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Health Insurance, Health Care, and Health Costs in the USA

Reflections on the Status Quo of Health Insurance in the USA

By Prof. Aaron Milavec

  1. The United States is the only industrialized country where medical insurance is regarded as a benefit of employment.  In this system, employees lose this benefit as soon as they are laid off.  Accordingly, at the very time when unemployment compensation abruptly reduces their income by half, families have to decide whether to scrimp in order to pay monthly insurance premiums on a Cobra Plan or to put their family at risk by dropping health insurance.  If they decide to shop around for a less expensive health insurance plan, they quickly discover that insurance companies are in the business of making profits and they routinely refuse to insure persons with a history of poor health or a disposition toward cancer or kidney failure.
  2. One major difficulty in reforming our healthcare system is the fact that four hundred different plans for healthcare insurance create enormous bureaucracies whose sole purpose is to revise and interpret changes in their plans.  Even among federal employees, there are nearly three hundred distinct insurance plans being funded by the federal government.  Meanwhile, every local doctor has to have a billing office that is able to manage the four hundred different forms and the four hundred different set of requirements for coverage.  In a 200-bed hospital in the United States, a staff of ten to twelve persons is employed full-time to negotiate the complexity of billing.  In a comparable hospital in Canada or Europe, two persons manage the entire billing department.
  3. The business of insurance companies is to make money and, like any other business, chief executives and stockholders are rewarded on the basis of gross annual profits.  The quest for increased profits, unfortunately, runs headlong into the pledge of the company to provide a comprehensive healthcare package to its clients.  Fewer people are getting to the doctor of their choice.  Pre-existing illnesses are being used to deny coverage.  Fine-tuned restrictions are being dictated to physicians as to how they must treat patients if remuneration is to be forthcoming.  All in all, the bottom line is that insurance companies increase their profits whenever they are able to restrict or deny medical coverage.
  4. Medical doctors are frequently forced to order diagnostic tests and use procedures covered by the patient’s insurance carrier while, all the time recognizing that, if the patient’s health were the prime consideration, they would act otherwise.  This conflict of interest is felt by some doctors so acutely that they ultimately leave their profession because they feel that insurance carriers have dictated the course of medicine to such a degree that physicians can no longer act for the well being of their patients.
  5. The lobby against healthcare reform is keen to frame the debate as entailing “Government bureaucracy vs. free choice.” This is a false opposition since, as things now stand, the big HMOs routinely curtail a patient’s choice of doctor and choice of treatment.  For doctors to return to the practice of medicine focused upon the health of their patients, the redundant bureaucracy of four hundred different insurers needs to be eliminated.

We Know the Real Cause of the Crisis in Our Hospitals. It’s Greed.

By Lucy King and Jonah M. KesselJanuary 19, 2022

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Big Pharma will have to answer to the American people

One of my top priorities is to substantially reduce the price of prescription drugs in America

By Sen. Bernie Sanders, January 31, 2024 5:00am EST

It is no great secret that millions of Americans feel that Congress is more interested in protecting large corporations than looking out for ordinary people.

That is never clearer than when we talk about our broken health care system, and the outrageous price of prescription drugs in this country.

The truth is, if you ask most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, independents, progressives, conservatives – they will agree: we are getting ripped off, big time, by the pharmaceutical industry.

As a nation, we spend almost twice as much per capita as any other country on health care – over $13,000 for every man, woman and child. Even for those with insurance, costs are so high that medical bills are often the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States.

And one of the major reasons for the high cost of health care in America is that we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

You tell me: why does Merck charge diabetes patients in the United States $6,900 for Januvia when the exact same product can be purchased in Canada for $900 and just $200 in France?

Why does Johnson & Johnson charge Americans with arthritis $79,000 for Stelara when it can be purchased for just $16,000 in the United Kingdom? And why does Bristol Myers Squibb charge patients in our country $7,100 for Eliquis when the same product can be purchased for just $900 in Canada and just $650 in France?

On and on it goes. Almost every prescription drug costs far more in the United States than it does in other countries.

The good news is that we are beginning to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. Medicare, for the first time ever, is negotiating the price of some drugs, including Januvia, Stelara and Eliquis.

The bad news is that the pharmaceutical industry is doing everything it can to stop these negotiations, and prevent Congress from making prescription drugs affordable for all Americans – not just those on Medicare.

The giant pharmaceutical and health insurance lobbies have spent huge amounts of money over the past decades to ensure that their profits come before the health of the American people.

Over the past 25 years, the drug companies have spent $8.5 billion on lobbying. Today, they have some 1,800 well-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C. – including former leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties. Unbelievably, that is more than three lobbyists for every member of Congress.

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The working principles found in the Physicians’ Working Group for Single‑Payer National Health Insurance

Four principles shape our vision of reform.

  1. Access to comprehensive health care is a human right. It is the responsibility of society, through its government, to assure this right. Coverage should not be tied to employment. . . .
  2. The right to choose and change one’s physician is fundamental to patient autonomy. Patients should be free to seek care from any licensed health care professional.
  3. Pursuit of corporate profit and personal fortune have no place in caregiving and they create enormous waste. The U.S. already spends enough to provide comprehensive health care to all Americans with no increase in total costs. However, the vast health care resources now squandered on bureaucracy (mostly due to efforts to divert costs to other payers or onto patients themselves), profits, marketing, and useless or even harmful medical interventions must be shifted to needed care.
  4. In a democracy, the public should set overall health policies. Personal medical decisions must be made by patients with their caregivers, not by corporate or government bureaucrats.

We envision a national health insurance program (NHI) that builds upon the strengths of the current Medicare system. Coverage would be extended to all age groups, and expanded to include prescription medications and long term care.[i]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~notes~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i]..             “Proposal of the Physicians’ Working Group for Single‑Payer National Health Insurance” http://www.physiciansproposal.org/embargoed/angell.html

Some would argue that a National Health Insurance program should cover all medically necessary services, including primary care, inpatient care, outpatient care, emergency care, prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, long term care, mental health services, dentistry, eye care, chiropractic, and substance abuse treatment.

Seeking my Last and Final Love

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
Why I bought a $1207 Ticket to China

by Aaron Milavec

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I felt that my time was running out.

I had been teaching for over thirty years.

And, when I finally retired,

I could now give attention to the things of the heart.

 

I am a very heady guy.  I write books.

And now I felt an acute sense of loneliness.

 

It was just around the time that I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas,

And I said to myself, “Gosh, it was lovely to have my family,

But I really don’t have my Lover.  Where is my Lover?”

So I began writing some poems to my Lover.

 

She’s the one that I was going to meet–

I knew that she was somewhere out there.

 

And I began looking for my last and final love.

I even started dating online.  I found twenty women

That I thought I would like to get to know.

And I only got three responses.

 

I thought, “Gosh, I put a lot of time into that.”

I felt ignored.  But guess what?  Three was enough.

[Upon reflection, I’d say] “One was enough.”

Yes, indeed, as things turned out, one was exactly enough!

 

The one that I am talking about is the one who began by saying,

“La vita e bella.”  It’s Italian.  It means, “Life is beautiful.”

What a neat way to begin.

Then she went on to say that she had been travelling.

 

Then she did something that most women would not do.

She said that there was something in her life that was unfinished:

It had something to do with a box of letters stored up in her attic

That she was afraid to look at.

 

“Wow!  What kind of women is brave enough

to talk about the fear in her life before a perfect stranger.”

Both of us felt the willingness to let down all our barriers,

To let ourselves be seen just as we are.

 

Not perfect.  Not totally imperfect either.

Not trying to impress each other—that was good–

Not trying to impress each other, but to just be who we are.

Noting more.  Nothing less.

 

We came across one of two crises,

But even these were overcome.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t just going to disappear either.

I bought a ticket!  I bought a ticket to go to Shanghai!

 

Just before Valentine’s Day.

Oh!  Was that pure fantasy?  No.

Was that pure hope?  Yes, but more than hope.

La vita e bella!

 

And I wanted to be sure.  I wanted to be sure that she was the one.

I had to be there. I was like a happy Chinese dragon in the sky,

Jumping from cloud to cloud, crossing the ocean to be with my Beloved.

 

Oh, it was a voyage of boundless anticipation

And I was that dragon racing to find my last, true love.

 

 

 

Following my Star

When I was attending St. Joseph High School in 1955, I became fascinated by the “radio lab” where, every weekday and weekend, one could find high school boys busy (a) with learning the Morse Code, (b) with building a one-tube (6L6) 25-watt transmitter on a discarded TV chassis, (c) with taking government exams that authorized the use of a transmitter to contact amateur radio operators in and outside the USA.

 

Mike Stimac, a visionary teacher, was the spirit and the organizer of this dynamic Radio Club. Everyone had something to learn; everyone had something to teach.  I spent thirty to forty hours in the lab each week.  I was being fed on the notion that I could learn electronic circuitry (no matter how complex) and that I could modify and use surplus radio receivers and transmitters taken from the B29s decommissioned after WWII.

Today, Mike is living in a retirement home in the outskirts of Columbus, OH.  I am living half-way around the world with my wife [see pic] in the outskirts of Shanghai, China.  Mike is losing his short-term memory.  He doesn’t remember even half of what we discussed on FaceTime just a week ago.  Surprisingly, however, his long-term memory is entirely intact (as will be shortly demonstrated).

So I offer you, dear reader, a transcript of ten minutes taken from our FaceTime chat that we had five days before Christmas.  With good reason, I am calling it “Following my Star.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~transcript begins here~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A [=Aaron]: What are the changes that you would want to make in your autobiography?  [Note: Mike has repeatedly told me that he is dissatisfied with his autobiography that he is holding in the pic above.]

M [=Mike Stimac]: Well, I don’t like the entire first chapter that is filled with “baby stories.”

A: Oh, O.K.  From what it’s worth, I very much enjoyed your story of how you received a mild electric shock when listening to your crystal set during a thunder storm.  What I heard in this story is how you first encounter radio waves.

M: Yeah, it all started with Jimmy and Johnny coming to live with us on our farm just outside of Cleveland.  The boys were nephews of mine who were escaping the outbreak of smallpox in Chicago.

A: How old were you then?

M: I was between 10 and 12.  Jimmy was a few years older than me.  Johnny was a few years younger.  Both of them, however, were “city boys” and had experience with using a selenium crystal to construct a primitive radio receiver.

A: Did they now?  Tell me about that.

M: My Dad was a part-time engineer with the railroad.  In our attic, he had collected lots of boxes filled with odds and ends of parts used to repair train engines.  The three of us would go through his collection by way of amusing ourselves.  One day, Jimmy recognized a selenium crystal (set in a lead base, it was the size of a dime).  He immediately recognized what it was and what it could be used for.  I helped him find a spool of bare copper wire and a pair of ear phones.  That’s all that was needed.  Jimmy mounted the crystal on a small board and attached it to thirty-foot antenna.  Then he made a “tickler” that allowed him to turn the crystal into a diode that would separate out the audio from the AM radio waves coming off the antenna.  The audio signal was then passed through the head phones allowing the audio signal to be heard in my ears.  Once everything was set up, we heard WTAM transmitting loud and clear from Cleveland, maybe twenty miles due West from our farm.

A: Wow!  That was quite a discovery.  Jimmy showed you how simple it was to design, to build, and to use a crystal receiver.

M: He sure did. I was amazed!

A: I bet you were.

M: After four months, Jimmy and Johnny returned to their family in Chicago.  After that, I had the crystal receiver all to myself.  At night, tucked into bed, I would wind down by listening to WTAM.  On one such night, a thunder storm was brewing.  Now, for the first time, I got some mild electrical shocks from my head phones.  I noticed that I would get a shock every time there was a lightning flash.

A: Hey, what a discovery that was.  [In 1887, the German physicist Heinrich] Hertz was the first man to create a radio transmitter.  It was no more than a spark gap connected to a tank circuit.  I just bet that Hertz, in his youth, had an experience like your own.  He noticed that each time that there was a lightning flash in the clouds, his radio receiver received a strong signal that was experienced as a mild electrical shock in his earphones.

M: Maybe so.

A: Another thing that may be true.  Of all the things that made a deep impression on you, my hunch is that the electrical shocks helped to make certain that you would remember that crystal receiver.  As a boy of ten, you had hundreds, thousands really, of other experiences that have been long-forgotten.  But not “those shocks” that came from your crystal receiver.

M: Yeah!  Now that you mention it.  The shocks that came through the head set were in tandem with the lightning flashes.  This gave me a renewed fascination with the mysteries of Nature.

A: And, let’s face it.  I notice that you remembered “WTAM,” the “selenium crystal,” and “the propagation of radio waves” as well.  All of these associated memories were registered deeply in your long-term memory due to the electric shocks.  Thus, while you might have trouble remembering what you had for supper last night, all of the events surrounding the electrical shocks are fixed in your memory after ninety years.  It’s wonderfully strange how our memory works.

M: I have to agree with you.

A: Let’s go back to your embarrassment at telling “baby stories” in the first chapter of your book.

M: Say more.

A: Well, to begin with, I am in awe that you were able to remember so many stories and to put them into their proper order in your autobiography.  To be sure, you were selecting and deselecting what stories to tell at every point in your writing. Many were left out due to your editing.  I remember that.

As it so happens, Matthew in his Gospel was doing exactly the same thing.  Scholars today believe that Matthew had two reliable sources for his writing: the Gospel of Mark and collections of random sayings of Jesus.  Mark’s Gospel does not have any “baby stories” as you call them.  Matthew, however, had one “baby story” that he wanted to tell.  That’s the story of how three wise men from the East had studied the stars and noticed that a new, bright star had arisen that indicated to them that “a great king has been born.”  This made such a strong impression upon them that they packed their bags and loaded them on camels and set out to follow that new, bright star.“Following a star” is just a fiction invented by Matthew for those [like himself] who do not quite understand astrology or astronomy.  Matthew has the wise men say, “we observed his star at its rising” (Matt 2:2).  Hence, when they started out each evening, the new star was right in front of them.  But, in any given night, this same star would be overhead in five hours and behind them after ten hours (when it was setting).  So, if they literally “followed the star,” they would be reversing their direction during the course of any given night.

Matthew also says the the star “stopped” when they got to Bethlehem: “It [the star] stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child” (Matt 2:9-11).  Here is another fiction.  No star ever stops (save the North Star).  All the other stars are constantly on the move—including the star that induced them to find Jesus.  Thus, only someone ignorant of astronomy could talk about a star “stopping” and allowing them to “enter the house” where the infant-king was to be found.

Yet, you and I know that the bible does not teach us astronomy or astrology.  We overlook these fallacies because the bible is telling us a wonderful story.

M: Yes, I agree.  This was a striking baby story in Matthew’ Gospel.  Who cares that the star movements were all fictionalized.

A: But the story doesn’t end there, as you know.  In Matthew’s story, the three wise men are told by an angel that Herod was not to be trusted.  So they avoided Herod on their way home.  Herod, needless to say, was expecting the wise men to give him the information he needed.  Finally, in a fit of anger, he sent his armed troops into the small village of Bethlehem with orders to kill every male child under two years old.

Many scholars today think that this reported killing of infants never took place.  A Jewish king could be ruthless but not so ruthless as to have a hundred innocent babies killed.  History books that tell about Herod have nothing to say about such a horrendous crime.  Surely the ancient biographers would not easily overlook this ruthless crime?  As I see it, “the killing of the innocents” was put into the story by way of giving “a mild shock” to those who heard the story so that they would never forget it.  So the story in Matthew has the same dynamics that floods your story about the crystal receiver.

M: OK, I get it.  Mark did not tell any baby-Jesus stories.  Matthew and Luke did.  So what now?

A: As I see it, Mike, your story of how you got your first radio receiver and how you discovered that a lightning flash emits powerful radio waves prepares the reader for discovering how, from these very humble beginnings, you would eventually start-up a Radio Club at St. Joseph High School. No one told you to do this.  You were teaching “electricity” to boys in the tech track.  To those who were college-bound, you decided to teach them “electronics.” As a result, over a hundred young men would gain official government licenses that allowed them to build simple one-tube radio transmitters and to send out radio waves that invited other “amateurs” to chat with them using Morse Code. At 06:00, I would fire up my rig because I knew that the atmospheric bounce was just right for chatting with amateurs in CA.

Radio Club tracking the beeps of Sputnik IBut this was only the beginning. There were field trips to examine the cyclotron at Ohio State, parents’ nights, road shows for Catholic grade schools, tracking Sputnik, retreats with Thomas Merton, etc.  So, your little “baby story” of discovering radio waves served to enable nearly two hundred young men to do the same—and I am mightily pleased to count myself among them.

M: In a nutshell, you liked my crystal set story.  It got you ready to hear a much larger story.

A: Exactly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~transcript ends here~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PS: After our chat, I did some fact checking.  I looked up WTAM.  They are still broadcasting the news from East Cleveland.  Mike got it right!  He was not inventing this part of the story.

PPS: Here’s a little secret of mine.

Now and then I have the chance to do some electronic repairs here at the house.  I recently took apart my back-up power supply for my home computer and replaced the large battery.  As I did the work, I played “Victory at Sea” using my computer’s loud speakers.  This music transports me physically and spiritually right back into the radio lab at St. Joes on a Saturday morning.

I can still feel “you guys” [Radio Club members] working on all sorts of projects right alongside me.  It gives me a wonderful feeling of being ALIVE!

 

When denial of Communion is blasphemy

By David M. Knight | United States
Published in La Croix International, 14 Aug 2020

Cardinal Burke and his allies have made many attempts to box Pope Francis into a corner by asking him whether the “doctrine” on denying Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics is still part of the unchanging Catholic teaching.  Pope Francis refuses to boxed in by Burke.  This article by Fr. Knight will demonstrate why Pope Francis will never back down on this position.

Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” But every time I hear confessions I realize many of the sheep are not being fed with what is most necessary for them—the Body and Blood of Christ—because they were taught false doctrines growing up, and are afraid to receive Communion. And one of those errors is what they were taught about mortal sin. It is blasphemy.

When Is Sin Mortal?

The bishops at Vatican II admitted we were taught error (Church in the Modern World 19):

 

Believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.

 

This statement has personally poignancy for me, because my 93-year-old brother has been, not an atheist, but an avowed agnostic all his life because of the false teachings we received as children.

 

We were told God would send a small child to hell for all eternity for things like missing Mass on a single Sunday. My brother drew the obvious conclusion: God is unbelievably cruel — and therefore unbelievable. He has been an agnostic ever since.

 

A few years ago he wrote me:

 

Religious belief – which I do not have – provides us with an explanation for our existence. And I do often wonder – Why am I here? Is there any purpose to human existence? The inability to come up with answers makes me uncomfortable.

 

The Catholic Church provided me with a raison d’être– but, as you know, it was not palatable. Each of us was put on earth to go through an ordeal, to be tested, to run a gauntlet. And if we scrupulously obeyed each and every edict of the Church, we would probably get through life without alienating God and having him consign us to damnation. That never appealed to me.

 

For my brother, God was like a pitcher standing on the mound, just waiting for him to take one step off first base so he could throw him out and cast him into hell forever. We taught him – yes, the Catholic Church taught him – that God was a monster.

 

That teaching was blasphemy. It “concealed rather than revealed the authentic face of God.” And every teaching that makes sins “mortal” when they are not is unintentional blasphemy against the true nature of God.

 

A pastor in my diocese asked an altar server at Sunday Mass where his ten-year-old brother was.

 

“He didn’t want to come to Mass this morning, Father,” the boy replied.

 

“Well, when you go home, you tell your little brother he has committed a mortal sin, and if he doesn’t come to Confession, he is going to hell.”

 

Who committed the greater sin: the boy who missed Mass, or the pastor who blasphemed by perverting the truth about God’s love for that little child?

 

The most common and destructive single error in the Church may be our centuries-long teaching about mortal sin.

 

We were given the impression we could easily distinguish mortal sin from venial sin. Mortal sin required three things: serious matter, sufficient knowledge, and full consent of the will.

 

That sounds clear enough. But in reality, it is almost impossible to identify anything as a mortal sin by using these three criteria.

 

When is knowledge “sufficient,” and when is consent “full”? More basically, what “matter” is serious enough to make God withdraw “grace,” the gift of divine life? In practice we were taught it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on one Sunday, or to eat a hamburger on Friday. Every sexual sin was “serious matter”—impure thoughts and touches, passionate kissing, masturbation, and contraception.

 

Married people were denied Communion for years because of “birth control.” According to the common teaching—and admittedly in the metaphorical language of the time—anyone who did any of these things and died without repenting, would be cast by God into the fires of hell to burn for all eternity.

 

To “conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God” like this makes our loving Father a monster. Is that not blasphemy?

 

The truth is, to be “mortal,” a sin has to be, not just bad, not just real bad, but evil; so evil that a normal father or mother whose son or daughter did that act would have to say it would be right and just to burn their child at the stake.

 

That would be much less than the punishment we say God inflicts in hell.

 

The truth is, the Church has never defined, with all her dogmatic authority, any particular act as the “serious matter” required for mortal sin. But from the pulpit, in the classroom, and in sacramental preparation, all sorts of offenses are blithely defined as mortal sin. This has to stop.

 

A good, practical rule of thumb for recognizing mortal sin would be to ask, “If my daughter did this, would I drive her from the house, refuse to let her eat at the family table—and yes, to be consistent with the doctrine we were taught—agree that she deserves to be burned in hell for all eternity?” If you answer “No” to any of these questions you do not really believe the girl is guilty of “mortal sin” as the Catholic Church defines it.

A Current Pastoral Failure

Up until 2016, when Pope Francis wrote his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), approving the findings of the Synod on Family Life, it was almost universally taken for granted that those married “out of the Church”—that is, invalidly, because in a way contrary to the rules—were living in mortal sin, and were not allowed to receive Communion.

 

But in The Joy of Love the pope declared officially in paragraph 301:

“It can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”

 

And in paragraph 243:

“It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union [without an annulment] should be made to feel part of the Church. They are not excommunicated, and they should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the ecclesial community. These situations require careful discernment and respectful accompaniment.”

 

There used to be a decree that declared them excommunicated, but it was abolished in 1977. And a 1984 article in US Catholic magazine quoted Father James Provost of the Canon Law Society of America:

 

Divorced Catholics enjoy the same good status of any other Catholic in regard to the Mass, Eucharist, and any liturgical function. Catholics who remarry without annulment have an irregular status, but “they are not excommunicated, are under no special penalties, and are not excluded from receiving the Eucharist if they believe they should receive it.” Father Edgar Holden, director of the tribunal of the Seattle archdiocese, agrees.”Nothing in Church law forbids a person with irregular status from receiving the Eucharist. This is a personal decision of conscience. We suggest that if people feel unable to reach a decision on their own, they ask their pastor or spiritual director for assistance” (emphasis added).

 

In other words, the only thing new about the teaching of The Joy of Love is its authoritative promulgation by the Pope and Synod.

 

No general rule exists or should be made either forbidding or allowing those in irregular marriages to receive Communion. This must be decided on a case-by-case basis. And the most important factor in every case is the conscience of the individual.

 

But in spite of the fact that the words of Pope Francis are available on the Vatican’s internet site (http://w2.vatican.va), this may be one of the best-kept secrets in the Catholic Church. I have yet to meet a Catholic who has heard this teaching of the Synod on Family Life, or the words of Pope Francis about it, proclaimed and explained from the pulpit.

 

Undoubtedly, there are pastors who have done so, but they must be few and far between. The great majority of Catholics are left in ignorance—and many are deprived of Communion who have a right to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

 

This is a serious, serious pastoral failure. The “Great Commandment” of pastoral ministry is what Jesus said to the first pope—and through him to all subsequent popes, bishops, and pastors, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”

 

The teaching in The Joy of Love should be shouted from the housetops. Why is that not happening?

 

David M. Knight is a senior priest of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis (USA) and the leader of Immersed in Christ, a movement for spiritual growth based on the five mysteries of Baptism. A former Jesuit, he has a doctorate in theology, 50 years of ministerial experience in 19 countries, and 40 books in print. He speaks four languages.

Source: https://international.la-croix.com/news/religion/an-issue-unaddressed-when-is-denying-communion-blasphemy/12883

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Here is how things stood in 2014 when the bishops were discussing pastoral options prior to the Synod on the Family:

In February, Pope Francis tapped one of his favorite theologians, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, to address a meeting of all the cardinals.

Kasper argued that the church must show more mercy to people whose first marriages have failed and who want to remain within the church.

“With respect to the divorced and the remarried people, the church does not give them absolution, [does] not give them Holy Communion. And many people say this is not the God of Jesus, because Jesus was very merciful — he forgives us — and the church does not,” he said.

Kasper spoke to NPR after his address. He said it provoked sharp exchanges among some of the cardinals.

“Of course there was a heated debate, but there were not only cardinals who were against it, there were also cardinals who were in favor,” he said. “And so the voices are divided. The pope himself was very grateful for the discourse.”

Many Catholic conservatives rejected Kasper’s proposals. On the eve of the current gathering of bishops, known as a synod, five cardinals published a book of essays, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ.” In them, they described Kasper’s permissive attitude toward Communion as “fundamentally flawed.”

One of the authors is American Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s top court. In an interview with Catholic News Service, he dismissed the viability of Kasper’s proposal.

Catholic doctrine stipulates that a second marriage without the complex and often lengthy annulment of the first amounts to adultery, and that anyone married in a civil ceremony is living in sin and therefore ineligible to receive the sacraments.

But Kasper says there is no such single category as “the divorced and remarried.” For example, he says, a woman who is abandoned by her husband is different from the man who abandoned his wife.

“So we have to distinguish the cases,” he says.

 

Unwed Mothers Allowed to take Communion

Unwed mothers allowed to take Communion, Vatican insists
The Vatican’s doctrinal office reminds “rigorist” priests and other Catholics that unwed mothers are permitted to receive the sacraments and their children can be baptized
By Loup Besmond de Senneville | Vatican City
Published in La Croix International, 15 December  2023

The Vatican’s doctrinal office has issued a new statement to remind “rigorist” Catholics of Pope Francis’ insistence that women who have had children out of wedlock can and should be allowed to receive Holy Communion.

“Pastoral work should be done in the local Church to make people understand that being a single mother does not prevent that person from accessing the Eucharist,” says Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), in a letter to a bishop in the Dominican Republic that was made public on Thursday.

The bishop expressed concern over single mothers who “abstain from communion out of fear of the rigorism of the clergy and community leaders”, the cardinal re-states at the beginning of his letter.

“It is noted that in some countries, both priests and some lay people prevent mothers who have had a child outside of marriage from accessing…

Read more at: https://international.la-croix.com/news/religion/unwed-mothers-allowed-to-take-communion-vatican-insists/18868

Christ’s Idea of Authority in the Church–book review

John Wijngaards, Christ’s Idea of Authority in the Church: Reflections on Reform. Wipf and Stock Publishers.  187 pp.  $23 for pb.  $10 for Amazon Kindle.

 

John Wijngaards provides us with his pastoral reflections on the use and abuse of authority within the Catholic Church.  He tells us, right from the start, that this is not a systematic study.  Rather, it is “food for thought” designed to empower Catholics who are intent upon joining with Pope Francis in providing a much-needed revision of how our Church exercises authority in the modern era.

Wijngaards tells us that he will be presenting “reality learning” rather than “systematic learning.”  Being an educator myself, I would say that Wijngaards is intent upon using a “case study” methodology.  In so doing, he offers us 28 short chapters.  Each chapter has (a) a title page with a biblical citation, (b) a cartoon, (c) a case study based on his rich pastoral experience, (d) relevant reflections from the Gospels and Acts, and (e) a few questions for personal reflection.  Wijngaards idea is that users would set aside a short period each day (perhaps 15-20 minutes) to contemplate the themes (chapters) day-by-day during an entire month.

 

There are two unique ways in which Wijngaards expands upon the “case study” methodology:

  1. He introduces each chapter with a cartoon. I know of no other person who does this.  Wijngaards describes his use of this feature as therapeutic:

At the start of each chapter you will find a comic drawing, a cartoon, a caricature. It depicts a particular situation in a funny way. It exaggerates. It distorts. It makes you laugh, or at least smile. Yes, this is comedy. But do not underestimate it. The best kind of comedy makes fun of a serious issue. (p. 12)

  1. Relative to the questions for personal reflection, I note that Wijngaards is using a variation on the Observe, Judge, and Act progression that was used within Catholic Action circles during my youth. Here are the words of Wijngaards into which I have inserted the Catholic Action terminology:

Take time to reflect. Ponder on the message in the story, the Gospel texts, the caricature. Ask yourself: “Do I agree? Do I [Observe] recognise the web of cultural beliefs and practices that foul and smudge the authority Jesus gave? If so, [Judge] how does it affect me? How can the anomaly be remedied? What can I do [Act] to bring about the required reform, if reform is called for?”(p. 17)

This is where Wijngaards sets himself apart from those who provide “pietistic meditations” or “bible studies.”  The goal of each chapter is to enable the reader to discern what effective actions are required in order to promote a more transparent and more accountable use of authority as exemplified by Jesus and the early church.

In order to enable readers of this review to decide whether this book is designed for them, I will now provide a brief synopsis of what I found to be “the most engaging chapter” and “the most disappointing chapter.”

 

The most engaging chapter for me was Chapter 14: Latent spiritual authority shared by all.  Here is the cartoon and key excerpt from the case study:

 

In 1991 I visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. . . . There I met a religious sister whom I shall call ‘Amelia’.  She ministered as a hospital chaplain and she talked to me about her work:

“One day I was on the emergency ward of a large hospital when a young man was carried in. His motorbike had collided with a car. He had broken both legs and, apparently, he also suffered from internal bleeding in the stomach area. A nurse told me they did not expect him to last long . . .  I approached his bed. When he saw me, he clenched my hand and whispered: ‘I need to go to confession’.  I was in shock. I realised that I would never be able to call a priest in time. What should I do? Then I remembered that in the past even ordinary Christians had heard the confession of other people . . . So I took a bold decision. ‘I can hear your confession’, I told him. He trusted me. I heard his confession and gave him absolution. Then I handed him holy communion which I always carry with me.”

“Marvellous!,” I said. “And what about your bishop?”

“Yes, that was my worry too. Had I done the right thing?” (p. 90-91)

Wijngaards narrates this event simply and directly.  The words and the gestures (“he clenched my hand”) bring forward the urgency of the young man’s plight.  Then follows the “shock” of Amelia and her quick thinking (“in the past . . .”) that leads to her resolve: “So I took a bold decision.”  For this to work, however, there was one essential: “He trusted me.”

In the biblical reflections, Wijngaards draws attention to an early church practice: “Confess your sins one to another,” the Apostle James prescribed (Jas 5:16).”  Without going into details, he also says, “The practice of the sacrament of penance has gone through a long and convoluted history.”

  • He could have mentioned that “confessing ones sins to an ordained priest” did not emerge prior to the fifth century and that this practice was introduced (or re-introduced into the wider church) not by the Vatican but by Irish monks living at the ends of the earth.
  • He could have added Roger Ellsworth’s expansion on Jas 5:16: “If we have sinned secretly, we should confess it to God (1John 1:9). If we have sinned against someone else, we should confess it to God and to the person whom we have wronged (John 20:23, Eph 4:32, Matt 5:23-24). And if we have sinned publicly, we should confess it to God and in public (Acts 19:18)” (Day One Publications, 2009, p. 162).

Then, by way of expanding this to include presiding at the Eucharist, Wijngaards draws our attention to the fact that (a) no one in the early churches is ever “ordained” as the “exclusive presider” and (b) at the Last Supper (a modified Passover), when Jesus (acting like a rabbi) says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he never clarifies that “this mandate” applies only to “apostles.”  Wijngaards thus arrives at a very carefully phrased conclusion:

Jesus addressed “Do this in memory of me” to all disciples. In principle all are empowered to preside at the eucharist. Yes, normally ‘elders’ or ‘overseers’ will preside, but if they are not present, any competent member of the community can, and should, fulfil that function. (p. 93)

The famous Dutch Dominican, Edward Schillebeeckx, first alerted me to this historical truth in the 60s.  For extended details, go to <https://www.churchonfire.net/jesus-and-priesthood/>

For the vast majority of American Catholics over fifty; however, Wijngaards suggestion will be blasted as “pure nonsense.” Let me explain why.

When I was attending Holy Cross Grade School in Euclid, Ohio, my sixth‑grade teacher, Sr. Matilda, an Ursuline Sister, explained this to me in a riveting story which I remember to this very day.  It ran something like this:

When the priest says, “This is my body,” over the host (i.e., the small wafer of unleavened bread) at Mass, it is changed.  It continues to have the appearance of bread, but, in reality, it has become the sacred body of Christ.  Only a priest has this supernatural power to consecrate.  Anyone else could recite the words of institution a hundred times over a host and nothing would happen.  The priest has only to say it once.  In fact, if a priest would go into a bakery and quietly say the words of institution over all the loaves on the shelf and really mean it, all at once, every one of those loaves would become the body of Christ.  No priest, of course, would do such a thing.  But the truth remains that he could, by virtue of his powers as a validly ordained priest, effect such a change if he really wanted to.

 

The hypothetical case of the priest in the bakery is clearly a pious exaggeration; however, within it original setting, this kind of narrative served to emphasize for a young boy like myself the supreme importance that Catholics in the 50s placed upon the ordained priest. This sort of retoric also served to enforce an unhealthy anti-Protestant bias.  Even as a lad of ten, I could easily understand why the Protestant celebration of the Lord’s Supper had nothing to do with the “true Mass” that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper.  In simplified terms, the argument would have been that the “defective intention” and “defective rites” used by Protestants in their ordinations could never have produced any “validly ordained priests.”  As a consequence, Protestant ministers were perceived as merely “going through the motions” when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper.  True sacraments (save for the exceptional case of emergency baptism and matrimony), Catholics wanted to insist, always and everywhere required validly ordained priests.

In Cleveland, Ohio, situated on the shores of Lake Erie, a typical winter will bring 20-30 snowfalls of six inches or more.  I’m telling you this because a certain convent of nuns in Cleveland had to makes use of an elderly retired priest in order to have their Sunday Eucharist.  When it snowed, however, he dared not go out.  So what was this convent of nuns to do?  After consultation and deliberation, they decided that when their priest could not come, one of their charismatic Sisters would become their “alternate presiders.”  No one in the community was adverse to this arrangement.  If asked, the Sisters might well have agreed with Wijngaards: if the Church allows non-ordained persons to administer “emergency baptisms” and “lay confessions,” then, it follows, as night follows day, that, in emergency situations, a gifted Sister could validly celebrate their Sunday Eucharist. To say anything less would be a sin against the Holy Spirit.

 

The most disappointing chapter for me was Chapter 12 The authority of the community.  The case study in this instance narrates how, in the 50s, Catholics in the village of Huissen, the Netherlands, had become attached to Dominican priests and attended the Sunday Eucharist at their amply priory.  The bishop had built and staffed a diocesan church, but it was sparsely attended.  So the bishop decided to padlock the doors of the Dominican church on Sundays so as to force them to go to the church he built.  Catholics were outraged at this strong-arm tactic.  Nearly a thousand gathered at the Dominican church and hacked off the padlocks.

Wijngaards makes the point that the Catholics have the right to choose where they go to Mass on Sundays, and that the bishop had overstepped his “authority” by running rough-shod over their preference for the Dominicans.

Wijngaards missed an opportunity here.  His case study has limited scope.  The much more universal issue that he overlooks is that of “priestless Sundays”:

[Fr.] James Dallen, in his book The Dilemma of Priestless Sundays (2007), demonstrates conclusively that the issue is not one of priestless parishes but, much more fundamentally, one of parishes prevented from being eucharistic.  According to Vatican figures alone, some 50 per cent of parishes or quasi-parishes world-wide have no resident priest and no ready opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist. . . .  Dallen shows that resolving the problem by the practice of what is known as SWAP (Sunday Worship in the Absence of a Priest) . . . is not only second best, it is clean contrary to the ancient traditions and teachings of the Church. . . .

The bishops, of course, complain that their hands are tied by the small number of seminarians that present themselves for ordination.  But is this the whole story?  Not nearly.

  • Roughly 200,000 priests world-wide left the ministry to marry following Vatican II. Did any bishop welcome some of them back into active ministry along with their families?  None.
  • Remember that these same bishops warmly welcomed those Anglican priests who deserted their church because they were unwilling to collaborate with ordained women. Many priests were angry that the bishops bent the rules in favor of the “Anglican deserters” at the same time when they were totally unwilling to bend the celibacy rule for long-suffering and faithful Catholic priests
  • In my 25 years in priestly formation, I met young seminarians who demanded to know “why God graciously gave them a vocation to priesthood at the same time that he gifted them with a yearning for marital intimacy.” Did any bishop decide to relieve their pain by making celibacy optional?   None.
  • Did any bishop invite priestless parishes to identify a trusted, mature, and charismatic elder in their midst, to present him for candidacy and, following a year of formation, to ordain him as their “interim” parish priest?   None.

Dallen carefully notes: “We often fail to experience and understand that it is the Body of Christ that celebrates the Eucharist.”  The subtext here is that the bishops and priests do not “own” the Eucharist; rather, this is the precious possession of the spiritual community itself!  Wijngaards, of course, could jump in here and remind us that “the bishops created an inadmissible situation” and “given this emergency, any parish without a priest had the right and the duty to select their candidate and to see that he is properly trained.”  And, if any bishop would run rough-shod over such a proposal, resourceful community members would be entitled to ‘hack off the padlocks.’

The biblical precedents for this are many.  The one that stands out most is when the Hellenists (“Greek-speaking Jews) complained to the Hebrews that their widows were being neglected.  The twelve responded by placing a proposal before the entire community: “Friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task” (Acts 6:2).  And, after considering this proposal, “What they said pleased the whole community” (Acts 6:5). So they went forward united in their shared pastoral solution.

This precedent fits well here because it begins with a serious grievance.  The Twelve do not try to dismiss the merits of this grievance.  They formulate an alternative solution.  All sides of the issue find merit in this solution.  As a result, the Hellenists select seven solid candidates, and the Twelve lay their hands on them and pray over them—a standard Jewish rite for inducting someone into a public ministry.  The merit of this solution is that it enables the “complainers” to take charge and to solve the issue according to their own standards. No one is left out, frustrated, and forced to hack off padlocks.

 

Stepping back, I want to personally thank John Wijngaards for creating an inviting and innovative book.  His “case study” methodology enables everyone to enter easily into the nitty-gritty of the issues at hand.  Real people are doing things that matter.  Finally, the Observe-Judge-Act reflective questions allow the reader to make sense of the issue at it plays itself out in their own parish and among their own ministers.

The Gospels show Jesus as very capable of being stern whenever his disciples tried to coax him into giving them special privileges, whenever they tried to impose their own agendas upon women, whenever they failed to show compassion.  Prophets in our church today mercifully draw our attention to those who act with the same carelessness and authoritarianism displayed by the first-generation disciples.  These same Gospels give the faithful the right–nay, even the obligation–to call to task misbehaving bishops and priests.

 

John Wijngaards is precious to us because he is not afraid to give voice to his prophetic message.  His little book provides training for how to spot and how to deal with common abuses of church authority.  I come away encouraged and supported in tackling those abuses that have come my way.  I’m quite certain that this little book will do the same for you.

Read it.  Discuss it with trusted friends.  Pray for yourself and for those who are healing.  Give copies during the time of this Advent to those harmed by abuses of ecclesial power.  Maranatha!

=============end of text: 2620 words==================

For a synopsis of the author’s life, go to <https://www.churchonfire.net/2022/02/06/the-case-of-fr-john-wijngaards-a-book-review-of-a-priest-who-protested-the-ban-on-women-priests/>

For an overview and publicity on the book, go to  https://Wijngaardsw.churchauthority.org/

 

 

Give Me a Hug, Bro.

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subtitle = Two brothers, two views of God and sex

by Aaron Milavec

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The author has placed a warning on this post for sexual content.

My father had two sons.  The first he named “Aaron.”  The second he named “Kevin.”

They loved each other fiercely.  They distrusted each other entirely when it came to God and sex.   They had two opposing views of love and romance as well.

Kevin always had a certain insecurity because he was always #2.  Hence, he was prone to compete with his older brother in almost everything.  When it came to climbing trees, using a sling shot, hitting a home run, Aaron always exceeded Kevin.  Aaron tried to encourage Kevin, “Don’t take it so hard, Kevin.  In three years, you will be doing all the things I do and more.  Just wait and see.”

But Kevin was not consoled.  He urgently needed to be #1, and it grieved him that he was not able to do so.  But, then, God heard his prayer, and Kevin, just after his marriage, finally found an arena wherein he could excel over his brother.  Kevin became a “Providentialist.”

“A Providentialist,” he was proud to remind me just about every time we met, “is someone who does not practice any form of birth control—not even Natural Family Planning (NFP) that is permitted by the Catholic Church. This person simply trusts God to give him and his wife as many children as God wants for them—no more, and no less.”

It made me sad to see my brother swallowing the doctrine of the Catholic bishops hook, line, and sinker.  His position would fit well in the 12th century, but it was patently absurd today.  So the next time that Kevin boasted of being a Providentialist, I said to my brother in a very quiet voice, “What kind of father would say, ‘My first child was born with a cleft lip.[i]  God must have known what he was doing; hence, as a Providentialist, I will accept this as God’s will and not interfere’”?

On the second occasion of his boasting, I said this: “What kind of father would say, ‘My second child was born with myopic vision.  God must have known what he was doing; hence, as a Providentialist, I will accept this as God’s will and not interfere’”?

On the third occasion, I said this: “What kind of father would say, ‘My third child was born with chickenpox.[ii]  God must have known what he was doing; hence, as a Providentialist, I will accept this as God’s will and not interfere’”?

My brother was visible shaken every time I said these things. I was raining on his parade.  On one of these occasions, he grew furious and blurted out bitterly, “You are always winning.  You can’t even let me win an argument from time to time.  I hate you!”

There, he finally said it. His rage had boiled over. I stayed absolutely silent. I calmly looked straight into his eyes, gave him a big smile, and said in a whisper, “Even when you’re wrong, I still love you.”  Then, I hugged him and held him in my embrace.  This disarming gesture caught him completely off guard.  As I held him, I could feel his pent-up rage dissipating like the end of a thunderstorm.  Hot tears spilled out of his eyes and fell upon my neck.

We never talked about this.  Neither of us had the right words to say about such an unprecedented event.  If fact, looking back, I would say that something powerfully changed between us.  Words would have only banalized the power of that unique event.

After that event, I realized that I had no interest in upsetting Kevin’s core beliefs.  He had a right to his beliefs, just as I had a right to mine.  Every man puts his life and his future on the line when he confesses his beliefs about God and love.  That’s the way things are.  No two men handle this in the same way.

I clearly saw the flaws in my brother’s beliefs; but, upon reflection, I realized that I was blind to the flaws in my own beliefs.  Kevin claimed that he saw the flaws in my beliefs, but, at the same time, he was afraid to listen to me for fear that I might sow some doubt in his mind.  As Michael Polanyi taught me, “Every belief works in the eyes of the believer”

Even when it comes to deciding when to have sex with his wife, how could Kevin decide whether God wanted them to have sex every day of the week or just on certain days (e.g., on Sundays or on birthdays).  Does this matter?  It sure does!  If Kevin insists that God is totally in change, then God must be seen as exerting his control over the process (how often to have sex) in order for him to better control the outcomes (how many children are conceived).  If God had no rules regarding the frequency of sex, therefore, it must be supposed that even God wanted each set of parents to come to their own decisions as to when and how often they had sex.

The same thing holds for the position of the partners during ejaculation.  Since God has no rules regarding the advantageous and disadvantageous position of the partners during the time of ejaculation, it must be supposed that even God wants each set of parents to come to their own decisions in this matter. What decisions they implement, however, necessarily has the effect of either increasing or decreasing the probability of conception.  Thus God cannot be said to be the sole determiner of when a conception takes place.

Kevin maintains that he wants to place his family planning entirely in the hands of God.  To maintain this illusion, he has to abandon all attempts to keep track of his wife’s fertility cycle. Furthermore, he and his wife need to have intercourse at random times using random positions so as to convince themselves that they are not trying to influence the outcome.

But what if God is not in the business of doing family planning for those who fail to take the time and effort to do it for themselves?  Then my brother’s family is cooked!  He is like a man who takes his hands off the steering wheel because he believes that God will take over the driving of his car.  This would invite unwanted accidents to happen. God, after all, does not have a driver’s license, and he has no record of being a safe driver.  So one cannot count on God to do something that he is not prepared to do.  Because of this, I am afraid for Kevin’s future.  This is a reckless way to live.  This invites unwanted accidents.

Even Pope Francis would agree with me.  In 2015, he visited the Philippines and met with the bishops there.  The bishops were taking a tough stand against the government’s new Protective Health Law of 2012 that permits clinics and hospitals to make contraceptives available for the first time.  Prior to this, only NFP was allowed.  The bishops tried to invalidate this Law, but the Supreme Court upheld its legality. At the time of the Pope’s visit, the bishops were busy conducting seminars that were designed to prepare Catholic health care workers to defy the government on the grounds that “on the basis of conscience . . . a health worker is not obliged [to make contraceptive available] and may refuse to refer a patient to anyone else from where the contraceptives may be obtained.”

Pope Francis was not happy with the initiatives of these bishops.  On the plane trip back to the Vatican, Pope Francis held his usual press conference.  “Catholics,” the pope said, “should be speaking of responsible parenthood.”  “How do we do this?” Francis asked. “With dialogue,” he said.  “Each person with his pastor seeks [for him/herself] how to do that responsible parenthood.”

“God gives you [Catholics] methods to be responsible,” he continued. “Some think that — excuse the word — that in order to be good Catholics we have to be [breeding] like rabbits. No [way].” (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/01/20/)

I just love it when Pope Francis breaks free of all the stuffy papal etiquette that surrounds his office.  I broke out laughing when I read that he was associating “good Catholics” and “breeding like rabbits.”  He was right on target, to be sure.  Most Catholics in my generation routinely associate the “holiness of parents” with “the size of their family.”

I was tempted to tell my brother of this papal interview.  In discussing this with my wife, she cautioned me saying, “Don’t you think that Kevin is suffering enough with the realization that he is a dying breed and that even his own children will someday be laughing at him behind his back whenever he begins one of his rants about being a ‘Providentialist’?”  I agreed with her entirely.

Some years later, Kevin was in a stable marriage, and his wife had just birthed his second daughter.  I, meanwhile, had discovered the love of my life and, our daughter, Jessica, was thriving in kindergarten.  In this period, I decided to write out my philosophy of living and loving.  This was so satisfying that I decided to write a letter to my brother in the hope that we might be able to discover some common understanding of God and love.  Here is my very first letter to my brother:

Dear Kevin,

When my wife and I together decided to go off contraceptives, we checked her vaginal mucus each night and, when it got slippery, we knew this was the beginning of the fertile segment of her menstrual cycle.  That night, we had a very long and very delightful sexual exchange  because together we imagined that we were creating (with God’s help) our future daughter.

The next three nights were the same.  The great sex that was our constant gift to each other was there, but now it was infused with a special urgency because we were anticipating our future daughter. . . .  We fucked like rabbits throughout the night.  We laughed and played and kissed for hours. This was like the unrestrained sexual ecstasies that we had for the first two weeks after our wedding. . . .  It was glorious.

But we were mistaken.  A conception did not take place. And don’t you dare ever trying to tell me that God was punishing us because we had used contraceptives for four years in order to allow Linda to finish her studies and to get a firm foothold in her profession.

So, when our daughter was not conceived, we were not in the least bit discouraged. In discussing this with our friends, they told us that “this was not unusual.”  So when the sign of the slippery mucus came again on the following month, we rushed into our marital orgy just as we did in the first month.  It came upon us with the naturalness of dew falling off of the morning leaves.  Again, we felt our future daughter was palpably there with us, and we loved her along with loving each other nonstop.

But again no conception took place.  After six months, we suspected that something was not quite right, so we consulted a specialist in fertility studies. We didn’t do a novena or have Masses said for our intention because we were fully aware that God was on our side and that he wanted us to have a daughter as much as we did.

The medical expert told us that we both were “marginally fertile.”  Hence, we continued our monthly orgies of sex for two full years.  Near the end of the second year, the vision of our daughter had grown dim.  In its place, our love making now was drenched in tears of pain and loss.  Good sex, believe it or not, can mix with tears that heal memories and mend wounds that life imposes on those who love God.  I wonder whether you have ever known good sex mixed with bitter tears.  If so, I’d enjoy hearing your story.

Then it happened.  We did not get pregnant.  No.  But the love that we had so faithfully generated for our future daughter had mysteriously moved a complete stranger from Guatemala who had crossed the Rio Grande and was being detained by the INS awaiting deportation to beg my friend Margaret a special favor: “I’m pregnant.  I need to find a couple in the USA who would take me in and love my baby.”

And so Margaret called me in the middle of the night and told me her “good news.”  She was like the angel who said, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10). And so we gave Zoila the residency rights that she needed, and she gave us the beloved daughter, Jessica, that we were ready to love even more than a child conceived within our own flesh. Who could have anticipated such an amazing story that left all of us blessed.

Your beloved brother, Aaron

When Kevin had digested my letter, he responded in only twenty-five words:

You took the short route, Aaron.  If you had faithfully entrusted your future to God as I did, he would have performed an even greater miracle for you.

I wanted to shout back,

Hey, bro.  You don’t get it.  God did perform the “greater miracle” when Zoila came to live with us. . . .  In any case, despite all our differences, I still love you.  Give me a hug, bro!

Financial fraud and stonewalling at Liturgical Press

No one likes to be caught red-handed when they are being lazy, neglecting professional duties, or showing their incompetence.  Hence, from the very beginning I adapted the attitude that I might be able to gently win over my would-be adversaries and to reveal to them serious flaws in their current system that needed to be corrected.  My motto was: “You attract more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.”

Who am I?

I am a research theologian who published two books with Liturgical Press: (a) THE DIDACHE (2003) and (b) SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS (2007).  My Didache book (110 pp.) is affectionately called “my mouse.” My thousand-page volume (“the elephant”) published with Paulist Press is the powerful protector of “my mouse.”  Thanks to my online forums and online blogging, “my mouse” continues to attract roughly the same level of sales today as it did when first published in 2003.  My annual royalties are roughly $1000.  I estimate that, over a period of twenty years, I have contributed roughly $60,000 to the operating costs of the Press.  When my next and final Didache volume (“my kangaroo”) appears, I anticipate a surge in the sales of “my mouse.”

Mini-Biography: Aaron Milavec began his career as an innovative teacher and oral story teller.  After devoting twenty-five years to the training of future priests and lay ministers, Aaron turned his attention to creating online courses in gender studies and the empowerment of women.  Aaron has gained an international reputation as a Didache scholar.  He has published eighteen books, eight chapters in collected works, and seventy journal articles.  His two most recent books are occupied with the graced power of love: The Red String Chronicles (2017) and What Jesus Would Say to Same-Sex Couples (2019).

Prof. Aaron Milavec, theologian, author, public speaker, advocate, Didache and Polanyi interpreter, Current research fellow with the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

My Purpose

I am writing this narrative for the authors and the staff within Liturgical Press. I believe in your mission and your role in bringing a big dream into reality.  I fear, however, that the arrogant and authoritarian leadership style exhibited by Sandra Eiynck, the CFO, and by Therese Ratliff, the CEO, are bound to inflict harm upon the staff and authors of the Press.  As I wrote to Abbot John:

In brief, the two most powerful persons at Liturgical Press show themselves quite easily inclined to be authoritarian and brutal, not only to me but to all those others who, like me, have had and will have the audacity to question their hidden financial irregularities.  In brief, we are dealing with systemic mismanagement.

I am writing this to alert authors and the Board of Directors that Sandra Eiynck, the Chief Financial Officer, has sanctioned and promoted policies from 2017 onward that are ineffectual and self-serving.  As a result, authors who share their research and talents in the form of books for sale (a) fail to receive their royalty payments in a timely fashion and, when they do receive such payments, (b) the number of eBooks is underreported and the calculation of the net sales is invariable flawed.

Some of my readers may imagine that I have a vendetta against Sandra Eiynck and that I am intent upon embarrassing her by exposing her rudeness and incompetence.  Far from it.  From the very beginning, I presented myself as a research scholar, as a productive writer, and as a concerned friend and collaborator.  Moreover, even after receiving repeated and undeserved abuse, I still had goodwill toward all concerned.  Here is what I wrote to Sandra:

In closing, I want to say that I honor you as a resourceful and just Director of Finance.  Your resistance to my appeal to justice can be dismissed as a momentary lapse of judgment. My intention is not to scare you or to belittle you.  On the contrary, I want to save your legacy of honor that you have built up so far.  I want you to [someday   be able to] retire with honor.

My final hope was to bring a greater efficiency and economic justice within the operating procedures surrounding the computation and distribution of royalties.  As it turned out, my innocent discoveries and my reporting of financial irregularities were met with disbelief and dismissal.  Then, when I endeavored to bring this to the attention of Therese Ratliff, the Director and CEO, and Abbot John Klassen, President of the Board of Directors, I was met with either open hostility and stonewalling or an inappropriate silence.

In the end, even my spoonful of honey failed to attract the least bit of interest in investigating how and why authors failed to receive timely and just royalties.  Thus, as things now stand, the conduct of Sandra Eiynck from 2017 to the present goes unnoticed and uninvestigated.  No one knows how many authors have been cheated of their just remuneration.  Furthermore, due to the open hostility and stonewalling of Therese Ratliff and due to the uncritical support she receives from Abbot John Klassen, President of the Board of Directors, there is little or no prospect that Liturgical Press will ever be transparent and just when it comes to computing and distributing royalty payments.  Is this a harsh judgment?  It may appear to be so.  All I can do is narrate the events, and to allow you to decide for yourself.

The positive and supportive relations of 2003

5 Things Geese Can Teach Us About Teamwork. By: Len WilsonAs the Canadian geese honked during their V-formation as they flew over my home in Cincinnati to escape the bitter cold of another Canadian winter in 2002, I was removing the passenger seats from my Mazda and packing all of the clothes, books, and camping equipment that I would need during my nine-month stay on Vancouver Island in Canada. I was fortunate enough to have received a Research Fellowship on the Interface of Science and Religion at the prestigious University of Victoria.

This fellowship came at just the right moment.  My life in Cincinnati had surrounded me with a whirlwind of activities.  Now I was heading off to a life of peace and quiet and contemplation.  In order to save money and to satisfy my life-style as a nature lover, I would be camping on each of the six nights along the way.  The total driving distance is 4000 km.  Driving six hours each day would suffice to get me to the ferry that will bring me to Vancouver Island.

Two books were in the process of being prepared for the printers.  “My mouse” was being handled by the staff of Liturgical Press.  I remembered, before falling asleep at night, how the Liturgical Press staff was so helpful and informative.  I had suggested to them a cover design and, without missing a beat, they accepted my ideas enthusiastically.  They consulted with me when designing advertising copy as well.  Our give and take relationship was a joy to behold.

In contrast, Paulist Press staff was very secretive and resistant to my suggestions.  Their mantra was, “Just relax, Aaron.  Let us do what we know best.”  But, truth to say, they chose a very  blurred image of Jesus taken from a primitive ossuary for use on the cover.  A friend of mine told me that the blurred image appears to be a man walking a circus bear.  Furthermore, they wanted to change my text in more than a dozen places in order to harmonize my narrative with popular devotional prejudices upheld by most Catholics. My senior editor, a scholar in early Christianity, happily silenced these uninformed “editors” on my behalf.  If it had not been for him, I would have completely backed out of my contract with Paulist.

I share there things because I want to show how positive and supportive my relations were with the Liturgical Press staff in 2002-3.  In 2023, all this goodwill was squandered and turned around.

The conduct of Sandra Eiynck, Director of Finance

Here are the seven emails that detail how I gained the ire of Sandra Eiynck. The opening email comes from her assistant, Lynn Tamm.
#1

From Tamm, Lynn on 2022-11-03

Hello Aaron,

I hope this email finds you well.

Your inquiry about royalties was brought to my attention.  We encountered an issue with our software program, which has since been corrected and we are in the process of getting the payments out.  [Notice that Lynn acknowledges that there was some unspecified problem with “our software program,” but that this has been corrected and “we are in the process of getting the payments out.” This is good news.]

I noticed in our notes that you prefer your payment to be paid by EFT.  But I’m not sure if we have the correct banking information for you.  Could you please confirm where it should be transferred to, please?  [I respond by sending out my banking information = router number for bank + my account number]

Also, let me know if there are any other questions or concerns that I can help you with. [This is a welcome invitation.  See #2]

With warmest regards,
Lynn Tamm

#2

From: Aaron Milavec <milavec@churchonfire.net>
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2022
To: Tamm, Lynn <LTAMM@litpress.org>
Subject: Re: Royalty Payments

Dear Lynn,

It distresses me to hear that for all these years, the royalties were being returned and no one was making the effort to contact me and to correct the problem with the defective wire transfers.

Do you recognize that the dollar in 2022 is worth less than the dollar in 2017?  Using the inflation calculator [https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/2017?amount=1], I get the following result:

$777.48 in 2017 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $945.24 today, an increase of $167.76 over 5 years. The dollar had an average inflation rate of 3.99% per year between 2017 and today, producing a cumulative price increase of 21.58%.

Thus, for the six royalty payments (rounded off to the nearest whole dollar):

2017    777–>945
2018    1014–>1203
2019    1068–>1245
2020    958–>1103
2021    1079–>1187
2022    962–>962
—————
$6645 = total amount due adjusted for inflation

In addition, the LitPr [abbr. Liturgical Press] might want to consider imposing a voluntary fine for each year that the monies wired were returned but no “due diligence” was taken to correct this.  Since I have been injured by this lack of due diligence, this fine would also be added to the required royalty payments adjusted for inflation.

I want to emphasize that I hold no animosity toward LitPr.  I do expect, however, that LitPr will continue to act honestly and promptly in repairing what is my due.

Peace and joy,
Aaron

#3

From Tamm, Lynn on 2022-11-18

Dear Aaron,

I cannot make any decision on this. I have brought your request to the attention of Sandy Eiynck and she will be in touch with you in the next few days.  [Lynn provides a response that is informative.]

Thank you,
Lynn

#4

From Eiynck, Sandra on 2022-11-19

Dear Mr. Aaron,

Lynn Tamm forwarded your message to me concerning your royalty payments.

We are not in a position to pay you the additional amount your [sic] are requesting.  There is nothing in the contract you have with us that addresses the non-receipt of payment or a fine for the non-receipt.  [Sandra completely dismisses my appeal to the injustice of paying a 2017 debt with an equal amount of 2022 dollars. Sandra falls back entirely on the fact that the contract does not address how to deal with late payments. Since the contract presumes that annual payments of royalties are being paid, it is no wonder that the contract saw no purpose in addressing such a question. Sandra seemingly has no ability to think outside the box. Alternately, it is quite possible that Sandra was shaking in fear that all her financial irregularities would be exposed once an investigation was underway. Hence, her hiding behind the letter of the contract was her lifeboat in her moment of danger.]

We do our best to get in touch with authors when payments are returned, but do not always have current information.  Oftentimes we need to wait for the author to reach out to us in order to get payments made.

Sincerely,
Sandy Eiynck

#5

To Eiynck, Sandra, 1 more… on 2022-11-20

Dear Sandra and Lynn,

When you say, “We are not in a position to . . . ,” I hear you to be saying, “We are not in a position to act justly.”

You say that I was contacted.  Help me understand this.  On what dates and by what means and by whom?

The U.S. Bishops pastoral letter, “Economic Justice for All” calls us to act thusly:

Justice has many nuances.(9) Fundamentally it suggests a sense of what is right or of what should happen. For example, paths are just when they bring you to your destination (Gen 24:48; Ps 23:3), and laws are just when they create harmony within the community, as Isaiah says: “Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security” (Isa 32:17). God is “just” by acting as God should, coming to the people’s aid and summoning them to conversion when they stray. People are summoned to be “just,” that is, to be in a proper relation to God, by observing God’s laws which form them into a faithful community. Biblical justice is more comprehensive than subsequent philosophical definitions. It is not concerned with a strict definition of rights and duties, but with the rightness of the human condition before God and within society. Nor is justice        opposed to love; rather, it is both a manifestation of love and a condition for love to grow.

The US Department of Labor stipulates the following interest tables when calculating back pay:

  1. Purpose and Rate of Interest. The purpose of applying interest on back pay awards is to compensate the victim(s) for the loss of the use and purchasing power of their income. Interest on back pay is calculated at the same percentage rate as the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) underpayment formula. Interest on back pay must be compounded quarterly under the laws OFCCP enforces.

  2. Rate Adjustments. The IRS may adjust its rate on a quarterly basis. The interest rates applicable to various periods are available on the IRS website at https://apps.irs.gov/app/picklist/list/federalRates.html.

I urge you not to act rashly.  Seek the advice of those who cherish justice.

Fraternally,
Aaron

#6

To Eiynck, Sandra, 1 more… on 2022-11-23 13:54

Dear Sandra,

At this moment, I have a grievance.  You say that there is nothing in the contract that addresses my grievance.  Hence, some exploration is required.

Here are the qualities that you identify in yourself: “Critical Thinking, Microsoft Office, Grant Writing, Leadership, Public Speaking, Editing, Event Planning, Research.”  For our task here, critical thinking and research are called for.  You take pride in having such skills.  With this we can securely go forward.  [I wanted to learn more about Sandra.  I did a Google search.  Among the items I found were Sandra’s self-evaluation.  I accept her self-evaluation and honor it by way of implementing what follows.]

Three questions:

Q1. Do you recognize that the dollar in 2022 is worth less than the dollar in 2017?

Q2a. If so, do you think that there would be some merit in taking into account the devaluation of the 2022 dollar when paying out the royalties that were calculated in 2017 dollars?  [For the moment, do not factor in any praise or blame for the delay in the payments.]

Q2b. My book, THE DIDACHE, is currently listed as costing $19.95.  What if a customer came in with an add that listed my book as costing $12.95 (printed in 2013) and insisted that he should be able to buy my book for that amount today?  How would you respond to him?

Q3. You say that I was contacted when the bank money transfer of 2017 failed to go through.  Help me understand this.  On what dates and by what means and by whom?  [As Director of Finance, it might be of interest to you to discover just how well your staff is functioning.]

Peace and joy,
Aaron

SANDRA OFFERED NO RESPONSE TO THIS EMAIL.  SHE DID NOT EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIVING IT.

#7

To Tamm, Lynn, 1 more… on 2022-11-30 11:12

Dear Sandra,

For twenty years, my little book, THE DIDACHE, has been selling steadily.  In the years to come, this steady seller will be the Liturgical Press’ golden goose.  Most books taper off after the first five years.  Not so for THE DIDACHE.  Every year, without fail, it continues to lay golden eggs.

What I liked about the production staff [in 2002-2015] is that they were open to innovative ideas.  They let me design the front and back cover.  After ten years, they encouraged me to update and to expand this golden goose.

Now all of this good will and mutuality built up over twenty years is in danger of being dwindled away because you have chosen to ignore my appeal for economic justice.  Your case, as I see it, is exceedingly weak.  You argue that the contract says nothing about how to handle cases where the bank returns royalty payments for a period of five years.  That’s why I cited the US Catholic Bishops in their pastoral letter on economic justice.  That’s why I cited the ruling by the US Department of Commerce regarding how they require justice when making late salary payments.

Maybe you think that by ignoring me, I will just eventually go away.  I am sorry, but I will not do this.  Here is what I will do.  I will begin by going to your Supervisor at LitPr.  Then I will explore whether LitPr has a mediation process that resolves such disputes. If none exists, then an outside mediator will need to be found.  Finally, if all else fails, I will go to the Small Claims Court.  At this point, however, my patience with you will have been exhausted.  I will, in the end, be awarded the $794  (plus interest) that is my due, but I will be bitter that I had to waste so much time in order to achieve the justice that you denied me.  Meanwhile, nearly all the good will and mutuality built up over twenty years will be dwindled away.  You will be retiring with a legacy of shame.  I will be telling the story of how I was mistreated by LitPr.

My intention is not to scare you.  On the contrary, I want to save your legacy of honor that you have built up so far.  I want you to retire with honor.

For the moment, however, the ball is in your court.  You can continue to ignore me, but you will know what is coming. Your eyes are opened.  You can answer the three critical questions that I sent in my last email.  That will put us back into dialogue.  That will allow that I have something to learn from you and that you have something to learn from me.  If we remain in dialogue, we will find a mutually acceptable solution somewhere down the line.  You take pride in being intelligent, resourceful, and a problem solver.  If so, please respond to my three questions in a timely fashion. You will find that I am a gentle and loving person but that I do not tolerate anyone who functions as a dictator.

Maybe you don’t have the time to dedicate to dialogue and mediation.  Then, in that case, I would advise sending $794 as quick as possible.  If you do this now, (a) you won’t have to defend yourself and (b) you will miss out on the adventure of staying with this issue until it is mutually resolved.  On the other hand, sending $794 will get that “pest of a theologian off your back.”  More importantly, the good will and mutuality built up over twenty years will remain intact, and it will continue to grow for the next twenty years.  You will retire with honor.

I myself do not want to be a dictator.  Hence, I give you permission to share my emails with those whom you regard as trusted advisors.  You are free, at any point, to take their advice or to reject it.  The ball is in your court.  If you choose to ignore it, you will thereby be enabling me to win “the game.”  You get to decide.

In closing, I want to say that I honor you as a resourceful and just Director of Finance.  Your resistance to my appeal to justice can be dismissed as a momentary lapse of judgment. My intention is not to scare you or to belittle you.  On the contrary, I want to save your legacy of honor that you have built up so far.  I want you to retire with honor.

Fraternally,
Aaron

cc:Lynn

SANDRA OFFERED NO RESPONSE TO THIS EMAIL.  SHE DID NOT EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIVING IT.

The conduct of Dr. Therese Ratliff, Director and CEO

Therese L. Ratliff New Director, CEO of Liturgical Press | Shelf AwarenessAs for starters, I wish to note that Therese Ratliff did not allow her email address to be listed and that when I finally did get it [due to a personal contact within LitPr], I noticed that she had taken TRatliff001@litpress.org  To my knowledge, the other 34 employees have taken an email address which consists in the first letter of their given name followed by their family name without the “001”.   Peter Dwyer had taken PDwyer@litpress.org  Hence, I presume that Therese Ratliff had deliberately added the “001” by way of affirming her rank as #1 and by way of preventing outsiders from being able to contact her because they would wrongly presume that TRatliff@litpress.org is her email address.

All in all, Therese Ratliff never responded to any of my emails.  She never even acknowledged that she was receiving them.  Behind the scenes, however, Therese Ratliff contacted the company lawyer and directed him to write a letter of complaint to me that ended with a “cease and desist” warning.  Here it is:

Here is my reply transmitted on 27 March 2023:

Dear Therese L. Ratliff, PhD, Director and CEO

It pains me that you, as yet, have never written a single email to me. This is a very unorthodox way of doing business with one of your distinguished authors.

It is doubly-painful in so far as you evidently reported to your lawyer that you were being “repeatedly harassed” by me.  Does it not occur to you that I was awaiting a simple acknowledgement that you have received my complaint?  I wrote in my emails, “I do not know whether you have received my complaint.”  A single email saying, “I have received your complaint and am considering the merits of your case,” would have halted any repeated attempts to contact you.

If this explanation seems plausible to you, please tell me and we can then mutually drop the accusation of “harassment.”

Your lawyer also prejudices my letters to Sandra Eiynck by characterizing them as “defamatory communications.”  In matter of fact, my letters have been respectful. I needed to alert you to the impoverished notion of justice and civility manifest by one of your cherished employees.  Read in the context of my expressed hope to safeguard the reputation of Liturgical Press for the future, I am surprised that you completely overlook my good intentions to improve the performance level of the Press.

If this explanation seems plausible to you, please tell me and we can then mutually drop the accusation of “character assassination.”

Your lawyer makes a case for placing the blame entirely on my shoulders, by referring to calling to mind the case of “a bank account, insurance policy, credit card account, magazine subscription” where “it is your responsibility to notify the paying party or vendor of any change of address.”  Except for the case of payouts of an “insurance policy,” your lawyer is correct in his observations.  However, the text of his letter implies that I had changed my mailing address and/or my email address without notifying Liturgical Press.  This is completely erroneous. No such changes had ever taken place.  Even when I moved to China, I maintained my USA mailing address on 2739 Queenswood Drive.

Three points:

#1 Royalties are a contractual obligation made to remunerate authors.  Not to employ due diligence to pay such royalties constitutes a breach of contract.  This is not the case for “a bank account, insurance policy, credit card account, magazine subscription.”  Would you agree with me, therefore, that David W. Koehser is making the error of not separating the apples from the oranges.  Paying royalties in a timely fashion is a requirement of the contract.  If electronic payments are not going through, then the contract argues strongly in favor of requiring that the royalty checks be mailed to my home address as was the former practice for fourteen years.  No one seems to notice this.  Here again, the absence of fail-safe procedures leads to breaches of contract. Would that the lawyer had been consulted as to whether there was a contractual obligation to pay the royalties due even if that meant reverting back to mailing out checks.

#2 LitPress [abbr. for “Liturgical Press”] was diligent in sending out the annual royalty checks from 2003 to 2016.  They were faithfully mailed to my family home on 2739 Queenswood Drive [and later sent to 1649 Sutton Ave.]

Then [in 2017] the treasurer made preparations in order to expedite delivery of royalties using electronic bank transfers.  Notified of this, I contacted my bank and obtained the routing number and the checking account number for my PNC Bank.  They correctly informed me that these numbers were clearly printed on the bottom of every check that I use. Hence, from my side, no error was possible. I sent these to LitPress. I am 100% certain that I trusted them to implement their new system in a way that would not leave me hanging.

My trust was misplaced.  For six consecutive years, the treasurer knew or should have known that my royalty checks were being returned.  No evidence has been put forward demonstrating that notices were sent to my email and home addresses.  No investigation was made to track down how a clerical error might have altered my routing number or my checking account number when they were being transcribed into the new system.  No attention was given to the possibility that, after a simple five-minute phone conversation with my PNC Bank, the error might have been easily corrected.

#3 I hold Sandra Eiynck responsible for not drafting and implementing fail-safe procedures from the very first moment when electronic payments were first being introduced.  More especially, she should have employed the widely used fail-safe procedure whereby major companies, after transcribing the numbers, they make an electronic transfer of $.47 by way of alerting authors that “the system is working correctly for you.”

In cases when the $.47 was returned, further procedures would be necessary to determine whether transcription errors were somehow introduced into the numbers that I originally sent.  If an in-house error is not verifiable, then further procedures would entail sending out notices to my email and home addresses on record requesting that a voided check be sent to the Press.  On the bottom of a voided check, the correct routing number and the checking account number are printed. This insures immediate success.

It does not bode well for the future of LitPress to have a treasurer who is blind to the importance of drafting fail-safe procedures. It is solely the responsibility of LitPress to detect and correct the bugs in their system.  Authors have no competence or responsibility to do this (contrary to the opinion of your lawyer who wants to hold authors as entirely responsible). Going further, it does not bode well to have a treasurer who is so self-assured as to be certain that she has nothing to learn from my sad story. How many others suffered as I did?  You will never find out the truth in this matter.  But have you even tried to do so?

I am sure that Sandra Eiynck functions quite well in most areas of her professional life; yet, this should not blind you to the fact that there are at least three areas that I would judge as needing improvement: (1) Drafting and implementing fail-safe procedures for electronic transfers of royalties; (2) Acquiring skills to listen to and to appropriately respond to persons who disagree; and (3) Leaving room for self-improvement, admission of shortcomings, and being able to say, “What can I do to make up for the pain I caused you?”

O.K.  Now the ball is in your court.

#1 What are the merits and short-comings in your lawyer’s analysis?

#2 What are the merits and the short-comings of Sandra Eiynck in this case?

#3 How can we move together toward a mutual understanding and a financial settlement that allows me to continue to sing the praises of LitPress and allows you to redeem this whole sordid affair in your favor?

[Notice here that, in #3, Aaron shows himself ready to arrive at a mutual understanding and a financial settlement despite the supreme lack of civility and fair play on the part of Sandra Eiynck and Therese Ratliff.]

Your devoted servant,

PS: The U.S. Bishops pastoral letter, “Economic Justice for All” calls us to act thusly:

Justice has many nuances. Fundamentally it suggests a sense of what is right or of what should happen. For example, paths are just when they bring you to your destination (Gen 24:48; Ps 23:3), and laws are just when they create harmony within the community, as Isaiah says: “Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security” (Isa 32:17). . . Biblical justice is more comprehensive than subsequent philosophical [or legal] definitions. It is not concerned with a strict definition of rights and duties, but with the rightness of the human condition before God and within society. Nor is justice opposed to love; rather, it is both a manifestation of love and a condition for love to grow.

The US Department of Labor stipulates the following interest tables when calculating back pay:

  1. Purpose and Rate of Interest. The purpose of applying interest on back pay awards is to compensate the victim(s) for the loss of the use and purchasing power of their income. Interest on back pay is calculated at the same percentage rate as the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) underpayment formula. Interest on back pay must be compounded quarterly under the laws OFCCP enforces.

  2. Rate Adjustments. The IRS may adjust its rate on a quarterly basis. The interest rates applicable to various periods are available on the IRS website at https://apps.irs.gov/app/picklist/list/federalRates.html.

How would you rate (using a scale going from A+ to F) the conduct of Therese Ratliff relative to her [   ] Christian civility and her [   ] pursuing justice? How would you rate (A+ to F) the conduct of Aaron relative to his [   ] Christian civility and his [   ] pursuing justice?  Any reflections?

The conduct of Abbot John Klassen, President of the Board of Directors

Father John Klassen OSB, Elected 10th Abbot of Saint John's AbbeyAs President of the Board of Directors, Abbot John Klassen was a major player in identifying and in vetting Therese Ratliff as the future Director and CEO for Liturgical Press.  Here is the press release:

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — Abbot John Klassen, OSB, is pleased to announce that Therese L. Ratliff, PhD, will be the next director and chief executive officer of Liturgical Press, the publishing apostolate of Saint John’s Abbey. Ratliff will succeed Peter Dwyer, who is set to retire in June 2022 after 33 years of service to the Press, 21 years as director.

Ratliff will be the second layperson and the first woman to lead Liturgical Press in its 96-year history. . . .

“We are thrilled to have Therese Ratliff come on board as director of Liturgical Press,” said Klassen. “She is an energetic, vibrant person who brings a rich set of leadership experiences in the world of Catholic publishing. I am confident that she will continue the Benedictine mission of the Press as it seeks to serve today’s believers in exciting new ways.”

“I am thrilled to be joining a talented, top-notch team and look forward to building on the extraordinary reputation of Liturgical Press,” said Ratliff. “We in Catholic publishing must meet the moment our world faces in diverse new ways, and I’m confident that, together, we will find new pathways and explore new directions for the Gospel to take root and flourish.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~end~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am pleased that Abbot John finds Therese Ratliff to be “an energetic, vibrant person.”  Therese, for her part, speaks boldly about the “new ways” she intends to introduce: “We will find new pathways and explore new directions for the Gospel to take root and flourish.”

I wonder if Abbot John asked Therese Ratliff about her experiences with “social justice in the workplace.”  When I finally get the opportunity to meet Abbot John, this will be one of the areas that I would like to explore with him.  I already know that “pursuing justice” and “seeking to heal those deprived of justice” is high on the list of Abbot John’s priorities.

But how about Therese?  She speaks enthusiastically of  “new directions for the Gospel to take root and flourish.”  Do you imagine that Therese was imagining, as Director and CEO, that she would examine the strengths and weaknesses of the already present “conflict resolution procedures” among the staff of Liturgical Press?  Do you think that Therese had any prior experience in conflict resolution in her rich background?  Do you think that Abbot John asked about such things when he was vetting Therese?  One can’t be sure.  The only evidence we have in this area is how she responded to Aaron when he brought to her attention the abysmal conduct of Sandra Eiynck.  Instead of reaching for “conflict resolution procedures,” Therese’s impulse was to silence the messenger by threatening him with a lawsuit.  Do you think that Abbot John will do much better when Aaron comes knocking at his door?  Let’s see.

#1 email sent to Abbot Klassen on 24 May 2023

Dear Abbot John Klassen,

Here is what I wrote to one of my colleagues:

I have made nine attempts[i] to contact Abbot John Klassen using his email address = jklassen@csbsju.edu.  My purpose is to present evidence of financial irregularities, abusive conduct, and stonewalling on the part of two employees of Liturgical Press.  At this point, I cannot be sure whether Abbot Klassen has inadvertently not opened my emails or whether he is deliberately avoiding having to deal with a messy affair that involves serious misbehaving.

Here is another email I have sent:

I am trying to assess Abbot Klassen’s record regarding misbehaving monks.  Did he promptly inform the police?  Or did he encourage misbehaving monks to turn themselves in?  Did he encourage misbehaving monks to take steps to make restitution?  Did any monks actually serve prison sentences?  Why or why not?

I find it noteworthy that Abbot Klassen has not dismissed behaving monks but that they work out the consequences of their crimes while staying in their abbey.

Here is the testimony of one of the victims:

“It was time for someone to step up, and he did,” he said.  Abuse victim Allen Vogel said the abbey rebuffed him when he told his story 12 years ago. But things went differently with Klassen. “He’s the leader St. John’s has been looking for for decades,” Vogel said.

I also want to applaud your investment of time and energy to enter into dialogue with the Native Americans whose children were incarcerated in learning institutions deliberately designed to give them a passport to the American dream by destroying their way of life, forbidding the use of their native languages, and indoctrinating them into becoming Roman Catholics (for the benefit of their immortal souls).  The theme of turning enemies into friends and seeking restorative justice show up consistently in this setting.  I honor your insightful and courageous endeavors in this arena.

[Notice that 85% of my first email is spent honoring Abbot John for his courageous efforts to reach out to the victims of horrendous crimes.  This is deliberate on my part.  I want to signal that his “turning enemies into friends and seeking restorative justice” gives me hope that he will extend to me this treatment as well.]

For all these reasons, I now ask you to come forward and begin the dialogue with me and with those others like me who have been sorely mistreated by two of your high-ranking and invaluable employees at Liturgical Press.

Your servant and Brother,

Aaron

Response to #1 email = total silence

As the days turned into weeks, Abbot John’s silence tightened my gut and gave me the sinking feeling that I am of no importance to him.  I have installed software that indicates if and when Abbot John reads my email.  So I am assured that I have his correct email address.

Why this silence?   I am a “servant and Brother” reaching out to him.  So how do I account for his cruel silence?   Even my attempts to confirm his email address in the opening weeks of May were met with a total silence.  Thus, I am forced to conclude that Abbot John was disposed to entirely ignore me even before he had received for me any details of the crimes committed by his cruel Sisters.  I must presume therefore that Sandra Eiynck or Therese Ratliff had already poisoned his mind against me.

The poison had already blinded him.  He was unable and unwilling to receive me either as a Brother or as a whistle-blower.  All in all, I am dismissed without a hearing.  I am a throw-away person of no consequence. Lazarus is my middle-name.  Thus, I use Lazarus as the theme for my next email.  I sent it to all three of them.

 

#2 email sent to Abbot Klassen and his cruel Sisters on 12 June 2023

Case of Lazarus  (a midrash)

Lazarus and the Rich Man (5 Lessons) — Parables of JesusPoor Lazarus.  His body is covered with sores. His health is in a rapid decline. No one will hire him now.  So, what does he do?  Each day, he gets up at the crack of dawn, and he parks his sorry ass in front of his former employers’ home.  It turns out that he worked as a butler for twenty years for the three brothers who were prosperous and lived in their family home.

During an evening supper, the three brothers voiced their favorite opinions:

The older brother said,

“We dismissed Lazarus just in the nick of time.  He was in good health when he left us; hence, no one is holding us responsible for those ugly sores that now cover his body.”

The second bother chimed in saying,

“Right you are, dear brother.  As I see it, he brought his bad fortune upon himself.  Had he consulted a doctor when the first sore showed up, he might have hoped to be cured.  As it is now, his savings have run out and the poor guy cannot ever dream of finding a doctor willing to take him on as a charity case.”

The youngest brother broke into the discussion saying,

“Brothers, let’s stop all of this useless discussion regarding Lazarus.  Each one of us has a God-given and God-approved calling.  These are the things of consequence that the Lord will require of us on the Last Day.  Lazarus is of no consequence.  Hence, I refuse to cave in to his current silent protest in front of our home.  The best way to deal with such trouble-makers is to entirely ignore them.  Don’t even give them a greeting.  Don’t even be willing to give them the time of day.  To give them any notice, at this point in time, would only serve to encourage a host of other malcontents to begin imitating his example.”

After some heated discussion, all three brothers firmly concurred with the youngest brother’s assessment.  Hence, from that moment forward, the brothers never spoke of Lazarus.  They saw Lazarus as of no consequence whatsoever.  

But Mary raised her Son to believe that God saw things differently and that those who are now seemingly “of no consequence” are indeed of first importance when it comes to God’s concerns.  [For details, see Luke 1:52-55.]

Thus, Jesus continued his parable with a sober reminder of this:

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.16:24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

Notice here that the eldest brother dies first and that he addresses Abraham as “father.”  This is a habit formed during many years of being a pious Jew who relished reading the story of Abraham.  Notice, too, that even in Hades, the eldest brother treats Lazarus as though he were still employed as his butler.  But he is also aware that Abraham might not like him doing so.  Hence, with his shrewdness still intact, he calls upon Abraham to bring him relief from his suffering by forcing Lazarus to again become his servant-boy.

16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

Notice here that Abraham honors the eldest brother by acknowledging him as his disciple.  The translation fails to capture this by using the term “child.”  But the eldest brother cannot be thought of as a literal “child.”  Rather, he is a “spiritual child of his father Abraham.”  The severe problem, however, is that the eldest brother relies upon establishing his ancestral kinship with Abraham as his advantage when, in fact, it is not (Luke 3:8).

Notice, too, that Abraham does not belittle the eldest brother, nor does he shame him for his past conduct.  Rather, he simply draws attention to the great reversal in God’s way of judging things as expressed first by Mary in Luke’s Gospel and later by Jesus (Luke 16:15.).  Those who are “of no consequence” are exalted while those who were formerly exalted are now humiliated by suffering (presumably due to their lifelong indifference to their suffering brothers and sisters).

16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house‑16:28 for I have five [two] brothers‑‑that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

Notice that, at this point of time, the parable of Jesus presumes that everyone will be carried by angels into Hades [not to be confused with the medieval “hell”].  In Hades, however, some are suffering and some are resting with Abraham.  As of yet there is no provision for the saints to be “carried into Heaven” for the beatific vision.  To explore how the nature of Hades shifts in the 2nd century and later gives rise to a geographic separation of the elect and the damned, see https://www.academia.edu/101467439/Whatever_Happened_to_Hell_and_Going_to_Heaven_Why_Churches_Promoting_
Going_to_Heaven_Are_Soon_to_Disappear

Notice that the elder brother does not give up easily—when Lazarus does not get sent to relieve his torments, then a new request is directed toward sending Lazarus to alert his two brothers who have no idea of the consequences of their way of life.  Father Abraham replies to this second request by noting that “Moses and the prophets” have already delivered this message to the children of Abraham.  Thus the slim hope is that the remaining brothers will reform their lives by reading and putting into practice what one finds in Moses and the prophets.  The surmise, at this point, is that the message of Jesus does not significantly differ from what one finds in the message of Moses and the prophets.  Catholic commentators can easily miss this.

A little while after this parable of Lazarus, Jesus is reported to be saying to his disciples:

17:3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.17:4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

This is the message that the Lord addresses to me.  I am ready to forgive.  Are you ready to repent?

P.S.: My dear wife gently admonished me yesterday in words somewhat like this:

How can you threaten your three adversaries with jail sentences and steep fines?  Is there not the danger that they will comply with the law because they are unwilling to suffer the shame of being incarcerated and of paying fines?  Where is the power of the Gospel in all of this?

So I beg your pardon for not appealing to the Gospel first.  This was my failing.  I hope that my biblical reflections and midrash based on Jesus’ parable might provide the nourishment needed for your souls.  Moreover, I hope that you would return to  thinking of me and treating me as a cherished Brother who has suffered due to the shameful conduct accorded me during the last six months.

 

Response to #2 email = total silence

#3 email sent to Abbot John Klassen on 16 June 2023

Dear Abbot John Klassen,

Last June I pledged to you to do all in my power to lead Saint John’s monastic community through a period of healing and reconciliation, and all 183 of our confreres joined me in that pledge. Because you are an important and valued member of Saint John’s extended family, it is important to me and Fr. Gordon Tavis to keep you posted from time to time on our progress. . . .

Much of the groundwork for our work today was laid by Abbots Jerome Theisen and Timothy Kelly long before I became Abbot. They set in place a successful process to provide for assistance to victims of abuse, treatment for offenders and extensive education on related issues for all of our monks. As Formation Director during some of that time, I helped implement the changes and I can testify to their effectiveness. To my knowledge, not a single additional monk has offended since our monastic formation process was changed by the new policies and procedures.

The Abbey has had success responding to victims’ concerns. Last June attorney Jeffrey Anderson accepted our invitation to join in a mediation process to settle all of his firm’s cases alleging abuse without going through a judicial process that might be lengthy, uncertain, traumatic and more costly for survivors and for the Abbey. Assisted by mediators Margo Maris and Michael Ciresi, we met August 12-15 and reached a settlement that included compensation and non-compensation components. Mr. Anderson joined me in a press conference October 1 in the Abbey Chapter House to announce the settlement. I am grateful to Mr. Anderson for his assistance during the mediation process, and I was pleased by his public praise for the Abbey’s role in achieving a settlement that was agreeable to everyone involved.

I note likewise your determination to bring those first nation parents who saw their children violently captured and brutally indoctrinated by priests and sisters who violated the right of parents to raise their children according to their own faith and their own traditions.  Your objective to turn these embittered parents into friends seems a step of vital transformation in this process of healing.  The steps toward restitution are bold and unprecedented.

To whom much has been given, much is expected.

It pains me therefore to see how you are collaborating in the stonewalling and in the silences of Therese Ratliff and Sandra Eiynck.  By collaborating with them, you sanction their grievances and their inability to listen to a brother in pain at the mistreatment received.  Do not fail to miss this.  Regardless of the merits of my grievances, I have not been treated as a thoughtful and respectful brother/scholar/collaborator calling them to take notice of some financial irregularities. I am the “Lazarus” that they treat shamelessly “as of no account.”

So, dear Brother, is the time of your silence nearly over?  Are you ready to bring a new order of transparency and accountability to those whom you have entrusted the inner workings of Liturgical Press.

Fraternally in Christ,

PS: My own personal grievances do not stand in isolation.  I was not the first to receive the rough treatment that Sandra Eiynck was able to dish out to those who disagree with her.  Likewise, Therese Ratliff’s ability to overestimate the inconveniences that she suffered and her willingness to resort to having her legal “dogs” threaten me with further harm serves to reveal her propensity for mistreating anyone who calls into question the unsearchable ways of her employees.  In brief, the two most powerful persons at Liturgical Press show themselves quite easily inclined to be authoritarian and brutal, not only to me but to all those others who, like me, have had and will have the audacity to question their hidden financial irregularities.  In brief, we are dealing with systemic mismanagement.

Response to #3 email = total silence

#4 email sent to Abbot Klassen on 23 June 2023

23 June 2023

Dear Abbot John,

I am curious as to why you have not contacted me.  Is this “hiding” a positive virtue on your part?  Is there something in the Rule of St. Benedict that supports this practice?  Is this the way to treat a Brother? What do you think?

Perhaps you think that “if I ignore him, he will go away.”

This was the strategy used by Sandra during the past five months.  Sandra’s logic is the following: “If it’s not written into the contract, then I am under no obligation to take into account the devaluation of the dollar.”  In saying this, she completely overlooks the fact that the contract requires that royalty payments be made in a timely fashion—once each year.  She completely overlooks the fact that, year after year, the electronic transfers were returned. She knew this, but did nothing to correct it. She completely overlooks the fact that, when she switched from sending out paper checks to making electronic transfers, she had the obligation to make sure that the new system was working.  There was a sure-fire way to insure that the bank numbers were correct, but Sandra failed to use it or, more probably, she was not even aware that there was such a simple sure-fire solution.  So the failure of the system to deliver the annual royalties was due to her lack of knowhow and her lack of due diligence.  Thus any investigation of the case of Aaron inevitably leads to a series of embarrassing errors and the absence of due diligence.

How does Sandra resolve this? Quite simply: she hides everything. Because I don’t agree with her twisted logic, she has nothing more to say to me.  I am a person of no consequence.  Thus, she refuses to read my emails.  Quite possibly, she reroutes them into her junk email box.  Everything is hidden.  She boasts that she is a resourceful problem solver.  I threaten her self-understanding.  So she give me her silent treatment.

This reminds me of how Eve hid herself in the Garden. This reminds me of how some of your monks tried to hide their sexual abuse of minors.  This reminds me of how the US Catholic bishops tried to recycle misbehaving priests into new parishes while concealing their former crimes. This reminds me of how the “good Sisters” running the tribal schools resorted to using progressive violence against recalcitrant children and how they diligently hid this from outsiders.  Yet, in every one of these cases, the truth finally emerges in one way or the other.  When it does emerge, the strategy of “hiding” and stonewalling shows itself to be an additional crime/sin that destroys personal integrity and erodes trust of those in authority.

So I am curious as to why you have not contacted me.  Can you really justify this “hiding” as a positive and constructive virtue?  Is this what St. Benedict practiced?  Is this what your Board of Directors advised you?  Or was it your lawyers? When the whole story becomes public knowledge, will your community members think more highly of you?  Will the other authors give you high marks when they learn of your stonewalling? And, last but not least, what would Jesus, the Son of God, say to you?

[When I make contact with the Board of Trustees, I will be asking them whether Abbot Klassen’s inability or unwillingness to deal with the grievances of authors makes him unfit to be a member of the Board.]

Let the truth-telling begin,
Aaron

How would you rate (using a scale going from A+ to F) the conduct of Abbot John Klassen relative to his [   ] Christian civility and his [   ] pursuing justice? How would you rate (A+ to F) the conduct of Aaron relative to his [   ] Christian civility and his [   ] pursuing justice?  Any reflections?

Q1. Can you suggest any course of action at this point that might win back Abbot John as my Brother? 

Q2. Is there any prospect that I and other authors like me will find a fair hearing and restorative justice within Liturgical Press?  

Q3. Joe advised me, “The US Bishops learned accountability only after they were being sued by their victims and their families.  Within Liturgical Press, unfortunately, you are meeting the same patterns of denial and secrecy. Stop wasting your energy on them. Bring a court case against all three of the stonewallers.  Only then will they begin to respect you as a person of consequence.”  To what degree would you agree or disagree with Joe?  

Authors who wish to contact me privately on this issue can reach me by writing to Milavec9@churchonfire.net   Authors willing to share their own story of grief are especially welcome.

I have strong evidence to believe that Liturgical Press is underreporting sales of eBooks and is miscalculating the net price of such eBooks.  This will effect the royalties for every author who is selling their eBooks with Liturgical Press.  I don’t want to display my evidence here just yet because this is a research in progress.   Authors who wish to contact me privately on this issue can reach me by writing to Milavec8b@churchonfire.net 

 

To: Abbot John

From: Aaron M

Date: 29 June 2023

You can see what’s coming down the road for you.  Your fame will be turned to infamy.  The Board of Trustees will call you on the carpet.  Your monks will snicker when they discover your dark side.  When you give your next talk on “the role of justice in the rule of St. Benedict,” no one will think you have any right to talk about “justice.”  Etc.

If you were a man of honor, you would do something like this:

  1. Sit down and have a long talk with Therese.  In preparation, ask her to rate the performances (A+  to F) as indicated above and to make comments as well in writing.  Talk about her past experiences of justice and injustice. Talk about “Christian standards of civility” and “procedures to address grievances.”  At the end of your exchange, ask her what would be her game-plan if she had a chance to do it all over again. Ask her to write this out and send it to you within seven days.

  2. If Therese shows a capacity for self-reform, have a second talk with her that is directed toward having her evaluate the performance of Sandra in detail. Create a climate of trust by confessing to her one or two instances in which you acted unjustly.  Then, once a climate of trust is present, encourage Therese to explore with you how and when Sandra might have acted with more civility and justice toward Aaron.  Then, maintaining the climate of trust, encourage Therese to explore with you how and when she might have acted with more civility and justice toward Aaron.  At the end of your exchange, ask her what would be her game-plan if she had a chance to do it all over again.

  3. Prepare Therese to have an exchange with Sandra following the general lines of your initial talk with her in #1 above.  If she feels hesitant to do this, appoint a trained facilitator to accompany her.  If she still balks, then explore with her how her position as CEO requires her ability (a) to investigate possible financial irregularities and (b) to challenge and to “retrain” staff who have acted improperly. . . .  Bend over backwards to offer her any help she might need to be able to perform in this capacity.   If she is unable and unwilling to do this, then talk about redesigning her job description and conducting a search for a trained facilitator and trouble-shooter that would “clean up the mess” that Sandra has left behind. This might entail a pay reduction.

  4. If Therese is ready and willing to interview Sandra, then let this take place with an audio and video recorder running “as part of my training to become a facilitator.”  Near the end of this exchange, Therese will ask Sandra what might be her game-plan if she had a chance to do it all over again. Ask her to write this out and send it to you.

  5. After the interview, have Therese walk through the interview with you paying attention to body language, to hesitations, to moments of discovery.  If you feel incapable of effectively doing this, bring in a trained facilitator to help both of you to “see” and to “feel” the tacit components within the exchange. Examine Sandra’s game-plan together. What are the merits and deficiencies?  Decide together how to go forward. . . .

  6. Somewhere down the line, a full-day workshop on “conflict resolution” should be planned that would bring together all the staff significantly involved in person-to-person relations.  The big three, Abbot John, Therese, and Sandra, would be ready to reenact their “initial responses” to the grievances reported by Aaron. A trained facilitator and an expert in “role playing reenactments” would be at hand.Sandra might well begin by describing her annoying emails from Aaron. Then she might explain how, at a certain point, she decided to ignore him completely. Then the facilitator would invite small-group analysis leading to a big-group reporting and consensus building. Sandra would then come forward saying, “I’m glad that you were able to see the serious flaws in my treatment of Aaron. Here are a few things that you didn’t notice. . . .”  Then later, “Thanks to Therese, I was able to learn a style of conflict resolution that was much more humane and just. . . .”After a short recess, Therese would dramatize her earlier annoyances: “Aaron was bombarding me with emails asking whether this was my correct email address”  & “Aaron (male privilege?) was badmouthing Sandra.”  So I called our company lawyer and asked him to put “the fear of the Lord” into him.  Here, on the screen, is what he sent. . . . Then the facilitator would invite small-group analysis leading to a big-group reporting and consensus building. Therese would then come forward saying, “I’m glad that you were able to see the serious flaws in my treatment of Aaron. Here are a few things that you didn’t notice. . . .”  Then later, “Thanks to Abbot John, I was able to learn a style of conflict resolution that was much more humane and just.  Let me tell you about this. . . .”

In the afternoon, you, Abbot John, might briefly explain how you responded to Aaron. “I didn’t know what to do or to say, so I did nothing and I said nothing.”  “What do you think?  Was this a successful strategy?”  Then, after a few minutes, ask: “Why is Aaron coming to me?  What does he want from me?”  Project my first detailed letter of 24 May 2023 on a screen or have someone read it dramatically.  “Here you can hear Aaron speaking for himself.  Why is Aaron coming to me?  What does he want from me?”

At some point, someone will say something more or less like this, “Aaron is in pain because his grievances have been ignored.”  With this, the role-playing expert takes over.  “Who here can feel Aaron’s pain?”  “Stand up and come forward.  Imagine a “pain intensity scale” on the floor here.  On one end (go there), the pain is slight.  Then it rises.  At this end (go there), the pain is severe.  Very quickly, place yourself on this scale.”  Using this, the facilitator will thereby find the person ready to role-play Aaron.  “Here is Aaron’s hat. Would you want to wear this as a symbol that you are speaking for Aaron?”  In this way, the scene is set for someone to give voice to Aaron’s pain.  “Here is the Abbot’s chair.  It is empty.  It is waiting for one of you to come forward and give a response to Aaron’s pain.”  The facilitator will interrupt Abbot#1 after 20 seconds.  Then a second chair for Abbot#2 is prepared.  An alternative response is heard.  “What do you think?  Does Abbot#1 or Abbot#2 best connect with Aaron’s pain?  Why so?”   “Let’s ask Aaron.”

The upshot of the whole workshop will be (a) to create an atmosphere of communal safety wherein everyone’s contribution is valued; (b) to enable the big three to have an occasion to acknowledge their earlier short comings and to show off their new skills for “conflict resolution”; (c) to use role-playing as a dynamic and playful way to examine tough issues; (d) to move toward a community consensus as to what guidelines are to be used and expected in future instances of “conflict resolution”; and (e) to provide a forum wherein the use of “name calling,” “threatening,” “bullying,”  etc. are seen and experienced as destructive in almost all situations.

The genius of this solution is that (a) your faith in broken people will be rekindled and (b) those who did the tearing down will become, with a little help, those who are building up.  Think here of the case of Saul/Paul.  He started by arresting Christians and turning them over to the temple police; he ended up being a promoter of the very movement that he formerly hated.  This is a case of  “restorative justice.”

The mercy in this solution is that the big three get a rare opportunity (a) to reflect on their bad conduct and (b) to design a game-plan that allows them to do it all over again – but this time with Christian love wedded to humility and investigative justice.  Think here of an imaginative revision of the Jesus parable where Abraham says to the eldest brother, “O.K. I’m going to send you back to your brothers on Earth for two weeks.  Let’s see how successful  you can be in turning things around.”

So, following this imaginative retelling of the Lazarus parable, I’m going to give you two weeks to think through your options.  You will either create for yourself a game-plan (a variation on my 6 points above) or you will immediately draft your letter of resignation to the Board of Trustees explaining that you are incapable and/or unwilling to carry through the investigations that would result in the rectification of the defective processes whereby royalties are calculated and distributed.

Send one or the other or both to me at Milavec7@churchonfire.net on or before 13 July 2023.  Meanwhile send me immediately a few words indicating what future most attracts you.

After all the disappointments, I still believe in you,

Aaron, your Brother

 

to: Sandra Eiynck, Therese Ratliff, Abbot John Klassen, OSB

from: Aaron Milavec

date: 08 June 2023 (original); date today: 12 July 2023

re: wage theft ==== Your time is running out.  Either move to open dialogue as befits Christians or face the consequences. . . .

From 17 Nov 2022 to the present, I have tried to encourage open dialogue and common-sense economics to demonstrate (a) that my royalties/wages were unlawfully withheld for one to six years and then, later, (b) that my wages were unlawfully underpaid because no account was taken of the devaluation of the dollar.

The US Department of Labor stipulates the following interest tables when calculating back pay:

  1. Purpose and Rate of Interest. The purpose of applying interest on back pay awards is to compensate the victim(s) for the loss of the use and purchasing power of their income. Interest on back pay is calculated at the same percentage rate as the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) underpayment formula. Interest on back pay must be compounded quarterly under the laws OFCCP enforces.

  2. Rate Adjustments. The IRS may adjust its rate on a quarterly basis. The interest rates applicable to various periods are available on the IRS website at https://apps.irs.gov/app/picklist/list/federalRates.html.

My efforts to come to a resolution in a just and charitable manner were met with stonewalling, misrepresentation, an abusive legal ploy, and stoney silences.  Thus, you give me no option but to bring my grievances to the attention of persons that you will not be able to abuse and ignore.  See Matt 5:24-26 and Luke 12:57-59.

Misdemeanor violations (amendments to Minn. Stat. § 177.32)  
Under existing law, an employer found to have hindered or delayed the commissioner in the performance of duties required under the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act or the Prevailing Wage Act was guilty of a misdemeanor. The new Wage Theft Law adds that any employer hindering or delaying the commissioner in the performance of duties required under Minn. Stat. §§ 181.01 to 181.723 or 181.79 is also guilty of a misdemeanor (New).

New:  Crime of “wage theft” and criminal sanctions for committing “wage theft” (amendments to Minn. Stat. § 609.52) 
The crime of “wage theft” occurs when an employer, with intent to defraud:
•  Fails to pay an employee all wages, salary, gratuities, earnings or commissions at the employee’s rate or rates of pay or at the rate or rates required by law, whichever is greater.
•  Directly or indirectly causes any employee to give a receipt for wages for a greater amount than that actually
paid to the employee for services rendered.
•  Directly or indirectly demands or receives from any employee any rebate or refund from the wages owed
the employee under contract of employment with the employer.
•  Makes or attempts to make it appear in any manner the wages paid to any employee were greater than the
amount actually paid to the employee.
“Employer” is defined as “any individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any person or
group of persons acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.”
“Employee” is defined as “any individual employed by an employer.”
“Wage theft” has been added to the criminal definition of theft under Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subd. 2(19), and
sanctions for committing wage theft are as follows:
•  Imprisonment for not more than 20 years, payment of a fine of not more than $100,000 or both if the value
of the wages stolen is more than $35,000.
•  Imprisonment for not more than 10 years, payment of a fine of not more than $20,000 or both if the value
of the wages stolen exceeds $5,000.
•  Imprisonment for not more than five years, payment of a fine of not more than $10,000 or both if the value of wages stolen is more than $1,000 but not more than $5,000.

[Using the IRS interest rates, I compute my lost wages as $1021 as of 01 July 2023.]

•  Imprisonment for not more than one year, payment of a fine of not more than $3,000 or both if the value of
the property or services stolen is more than $500 but not more than $1,000.

Having read all of the key emails that were exchanged in this case, what observations or judgments do you want to share in the comment box below?   Your participation is appreciated.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~end note~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i] My initial emails to Abbot John during the first half of the month of May were by way of confirming that jklassen@csbsju.edu was the email address that I should use to contact him regarding the misbehaving of two high-ranking members of Liturgical Press.  Since Abbot John is President of the Board of Trustees, I assumed that he would want to be advised of the exact nature of their misbehaving.  Sad to say, Abbot John has not acknowledged me as a Brother or as a whistle-blower.  To date, he has not sent a single word to me.

Even my attempts to confirm his email address in the opening weeks of May were met with a total silence.  Thus, I am forced to conclude that Abbot John was disposed to entirely ignore me even before he had received for me any details of the crimes committed against me.  I must presume therefore that Sandra Eiynck or Therese Ratliff had already poisoned his mind against me.

Be that as it may, I still believed that Abbot John had a remarkable record of dealing with victims and their abusers found within his own abbey.  With each of my emails, I expressed my hope in him at the same time that I offered him strong medicine to shake him out of his lethargy.  I failed.

The poison had already blinded him.  He was unable and unwilling to receive me either as a Brother or as a whistle-blower.  All in all, I am dismissed without a hearing.  I am a throw-away person of no consequence. Lazarus is my middle-name.

The Limits of Christian Forgiveness

 

When I was a young child, the story of salvation given to me by the Ursuline nuns at Holy Cross Grade School in Euclid, Ohio, was something so simple, so compelling, and so wonderful.  Adam sinned and we inherited the consequences: God’s grace dried up and the gates of heaven were sealed shut.  For thousands of years, people were dying, but no one was able to get into heaven.  Everyone was waiting for God to send a redeemer.  Then, Jesus finally arrived and died for our sins on the cross.  And, as my Baltimore Catechism so clearly demonstrated, at the moment that Jesus died on the cross, there, way up in the clouds, the gates of heaven were again being opened.  Finally the souls of all the good people who had died could enter into heaven and be with God for all eternity.

 

While the Catholic Church has not officially endorsed any specific soteriology,[i] the most popular by far is the theology whereby God forgives all sins due to the merits of Christ’s passion on the cross.

 

During my eight years at Holy Cross Grade School in Euclid, Ohio, I recall vividly how we knelt on the wood floor next to our benches every morning and faced the large crucifix above the blackboard as we recited our morning prayers.  On Fridays in Lent, we were herded into the church and confronted with an even more vivid reminder of

10th Station of the Cross: Jesus is stripped of his garments

the drama of our salvation.  The Stations of the Cross consisted in fourteen graphically depicted sufferings of Jesus, which covered the sidewalls of Holy Cross Church.  At the beginning of each station, Fr. McMonigle, vested in his somber black cope, called out in a loud voice, “We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee.”  All of us children then dropped to our knees and answered in a deafening chorus, “Because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world!”

 

The Limits of Forgiveness

 

Should the thousands of young women humiliated, raped, and savagely murdered in the Jewish wars (66-70 and 135-136 CE) or in the recent wars in Bosnia[ii] (1992-1996) be told that they must learn to kiss and embrace their perpetrators when the new age dawns?  Should the young men cut down in wars–especially those who died crying in pain as they slowly suffocated in their own blood–be told, at the time of the resurrection of the dead, that all wars were good and all wars were justified because everyone fought for what seemed to them a just cause and everyone was expected to follow orders?  Should those who spent their lives “weighing down with toil the oppressed” (Did. 5:2) and those who served as “advocates of the rich” (Did. 5:2) be granted equal and ready forgiveness along with their victims?  The members of the Didache would not have thought so.

 

Dostoevsky, in his Brothers Karamazov, tested his own objections to the fanciful preaching that Jesus “can forgive everyone for everything because he himself shed his innocent blood for everyone and for everything” (2.5.4) in the character of Ivan.  Faced with the innocent suffering of children, Ivan objects to the notion that Jesus (or anyone else for that matter) had the right to forgive, either now or at the final judgment, the torture inflicted on children.  Ivan provides Alyosha, his brother, many graphic examples culled from the daily newspaper.  One such tale he narrates is the following:

A little girl of five was abused by her parents, “descent and most respectable people, well educated and cultured. . . .”  Those educated parents subjected that poor little five-year-old to every conceivable torture.  They beat her, whipped her, kicked her till she was black and blue, all for no reason.  Finally, they thought of the ultimate punishment; they shut her up all night in the outside privy, in the cold and the frost, because she wet herself at night (as if a five-year-old, sleeping soundly like an angel, could excuse herself in time)‑-for this, they smeared her face with her excrement and forced her to eat it, and it was her mother, her mother who did this to her!  And that mother slept unconcernedly at night, oblivious to the sobs of the poor child shut up in that foul place!  Can you understand such a thing: that small child, unable even to comprehend what is being done to her, in the dark and the cold of that foul place, beating her little panting breast with her tiny fists, sobbing, weeping humble tears of bloodstained innocence, praying to “Dear Father God” to protect her. . . (2.5.4).

Only a pious, romanticized Christianity that mindlessly rhapsodizes about the unbounded love of God but has never felt the broken bodies and broken lives of the innocent victims of torture, of racial degradation, of systemic injustice would propose that everyone, no matter how heinous their crimes, need merely cry out for mercy in the face of the divine fire threatening to utterly destroy them and expect to be saved by Jesus.

The Jewish survivors of the Shoah (wrongfully called “the Holocaust”) are much more on target when it comes to the issue of forgiveness:

  • (a) No one can forgive on behalf of another;
  • (b) No one ought to forgive unless there is teshuvah (“turning around” and repudiation of past crimes);
  • (c) Finally, even when forgives comes, there is an obligation never to forget the past lest such crimes be repeated.

The survivors of rape, incest, torture, spousal abuse, and of systemic injustice are likewise today wisely counseled to hold on to their rage since only by embracing it to its depth can they be healing of their victimization (see #12a).

For the innocent victims, there might arrive a moment for forgiveness, but this forgiveness cannot come too early or too late, neither can it be given too promiscuously or too parsimoniously‑-otherwise the very justice of God would be mocked.  If God is not committed to bring justice and to insure that “the gentle . . . inherit the earth” (Did. 3:7), then the entire community of the Didache would have to become a subversive organization bent upon devising means to bring justice in the face of a false god unwilling or unable to protect the victims of this world from the exploiters and abusers.

When the victims of the Shoah are raised from the dead and called by their heavenly Father to enter into his Kingdom that has finally arrived on the face of this earth, they will never go in if they see that God has chosen Nazi guards to hand out the invitations and to form orderly lines among the masses rushing to enter into Paradise. Accordingly it might rightly be said that only someone who has been unjustly victimized or someone who has wiped away the hot tears of those who have been victimized would be capable of discerning the thin raw echo of victimization that runs through the Didache and the Gospels.

 

Jesus’ Atoning Death and Solidarity With Victims

 

More than one scholar has noted that the Didache makes no reference to the efficacy of Jesus’ death in God’s plan of salvation.  For that matter, the Didache likewise refrains from casting any positive light upon suffering as such.  This may strike many Christians as curious since most Christians have become accustomed to accept the efficacy of Jesus’ suffering on the Roman cross as imbued with God’s mysterious plan of salvation.  Hence this issue deserves some consideration.  I frame my considerations within two test cases: (a) the suffering-death of my own mother; (b) the suffering-death of a million Jewish mothers.

 

The Suffering-Death of my Mother

 

By way of beginning, consider the following reflections upon suffering that my mother read from her prayer book while her pastor, Fr. McMonigle, was quietly reciting the Latin prayers that constituted the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”  I specifically chose her prayer book because she used this during the seven years when she was bursting with health and during the last seven months of 1946 when her body was being eaten away by an inoperable cancer.

  • “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. . . ” (Mt 5:5, 10-12).
  • By sufferings we become like to Christ and His blessed Mother, our Lady of Sorrows. Suffering was the lot of all the saints.  Suffering is very meritorious.  Suffering intensifies our love of God.  Suffering has a refining influence upon our character. . . .
  • Suffering is conducive to sanctity, for every sorrow, every trial, can be turned into a blessing. . . . Ignatius Loyola says: “If the Lord send you great tribulations, it is an evidence that he has great designs upon you, and that he wills that you become a saint. . . .”
  • “The Son of God,” says St. Theresa, “has accomplished our salvation by the means of sufferings; He would by this teach us that there is no means more proper to glorify God and to sanctify our souls than to suffer” (My Prayer Book: 84-88).

 

Recently some Christian women have become alarmed by the distorted piety found in prayer books like the one used by my mother.  Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker stepped back from the sentiments named above and concluded that “Christianity [such as this] is an abusive theology that glorifies suffering” (cited in Heyward:384).  They accordingly tried to discover the source of this distorted theology fixated upon suffering:

Is it any wonder that there is so much abuse in modern society when the predominant image or theology of the culture is [a celebration] of “divine child abuse”–God the Father demanding and carrying out the suffering and death of his own son? (cited in Heyward:384).

Struggling to retain both their faith in God and their solidarity with victims, Brown and Parker ended up affirming categorically that “suffering is never redemptive and suffering cannot be redeemed” (cited in Heyward:384).

 

The great lie: “God loved your mother so much.”

 

At the time of my mother’s death, a pious aunt whom I greatly admired tried to console me by saying that, “God loved your mother so much that he took her early to be with him in heaven.”  As I pondered her words in the days follow the funeral, I discovered that her words upset me more and more. “How could God love my mother so much and, at the same time, to love me so little?”  Even as a little boy, I knew that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was transported, body and soul, into Heaven. “Why did God take my mother away from me?  He already had his own mother with him in Heaven. I, on the other hand, was very much in need of my mother.”

From that day forward, I slowly began to realize that God was not the “nice Guy” that everyone made him out to be.  I stopped praying to God entirely.  All my prayers were addressed to Mary and to my Mom in Heaven.

As a teenager, I realized that, for seven months, my mother suffered terribly before she died.  It was then that I slowly came to the understand that my aunt did not understand God at all.  Considering the terrible way that my mother slowly died, it was impossible for my aunt to say that “God loved your mother so much. . . .”  My logic was heart-rending and true: “When you love someone, you take care of them.  My God, as it turned out, did not take care of me.  He did not love me, and, he did not really love my Mom either.”

Even as a boy of eight, I sensed that I was moving into uncharted and dangerous territory.  I was confused. I was upset.[iii]  I felt cheated.  I felt abandoned.  My Baltimore Catechism had these words: “God made us to know him, to love him, and to serve him in order to be [after death] eternally happy with him in Heaven.”  The truth is that I wanted to go to Heaven solely in order to be with my Mom again.  I knew that she would immediately understand my “distrust” of God and that she would be able “to fix it.”  Until then, I had no interest in ever being alone with God.  If God could not patiently wait for another ten years—the years when I most needed my Mom—then why could I trust him to be remotely capable of making me “eternally happy”?  God failed me “big time” in 1946 and some future happiness “with him” seemed very unattractive and very unlikely. My Mom and the Virgin Mary knew what I needed; my God, on the other hand, appeared to me to be entirely clueless!

This darkness of the soul overshadowed me for the next eight years. Then, at the age of sixteen, the veil was lifted.  “God does not kill people because he wants to bring them (early) to Heaven.”

When I recall the events surrounding my mother’s death today, I notice how unprotected I was when it came to digesting the awful implications of my aunt’s remark.  I also came to realize how sensitive and thoughtful Christians can sometimes say dreadfully toxic things when faced with the enormity of the loss experienced by survivors.

 

A Million Jewish Mothers Die

 

Just to see how far some Christians have gone in order to extend the mystique of suffering, consider the responses made by highly educated Catholics to the extermination of the six million Jews during the Shoah (also referred to as “the Holocaust”).  Cardinal John O’Connor, acting as the Catholic Archbishop of New York, had this to say as part of his reflections upon visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel:

The crucifixion and its enormous power continue mystically and spiritually in this world in our day and will continue to the end of time.  Christ . . . continues to suffer in his Body, the Church. . . . And this suffering has a purpose and an effect, as does ours if we conjoin it with his, if we “offer it up”. . . .  [Consequently] if the suffering of the crucifixion was infinitely redemptive, the suffering of the Holocaust, potentially conjoined with it, is incalculably redemptive (47-48).

Archbishop O’Connor was seemingly horrified by the mountain of shoes that were removed from the feet of mothers and children destined for the furnaces of the extermination camps.  Mesmerized by the infinite redemptive suffering of Christ, Archbishop O’Connor undoubtedly thought he was honoring the suffering within the Nazi concentration camps when he associated their sufferings as being redemptive in a way analogous to the sufferings of Jesus.  Many survivors of the death camps and their relatives (see Jacobs: 52-55) were neither flattered nor consoled by the Archbishop’s crude attempt to extend a Christian atonement theology to cover the enormity of evil involved in their loss.  The protesting Jews didn’t mind that Archbishop O’Connor wanted to sugar-coat the sufferings of one Jew (Jesus); but they were totally livid when he tried to take his warped Christian theology and to use it to sugar-coat the Nazi campaign that brought about the death of a million Jewish mothers.

Sorry to say, even John Paul II has flirted with applying a mystique of suffering to the Shoah.  When addressing the Jews of Warsaw on 14 June 1987, he spoke as follows:

We believe in the purifying power of suffering.  The more atrocious the suffering, the greater the purification.  The more painful the experiences, the greater the hope. . . (cited in Jacobs:53).

A year later, while visiting Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the Pope further observed that “the Jews [killed here] enriched the world by their suffering, and their death was like a grain that must fall into the earth in order to bear fruit, in the words of Jesus who brings salvation” (cited in Jacobs:53).

Such language is confusing and/or outright blasphemous in the ears of most Jews.  Does a Jewish father whose daughter has been conscripted to provide sexual favors to the German troops in the front lines tell his daughter that her suffering will purify her love, purify her body, purify anything?  Does a Jewish mother tell her little son who is about to be separated from her and to die a slow starvation in the transport trains that the more painful the experience, the greater hope he ought to have?  Hope for what?  Even popes, one can see, sometimes make silly and injurious remarks when they are blinded by an unexamined and unreflective doctrine that seemingly inflates the benefits of the sufferings of Christ.

The truth is that Golgotha and Auschwitz do have a common thread of interpretation but this has nothing to do with a distorted mysticism of suffering or with the forgiveness of the guilty due to the death of the innocent.  The common thread is that any system or person systematically dehumanizing others and using prolonged torture and slow starvation to make his/her point is acting cruelly and inhumanely.  Inflicting torture cannot be sugar-coated.  The screaming victims cannot be imagined as gaining for themselves or for others some mysterious benefit in this world or in the next.  One can only say that the torture should never have happened and that the survivors stand as a witness to the depth of sin in the world.  As for God, we should never even hint that God would encourage, allow, or make use of torture.  Rather, we can only say that this kind of stuff makes God cringe and to avert his eyes such that the torture victims themselves cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

Edward Schillebeeckx, in his two-volume investigation on Christology, came to this same conclusion after investigation the whole gamut of biblical references pertaining to the suffering and death of Jesus.  By way of reflecting upon his findings, he wrote:

God and suffering are diametrically opposed. . . .  We can accept that there are certain forms of suffering that enrich our humanity. . . .  However, there is an excess of suffering and evil in our history. . . .  There is too much unmerited and senseless suffering. . . .  But in that case we cannot look for a divine reason for the death of Jesus either.  Therefore, first of all, we have to say that we are not redeemed thanks to the death of Jesus but despite it (1980:695; See also 724f, 729).

 

There is neither the time nor the place to develop how Schillebeeckx moves through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures in order to arrive at this stark and unexpected conclusion.  It suffices, for our purpose here, to note that the Didache deliberately refrains from making any positive gesture toward the crucifixion of Jesus whatsoever.  My hunch is that the framers of the Didache, like contemporary Jews and like the young boy who lost his only mother, are repulsed by any notion of God that glosses over and makes torture acceptable.  Whether it is Jews being tortured by medical experiments in the camps, or Jesus tortured on a Roman cross deliberately designed to humiliate and prolong death, or the case of a young mother tortured by the cancer eating her body‑-there is no divine reason for any of these.  God cries out with the victim and tears his garments in grief as he does so.  Any other God cannot be said to be in solidarity with victims.

 

God Tears his Garments and Grieves for Jesus’ Death

 

The closer that one examines the passion narratives, the more remote the Christian theology of atonement becomes.  According to this theology, Jesus’ death on the cross is the brightest moment in salvation history.  According to the Synoptics, however, it is the darkest: “From the sixth hour, there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (Mt 27:45 and par.).  At the moment of Jesus’ death, my childhood catechism presents the imagined image of the Gates of Heaven being thrown open after having been locked ever since the sin of Adam and Eve.  According to the Synoptics, however, it is the temple veil that is rent in two “from top to bottom” (Mt 27:51 and par.).  In most instances, this rending of the veil has been interpreted to signal that the crime of the priests is so grievous that God abandons the holy of holies‑-tearing through the temple veil as he exits.  Such an interpretation fails to take into account that the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem went to the temple daily to pray and to teach (Acts 2:46, Acts 3:1, Acts 5:42).  Seemingly they have not the slightest hint that the temple has been vacated; they pray and teach in the temple and experience the closeness to God as usual.

Other scholars have suggested that this tearing “originally represented Jesus’ death” and later became a “supernatural portent of Jesus’ deity” (Gundry 1994:575).  But what sense does it make to represent Jesus’ death symbolically when, in actual fact, the event itself, with all its gory details, had just been carefully narrated?  The Letter to the Hebrews makes an oblique reference to “the new and living way that he opened for us through the [temple] curtain” (Heb 10:20), but it would be risky to transpose the theology of Hebrews back into the Synoptics.

Following a suggestion of David Daube (23-26), a Jewish scholar, here is an interpretation that Christians have been prone to overlook:

One has to be aware of the modes of expressing grief then current among the Jewish people.  When a father of Jesus’ day would hear of the death of a son, he would invariably rend his garment by grabbing it at the neck and tearing it from top to bottom [see, e.g., Gn 27:34, Job 1:20, b. Moed Qatqan 25a, b. Menahot 48a].  This is precisely the gesture suggested by the particulars of Matthew’s text: “The veil of the Temple as torn in two from top to bottom” (27:51).  In truth, God is Spirit.  Symbolically, however, the presence of God within the holy of holies was rendered secure from prying eyes by the veil that surrounded that place.  As such, the veil conceals the “nakedness” of God.  It is this “garment” that [the] grief-stricken Father of Jesus tears from top to bottom when he hears the final death-cry of his beloved son.  Even for the Father, therefore, the death of Jesus is bitter tragedy and heartfelt grief (Milavec 1982:57).

This should provide my readers with a point of departure for reeducating ourselves how to distinguish various kinds of suffering, how to recapture our rage and indignation at the suffering of the innocent, and how to wrest the message and death of Jesus from being a soft-headed plea for submitting to evil and forgiving enemies under any and all circumstances.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Endnotes

[i].Soteriology seeks to make sense of how God offers salvation to his/her people.  Jesus and his immediate disciples anticipated the coming of God from heaven to gather the Jewish exiles and to establish his kingdom on earth.  The Church Fathers preferred to think that the divine Logos had become human in order to establish that humans could, by successive stages, attain to that divinization to which they were destined by God.  During the medieval period, Christians were preoccupied with sin‑-Adam failed God in the Garden and accordingly, all his children were conceived in sin and destined for eternal damnation.  Jesus, the Son of God, however, became human such that a human could make complete satisfaction by his death on the cross for all the sins of the world.  Whether God is envisioned as bringing the kingdom or as restoring human access to divinization or as providing satisfaction for sins makes a big difference in how God is understood and how Jesus relates to God and to our salvation.  Interested readers might read Karen Armstrong, A History of God (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993).

[ii] During the Bosnian war, 50,000 Bosnian women faced gang rapes and forced impregnation in what became known as “rape camps.” Today there are 2,000-4,000 children born out of that war. The children born following these rapes are neither Serbian nor Bosnian; they are invisible. Now, as adults, they struggle to cope with the past and its consequences. Moreover, any hint of their existence in public life is reduced to a faltering silence.

In support of the ethnic cleansing strategy engineered by the Serbian authorities, genocidal rapes aimed to “plant the seed of Serbs in Bosnia” and produce little “Chetniks.” Also, it intended to prevent the captives and their families from returning to the region. A whole system was constructed – villages transformed into rape camps, gynecologists were on shift, and to avoid miscarriages and abortions, women were released only in advanced pregnancy.

[iii] What I felt at the age of eight was “raw anger.”  I couldn’t say this out loud, of course.  I was raised as a “nice boy.”  If someone does something nasty, one immediately thinks of getting ready to forgive.  No one was talking about times when it was permitted (nay, even necessary) to be “angry with God.”  Being a “nice boy,” I was raised only to “love God.”  So, my own rigorous religious formation refused to give me permission to be “angry with God.”  Thus, I was entrapped and crippled in the web of my own beloved faith tradition.

Film review of “Women Talking” –The Limits of Forgiveness

Just watched “Women Talking.”  This is the most moving film that I’ve seen in the last five years.  I come away feeling the “outrage” of asking these women to forgive the guilty men.  As one of the women so rightly puts it, “No way is it possible for me to forgive those men.  Even if it means being condemned to hell for an eternity.”
Quotes from the film:
The elders told us it [the unexplained pregnancies] was the work of ghosts or satan. Or that we were lying to get attention. or that it was an act of wild female imagination.

We were given two days to forgive the attackers before they returned. If we did not forgive them, we would be ordered to leave the colony and be denied entry to the kingdom of heaven.

It is part of our faith to forgive. We have always forgiven those who have wronged us; why not now?

I cannot forgive them. I can never forgive them.

We have been preyed upon like animals. We should respond like animals.

Just leave with the rest of the “do nothing” women.

Women Talking Movie Quotes

Where I come from, where your mother comes from, we didn’t talk about our bodies. So when something like this happened, there was no language for it.

In that gaping silence was the real horror.

Why did my feet keep moving forward when hers couldn’t?

Perhaps we need to know more about what we are fighting to achieve rather than what we are fighting to destroy.

We’re women without a voice.

All we have is our dreams, so of course we are dreamers.

We know that we must protect our children, regardless of who is guilty.

Are you saying the attackers are as much victims as the victims of the attacks?

None of us have ever asked the men for anything, not a single thing.

Sometimes I think people laugh as hard as they’d like to cry.

How would you feel if, for your entire life, it didn’t matter how you thought?

When we liberate ourselves, we will have to ask ourselves who we are.

I love it. Isn’t that strange?

I won’t speak of it or anything else ever again.

I want to help, and I don’t know how.

Time will heal. Our freedom and safety are the ultimate goals, and it is men who prevent us from achieving those goals.

One day, I’d like to hear that from someone who should be saying it.

If I were married, I wouldn’t be myself. So the person you loved would be gone.

They made us disbelieve ourselves. That was worse than…

If God is a loving god, then he will forgive us himself.

I will destroy any living thing that harms my child. I will tear it limb from limb. I will desecrate its body and burn it alive.

I will become a murderer if I stay.

Women Talking Movie Quotes
Here is a review:
Published Dec. 22, 2022  Updated March 6, 2023
Women Talking
NYT Critic’s Pick
Directed by Sarah Polley
Drama
PG-13
1h 44m

Every so often, “Women Talking” lets its attention wander away from its main concern (which is, as you might have guessed, women talking) to observe the hands of girls as they draw pictures, play complicated clapping and string-figure games or braid one another’s hair into intricate plaits. The grace and discipline of those activities, and the creativity they express, are woven into the film itself, which seems plain-spoken almost to the point of artlessness and turns out to be as layered and whorled as a hand-woven tapestry.

The women are members of an agrarian religious community that has kept its distance from modernity. An outsider’s pickup truck blasting the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” is one of a handful of signs that this movie, directed by Sarah Polley from a novel by Miriam Toews, takes place anywhere near the present.

Toews’s book was suggested by actual events that took place from 2005 to 2009 at a Mennonite colony in Bolivia, but the film version doesn’t specify a location. That vagueness reflects both the universality of the story’s themes and what the women know of the secular world, which is very little. Though many of them can recite the Bible from memory, they haven’t been taught to read and write.

Their educations have been minimal, but their wisdom, acquired through farm and household labor, child-rearing, prayer and intuition, is vast. Or at least sufficient to spur the emergence of a powerful and sophisticated collective political consciousness. How they arrive at a clear understanding of their oppression and potential liberation is the film’s subject, a source of suspense, emotion and inspiration.

What the women are talking about is what some of the men in the colony have done to them. Or maybe not quite that: They all know that a large number of their husbands, brothers, relatives and neighbors have been sneaking into the bedrooms of women and girls at night, equipped with a spray used to tranquilize livestock, and raping their unconscious victims. A few flashbacks to the aftermaths of some of the attacks are sufficient to convey their horror. Now that the colony’s elders have admitted the problem and the secular authorities have gotten involved, the question is how to respond.

While most of the men are away, bailing the accused perpetrators out of jail, a group of women meets in a hayloft to hash out a course of action. The women of the community have already voted in a referendum offering three choices: do nothing — forgive, forget and hope for the best; stay and fight; or leave. The first option having been soundly rejected, they settle in to debate the other two, arguing the relative merits of exit and voice.

Many of the participants favor exit, but “Women Talking,” as its title suggests, is mostly voice — a weave of voices in varying arrangements of harmony and dissonance. The calmest and most measured, but also in some ways the most passionate and principled, belongs to Ona (Rooney Mara), who is pregnant. Salome (Claire Foy) and Mariche (Jessie Buckley), two mothers of young children, provide antiphonal chords of anger. Both are victims of male violence, but they often turn their rage on each other. Two older women, Greta (Sheila McCarthy) and Agata (Judith Ivey), offer sympathy, perspective and occasional grandma jokes, though the necessary spark of mischief comes from the younger generation, boisterously represented by Liv McNeil, Michelle McLeod and Kate Hallett.

There’s also a man in the barn, whose job is to take the minutes of the meeting. His name is August, and he’s played with appropriate sensitivity by Ben Whishaw. In the book, he is also the narrator, but Polley has replaced him with a woman whom it might be a spoiler to name, leaving August as a reminder that while not all men are monsters to women, every man is implicated in the arrangements of power that enable the monstrosity.

But the movie isn’t about the men. They are a blank that it’s easy enough to fill in, a set of facts implied in the words and silences of the women. Away from their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons, the main characters experience a comfort that is clearly familiar, and a freedom that feels new. Their personalities peek out from behind the scrim of their defined, taken-for-granted roles.

“Women Talking” compels you to think about their plight, but it also invites you to enjoy their company. It seems contrary to Polley’s democratic method to single out performances for praise, but I found myself coming back to the wit that percolates underneath Foy’s ferocity, the deep sorrow behind McCarthy’s patience, Ivey’s beatitude, Hallett’s rambunctious high humor, Frances McDormand’s heartbreaking silence and August Winter’s unaffected dignity as a gender-nonconforming character named Melvin.

And also the poetry of Polley’s images (shot by Luc Montpellier), which show the beauty of life in the colony. Following Toews — and the women themselves, whose faith informs their rebellion — Polley takes the religious life of the colony seriously, refusing to treat it as exotic or outlandish. The point of leaving isn’t to reject belief, but to reestablish it on a firmer, more coherent moral basis, to imagine “a new colony” of trust and safety.

That idea is by definition Utopian, and also consistent with the radical Christian tradition that the existing colony represents. The root of Protestantism, after all, is protest — against arbitrary and unaccountable authority in the name of a higher truth. “Women Talking” reawakens that idea and applies it, with precision and passion, to our own time and circumstances. The women don’t want pity or revenge. They want a better world. Why not listen?

Please add your own reflections below.