Friday, July 6, 2012

Crackdown on dissident Austrian clergy begins

Last fall, we reported on the Pfarrer-Initiative, a call for disobedience and Church reform by Catholic clergy in Austria. As of May 2012, 498 priests and deacons have signed on to the call.

Now Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has issued an ultimatum to the dissenting priests, saying that they cannot keep their names on the manifesto and hold administrative posts in the Church. A spokesman for Schönborn clarified that priests could remain members of Pfarrer-Initiative but that they were being asked to withdraw their names from the group's call to disobedience. No priest whose name is on the manifesto will be appointed to any administrative role and those who are already in such roles will be asked to choose when their appointments come up for renewal.

At least one priest, Fr. Peter Meidinger (photo), a founding member of Pfarrer-Initiative, chose to step down from his position as dean of one of the districts in the Archdiocese of Vienna rather than recant his support for the manifesto. He will continue to serve as a priest in two parishes south of Vienna. "During the interview, I was convinced that twenty years of service at the heart of the Catholic Church as dean, vicar and diocesan leader haven't been enough to keep the archbishop's trust," Meidinger said. "Faced with the dilemma of giving up my position or the priests' initiative, I have come out in favor of the initiative because this proposal seems to me immoral and incompatible with my conscience," he added.

Stay tuned...

Conceptual shortcomings of Rio+20

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)

To say that Rio+20 was a success does not correspond to reality, since there was no binding measure, nor were funds provided for the eradication of poverty and mechanisms to control global warming. No decisions were made to accomplish the purpose of the Conference which was to create conditions for the "future we want." Not admitting failure is part of the logic of governments, but that doesn't make it any less so. Given the general degradation of all ecosystem services, not advancing means going backwards.

The bottom line: if the crisis is in growth, then the solution is obtained with still more growth. This specifically means more use of the goods and services of nature, which accelerates its depletion, and more pressure on ecosystems, already at their limits. Data from the UN agencies themselves report that since Rio 92 there has been a 12% loss of biodiversity, 3 million square meters of woods and forests have been felled, 40% more greenhouse gases have been emitted and about half of global fish stocks have been exhausted.

What is surprising is that neither the final document nor the draft show any sense of self-criticism. They don't ask why we have reached the current situation, nor do they perceive clearly the systemic nature of the crisis. Herein lie the theoretical weakness and conceptual shortcomings of this, and of other official UN documents in general. Let's enumerate some critical points.

The decisionmakers keep going within the old cultural and social "software" that puts the human being in an Adamic position over nature as its dominator and exploiter, a basic reason for the current ecological crisis. They don't see the human being as part of nature and responsible for the common destiny. They haven't incorporated the view of the new cosmology that sees the Earth as alive and human beings as the conscious and intelligent portion of Earth itself, with a mission to care for it and ensure sustainability. The Earth is seen only as a repository of resources, without intelligence or purpose.

They welcomed the "great transformation" (Polanyi) when they overrode ethics, marginalized politics and established the economy as the sole structuring axis of society. We have gone from a market economy to a market society, separating the real economy from the speculative financial economy, the latter running the former.

They have confused development with growth, the former as the set of values and conditions that allow the fulfillment of human existence, and the latter as the mere production of goods to be sold on the market and consumed. They see sustainability as a way to ensure the continuity and reproduction of the same, of the institutions, companies and other bodies, without changing their internal logic and without questioning the impacts they are having on all ecosystem services. They are hostages of an anthropocentric conception according to which all other beings are only meaningful insofar as they are ordered to man, disregarding the community of life that is also created, as we are, by Mother Earth. They maintain a utilitarian relationship with all beings, denying them intrinsic value and therefore their quality as subjects of respect and rights, especially the planet Earth.

By looking at everything through the lens of economics that is governed by competition rather than cooperation, they have abolished ethics and the spiritual dimension in reflecting about the lifestyle, production and consumption of societies. Without ethics and spirituality, we became barbaric, insensitive to the passion of the millions and millions of hungry and poor. This is why a radical individualism reigns. Each country seeks its individual good over the global common good which, at the UN conferences, prevents consensus and convergence in diversity. And so, happy and alienated, we are heading towards an abyss, dug by our lack of sensible reason, wisdom and transcendental sense of existence.

With these conceptual shortcomings, we will never get out of the crises that plague us. This was the cry of the Peoples' Summit that presented alternatives of hope. In the worst case scenario, the Earth will be able to continue, but without us. May God forbid that, since He is "the sovereign lover of life", as the Judeo-Christian Scriptures state.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Rejected by His own

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo
July 4, 2012

Mark 6:1-6

Jesus isn't a temple priest who is busy taking care of and promoting the faith. Nor does anyone confuse Him with a master of the Law, devoted to defending the Torah of Moses. The peasants of Galilee see in His healing deeds and His fiery words the actions of a prophet moved by the Spirit of God.

Jesus knows that a hard and conflictive life awaits Him. The religious leaders will confront Him. It's the fate of all prophets. He still doesn't suspect that He will be rejected precisely by His own, those who have known Him best since He was a child.

Jesus' rejection by His people of Nazareth was discussed a lot among the early Christians. Three of the gospel writers pick up the episode in full detail. According to Mark, Jesus comes to Nazareth, accompanied by a group of disciples and with a reputation as a healing prophet. His neighbors don't know what to think.

When the sabbath comes, Jesus goes into the small synagogue of the town and "begins to teach." His neighbors and relatives barely listen to Him. All sorts of questions arise among them. They've known Jesus since childhood; He's just another neighbor. Where has He learned this surprising message about the Kingdom of God? From whom has He received this strength to heal? Mark says that "they were scandalized" by all of it. Why?

Those peasants thought they knew everything about Jesus. They had formed an idea of Him since they were children. Instead of accepting Him as He presented Himself to them, they remain blocked by the image they have of Him. This image keeps them from being open to the mystery within Jesus. They resist discovering the saving closeness of God in Him.

But there's something else. Accepting Him as a prophet means being willing to listen to the message He is addressing to them in the name of God. And that could bring them problems. They have their synagogue, their holy books, and their traditions. They live out their religion peacefully. The prophetic presence of Jesus might rupture the tranquility of the village.

We Christians have quite different images of Jesus. Not all of them are like the ones held by those who knew Him and followed Him closely. Each of us has our own concept of Him. That image conditions the way we live our faith. If our image of Jesus is poor, partial or distorted, our faith will be poor, partial, or distorted.

Why do we make so little effort to know Jesus? Why does remembering His human traits scandalize us? Why do we resist admitting that God has become incarnate in a Prophet? Do we perhaps sense that His prophetic life might force us to profoundly transform His Church?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Faith and Freedom

Tomorrow, the US Catholic Bishops' Fortnight for Freedom comes to an end with a Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC at 12:10 p.m. The Fortnight, unfortunately, came to be too closely associated with -- and even identified with -- the freedom of major Catholic employers to not have to provide the same health care benefits as other private sector employers. It became identified with the freedom not to have to recognize legally married gay spouses.

I've been thinking about religion and liberty from a slightly different angle and I've identified a couple of things the Catholic Church can do to promote freedom in its own institutions:

1. Freedom of theological inquiry: Notifications by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and similar notifications by national bishops' conferences have a stifling effect on free theological thought, inquiry, publishing, and teaching. Theology is not catechism. Catholic theologians such as (most recently) Elizabeth Johnson and Margaret Farley should be free to write what they want as long as they make it clear -- and they do -- that their writings represent their own views and not those of the Magisterium.

2. Freedom of thought and expression for employees of Catholic institutions: It was truly dismaying in the middle of all of this outrage about religious liberty, to read about Trish Cameron who had been teaching for 11 years at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Moorhead, Minnesota, and who was told to submit her resignation after answering honestly on a self-evaluation that "I do not agree with all church teachings on a personal level, but I do not bring my own opinions into religion classes." The school pressured her for details and learned that she disagrees with the Church about same-sex marriage and, more specifically, that she felt it was inappropriate for Bishop Michael Hoeppner to come into her 5th grade classroom and talk about gay marriage and the Minnesota Marriage Amendment and make a pitch for her young students to tell their parents how to vote. She is simply the latest example of an employee of a Catholic institution fired for exercising her freedom of conscience and expression -- and in a discrete, non-scandalous manner at that. Employees of the Catholic Church and its related institutions should not have to check their constitutional rights at the door as a condition for employment.

3. Freedom of employees of Catholic institutions to unionize: Another scandalous event that occured during this "Fortnight for Freedom" was Duquesne University joining the sleazy ranks of Catholic higher education institutions who have attempted to claim religious exemption from the National Labor Relations Board in order to avoid a union representation election by their adjunct faculty. The NLRB denied Duquesne's claim, which was not very credible given that Duquesne already recognizes and bargains with several other unions and because it had initially agreed to the election. Duquesne has appealed the NLRB ruling. Given the fact that the bishops of the United States themselves have taught in Economic Justice for All that "the Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate" (104), no Catholic institution should be using its Catholicity as an excuse to get out of holding a union election, recognizing a duly elected union, or bargaining fairly with that union. That they continue to do so is a matter of public scandal and contrary to the teachings of the Church.

4. Freedom of women religious to associate, publish and develop their own programs: The recent doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious contains numerous violations of their freedom. Among the conclusions in the assessment: a) LCWR's Systems Thinking Handbook will be immediately withdrawn from publication until it is revised; b) Speakers/presenters at major LCWR programs will be subject to approval by Delegate (ie. Archbishop Peter Sartain); and c) LCWR links with affiliated organizations, e.g. Network and Resource Center for Religious Life, will be reviewed. But the USCCB wants to focus attention on how the Obama administration is theoretically attacking Catholic religious freedom. That's rich! Maybe they should be looking to remove the beam from their own eye before focusing on the splinter in their brother's eye.

5. Freedom of priests to marry and freedom of married men to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders: It's unfair and hypocritical that the Roman Catholic Church is continuing to admit more and more married men with families into the Anglican ordinariate ("Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter") while continuing to require Catholic priests who fall in love and want to marry and start a family to leave the ministry. The Church can no longer reasonably make the argument that these states are incompatible now that it has -- and is continuing to acquire -- ample experience to the contrary. The time for optional celibacy is now.

These are a few of my thoughts on faith and freedom as we approach the end of this fortnight of reflection on the subject.