministry is that of the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, who shows that from biblical times to St Thomas Aquinas, Catholic moral theology was essentially based on the search for true happiness, on earth and in heaven, and on the cultivation of virtues leading to it – a happiness deeper than mere pleasure, and consisting above all in communion with God and his holy people.

A theology based on observing rules was a later distortion, and led by reaction in the 1960s to an equally unhelpful liberalism.

In Pinckaers’ perspective, moral theology does not just define what one is allowed to do, or the minimum one must do, but joins hands with spirituality in promoting the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the uttermost. Ignatian discernment of spirits is the obvious spiritual partner for such a theology.

Thus the most important gift the minister can offer LGBT people, after unconditional love and welcome, is encouragement to a deep spiritual life of friendship with Christ, based on the traditional practices of Mass, Confession, Adoration, Lectio Divina and the rosary. Without this, discernment loses itself in subjective states of mind; with it we begin to see which path leads to heaven and which to hell, and to marry personal experience with the wisdom of the Church.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/23/17

Illinois Catholic bishop decrees no Holy Communion, funerals for same-sex couples

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Bishop Thomas Paprocki leads the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill.

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.

The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.

At the same time, Paprocki said that children living with a Catholic parent or parents in a same-sex marriage may be baptized. But when it comes to same-sex unions, priests cannot bless couples, church property cannot be used for ceremonies and diocesan employees are forbidden from participating, the decree said.

The bishop’s decree has not yet been made public by the diocese, but was sent to clergy and diocesan staff in an email last week. That email, in turn, was shared with other clergy around the country, as well as Catholic LGBT organizations, which posted the document and condemned it as unduly harsh, particularly in light of Pope Francis’s more compassionate posture.

“Although some other bishops and dioceses have instituted similar policies in part, this document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme,” Christopher Pett, incoming president of DignityUSA, said in a news release by the organization that rallies the church for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

Although same-sex marriages have been legal across the United States since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the decree reiterates church teaching that marriage is a “covenant between one man and one woman.” The church’s official catechism states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

Four years ago, after gay marriage was legally recognized in Illinois, Paprocki “performed an exorcism in response to the law, suggesting politicians were ‘morally complicit’ in assisting the sins of same-sex couples,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

The 64-year-old bishop, trained as a lawyer as well as priest, has served the Springfield diocese since 2010. He was previously a priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and is known for his passion for running and penchant for playing hockey.

In a statement provided to The Post, the bishop said of the decree: “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.” The decree states:

Jesus Christ himself affirmed the privileged place of marriage in human and Christian society by raising it to the dignity of a sacrament. Consequently, the church not only has the authority, but the serious obligation to affirm its authentic teaching on marriage to preserve and foster the sacred value of the married state.

Last year, the pope released a 256-page document, “The Joy of Love,” which affirmed the church’s traditional views on marriage, as The Post reported. At the same time, the pope said unconventional unions are not without their “constructive elements.” He called on the church’s clergy to be pastoral and not to use doctrine as a weapon.

Other clergy have also embraced a more welcoming approach. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, recently welcomed dozens of gay and lesbian Catholics to worship. “I am Joseph your brother,” Tobin told the group, according to a New York Times report. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”

The Rev. James Martin’s latest book — “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the L.G.B.T. Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity” — also calls for a gentler approach. Of the Paprocki decree, the noted Jesuit author, said in a pointed Facebook post:

If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. They must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments, women who has or man who fathers a child out of wedlock, members of straight couples who are living together before marriage, and anyone using birth control. For those are all against church teaching as well. Moreover, they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a “sign of unjust discrimination.”

Complete Article HERE!

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06/18/17

A tale of two Cardinals: One offering welcome to LGBT Catholics and one withholding it

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Cardinal_Dolan

By Cahir O’Doherty

Four years ago Pope Francis stunned the Catholic world by declaring “if a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?”

You’re the pope, came the answer – and if you’re going to take judging gay people off the table, then shouldn’t the church?

The implications of Francis’ statement are profound and are playing out internationally at a pace that – by the glacial standards of the church – might be called breakneck.

Here in the U.S. two prominent Irish American cardinals are already offering widely differing responses to the pope’s dramatic change in tone, if admittedly not in doctrine.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, 65, was profiled this week in The New York Times for welcoming a group of openly gay people to mass.

An invitation “by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago,” the Times states, undeniably.

Tobin, who hails from Detroit, is Irish American on both sides and “is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members,” the Times says. “They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same.”

But in New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 67, appears to be resisting any reconsideration in tone or doctrine over gays. This week he signaled he would take a different approach by publicly endorsing Daniel Mattson’s controversial new book, “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay, How I Reclaimed My Sexual Identity and Found Peace.”

Mattson, a writer and public speaker, admits he is only attracted to the same sex but he refuses to call himself gay. In his new book he writes he only made “peace” with his same-sex attractions and his religious faith by embracing a life of chastity.

Cardinal Tobin

Paraphrasing Elisabeth Elliot, Mattson writes: “When a man or woman, a boy or girl, accepts the way of loneliness for Christ’s sake, there are cosmic ramifications. That person, in a secret transaction with God, actually does something for the life of the world. This seems almost inconceivable, yet it is true, for it is one part of the mystery of suffering which has been revealed to us.”

For “the life of the world”, Mattson has decided to remain chaste and embrace loneliness “in a transaction” with God. Although he admittedly still “suffers” from same sex attractions, his self-imposed chastity makes it impossible for him to express that part of himself, ever.

Dolan was effusive in his praise for Mattson’s sobering decision this week. “Mattson… shares with us how he has come to understand and accept God’s loving plan for his life, as well as the beauty and richness of the Church’s teaching on chastity…”

For Dolan and Mattson the “beauty and richness” of an LGBT orientation is only to be found in its total abnegation.

Given how apparently hard line he is on the matter, it’s no wonder Dolan was up with the larks to appear on CBS’s “This Morning” four years ago in a visit that clearly intended to reassure conservative Catholics it was business as usual regarding gay people, despite Francis’ surprising change in tone.

Now, four years later, if you’re LGBT and Catholic, the kind of welcome you receive in any Catholic church depends on which Catholic church you’re sitting in.

“The church must say it’s sorry for not having comported itself well many times, many times,” Francis said in his now famous interview four years ago.

“I believe that the church not only must say it’s sorry… to this person that is gay that it has offended,” said the pope. “But it must say it’s sorry to the poor, also, to mistreated women, to children forced to work.”

“When I say the church: Christians,” Francis later clarified. “The church is holy. We are the sinners.”

For Cardinal Tobin the very Irish act of offering welcome, which is extended to one and all, is a deep expression of his private faith in public action.

“The word I use is welcome,” Tobin told the Times. “These are people that have not felt welcome in other places. My prayer for them is that they do. Today in the Catholic Church, we read a passage that says you have to be able to give a reason for your hope. And I’m praying that this pilgrimage for them, and really for the whole church, is a reason for hope.”

Conservative clergy members have suggested that alongside Tobin’s welcome to gay Catholics he should have offered them a stern challenge to consider their ways, but the Cardinal demurred.

“That sounds a little backhanded to me,” he said. “It was appropriate to welcome people to come and pray and call them who they were. And later on, we can talk.”

After the Mass, he received “a fair amount of visceral hate mail from fellow Catholics,” Tobin says. One parishioner even went so far as to organize a letter-writing campaign calling on other bishops to “correct” him.

“And there’s a lot to correct in me, without a doubt,” Cardinal Tobin told the Times. “But not for welcoming people. No.”

For over two and a half decades gays were a line in the sand issue for the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee – and an unasked for complication to Dolan’s own ministry.

Having finally squared that circle, it’s remarkable to see the LGBT issue has lost none of it’s ability to divide Irish Americans and the Church from each other, even when the Irish Americans in question are high-ranking members of the Church themselves.

Complete Article HERE!

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