Nel's New Day

April 21, 2013

New Pope Also Censures Nuns for Work with Poor

Over 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII called a council of Catholic bishops from around the world to deliberate on the Church’s direction. The progressive Vatican II met for three years and made tremendous strides ahead in the Catholic guidelines. Mass could be celebrated in a language that people could understand instead of Latin, and the ecumenical bridges were built between Christians and other religions including Jews. Nuns came out of the convents to “live the Gospel” through service with the poor and in prisons and hospitals.

The progressive pope, however, was replaced with Paul VI who declared birth control to be an “intrinsic evil” even for married people, despite the majority report of his own theological commission. The dark curtain of Catholic control was further lowered when Paul II opposed “liberation theology” movements in Latin America where priests and nuns stood with the poor against oppressive right-wing movements. The defense of the all-male priesthood and Church’s official concealment of their sexual abuses continued.

Pope Benedict XVI carried the suppression of the nuns farther when he tried to stop the actions of 80 percent of the 57,000 U.S. nuns who belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) because they concentrated on their care of the poor. The Vatican’s explosive report accused the nuns of “promoting radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” because they didn’t march around opposing abortion and marriage equality.

LCWR, according to Benedict, was to be controlled by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. He and two other bishops were assigned to oversee a rewriting of LCWR’s statutes, review its plans and programs, approve speakers, and guarantee that the group properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

Last year Catholic leaders were so disillusioned that such bishops as Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan said that his church is “200 years out of date,” so focused on sex that its leaders may be considered a “caricature in the media.” U.S. bishops made positive statements about the value of unions, immigration reform, and safety nets for poor people. They described Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan as failing “a basic moral test.”

The new pope, Francis, offered a bit of hope for a  more progressive Catholic Church perception. Initially he showed the desire for a simpler and less formal life which included giving aid to the poor. This new attitude indicated the possibility that the nuns in the United States could move on with their vocation of helping the poor instead of fighting pressure from the Vatican. This is not to be.

Like his predecessor, Francis has now expressed concern that these nuns have “serious doctrinal problems.”  Nuns meeting last week with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, the new head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, and Sartain were told that Pope Francis has already endorsed Pope Benedict’s criticisms. Muller told the sisters their job is to promote “cooperation” with local bishops and bishops’ conferences, according to Religion News Service.

Kenneth Briggs, the author of a book about the Vatican’s clash with U.S. nuns, said Francis’ backing of the Holy See’s unyielding line was “a major blow” to prospects for more dialogue. “It seems like the Vatican has put a more appealing salesman in charge of the same old product,” Briggs said.

Sister Simone Campbell of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying group, said that she would wait to see if these orders change in the future. She added:

“The censure [of the LCWR] has always been about politics. And politics are shifting in the church right now. We know when politics shift, there are opportunities and there are risks. But we are concerned that Catholic sisters below the decision-making level are caught in the bigger picture of Vatican politics. We’re sort of the soccer ball here. My most optimistic self had hoped that CDF report would never be mentioned again, but in light of the broader politics, I think it was overly optimistic of me.”

John Allen, a Vatican specialist for The National Catholic Reporter and CNN, has described the tension between the sisters and the bishops as one that is really about “what it means to be Catholic in the 21st century.” Other people are guessing that a major problem in changing the orders for the U.S. nuns comes from the immediate past pope still being alive, that he is casting a shadow over any changes that Francis might want to make.

The Vatican approved of the LCWR for decades until Cardinal Bernard Law started an investigation into its activities. Law resigned as Boston archbishop in 2002 because of his role in the clergy abuse scandal and moved to Rome in 2004 to become pastor of a basilica. He served on several influential Vatican boards until his recent retirement at age 80.

Research on goals and processes of ethical beliefs of men and women indicate a distinct difference between the two genders with the female caring component missing from male ethical conceptions. James Fieser suggests that the male “emphasizes rules: moral laws, abstract notions of justice, lists of dos and don’ts, ideal standards of right and wrong.”  According to Fieser, men have a “preoccupation with rules in general, and the need to postulate scientific laws, legal statutes, and social policies.”  In contrast, “women see morality as the need to care for people who are in situations of vulnerability and dependency.”

These opposing attitudes are reflected in Christian religion across the United States that is dominated by men. In all the conservative groups, women are subservient to the domination of men.

The emphasis on “rules” is reflected in these two news stories:

According to a woman’s lawsuit in Philadelphia, a priest sexually assaulted her after he asked to see her for “counseling” and then “smeared her menstrual blood on her face.” When detectives asked the priest for an interview, he said that he could not talk with the police because the events were under the seal of confession. The case was not pursued until the woman filed her suit, and the priest has been sent to Poland.

For almost a decade, openly gay parishioner at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church (Oceanside, NY) was an active member of his church. Nicholas Coppola visited the home-bound, taught fifth-graders in preparation for confirmation, and served as a member of the Consolation Ministry and St. Vincent de Paul.

Three months after he married David in a ceremony attended by some St. Anthony members, the pastor removed him from all parish activities. A letter complaining about Coppola’s sexual orientation had been sent to the diocese bishop. Two months later, U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that the Church must welcome the LGBT community and not be “anti-anybody.”

The ultimate of “rules” in the U.S. may be the law. Seven states bar atheists from holding public office: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The statutes are unconstitutional, based on a Supreme Court ruling in 1961, but they can always overturn that ruling.

Meanwhile, I hope that the nuns get back on the bus for another tour and continue to help people who have fallen through the safety net.

 

July 8, 2012

Bigoted Christianity Rampant in the U.S.

The “Nuns on the Bus” have finished their 15-day tour with Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Susan Collins (R-MA) introducing a resolution honoring nuns. The senators said that the resolution “recognizes the Catholic Sisters’ fulfillment of their vital missions to teach our children, care for the sick, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, lead major institutions, demand corporate responsibility and fight for policies that promote human dignity.” These brave women are opposing Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who ignore the Christian belief in aiding the poor and avoid the nuns.

Republicans are not only busy keeping the poor in poverty but also industriously using religion to destroy the credibility of Democrats. Preening themselves on their fiscal responsibility, the conservatives accuse Democrats of having a way on faith. Fiscal responsibility seems to be a problem at the Vatican, however; they have a $19 million deficit. The Rev. Federico Lombardi said that they need to get savings from somewhere although probably not from the layoff of any of the 2,832 Holy See personnel.

Meanwhile Republicans make it very clear that their definition of faith is only Christian. Colorado state Sen. Kevin Grantham wants a law to ban building new mosques: “Mosques are not churches like we would think of churches. They think of mosques more as a foothold into a society, as a foothold into a community, more in the cultural and in the nationalistic sense. Our churches–we don’t feel that way, they’re places of worship, and mosques are simply not that, and we need to take that into account when approving construction of those.”

Even the government suffers from serious religious prejudice. The military found it appropriate to use the depiction of a Muslim woman for target training for the Navy SEALs until they received complaints. Hanging on the wall behind the woman were verses of the Quran, a holy book to the second largest religion in the world with almost as many members as Christianity.

Some Christian leaders clearly show bigotry toward those of their same faith. The Rev. Mel Lewis, organizer and keynote speaker of last week’s Christian Identity Ministries’ three-day conference in Alabama, invited “all white Christians.” Asked about the discrimination, he said, “We don’t have the facilities to accommodate” those who are not “part of the chosen race.” The event, surrounded by Ku Klux Klan flags and supremacy slogans, culminated Friday night by what they call a “Christian cross lighting” as they hold a cross-burning. Some of those who attended also wore KKK garb.

Christians are sinking lower and lower on the scale of belief in the Constitution’s statement “for the general welfare.” Only 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” This number has gone down 18 points in the past five years; in 2007 58% of the Republicans thought that people who cannot take care of themselves deserve help. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

One example of right-wing selfishness comes from many Republican governors’ refusal to accept billions of dollars in Medicaid funds to insure millions of people. According to those whose incomes are below 133 percent of the poverty level may receive federal Medicaid but cannot receive the subsidies that are provided for others of lower income.  If governors accept the federal money, everyone can be insured. Without this acceptance, between 3.5 million and 9.2 million people will have no health safety net. Ten Republican governors have stated that they will refuse the funds, and another 19 are considering it. Even three Democrat governors are questioning whether they will take the federal funding in Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Republican austerity is only for the poor and middle-class, however. Corporate taxes are at a 40-year low, with an effective tax rate paid of 12.1 percent. They’ve fallen from about 6 percent of GDP to less than 2 percent.

Radio host Jan Mickelson shows the conservatives’ lack of respect for others in his comment about the nuns on tour to Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA). “Do you guys, do you have any power to pull the nuns on the bus over and pistol whip them? They say [Paul Ryan] is evil, they say he is fake Catholic. They’re the ones that threw the first punch.”

Several years ago leadership of the Mormon church used its political clout to defeat California Proposition 8’s ban on marriage equality; now it is providing its resources, against church rules, to elect Mitt Romney. One action is giving away LDS Tools that provide full directories of church members including that of stake and district presidencies. The app also offers event calendar listings and a “birthday list,” and the Mormons are reaching out through Facebook and Twitter.

Cheers for the nuns! According to sister Simone Campbell, bus tour organizer and executive director of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, “Congressman Ryan [is making] an outrageous claim … that the Catholic faith, that is all about serving the poor, validates his budget—which does nothing but decimate services to the poor and provide further tax cuts for the wealthy. By lifting up the work of Catholic sisters, we will demonstrate the very programs and services that will be decimated by the House budget.”

The country needs to look back at another Ryan—John Ryan, a prominent theologian who published A Living Wage in 1906. He claimed that economics must be shaped by and rooted in morality as he advocated fair and equal pay that started the living wage movement. His “Program for Social Reconstruction” (1919) was considered a blueprint not only for President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal including Social Security but also for collective bargaining rights, the right to organize, and the prevention of child labor—all aspects of the Labor Relations Act in 1935; comprehensive insurance—realized in the Social Security Act of 1935; and a minimum wage—that fueled the movement toward the Fair Labor Standards act of 1938

A century after the first publication of A Living Wage, we have similar economic conditions with rampant economic inequality and wealth in the hands of a few. The top one percent took over 40 percent of the national wealth last year. I prefer the philosophy of John Ryan over Paul Ryan when he declared the three guides to equality: Laws should promoting the general welfare; every individual has inherent dignity; and individuals are stronger through community.

On the eve of the nun’s bus tour, Sister Simone Campbell avowed, “This is a fight for the soul of our nation. Catholic social teaching says that the positive role of government is to counter the excesses of each culture. Our excess at this point is individualism, so the work of government is to counter that by emphasizing our responsibilities to each other.”

Paul Ryan needs to learn that.

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