Friday, February 25, 2011

A woman deacon recants

Norma Jean Coon, Ph.D. (photo), was ordained a deacon in July 2007 in Santa Barbara, California through Roman Catholic Women Priests by Bishop Patricia Fresen. At the same ceremony, two other women were ordained as well. Juanita Cordero became a priest and Toni Tortorilla became a deacon.

According to Roman Catholic Women Priests, Coon has a doctorate in Psychology and she was a licensed RN and MFCC (Marriage Family Therapist) until her retirement in 1994. She had a private practice and specialized in psychological testing, prayer therapy, and in alcohol and drug treatment at an acute care facility where she served her residency. At the time of her diaconal ordination, she had been married 44 years and had five children and was living in San Diego, where she still resides today.

Now the conservative Catholic blogs and websites are gloating because Dr. Coon has recanted, posting a brief statement, dated February 8, 2011, on a hastily put together Web page under her own domain name which was registered anonymously on February 13th. Coon says: "Formally, I relinquish all connection to the program of Roman Catholic Women Priests and I disclaim the alleged ordination publicly" and she adds that "I confess the authority of the Holy Father on these issues of ordination and recognize that Christ founded the ordination only for men." She concludes "I forsake all connection with the Roman Catholic Women Priests program via Internet or otherwise."

Beyond that, there is an interesting disconnect between Coon's version of her story and that of Roman Catholic Women Priests. RCWP says that Coon was "fulfilling required theology studies in preparation for the priesthood and specializ[ing] in centering prayer, elderly, dying, lectio divina and scripture studies." Coon says her involvement was minimal. "I did not act as a deacon as a part of this group except on two occasions, when I read the gospel once at mass and distributed communion once at this same mass. I withdrew from the program within two weeks of the ceremony because I realized that I had made a mistake in studying for the priesthood." These hardly sound like the words of someone who had a strong vocation in the first place.

The second part of Coon's statement is even more revealing. In a brief prayer, Coon writes: "Holy God, I ask your blessings on my Bishop and my pastor and priests in Rome who have assisted me in the process of being re-instated into the Roman Catholic Church...I thank you for the efforts of my family in my behalf and ask for Jesus' Light and Love to pour over my husband of 47 years and my five children."

The whole tone of the statement suggests three things to me: 1) fear of the implications of the latae sententiae excommunication that comes with women's ordination as a result of the most recent changes in canon law, 2) pressure from her family to change her mind, and 3) being forced to make a public declaration as part of her penance and a condition for being returned to good standing in the Catholic Church. The statement sounds stilted. I'm not saying it was involuntary or that it does not represent Coon's current thinking about women's ordination, but I have to wonder if such a private person would have broadcast her repentance over a Web page evidently designed solely for this purpose had she not been told directly to do so.

On behalf of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, Bishop Bridget Mary Mehan issued a brief response on her blog, saying: "We understand the decision made in conscience by Norma Jean Coon, now a former RCWP deacon. She has every right to change her mind and has an obligation to follow her conscience. We remain ordained Roman Catholic Women Priests who continue to follow our informed consciences and, simply put, obeying God trumps obeying the Pope." She continues: "Roman Catholic Women Priests follow Jesus who treated women and men as equals and partners in contradiction to the religious establishment of his times. Scholars have found evidence of women deacons and priests in the early centuries of the church’s history...We are challenging an unjust law that discriminates against women. Roman Catholic Women Priests are leading the church into a new era of justice and equality for women."

The teologian: an almost impossible being

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Many people are surprised that, being a theologian and philosopher by training, I get into matters unrelated to these disciplines such as ecology, politics, global warming, and others.

I always answer: I do pure theology, but I also cover other topics, precisely because I'm a theologian. The task of the theologian -- the greatest of all, Thomas Aquinas, taught in the first question of the Summa Theologica -- is to study God and His revelation, then all other things "in the light of God" (sub ratione Dei), as He is the beginning and end of everything.

Therefore, theology is for addressing other things than God, but doing it "in the light of God." Speaking of God and also of things is an almost impossible task. First, how does one talk about God if He doesn't fit in any dictionary? Second, how does one reflect on all the other things, if the knowledge about them is so vast that no individual can master them? Logically, it's not about speaking of economics like an economist or of politics like a politician, but speaking of such matters from the perspective of God, which presupposes prior knowledge of those realities in a critical and not naive way, respecting their autonomy and accepting their more reliable results. Only after this hard work may the theologian ask himself: How are these realities when confronted with God? How do they fit into a more transcendental vision of life and history?

Doing theology is not a task like any other, like going to the movies or the theater. It's something very serious because one is working with the category "God", that is not a tangible object like all the rest. So there is no point in searching for the particle "God" within the confines of matter or inside the "Higgs Field". That would mean that God would be part of the world. I'm an atheist with respect to that God. It would be a piece of the world and not God. I make my own the words of a subtle Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) who wrote: "If God exists as things exist, then God does not exist."

That is, God is not of the order of things that can be found and described. He is the precondition and the support for these things to exist. Without Him, things would have remained in nothingness or gone back to nothingness. This is the nature of God, not being a thing, but the origin of things.

I apply to God as Origin what Easterners apply to the force that allows them to think: "the force by which the mind thinks, can not be thought about". The Origin of things can not be a thing.

As is apparent, it's very difficult to do theology. Henri Lacordaire (d. 1861), the great French orator, rightly said: "The Catholic doctor is an almost impossible man because he has to know the whole deposit of faith and the facts of the papacy and also what St. Paul calls 'the Elements of world', ie, everything and all." Remember what René Descartes (d. 1650) said in Discourse on Method, the basis of modern knowledge: "If I wanted to do theology, I would have to be more than a man." And Erasmus of Rotterdam (d. 1536), the great scholar of the Reformation, observed: "There is something superhuman in the profession of theologian." It's no surprise that Martin Heidegger said that a philosophy that has not been confronted with questions of theology, has not fully come into itself. I say this not as self-magnification of theology but as a confession that its task is almost impracticable, something I feel every day.

Logically, there is a theology that does not deserve this name because it's lazy and gives up thinking about God. It just thinks about what others have thought or what the popes have said.

My feeling about the world tells me that today theology as theology must proclaim loudly that we must conserve nature and come into harmony with the universe, because they are the great book that God has given us. That is where we find what God wants to say to us. Because we stopped reading this book, He gave us another, the Scriptures -- the Christian ones and those of other peoples -- so that we would relearn to read the book of nature. Today it is being devastated. And with it, we are destroying our access to God's revelation. Therefore, we need to talk about nature and the world in the light of God and reason. Without preserving nature and the world, the sacred books would lose their meaning, which is to re-teach us to read nature and the world. Thus, theological discourse has its place alongside other discourses.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez's Tribute to Bishop Samuel Ruiz

by Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino (English translation by Rebel Girl)

At 86, Mons. Samuel Ruiz García, the bishop who was from Chiapas (Mexico), successor -- several centuries later -- to Bartolomé de Las Casas, whose witness and defense of the original inhabitants of those lands were a source of inspiration to him, has left us.

In April 1968, there was a meeting in Melgar (Colombia) about the missionary task of the Church. It was a landmark on the road to the Medellin Conference (August-September 1968). The meeting was organized by the Department of Missions of CELAM, headed by Mons. Gerardo Valencia (pastor of a diocese -- Buenaventura, Colombia -- with a large population of African descent). A young bishop, Samuel Ruiz, participated actively in it. John XXIII and the Council, which he attended, had awakened in him, a man of classical and academic training, concerns that had led him to see in a new way the crude reality of poverty and exclusion of the indigenous to whom he had been sent as pastor in 1959.

But Melgar helped him to consider things from a Latin American and liberating perspective. Later, and on various occasions, he would evoke, in a simple way, what this meeting, lively and fertile, had meant to him (and in truth, for all of us who shared that experience). After analyzing the social and ecclesial reality of that time and considering it from the faith perspective, the conclusions of Melgar, in reference to the indigenous people, end by expressing the hope that "the presence of Christ, the Word Incarnate, in the peoples of Latin America and the action of the Spirit in them" would make way for "a springtime that revitalizes the Church in Latin America in this moment of change and historic option."

Most of the participants in this missionary meeting were in Medellin and contributed to the Conference's gathering many insights from the conclusions of Melgar. Samuel gave a lecture at the beginning of the Conference of Medellin in which he stressed one of them. He asked for "special consideration of the situation of the indigenous people on the Latin American continent", and warned that if this did not happen "centuries would continue to accumulate on this shameful problem that could well be called the methodological failure of the evangelizing action of the Church of Latin America."

Samuel tenaciously and creatively faced the situation that he denounced in that continental conclave. More than 45 years of his life were devoted to the diverse and numerous indigenous population of his diocese. He did it with warmth and friendship, understanding and valuing their cultures, learning their languages, defending their rights, putting forward a gospel of love and justice, ordaining indigenous men as married deacons to serve their people, sensitive to the suffering of secularly mistreated and marginalized people. For all of it, he always worked in teams; he surrounded himself with lay people, nuns and priests with whom he studied the human and social situation in which they found themselves and, in diocesan meetings, evaluated the pastoral projects they shared. It was undoubtedly one of the richest pastoral experiences that has been done on the continent in this field.

Today, however, solidarity with the poor and insignificant cannot be limited to the (always necessary) immediate assistance. It should, at the same time, point out and denounce the causes of the situation in which they are living. Medellin raised this firmly and Samuel wasn't afraid to do it. And, as has happened so often, this won him misunderstandings, hostility, and, at times, mistreatment. In spite of the pain of this situation, Samuel lived as a witness for peace, but with the conviction that that could not be established except on the basis of social justice, respect for human rights, and equality in diversity.

In 1979, Samuel convened a meeting on "Indigenous movements and liberation theology" in Chiapas, consistent with his choices and concerns. Indigenous leaders, bishops, pastoral agents, and theologians from different countries on the continent and the different regions of Mexico attended. The meeting started with reports on the social and pastoral situation in each place. After that came an interesting theological reflection on a current theme. The years had made it ripen, but they didn't stop being first steps in a very important matter.

If Samuel's greatest devotion was to his area and the people who called him "jTatic" (father, ancient one) with affection and appreciation, his work extended to his country and even beyond it. His generous welcome in Chiapas of Guatemalan refugees who were leaving behind a situation of abuse and death proves it, as well as, once he was emeritus bishop, being an active member and a representative of international solidarity and human rights advocacy associations, especially in Central America. Let's add the role he played, committed to justice as the basis of peace -- mediation not always well understood by everyone, in the difficult moment of the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

Don Samuel was a free man, of deep gospel freedom. At his funeral, another great pastor, Mons. Raul Vera, said of him: "Truthfully we see that until the end of his life he remained an authentic son of God through his work for peace, which is born of justice and love."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Catching Up with the Coolest Curas...

Those of you who think that priests are boring old balding white guys who are politically and socially conservative and out of touch with young people today, are obviously not regular readers of this blog.

Today we're bringing you some different new videos of a couple of our cooler priest friends...

Padre Jony

We first profiled Padre Jony on this blog a year ago this month. He's a pastor in Tarragona in the Diocese of Tortosa in Spain, a rocker who has his own charitable foundation, Fundación Provocando La Paz.

This Friday, he'll be giving a concert in Badajoz to benefit his Makeni Project which helps single mothers in Sierra Leone. The project provides educational, psychological and medical assistance to these women and their children. A number of the women have been rape victims in the country's civil war. Eventually the Makeni Project hopes to provide these women with microcredit so they can start their own businesses.

This interview with Padre Jony came out last summer, after we profiled him here. Interspersed with clips from some of his music videos, it gives a lot of insight into how this priest reconciles his commitments to God and to music.

Padre Gofo

An October 2010 video interview with Padre Adolfo Huerta Alemán ("Padre Gofo"), pastor of Nuestra Señora de Atocha in the Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico, in his alter persona as a biker. Note: The choice of "Highway to Hell" as background music is, ummm, interesting...

Padre Chiqui

Last fall, Padre Ignacio Mantecón S.J. ("Padre Chiqui") accompanied young people from his Martin Luther King Association in El Agostino, a poor neighborhood in Lima, Peru, where he has been doing gang prevention work, to play soccer in Spain in a match sponsored by Real Madrid.

In this slightly older video, Padre Chiqui talks about the role of the soccer club in cutting down on gang activity in his neighborhood.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pax Christi Metro DC Lenten Series

For those who live in the metropolitan Washington area, Pax Christi is sponsoring a Lenten series on the theme "Human Life, Dignity, and the Common Good", including the following events:

Wednesday, March 9 – Ash Wednesday Prayers of Repentance for War, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC (Metro: Farragut West or McPherson Square) 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

Friday, March 11 – Mercy and Compassion: A Gospel Challenge to Capital Punishment and Torture (Presenters: Art Laffin of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker and Demissie Abebe of TASSC), St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church, 19 I Street NW (at North Capitol), Washington, DC (Metro: Union Station) 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 13 – Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration: Justice and Human Dignity (Presenter: Chris West of Catholic Relief Services), Town Center Classroom, Riderwood Community, 3140 Gracefield Road, Silver Spring, MD, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Saturday, March 19 -- From the Ruins of Iraq and Afghanistan: Building a Catholic Movement to End War and Build Peace (PCMDCB Annual Assembly), Gonzaga High School, 19 Eye Street NW (at North Capitol), Washington, DC (Metro: Union Station), 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. For more information see flyer.

Wednesday, April 6 – Journey of the Poor, the Refugee, and the Returning Prisoner (Presenter: Little Friends for Peace), Peace Room at Perry School, 128 M St NW, Washington, DC (Metro: Mt Vernon Square or New York Avenue), 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Friday, April 15 – Sacrifice and Suffering (Presenter: Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM), Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, 2700 South 19th Street, Arlington, VA, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.