Letters to Pope Francis

LetterstoPopeFrancis-cover-224x359One might start with the premise that this book, written by a former priest and Dominican to the Roman Catholic Church’s new pope, Francis, and about what is wrong with the institutional church, would appeal only to Catholics. One would be wrong, quite simply.

Matthew Fox delves into the rot at the center of the Catholic Church with the precision of a surgeon, and cuts out the cancer with deft sure hands. Yet what he speaks of, with slight alteration can be laid at the doorstep of much of Christendom. If I were more familiar with other faith systems, no doubt his criticisms would also find purchase.

Fox starts with charging that the two previous papacies, that of John Paul II and Benedict XVI were schismatic. He makes this claim since both quite obviously tried to roll back the progress of Vatican II, and as he rightly suggests, “a council takes precedence over papal directives.” In other words, to the degree that both worked to ignore or undue reforms of the Second Vatican Council, their work was illegal and should be ignored.

Fox goes on from there, and he leaves no area of the church’s dirty little secrets left unaired. From the utterly disgusting coverup by church hierarchy of the pedophilia scandal, to the Vatican bank, to the vile treatment of religious women under Benedict, they are all unmasked. Curia members buy “sainthood” and known fascists find canonization while true martyrs of the church such as Oscar Romero are “held up” due to false charges of Marxism.

Matthew Fox who is now deeply involved in his own spiritual enterprise of bringing people to the Cosmic Jesus, urges Pope Francis to return theology to true theologians, replace suspect organizations such as Opus Dei from their powerful positions, stop the war on women, end required celibacy, and the simple end of Catholic obsession with sexual matters. It is a call to recognize the basic intelligence of lay people. It is a recognition that if the Church is losing adherents at an astounding pace, it is largely because the church is failing to be relevant to today’s problems and the needs of its people.

With tenderness but with firmness, Fox employs the Pope’s own words and is relentless in drawing the parallel between today and the Pope’s chosen namesake, Francis of Assisi, who, Fox makes out the case, would dismiss the great wealth of the Vatican, converting it to food for the poor, and would speak out loudly and insistently on issues of income inequality, working conditions for workers, and our rape of the environment.

He offers real solutions, the obvious and those which deal more with the inner workings of the Vatican, a subject that many lay persons are unfamiliar with. Indeed, it is these revelations that so shake the reader. How could such evil and behavior be tolerated in the Church?

This is a call to justice. It is a call to the Pope and the Church to return to its beginnings. It is a call to return to Jesus. Relentlessly, Fox recounts that Jesus was about the poor. He was about justice. He was about speaking truth to power. He indicts the Church as becoming the very things that Jesus gave his life for, and that if we can drop the mantra of individual salvation and return to demands for justice, work for justice, this church and others like it can be saved.

This a call to recognize that religion is the not same thing as faith. Fox sees faith as alive and well, and it is religion that has lost its way. It has become part of the ruling portion of humanity. It no longer serves people. Moreover he makes it quite clear that the only way for religion to continue must come through a recognition that ecumenism is the solution. We must get off this crazy notion that there is only One way to salvation, which each and every (or most) faith traditions claiming that they are that ONE.

This is a disheartening book if you are a Catholic, but refreshing too, as we recognize that the movement to re-vision what it means to be “church” is being led, not by hierarchies within institutional structures, but among common every day people. They are the true leadership and those institutionalized “leaders” had best get on board, or be left behind to burnish their gold and buff their Prada slippers in empty cathedrals everywhere.

Read this. Read it and join the growing legions who seek Jesus and His Way, the one that was intended.

The Agony of the Scandal

Catholic bishop head in ground sexual abuse scandal denial child rape abuse hypocrisy vatican pope liars roman catholic churchLast Wednesday I was greeting some workmen come to do some decking work on our patio. Noticing the smudge of black soot upon my forehead, Ernest said, “You’re Catholic huh?”

I nodded, and mumbled something like, “Yes, unfortunately sometimes.”

I could barely believe that that came out. And I found myself mulling over the fact that what once was a proud declaration “YES! I’m Catholic!”, had become something to be mildly ashamed of.

I began to ponder upon this, as I have more than once. The Church that I had joined so happily was almost an embarrassment to me. Yet, I feel it is my Church, one that I must stick with, albeit with all it’s warts and self-inflicted wounds.

Of course what prompted the remark I made Wednesday, were more revelations about the priest abuse scandal in Los Angeles, and how then Cardinal Mahoney had not just remained mute as authorities sought to investigate criminal charges against priests in the archdiocese, he actually aided and abetted them avoiding justice, by assignments outside the state.

In a seeming never-ending series of such announcements, both in America and in Ireland and elsewhere, the Church never seems to get it. Some of the cover-ups have occurred as recently as three years ago. It is horrifying to regular Catholics, two-thirds of which in the US no longer attend mass on any reasonable basis.

I was watching UP with Chris Hayes this morning and the discussion was  about the scandals and the recent decision on the part of Pope Benedict to step down. Actually Benedict’s decision is a model for what should have been done by Monsignors, bishops and cardinals throughout the church when it was determined that they had abused their office in trying to hush the abuse of young children and keep it under wraps.

All those who participated should have resigned their office. ALL of them. Any priest, either by evidence or by confession, who was guilty of abusing children should have been dismissed from all duties as a priest immediately. A church that can pour literally millions of dollars into the Knights of Columbus for the purpose of funding NOM and preventing loving people from a legal union, can certainly have afforded to use millions to help all the victims of abusing priests.

That is where the anger lies.

But it goes deeper than that, I realized, as I listened to the panel discuss the issues.

Many priests and lay have decried the incessant and relentless interest that the Church maintains about sexual issues. Certainly if one looks at the Gospels, one finds few references by Jesus to the issue, yet the Church finds itself embroiled in what are sometimes referred to as “pelvic issues” constantly. At least they are the favorite issue of the media.

As you know, I am “living in sin” as far as the Church is concerned, because my husband has been previously divorced. Neither he nor his exes were Catholics. I am the only Catholic, yet our marriage is considered illegal and at age 62, they insist he should seek annulment. I can make the step to say that the Church has some right to make this declaration, however silly it all seems to be, but the real rub for me, and where I dig in my heels, is that it denies me the right to full communion with the Church.

I am denied Eucharist. The Church decides that my marriage makes me an unrepentant sinner, and unworthy of union with the Lord. There I disagree. To a Catholic, nothing is more sacred, more awe-inspiring than the Eucharist, where we, (including myself) believe that in some mysterious way, Jesus joins with us in union. To deny me this, is to deny me the very essence of the Church.

I of course ignore the rule. I freely receive communion (although of course I remain a visitor to my church rather than a member where prying questions might lead to uncovering my status). I feel deeply that it is Jesus who invites us to the table, not the Church. If Jesus determines that I am unworthy, then my Lord has the perfect ability to avoid this union and I  will partake of simple bread and wine. That I am willing to accept as possible. But the Church’s opinion is not of concern to me.

The Church speaks boldly its objection to sex without benefit of marriage, contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. These are all “pelvic” issues. Yet, when faced with its own sex-related crimes, which are not religious “crimes” but real and terrible crimes, it doesn’t correct the wrong to the best of its ability, rather it flagrantly avoids punishment and sets the worst possible example. Why should anyone listen to the Church’s pronouncements on how they should conduct their most intimate life when the Church still refuses to address its own failures and crimes?

We as laity cannot fathom why this was done. No good reason has been proffered as to why the Church did not do the obvious thing–dismiss each priest immediately and accompany the victims to the police and stand by them as they gave their evidence. There is no excuse. For God’s sake, our Lord stood by  truth even when they hung him on a tree! Where in the scriptures does the Vatican find excuse for its behavior in all this?

If the Church feared losing it’s power and authority, well it has accomplished that in its attempt to sweep it all under the rug. Jesus lost all authority and power from a human point of view when he went to Calvary. He lost his very life. Yet he gained everything, a loyal following that, has spread his Word worldwide, and engaged in incredible acts of charity and love for our fellow man.

This is being lost. All the good that the Church has done and counseled in the area of poverty, fair wages, immigration, universal health care, and justice issues throughout the world is being threatened by this ugly and awful response to a crisis that should never have been a crisis in the first place. Men who prey on children seek places to have easy access to them. The priesthood was always a logical place to expect it. Yet, we find ourselves here at  this place, with this scandal.

Why don’t we all leave? Because it is OUR Church, and we still remember what she has been and can be again–the place of refuge for the weary and downtrodden, the home for those rejected because of arbitrary conditions. It will once again return to being the shepherd she was meant to be. That is why we stay.


On What Pathway?

I recall gab fests at the convent with another hopeful yet-to-be novice late at night. We would be there for a weekend retreat, and would stay up late talking about the subject we most loved–God, Jesus, and OUR church. We were both converts and we were SOOOO Catholic.

Of course we had no idea that our exuberance was typical of the convert. We relished crossing every T and dotting every I. We were seriously chagrined that habits were no longer in fashion. We oohed and ahhed at “authentic relics” preserved in the chapel.

It is not hard to understand how I came to love stained glass and vaulted ceilings, things uncommon in most Catholic churches build from the 60’s on.

Yet, thankfully, we grow in wisdom and knowledge, and I came to see that Vatican II was not the “thing” that took away all my awesome Catholic “accoutrements” but was in fact a much-needed renewal. It opened the doors to rethinking and re-seeing  tradition, scripture, and the Church’s relationship to the world. It called the Church to examine most carefully that reason was not perhaps the danger it was thought. Mind and reason are too gifts from our God.

Fr. Richard McBrien has an article at NCR about what happened post Vatican II. The long Pontificate of John Paul II has had  a severe impact on the Church, and frankly, one that will continue for many years to come it appears.  I cannot speak to other areas of the world, but surely the push-pull in the American church is dramatic. One need only read the comments at NCR on any of its articles to see the line drawn between the “progressives” and the “traditionalists.”

McBrien points out, and polling would seem to confirm that most Catholics don’t adhere to many of the Church’s more conservative stances, certainly on contraception, and homosexuality, and even on things like abortion. He points out further than JPII has worked assiduously to undo what his predecessors had started to implement–the true heart of Vatican II. Instead he appointed cardinal after cardinal with the apparent objective of enlarging the cadre of like-minded thinkers like himself.

It came as no surprise that Benedict XVI has carried on in the tradition of JPII. He was not called the Pope’s “rottweiler” for nothing during the JPII years.

Benedict has appointed some twenty-four new Cardinals. Among them are two Americans, Archbishop Burke, as of late Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, and before as Archbishop of the archdiocese of St. Louis, and Archbishop Wuerl of Washington DC. This brings Benedict’s appointments to a total of 15, and raises the Italian presence from 17% to 20%, interesting in itself when a full 2/3 of all Catholics reside in countries south of the equator. They make up only 1/3 of the College.

Raymond Burke is best known for his anti-Obama, pro-choice stance from which he has denounced any number of Catholic politicians for their pro-choice voting (they all claiming that their faith is NOT properly in the mix when voting for their constituencies) and his claim that he would deny communion to such people should they wander into his church on any given Sunday. Worse, Burke claimed that Edward M. Kennedy should have been denied a Catholic funeral.

John Allen, Jr., of NCR points out that while there are no liberals in the appointments, not all are arch conservative either.  Truthfully Wuerl can best be described as a centrist. He contends that B16 seems mostly concerned with following tradition in his methodology and in re-Italianizing the College.

All this suggests to me, that it’s as Allen points out, business as usual. There seems to be no real recognition that the sex abuse issues are not going away, and must be dealt with some measure of openness and firmness as of yet not seen. There is no discussion it seems of the appalling lack of seeming awareness of what is driving so many Catholics from the Church. There is nothing like a real discussion of issues of homosexuality or women’s ordination. All such attempts are met with an iron wall of silence and pointing to “existing dogma” on the subject.

I have no crystal ball. I have no clue what will happen to the Church in general or the American church specifically. But it may be the JPII will go down as the leader of the demise of the Church as we know it. The breach between the small group of men at the top and the huge congregation of the faithful below continues to grow. One wonders how long, before it shatters a glorious centerpiece of  Christendom.

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