Thursday, February 9, 2012

Another priest resigns in the Belleville diocese

Yesterday, we reported the resignation of Fr. William Rowe of St. Mary Parish in Mount Carmel after being ordered by Bishop Edward Braxton to read the Eucharistic liturgy exactly as it is written in the Roman Missal rather than making small modifications to make the prayers more understandable to his congregation.

Today, another priest has resigned in protest over Fr. Rowe's forced resignation. Fr. Jim Buerster (photo) of St. Boniface Church in Germantown, Illinois, has resigned his postition as dean of the North Central Deanery in protest over the departure of Fr. Rowe.

Father Buerster, who holds a Masters of Divinity from St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana, was ordained a priest in 1979 and has served in a number of parishes. He has been pastor of St. Boniface since 2007.

Friend of the excluded

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Mark 1:40-45

Jesus was very sensitive to the suffering of those He met along His way, marginalized by society, despised by the faith, or rejected by the sectors that thought themselves morally or religiously superior.

It's something that comes from within Him. He knows that God doesn't discriminate against anyone. He doesn't reject or excommunicate. He isn't just the God of the good. He welcomes and blesses everyone. Jesus was accustomed to getting up at dawn to pray. On one occasion, He reveals how He views the sunrise: "God makes the sun to rise on the good and the wicked." That's how He is.

Therefore, sometimes He forcefully calls for all condemnation to end: "Judge not and you shall not be judged." Other times, He tells little parables to ask that nobody dedicate themselves to "separating the wheat from the chaff" as if they were the supreme judge of everybody.

But His way of acting is what's most admirable. Jesus' most original and provocative trait was His habit of eating with sinners, prostitutes, and undesirable people. It was an unusual occurence. Nobody in Israel with the reputation of being a "man of God" had ever been seen eating and drinking animatedly with sinners.

The more respectable religious leaders couldn't stand it. Their reaction was aggressive. "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of sinners." Jesus doesn't defend Himself. It was true. In His innermost being, He felt great respect and a moving friendship towards those who had been rejected by society or the faith.

Mark includes the healing of the leper in his narrative to highlight Jesus' predilection for the excluded. Jesus is crossing a deserted region. Suddenly a leper approaches Him. He isn't accompanied by anyone. He lives in solitude. He carries the mark of his exclusion on his skin. The law condemns him to live apart from others. He is impure.

Kneeling, the leper makes a humble plea to Jesus. He feels dirty. He doesn't talk to Him about illness. He just wants to be cleansed of all stigma. "If you wish, you can make me clean." Jesus is moved at seeing at His feet that human being disfigured by illness and abandoned by all. That man represented the loneliness and desperation of so many stigmatized people. Jesus "stretches out His hand" seeking contact with his skin, "touches him", and says, "I do will it. Be made clean."

Whenever we discriminate from our supposed moral superiority against different human groups (vagabonds, prostitutes, drug addicts, people with AIDS, immigrants, homosexuals...) or we exclude them from living with us, denying them our acceptance, we are seriously distancing ourselves from Jesus.

Sustainable development: critique of the standard model

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)

The official documents of the UN and the current draft of Rio +20 devote much space to the model of sustainable development: it must be economically viable, socially just and environmentally sound. It is the famous triplet called the Triple Bottom Line (the line of the three pillars), created in 1990 by Britain's John Elkington, founder of the NGO SustainAbility. But this model does not withstand serious criticism.

Economically viable development: In the political language of government and business, development is equivalent to the gross domestic product (GDP). Woe to the company and the country that don't have positive annual growth rates! They are in crisis or a recession with a resulting decrease in consumption and generation of unemployment -- in the business world, this is making money with the least possible investment, with the highest possible return, with the strongest competitiveness and in the shortest possible time.

When we talk about development here, we are not talking about just any development, but the one that really exists, which is the industrialist/capitalist/consumerist one. This is anthropocentric, contradictory and wrong. Let me explain.

It's anthropocentric because it focuses only on human beings, as if the community of life (flora and fauna and other living organisms), which also needs the biosphere and requires sustainability as well, didn't exist.

It's contradictory because development and sustainability obey opposite logics. Actually existing development is linear and growing. It exploits nature and favors private accumulation. It is the political economy of the capitalist sort. The sustainability category, however, comes from the life sciences and ecology, whose logic is circular and inclusive. It represents the tendency of ecosystems towards a dynamic equilibrium, interdependence, and cooperation of all with all. As is apparent, they are antagonistic logics -- one favors the individual, the other, the group; one promotes competition, the other cooperation; one, the evolution of the fittest, the other, the interconnected evolution of all.

It is wrong, because it claims that poverty causes environmental degradation. Therefore, the less poverty, the more sustainable development and the less degradation there would be, which is a mistake. However, critically analyzing the real causes of poverty and the degradation of nature, we see that they are -- not exclusively but mainly -- the result of the type of development being practiced. It is what produces degradation because it squanders nature, pays low wages and thus generates poverty.

This sustainable development is a trick of the existing system: it takes on the terms of ecology (sustainability) to make them meaningless. It assumes the ideal of economics (growth), masking the poverty that it itself produces.

Socially just: If there is one thing that the current industrial/capitalist development can not say about itself, it is that it is socially just. If it were, there wouldn't be 1.4 billion hungry people in the world and most nations in poverty. Let's just linger on the case of Brazil. The 2010 Brazilian Social Atlas (IPEA) reports that 5,000 families control 46% of the GDP. The government devotes 125,000 million reais annually to the financial system to make payments with interest on loans it has borrowed and devotes only 40,000 million reais to social programs that benefit the poor majority. This shows up the false rhetoric of socially just development, which is impossible within the current economic paradigm.

Environmentally sound: the current type of development is waging an unstoppable war against Gaia, pulling out of her all that is useful and profitable, especially for the minority who control the process. According to the Living Planet Index of the UN (2010) in less than 40 years, global biodiversity fell 30%. Just from 1998 to now, there has been a 35% jump in emissions of greenhouse gases. Instead of talking about the limits to growth, we had better talk about the limits to aggression to Earth.

In conclusion, the standard model of development which we want to call sustainable is rhetorical. In it, there is evidence of progress in low carbon production, the use of alternative energy, the reinforcement of degraded areas, and the creation of better eliminations of waste. But watch out: all this is always done where the profits are not at risk or competitiveness weakened. The use of the term "sustainable development" has major political significance: the necessary change of the economic paradigm if we want real sustainability. Within the current one, sustainability is either localized or nonexistent.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Priest Forced to Resign Over Extemporaneous Prayer

UPDATE 2/29/2012 Fr. William Rowe has withdrawn his resignation, arguing that he can remain a priest since Bishop Braxton did not acknowledge and accept the resignation within 3 months as mandated by canon law, but the priest also did not back down on his position that being flexible with the Missal is OK. Of his bishop, Fr. Rowe said, "he mentioned in the letter that we clash in our ecclesiology — our image of the church...He's right. He seems to consider the church as the bishops', and my notion is that the church starts with the people."

UPDATE 2/10/2012: An online petition has been initiated, calling for Father Rowe's reinstatement. Also, a parishioner who knows Fr. Bill from his days at St. Joseph's in Olney, IL, writes glowingly of the priest's service in her parish and gives information on how to write to Bishop Braxton about this case.

Form has once again triumphed over substance in the Roman Catholic Church. This month, in the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, Fr. William Rowe, a 72-year old priest who had been pastor of St. Mary's parish in Mount Carmel for 17 years, was forced to resign by Bishop Edward Braxton.

Father Rowe's "crime"? Making minor modifications in the Eucharistic prayer in order to tie it in to the daily Gospel reading and his homily. When the bishop talked to him about this last October following complaints by a minority of parishioners, Fr. Rowe, who does not draw a salary from the parish but subsists on Social Security and a small pension from his years in the Air Force Reserve, indicated that he did not plan on making any changes. He subsequently sent a letter to Bishop Braxton stating that "from our most recent discussion, I realize that you can no longer allow me to celebrate the Eucharist as has been my custom” and he offered to resign. He heard nothing...until this month.

On January 29th, instead of reading the collect from the Roman Missal ("Lord our God that we may honor you with all our mind and love everyone in truth of heart"), Fr. Rowe substituted a prayer which tied the rite with the gospel reading on Jesus healing the man with the unclean spirit: "We thank you, God, for giving us Jesus who helped us to be healed in mind and heart and proclaim his love to others." Three days later, he received a letter from the bishop accepting his resignation, which will take effect in June.

Father Rowe said that he has had discussions with his bishop about this issue for the last five years and that Bishop Braxton made it clear to his priests that "no priest may deviate from any wording in the official Missal." Things came to a head in October, immediately prior to the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, when the bishop informed Fr. Rowe that he could no longer allow him to improvise.

Most members of the parish are upset by the forced resignation. Alice Worth, the principal at St. Mary's School, said they are "devastated" and described Fr. Rowe as "the backbone of our parish." "The ways Father changed the Mass ritual with his words have only made it more meaningful to us as opposed to distancing us from the church," she said. "Everything he does is based on our faith, it's not just a whim. There's a reason for every word he prays." Parishioners are exploring various ways to get their beloved pastor back, including a petition to the bishop and the Belleville News Democrat has published an online poll on the question (at the moment, due to traffic from the conservative Catholic blogs, the poll is running against allowing priests to ad-lib).

Fr. Rowe says he has no desire to resign or retire from active ministry. He has suggested that, if he can't continue to work as a priest, he might set up a soup kitchen. As for Bishop Braxton, we recommend that he re-read today's Gospel (Mark 7:14-23) and ask himself what Jesus' priority would be.

Video: Fr. Bill Rowe talks to the Belleville News Democrat about what led to his forced resignation.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

At our doorstep

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Mark 1:29-39

In the morning, at the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus had freed a man possessed by an evil spirit. Now we're told he leaves the "synagogue" and goes to "the house" of Simon and Andrew. This indication is important since, in Mark's gospel, what happens in this house always contains some teaching for the Christian communities.

Jesus goes from the synagogue -- the official place of the Jewish religion -- to the house, the place where daily life is lived out with one's loved ones. In this house, Jesus' new family will go on growing. The Christian communities must remember that they aren't a religious place where the Law is lived out, but a home where one learns to live in a new way around Jesus.

On entering the house, the disciples speak to Him about Simon's mother-in-law. She can't come out to greet them because she's lying in bed with a fever. Again, He will break the sabbath a second time in the same day. What's important to Him is the healthy life of people, not religious observance. The story describes Jesus' gestures towards the sick woman in full detail.

"He approached." It's the first thing He always does -- approach those who are suffering, look closely at their faces, and share their suffering. Then "He grasped her hand" -- He touches the sick woman. He's not afraid of the purity rules that prohibit it; He wants the woman to feel His healing strength. Finally, "He helped her up" -- He put her on her feet, giving her back her dignity.

This is how Jesus always is among His own -- like an outstretched hand that lifts us, like a close friend who brings us to life. Jesus only knows how to serve, not be served. So the woman He has healed begins to "serve" everyone. She has learned it from Jesus. His followers must welcome and care for each other.

But it would be wrong to think that the Christian community is a family that only thinks about its own members and turns its back on the suffering of others. The narrative says that on the same day at sunset, when the sabbath is over, they bring to Jesus all sorts of sick people and those possessed by evil.

We Christians should capture the scene well. As night falls, the whole town "gathers at the door" with their sick. The eyes and hopes of those who suffer seek the door of this house where Jesus is. The Church only really draws people when the suffering can find Jesus healing and alleviating suffering within it. There are many people suffering at the door of our communities. Let's not forget it.