Catholic church stance on contraception policy speaks to subordination of women

COMMENTARY

The squabble over whether Catholic social service institutions, universities and hospitals must offer insurance covering contraception under the new health plan contains a subplot with roots deep in history.

It’s the relationship between women and organized religion — a relationship that, over the centuries, has been hostile to the aspirations of women for a larger role in the family, the world and religion itself.
A little history is needed here.

Women — as well as men — have, through the ages, experienced the same spiritual stirrings that give rise to faith and firm religious beliefs. But organized religion, with its churches, synagogues, mosques, feasts and rituals, has, from the beginning, been exclusively the creation of men.

Moreover, the bureaucracies that have grown up to run these religions — and to promulgate their codes of moral right and wrong — have, from the beginning, been the work of men. Women had little or no say in this overarching influence in their lives.

Here’s one conservative religious view of woman’s role as expressed by A.H. Strong, president of the Rochester Theological Seminary, in a mid-19th century essay: “She is subject to man,” he wrote. “She is to be helper, not principal. Man has preference in creation, woman is made of man and to supply the felt needs of man.” (How nice for man.)

Even in the modern world, women occupy a subordinate role. Some fundamentalist or ultra-orthodox sects even prohibit women from worshiping in the same room with men. In some Islamic lands, women can’t leave home unless accompanied by a male relative, a rule enforced by “religious police.”
Organized religion, in short, has been a clerical stag party.

It is against this historical background that the tussle between what religious conservatives see as a First Amendment right and many women see as a health issue will be played out over contraceptive coverage.

The marginalization of women is just one characteristic of most major religions. The other, in one degree or another, is authoritarianism. They are not democratic institutions.

Their leaders don’t care much for doctrinal dissent. And they have a point. Why should they give any heed to dissent if they believe they’re following the divine will, that they’re doing God’s work? How can they be wrong?

In centuries past, dissent was punished by imprisonment, torture, even death. The Gnostics, who broke from Catholicism in its early days, were persecuted for several heresies, including a belief that women were, in God’s great plan, the equal of men. (Whatever gave them that idea?)

Some extreme Islamic sects still stone women to death even today, especially for adultery. (Men get a pass on this one.) Similar punishments are meted out by some Hindu extreme fundamentalists.

Something about women having sex for the sheer joy of it seems to unhinge the ultrareligious mind, even here in the West where things are better for women but not exactly benign.

Which brings us to the dust-up over requiring religious organizations to pay for contraception despite their doctrinal objection.

Opposition to contraception in this scientific age seems medieval. Maybe so, but it’s a matter of religious freedom and belief, the Catholic bishops insist. It’s also a political issue for the church.

The Catholic church must oppose contraception if it’s to keep faith with its true believers, especially women who have lived by that rule for generations despite the hardship it often imposed. This is the church’s most devoted constituency — its base, so to speak.

Trouble is, even Catholic leaders know a majority of Catholic women today violate the contraception ban. They’ve seen the polls. And they must appreciate that widespread scorning of this rule can ultimately undermine clerical credibility on other religious matters, especially with the church’s younger, more questioning adherents. But the bishops are trapped in church history.

The Obama administration’s handling of the issue was incredibly clumsy and insensitive. Therefore, it owed bishops a way out, which it tried to do with an about-face Friday on its contraception insurance edict. For their part, the bishops, like conservative clergy in all religions, have got to get off the dime and begin bringing women into the dialogue about dogma.

This is a clash that never should have happened. Then again, considering how organized religion has historically ignored or marginalized women, maybe it had to happen.

Complete Article HERE!

Illinois priest who freelanced his prayers loses his job

What a crying shame! Sacrificing priests on the altar of conformity.

Remember, fellow priests, do not pray from your heart. Pray only from the book. That’s how God wants it!

For 18 years, the Rev. William Rowe has done a little improvising while celebrating Mass on Sunday mornings at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill.

Now those deviations have led to his resignation in an incident that may be tied to global changes to the Catholic liturgy.

Last Sunday, instead of saying “Lord our God that we may honor you with all our mind and love everyone in truth of heart,” during the opening prayer, he altered the phrasing to better reflect the day’s Gospel message, in which Jesus heals a man with a troubled spirit.

“We thank you, God, for giving us Jesus who helped us to be healed in mind and heart and proclaim his love to others,” the 72-year-old priest prayed instead.

Three days later, Rowe received a letter from Bishop Edward Braxton accepting his resignation.

“The problem is that when I pray at Mass, I tend to change the words that are written in the book to match what I was talking about, or what a song is about,” Rowe said in an interview.

The book in question is the Roman Missal, a book of prayers, chants and responses used during the Mass. Rowe has been saying some of those prayers in his own words for years.

But in December the Vatican-mandated adoption of a new English-language translation of the Missal may have given bishops an opportunity to rein in freewheeling priests who have been praying in their own words for decades.

“Since December when the new translation came out, no one has said what would happen to you if you changed stuff,” said the Rev. John Foley, director of the Center for Liturgy at St. Louis University. “But I find it hard to believe a priest in Illinois would be forced to resign because he wasn’t using the exact words from the translation. It’s not a strong-enough offense for that.”

In the wake of sweeping changes in the church as a result of the Second Vatican Council, some priests in the 1970s began using their own words and phrasing in place of the verbatim translations of the original Latin liturgy in the Missal, Foley said. He said there has never been an established penalty for improvising nonalterable prayers, and bishops have traditionally looked past an individual priest’s extemporizing.

Monsignor Kevin Irwin, professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America, said there are some prayers said by a priest at Mass in which he is “beholden to the structure not to the words.”

But there are also prayers that priests are “duty bound to say,” said the Rev. John Baldovin, professor of historical and liturgical theology at Boston College. Most of the prayers in the Missal, in fact, are not optional, he said.

Rowe said Belleville’s previous bishop, Wilton Gregory, had discussed his off-the-cuff prayer habit with him, referring to the practice as “pushing the envelope.” He said five years ago, Braxton also discussed the matter with him, and asked him to read directly from the Missal.

“I told him I couldn’t do that,” Rowe said. “That’s how I pray.”

Last summer, Rowe said, Braxton made it clear to his priests that “no priest may deviate from any wording in the official Missal.”

In October, two months ahead of the introduction of the new Missal translation, Braxton said he couldn’t permit Rowe to continue improvising, according to Rowe. The priest offered his resignation but didn’t receive a response.

Braxton did not respond to a request for an interview with the Post-Dispatch.

On Monday, Braxton wrote Rowe a letter informing him that he’d accepted his resignation.

The action did not sit well with the nearly 500 families at St. Mary’s, some of whom are contemplating a letter writing campaign to Braxton. “They’re devastated,” said Alice Worth, principal at St. Mary’s School. “Father Bill is the backbone of our parish.”

“The ways Father changed the Mass ritual with his words have only made it more meaningful to us as opposed to distancing us from the church,” Worth said. “Everything he does is based on our faith, it’s not just a whim. There’s a reason for every word he prays.”

Complete Article HERE!

Father Bob: tradition v modern life

COMMENTARY

The death throes of the latest Australian Catholic cause célèbre are being played out over the next few days.

Yesterday was Father Bob Maguire’s last Sunday Mass at his beloved St Peter and Paul’s Church in South Melbourne. The place was packed to the gunnels as usual. On Wednesday, he will be made to retire and be relocated, much against his will and the will of his parish, which fought the dismissal with a Jesuitical doggedness. The parish community, led by the local council’s deputy mayor, Frank O’Connor, still failed to move the stony heart of Archbishop Denis Hart.

Father Bob is one of three priests sacked in recent years. While he has passed the retirement age for priests, hence his removal, Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba was made to leave last year for merely raising the issue of the ordination of women. And before that, Father Peter Kennedy got the chop from St Mary’s of South Brisbane for breaching church rules.

These beautiful men are the sacrificial lambs as an ancient faith battles to accommodate modernity. Social change has been a post-war challenge for many institutions and Catholicism, through Vatican II, the Papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, the sex abuse scandal and now the banishment of Father Bob, lurches one step forward and two back into this third millennium.

What is the import of this dispute? Will Father Bob become a forgotten man in a tiny local battle in a small corner of the world or will he become a powerful metaphor that helps the Church grapple with change? Will this parochial stoush become a global touchpaper? Only time will tell.

Father Bob is 77. He is not just a national media figure with a show on ABC radio station Triple J, 55,000 followers on Twitter, appearances on SBS television guru, but he is also famous for his welfare work with the Open Family Foundation. He is the most celebrated Catholic in the country and yet he is being forced from office. That is because he is also a constant challenge to the leadership in a faith where the notion of obedience is enshrined in the idea of the apostolic succession. Obedience is at the heart of his organisation and his vows.

The core of this debate was alluded to in November when Father Bob argued that this act of retrenchment was vengeance against a ‘‘Cafeteria Catholic’’ by Cardinal George Pell. The idea of the ‘‘Cafeteria Catholic’’ was first raised in America the 1970s and is a pejorative term that decries those Catholics who dissent from orthodoxy, by implying they choose their views as one chooses a meal in a cafeteria. There are Catholics now who, rather than follow the line from Rome on the controversial issues, desire the freedom to choose.

The Australian version of ‘‘Cafeteria Catholicism’’ was recently spelled out by Cardinal Pell when he travelled to Cork, Ireland in August last year.
His Eminence divided the Catholic world into two – ‘‘authentic’’ and ‘‘cafeteria’’ Catholics. This dichotomy is to be found in all organisations for there are always conservatives and reformers in every assembly. ‘‘Cafeteria Catholics’’ is a delightful jab at one’s foes. Somehow food is the perfect put down. One only has to think of Chardonnay Socialists, Latte Lefties and now Cafeteria Catholics.

However, cafeterias are also places where people engage in life. They are not posh. They are not sinful. They are vibrant hubs where humans congregate and thrive. That His Eminence would view the word ‘‘cafeteria’’ as a put down indicates a willingness to take his faith to the margins of Australian society rather than sacrifice his religious purity.

So it is a shame to see the promotion of change resistance when change so obviously beckons. The ‘‘Cafeteria Catholics’’ like Father Bob are derided as liberal Christians who ‘‘give to priority to the contemporary understandings’’. The Pell Doctrine appears to favour a religiously pure Church even if that means smaller numbers and getting rid of Father Bob.
So this is not just a local battle on the age of a retiring priest. It is a fundamental and globally significant difference of the view of change and modernity in the largest denomination in the world.

Despite this significance, lest we forget that it also is an act of cruelty to evict an elderly man and his beloved dog, Franklin, from their home.
What is your view?

Should the godless care about how slowly venerable faiths take to modernity?
Is the failure of churches to embrace change a cause of sadness or an opportunity for atheism?

Are Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Dennis Hart the best things that ever happened to Australian atheism?

Is the tale of the Bobster an irrelevant local issue or a metaphor of historic significance?
Over to you . . .

Complete Article HERE!

Inquisition’s heavy hand remains ready to strike

COMMENTARY

The treatment of former Toowoomba Catholic bishop Bill Morris, sacked last May by the Pope, shows that the Inquisition is alive and well in the Catholic Church – only the rack is missing.

The secret denunciations by a tiny minority of self-appointed orthodoxy police in Toowoomba, the secret Vatican investigation, the secret judgment – with the accused never even knowing who the accusers are or what they have charged, let alone getting a chance to defend himself – the absence of any appeal, the denial of natural justice and the flouting of canon (church) law are all classical Inquisition tactics.

The unfairness and cruelty were driven home by two recent independent reports into the removal of Morris – one by an eminent jurist, Queensland Supreme Court judge W.J. Carter, and one by a leading canon lawyer, Melbourne’s Father Ian Waters.

They concluded that Morris was denied procedural fairness and natural justice. Carter wrote that the treatment of Morris was “offensive” to the requirements of both civil and canon law, while Father Waters found that the Pope had breached canon law and exceeded his authority in removing Morris without finding him guilty of apostasy, heresy or schism (which alone justify such action) and without following the judicial procedures canon law requires.

Carter found that an unsigned document from the Vatican to Morris in 2007 requiring his resignation showed “an appalling lack of evidence and particularity”, “demonstrable errors of fact” and decisions “by high-ranking church officials more likely based on gossip and hearsay” than evidence.
“One could not imagine a more striking case of a denial of natural justice,” he said.

Morris’s real offence was to suggest the church might consider discussing whether it might ordain married men or women, given the critical and worsening shortage of priests. Even a statement as tentative and careful as this had to be crushed, it seems.

This heavy-handed manoeuvring is a long way from what the church purports to stand for: love, mercy, truth and justice. All that seems to matter to the hierarchs, whether at StPeter’s in Rome or St Mary’s in Sydney, is obedience and loyalty.

The church’s leaders know it is losing a generation in the West. They seem not to care how much the ordinary, faithful Catholics in the pews and pulpits, doing the church’s works of mercy, are discouraged and distressed, or how cynical it makes those watching.

The fact that a bishop wears a red hat (cardinals) or red shoes (the Pope) is no guarantee that he is not a bully, blinkered or Byzantine.
Historian Paul Collins says not only is the Inquisition alive and well – after all, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Morris co-executioner William Levada, was once known as the Holy Inquisition – but that it is worse than the original Roman Inquisition, founded in 1542 by Pope Paul III to counter Protestantism in Italy. That, at least, had very clear procedures and was considered a model of jurisprudence in the Europe of the time.

What of Australia’s 42 Catholic bishops, who promised to represent Toowoomba’s Catholics when they visited Rome for their five-yearly ad limina visit last October? One or two helped engineer Morris’s removal, others may have supported it but most – well aware of what a travesty it was – were cravenly supine (as Collins put it).

They promised to raise the subject during their visit to the Vatican. They did so, meeting the cardinals and among themselves. Back in Australia, they put out a statement saying they accepted the removal and would extend fraternal care to Morris.

What could the bishops have done? Early and strong public statements of support for Morris would have made the Vatican act far more carefully.
But, according to progressive Catholics, the damage was done 13 years earlier, when Australia’s bishops were excoriated about the state of the church in Australia during their 1998 ad limina visit to Rome. That was the time to stand up and repudiate the criticisms; the pattern is set now.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the leaders of the church who demand trust are callous in destroying it. Their medieval attitudes to authority seem very distant from the biblical teachings of Christ and much closer to the Pharisees, whom Jesus accused of laying heavy burdens on people’s shoulders without lifting a finger themselves (Matthew 23:4). If the church leaders want the faithful to trust them, they should show themselves to be trustworthy.

Complete Article HERE!

More dirty laundry

Incoming Fresno Bishop Armando Ochoa has been sued by five parishioners from an El Paso, Texas, parish who say the bishop converted funds they donated specifically for construction of a chapel for the traditional Latin Mass to other uses — and they want their money back.

A Mass of Installation for Bishop Ochoa is scheduled tomorrow in Fresno. Pope Benedict XVI named him as the new Fresno bishop on Dec. 1. Before leaving El Paso, where he had been bishop since 1996, Bishop Ochoa took the extraordinary step of suing one of his priests, Fr. Michael Rodriguez. The bishop’s lawsuit alleges that Fr. Rodriguez, a problematic and outspoken priest, committed financial irregularities and violations of diocesan policy on the handling of parish funds.

The parishioners’ lawsuit, announced in a Jan. 30 press release, is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle. The five parishioners say that more than six weeks ago they asked for a meeting with Bishop Ochoa “to resolve this situation in private and in a spirit of Christian charity,” but never received a response from the chancery.

“We did not donate our money in order for it to be seized by the diocese or San Juan Bautista Parish and used for other purposes,” said the news release. “We simply asked that our money be used for the specific intention for which it had been donated or that it be returned to the rightful owners.”

In a Jan. 11 press release, Bishop Ochoa said Fr. Rodriguez had been removed as administrator of San Juan Bautista Parish on Sept. 20, 2011 “based on credible information and documents that show that he intentionally and materially failed to comply with the Manual of Policies and Procedures of Parish Finances of the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Paso.”

“Fr. Rodriguez’s handling and use of donated funds has compromised the financial integrity of San Juan Bautista,” Bishop Ochoa said in the press release. “I have appealed repeatedly to Fr. Rodriguez to make a complete disclosure and a thorough accounting of his financial administration of the parish but he has refused to do so.”

The bishop said Fr. Rodriguez’s refusal to provide financial information left him with no alternative but to file a lawsuit against the priest and his brother, David Rodriguez.
The parishioners’ lawsuit sheds new light on the conflict between Fr. Rodriguez and Bishop Ochoa. According to the suit, beginning in 2007, parishioners
“expressed a desire to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in accordance with the Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite and to do so with the installation of an altar and sanctuary designed for such Mass.”

Their donations, said the parishioners, “were not to be used for any other purpose.” Fr. Rodriguez, they said, collected the money and moved forward with plans for the altar and sanctuary, including the approval of architectural plans.

Parishioners James Herget and Marie Celeste Herget allege in the suit they contributed $32,820; parishioners Mario A. Macias and Francella Macias estimate their donations at $6200; and parishioner Aurora L. Alvarado alleges she contributed $1070. All of them ask that their money either be used to complete the traditional altar and sanctuary — or be returned to them.

Bishop Ochoa and Fr. Rodriguez have been at odds since 2010, when the priest began attending city council meetings to speak out against homosexuality. Fr. Rodriguez also authored several opinion pieces in the El Paso Times critical of the El Paso City Council for extending health insurance to all employees regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

When Fr. Rodriguez became involved in a recall campaign against some in city government responsible for that policy, Bishop Ochoa removed him as parish administrator. “This type of intervention in the political process by religious organizations such as the Diocese of El Paso and San Juan Bautista Church is not permitted under Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code,” said Bishop Ochoa in a statement issued at the time.

Fr. Rodriguez has adamantly denied any wrongdoing, saying that Bishop Ochoa’s allegations that he improperly handled donated funds were not true.

“I have always honored, respected, and made good use of the financial patrimony of San Juan Bautista,” said Fr. Rodriguez in a Jan. 12 statement. “I stake my entire reputation on this claim.”

According to Fr. Rodriguez, he met with Bishop Ochoa on Sept. 20, 2011, and “opened my heart to my bishop, like a son to a father, and was completely honest and forthcoming with him as to the financial affairs of San Juan Bautista. I told him everything. He chose not to believe me… I have never misappropriated or misused parish funds.”

Fr. Rodriguez said “the real reason” for Bishop Ochoa’s lawsuit against him “is due to my defense of the Catholic Church’s teaching with regard to homosexuality as well as my adherence to the Roman Liturgy of 1962.” He said he would “continue to proclaim and teach the truths of the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the area of sexual morality, no matter the cost” and would also “continue to adhere to the Ancient Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, no matter the cost.”

True to his word, Fr. Rodriguez was back before the El Paso City Council yesterday with a statement attempting to explain the Church’s teachings regarding homosexuality to his elected representatives.

Complete Article HERE!