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leaders were so disillusioned that such bishops as Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan said that his church is “200 years out of date,” so focused on sex that its leaders may be considered a “caricature in the media.”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.


March 17, 2013

New Pope Comes with Baggage

Unlike the U.S., Ireland allows gambling on elections—and people placed hundreds of thousands of dollars on the pope prediction. Yes, the U.S. considers the papal selection an “election.” As of February 28, the favorite was Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghanna at 11 to 4. The new pope, Francis I, wasn’t even in the top tier when he was elected four days ago. (TPM News did get him into the top ten percent.

The greatest publicized issue swirling around the new pope, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, is the question of whether he had ties to Argentina’s right-wing military junta when 30,000 leftists were tortured and killed during the country’s Dirty War. The Guardian reported that the Argentine navy connived with Cardinal Bergoglio to hide the dictatorship’s political prisoners in his holiday home from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

But there’s a bigger question about the new pope. Bergoglio, like Joseph Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla before him, was part of the right-wing counterrevolution within the church that aggressively rolled back Pope John XXIII’s and Vatican II’s changes in the 1960s, crushing dissident thought and reasserting the absolute power of the pope and his hierarchy. In addition, Ratzinger and Wojtyla appointed all the cardinals voting in the conclave electing Bergoglio, many of them highly corrupt in their concealing the rampant child abuse within the church priesthood.

Longtime ally of Communion and Liberation, a fiercely conservative Catholic organization that insists on “total fidelity and communion” with the church leadership, Francis is devoted, among other things, to battling European socialism and Latin American liberation theology. In Italian politics, CL has been closely tied to the party of Silvio Berlusconi, and its founder was an intimate friend of Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Benedict XVI.

The election of the new pope has resulted in far more public dissent than that of Ratzinger, despite the fact that the Pope Emeritus was largely responsible for suppressing information about the priests’ sexual abuse of children and violating the decisions of Vatican II.

Almost 50 years ago, Vatican repudiated the church’s history of anti-Semitism and vowed to pursue dialogue with non-Catholics and non-Christians. Its aim was for the church to assert the truth of the Christian Gospels while permitting freedom of conscience on a wide range of issues. Although no specific promises were made about changing church policy on priestly celibacy or the role of women or the moral status of homosexuality or the decentralization of Vatican power, Vatican II implied that those issues were potentially on the table, and people would not be punished or excommunicated for discussing them.

Some theologians believe that the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, departed so far from both the letter and spirit of Vatican II, the authoritative teachings of the church, that they should be considered “schismatic,” or illegitimate. Former Dominican priest Matthew Fox wrote, “In the Catholic tradition, a council trumps a pope. A pope does not trump a council.”

Fox cites precedence in the Council of Constance, convened in 1414, which fired three warring popes and appointed a new one. “What’s happened since John Paul II is that he and Ratzinger have turned back all the basic principles of Vatican II. I would include the principle of freedom of conscience, the principle that theologians have a right to think. They brought the Inquisition back, there’s no question about it.”

Fox’s 2012 book The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved contains a list of 105 prominent Catholic theologians who have been silenced or expelled under the last two popes, including many influential figures of the Vatican II period and its aftermath. Fox was silenced by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in 1988 after publishing The Coming of the Cosmic Christ and was expelled from the Dominican order five years later. Fox said, “[Vatican II] defined the church as the people, not as the hierarchy. Under these last two popes, it’s all about the hierarchy.”

Supported by other theologians, Fox argues, “Every cardinal, priest and bishop anointed in the last 42 years is illegitimate. If you’re trying to live out the principles of Vatican II, combined of course with the Gospels, that’s what the church is. The church is the people.”

After NPR spent considerable air time discussing the new pope, a listener wrote about how there should be less concern about the pope because only 25 percent of the people in the United States are Catholic. But the pope wields considerable power over non-Catholics everywhere. He has the ability to push issues into the limelight just through a mention. Pope John Paul II, for example, was one of the first world leaders to discuss the effects of global climate change when he addressed the destruction of the natural environment as a moral issue in his 1990 World Day of Peace.

The pope appoints bishops, a powerful political force in the United States. American Archbishop Timothy Dolan, for example, used the power of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops to advocate against the use of contraception and attempts by states to pass legislation that would allow for same-sex marriage. Congress asked only male Catholics to testify at a hearing about providing all women in this country with free contraception. Pope Francis shares the very conservative social views of his predecessor in his virulent opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of women.

At the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women, and in front of more than 6000 non-governmental groups committed to ending violence against women and children, the Holy See, Iran, and Russia pushed against language that says religion, custom or tradition must not be used as an excuse to avoid a government’s obligation to eliminate violence. They have also opposed any efforts to recognize spousal and partner rape.

Maureen Fiedler, a nun and blogger at National Catholic Reporter, summed it up well: “Even on a good day, I get discouraged thinking about the election of a new pope. They all look like a Vatican version of the tea party movement.” Vatican—and the pope’s—values stand side by side with the Muslim Brotherhood in their objection to the UN’s draft statement recommending women’s right to reject marital rape, equality of men and women within the family, right of a woman to marry another woman, legalization of abortion and provision of free contraception, and equal rights for gays.

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