Hold Your Applause

— Potential Changes to Roles of Catholic Women and LGBTQ+ People May Just Be Vatican Breadcrumbing


The Southern Baptist Convention stole headlines from the Vatican this season when the nation’s largest Protestant denomination recently finalized the expulsion of two congregations for having women serve as pastors. One of the two is the mega Saddleback Church whose founder and longtime pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, supports women in roles of spiritual leadership. Backlash against women isn’t reserved for the Supreme Court. The Vatican ought to send the SBC a thank-you note for distracting attention from its actions, or lack thereof, regarding women.

Catholicism has neither an assembly to vote congregations out, nor any women in approved priestly leadership to expel. Parishes are simply closed by bishops, often related to bankruptcy proceedings to minimize payments to settle abuse cases. Moreover, while the SBC discriminates against women pastors, Roman Catholic women priests of various stripes are excommunicated upon ordination, so that’s that.

Meanwhile, the Catholics who remain keep mucking their way in what’s called a “synodal process,” a kind of worldwide, general conversation about church topics, including the sticky wickets of women’s ordination and LGBTQIA+ full participation. Local and continental consultations will culminate in a Synod of Bishops in October of 2023 and another session in October of 2024. Several hundred bishops and a few lay people will develop suggestions to “submit to the Holy Father,” (IL par.10) who, unsurprisingly, has the final say on what comes next.

In plain English, what’s called the Synod on Synodality, an infelicitous phrase if ever one were hatched, is an ecclesial effort that retrains sights on Rome as the locus of decision-making, albeit with flowery rhetoric about the Holy Spirit and some claim to local input. The process maintains a clear distinction between lay people and clerics, reinforces the myth that persons in religious congregations are not lay people, and leaves all the final decisions in papal hands.

Some people have found it a useful framework for raising important questions—notably some Germans who have progressive views and the money to make them stick. However, many bishops around the world took a pass on the whole thing. The Synod budget is minuscule if existent at all; apparently the Holy Spirit’s isn’t a union shop.

The Synod texts, including the recently released Instrumentum Laboris or “working instrument,” read as if written by committees, which they were. The IL isn’t a working draft to be refined by the end of the process. That would grant issues like women’s ordination to the diaconate and presbyterate, and the full rights (not only the recognition) of LGBTQIA+ persons subject to change. Rather, the Synod seems designed to simply acknowledge the hot-button issues, a minimalist result at best, with no clear mechanism and less promise to do anything about them. The exception proves the rule.

Cue the brass band to herald the papally approved decision to include 70 non-bishops, half of whom are to be women, as voting members of the Synod. This is the first substantive structural change for women in Roman Catholicism perhaps since Mary gave birth to Jesus. Leaders of many progressive groups understandably praised the move. There’s also a provision to change the usual number of 10 men from religious congregations who can vote in synods to five women religious and five men religious. Why they’re somehow in a different category than other lay people remains unclear, but this counts as progress.

Nathalie Becquart, a French woman and a member of the Congregation of Xavières, was named an undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops making her the first woman eligible to vote in a Synod of Bishops. This is in stark contrast to Vatican II when women were “auditors”—listeners without vote—a term which now has gone the way of all flesh. There’s undeniable progress in the metrics even if there’s no significant change in structure.

Oddly, the name “Synod of Bishops” is preserved despite the fact that other people are now voting. Apparently, there’s some Alice in Wonderland-reasoning involved (lest anyone suggest the bishops are not still in charge). Or maybe they plan to name those who vote as bishops. Doubtful. Or, maybe this is a one-off thing that opponents will be sure doesn’t happen again after Francis is out of the picture. What’s gained by such a misnomer remains obscure.

Despite the enthusiasm of many of my progressive colleagues, I’ve had an uneasy feeling about the whole synod process. Enthusiasm is a polite reinforcer, a way to encourage more such changes. But I fear praise may be a bit premature for living generations. Incrementalism in Catholicism is measured in centuries. Most of us live less than a hundred years. The damage to women and queer people is going on right now.

I shared my unease with my Australian colleague in the study of religion, Tracy McEwan, who gave words to my concerns. McEwan, along with Kathleen McPhillips and Miriam Pepper, co-authored the landmark study of 17,200 plus Catholic women that was fed into the Synod conversation. The International Survey of Catholic Women: Analysis and Report of Key Findings is an important read. Results highlight that even women who are very critical of the church value their Catholic identity; there’s general consensus around the need for reform; the centrality of abuse in its many forms is a major concern; and that there is a stark rejection of clericalism in every form, with an expectation of transparency and accountability of those in leadership.

Tracy clued me in to the term “breadcrumbing” as a way to see the dynamics at play in a patriarchal church largely resistant to change. Breadcrumbing means giving just enough affirmation to keep people involved while suggesting more interest than is really there. It’s used mostly in personal situations but it feels like what’s going on with the Synod.

The term refers specifically to hookups, or what we called dating in my youth. Breadcrumbing is a cousin of ghosting. Let’s say someone asks you out. You have a nice dinner and whatever you decide to do afterwards, then you part on good terms until the next time. You had fun and want some more. Your efforts to prompt another get-together are ignored or rebuffed. The other person doesn’t respond immediately. When they do, it’s without much enthusiasm or commitment. You eventually go out again. Same deal—a good time is had but it’s all quite minimal and on their terms. You hope you can change that. But the pattern repeats a few times, maybe with a little longer between meetings. Still, you harbor hope and interest. You are being breadcrumbed.

Breadcrumbing is what the Vatican does to people whom it marginalizes. For example, at first a single nun, Natalie Becquart, was made a part of the Synod staff with voting privileges. That gave hope to many. Now, once they’re approved by Francis, at least 35 women (non-binary people are far from Vatican radar) will vote along with several hundred bishops. Again, more enthusiasm. These crumbs, like the mere mention of marginalized people in the documents, feed the hunger of those who want to be involved. Women’s ordination and LGBTQIA+ work in Catholic circles each has a 50 year history of struggle and then some.

Consider this framing of the matter of co-responsibility in the IL: Under consideration is not full and equal membership of all persons, but “the promotion of the baptismal dignity of women, the role of the ordained Ministry and in particular the ministry of the Bishop within the missionary synodal Church” (par. 55). A simple gender analysis would quickly reveal that women are consigned to the service sector (by baptism), not the sacramental or decision-making ranks that are for men only. In other words, women can serve but men preside, decide, and proscribe.

Or, try this false juxtaposition in the IL: “In particular, does authority arise as a form of power derived from the models offered by the world, or is it rooted in service?” (par. 57). It’s as if the Church were without power struggles and as if no social models were rooted in service. Wrong on both counts. A path to women deacons is hinted at here but not women priests. I’m reminded that Hansel left a few breadcrumbs but that he and Gretel were foiled by hungry birds. So it goes.

Breadcrumbing works like other forms of intermittent reinforcement, and it works quite well. While some people still think the diaconate is a step toward priesthood because it has been for some time, others are persuaded that it’s a separate thing altogether—especially now that women are involved. Whoever turns out to be right (history suggests it can be both), the mere hint of women as deacons is enough to keep some people “wishin’ and hopin’” as the song goes.

Another example: there are two paltry mentions of LGBTQ+ people in the IL that have given hope to many. Two is more than zero, but not by much. Also to the good is that finally the Vatican has cleaned up its language, referring to people by the terms they choose for themselves rather than persisting in dated words like ‘homosexual.’ This seems to be a bar so low it’s hardly a bar at all. But it is something.

The first mention, “The desire to offer genuine welcome is a sentiment expressed by synod participants across diverse contexts” (B1.2), refers in part to LGBTQ+ people who’ve been marginalized. But there’s no suggestion that teachings, practices, or injustices will change. In other words, come and be welcome on the institution’s terms but do not expect your relationships to be blessed, much less sacramentalized, and prepare that your children will probably be stigmatized.

Likewise, the second LGBTQ+ mention is in the form of a question about what “concrete next steps are needed to welcome those who feel excluded from the Church because of their status or sexuality?” (B1.2). Eliminating the theology about queer sex as “morally disordered,” affirming same-sex marriage, and supporting (not thwarting) trans people in their quest for wholeness would be a modest but credible start. No breath-holding here.

The Vatican is going to have to up its game to claim any credibility given its clergy sexual abuse and legal wranglings. The Synod is an attempt to do that. 2022 ended with the death of Pope Benedict XVI, two days after the demise of Brazilian soccer great Pelé. Four times the number of people attended Pelé’s funeral as showed in St. Peter’s Square for the former Cardinal Ratzinger. His influence spanned three pontificates—the later years of John Paul II’s tenure under whom Benedict was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later Dean of the College of Cardinals, his own pontificate from 2005-2013, and the first decade of Francis’ pontificate when Benedict resigned, became emeritus, and cast a large and often influential shadow.

Francis has had his own health challenges of late. Rumors of his retirement persist. The whole synod process could end with him if his successor chooses. That’s how shaky this process is unless there’s structural change. A more democratic process would help, but note that the Southern Baptist Convention did its dastardly deeds at a meeting of 10,000 delegates. Oy vey, religion.

The Synod is considered the most significant global Catholic event since Vatican II. I predict, with the fervent hope that I am wrong, that come 2025, when all of this is over, many women and queer people may wonder why they bothered. Some may decide not to take the breadcrumbs anymore and instead bake and share their own loaves. People are hungry now.

Complete Article HERE!

What ‘Drag Nuns’ Get Right About Catholic Faith

By Kaya Oakes

In the Venn diagram of sports and religion, there is no easy overlap. Early in May, the professional baseball team the Los Angeles Dodgers announced that they would be giving a community service award to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of “drag nuns” who began ministering to people with AIDS decades ago, and who continue to work with the LGBTQ+ community today.

The reaction from conservatives was operatic in scale, with everyone from Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla) to Bishop Robert Barron decrying the invitation. Barron went so far as to refer to the Sisters as an “anti-Catholic hate group.” In other cases, conservatives called the decision “disrespectful” to Catholic nuns. But when the Dodgers rescinded the invitation on May 17, the outrage from liberals was equally strong. Openly gay California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D.-Calif.) praised the Sisters’ “lifesaving work,” and pressure against the Dodgers’ disinvitation was so widespread that team management issued an apology and reinvited the Sisters to the stadium.

As Pride month begins, it’s worth reflecting on some facts about Catholic history that have been lost in the finger pointing. Historically, there have been many Catholics who have pushed back against gender norms. But like modern conservatives who focus on the outrageous aspects of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence while ignoring the group’s tireless work caring for the sick, homeless, and poor, the Catholic hierarchy has also attempted to mute the stories of gender-nonconforming people throughout its history. And in doing so, the church hierarchy has often ignored the acts of mercy so central to Catholic teaching.

In the year 1429, prompted by a voice from God, Joan of Arc rode into battle in men’s armor. After aiding France in achieving multiple military victories, Joan was captured and put on trial for heresy and blasphemy. Among her supposed crimes was dressing like a man. At her trial, she was offered a dress to wear, but she replied that she preferred men’s clothing, because “it pleases God that I wear it.”

Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic, referred to Jesus as “our precious mother,” and in case anyone missed the message, went even further, saying “God is also our mother.” Saints Euphrosyne, Anastasia the Patrician, Hildegund and others disguised themselves as men to enter monasteries. One of St. Francis’ closest friends was a woman he called “Brother Jacoba,” saints of many gender s were wed in “mystical marriages” to Christ, and some believe it was Mary Magdalene, the first to greet the risen Christ, who really led the church in the days after Easter.

A 17th century carving of St. Wilgefortis in the Museum of the Diocese Graz-Seckau in Graz, Austria.

But for those who are appalled by the sight of “drag nuns” in full beards and makeup, the most revealing story from Catholic history might be the medieval tale of St. Wilgefortis. The daughter of a king, Wilgefortis was promised in marriage to a man she didn’t want, and in answer to her prayers for liberation, God caused her to sprout a miraculous beard. Not only was this enough to repel her suitor, but it has also made her into a contemporary heroic figure for queer Catholics and women trying to kick off the shackles of misogyny and homophobia alike. Scholars sometimes arguethat these gender-nonconforming Catholics were more myth than reality, but regardless of the historical veracity, they remain beloved examples of courage and vocation, of living out a call to be their authentic selves while living a life of service.

Strikingly, “call” is the same word many members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence use to describe their own vocations. There is an 18-month process of becoming a Sister, including doing charitable work in the community, which they call a “mission.” Sister June Cleavage told the LA Times: “You don’t come to this organization without understanding, without compassion and without having fought these kinds of battles before on a smaller scale.” And many of the Sisters have emphasized they are not anti-Catholic. In poking fun at the church, they believe they are helping to call out its hypocrisy; the Catholic Church has exhibited plenty of that — especially in terms of how it deals with gender.

But while many are rushing to defend Catholic nuns from the Sisters’ parody, the voices of Catholic sisters have been largely overlooked in this conversation. And Catholic sisters’ views on the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, as it turns out, are much more nuanced than those of Catholic leadership who claim the Sisters are dangerous.

In America magazine, Sister Jo’Ann De Quattro, a member of the Catholic order the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, said the Dodgers made a mistake in disinviting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence because they engage in works of mercy. “It’s about trying to embrace people who might be different from us, because Jesus said, ‘Come to the table,’” she told journalist Michael O’Loughlin. “Not, ‘You don’t deserve a place at the table.’”

Sister Jeanne Grammick, the founder of Catholic LGBTQ+ support group New Ways Ministry, echoed this, saying in a statement that “there is a hierarchy of values in this situation. The choice of clothing, even if offensive to some, can never trump the works of mercy.”

As a Catholic born and raised in the Bay Area, for me, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have always been a welcome sign of hard work, acceptance, and tolerance. In the ’90s, when Catholics largely turned their backs on people with AIDS, the Sisters rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Today, when queer kids turn up in the Bay Area having been rejected by their families and churches, the Sisters are there for them. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marched with me and my friends at ACT UP rallies in the worst days of the AIDS epidemic; I once saw a Sister in full drag garb picking up trash in a park while rich techies tossed garbage onto the grass.

Of course, Catholic nuns have done this kind of work on the margins for centuries — and they have also been the subject of the church’s critique. In 2012, Cardinal William Levada accused U.S. nuns of disobedience and espousing “radical feminist themes” and subjected the nuns to a multi-year investigation supported by recently deceased Pope Benedict XVI. Women and gender-variant people, it seems, will always make the church uncomfortable. But we are often also the ones who hold the church accountable.

Meanwhile, the male hierarchy of the church is driving people away at unprecedented rates. Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the archdiocese of San Francisco, where the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were founded, has doused the homeless with water to stop them from sleeping outside of the city’s cathedral; excommunicated politician Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.) because of her support for abortion rights; called trans people a “threat” to the church; and tried and failed to force Catholic school teachers to sign a “morality clause” that would have, in part, effectively forbidden them from coming out at school. The Catholic church in the U.S. is hemorrhaging members, with younger Catholics the most likely to say that the church’s attitude toward LGBTQ+ people is a primary reason they leave.

It’s too soon to tell if this kerfuffle will push even more Catholics out of the church. But what it reveals about the lack of mercy many Catholics have in their hearts should be far more shocking than the sight of anyone dressed like an old-fashioned nun with a beard.

Complete Article HERE!

In rare move, Vatican official chastised Texas Bishop Strickland at conference

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland

by Religion News Service

If Texas Bishop Joseph E. Strickland is known outside of his diocese for anything, it’s for controversy.

The conservative firebrand, who oversees the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, has sparked backlash from critics for everything from voicing support for priests who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to offering a prayer at a “Jericho March” event in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. More recently, Strickland challenged Pope Francis, announcing on his Twitter feed that he believes the pontiff is “undermining the Deposit of Faith.” His efforts have inspired some detractors to call for Strickland’s resignation, while others have urged Vatican intervention.

But according to multiple sources, Strickland has already been on the receiving end of the Vatican’s ire for more than a year: He was chastised by a representative of the Holy See in 2021, they say — a move that simultaneously signals the potential for formal Vatican disciplinary action and exemplifies the difficulty of reining in a controversial cleric.

“(Strickland) doesn’t really care,” Barber said of the alleged encounter. “It’s the truth that sets us free. If he goes down because he’s speaking the truth, oh well.”

A separate source who is familiar with the meeting but who chose to remain anonymous, as they have not been given permission to discuss the matter publicly, told Religion News Service the incident took place in November 2021 at the annual USCCB meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The source said the nuncio specifically confronted Strickland about his Twitter feed, which had garnered controversy at the time for, among other things, posts that opposed the three major COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the U.S. at the time.

Asked about the encounter via email this week, Strickland said he would “prefer not to comment.”

The nuncio’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

For his part, Barber told RNS he did not wish to speak further about the incident and would not name the source of his information. Instead, he criticized Pope Francis, accusing him of being ambiguous about important moral questions and calling the pontiff a “disaster for the Catholic Church.”

Strickland would hardly be the first cleric in U.S. history to be reprimanded by the Holy See. In the 1980s, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI — launched an investigation into Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, an outspoken liberal cleric and critic of nuclear power, who oversaw the Archdiocese of Seattle at the time. The Holy See ultimately appointed an auxiliary bishop to the region who shared authority with Hunthausen.

But it’s highly unusual for the public to learn about less formal admonishments doled out to bishops by Vatican officials behind closed doors. What’s more, Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and an expert on U.S. Catholicism, said a nuncio privately dressing-down a U.S. bishop at a conference is particularly rare, and showcases the delicate situation facing modern popes when it comes to cowing outspoken, media-savvy clerics who buck the party line.

Strickland has become a popular figure in right-wing Catholic circles for his criticism of President Joe Biden and oppositional stance against COVID-19 vaccines, which includes expressing support for priests who have challenged their own bishops by refusing to get vaccinated. (Strickland’s position contrasts sharply with that of Pope Francis, who has advocated repeatedly for the use of vaccines, even calling them an “act of love.”) In addition to the Terry and Jesse Show, Strickland has appeared on a number of conservative and far-right Catholic websites, ranging from EWTN to Church Militant.

Church Militant also organized a protest outside the same November 2021 USCCB meeting where the nuncio is alleged to have confronted Strickland. Speakers at the event, where some participants waved anti-Biden “Let’s go Brandon” flags, praised Strickland from the stage. He also posed for photographs with staffers from Church Militant, an outlet that has railed against other bishops using language critics have decried as homophobic and racist.

Church officials wishing to curtail Strickland’s influence could take dramatic steps like they did with Hunthausen, Faggioli said, but “there’s no measure that can deprive him of the access to these various blogs or influencers” the bishop often utilizes to amplify his message.

“I believe that the fear is that, if he’s removed, his visibility will be amplified,” Faggioli said.

What’s more, if the alleged scolding was meant to cow Strickland, Faggioli said, it doesn’t appear to have had much of an effect. Since the 2021 meeting, the Texas bishop has been embroiled in multiple controversies over challenging the authority or rhetoric of church officials — be it his fellow bishops or the pope. And while Strickland’s much-maligned tweet about Pope Francis earlier this month was an attempt to distance himself from a podcaster who questioned whether Francis is, in fact, the pope, his effort still resulted in controversy.

“I don’t know how much that dressing down worked,” Faggioli said.

Complete Article HERE!

LGBTQ Catholics dream of a changed church, while seeing reasons to hope


As a child in inner-city Milwaukee, Father Bryan Massingale’s grandmother gave him a leather-bound copy of The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, along with a dream that he might need it someday.

“My grandmother was not delusional. She did not live in denial of reality,” said Massingale, a Jesuit priest who holds an endowed chair in ethics at Fordham University, in New York City. “Her gift was a vision, an act of hope. It was a dream, a hope, a reminder that the neighborhood, with its drugs, violence and rodent-infested corner store with overpriced goods, did not define or limit who I could be.”

That’s important to know, he declared, since he was speaking as “a Black, gay priest and theologian” at Fordham’s recent Ignatian Q Conference for LGBTQ students from Jesuit campuses. This event was a “space for our dreaming, for queer dreams” of hope for “despised and disdained and stigmatized peoples,” he added.

“I dream of a church where gay priests and lesbian sisters are acknowledged as the holy and faithful leaders they already are,” he said, in a published version of his address. “I dream of a church where LGBTQ employees and schoolteachers can teach our children, serve God’s people and have their vocations, sexuality and committed loves affirmed. …

“I dream of a church that enthusiastically celebrates same-sex loves as incarnations of God’s love among us.”

Theological visions of this kind inspire hope for some Catholics and concern for others.

Thus, the North American phase of the Vatican’s global Synod on Synodality found “strong tensions within the Church,” while participants in the virtual assemblies also “felt hope and encouragement and a desire for the synodal process to continue,” according to the 36-page report (.pdf here) released on April 12 by U.S. and Canadian Catholic leaders.

Catholics are “called to act co-responsibly in a synodal fashion, not to wait until we know how to do everything perfectly, but to walk together as imperfect people,” said one group, in its summary of the process. Another group added: “When Church structures and practices are dynamic and able to move with the Holy Spirit, everyone is able to ‘use their gifts in service of the Church and of each other.'”

Calling for “greater inclusivity and welcome” within the church, the final report said this was especially true with “women, young people, immigrants, racial or linguistic minorities, LGBTQ+ persons” and “people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment.”

But the report also warned about the “danger of false or unrealistic expectations regarding what the synodal process is meant to be and to ‘produce,’ since people living in “North American culture” tend to focus on “measurable results and … winners and losers.” Some participants, for example, questioned calls for “radical inclusion,” while asking about the “pastoral and even doctrinal implications” of that term.

The explosive nature of these debates jumped into the news weeks later when the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York hosted, next to a side altar, a “God is Trans” exhibit.

In his written explanation of his art, Adah Unachukwu said this display “maps the queer spiritual journey” through “Sacrifice, Identity and Communion.” There is, he added, “no devil; just past selves” and “Communion rounds out the spiritual journey, by placing God and the mortal on the same plane.”

After seeing headlines, Archdiocese of New York officials promised to investigate the exhibit at the Paulist Fathers parish. The congregation also offers, on its website, an “Out at St. Paul” ministry to the “Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans and Queer community.”

Media reports early this week noted that parish leaders changed the name of this art exhibit, but that it remained in place.

Massingale delivered his Fordham address before that controversy. However, he did stress that Catholics must dare to share dreams of change – even those with “an inherently subversive quality” – while seeking a “new and more just social order.”

Referring to the “wedding banquet at Cana,” when Jesus turned water into wine, the Jesuit theologian called for a changed church in which “people of all races, genders and sexualities rejoice at the presence of love” and a world in which “spiritual wounds will be healed, where faith-based violence will be no more, where fear and intolerance are relics of history.”

Complete Article HERE!

Who will Catholics follow? Pope Francis or the right-wing U.S. bishops?

Pope Francis welcomed President Biden to the Vatican for talks in October 2021, as U.S. Catholic bishops debated denying the president communion in American churches.

By Mary Jo McConahay

It’s time to take a clear look at the far-right politics of U.S. Catholic bishops. They won a 50-year campaign to turn back legal abortion, but they will not rest, it seems, until the country becomes a Christian nationalist state, with their moral principles codified into law. The religious right has long been identified with white evangelical Christians, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, some 250 men, mostly white and past middle age, ranks among the nation’s most formidable reactionary forces. As a Catholic, I must protest.

There was a time when I was proud of the principled but often unpopular positions of my faith leaders. During the Cold War, they spoke out against nuclear proliferation. When neoconservatives rose to power in Washington, the bishops issued a powerful letter on the economy, reminding government of its responsibility for making a “preferential option for the poor.” They stood against Ronald Reagan’s support for autocrats in wartime Central America — I was covering the region as a reporter and met several bishops who traveled south to see for themselves before making the policy decision.

Since those days, the proportion of conservative U.S. prelates has increased with nominations by the two pontiffs who preceded Pope Francis, and the USCCB drifted far to the political right, narrowing its focus to the “preeminent threat” of abortion. Its members lead the country’s largest and hardly monolithic faith group — 73 million American Catholics — but it also attempts to sway the law with amicus curiae briefs on cases from gay rights to prayer in schools, and with a powerful lobbying arm, its Office of Government Relations, tasked with influencing Congress. The bishops are driving the U.S. church to the point of schism with opposition to Pope Francis, who emphasizes pastoral care more than doctrine, and who virtually slapped down their attempt to forbid Holy Communion to lifelong Catholic Joe Biden, who is pro-choice.

What shaped the conservatism of the America’s bishops?

The roots of today’s right-wing church hierarchy go back to the 1970s when Catholic activist (and Heritage Foundation co-founder) Paul Weyrich persuaded evangelical minister and broadcaster Jerry Falwell to join forces in a “moral majority” — Weyrich suggested the term. As a movement, ultraconservative Catholics and evangelicals would restore the values and morals of the founding fathers as Weyrich, Falwell and their followers saw them, a promise taken up by Reagan, their favored presidential candidate. Abortion became the Moral Majority’s flagship issue.

That highly politicized obsession has put U.S. Catholic bishops sharply at odds with the global church (and public opinion) in their animus to Pope Francis, who calls capital punishment, euthanasia and care for the poor equally important “pro-life” issues.  For moderate Catholics like me, the deviation hits close to home, pushing the U.S. church too far from too much of Christ’s most elemental teachings while engaging in modern culture wars.

About sexual orientation, Francis, who recently celebrated 10 years as pope, famously said, “Who am I to judge?” but U.S. bishops rail against the “intrinsic disorder” of homosexuality. They ignore his urgent call for action on climate change and its existential threats. They drag their feet on his unprecedented process to prepare for a global Synod this year in Rome, which asks people, and in particular women, at every level of the church’s life — not just bishops — to contribute assessments and aspirations meant to define the mission of today’s church.

During the COVID pandemic some U.S. prelates tried to undermine the authority of both church and state. Francis encouraged vaccination, but San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone distributed communion unmasked and unvaccinated and played the aggrieved victim (a Christian nationalist trope), claiming that “cultural elites” treated Catholics with “willful discrimination” by limiting public gatherings. Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the Military Services USA, contravened the pope by saying Catholic service members could request a religious exemption to the shot, despite Pentagon orders they get it. Broglio is the newly elected president of the USCCB.

The U.S. church has a history of discrimination against Black Catholics in parishes and seminaries, and now the bishops go wrong, with notable exceptions, by failing to adequately condemn white supremacy. After Black Lives Matter protests, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez — president of the U.S. bishops for three years until late 2022, and vice president of the group before that — called out social solidarity movements as “pseudo-religions” that are part of “a deliberate effort … to erase the Christian roots of society and to suppress any remaining Christian influences.”

Wealthy laity support the vision of far-right prelates. Southern California billionaire Timothy Busch, for example, is the founder of the Napa Institute and its influential summer conference where well-to-do conservative Catholics hobnob with bishops, archbishops and right wing politicians. Archbishops Gomez and Cordileone are advisors; last year Trump administration Atty. Gen. Bill Barr was a keynote speaker. Busch, who sees unregulated free markets as congruent with Catholic teachings, has little to say about Francis’ attack on the “sacrilized workings” of the global economy.

Perhaps of greatest concern, the USCCB has been increasingly willing to render the wall between church and state a mere gossamer curtain. Invoking novel theories of “religious liberty,” the bishops have fought legislation and court decisions most Americans support, notably laws protecting same sex marriage and access to contraceptives.

At age 86, Pope Francis is close to the end of his pontificate. Among American Catholics, a stunning 82% view him favorably. But he may not live to appoint enough like-minded cardinals to elect a similar successor.

Moderate U.S. prelates do not go along with the USCCB right-wing hardliners, but they are a minority. I can only hope their numbers grow in time, providing the church with the leadership devoid of political considerations that American Catholics deserve.

Complete Article HERE!