Friday, January 24, 2014

Silenced but not silent, these priests are moving right along

All three men have spoken out or acted in ways that have drawn the ire and severe reprisals from Catholic Church authorities. They have been punished in various ways for their dissent from either Church teachings or policy or both. The one thing they have in common is that they will not be kept down or silent in the face of injustice.

Fr. Roy Bourgeois

Of the three -- two Americans and an Irishman -- Fr. Roy has suffered the most. For his participation in a women's ordination ceremony, he was ordered to recant his support for women in the priesthood and when he refused to do so, he was excommunicated, suspended a divinis, dismissed from his Maryknoll order, and involuntarily laicized by the Vatican. Fr. Roy wrote a booklet about his experience and the evolution of his beliefs titled My Journey From Silence to Solidarity.

None of this has dampened his enthusiasm for advocating for church reform and this week, Fr. Roy published an open letter to Pope Francis in which he repeated his appeal for equal access of women to Holy Orders and added an appeal for the Church to be more welcoming to gays and lesbians. In his letter, he asks the pope straight up, "Couldn’t God open the door to the priesthood for women, too? Isn’t our all-powerful God, who created the cosmos, capable of empowering a woman to be a priest? Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call to women is not?" And he asks Pope Francis to "talk and listen to the women who have been called" and to "welcome them to the priesthood and give thanks to God for answering our prayers for more vocations."

With respect to LGBT people, Fr. Roy writes that the Church's teaching that they are "intrinsically disordered" is "cruel and offensive" and he adds that the teaching "implies that, somehow, God has made many mistakes in Creation." He calls on the pope to "declare that the Catholic Church will accept and value LGBT people as equal persons – made fully in the image of God – and recognize gay marriage."

This letter comes less than a year after an op-ed piece by Fr. Roy in the New York Times titled My Prayer: Let Women Be Priests (3/20/2013) in which he describes his experiences and compares the Church's refusal to ordain women to the racial segregation that existed in his native Louisiana when he was growing up and he concludes on a note of hope: "I know that one day women in my church will be ordained — just as those segregated schools and churches in Louisiana are now integrated."

Fr. Tony Flannery

Fr. Tony, an Irish Redemptorist priest and founder of the Association of Catholic Priests was suspended a divinis and silenced in 2012. He was told that his priestly faculties would be restored if he would write, sign and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality.

After a period of reflection, in January 2013, Fr. Tony concluded that he could not agree to the Vatican's terms. "If I signed this," he told a reporter in an interview, "it would be a betrayal not only of myself but of my fellow priests and lay Catholics who want change. I refuse to be terrified into submission."

In September, he sealed his refusal to bend to Church pressure with the publication of a new book, A Question of Conscience. The book painstakingly chronicles Fr. Tony's dealings with an institution that is trying to squeeze the voice out of the very popular priest and communicator.

Now Fr. Tony is taking a page from another priest/advocate for church reform, the Austrian Pfarrer Initiative's Fr. Helmut Schuller, and embarking on a speaking tour. In a statement posted on the ACP website, Fr. Tony says that after two years out of public ministry, he has "decided not to wait around for the Vatican (and in particular the CDF) to change its mind." He says his talks, which will be given in various cities in Ireland and England over the next few months -- but not on Church premises ("so as not to cause embarrassment to anyone") -- will focus on the historical background of the problems in the Church today and some ways it can move forward. He says that he still cares greatly about the Church, and wish that it could communicate the Gospel message more effectively to the modern world.

Fr. John Dear

In December 2013, another popular activist priest in the United States chose to part company with his order rather than submit to its requirements. After a period of vocational discernment, Fr. John Dear was dismissed from the Jesuits for refusing to live in his Maryland province's community in Baltimore. Instead, Fr. John went back to New Mexico where he had been living and working as a pastor until he had his priestly faculties suspended by the Archbishop of Santa Fe because of complaints about his political activism against nuclear weapons (they were later restored by the Archbishop of Baltimore). The Jesuits deemed that Fr. John had been "obstinately disobedient to the lawful order of Superiors in a grave matter."

Fr. John's version, laid out in his column in the National Catholic Reporter, is that his order had changed, that his "Jesuit superiors have tried so hard over the decades to stop [his] work for peace" and repeatedly encouraged him to leave. He accuses the order of "deepening its financial involvement with the culture of war and decreasing its work with the poor in favor of serving through its universities and high schools." So, Fr. John writes, "after five months in Baltimore as a priest in good standing, I moved back to New Mexico, went on a leave of absence from the Jesuits, continued my discernment, asked to leave and this week, left the society." Although he could still work as a priest if he found a bishop who would accept him, Fr. John doubts that this is possible.

In the immediate future, he has decided to pursue his calling to work for peace and signed on as an outreach coordinator with Pace e Bene, a group working on education for nonviolence. Specifically, he will be organizing Campaign Nonviolence, nationwide nonviolent actions during the week of September 21-27, 2014. And there are many speaking engagements lined up to promote Fr. John's latest book, The Nonviolent Life.

First Women's Ordinations in 2014

On January 18th, 2014, the first ordinations of Roman Catholic women priests and deacons of the year took place at St. Andrew United Church of Christ in Sarasota, Florida. In a bilingual ceremony presided by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia of Cali, Colombia and Maureen McGill of St. Petersburg, Florida, were ordained priests. Rita Lucey of Orlando, Florida, and Mary Bergan Blanchard of Albuquerque, New Mexico, were ordained deacons.

Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia became the third Colombian woman to be ordained to the priesthood after Rev. Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea, who accompanied her to the United States and participated in her ordination ceremony, reading the gospel in Spanish, and Rev. Aida Soto Bernal. Rev. Sanchez Mejia has been serving a community of 173 mostly Afro-Colombian families in Playa Renaciente, near the Cauca River in Cali since 2005. According to Rev. Judy Lee who has been mentoring the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests' ordinands from South America, the heads of Sanchez Mejia's community wrote a letter of recommendation saying that she was ministering to and leading them and that they would happily support her as their priest. Sanchez Mejia, an activist, has also been supporting them in their struggles to keep their riverfront land, as there are interests who hope to take the lands and develop tourism there. She has worked with local priests in base communities and was a missionary to Ecuador for three years where she studied theology and served women and children and the outcast. Prior to entering the ministry, this mother of two trained and worked as a preschool teacher and also served as president of the Consejo Ancestral de Negritudes Playa Renaciente, an advocacy group for local Afro-Colombians.

Maureen McGill is a teacher and mentor in feminist spirituality connected with the Atman Center in St. Petersburg (Pinellas Park), Florida. She has a J.D. in Law and a Masters in Pastoral Studies. She is a retired attorney and has spent most of her legal career advocating for abused and neglected children. "My call to priestly ministry arose from those years," Rev. McGill says. "Women experience similar abuse and neglect in the church today. My call to priesthood will include advocacy to give women their rightful equality in the church." McGill has not given up hope that the traditional Catholic Church will recognize her role as a women priest. At her ordination, she told a local TV reporter that "the current Pope is awesome. Though he has not recognized the women yet, I think eventually he will. It is just a matter of when, where and how." This new and optimistic woman priest will lead inclusive liturgies at Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota and provide pastoral care for residents of nursing homes in St. Petersburg.

As for the new deacons, Rita Lucey is a member of Pax Christi who has been married for 61 years. She is a mother and a grandmother and a human rights activist who spent six months in federal prison to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas. She has also served as a hospice volunteer for 25 years.

Mary Bergan Blanchard is a professional mental health counselor and a writer. She has undergraduate degrees in English and education from the College of St. Rose, a B.A. in art from Marywood, and a masters in counseling and psychology from Boston University. She is the author of Eulogy, an autobiographical reflection on her years as a Roman Catholic nun, for which she received a certificate of merit from Writer's Digest in 2000, and Ed's Place: A Memoir where she writes about the man she met and married after she left the convent.

As usual, the official Roman Catholic Church disassociated itself from this latest round of ordinations, the Diocese of Venice (Florida) telling the media that "the Diocese has no association with this group. The Catholic Church has no authority to confer the sacred ordination on women, and this has been stated time and again"...obviously to no avail. Additional ordination ceremonies are already in the works for February in California and May in Washington state and New York.

Something new and good

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
January 26, 2014

Matthew 4:12-23

The first writer who included the actions and message of Jesus summed it up by saying that Jesus proclaimed the "Good News of God." Later, the other evangelists used the same Greek word (euangélion) and express the same conviction -- in the God proclaimed by Jesus, people found something "new" and "good." Is there still something in that gospel that can be read in the midst of our indifferent and skeptical society as something new and good for the men and women of our day? Anything that can be found in the God proclaimed by Jesus and not easily provided by science, technology or progress? How is it possible to live the faith in God today?

In the Gospel of Jesus we believers meet a God from whom we can feel and experience life as a gift that has its origin in the ultimate mystery of reality that is Love. For me, it's good not to feel I'm alone and lost in existence, neither in the hands of fate or chance. I have Someone who I can thank for life.

In the Gospel of Jesus we find a God who, despite our blunders, gives us strength to defend our freedom without ending up slaves of some idol, to not always live halfheartedly or be "scroungers", to keep learning new and more humane ways to work, enjoy ourselves, suffer and love. For me, it's good to be able to count on the strength of my tiny faith in that God.

In the Gospel of Jesus we find a God who awakens our responsibility to not become disengaged from others. We can't do great things but we know we have to contribute to a more dignified and happier life for all, thinking particularly of the needy and helpless. For me, it's good to believe in a God who often asks me what I'm doing for my brothers and sisters.

In the Gospel of Jesus we have a God who helps us to glimpse that evil, injustice and death do not have the last word. Someday everything that could not exist here, what has been left half done, our greatest hopes and our deepest desires will achieve their fulfillment in God. It's good for me to live and await my death with this confidence.

Certainly, each of us has to decide how we want to live and how we want to die. Everyone must listen to their own truth. For me, believing in God isn't the same as not believing in Him. It's good for me to be able to make my journey through this world feeling accepted, strengthened, forgiven and saved by the God revealed in Jesus.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Response to the Synod on the Family

by Juan Masiá, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
January 20, 2014

Recovering the humane, reviewing the historical, rediscovering the gospel

Instead of responding directly to the questions sent by the secretariat of the Synod (which seem formulated to induce and determine the response), it is preferable to express for the synod bishops' knowledge, an opinion on each of the nine items listed in the title of each block of questions. In the context of a meeting with Catholic professionals and couples who are attending continuing education courses in theology, I will write my own opinion, incorporating input received from the participants.

1. On the Bible and Church teaching about the family

Instead of asking whether and how the teachings of the Church on marriage, family and sexuality are spread and accepted, we must propose a radical overhaul of the way we read, interpret and apply biblical texts, as they are used in Paul VI's Humanae Vitae , in John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio and in the 1992 Catechism.

2. On marriage and natural law

Instead of asking about marriage according to natural law, we have to revise and correct the narrow way of understanding so-called natural law and the Church's attempt to arrogate to itself monopoly on its interpretation. It is necessary to clarify how to understand the Church's teaching in the morality field. It refers more to a parenetic or exhortative teaching which aims to help people avoid evil and do good. The role of the Church, as Cardinal Martini used to explain, is not to multiply definitions and condemnations, but to help people to live more humanely and with hope. The confusion between these exhortations and moral doctrine is harmful, because it causes the misunderstanding of deeming heretical what is merely responsible dissent in relation to a given recommendation that does not have to be considered a doctrinal affirmation.

3. On the pastoral of the family and evangelization

  • It's not just a matter of making pastoral practice more flexible without touching the teaching on the alleged "doctrine" of the Church. In fact, for decades many people of faith and bishops and priests who are within the Church have felt totally free to disagree with the exaggerations of so-called "Church doctrine." But the latter does not change openly and officially and there is an open gap of separation between this gospel pastoral practice and the official positions of the Church through which it loses credibility inside and out. For example, there are believers who think that using a condom is prohibited, and there are non-believers who think that condom use is condemned. But in the consultation room and in moral theology class we say clearly, in Cardinal Martini's phrase, that "it is neither the Church's job to condemn it nor is it its mission to recommend it." However, the Church hierarchies have not dared to say this and so have lost much credibility over the past three pontificates.

  • Both in the practice of family ministry and in the documents and exhortations of the Church on marriage and family, three serious flaws must be corrected:

    1) The lack of distinction between the principal teachings (which are few and very basic, e.g. responsible parenthood) and secondary disputable issues (which can be quite varied, e.g. the recommendations made by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II about contraceptives) should be avoided.

    2) We should avoid joining the neglect of the main teachings with the endeavor to change blind assent to those other secondary recommendations into a sign of Catholic identity.

    3) We must avoid that believers who are poorly formed in their faith as adults mistakenly believe you can not disagree with the church on these secondary issues and confuse reasonable and responsible disagreement with dissent and infidelity (for example, dissenting from Humanae Vitae is not a question of sin, or obedience, or faith. This must be clearly taught and not just whispered in the consulting room or the confessional).
4. On the pastoral attitude towards the difficult situations of couples and marriages

  • We must review the standard about sexual relations outside the legally formalized framework such as marriage. A good reference is the triple criteria proposed by the Japanese bishops in their Letter on Life (1983): Criterion of loyalty to oneself -- How does one act in the field of sexuality and love so that one respects oneself? Criterion of sincerity and authenticity towards one's partner -- How does one act in the field of sexuality and love so as to respect one's partner? Criterion of social responsibility -- How does one act so that the responsibility towards the life that was born as fruit of the love is taken seriously?

  • We must review the opinion expressed in the official documents of the past three pontificates about the inseparability of the unitive and the procreative in the sexual relationship and in each of its acts.

  • The proposal of an ethical maximum as an ideal, for example, with respect to indissoluble marriage, must be made compatible with the pastoral and sacramental acceptance and support of people after the breakup of a marriage relationship, and in the process of rebuilding life with or without a new relationship.
5. On the relationships of homosexual couples

It's not enough to affirm in the Catechism that people with a homosexual orientation should not be discriminated against either in society or in the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2358). It's not enough to assert that homosexual orientation in itself is not a moral evil (see the instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, n.3).

It's not enough to explain that some texts of Scripture where homosexual practices are referred to should be read in the context of denouncing social customs of the time, that they should never be used to make a judgment of guilt against those who suffer because of their sexual orientation (see the instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana, 1975, n. 8). We must go one step further and instead of focusing on questioning the sexual relationship, the Church must confront the problem inherent in the negative reactions, both religious and social, with which this issue is faced in the Church and in society. And also take the step of communal, sacramental and pastoral welcoming of these couples and the education of their offspring.

6. On the education of children of couples "not formalized" according to the so-called "traditional model" of family

Without giving up the ideal, we must be realistic. Without stopping recommending the ideal of indissolubility, we have to assume the inevitability of breakups and the need for human, spiritual and sacramental healing. As the Japanese bishops have written in their Millenium Letter, "we recognize the fact that many men and women are unable to fulfill the pledge of love they made in marriage...There are situations where for various reasons a breakup is unavoidable... These people need comfort and encouragement. We regret that the Church has often been judgmental of such people... When the bond of marriage, unfortunately, has been broken, the Church should show warm understanding towards these people, treating them as Christ would treat them and assisting them in the steps they are taking to rebuild their lives...We hope that those who have gone through the misfortune of divorce and have found someone else to be their companion on life's journey will be supported by the Church with a mother's embracing love."

7. On openness to unborn life

  • Not surprisingly, a large majority of Catholic spouses supported by pastoral ministry disagree with Church guidelines on birth control. It is not a moral problem, but poorly misunderstood ecclesiology. It's not a problem of disobedience, but of responsibility.

  • Rape is an act which, through its violence, hurts the dignity of the person at their very core. Clearly pregnancy should not be the result of an act of violence. This applies not only to cases of rape in the strictest sense of the word, but also to other cases of more or less concealed violence. The answer must be that, in many cases, interrupting that process in its early constituent stages is not only permissible but even obligatory. Otherwise, the person would be at risk of being faced with the dilemma of irresponsibly assuming maternity or resorting to interruption of the pregnancy in the strict and abortion morally negative sense of the word "abortion". Preventing implantation would help avoid that dilemma; the "interception" (which takes place during the first two weeks) would be a reasonable and responsible alternative to the dilemma between contraception and abortion.

  • When defending unborn life, we must avoid the misunderstandings that the definition of conception as a moment in time rather than as a process leads to, and also avoid confusion between the exceptional interruptions of pregnancy before the formation of the fetus and the unjust abortive termination of unborn life.

We opt for responsible acceptance of the emerging and nascent life process, which involves the requirement that, if and when its exceptional interruption is considered, it be in a responsible, just, and justified way, and in conscience. Therefore, we ought to assume, first of all, a basic attitude of respect for the process of conception initiated at fertilization, welcome the nascent life from the beginning of the process, promote the healthy development of the gestation process looking towards birth, and protect it, doing everything possible that it not be lost and that the process not be interrupted, either accidentally or intentionally in an unjustified way.

This acceptance and protection should be carried out responsibly. But this stance in favor of acceptance of life does not mean that that life is absolutely untouchable. The acceptance must be responsible, and controversial cases may present themselves that morally justify the interruption of this process. If one will not be able to assume the responsibility for welcoming, giving birth to and raising this new life, it should be prevented in a timely manner through appropriate contraceptive (before the beginning of fertilization) or interceptive (before implantation) resources.

There will be borderline cases where there may even be the duty (not the right) to interrupt the embryonic process of constituting a new individual entity in its early stages before it is too late. Examples of these cases of conflict of values would be: when the continuation of that process enters into serious and grave conflict with the health of the mother or the own good of the future creature, not yet constituted.

In these conflicts, when weighing the values at stake and ranking them, the criterion of recognition and respect for the individual should guide the deliberation. When, as a result of this discussion, the decision must be made about stopping the process, this decision belongs to the pregnant woman and should not be made arbitrarily, but responsibly and conscientiously.

Finally, these decisions about interrupting the process should take into account the moment of evolution in which that life is in those stages prior to birth. That life would be less untouchable in the very early stages and the threshold of untouchability, in principle, should not be beyond the step from embryo to fetus around the ninth week. Beyond this threshold, if serious reasons are present that necessitate the interruption of the process, it should not be carried out as an alleged right of the pregnant woman, but by reason of a serious justification because of the value conflicts that continuation of the process towards birth would raise. The more advanced the state of this process, the more serious the reasons required for the choice to interrupt it to be morally responsible would be.

8. On the dignity of the person in the family

Respect for the dignity of persons in the family is more important than the defense of the alleged unconditional indissolubility of marriage. Domestic violence must be avoided through mutual respect of the spouses, respect for the autonomy of the children without possessively impeding their growth, and respect for parents and care in old age should concern the pastoral of the family more than arguments about medically assisted procreation or the use of contraceptives.