All posts by Dr. Aaron Milavec

Aaron Milavec, Professor Emeritus, has served as a seminary and university professor for over twenty-five years. He brought his fresh approach to the Didache to the attention of biblical scholars by originating a new program unit of the national Society of Biblical Literature, "The Didache in Context," which he chaired 2002-2005. Meanwhile, his website, www.Didache.info, promotes pioneering research and scholarly exchange on issues of the early church. His thousand-page commentary, The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E., received a 2004 Catholic Press Club award recognizing the best books in theology. To date, Aaron has published fifteen books in theology and ministry. brief bio = http://didache.info/AaAuthor.htm CV = http://didache.info/CV.htm research = https://catherinecollege.academia.edu/AaronRoseMilavec support = http://www.supportpopefrancis.com/ renewal = http://churchonfire.net/ GLBTQI = http://jesus4lesbians.com/

Petition to Pope Francis Justice for Catholic high school teacher fired because he supported same-sex marriages

The Case of Mike Moroski[i]

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati dismissed Mike Moroski, the assistant principal of Purcell-Marian High School (Cincinnati, OH) after he refused to remove a private blog expressing support for same-sex marriages.  Here are the words of Mike Moroski describing the situation that has been imposed upon him:

On Monday, February 4th [2014] I was given an ultimatum by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Namely, to take down my post on this site entitled, “Choose Your Battles,” sign a number of documents assuring my silence and keep my job – or, resign.

After much deliberation with my wife, family, trusted clergy, professionals from all walks of life and my own meditative silence, I decided not to take the post down, nor to recant my position that “I unabashedly believe gay people SHOULD be allowed to marry. . . .”

If I take that post down I would not be able to look at the thousands of former students and families with whom I have worked for twelve years in the eye. . . .   What would I say to all of them if I were to go against my OWN conscience[ii] so that I could keep my job for four months?

I refused to agree to the Archdiocese’s terms BECAUSE OF my faith formation at Catholic schools and relationship with Catholic family members & clergy – not in spite of it [. . .]

If any of you Cavaliers [students at Purcell-Marian High School] are reading this, please know that I love you and I am in your corner.  I hope that someday you may come to understand why I am not in my office to share a laugh, a cry or a story. . . .   As I always tried to teach you – NEVER compromise who you are for someone else – and NEVER let anyone make you someone THEY want you to be.  Be strong and take care of one another [. . .]

 

 

The Case of the “Morality Clause” in Teacher Contracts

After the dismissal of Mike Moroski and after the Archdiocese was successfully sued in court by a fired teacher for $171,000,[iii] it appears that Archbishop Schnurr met with his lawyers and was advised to include a “morality clause”[iv] in all teacher contracts so as to better protect the interests of the Archdiocese in future court cases.[v]  This “morality clause,” would make it perfectly clear that teachers acknowledged certain ways of acting as incompatible with their employment in the Archdiocese.[vi]

The “morality clause” of the new teachers contract for the 2014-2015 school year permits not only for the firing of gay and lesbian school employees, but also for anyone supporting of the “homosexual lifestyle” [which presumably includes same-sex marriage] as grounds for dismissal.

In response to Archbishop Schnurr’s “morality clause,” Dr. Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign published the following analysis:

At a time when Pope Francis is talking about support of civil unions, the Cincinnati Archdiocese, in a throwback to past times, is talking about firing gay and lesbian teachers and silencing their straight supporters.  This isn’t in keeping with the olive branch Pope Francis has extended to LGBT people around the world, but even more importantly, it’s not in keeping with the living message of God’s love of all people.

The majority of Catholics and people of faith believe LGBT people deserve dignity, respect, and equal protections under the law,[vii] and at the same time leaders of the Cincinnati Archdiocese are determined to weed out supporters of LGBT equality.  This must stop.

The new contract also prohibits membership in an LGBT equality organization, such as the Conference of Catholic Lesbians or DignityUSA.  Creating a safe space for LGBT young people, by placing a multicolored-rainbow sticker on your car bumper, for example, could [presumably] be grounds for dismissal.[viii]

I had the opportunity to interview some Catholic teachers perplexed by this change in policy.  All of them were angry at the heavy-handed coercion involved in the imposition of the “morality clause.”  One teacher noted that “signing this new contract effectively meant that we [the teachers] would lose our civil liberties outside the classroom as the price for continuing to teach inside the classroom.”  In contrast, Paul Kindt, a high school religion teacher, reported that he proudly signed the contract because he believed that the Catholic Church has “THE TRUTH” about love and marriage and that is precisely what he presents to his students—“no human opinions,” he emphasized, “just God’s point of view.”[ix]

Another teacher I interviewed was much more personally distressed by the “morality clause”:

My own brother has just recently come out that he is homosexual.  I personally want to listen to him deeply but also to publicly support him in the changes that this will produce in his life.  In signing this contract, I feel that I am endorsing a Catholic education that forces young people to suppress or deny any homosexual leanings because they are indoctrinated from their earliest years that such a condition leads to serious sin and the threat of eternal hell-fire.  This was what my brother was saying to our family.  That he was scared out of his mind to even admit the truth to himself while he was in Catholic schools.

“So how is this to be resolved?”, I asked.  She continued:

I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t.  I love teaching and I had made the choice of Catholic schools because they give kids a challenging moral code.  But on this issue of homosexual unions, I’m completely at a loss.  If I sign, I will feel that I am betraying the best interests of my brother.  If I don’t sign, there is no way in hell that I could find a full-time opening in a public school this late in the summer.[x]

My third interview was perhaps the most critical one:

Our pastor gathered us in the rectory and heard some of the grievances surrounding the “morality clause” in the new contract.  By way of an action step, he proposed the following:

“I have no investment in policing your private lives or in scrutinizing those causes you are supporting in our society.  In fact, I detest the Archbishop’s senseless meddling.  I’m more concerned with our ability, as a parish, to welcome with dignity all the diverse sorts of families that we have in our midst.  When we celebrated the baptism of the twins adopted by Karl and Adam, I was proud of the diversity of our parish and proud of the way that everyone accepted gay parents with enthusiasm.

“This is the kind of worshiping community that Jesus would have championed had he been present.  So, I don’t see any reason to mount a protest in the face of the Archbishop’s senseless meddling—it would only put us in the limelight and give him a reason to begin disrupting the excellent ministries that we already undertaken.  Hence, I trust you and our parents trust you with their children.

“I would, accordingly, ask you to sign the contract for this greater good and to let go of your anxieties.  Be not afraid.  I will stand behind you.  How many would be able to live with this?”

Everyone gave a visible sign of relief.  Not a single voice opposed the resolution this pastor proposed to his teachers.[xi]

This interview illustrates how a local pastor had compelling reasons to take the side of his teachers and, for grave pastoral reasons, to deliberately subvert the intentionality of Archbishop Schnurr to purge the ranks of the 2,200 teachers employed by the Archdiocese.

Molly Shumate, a first-grade teacher, is directly touched by one of the newly highlighted restrictions because she has a son who’s gay.  She’s ending her career teaching at her childhood school rather than agree to the restrictions spelled out in the “morality clause” that she says “could restrict her from publicly supporting her son.”[xii]

“In my heart, I know I need to go.  I need to find another avenue because I am going to support my son,” Shumate told CNN.  “If in five or ten years he finds a partner and he wants to be with that person, I’m going to be in the front row with the biggest bouquet.” [xiii]

The Cincinnati Chapter of the Voice of the Faithful mounted a campaign in support of teacher rights.  They petitioned to be able to discuss this issue with Archbishop Schnurr, but he declined to meet with them or with representatives of the 2,200 teachers.

The situation in the archdiocese of Cincinnati is not unique.  Toughening up teacher contracts and getting rid of persons in same-sex unions or persons visibly supporting same-sex unions is growing.[xiv]

Analysis

Archbishop Schnurr is in a real bind.  He believes that his divine mandate is to be a courageous shepherd and “to protect the faith of his flock” in the face of doubters on the inside and critics on the outside.  Archbishop Schnurr argues quite correctly that those parents who send their children to Catholic schools do so in the good faith that their teachers themselves affirm that faith in both their hearts and in their conduct.  What is in the heart of a believer cannot be seen or judged.  The conduct of their lives, however, is very much open to public observation and public judgment.  This is why the “morality clause” deals with issues of conduct that is to be expected of exemplary Catholic teachers.  “By their fruits, you shall know them” (Matt. 7:16)

So far, so good.

Needless to say, Archbishop Schnurr has not called for workshops designed to persuade his teachers that the Vatican has “the truth and the whole truth” regarding sexual morality.  Moreover, notice also that Archbishop Schnurr has not called for open dialogue or for further research or for sensitive listening groups with gays and lesbians present precisely because he takes for granted that it is too late for such “soft measures.”  In his mind, these issues have already been investigated and authoritatively settled by virtue of the Cardinal Ratzinger decrees (all approved by John Paul II) that were sent out to all bishops by the Vatican.

This is also the reason why Archbishop Schnurr deliberately avoids meeting with “distressed teachers” or their supporters.  As the Archbishop sees it, these distressed teachers have signed on to be “Catholics,” so let them step up to the plate and deliver the goods.  If they cannot, perhaps their gift as teachers needs to be used elsewhere.

In this instance Archbishop Schnurr has adopted an authoritarian leadership style.  He is committed to purging Catholic schools of teachers unwilling to accept his “morality clause.”  But does that go far enough?  In the face of any call for open discussions among the parents and maybe even mild protests from among the students, does Archbishop Schnurr expect to play the authoritarian card when dealing with parents and students as well?  You can bet he does!

Did Archbishop Schnurr act justly?

While it may be the case that Archbishop Schnurr has the right to hire and fire whomever he wishes, this does not mean that he can act arbitrarily.  In other words, he must act justly.  Here are some reasons to think that he did not.

Bishops are required to protect homosexuals from unjust discrimination in employment.  When Archbishop Schnurr formulated a “morality clause,” he effectively barred the way for any qualified gay or lesbian faculty member from teaching in Catholic schools.  Their only crime would be their sexual orientation.  And since “sexual orientation” is never a sin; it would be a gross miscarriage of justice to fire someone solely on the grounds of their sexual orientation.  Hence, the morality clause is prejudicial and a direct violation of the Vatican ruling that Bishops are required to protect homosexuals from unjust discrimination in employment.

Archbishop Schnurr went even one step further.  He fired a teacher solely because he was unwilling to cover up his advocacy of “same-sex marriages.” Yes, I want to make clear that Archbishop Schnurr never met with Mike Moroski to see whether he could change his mind.  And why not?  Was he too busy to do so?  Was he aware that open dialogue on this point had little promise of success?  Was he aware that even Pope Francis had argued that “civil marriages” would be of benefit for same-sex couples?

We will never know the answer to these questions.  What we do know, however, is that Archbishop Schnurr was clear that if Mike Moroski removed his online post then the Archbishop would allow him to continue as a teacher in good standing.  Sad but true.  Archbishop Schnurr goal was to silence Mike Moroski.  Then Archbishop Schnurr could go back to that person or those persons who originally objected to Mike Moroski’s post and say, “Mike Moroski has withdrawn his statement.  I, accordingly, have removed my threat.”

But make no mistake here.  Archbishop Schnurr was party to creating a public deception. He was effectively saying to Mike Moroski, “I know and you know that your mind is made up in favor of same-sex marriages.  When you remove your online post, this will not change.  What it will do, however, is to remove you from being in direct violation of the ‘morality clause’ in your teacher’s contract.  Your private views are of no consequence.  It is only your public advocacy that is troublesome and punishable.”

Mike Moroski was correct in understanding that “marriage” would help to protect the civil rights afforded “same-sex unions.”  Dozens of high-ranking bishops and cardinals have already gone on record to advocate the civil protection of “same-sex unions.”  Pope Francis himself has favored for a long time the legalization of “same-sex unions” while reserving the term “marriage” in its traditional meaning.

All in all, Archbishop Schnurr’s decision to dismiss Mike Moroski on this issue alone is a gross violation of justice.  The Catholic Church has made it clear . . .

  1. That no one ought to be coerced to act against their conscience;
  2. That since the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has already made room for a diversity of views[xv] respecting how the rights of gays and lesbians are to be best protected, it follows that Mike Moroski was entirely justified to express his opinion on this matter;
  3. That a just punishment must always be measured by the gravity of the crime committed.

Archbishop Schnurr thus acted rashly and unjustly.  Instead of honoring Mike Moroski’s rights, he effectively trampled over them.  He imposed grave harm on Mike Moroski and on his family.  He deprived Purcell-Marian High School of a capable, dedicated teacher and administrator. Even beyond this, Archbishop Schnurr, given the trust that he has due to his office, has given grave scandal by mismanaging the affairs of the Church.

Furthermore, Archbishop Schnurr acted against the interests of gays and lesbians within the Catholic Church by his lashing out at Mike Moroski.  Archbishop Schnurr has the obligation to honor and protect gays and lesbians as loved by God and as deserving the pastoral care of his office.  Thus, in the case considered, he rashly presents himself as the enemy of gays and lesbians themselves.  How so?

Archbishop Schnurr will be seen by some to join himself with those parents who rashly disown their own children when they “come out” as lesbians or gays.  These are the children who are forced to live on the streets and who are forced to commit petty thefts and sometimes even to sell their own bodies in order than they might stay alive.  These are the children who, despairing of ever being truly understood and loved, are tempted to cut themselves and to commit suicide.

Archbishop Schnurr will be seen by some to join himself with those parents who hate “queers” and insist upon sending their own children to a Catholic school because they mistakenly believe that teachers condemning the lifestyle of “queers” will provide a measure of protection that their own children never turn out to be “queer.”  The parents who took notice of Mike Moroski’s website and who reported him to the Archbishop Schnurr might indeed have had this frame of mind.  They might even have threatened to withdraw their children if appropriate action was not taken.

If Archbishop Schnurr was himself involved in the personal and spiritual lives of gays and lesbians, do you not think that he might have included in his morality clause for teachers “those who demonstrate by word or action an irrational fear or unchristian prejudice against gays and lesbians.”  And how about a teacher who writes on his online blog that he would “immediately disown any child of mine who admitted that he was gay”?   Would Archbishop Schnurr want to welcome teachers such as this into the diocesan schools?  I would hope not.  In that case, should not the Catholic teachers of Cincinnati expect Archbishop Schnurr to provide them with a much more balanced “morality clause” in their future employment contracts?

 

No Effective Learning is Possible when Teaching Is Reduced to Indoctrination

No learning can take place if the experiences and the thoughts of students cannot be acknowledged and explored.  Authoritarianism may succeed in forcing teachers to toe the line, but any successful teacher knows that authoritarianism in learning only leads to indoctrination, intimidation, and quiet conformity.  As soon as students are free of the school atmosphere, they say what they really think among their chums and, in many cases, they also discuss their “doubts” with their parents as well.

If parents blindly enforce the authority of the Archbishop, then these parents effectively “bully” their own children by “setting them straight” and, wittingly or unwittingly, collude with the Archbishop who demands submission of mind and heart.  This, of course, has limited results because it sets children on the road to rebellion and prepares them to throw off everything that has been “crammed down their throats” the moment that they leave home.

But let’s face it.  When Archbishop Schnurr plays his authoritarian card, he effectively treats his own teachers much like the authoritarian parents that unwittingly alienate their children and set them on the road to rebellion.  If children need acceptance, trust, and openness to their grievances, then, with an even more urgent care, even an archbishop needs to do the same when it comes to teachers.  Vatican II makes this abundantly clear:

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth.  They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.  However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom.  Therefore, the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature (Declaration on Religious Freedom = Dignitatis Humanae, §2).

When the Vatican mandated a hostile takeover of the LCWR (Leadership Council of Women Religious) because these Sisters were not sufficiently compliant relative to Vatican norms regarding homosexual unions, ordination of women, and the use of contraceptives, the Sisters refused to cave in and stood their ground.  Dialogue, yes; submission, no.  Sister Sandra Schneiders, Superior of the IHM Sisters, set the pace for this dialogue: “There is no avoiding the challenge and the obligation of discernment; ‘blind obedience,’ i.e., uncritical submission to power, is neither discernment nor obedience.”[xvi]  The end result is that the Sisters gained the respect of the authoritarian investigators by standing their ground.[xvii]

 

Archbishop Schnurr’s authoritarian tactics are bound to fail, both in the short term and in the long term.  He may achieve some immediate outward compliance, but he risks reaping what he has sown.  His time will be fritted away in dowsing brush fires.  His credibility as an advocate for gays and lesbians will tumble in a freefall.  He may receive letters of congratulations from nervous parents who want their children to grow up in an atmosphere that stubbornly maintains their hard line “intolerance” of gays and lesbians and their same-sex unions.  These parents (and some teachers as well) are normally accustomed to indoctrinating their children at home (“for their own good”) and, in turn, they expect the Archbishop to weed out any teachers who would hesitate to maintain this indoctrination at school.  Often, they expect that this coordinated indoctrination will, by the grace of God, inoculate their children with a perpetual immunity[xviii] from all “homosexual inclinations.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Woe to those Catholic households where, despite the best-laid plans for coordinated indoctrination, a child confesses having “homosexual inclinations.”  A mother known to me, let us call her Gloria, had a son of seventeen who confessed to such inclinations.  Upon hearing this, Gloria passed through many stages of grief.

First, angry denials: “No child of mine could possibly be gay!”  And threats: “Remember your teaching, son.  Sexual sins are always mortal.  Repent and confess them to a priest or, God forbid, you will go straight to hell.”

Second, there comes bargaining with God: “God, how could you have permitted this?  I have been a faithful believer and have supported your true Church all my life.  What must I do to get this unwanted sickness in my child’s life reversed?”

Thirdly, some months down the line after Gloria’s ceaseless prayers and novenas did not get the miracle she wanted, self-doubt emerges: “Where did I go wrong?  Or my husband?  Or his teachers?”

Then, her son leaves home and travels over a thousand miles away: “For the first time, I can breathe freely without my mother continually hounding me and prying into every aspect of my private life.”

With her son’s absence, Gloria becomes emotionally fragile.  She breaks down in tears multiple times every day and, invariably, whenever anyone asks about her son.  She seeks therapy.

Then she unexpectedly finds great solace in a support group of parents of LGBT children.  For the first time, she hears from parents who have arrived at the point where they accept the sexual orientation of her children.  She is horrified initially, but then she comes to realize that this acceptance enables parents to return to a supportive relationship with their children after a horrible period filled with harsh judgments and estrangement.

As a result of this realization, she begins to avoid her parish priest entirely because she no longer wants to hear “any judgments he might have regarding the conduct of her son.”[xix]  Gloria gradually stops going to her parish church entirely because she cannot tolerate the “self-righteous pity” expressed by certain “busy-bodies who are praying for Tony’s (not his real name) conversion and return to the Church.”

Tony writes a letter of a few pages each month.  At the end of three years, he writes a long letter describing how he first met “a courageous and sensitive young man” and how, over the course of time, they gradually became good friends.  Then they gradually became lovers and “have pledged their undying love to each other.”  So, for the first time in years, Tony acknowledges that he sorely misses his mother and, “if and only if she would agree to accept him as gay and to bless the love he has for his partner,” then both of them would want to explore how they might visit for a few days right after Christmas.

Gloria is ecstatic!

At this point, Gloria is ready to accept her son “just as God created him, no more and no less.”  This readiness came from her association with members of her parents support group.  As she became more and more at ease with their positive assessment of homosexuality, she at the same time became resentful of how the teachings of the Catholic Church had pitted her against her own son.

“Even before his leaving,” she said, “I should have been blessing him every day and assuring him that I will be there for him in whatever path God calls him—whether as a gay or as a straight.”  To this very day, she cannot understand how “bishops and priests teach us that loving our Creator and loving our neighbor are the heart of Jesus’ message and then, turn around, and teach my son that his deepest desires for intimacy are ‘disordered’ and that he must condemn love-making between same-sex partners because it is always[xx] a mortal sin.”  In fact, she tells those who hear her whole story that “those parents [in her support group] who seldom went to church taught me more about the depth of God’s love than those Catholics who went to church weekly and firmly believed that God hated gays.”

Pope Francis speaks on homosexuality

Pope Francis has again and again pressed bishops to embrace “open dialogue” as the essential dimension in all moral decision making.  This was most evident in the changes that Pope Francis brought to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  When opening this Synod Pope Francis made it absolutely clear that, under his watch, no one was going to be rewarded by following the party line or by repeating the words of past or present popes.[xxi]  Thus, Pope Francis insisted that “free and open dialogue” must be embraced as the required methodology whereby the bishops provided fresh collegial resolutions for the knotty pastoral problems that were being addressed in ways that denied the compassion of God and tore the Church into factions.

=====Endnotes======================

 

[i] Mike Moroski served at Moeller High School for 10 years as a teacher, service learning coordinator, and House Dean. Concurrently, he ran a nonprofit, Choices Cafe, that bridged the gap between those with means and those without. Mike finished his time in secondary education as the Assistant Principal at Purcell Marian. He was terminated from his post at Purcell Marian by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for his public support of marriage equality. Mike earned his B.A. & M.A. in English from Xavier University, and an M.B.A. in nonprofit administration from the University of Notre Dame (M.N.A.). Currently, in addition to his role as executive director of UpSpring (working to keep children experiencing homelessness connected to their education), Mike is a trustee on the Southwestern Ohio Workforce Investment Board, a member of Cincinnati’s Human Services Advisory Committee, and a member of Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Steering Committee. (https://www.ted.com/tedx/events/16655) For an interview with Mike Moroski, see http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/assistant-principal-fired-over-gay-marriage-blog-18482240.

[ii] The appeal to “conscience” takes priority over all other sources for discerning “what is truly right and just by God’s standards” as opposed to following “a political ideology.”  Archbishop Schnurr clarifies this point as follows:

The answer is to consult our conscience, which is a judgment of reason about the good to be done and the evil to be avoided in a concrete situation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1778).  (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 17). A conscience must be well-formed by using reason to discover the natural law and faith to understand Sacred Scripture and official Church teaching.  We then submit our judgment to God in prayer, striving to discern His will. By humbly committing ourselves to the life-long journey of developing our consciences, we more clearly distinguish the Truth of God in a complex, sometimes manipulative world, and make choices that promote the life and the dignity of all.
(http://thecatholicbeat.sacredheartradio.com/2012/09/archbishop-schnurrs-letter-on-elections-and-citizenship/#sthash.FJo8h3db.dpuf)

In effect, therefore, both Archbishop Schnurr and Mike Moroski both appeal to “conscience” by way of justifying how they acted.  Archbishop Schnurr delivered his ultimatum because he was responsible for insuring that teachers in his Catholic schools both teach and live according to the norms published by the Vatican.  Mike Moroski refused to capitulate because, according to his informed conscience, the Vatican had arrived at a defective judgment when it came to same-sex unions.  When such differences arise, the expectation might be that open dialogue must begin and to continue until they can work out some middle ground between them.  Both are Catholic pastors; yet, due to the authoritarian modality preferred by the Archbishop, he decided against any dialogue.  He moved directly to have Mike Moroski removed from his office by a police escort.

[iii] “Jury awards Christa Dias $171K in suit against Archdiocese of Cincinnati,” Associated Press 03 June 2013 (http://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/jury-awards-christa-dias-120k-in-suit-against-archdiocese-of-cincinnati).

[iv] The term “morality clause” has been used by newspaper and television reporters and is not the language of the contract itself.  The “morality clause” is on page 6 of the contract.  A complete contract can be found here: http://votfcincinnati.org/
yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/teachercontract2014-15.13990432.pdf

[v] If interested, see news video here: http://www.wlwt.com/news/archdiocese-of-cincinnati-expands-moral-clause-in-teacher-contracts/24846662

[vi] Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has initiated a course of action that is quite similar to that of Archbishop Schnurr.  The teachers and their supporters in San Francisco, however, were much more pro-active in confronting Archbishop Cordileone on his presumed “orthodoxy” in representing Catholicism.  Jim McGarry, a retired educator who taught Catholic theology for twenty years at San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory, a Jesuit Catholic high school in San Francisco that his children attend, supported student protestors saying:

“[The archbishop] is not in compliance with Catholic teaching,” McGarry said. “He is very selectively choosing a small number of doctrines and putting them forward in a selective way and, I think, distorting the tradition … in a way that first of all endangers the health and well-being of our children.” McGarry argued that Cordileone’s hardline stance on homosexuality, which would permit the firing of teachers who wed same-sex partners, directly contradicts a line in the Catholic Catechism that reads, “Every sign of unjust discrimination [against homosexuals] should be avoided.” He also noted that Catholic teaching is well-known for guaranteeing freedom of conscience, allowing Catholics to disobey their government — or each other — when they feel that their morals have been violated.

For details, see http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/03/10/3631727/san-francisco-catholics-fighting-lgbt-rights-testing-limits-pope-francis-rhetoric/ &  https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/teachers-protest-as-san-francisco-archbishop-insists-schools-uphold-catholic-teaching-on-marriage

[vii] Recent polling found that 86 percent of Christians believed the very tenets of their faith compelled them to support protections for LGBT people under the law and 59 percent of lay Catholics support marriage equality.

[viii] Archbishop John Nienstedt refused Communion to about twenty people wearing rainbow buttons and ribbons at a mass at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, in 2010.  See Madeleine Baran , “Archdiocese: Communion too sacred to be used as protest,” MPRNews, 06 Oct 2010 (http://www.mprnews.org/story/2010/10/06/denied-communion).

[ix] Paul Kindt, “I’m Signing the Contract — in Sharpie,” The Catholic Beat, 30 April 2014  (http://thecatholicbeat.sacredheartradio.com/2014/04/im-signing-the-contract-in-sharpie/).

[x] The teacher interviewed wished to remain anamous.

[xi] The teacher interviewed wished to remain anamous.

[xii] Notice how this mother is being torn by her love for teaching and her determination to support her son.  The 1986 statement to parents in “Always Our Children” makes the point that parents have a primary role in walking with their children as they explore their sexual identity.  See Appendix 1 for details.

[xiii] Source for this paragraph is Susan Candiotti and Chris Welch, CNN, “A litany of ‘thou shalt nots’: Catholic teachers challenge morality clause,” 31 May 2014 (http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/30/living/catholic-teachers-morality/).

[xiv]  A survey of firings and “morality clauses” can be found here: http://www.hrc.org/press-releases/entry/hrc-delivers-letter-to-vatican-addressing-growing-concern-on-anti-lgbt-stan

[xv] See Appendix 3: Cardinals, Bishops, and Other Catholic Church Leaders Who Made Positive Statements about Civil Unions and Same-Gender Marriages

[xvi] Sandra Schneiders was clearly the person who orientated the theological stance of the Sisters vis-à-vis their Vatican appointed investigators.  See “What Jesus taught us about his prophetic ministry,” NCR Online  (http://bonsecoursvocations.org/
wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2010/01/2010.01.19-Schneiders-Part-3.pdf).

[xvii] In Grade School, I learned that once you give in to the bullying tactics of would-be schoolyard tyrants, there inevitably follows a never-ending series of subsequent humiliations at their hands.  Hence, you have to risk everything by standing your ground at their first threat of hostilities.

The Sisters, I would say, understood this well, and, as a result, they pushed back against the official investigators.  In so doing, they understood themselves as acting in harmony with Jesus himself (See the last footnote.) They insisted that, to censure them justly, the bishops would first have to learn how to listen to them and to discover what they were doing and why. They made it clear that a hostile takeover of the LCWR would result in the Sisters leaving that organization to create another one that would be free of the authoritarian meddling of the bishops.  Once the bishops realized that the Sisters were not going to cave in to their demands, they adjusted their tactics and a hesitant two-way dialogue began to take place.  This strategy, after three years of struggle, eventually won the day.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF STANDING ONE’S GROUND AND FORCING DIALOG (OR SOMETHING TO THAT EFFECT):

I went to public school. And I’m trying to think of my . . . earliest form of religious rebellion. And I would think it was that as a public school kid (and we went to catechism class for Communion after school), we would have to run the gauntlet of Catholic kids who would throw snowballs at us and fight and things like that. And I remember a boy throwing a snowball at me and hitting me in the face because they felt perfectly able to abuse the public school kids because they [public school kids] weren’t as Catholic as them. And it was really something that the institutional church, meaning the priests and nuns, didn’t look at until it really became an issue. And I remember when that boy hit me, I just dropped my books, there was just something that happened, and I said, “I’m not going to put up with this abuse anymore. This is it.” And I remember grabbing him by his lapels and putting his face in the snow bank and all the other public school kids behind me getting in a big fight with the other Catholic school kids because we weren’t going to put up with getting hit with snowballs anymore on the way to catechism class. And I remember we were all stood up in the classroom because anyone who fought or was in any way disobedient was punished. And I remember staring down at my dirty shoes and my ripped knee socks and this puddle that I was standing in, and just feeling miserable. But also feeling good that I just wasn’t going to go along with things as they were anymore. And things changed. Because after that, the nuns put a stop to anymore abuse of public school kids by Catholic school kids. And what was interesting is that after we had that explosion, we started to interact more with the Catholic school kids and we started to break down the barriers between what it meant to be a Catholic in public school and what it meant to be a Catholic in parochial school. So it was interesting, out of that whole snowball fight there was a, I don’t want to say an integration, but bridges were built.  (http://www.lgbtran.org/Exhibits/OralHistory/Doherty/
KDoherty.pdf)

[xviii] Homosexuality is not a contagious disease that gets transmitted like small pox or the flu.  Hence, parents who expect that their children will be immune to homosexual inclinations because they are in an atmosphere where such inclinations are officially denigrated are bound to be disappointed.  Furthermore, should such inclinations emerge, their children will be hell-bent upon denying them.  Finally, after years of suppression, these same children will hate themselves, fall into despair, and be very prone to seek suicide or flight rather than to admit to their parents who they truly are. What advantage their parents might have imagined by virtue of raising their children in their misinformed and homophobic atmosphere will quickly be discovered to render their children as supremely disadvantaged.

[xix] At this point, Gloria completely distanced herself from the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuals.  In fact, she deeply resents the fact that her parish priest had set her against her son’s homosexuality and against any same-sex union that he might try to make for himself.

[xx] While some moral theologians sometimes say that sins against the sixth and ninth commandments deal with “serious matter” and, accordingly, infractions result in a mortal sin.  Even in classical moral theology, however, the conditions for committing a mortal sin always require, subjectively, that the person “recognizes the seriousness of the matter and then goes ahead and does it anyway.”  In the case of homosexual acts, however, even Cardinal Ratzinger acknowledges that those naturally inclined to such sex acts are less culpable than those who are heterosexuals who do the same thing while they are emotionally repulsed by the act.

Furthermore, when two women use sex to express and celebrate their mutual love, they frequently do not see this as sinful at all.  In fact, they often engage in sex because they judge what they are doing as “love-making” and experience their mutual sex as a “source of grace.”  Cardinal Ratzinger would intervene here saying that, due to the fact that the procreative aspect of sexuality is missing, there must always be a degree of moral guilt.  Such a judgment, however, would follow from Ratzinger’s essentialist thinking and his attempt to take a rule used to evaluate heterosexual acts and to apply it indiscriminately to homosexual acts.  Furthermore, even in the case of a venial sin, one must judge the action as a minor deviation from what God expects.  Something which is regarded as a “virtuous deed” cannot subjectively be “a sin” at all.  Here again Ratzinger’s disordered thoughts on homosexuality bring him to conclusions which conflict with classical moral theology.

[xxi] For full details here, see http://datinggod.org/2014/10/06/pope-franciss-opening-remarks-at-synod-full-text/

Welcoming Death without an Afterlife

Welcoming Death without an Afterlife

[My initial thoughts as I approach my personal death.]

An unexamined life is not worth living.   –Socrates

An unexamined afterlife is not worth striving for.   –Milavec

 

Most people think that their soul survives after death.  How they come to this is very murky indeed.  Spiritualism, the practice of contacting the souls of those deceased, gives perhaps the greatest credence to such a belief.  Near-death experiences also provide some experiential glimpses of living outside one’s body.  Yet, even ordinary Christians find themselves praying for the souls of the faithful departed that the Lord of Creation would pardon their sins and admit them into the heavenly realm.  Most Christians, I dare say, believe in some conscious afterlife and if the choice is between heaven and hell (or purgatory); the beatific vision with the saints in heaven seems naturally preferable.

 

The first thing that 99% of Christians would find strange is the fact that the older layers of the Hebrew Scriptures establish Judaism as a religion of faithful service to God and humanity without any rewards in the afterlife.  In a word, they believed that holiness was its own reward and the sight of one’s family and children living a productive life that is a blessing to those close and those far is reward enough for the good life.   [See Stanley B. Marrow, S.J., “The Road not Taken”]

Sometime during the Maccabean revolution (2nd cen. BCE), those Jews who had seen the pious punished with terrible torments came to the conclusion that the Lord himself remembers the injustice done to them and, on the last day, when he comes to judge the living and the dead, he would surely resurrect these holy martyrs and given them a place of honor in the earthly kingdom of God.   Note here that none of these Jews believed that true bliss was to be found in a world or in a place outside of our present planet-home that God created for us.

How Belief in an Immortal Soul Came About

Starting with Socrates, the beatific vision of truth, justice, and beauty would be the overwhelming delight of those “philosophers” who spent their lives cultivating these things.  This “beatific vision” was possible only for an immortal  soul released from the body at death.  Augustine and others imported this message into the faith of our fathers; hence, Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, named the “beatific vision” as the greatest joy that our souls would find in heaven.

When one considers a prolonged future in heaven, the notion of living an existence as a disembodied soul in a realm where one praises God night and day (there being no necessity of sleep) would become exceedingly tedious, repetitious, and dull.  The so-called joys of heaven, accordingly, might be highly overrated.  The loss of a body and life on earth are highly underscored.  How could a violinist or a gardener or a wood-carver survive in a heaven where they could only envision (in their imagination) making something beautiful with their hands when, in fact, they would, both night and day, lament the fact that they have no hands?  How could imagined gardens or imagined musical performances give joy to those who have no ears or eyes or noses with which to feast on them?

The Joys of Heaven Have Been Overrated

In fact, what joy could one give to another person in heaven?  One could not stroke their cheek or play a game of ball or trek in the snow-capped mountains.  Maybe one could (supposing that there is such a thing as soul to soul communication that is wordless and earless) communicate about things long gone.  Yet, this very communication would generate a great sense of loss and be more apt to evoke a sense of longing and annoyance that one’s entire past has been obliterated by death.  Let this continue for a few hundred years (since one speaks of eternal life as the natural quality of the immortal soul) and one would have a society of malcontents who found very little to live for or to communicate about.  Even singing praises to God could degrade into a tedious choir practice that, after a few short months, would surely leave bitterness and grumbling in its wake.  If one could miraculously hear the heavenly choirs, that would be one thing.  But to live in a society of disembodied souls would mean that such music would be produced without vocal cords and without musical instruments.  Thus, the music itself would evoke a great sense of longing for a body and for the things of this present world.  So, from these brief examples, one can see how soulless an eternity in heaven would be.

I thank God, therefore, that he did not give me an eternal soul and I thank him that none of those that I love have immortal souls either.  Socrates willingly embraced death because he wrongly imagined that his eternal soul would escape his body and enter into its eternal bliss.  Socrates also wrongly misinterpreted “sleep” as the time when the soul leaves the body in order to explore strange cities and strange places.  If Socrates was promoting a very inaccurate notion of “dreams” during sleep, then it might be allowed that he was also peddling a very inaccurate notion of the immortal soul as well.

What our Jewish Jesus Anticipated

Jesus, needless to say, knew nothing of “souls existing outside the body.”  Nor did he ever propose that anyone should long to die so that their soul would be released from their body in order to enjoy a “beatific vision” in heaven.  Jesus never believed that one has to go to God in order to be with him only after death.   Jesus, accordingly, firmly anticipated a future when God would be coming to earth “to wipe away all our tears” (Rev 21:4).  This same Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth. . . .” (Matt 6:9-13).  And when Jesus rose  bodily into heaven on a cloud, the two men in white [angels?] say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven will come [return to earth] in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).   Thus, heaven is not the final resting place for Jesus.  Nor is it the place where the “beatific vision” takes place. Heaven is merely the temporary holding tank where God is preparing to send Jesus back to earth where he can be the Messiah on the Last Day (Acts 2:36, 3:20-22, 5:42).

The earth is properly our home, and what a home it is!  We were formed from the dust of the earth  [that originated in the death throes of giant red stars] billions and billions of years ago, and God saw that it was good!  Life is good.  I enjoyed seeing my daughter play her violin in the beginning strings tonight!  I also enjoyed hearing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” being performed by accomplished musicians in a small church in France the first night that we arrived.  I’ve enjoyed making music of my own (the guitar, the recorder, the spoons) purely as an amateur.  So I say:

“Dear world, you are so beautiful!  Blessed be the Maker of the heavens (the stars above) and the earth (below my feet which attracts me toward its center even when I am upside down).”

Has the Resurrection Been Overrated as Well?

For a good ten years (1970-80), I persisted in believing that there would be a resurrection of the dead on the last day (even after I had abandoned any belief in a soul).  It might have made good sense for a few Jewish martyrs to be rewarded with a resurrection for offering their lives to God in the face of torturing tyrants; it is positively repellent however to imagine the chaos that would result from a general resurrection.  Our fragile planet earth has barely enough resources to support eight billion humans.  So how can one imagine the impossible situation of providing clean water, wholesome food, and shelter for fifty billion (the total of all the righteous persons who would be raised on the Last Day).

For the pious, it would seem entirely feasible for Christians to invite six times their number to share their homes.  Modern homes in the suburbs could indeed squeak by with six times the number of inhabitants.  There would be little privacy left and no one would ever again have their own bedroom; yet, who knows, maybe the advantages of communal living would far outweigh the limitations of space.

Yet, what about those situations where a family of five share a two room apartment in the center of Mexico or where a similar family shares a one-room shack in the slums of Calcutta.  It would be a slight bit monstrous to expect these families to welcome thirty people into their living situation.

Hospitality is a blessed virtue, to be sure.  It would work in the suburbs but never have a chance in the slums.  Just the use of the flush toilet by a world population six times our present size would quickly overtax all our current water purification systems.  Meanwhile, in those parts of the earth where untreated sewage is disposed of by dumping it into natural water sources.  I am thinking here not only of cruise ships and slums but of the hundreds of municipalities that routinely dump raw sewage into the Ohio River whenever their waste treatment facilities are overtaxed by incoming sewage.  You get the picture.  Increase the population of our planet by six and you get an entire planet drowning in its own shit.

Well, to save the day, there has been a lot of talk about the resurrected body being in some way “spiritualized” such that it doesn’t need to eat or to drink, ergo, not to pee or to defecate.  On the other hand, Jews like Jesus imagined eating and drinking in the Kingdom of Heaven (on earth) since, truth to say, not to have enough to eat and to drink was always considered a hardship.  On the other hand, Jesus liked to eat and drink with his friends and I’m sure he’d be a bit disappointed at finding that his resurrected friends had “spiritualized bodies” that no longer took any pleasure in or had any necessity to eat and drink.

So, to back up a bit, it might be important to examine whether resurrection from the dead is indeed what God has in mind for those who love him.  First off, it must be conceded that “spiritualized bodies” are not natural bodies and that their existence is just as problematic as that of the existence of immortal souls.  The blessing indeed is to be found in the natural condition of the human physical body that we are very familiar with.

What a piece of creation we are!  A true miracle.  Any cleaver bishop or theologian who tries to convince us (using either the bible or church dogmas) that the human condition can be improved upon and that God (since s/he can supposedly do anything) surely has an improved model ready for us in the resurrection from the dead should be shouted into silence.  What an affront to God to imagine that s/he has not already done his/her best in creating man and woman in his/her image and likeness!

A World Without Privacy

Moreover, those who imagine that our spiritualized bodies will walk through walls, transport themselves effortlessly through the skies, and never grow hungry or sick or old are talking fables and nonsense and pious gibberish.  It’s one thing to imagine a perfect situation in the future.  It’s quite another thing to denigrate some of the best aspects of the present situation in so doing.

Walking through walls, for instance, would mean a world without privacy.  People could walk in on you at any time from any direction and have no way of signaling that they were coming.  What a problem that would be.  And what is so terrible about growing hungry, getting sick, or growing old?  Are these not the patterns within the miracle of creation that have been tried and tested and found beneficial?

The Blessings of Growing Old

Just take the last point—that of growing old.  I, for one, have found a blessing implicit in the human cycle of birth, infancy, adolescence, adulthood, old age, death.  As starters, the US situation is growing increasingly difficult because the old are living longer.  A full life, in the nineteenth century, meant living into the 60s or 70s but now, with improvements in medicine, most are anticipating living into their 80s and 90s.  Like it or not, those in their productive years are now having to work harder and longer to take care of the aging members of their immediate families.  The old now no longer live with their families, but are shunted off into assisted living, then nursing homes, then round-the-clock care.  This is not the best scenario for growing old; yet, the modern productive couple doesn’t have time to spend with their own children much less to spend with an aging parent.  Moreover, the young don’t want old people meddling in their lives—a thing which many aging parents do because they have the habit of taking liberties and advising their children in almost everything.

The Blessings of Dying

But this is getting off the point.  What if people never grew old?  What if people remained in their prime for an eternity?  Well, to begin with, this would lead to a great population problem.  In any given society, the number of deaths makes room for a certain number of births. Choke off one of the other prospect and you have either a society mushrooming out of control or moving toward extinction.  In a word, the system of being born and dying appears to be a superb design feature originated by our wise Creator to keep a balance between the new and the old, the coming to be and the passing away.

Once this is realized, it appears as an offense to the Creator to even imagine that giving creatures “eternal life” would be some sort of surpassing gift; rather, it would be a surpassing burden.

I recently read a short story that discussed a society in which aging was stopped and all sicknesses were cured.  It was a society in stagnation.  Very few new ideas were originated because those living had already made up their minds on just about everything that they were willing to accept or able to tolerate.  In a world in which not much changed, there was even less incentive to originate anything—new music, new gardens, new wood sculptures.  The repetition of human skills and crafts leads to dullness.  Hence, in the sci-fi novel that I read, what had to be done was to invent a competitive game that led to the death of the loser.  Then and only then did excitement reenter into life.  And so it was that the very society that had achieved eternal life had to later introduce “death” in order to bring back excitement into living.

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PS: Here is the essay by Charles Hartshorne that was most helpful to me in coming to accept death as a gracious act and service to my family and friends.  I reproduce it here so that you, the reader, might come to understand how an old philosopher can be of service to the world.

THE ACCEPTANCE OF DEATH

By Charles Hartshorne

 

Since all of us die, it is clear that the meaning of life must be inseparable from the meaning of death. If we cannot understand death, we cannot understand life, and vice versa. Life and death are two sides of one reality.

In principle life is good while it lasts. The meaning of life is, in part at least, the simple goodness of living. Normally we are glad to be alive. We may imagine circumstances in which we would be much more intensely glad to be alive than we actually are, but still life seems better than just no life. Even when things go badly with us, I think we deceive ourselves if we think that we derive no satisfaction from the activities of the living. The person who proclaims her or his misery derives some value merely from breathing and eating, some value from choosing the words in which the self is expressed, some value from making one’s troubles an object of attention and observing the way other people react to them. I believe that living is essentially voluntary, and that no one can be compelled to exist, unless on a largely unconscious level. If the will to live really dies, then we are already virtually dead. The person who decides to commit suicide gets some satisfaction out of thinking, “now it will soon be over.” This satisfaction is what keeps the person still among the living until performing some physical action which ends life, but then the bullet or poison, not directly the will to die, is what ends the life. Willing to live and finding life better than nothing are, I hold, the same things.

Take the person who stays alive because of fear of hell. Then what sustains the will to live is the thought, “I am better as I am than I might be in hell; I don’t have to be in hell, at least not yet.” Thinking thus gives present life some value. Or, if a mother lives for the sake of her children, the interest in the children and approval of herself as living for them make it possible for her to achieve at least some mild satisfaction in her own activities.

Though living is always more or less voluntary, dying can be either with or without our choice, not only because, on the one hand, external forces in action ourselves, but also because we can will not to live beyond a certain point of time. Or at least, we can be entirely content with the thought of not living forever or much beyond some specified point in our individual careers. We can choose to stop trying particularly to live, accepting death as coming from old age or terminal illness; we can be on the side of the physical forces that tend toward our death.

There are three principal ways of trying to make death as such acceptable. We can believe, or try to believe, in personal immortality in the conventional sense, meaning that after death we are to become conscious again; somewhat as we do in waking from a deep sleep, but this time in some supernatural heaven or hell, or on some other planet or in some other animal body. This may or may not be with memory of our previous earthly career. In either case this is a view which cannot appeal to any definite well-documented or scientific evidence to support it. I think that the appeal of this view is largely a consequence of misconceptions about the nature of life as such, no matter where or when.

Another way of arguing that death is good, or at least not too bad, is that it is like going into a dreamless sleep and never waking up again. Thus, there is no suffering in being dead, though there may be in dying, and so we escape from the evils of life once and for all. Note, however, that only for the others, the spectators, can it be “better” that we are no longer suffering. The suicide who reasons, “I shall be better off dead” will not be better or worse off, not yet just the same: simply he or she will not be in any state whatsoever, good, bad, or neutral. Into no future will the person survive to benefit since the future after death will not be hers or his at all. The suicide must act whether for personal satisfaction in the moments before death, or else for the benefit of those who survive. My conclusion is that the comparison of death to dreamless sleep is not enough to show that death is a good thing for the individual who dies.

The third way of making death acceptable is that of transcending self-interest as our final concern. If, and only if, we can regard our entire lives as contributing to the good of those who will survive us and if we can find part of our present satisfaction in the thought of such contribution to the future of life beyond ourselves, can we find death positively acceptable. I call this doctrine “contributionism.” It includes, but is more than, what is sometimes called “service” to others, for that is too much confined to things we do for others, actions from which others may benefit, like giving lectures. By “contributionism” I mean more than this. I mean that simply by being what we are in ourselves we contribute to the future of life. Our present happiness is a central factor in this contribution.

Miserable people, even if they are useful, contribute less than happy people who are also useful. By giving posterity our misery to look back upon, we do them no special favor. It is joys one wants to recall, more than sufferings. Even admitting the truth in the poet’s phrase, “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” still, in the composing and singing of these songs, there is more than misery; there is satisfaction in the beauty of the expression of grief.

To accept death as ending our personal career is to regard that career as a finite or bounded thing. We are finite in space and time; indeed, we are mere fragments of reality spatially and temporally, but then any work of art or beautiful thing is such a fragment, apart from the entire universe throughout time. Contentment with mortality is contentment with the finitude of our ultimate contribution to the whole of life. Should our careers have a last episode? Should a book have a last chapter? A poem, a last verse? Without beginning and end a work of art has no definite form or meaning. I personally regard a life as, with normal luck and good management, having something of the qualities of a work of art, and I see no reason why it should be endless; rather the contrary, it ought not to be endless.

Part of the interest of life is that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are dramatic contrasts between infancy and youth, youth and maturity, maturity and elderliness, and these contrasts are spanned by certain life purposes, finite in scope, that bind them together. What more does one wish? If going to sleep is nothing dreadful, why is it dreadful to think of a sleep without waking? For the sleeper the fact that he or she does not awaken is as nothing. There is no pain or joy.  There is endless dreamless sleep.  Only the friends and family of the dead person wake in the morning and are prone to mourning because the one who has died is no more.

What bothers people is perhaps the idea that death is the mere absence of life, but my death is only the absence of my continued living, it is not the absence of all living. New lives make their finite contributions to the future of life as a whole.  [My death makes room for others to live life differently–more generously, more boldly and more securely.]

THE ACCEPTANCE OF DEATH

by Charles Hartshorne

http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/Hartshorne/1acceptance.html

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The Hazards of Believing that Death is not the End

#1  Ecology Gone Amuck in anticipation of the Apocalypse

When the Lord-God comes, should we actually believe that he will provide everyone with a new suburban home complete with a washer and dryer in every basement and a brand new fuel-efficient automobile in every garage?  Should we actually believe that God will miraculously fill thousands of dry oil wells so that these engines can burn gasoline for another hundred years?  What?  If God has already said a resounding “No” to Western Culture and its notion of development and well-being, will he/she suddenly change his/her mind on the last day.  More importantly, however, even supposing that God did (for some crazy reason) decide to play Sugar Daddy, how would the Lord teach ecological responsibility if he/she used miraculous powers to overcome the results of our greed and waste?  The same thing, of course, can be said of modern-day parents who lavish so many clothes and toys upon their children that they promote their thoughtless use and the throw-away mentality that goes with it.  Will God, in the world to come, then have to continually save us from our garbage?  [Didache, pp. 908-909]

#2 Celibacy Now In Exchange for a Sexual Afterlife

One of my early students at St. Leonard’s College, GF, OFM, once told me that he was going to be lavishly generous in accepting God’s calling to the religious life in order that, in the afterlife, God would  be lavishly generous is satisfying his sexual intimacy desires with “the perfect wife.”  This formula for “delayed gratification” may be very unhealthy and very wrong-headed (esp. if there is no afterlife).

#3  Allow Me to Die: Euthanasia in Belgium

Simone, a Belgium woman in good health has chosen euthanasia because she has no compelling reason to live and she wants to meet her daughter in the hereafter.  This comes up four times in her 44-minute video.  She says goodbye to others with the expectation that she will see them in heaven.   Her vision of the afterlife as promoted by her Catholic Church thus promotes, like it or not, voluntary euthanasia.  By law, physician assisted suicides have been accepted in Belgium.  source=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTpmQI0VoSI

 

Catholic Teaching on Sexuality Gone Beserk

Kevin Kukla’s Klaptrap — Catholic Teaching on Sexuality Gone Beserk

by Aaron Milavec

Two years ago I discovered Kevin Kukla’s claptrap on his website, ProLife365.org.  At first, I was just annoyed.  Then I realized that Kevin represented an educated, upwardly mobile Catholic Fundamentalist who is intent upon upholding and defending the entire Vatican ideology regarding the sexual issues of our day.  Moreover, Kevin imagines himself to be a crusader bent upon bringing to young people the sure and unchanging truths of Catholic sexuality that even most priests are embarrassed to teach.  As a Catholic theologian who has trained future priests and lay ministers for 25 years, I have sought to fairly and systematically examine Kevin’s claims.  My findings are as follows. . . .

Review

Kevin Kukla’s Klaptrap — Catholic Teaching on Sexuality Gone Beserk

by Dr. Aaron Milavec

Two years ago I discovered Kevin Kukla’s claptrap on his website, ProLife365.org.  At first, I was just annoyed.  Then I realized that Kevin represented an educated, upwardly mobile Catholic Fundamentalist who is intent upon upholding and defending the entire Vatican ideology regarding the sexual issues of our day.  Moreover, Kevin imagines himself to be a crusader bent upon bringing to young people the sure and unchanging truths of Catholic sexuality that even most priests are embarrassed to teach.  As a Catholic theologian who has trained future priests and lay ministers for 25 years, I have sought to fairly and systematically examine Kevin’s claims.  My findings are as follows. . . .

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Facing up to Spiritual Abuse [in the Church]

Facing up to Spiritual Abuse

Sean Fagan SM  (Doctrine & Life, March 2001)

[Sean Fagan SM is author of Has Sin Changed? (1977), and Does Morality Change? (1997), both Gill and Macmillan, Dublin.]

faganWe need resources to help us understand and address the deep-down damage which so many people have suffered in their emotional and spiritual lives when Church practices and attitudes left them with huge burdens of unhealthy guilt.

One such resource is the article, ‘Sexual Abuse and Spiritual Abuse’ in The Furrow (October 2000). The author, Donal Dorr, is a highly- respected world-class theologian who writes with insight and feeling and with great courage and humility. His writing has the ring of truth. Because of the courageous way in which he speaks of the experience of how he saw spiritual abuse by the Church affecting his life, I am prompted to reflect on my own experience.

Ordained in 1953, I have been teaching moral theology (as well as philosophy, Scripture and some canon law) in the seminary and in the Milltown Institute since 1955. At intervals since 1960 I have taught moral theology and spirituality to international renewal groups of priests, nuns and brothers in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. For the past forty-seven years I have heard confessions and given spiritual direction in twelve countries of widely different languages and culture. What I most remember is that, after two to three hours in the confessional on a Saturday night (with penitents who confessed weekly or monthly), I often came out on the verge of tears, thinking: what in God’s name have we done with people’s consciences? With a mixture of sadness and anger, it was difficult to pray about it.

One of the great blessings of my life was that I seem to have missed the fear and scrupulosity that marked the lives of so many, both growing up and into adult years. From infancy, my God was the loving God of infinite compassion, who smiled on his creation, one who did not have to close his eyes or turn his back when I took a bath or discovered that I was a sexual being convinced that the female human body is the most beautiful of all God’s wonderful creations. I sat through many hell-fire sermons and listened to all the warnings; but they never bothered me seriously, although they reminded me that I could mess up my life and hurt people by not keeping close to God. Hell fire was certainly in the back-ground, but I never thought that large numbers of people would be punished in that way. Even as a teenager, when I read of saints who spoke of souls dropping into hell like leaves in wintry weather, I was annoyed; but I simply felt that one could be a canonisable saint and still talk nonsense.

SEXUAL MORALITY

When studying moral theology I was fascinated by the logic of it all, but felt that the treatment of sexuality and marriage was wooden and unreal. I wondered about the psychological make-up of celibate clerics who could picture, analyse and measure the weirdest details of sexual deviations. Their texts nowadays seem to border on the pornographic.

In assessing the morality of sex, the basic principle in these books was that all directly voluntary sexual pleasure is mortally sinful outside of matrimony. This meant that for a single act of teenage self-gratification one would be condemned to hell for all eternity. People were led to believe this, and had to live with the fear. Unlike all other areas of morality, where the seriousness of a sin may be lessened by smallness of matter, even the slightest experience of sex was matter for mortal sin. I was never convinced of the reasons for this and never accepted it, but it was imposed by authority and most people felt obliged by it. I taught it simply as a matter of history, but could never convince students that it was true. Truth cannot be decreed or imposed, but only discovered and shared.

Only later, in the ministry of counselling and in the confessional, did I realise the enormity of the burden of fear and guilt people developed as a result of this teaching. For decades I seldom heard confessions without ‘bad thoughts’ being mentioned as a sin; and over three quarters of men confessed ‘self-abuse’ as a mortal sin keeping them from Communion, even though most of them were devout Catholics quite saintly in every other area of their lives.

Until the mid-1980s I knew about paedophilia as a psychological phenomenon, and I was vaguely aware that some ‘homosexuals’ ‘tampered with little boys’; but, like most of the population, I was unaware that large numbers of people suffered child abuse as we know it now. It was never mentioned in confession by either perpetrators or victims, and I think that few victims were able to reveal it. So one can hardly speak of a ‘conspiracy’ of silence. Most people were simply unaware of the abuse unless they had personal experience of it. I doubt if police or social workers knew much more.

For centuries, moral theologians listed the major sexual sins as: fornication, adultery, rape, abduction, incest, sacrilege, sodomy, and bestiality. These were analysed in terms of what was natural and appropriate, just or unjust; but the age of the victim was never a factor of importance. Child abuse was not a special category, and hardly anybody knew that the practice was so widespread, or so devastating in its consequences.

The early sex scandals that brought shame (and criminal charges) to priests and religious around the world were not always about child abuse. But the publicity and court proceedings in such cases encouraged victims of child abuse to speak out, and more people have found the courage to come forward. Since then I have listened in counselling sessions to many victims, and I become more and more horrified at the enormity of the harm done. Some extreme cases may be driven to suicide, but very many are emotionally and spiritually crippled for life. They can be helped by counselling, but it is a slow and painful process, and there is no guarantee of total success. Financial compensation can never make up for what the victims suffer. The Church must name this evil as a special sin in a category of its own, and wherever Church individuals or institutions are even slightly implicated they must accept their responsibility and ask forgiveness. The victims need this to begin their healing.

SPIRITUAL ABUSE

It is clear that child abuse is not a new phenomenon, but an evil that seems to be part of the flawed human condition. Because of the taboo surrounding sex it was not generally recognised or discussed, so that only in recent years have we become aware of its malice and its crippling effects.

The same may be said of the spiritual abuse that has crippled generations of Catholics. just as victims of sex abuse find it almost impossible ever to feel ‘happy in their own skin,’ huge numbers of Catholics find it difficult to experience the joy and inner freedom that Jesus promised his followers. It is now generally recognised that sex abuse is more an abuse of power than of sex; and in a similar way it can be said that the spiritual abuse that is a disease in the Church, is an abuse of power and authority. For centuries, a certain type of Church teaching, instead of setting people free to grow into the fullness and maturity of Christ, kept them enslaved by a childish conscience, forever in dread of hell for all eternity.

This fear was particularly felt in the area of sexuality. Text books were unanimous in describing ‘company keeping’ as a necessary occasion of sin, and marriage was such a minefield that it was almost impossible for married couples to avoid sin. The charismatic renewal movement helped many people towards some degree of joy in their religion, but it seldom went to the root of their agony and fear by questioning the ignorance and prejudice on which certain sexual teachings were based. The Church was the absolute authority, speaking in God’s name.

When the Church spoke in God’s name it had no direct communication from him. It had the Word of God in the books of the Bible, but these are all in human words. There is no word of God in pure unadulterated form, a-temporal and a-cultural. The word of God comes to us in human words, and every word from the moment when humans first learned to speak is culturally conditioned, reflecting the experience and culture of the speakers. At times the picture of God is quite savage as he exhorts the people to slaughter their enemies in thousands; and he has no objection to slavery and polygamy.

Throughout the Bible there is growth and development in moral sensitivity, but there are also huge blind spots. St Paul is quite lyrical about people being equal, so that there is neither Greek nor Jew male nor female, slave or free; and yet he saw no reason ever to question the institution of slavery as a part of the social order. We have learned to accept this cultural conditioning of God’s word expressed in human terms, and we make the necessary distinctions.

But cultural conditioning did not stop with the Bible. Every word and thought of the Church over two millennia is subject to the same cultural conditioning. We need to be aware of this, and in order to understand any word we need to ask: What does it say? (language); What does it mean? (cultural context); and: Is it true, in what sense, how does it apply to life, how does it fit with my experience?

CULTURAL CONDITIONING

We can understand cultural conditioning as a normal part of history. But can we be sure that some of the attitudes in the past that we are now ashamed of are not still at work in our collective subconscious? Has the misogynism that was a feature of the Church for centuries been admitted and repented of? Church leaders can be patronising in hesitantly admitting that women may have got a raw deal in the past, but most men have no idea of how deeply women feel about the injustice they still suffer today. Can it be said that the words of leading theologians and some saints for centuries in the past had nothing to do with modern attitudes to women?

It is naive to imagine that thinking or speaking of women as a ‘necessary evil’, or as ‘the gate of hell’ or as ‘mis-begotten’- and all these terms are found in the works of great male theologians from the early times to the middle ages – had no influence on Church teaching and practice.

No matter how much the ideal of Christian marriage was preached, ordinary people were deeply affected in their spirituality by the pessimism concerning sex. According to Augustine, only procreation could justify marriage, sex, or even women. Pope St Gregory the Great claimed that it was as impossible to have intercourse without sin as it was to fall into afire and not burn. Clement of Alexandria compared marital intercourse to ‘an incurable disease, a minor epilepsy.’ St Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, held that virginity was the norm in paradise, that marriage came about as a result of sin, and that the only good in marriage is that it can give birth to virgins. In the fifteenth century St Bernardine of Siena, one of the greatest preachers in Europe at the time, claimed that ‘of 1000 marriages 999 are of the devil’s making.’ He also maintained that it was a piggish irreverence and a mortal sin if husband and wife do not abstain from intercourse for several days before receiving Holy Communion.

For centuries it was Church teaching that women should not be baptized when pregnant or during their monthly periods, and they were not allowed to enter churches or receive Communion at those times. The ritual impurity incurred by women at childbirth was accepted until quite recent times (in the ‘churching’ ceremony). This notion of ritual impurity infiltrated Christian thinking and legislation from pagan superstition, according to which terrible things were believed to happen when women touched anything during their periods; crops would dry up, fruit rot on the trees, and iron would turn rusty.

It is easy to smile at such thinking today, but it is hard to avoid the impression that the negative attitude that permeated Catholic moral theology’ for centuries still lurks behind Church teaching on women. Modern women are not shy in dismissing the nonsense of some Vatican documents, but Christian women for centuries were psychologically and spiritually crucified by the way they were spoken about and treated.

ABUSE OF POWER

Both sex abuse and spiritual abuse are really abuses of power and authority. An interesting indication of this is an incident from the discussions of the special commission set up by Pope John XXIII to study the question of birth control. The majority of its members at the start supported traditional Church teaching against artificial contraception. But they changed their minds in the course of their meetings, and in the end the almost unanimous conclusion was that contraception is not intrinsically evil. The Spanish theologian Fr Zalba could not accept this, and he burst out impatiently: ‘What becomes of the millions we have sent to hell if this teaching is not true?’ Courteously Patty Crawler (who with her husband was one of the first lay people invited to the committee) asked him: ‘Fr Zalba, do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?’

But she was up against a Church convinced that it had all the answers even before hearing the questions or looking at the facts. A Church that insisted so much on authority had no regard for the authority of the facts. The three thousand letters from Catholic married couples in eighteen countries describing their experience were totally ignored by Pope John’s successor, as was the recommendation of the special papal commission set up to study the case. The Vatican has not allowed this documentation to be published

The four theologians holding on to the traditional teaching had to admit that they had no arguments to prove the majority wrong, except that to change the teaching would damage the authority of the Church. And so the encyclical Humanae Vitae came to be written and published.

Insisting on authority conveniently forgets the many dreadful things that were proclaimed for centuries as the ‘teaching of the Church,’ but which nobody could accept today. To take an example from living memory: Pius XI in an encyclical on Christian education (with the same level of authority as Humanae Vitae) solemnly declared: ‘co-education is against all Catholic principles. It is erroneous and pernicious, and is often based on a naturalism which denies original sin … Nature itself, which makes the two sexes different in organism, inclinations and attitudes, provides no argument for mixing them promiscuously, much less educating them together.’

Catholics naturally wonder how the thirty-seven-year interval between the two encyclicals (1931, 1968) allows us to treat one as a museum piece quietly forgotten and the other as a serious obligation in conscience. Is this not a further reminder that all doctrinal statements, like the Bible itself, are historically and culturally conditioned? No statement from the past is set in stone, and it would be difficult to prove that the Church never made a mistake. We are a mixture of saint and sinner, and this applies to the Church as institution as much as to its members individually.

CONSCIENCE A SANCTUARY

This narrow Church teaching not merely left people with sexual hang-ups, but struck at the core of morality by crippling their conscience. They were always told to follow their conscience, but it was stressed that it had to be an ‘informed’ conscience, with the implication that the Church would give the ‘information’ on what they were to do.

It was never explained that it was not just a matter of information to be supplied by the Church. We are to follow a ‘formed’ conscience, one which is continually being formed through life as we grow in moral maturity, discerning moral values and deciding moral questions with full responsibility before God. People who lived all their lives in the ‘do what you are told’ Church found it hard to believe that the Second Vatican Council, the highest authority in the Church when in session, with the Pope as member, could solemnly teach that conscience is our most secret core, and our sanctuary. There we are alone with God, whose voice echoes in our depths. People would be helped enormously if they felt that the Church really believed this in practice.

The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship recently issued new rules for celebrating the Eucharist, the central thrust of which is to stress the sacredness of places, things and people surrounding the Eucharist. The presidential chair is not an ordinary, profane piece of furniture, but a sacred seat for the sacred priest celebrating in the sacred place of the sanctuary. Should we not respect and reverence even more the sanctuary of people’s conscience, which is truly sacred. For centuries conscientious objectors to war were merely tolerated by Church authorities, seldom respected as morally responsible people who quite frequently were prophetic in their stance.

The Church was so conscious of being the highest moral authority, acting as the voice of God, that its leaders expected total obedience even in areas in which some of its members had far more competence and experience. The Vatican Council acknowledges and respects this competence, which is not limited to secular concerns but is to be seen also in theological and scriptural research and reflection. Many of the writings of women and men theologians frowned on by the Church have enriched its health and vitality. Cardinal Newman stressed that infallibility, (not a very helpful term) is an attribute of the Church as a whole, with the hierarchy (including the pope), theologians and the whole body of the faithful having their appropriate share in it. A sad tendency in some Vatican departments is that theology is being reduced to a simplistic ‘the Pope says.’

At times, what the Pope says is a genuine step forward. For example the new Catechism of the Catholic Church defended and justified the death penalty. When Cardinal Ratzinger was reminded that the Pope in a public lecture declared that it was difficult to justify it in the circumstances of today’s world, he promised that the next edition would make the change. In describing and evaluating masturbation, the Catechism still implied that in the area of sex there is no parity of matter, so that unless psychological factors diminish responsibility, the eternal punishment of hell that goes with mortal sin still applies.

Intelligent laity have real difficulty in understanding and accepting some of the language used in official documents. Traditional Church teaching speaks of contraception, sterilisation, masturbation, direct killing of the innocent, divorce and remarriage as evil in themselves, independently of all circumstances. But few theologians today accept such language, since they know that no physical action on its own can be given a moral label unless seen in its concrete totality including motive and circumstances. Murder is killing, but not all killing is murder. Lying is telling a falsehood, but not every falsehood is a lie. Contraceptive pills are said to be intrinsically evil, but they were allowed by the Vatican for nuns threatened with rape in the Congo, and Humanae Vitae explicitly allows them for therapeutic reasons, e.g. to regulate the cycle. But all these cases involve the same pills, working in the same way according to God’s chemical and physiological laws. Since the main difference is the intention or motive, it cannot be the artificial contraception as such which is evil. If there are exceptions according to motive and circumstances, the description ‘intrinsically evil’ has little meaning when applied to physical actions. To insist on the use of this language is a failure to respect people’s God-given critical intelligence. The Holy See’s Declaration on Abortion (1974) makes no use of this expression and yet presents a very convincing moral argument, whereas the Declaration on Sexual Ethics (1975) uses it freely with reference to masturbation and homosexuality and signally fails to prove its point.

HOLY MOTHER CHURCH

One could continue in this vein, multiplying examples, but the point is clear. Personally, I have overwhelming evidence of the harm done to people’s emotional and spiritual lives by the abuse of authority by our Holy Mother Church (with the best of maternal, protective intentions). Much of its teaching stunted their lives. French psychiatrist Pierre de Salignac wrote a book called The Catholic Neurosis. A committed Catholic, he treated many people (not only French) over a period of twenty-five years, and came to the conclusion that among his patients Catholics in general had far more hang-ups, scruples and fear than members of other groups. He did not blame the Church directly, but he said that their formation – in home, school and Church – aggravated, if it did not actually cause, their psychological problems.

The Church has never openly and honestly admitted and disowned the many terrible things that passed for ‘Church teaching’ over the centuries. A little humility and repentance would do far more for its credibility than more solemn documents insisting on its authority and its monopoly of the truth Jesus did not say that we possess the whole truth, but promised that his Holy Spirit would lead his followers into the truth.

Large numbers of Catholics around the world are crying out for the affirmation, healing and growth that they have a right to expect from the Church which claims to be not only a light to the nations, but also their mother.

Free Sample Chapter

At first I was just going to give you a random chapter.  Now I’m thinking that you would be better served if I gave you a choice:

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PlannedParenthoodChoice #2  If you are upset by the way that the abortion issue has divided the Church into two opposing camps, then I want to send you my personal history within the walls of Planned Parenthood.  I also want to show you step by step how and why the US bishops have sought to stop all abortions by relying on arguments that neither St. Augustine or  St. Thomas Aquinas could have ever endorsed.  Click here to receive this story as a PDF file.    Or as an eBook chapter.

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Equally Blessed: We invite our bishops to include us LGBT Catholics

Equally Blessed: We invite our bishops to include us LGBT Catholics wholeheartedly in the World Meeting of Families

Jim Smith 25 Aug

There is an encounter in the Christian scriptures that has the power to take one’s breath away.

Jesus is invited to the home of a religious leader. A woman, an outcast and sinner, shows up too. Safe to say, she is not invited. In the scene, one of the most poignant in the Gospels, the woman positions herself close to Jesus, washes his feet with her tears (her tears!) and dries them with her hair. It is as if all the moments of this outcast’s life, her sufferings and joys and sins and successes, are collected and reconciled in those tears and given to Jesus in the form of love.

But the host is repulsed by this encounter. Jesus, by authority of his own pure love, invites him to honor her dignity and faith (Luke 7:36-50). We’re not told if the leader is changed by the encounter. Over 2,000 years later, we’re still not sure.

In just a few weeks, throngs of Catholics will enter the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. These people will bring the same tears of love and faith brought to Jesus so many years ago. Fourteen families from our Equally Blessed coalition will be among them: parents of transgender or gay children who have been challenged over thousands of days and nights to love those kids unconditionally, who know viscerally what it means, in the words of the prophet Micah, “to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly” in their parental roles; gay couples with children who live by the promise to raise those children “according to the love of Christ”; transgender, intersex and gay persons themselves who are coming through a fire of marginalized existence into the freedom of God’s beloved, finally knowing their “sin” is not who they are and whom they love, but what chases us all — greed, fear, hate, hubris.

These Catholics have much to bring to the table of the World Meeting of Families. We are not the enemy of the many bishops, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Pope Francis, who will also attend.

In fact, we are allies in the mission of the church to strengthen familial bonds, to unify the Body of Christ in her beautiful diversity, to bring Good News to the poor, to welcome the stranger and to bring hope to the brokenhearted. Our own hearts have been broken, sometimes by our own church, so we bring real experience to what Pope Francis has famously called “the field hospital” of the church.

We invite our bishops and our good pope to include us wholeheartedly in the “big tent” gathering of Catholic families in September. But if they don’t, we will still be in the room. Like that woman in the Gospel, we will be there with our tears of redemption and love to mingle with many other Catholics. No question about that.

The real question is, will there be voices in the background gasping and whispering? We hope not. We hope for outstretched arms from fellow sinners and saints, for we are all of us in our great diversity, one body.

[Jim Smith is the associate director of DignityUSA and a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition.]

Pope Francis’ remarks to Bishops in Washington, D.C.

Pope Francis speaking to United States bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Wednesday. Credit Pool photo by Mark Wilson

[Following is the English translation of Pope Francis’ speech to United States bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, as prepared for delivery and released by the Vatican.]

Dear Brother Bishops,

I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country. I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name. I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay.

As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land.

The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”

Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.

My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey.

I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize howmuch the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.

I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”.1

I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching. Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country.

It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission.

We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).

The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).

Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.

It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”. May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27).

Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock.

Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45).

Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).

We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.

I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.

And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.

Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).

 

The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.

We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise.

We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”.

The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.

Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.

May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14).

This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion.

This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.

These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistent and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society.

To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.

Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).

Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).

My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.

May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!  (source)

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1 “In youth my wings were strong and tireless, / But I did not know the mountains. / In age I know the mountains / But my weary wings could not follow my vision – / Genius is wisdom and youth.” (Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology, “Alexander Throckmorton”).

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Pope Francis’ remarks to Bishops in Philadelphia

Pope Francis’ remarks to Bishops in Philadelphia

VIDEO: Pope Francis condemns sex abuse in speech
Pope Francis began his speech in suburban Philadelphia on Sunday morning with a condemnation of child sex abuse.

[This is the full text of Pope Francis’ remarks to Bishops taking part in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.]

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Dear Brother Bishops,

I have in my heart these stories of suffering of those youth that were sexually abused, and it continues to be on my mind that people who had the responsibility to take care of these tender ones violated that trust and caused them great pain.

God weeps for the sexual abuse of children. These cannot be maintained in secret, and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and that all responsible will be held accountable.

Those who have survived this abuse have become true heralds of mercy. Humbly, we owe each of them our gratitude for their great value as they have had to suffer this terrible abuse, sexual abuse of minors.

I would like to express my gratitude to the archbishop, and I felt it was very important that I share this message with you today, and I am happy to be able to share these moments of pastoral reflection with you amid the joyful celebrations of this World Meeting of Families.

For the Church, the family is not first and foremost a cause for concern, but rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation. Every day, all over the world, the Church can rejoice in the Lord’s gift of so many families who, even amid difficult trials, remain faithful to their promises and keep the faith!

I would say that the foremost pastoral challenge of our changing times is to move decisively towards recognizing this gift. For all the obstacles we see before us, gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints. The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Without the family, not even the Church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural – and now juridical – effects on family bonds. These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike. Christians are not “immune” to the changes of their times. This concrete world, with all its many problems and possibilities, is where we must live, believe and proclaim.

Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case. To describe our situation today, I would use two familiar images: our neighborhood stores and our large supermarkets.

There was a time when one neighborhood store had everything one needed for personal and family life. The products may not have been cleverly displayed, or offered much choice, but there was a personal bond between the shopkeeper and his customers. Business was done on the basis of trust, people knew one another, they were all neighbors. They trusted one another. They built up trust. These stores were often simply known as “the local market”.

Then a different kind of store grew up: the supermarket. Huge spaces with a great selection of merchandise. The world seems to have become one of these great supermarkets; our culture has become more and more competitive. Business is no longer conducted on the basis of trust; others can no longer be trusted. There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust. The most important thing nowadays seems to be follow the latest trend or activity. This is even true of religion. Today consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming… Whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption which does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere “means” for the satisfaction of “my needs”. The important thing is no longer our neighbor, with his or her familiar face, story and personality.

The result is a culture which discards everything that is no longer “useful” or “satisfying” for the tastes of the consumer. We have turned our society into a huge multicultural showcase tied only to the tastes of certain “consumers”, while so many others only “eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Mt 15:27).

This causes great harm. I would say that at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness. Running after the latest fad, accumulating “friends” on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer. Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.

Should we blame our young people for having grown up in this kind of society? Should we condemn them for living in this kind of a world? Should they hear their pastors saying that “it was all better back then”, “the world is falling apart and if things go on this way, who knows where we will end up?” No, I do not think that this is the way. As shepherds following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, we are asked to seek out, to accompany, to lift up, to bind up the wounds of our time. To look at things realistically, with the eyes of one who feels called to action, to pastoral conversion. The world today demands this conversion on our part. “It is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded” (Evangelii Gaudium, 23)

We would be mistaken, however, to see this “culture” of the present world as mere indifference towards marriage and the family, as pure and simple selfishness. Are today’s young people hopelessly timid, weak, inconsistent? We must not fall into this trap. Many young people, in the context of this culture of discouragement, have yielded to a form of unconscious acquiescence. They are paralyzed when they encounter the beautiful, noble and truly necessary challenges which faith sets before them. Many put off marriage while waiting for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect. Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the full. For knowledge of life’s true pleasures only comes as the fruit of a long-term, generous investment of our intelligence, enthusiasm and passion.

As pastors, we bishops are called to collect our energies and to rebuild enthusiasm for making families correspond ever more fully to the blessing of God which they are! We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family. Here too, we need a bit of holy parrhesia! A Christianity which “does” little in practice, while incessantly “explaining” its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle. A pastor must show that the “Gospel of the family” is truly “good news” in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance which is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.

A pastor serenely yet passionately proclaims the word of God. He encourages believers to aim high. He will enable his brothers and sisters to hear and experience God’s promise, which can expand their experience of motherhood and fatherhood within the horizon of a new “familiarity” with God (Mk 3:31-35).

A pastor watches over the dreams, the lives and the growth of his flock. This “watchfulness” is not the result of talking but of shepherding. Only one capable of standing “in the midst of” the flock can be watchful, not someone who is afraid of questions, contact, accompaniment. A pastor keeps watch first and foremost with prayer, supporting the faith of his people and instilling confidence in the Lord, in his presence. A pastor remains vigilant by helping people to lift their gaze at times of discouragement, frustration and failure. We might well ask whether in our pastoral ministry we are ready to “waste” time with families. Whether we are ready to be present to them, sharing their difficulties and joys.

Naturally, experiencing the spirit of this joyful familiarity with God, and spreading its powerful evangelical fruitfulness, has to be the primary feature of our lifestyle as bishops: a lifestyle of prayer and preaching the Gospel (Acts 6:4). By our own humble Christian apprenticeship in the familial virtues of God’s people, we will become more and more like fathers and mothers (as did Saint Paul: cf. 1 Th 2:7,11), and less like people who have simply learned to live without a family. Our ideal is not to live without love! A good pastor renounces the love of a family precisely in order to focus all his energies, and the grace of his particular vocation, on the evangelical blessing of the love of men and women who carry forward God’s plan of creation, beginning with those who are lost, abandoned, wounded, broken, downtrodden and deprived of their dignity. This total surrender to God’s agape is certainly not a vocation lacking in tenderness and affection! We need but look to Jesus to understand this (cf. Mt 19:12). The mission of a good pastor, in the style of God – and only God can authorize this, not our own presumption! – imitates in every way and for all people the Son’s love for the Father. This is reflected in the tenderness with which a pastor devotes himself to the loving care of the men and women of our human family.

For the eyes of faith, this is a most valuable sign. Our ministry needs to deepen the covenant between the Church and the family. Otherwise it becomes arid, and the human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own fault, from God’s joyful good news.

If we prove capable of the demanding task of reflecting God’s love, cultivating infinite patience and serenity as we strive to sow its seeds in the frequently crooked furrows in which we are called to plant, then even a Samaritan woman with five “non-husbands” will discover that she is capable of giving witness. And for every rich young man who with sadness feels that he has to calmly keep considering the matter, an older publican will come down from the tree and give fourfold to the poor, to whom, before that moment, he had never even given a thought.

May God grant us this gift of a renewed closeness between the family and the Church. The family is our ally, our window to the world, and the evidence of an irrevocable blessing of God destined for all the children who in every age are born into this difficult yet beautiful creation which God has asked us to serve!  (source)

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