Too Much Church in the State

Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

By Maureen Dowd

During her Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett tried to reassure Democrats who were leery of her role as a “handmaid” in a Christian group called “People of Praise.”

The group has a male-dominated hierarchy and a rigid view of sexuality reflecting conservative gender norms and rejecting openly gay men and women. Men, the group’s decision makers, “headed” their wives.

Justice Barrett said then that she would not impose her personal beliefs on the country. “Judges can’t just wake up one day and say ‘I have an agenda — I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion’ — and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” she said amicably. “It’s not the law of Amy. It’s the law of the American people.”

Yet that’s what seems to be coming. Like a royal queen, she will impose her will on the world. It will be the law of Amy. And Sam. And Clarence. And Neil. And Brett.

It’s outrageous that five or six people in lifelong unaccountable jobs are about to impose their personal views on the rest of the country. While they will certainly provide the legal casuistry for their opinion, let’s not be played for fools: The Supreme Court’s impending repeal of Roe will be owed to more than judicial argumentation. There are prior worldviews at work in this upheaval.

As a Catholic whose father lived through the Irish Catholics “need not apply” era, I’m happy to see Catholics do well in the world. There is an astonishing preponderance of Catholics on the Supreme Court — six out of the nine justices, and a seventh, Neil Gorsuch, was raised as a Catholic and went to the same Jesuit boys’ high school in a Maryland suburb that Brett Kavanaugh and my nephews did, Georgetown Prep.

My father was furious that Catholic presidential candidates Al Smith and J.F.K. had to defend themselves against scurrilous charges that, if they got to the White House, they would take their orders from the pope.

One must tread carefully here. A Catholic signed on to the Roe v. Wade decision and another was in the court majority that upheld it in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Catholic, has expressed support for Roe, and Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative Catholic, may be working for a compromise decision that can uphold Roe.

Still, this Catholic feels an intense disquiet that Catholic doctrine may be shaping (or misshaping) the freedom and the future of millions of women, and men. There is a corona of religious fervor around the court, a churchly ethos that threatens to turn our whole country upside down.

I come from a family that hews to the Catholic dictates on abortion, and I respect the views of my relatives. But it’s hard for me to watch the church trying to control women’s sexuality after a shocking number of its own priests sexually assaulted children and teenagers for decades, and got recycled into other parishes, as the church covered up the whole scandal. It is also hard to see the church couch its anti-abortion position in the context of caring for women when it continues to keep women in subservient roles in the church.

Religiosity is a subject some Catholics on the court have been more open about in recent years.

Last year, at Thomas Aquinas College in California, Justice Samuel Alito fretted that there was growing cultural hostility toward Christianity and Catholicism. “There is a real movement to suppress the expression of anything that opposes the secular orthodoxy,” he said. Precisely which belief or practice of his religion does he feel he has been denied?

President Biden is a Catholic who is uncomfortable with the issue of abortion despite his support for Roe. Still, when Barrett was a law professor at Notre Dame, a group she belonged to unanimously denounced the university’s decision to honor Biden even though he didn’t support the church’s position on abortion.

We have no one in the public arena like Mario Cuomo, who respected the multiplicity of values in an open society and had the guts to wade into the lion’s den at Notre Dame in 1984.

“The Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy — who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims, atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics — bears special responsibility,” Cuomo said. “He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones — sometimes contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control and even to choose abortion.”

The explosive nature of Alito’s draft opinion on Roe has brought to the fore how radical the majority on the court is, willing to make women fit with their zealous worldview — a view most Americans reject. It has also shown how radical Republicans are; although after pushing for this result for decades, because it made a good political weapon, they are now pretending it’s no big deal. We will all have to live with the catastrophic results of their zealotry.

Complete Article HERE!

A First in 643 Years? Anti-Gay Denver Archbishop Warns of Catholic ‘Schism’

Archbishop, Samuel J. Aquila

By

Denver’s Archbishop, Samuel J. Aquila, has entered the fray in an internecine battle which some fear could split the Catholic Church. Last week, Aquila joined 73 other bishops from around the globe in signing an open letter to the bishops of Germany regarding a series of reform-minded conferences in the German church known as the Synodal Path.

Triggered by revelations of priestly sexual abuse in the German Church, the Synodal Path–also translated as Synodal Way–is intended to bring together clergy and laypeople to address the exercise of power and authority within the church, and has waded into topics regarding sexual morality, priestly celibacy, and the role of women in the church. The assembly first met in 2019 and is scheduled to conclude in 2023, per Catholic News Agency.

Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, emphasized the importance of the process in healing the church from years of scandals and abuse, saying, “only in this way will we achieve new credibility and new trust in the public and among the faithful, which we have squandered.”

In February, the assembly signaled its support for amending church teachings on homosexuality and same-sex relationships. According to reporting from ABC after the synod’s February meeting, the group “approved at an assembly last week calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. It also called for church labor law to be revised so that gay employees don’t face the risk of being fired.”

It was this stance which elicited the response from Aquila and the others.

The letter, titled a “Fraternal Open Letter of Correction,” lists as its primary concern that the German bishops’ actions “undermine the credibility of Church authority…and the reliability of Scripture.” The bishops who signed the letter warn that the Synodal Path process “has implications for the Church worldwide,” and that “the potential for schism” in the church will “inevitably result.”

Dovetailing neatly with current culture war issues in American politics, the signatories of the letter accuse the German bishops of being influenced not by Scripture but by “contemporary political [and] gender ideologies.” The letter goes so far as to say that the reform-minded German bishops, “display more submission and obedience to the world and ideologies than to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”

Aquila, Archbishop of a diocese which encompasses all of northern Colorado, is more than a signatory to the letter, though. He is also featured in the text. In the opening paragraphs of the letter, the bishops recommend that the German church leaders read a previous open letter published by Aquila in May 2021, which covered much of the same ground.

For church observers, it’s no surprise that Aquila is featured prominently in the recent letter. The socially conservative clergyman, no stranger to controversy, has waded into a number of culture war battles over the years. Aquila, who famously blamed LGBTQ people for priestly sexual abuse of children, is a staunch opponent of abortion rights for women and was a driving political force behind the anti-abortion ballot measure, Prop. 115, in 2020. Abortion is not the only issue on which Aquila is outspoken, though. In 2019, he opposed a sex-ed bill at the state legislature. In May 2021, he made headlines again when he argued in favor of denying Communion to President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic. Later, in August of the same year, Aquila came out in strong opposition to vaccine mandates as the Delta variant of Covid-19 spread worldwide.

Now that high-ranking church officials–the German bishops, archbishops, and cardinals participating in the Synodal Path process–are attempting to bring some of these more open-minded, liberal social positions into the Catholic church, it is to be expected that Aquila will remain on the front line of the internecine dispute.

Asked about the Denver Archbishop’s role in drafting the text of the letter which has sent waves through the global church, Aquila’s office declined to comment.

As for the German bishops engaged in the synodal process, they do not seem to make much of Aquila’s broadside. “I can reassure you with an open heart: these fears with regard to the synodal path of the Catholic Church in Germany are not correct,” Bätzing wrote in a reply on Saturday, adding that the Synodal Path, “in no way undermines the authority of the Church.”

With the synodal process not scheduled to conclude until 2023, it’s likely that the ongoing saga will continue to pit traditionalist elements of the Catholic church against a more reform-minded generation of clergy who are seeking to rehabilitate the church and its work after decades of scandal. It is this conflict–between the old and the new, as much as between the old and the young–which has prompted concerns of schism.

If indeed the Catholic church did schism, or split, it would be the first such event since the Western Schism of 1378 gave rise to the Avignon Papacy 643 years ago. At the time of that schism, the Catholic church was the dominant political force in western Europe, and the seven decades of chaos caused by the split helped to decide the future of the continent.

Governments no longer rise and fall by the power of the Papacy, though, and the new cries of schism are more about deciding the future of the church than the future of Europe. Catholic church membership has declined precipitously in the past two decades, with a 2021 Gallup survey showing a nearly 20% slide since the year 2000 with little sign of stopping.

Last month, Bätzing criticized “certain elements” within the church for being “ill-suited for a multicultural world in a culturally diverse era.” The warning is one Aquila might do well to heed as he presides over an increasingly diverse congregation, with research showing that Hispanic churchgoers account for 55% of the Archdiocese’s membership–and 70% of its membership under the age of 30.

The German bishops engaged in the Synodal Path believe the church must adapt and present a vision for the future if it’s going to reclaim its relevance.

On the other side of the conflict to determine the future of the church, however, Aquila and his co-signatories have a vision for the future which looks strikingly like the past.

As for which faction will chart the course for the globe’s 1.2 billion Catholics, or preside over an historical schism , only time will tell.

Complete Article HERE!

Demonisation of LGBT people in state-funded Catholic schools is unlawful hypocrisy

Southwark Diocese recently cancelled a school visit from an author because he is gay

It is hard to know anymore how one should react to yet more pontification from the Catholic church regarding homosexuality.

Contemptuous silence? Outrage? A snort of derisory laughter because, after all, there is something almost comical about a bunch of lace-by-day-and-leather-by-night men, clutching their Grecian 2000 and swishing their surplices indignantly, while denouncing gay people from deep inside their clerical closets. More of which later.

This time, it’s Southwark Diocese, where John Fisher boys school is located. The headteacher and board of governors arranged a visit from author Simon James Green.

Green is gay and, as if that’s not enough to make him burn, has a book for young people with – Les Dawson whisper – an actual gay character in it and some sensitive handling of LGBT issues. The Diocese cancelled the visit, sacked some governors, promised retribution against the disobedient in the coming weeks, then claimed to be taking “a stand against tyranny”, which is a bit like Putin claiming to be on a peacekeeping mission.

The tyranny of what? The existence of gay people? The existence of equality legislation?

But the real dark humour behind all this is Southwark Diocese’s own past. Their seminarians attend St John’s, a troubled joint if ever there was one, according to students who have contacted me over the years.

The problem is hypocrisy, not homosexuality

In the 1990s, St John’s had a moral theologian who became quite renowned. He wrote philosophy books, had a liking for scarves by the luxury Italian designer Ferragamo, and was a fan of the singer Cher. (There’s a clue right there, dear reader.)

In 1998, he was a keynote speaker for the Catholic church at an event on human sexuality but, after that, you don’t find too many references to him. Maybe because he subsequently left and lived as a woman. And we wouldn’t want to talk about that, would we?

Good luck to her. The problem here is not homosexuality or transgender choices. It’s hypocrisy.

Photo of wooden pews
Richard Sipe estimated that 50% of priests were sexually active, and 30% or more were gay

The late Richard Sipe, an American ex-priest who spent years researching priestly celibacy globally, estimated that 50% of priests were sexually active at any one time, 6% were paedophiles, and up to half were gay. “A conservative estimate of gay Catholic clergy is 30%,” he wrote in an article in 2012, “[But] many Vatican insiders speculate that the accurate figure is closer to 50%.”

God loves you, brothers and sisters. You are made in His likeness. Unless you are gay, in which case he thinks you are intrinsically disordered. Hard to know why so many clergy parrot that line, given how many of them are homosexual.

What does banning a gay author achieve?

As a journalist, priests have told me about rent boys, sex in parks, gay saunas in Paris and “insider” gay parties attended by even senior clerics with trusted friends. Love and commitment were off limits, but stranger-danger thrills could be followed by confession and some pompous public pronouncements to cover the tracks.

Having attended a convent school, it’s the teenage boys at John Fisher School that I feel sorry for; those who struggle with shame and guilt and depression because they are told – even from those hiding in clergy closets – that they are sick and shameful.

What did they think Green would do in his book-related visit? Issue a gay sex manual?

As for Simon James Green, he didn’t even rate a mention in the church’s published comments. He was nothing, cancelled out of existence, ostracised like some biblical leper.

What did they think Green would do in his book-related visit? Issue a gay sex manual? And what would they achieve by banning him? The eradication of homosexuality? “Expecto patronum!” As Harry Potter would say. That should do it.

Breaching equality legislation

You might expect a little more Christ-like kindness. You would certainly expect more humility from a church riddled with sex scandals. Cardinal Keith O’Brien. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Countless paedophile scandals in every country where Catholicism exists.

But, no sooner are they knocked off their public soapboxes than they jump right back on again as if nothing has happened, trying to seize the old moral high ground while the trickles fall from their bloodied noses.

Photo of cardinal in church
Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned after multiple allegations of inappropriate and predatory sexual conduct

The church has nurtured a sense of being “other”, both legally and morally. The Vatican is legally an independent state, with its own leader. It has its own – corrupt – banking system, implicated in fraud yet again recently in the Swiss banking scandal. Even its own diplomatic corps.

But John Fisher is a voluntary-aided faith school: the state pays its running costs. If the church wants to ignore equality legislation, perhaps the appropriate reaction is to make clear that the state will no longer pay to allow a scandal-ridden organisation to breach its equality laws on the grounds of “faith”.

Complete Article HERE!

To understand clerical power abuse, look to the seminaries.

The power that a seminary faculty has over students would never be accepted in a state run institution.

In seminary, the first lesson learned is to maintain the reputation of the institution and, at all costs, avoid scandal.

by Brian Devlin

St Andrew’s College Drygrange was the main seminary for the east of Scotland. When I entered in 1978 it had just celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was a curious  place, a gay community in everything but name, but a self-loathing gay community.

Not everyone was gay. And the ones that were gay pretended that they weren’t. Except when they didn’t. Towards the end of my time there a student in the year below me told me that he and his pal had been working their way through the student list the night before – a common pastime back in the day – deciding who was and wasn’t gay. When they came to my name they concluded: “Brian isn’t gay, but he wishes he was.”

I suppose Drygrange was not atypical for its  day. I look back on it now with some fondness. But that’s not my dominant emotion. No. Largely I look back on it and I tremble inside. I look back and I see now that it was where I first understood what others having power over me felt like. Raw. Fearful. Relentless.

**************

In my first year, seeking out friends, a group of us gathered in a more senior student’s room. He lived in a dark and eerie part of the “old house”. We talked, as we drank our “camp coffee”, of seminary life. He was a fan of Leonard Cohen who was playing in the background. A head in an unmade bed, as I misremember. A tabernacle had been stolen from a nearby chapel. Satanism. It had to be. Then he told us a secret. We were to keep it to ourselves. The year previously a student had died from suicide. It was a horrible and painful death. The student body had all been called together to pray for their fellow seminarian. They were warned never to speak of this incident again, the student said.

“Hey that’s no way to say goodbye,” Leonard sang

My Irish family has a phrase: “Pass no remarks.” It’s a toxic sentence. It’s a bystander motif. Say nothing. Gaze at your shoes. Kick the tyres and walk on. Because if you say something, anything, you draw attention to the very thing those in control want to be covered up. In this case the death of a young student priest by suicide. Imagine the scandal if the people knew. No reflection, no discernment. And absolutely no learning. The seed of the abuse of power is pressed into the earth by seminary faculty undoubtedly under the control of the bishop in charge.

In seminary the first lesson learned is to maintain the reputation of the institution and, at all costs, avoid scandal. Power and authority is used to quash anything that might threaten this unhealthy equilibrium.

Twice a year seminarians observed the closed door of the staff room. At the end of the first and the third term, after exams, students faced the scrutinium. Behind the door all of the faculty gathered and, like my student friend, they too went through the list of seminarians. But this process was different. This process was to weed out those deemed unsuitable – those who didn’t have a vocation. Now of course, someone has to do it: the scrutinising. But, in all charity, the faculty that I trained under were not the deepest thinkers by and large. These were not profound men. Many of them were institutionalised and embittered with their lives. The thoughts of this scrutiny induced panic in me. “Have I offended any of the staff? Did I displease him? Did I not respond correctly? Will I be kicked out?” Many students were sent packing. There was no appeal. No process of scrutinising the scrutinisers. The students were just dismissed. So you learn about power more than you learn about beatitudinal love in a situation like that.

The power that a seminary faculty has over students would never be accepted in a state run institution. It’s final, and it is ruthless. And inherent within is its ability to be manipulated into a sexual predator’s playground

You learn, when the college spiritual director slips his cold hand under your shirt onto your naked back as he embraces you after confession, to keep your shock hidden. When he caresses your thigh and arm in his car as he drives you somewhere in the dark, you know to keep silent. And as he pulls you onto his knee, after night prayer and tells you he loves you, suddenly you know that he’s a conman and that you’ve been fooled. You’ve  nowhere to take that because a quiet word from him into the scrutinium and the pronouncement will be made, that all of a sudden you don’t have a vocation after all. Nothing to do with God, this decision. Everything to do with human manipulation. And obedience to the bishop in charge.

Then…then as a you trudge wearily through seminary, through all of the “ologies” and the “isms” and scrutiniums  and you become ordained a priest  and you learn that the spiritual director who humiliated you is to be made your archbishop – and eventually cardinal – you look at your seven years of seminary “formation” and your few months as a priest and you realise that it’s nonsense. This construct, this artificial, exhausting, unedifying seminary experience has left you empty. It’s all been about power. You’ve never sought any nor had any. But you’ve been at its mercy from day one.

When Pope Francis talks about the scourge of clericalism we need radically to look at where clerics are made. We need to ask, on the basis of the exceptionally poor bishops many Catholics have got, and the new generation of hyper-conservative, liturgical-queen-priests flowing into parishes, if seminaries are the best way to train priests for modern ministry. A blend of academic and pastoral experience in parishes or specialised ministries might be more appropriate, certainly for the secular priesthood.

*********

I decided, when Keith O’Brien became Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh archdiocese that, as Freddy Mercury sang: “I’ve got to break free.” But the seminary had one last throw of its loaded dice. Despite taking all my government grant money year in and year out it awarded me no recognised academic degree. This, I was told, was a managed strategy to stop priests leaving the priesthood. I still left though. I went on the dole and saw the faces of people who’d seen me at confession a few days previously look askance. But that academic imprisonment can be a clincher. That shows the cold, dank oppression of the seminary system in my day. A system that was rotten through and through. How many men could and should have left the priesthood but had nowhere to go?

I know that “things are different now”. The hierarchy says so on a routine basis about clerical child abuse. “We’ve learned our lessons.” I don’t believe them though. When I told my 91-year-old mother that I was writing a book about whistleblowing on Cardinal O’Brien, she said: “Ach Brian. Be careful. Check the brakes on your car every morning.”

All that is different now is cosmetic change. Power abuse is in the DNA of the hierarchy. It’s their currency. Like a crime gang they operate within their own rules. Bishops and cardinals and even popes, as we’ve just seen with Benedect XVI’s “non-apology” apology over his part in organisational malfeasance, know each other’s secrets. They know each other’s weak spots. And that’s where their power resides. Jesus did not preach: “Blessed are those  who hold the Omertà close to their hearts,” but observing the hierarchy you’d think that was his most important beatitude. The abuse of power is seen up close in the seminary system. People learn from their teachers for good or ill. There must be a better way to create a beatitudinal Church.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope decries genital mutilation, sex trafficking of women

Pope Francis is decrying the genital mutilation of millions of girls and the trafficking of women for sex, including openly on city streets

Pope Francis delivers the Angelus noon prayer from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022.

Pope Francis on Sunday decried the genital mutilation of millions of girls and the trafficking of women for sex, including openly on city streets, so others can make money off of them.

“This practice, unfortunately widespread in various regions of the world, humiliates the dignity of women and gravely attacks their physical integrity,” Francis said.

Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures that involve changing or injuring female genitalia for non-medical reasons and violates the human rights, health and the integrity of girls and women, the United Nations says in championing an end to the practice.

The practice can cause severe pain, shock, excessive bleeding, infections, and difficulty in passing urine, as well as consequences for sexual and reproductive health. While mainly concentrated in some 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, it is also a problem for girls and women living elsewhere, including among immigrant populations.

According to U.N. figures, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone the practice.

The pope also told the faithful that on Tuesday, there will be a day of prayer and reflection worldwide against human trafficking.

“This is a deep wound, inflicted by the shameful search of economic interests, without respect for the human person,” Francis said. ”So many girls — we see them on the streets — who aren’t free, they are slaves of the traffickers, who send them to work, and, if they don’t bring back money, they beat them,” the pope said. “This is happening today in our cities.”

“In the face of these plagues on humanity, I express my sorrow and I exhort all those who have responsibility to act in a decisive way to impede both the exploitation and the humiliating practices that afflict in particular women and girls,” Francis said.

Complete Article HERE!