Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Priests, Love Your Faithful...

From Damien's Spot: According to Catholic News Service, Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, used a recent homily for the installation of a new rector at the Pontifical North American College to take up his predecessor's favorite pastime: gay-bashing. Not only did Cardinal Levada say that the new instruction against the ordination of gay seminarians is relevant to the U.S. sexual abuse crisis, implying that gay priests bear the primary responsibility for that scandal -- he also misused the scriptural and traditional imagery of Christ and the Church as Bridegroom and Bride to assault the priestly ministry of existing gay priests:

The doctrinal chief said he wanted to look specifically at "the situation of the gay priest who announces his homosexuality publicly, a few examples of which we have recently heard reported" in reaction to the Vatican document.

"I think we must ask, 'Does such a priest recognize how this act places an obstacle to his ability to represent Christ the bridegroom to his bride, the people of God? Does he not see how his declaration places him at odds with the spousal character of love as revealed by God and imaged in humanity?'" he said.

The spousal imagery of Christ and the Church is a favorite theme of Vatican discrimination; the Vatican has been using the same spousal imagery since at least the publication of Inter Insigniores in 1976 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explaining in part that women could not be ordained to the priesthood because they cannot, so the Congregation said, properly image Christ as Head of the Church. Thus the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith established in 1976 that priests must be men like Christ. Apparently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would now like to establish that priests must be heterosexual men like Christ -- although, mind you, there is no evidence that Christ actually was heterosexual (or homosexual), unless you believe Dan Brown.

And I wonder how far this ontological similarity is going to be carried? Perhaps soon we will have to begin forcing Jews to convert to Christianity again, since Christ was a Jew. Does that mean that all priests must be Jewish Christians in order to image Christ properly? Are all sacraments invalid if presided over by Gentile priests? For that matter, are all sacraments invalid if presided over by gay priests? If the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith establishes that gay men cannot properly image Christ and thus cannot receive the sacrament of holy orders -- and that's the direction it's headed in, from the way Cardinal Levada is talking -- that means that gay men were never able to properly image Christ, that they never validly received holy orders, and that all sacraments presided over by gay priests would have been invalid. That's quite a pickle! Maybe we should bring back Limbo after all. Do you know how many baptisms, confirmations, eucharists, reconciliations, anointings, marriages, and ordinations would be invalid now? There would be Catholics walking around who may never have received a valid sacrament, dead Catholics who were never baptized, never had Last Rites. It would be the biggest sacramental crisis in the history of the Church.

Of course, there is no crisis if you're still a Catholic who repudiates the Donatist heresy. That heresy was condemned by St. Augustine and several popes. But it seems that Donatism is once again on the rise.

There is a scriptural basis for the spousal imagery of Christ's relationship to the Church; it's found in Ephesians 5:21-33, building upon what Christ had already taught about his spousal relationship to the People of God:

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."

This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

This passage from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians has always been used by the Church for the purpose of discrimination. In earlier times, Ephesians 5 was used by the Church to encourage the subjugation of women in marriage, completely ignoring the responsibility that a husband has to his wife (which is seemingly much more important in the passage since more time is spent discussing it). Since at least 1976, the Church has officially used the imagery of Ephesians 5 to exclude women from the priesthood. And now it seems that Cardinal Levada would like to use the imagery of Ephesians 5 to exclude gay men from the priesthood.

This imagery can be taken too far, and it has been. Are we really to believe that the reason Jesus and St. Paul used spousal imagery was to provide ammunition for the Church to later use against female and gay ordination? Was Jesus really trying to set rigid gender restrictions by speaking of himself as Bridegroom to the Church, and was St. Paul really trying to set rigid gender restrictions by expanding Christ's teaching? It seems that the Church's teaching authority is missing the point entirely, but we'll get to that in a moment.

How much further are we supposed to take the gender restrictions that are supposedly imposed by this spousal imagery? If those who represent Christ (priests) must exclusively be heterosexual men in order to image his spousal relationship to the Church, doesn't it follow that the Church's faithful must all be heterosexual women in order to image the Church's spousal relationship to Christ? Does that mean that the Church should excommunicate all heterosexual men who are not priests and all homosexual women? And what about those priests? It's true that priests stand in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), which is why the Church says that they must be men -- and now heterosexual men. But it is also true that priests stand in persona Ecclesiae (in the person of the Church). How can they do that if they're men? Are we saying that priests in the Catholic Church must all be bisexual and intersexual?

Saying that the faithful must all be heterosexual women or that all priests should be bisexual and intersexual is, of course, absurd. But it's precisely in this absurdity that the absurdity of the teaching authority's position is revealed. If it is absurd to follow the argument to its logical conclusion, then the argument itself is absurd from its beginning. The teaching authority's argument has misused the beautiful spousal imagery foreshadowed in the Old Testament, proposed by Christ, and expanded by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians and by the Church's apostolic tradition. The spousal imagery was not intended to establish rigid gender restrictions for the priesthood, and the spousal imagery should not be misused in this way.

That doesn't mean that the spousal imagery applied to Christ and the Church has no meaning for the Church today. The most obvious meaning is the one that St. Paul gives to the imagery: that husbands and wives should behave toward one another in the same way that Christ and the Church behave toward one another, with absolute love, fidelity, and respect. I daresay that these principles of love, fidelity, and respect could even be applied to relationships between people of the same gender, although the teaching authority would reject that idea out of hand.

But does this spousal imagery have any implications for the way the ordained priesthood and the lay faithful behave toward one another? Of course it does. But the meaning doesn't lie in the rigid gender restrictions currently proposed by the teaching authority. The real meaning of this spousal imagery for the way that the priesthood and the faithful interact is lost on the teaching authority, because the teaching authority has become unaccustomed to behaving as Christ would to the faithful. But the real meaning behind this spousal imagery could have a revolutionary impact on the way that priesthood and faithful relate to one another, if we'd let it. If we'd let it, this teaching could establish a relationship between the priesthood and the faithful which would be based upon love, fidelity, and respect like that found in marriages or, more perfectly, in the way that Christ himself relates to the Church.

The problem is that this teaching would require everyone from the pope to the last deacon, and all clergy in between, to love the faithful "even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her." It would require all clergy from the pope to the last deacon to love the faithful "as their own bodies," realizing that pastors who love their parishioners love themselves. "For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body." Some priests and deacons already relate to the faithful in this way. My own pastor is one of them. Certainly, many gay pastors also relate to the faithful in this way. But I don't think I'll hold my breath for the pope and some of the bishops.

I think they should work on it, though. Maybe when they do, the rest of us will think about working on that gender thing. But then again, maybe when they do, nobody will be thinking about that gender thing anymore.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Guest Blog at SRS

I just wanted to let everyone know that we've introduced a new guest blogging program at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, in which a blogger from another Christian Church or a non-Christian faith community will contribute a post at the end of each month. This month, Jo Guldi from CrossLeft has been kind enough to debut our guest blogging program for us, offering a post in which she discusses the recent Progressive Christian Leadership Summit and all the many ways that progressive Christians can get organized.

So check it out, and if you like it, feel free to share it with others.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Note on Judaism & Islam

In a couple of previous posts, both of which were rather lengthy, I made some comments related to Judaism and Islam.

The comments related to Judaism, in part:

If Jesus had opted for the "lesser of two evils," Christianity as we know it would not exist. Jesus would never have found the strength to challenge the deep systemic problems within the Judaism of his day. He would never have found the strength to heal lepers, the most rejected of all outcasts in Jewish society at the time. He would never have found the strength to heal the paralytic and pronounce his sins forgiven. He would never have found the strength to not only forgive the woman caught in adultery, but to turn the whole situation around and transform it into a referendum on her accusers. He would never have found the strength to tell revolutionary parables like that of the Good Samaritan, or to drink water and share the Gospel with a Samaritan woman.

And the comments related to Islam, in part:

It seems that Sr. Chittister's primary concern is avoiding more violence, and with this concern I can sympathize. But it would be wrong to deny the sanctity of a man who clearly was killed out of hatred for his faith just to avoid more violence. What would that say about our Church's commitment to faith and truth? As I've already pointed out, I also think it's a bad idea to do anything to appease violent Muslims. What kind of message do we send if we refuse to recognize a martyr for who he is because we don't want to provoke violence from Muslims? We send the message that violence can quiet us and lead us to attempt appeasement, that we will give them what they want if they kill enough of us. We send a message that we are ready for them to make more martyrs who we will not recognize as martyrs. It would be far better to send a message to the Muslim faith that we believe one of their people killed one of our priests out of hatred for his faith, that we're going to recognize his faith and that he was killed for it, and that we expect better from them. We expect to be tolerated and respected as we have tolerated and respected them.

As I've gone back over these two posts, it's occurred to me that I may have seemed overly antagonistic toward both Judaism and Islam, and that I may have also seemed overly triumphalistic as a Christian. I've received no e-mails or comments saying as much, and it may be that I'm being a bit too critical of my own writing, but I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not intend to be antagonistic toward either religion, nor did I intend to depict Christianity in a triumphalistic manner.

I should begin by saying that I have become less than enthusiastic about all organized religion. My criticism is certainly not reserved for other people's faith traditions, and in fact I make an effort to avoid criticizing other people's traditions and to focus instead upon reforming my own faith tradition. For instance, earlier this month I condemned the Polish Catholic bishops for their part in the persecution of Polish gays and lesbians. I also wrote a scathing letter to Fr. Frank Pavone for his extremist position on abortion, the division he's bringing to the Church and to America, and the profanation of his priestly ministry. I believe that organized religion is a positive institution that can be misused in very negative ways, and when I see it being misused I tend to react to that misuse very frankly and sometimes rather harshly.

I also want to point out that I don't believe in discrimination against people of other faith traditions. Earlier this month, I blogged about Starbucks committing an act of religious discrimination against a Wiccan employee in New York. Now, it's important to understand that Wicca, as one of the faiths outside of the so-called "American mainstream," is among the religions that American Christians least understand and least respect. Wiccans are frequently libeled as Satanists, and any number of immoral and frightening behaviors are attributed to them. But I know better, and I don't put up with discrimination against Wiccans or people of any other faith tradition. There are better ways to discuss our differences than by promoting discrimination, intolerance, and fear.

Finally, I want to emphasize how much I respect both Judaism and Islam.

I believe that the Jews are our elder sisters and brothers in faith, and that we are all children of one God. I condemn and reject all of the anti-Semitism that has been perpetrated against Jews by Christians over the centuries, and I accept the understanding of Reflections on Covenant and Mission which holds "that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God" and that "their witness to the kingdom [of God], which did not originate with the Church's experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity." As someone with Jewish ancestry, I have only the most profound respect for the Jewish people. My comments were only meant to point out problems in the Jewish system at the time of Jesus, most of which have been resolved since then. In fact, in many ways, Jews have surpassed Christians in fidelity to the principles of justice, mercy, and love. If my comments have offended any Jewish readers, I sincerely apologize.

To Muslim readers, I would like to say that I have deep respect for Islam and that I believe it is a religion of peace which appeals to a great variety of people, as is evidenced by its growth -- it is, after all, poised to replace Christianity as the world's most populous religion. In my comments, I was referring very specifically to radicals and terrorists who are Muslims, who distort the Muslim faith to support their radical agenda and acts of terrorism. Even today, we Christians have radicals among us who distort our faith to support their radical agenda; and even today, we Christians have terrorists among us who have blown up abortion clinics and night clubs in the name of our God. And sadly, our past is even more violent than our present, and our own violent past is no doubt part of the reason that some Muslims have turned to radicalism and terrorism in the present. I look forward to working with Muslims in pursuit of a nonviolent future, and I apologize if anything I have written has offended any Muslim readers

If in the course of my writing I have ever offended Jews or Muslims, or people of any other faith, I sincerely apologize. I firmly believe that people of all faiths are striving to know, love, and serve God in the best way each of us knows how, and I pray that God will bless all of us who are on this journey together.
On February 10, I posted about a new bill in the Ohio House of Representatives: H.B. 515, the Adoptive and Foster Children's Protection Act, which would ban GLBT Ohioans and anyone who resides with us from adopting or fostering children. It was cosponsored by ten representatives, all of them Republicans, and is just another example of Republicans trying to promote their warped vision of family values as a way to divide the electorate at the expense of actual children and families.

In any event, I thought I'd update my readers on what's going on with the bill.

Essentially, the bill is dead on arrival. Without the support of Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted (R-Kettering, pictured above), and with opposition by both Republicans and Democrats, it's very unlikely that H.B. 515 will make it out of committee to even be voted on. And Speaker Husted's chief of staff has condemned the bill as "divisive," stating that Speaker Husted would prefer to focus on job creation during this legislative session. While it doesn't look like H.B. 515 will be going anywhere, I've already submitted an article condemning the bill to http://www.whosoever.org/ which will probably appear in the March/April edition when it comes out in a few days, and I will continue to keep track of H.B. 515.

I'm Boston

You Are Boston

Both modern and old school, you never forget your roots.
Well educated and a little snobby, you demand the best.
And quite frankly, you think you are the best.

Famous people from the Boston area: Conan O'Brien, Ben Affleck, New Kids on the Block


What American City Are You?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

So You Say You Want a Revolution?

I'd say that I'm in my first day of recovery from the flu, since today I can do basic things like a normal person without feeling winded, nauseated, or otherwise debilitated. While I've been sick, pretty much the only thing I've been able to do is lay around, watch TV, and read. I've just finished reading Matt Taibbi's Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season. I highly recommend it; it reminded me of my reasons for leaving the Democratic Party, a reminder I needed as I have lately been succumbing to the old "lesser of two evils" and "electability" traps.

I became eligible to vote around the same time that I was involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), so since the very beginning I have looked at voting through the eyes of faith. The 2004 election season was an agonizing time for me, in which I almost decided to vote for President Bush based primarily upon his opposition to abortion rights. At the last minute, I voted for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). The driving force behind both of these choices -- the initial choice to vote for Bush, and the last minute decision to vote for Kerry -- was the "lesser of two evils" mentality. Both candidates are really bad, but which candidate would do the least harm? This mentality is quite common among Catholic voters; I suspect the same is true among other Christian voters as well, and perhaps among other people of faith.

I wonder now what I was thinking. Christianity would look very different now if Jesus had opted for the "lesser of two evils." Christ believed that there was something seriously wrong with the Jewish religious and societal system; it's going too far to say that he believed the whole thing was evil, but it's not going too far to say that he saw very serious and very deep systemic problems. And he saw these problems among all of the various Jewish sects, or "parties" if you will. What would have happened to Christianity if Jesus had decided not to challenge the entire system, but rather to align himself with the sect that would have done the least harm in his view? What if he had opted for the Pharisees over the Sadducees, because at least the former believed in the resurrection? Or what if he had opted for the Essenes over the other two, because at least the Essenes had rejected the corrupt Temple system?

If Jesus had opted for the "lesser of two evils," Christianity as we know it would not exist. Jesus would never have found the strength to challenge the deep systemic problems within the Judaism of his day. He would never have found the strength to heal lepers, the most rejected of all outcasts in Jewish society at the time. He would never have found the strength to heal the paralytic and pronounce his sins forgiven. He would never have found the strength to not only forgive the woman caught in adultery, but to turn the whole situation around and transform it into a referendum on her accusers. He would never have found the strength to tell revolutionary parables like that of the Good Samaritan, or to drink water and share the Gospel with a Samaritan woman.

If Jesus had not found the strength to challenge the Jewish system of his day, Christianity would not exist today -- because it was based upon Jesus' own revolutionary and inclusive teaching that the Church later opened its arms to the Gentiles, an act which could never have been tolerated in the Jewish religious and societal system.

I see now how fruitless it is to accept one party over another in our governmental system, to believe that there can be any benefit in choosing the "lesser of two evils" in a system that is evil in and of itself. It doesn't much matter whether there's a Democrat or a Republican in office, because the Democrats and the Republicans are hardly the issue; they are only two faces of the corporate oligarchy that has complete control of our government and our society, an oligarchy which bought both parties before I was even born. The power of this oligarchy is obscured by the media, which is now also owned by the oligarchy. The media spins every campaign and election to make us believe that we're really making a crucial choice, when in fact the only choice we're making is how the same corporate oligarchy will continue its totalitarian rule for the next four years. Ours is a smart dictatorship, effectively hiding from the oppressed that we are under the rule of tyranny by keeping up the appearance of two party government and democratic elections.

Despite the media's best efforts, this inevitable oligarchy and the farcical nature of our elections became apparent during the last presidential election, but many of us still refused to see it. The two parties presented us with candidates who did not differ at all on the most important issues. On the matter of the Iraq War, the only difference between the opposition candidate and the incumbent was that the former would kill Iraqis differently than the latter. On trade issues, inarguably the most important factor in our economic devastation, the only difference between Sen. Kerry and President Bush was that the former would toss economic justice and labor rights over his left shoulder rather than his right, while the President tossed them over his right shoulder rather than his left. On health care, the only difference between the Democrat and the Republican was that the former would substitute his own idiotic-failure-in-the-guise-of-a-real-plan for the President's.

There was only one Democrat who even came close to offering a real alternative to President Bush and the corporate oligarchy, and that was Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). Unlike the other Democrats, Kucinich opposed the Iraq War from the beginning and believed that our troops should have been withdrawn immediately. Several of the Democrats (including both Sen. Kerry and Sen. Edwards) voted for the war and for its continued funding in the Senate and the House, while the ones who didn't vote for the war wouldn't commit to troop withdrawal. Unlike the other candidates, Kucinich opposed NAFTA and other economically devastating "free trade" agreements and promised to withdraw from them. Several of the Democrats voted for NAFTA and other debilitating "free trade" agreements, while the ones who didn't vote for such agreements wouldn't commit to withdrawal from the agreements. Unlike the other candidates, Kucinich promised universal health care for all Americans. None of the other Democrats would commit to universal health care, and all of their plans would have left some Americans deprived of health care -- even though health care is recognized as a human right by the United Nations, and provided as a human right by the governments of most industrialized nations.

What happened to Rep. Kucinich? First, the corporate oligarchy's propaganda department, also known as our free press, ignored and isolated him because he wasn't "electable." When he wouldn't go away quietly, the media ridiculed and laughed at him. And the American people followed the media's lead. I confess to being guilty of this myself, even being stupid enough to initially support the most shallow of the Democratic candidates, Sen. John Edwards (D-NC). And I confess that it was because I liked his hair, I liked his tan, and I liked his Southern accent.

There are no signs that this situation is going to change in time for 2008. Certainly not for 2006. None of the names floated for the 2008 Democratic primaries -- with the possible exception of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) -- would represent any kind of significant change. It would be more business as usual, electing a President who will kill Iraqis differently, who will screw America's workers differently, who will deprive us of health care differently. But any possibility that we'll stop killing Iraqis? Nay. Any possibility that we'll insist upon economic justice and labor rights? Nuh-uh. Any possibility that we'll extend health care to all Americans? No way. For Pete's sake, we may end up with Sen. Kerry, of all people, as the Democratic contender again -- his name appears in close proximity to Sen. Hillary Clinton (the early frontrunner) in every poll, often along with Sen. John Edwards, Gen. Wesley Clark, and even Al Gore. Maybe the Democrats' 2008 campaign slogan will be: "We Recycle!"

So who will get the Democratic nomination? If you're still asking this question, you're not getting it. The point of this whole post is to say that it doesn't matter, because the corporate oligarchy will ensure -- as it always does -- that whoever gets the Democratic nomination will be "one of them," a person (and probably a man) who governs only slightly differently than the Republicans in order to keep up the appearance that we still have a two party government and a stable democracy. Incidentally, I don't think Sen. Clinton will get the nomination; sure, she's the frontrunner now, but that's only because the people don't know the other candidates yet but know her very well -- you'll note that the ones who are directly behind her in the polls are also candidates the people know, but don't like as much (Kerry, Edwards, and Gore, oh my). I suspect that, when the time comes, the media will screw Clinton over with the "electability" card -- and I strongly suspect that Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), fiercely loyal to the corporate-controlled Democratic Leadership Council, will get the nomination.

But like I said: It doesn't matter!

It all sounds pretty hopeless, but I don't think that it is. Even though our democracy has been locked away for decades by the corporate oligarchy, the fact of the matter is that the people still have the power -- which is why the corporate oligarchy doesn't opt for outright fascism. We can change the course of our government and our society, but not by simply going to the polls and electing the guy the media tells us to, or the person we see as the "lesser of two evils." We have to stop listening to the media, stop listening to buzz-words like "electability," and start listening to our minds and our hearts. They're a bit rusty, perhaps, but most of them still work. Part of this is about doing what many Americans are terrified of doing: thinking outside the box. If I have to draw a picture for you, it's time to start electing independent or third party candidates who aren't funded and thus controlled by the corporate oligarchy.

We shy away from independent and third party candidates, often afraid to even consider voting for them. Why? Because we are told, again and again, that the threat to our nation is too great to risk losing to "the other guy" by giving too many votes, but not enough votes, to an independent or third party candidate. We've seen it a million times -- with Clinton and Dole, with Bush and Gore, with Bush and Kerry. No to Ralph Nader, no to David Cobb, no to Michael Badnarik, and all because Clinton, Gore, and Kerry had to win. Sisters and brothers, I have two things for you to consider:

  1. The Democrats are losing anyway! Do you see a President Gore or a President Kerry in the White House? No, and although they love to blame the former defeat on Ralph Nader, the latter candidate lost even though Nader and other independent/third party candidates were removed from ballots across the country.

  2. The Republicans are only going to destroy our nation and the world slightly faster than the Democrats, but either way, they're both still going to destroy our nation and the world -- because they're still serving the same greedy, power-hungry creeps bent on having and consuming (and by consuming, destroying) everything. Voting for either party is a vote for the destruction of our nation and the world -- so how can voting for someone else be worse?

And that brings me to my final and most disturbing point. In response to the manipulation of the political discourse by the Religious Right in the 2000 and 2004 elections, a new coalition has come together to build the Religious Left. I have been and remain supportive of this initiative, but not if it's going to become for the Democrats what the Religious Right has become for the Republicans. For one thing, such an endeavor would be completely hypocritical. It's natural for the Religious Right, which does not believe in the Separation of Church and State, to illegally intervene in elections and use their religious influence to get their candidates elected, expecting in return an imposition of their beliefs upon all Americans. But this would be unacceptable for the Religious Left, we who do believe in the Separation of Church and State. How can we say that we believe in this fundamental constitutional principle but then seek to intervene in elections on behalf of the Democrats?

But the Constitution, the First Amendment, and the Separation of Church and State are almost beside the point. What's really at stake here is religion. We need a Religious Left, but not in order to take religion out of the hands of the Republican Party and put it into the hands of the Democratic Party. We need a Religious Left in order to liberate religion from all political parties. The last thing America needs right now, in the face of religious nutjobs supporting President Bush and the Republicans, are more religious nutjobs supporting Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. What America needs now are religious people who actually value their respective religions enough to stand up against their profanation at the hands of diabolical politicians, religious people who will -- like Jesus Christ himself, but also like Moses the Law-Giver, like the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), like Siddhartha Buddha, like Artemis the Huntress -- stand up and challenge the system itself and the unjust burdens it lays on its people.

Sisters and brothers, our American system is rotten at its core. This is the elephant in every American living room, and the reason that between 35-40% of Americans don't vote. Our politicians can be easily bought and then sold to the highest bidder. In turn, these same politicians -- who are really only puppets -- have made it legal for corporations to buy the media, and now the media can also be easily bought and sold to the highest bidder. In our nation, truth itself has been made subject to a free trade agreement. When we fought the American Revolution, we fought to liberate ourselves from a monarchy imposing unjust burdens upon us. We must now fight an organized, nonviolent Second American Revolution against the corporate oligarchy in control of our government and society. We must replace our appointed corporate puppets with real elected political leaders.

This is the cause that all Americans should be fighting for, and especially American people of faith -- we should not be fighting over which corporate puppets we're going to elect this year.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Flu, Redux

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had the flu and that I would probably be blogging more as a result, since I didn't have much else to do. What I wasn't anticipating was that I would feel so bad that I wouldn't even feel like blogging -- but that's exactly what happened. So that's where I've been for the past couple of days. There will likely be light blogging until I'm feeling better, and no Lisping Lector this weekend.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Life and Health Exceptions

Michelle Strausbaugh (Behind the Surface), one of my fellow contributing editors at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, disagrees with my position on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act and its constitutionality. I have the utmost respect for Michelle and her opinions, and I'm fine with the fact that we disagree over some issues; I doubt any two people agree over every issue, and I have always hoped for a diversity of liberal and moderate opinion to be found in the pages of Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Michelle pointed me to a blog post written by Rob (UnSpace) to help explain why she disagrees with me, and I would like to respond to this post.

Before I begin what will likely be one of my lengthier posts (consider yourselves warned), I want to restate my position on Roe v. Wade and abortion in general. I believe that abortion is objectively immoral; that is, that there is never a case in which abortion can be morally justified, regardless of the circumstances involved. I believe that Roe was wrongly decided and that there can never be any legal justification for a violation of the right to life, which is the most fundamental human right from which all other human rights are derived. Nevertheless, I value the health and lives of women enough to believe that overturning Roe, even though it was wrongly decided, would constitute a serious risk to a significant number of pregnant women who would seek illegal and unsafe underground abortions.

So while I have no respect for Roe v. Wade and believe that the choice to have an abortion is always immoral, I do not advocate for the overturning of Roe at this time. I believe instead that we should work to reduce and eventually eliminate the economic and social pressures which lead women to seek abortion, working to create a culture of life in which all human life is welcomed and respected.

This puts me outside of both the pro-life and pro-choice camps, although for the record I do consider myself pro-life. I'm fine with the fact that I do not belong to either of these movements, and I think it does lend some credibility to what I have to say since it is evident that I am not approaching this from a position of ideological loyalty. My opinion is nuanced and I like to think I keep an open mind, listening to what both sides have to say and offering my own opinions only after careful consideration.

It is from this non-ideological perspective that I hope to approach this issue.

The most fundamental problem with Rob's post is that it is based upon a factual error. Rob states at the very beginning of his post that the problem with the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is that "it contained no exception if the life or health of the mother required it" (emphasis mine). In fact, however, Section 3a of the act explicitly states that the ban on partial birth abortion "does not apply" if it is "necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself." Clearly, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does contain an exception for the life of the mother -- Rob is simply in error here.

This critical error undermines much of the rest of Rob's post, which is based primarily upon what the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act would mean without an exception for the life of the mother. Rob does point out that there are risks to both the life and health of the mother in every pregnancy, but these everyday risks cannot possibly constitute sufficient reason to permit a partial birth abortion. If these everyday risks were to become more verifiably serious in the third trimester and if they were to constitute a serious threat to the mother's life, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act would allow a partial birth abortion. It is also important to point out that partial birth abortion itself carries with it a number of risks to the mother, as Rob, to his credit, has pointed out.

What about the health of the mother? Why didn't Congress include an exception for the health of the mother? After nine years of investigation, Congress has determined that it is unnecessary to include an exception for the health of the mother. By his own admission, all of the health risks that Rob brings up in his post, including the frequently mentioned mental health risks, can be addressed well before the third trimester and with other abortion procedures. Any serious health risk that would arise in the third trimester would likely also be a threat to the mother's life, so that the ban would not be applicable. This does beg the question: If partial birth abortion would never be necessary for the health of the mother, why not just include an exception for the mother's health anyway and appease the federal courts?

The reason is that pro-choice advocates and doctors frankly cannot be trusted. There is a very real probability that a broad health exception would be abused, allowing doctors to perform partial birth abortions for virtually any reason as long as they can cite some vague health reason, including vague appeals to mental and emotional health. A broad health exception would undermine the authority of Congress to govern, and the continued insistence upon this requirement by the courts would upset the balance of power between the judicial and legislative branches of government. The courts can interpret the Constitution, but they cannot so severely limit the Congress that the legislative branch's power to make law is effectively crippled -- and that is exactly what a broad health exception has done and would continue to do. It is imperative that such a broad exception be left out of this ban.

There are two other, more specific problems with Rob's post:

  • Rob mentions that partial birth abortion is the preferred method for dealing with a child who dies late in utero, and that the application of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act may prohibit such uses of partial birth abortion. This is not the case. The act makes clear that the ban only applies when a "physician . . . knowingly performs a partial-birth abortion and thereby kills a human fetus" (emphasis mine). Later in the act, it is again made clear that the fetus must be "a living fetus."

  • Rob also mentions the possibility that "a mother, grieving over the loss of her child" might have to face prosecution. Again, this is not the case. The act only applies criminal penalties to doctors, and explicitly states that "a woman upon whom a partial-birth abortion is performed may not be prosecuted".

Finally, Rob made a comment in his post that I can't let go:

Some Catholics have even argued that because sex carries the taint of sin with it, and because the mother chose to have sex, the mother should be willing to die rather than be a participant in the death of an innocent -- even if in dying the child will also die.

I would love to be introduced to these Catholics. If they truly exist, and I apologize for having trouble believing that they do, they are no doubt products of an era in the Church when the faithful were improperly catechized, because what is described in Rob's post is not Catholic teaching by any stretch of the imagination.

Catholic teaching regards all human activity since the original sin as having the taint of that original sin and the potential for more sin, and sexuality is certainly not exempted. But there is no special taint that comes with sex that would require a woman to give up her life, and such an idea has no basis in Catholic teaching. In fact, according to the principle of double effect, if the unintended loss of a child's life is necessary to save the life of the mother, then saving the life of the mother is morally licit even if it would result in the unintended loss of the child's life.

Rob may be referring here to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, canonized in 2004, who opted for risky surgery to remove a uterine fibroid (a benign tumor on the uterus) rather than opting for the low risk hysterectomy which would have saved her life but would have cost the life of her child. St. Gianna died as a result of the surgery, but her child did live. It is important to point out that even though St. Gianna's self-sacrifice is rightly considered a heroic virtue, she was not bound by Catholic teaching to choose the risky surgery over the low risk hysterectomy; she could have morally chosen the hysterectomy, and by all accounts she knew that she could have made this choice. Furthermore, St. Gianna was a doctor. She was fully aware of the risks involved in the surgery, and chose to take the risk anyway.

Far from making an ignorant choice based upon a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching, St. Gianna went above and beyond the moral requirements and entered into the same love lived by the Lord Jesus, love which is totally self-giving and does not count the cost. Because she so selflessly gave herself that her child might live, the Church believes that she now lives in the eternal love of he who gave himself that all of the Father's children might live. That is why St. Gianna was canonized. The beauty of St. Gianna's love is that it was freely chosen; it was not imposed upon her by the Church.

In any event, now that I have clarified Catholic teaching on the principle of double effect, I would respectfully ask Rob to amend his post to reflect a more balanced approach to what the Catholic Church teaches and what Catholics believe.

I think what Rob's post and my response illustrate is the importance of knowing and sticking to the facts when it comes to issues as controversial as abortion. Although I am not familiar with UnSpace, there is no doubt in my mind that Rob is a very intelligent individual and that he is striving to live an upright life committed to social justice. I don't hold the errors I've cited against him, and I hope that my pointing them out doesn't become a source of conflict between us. With all of the ideological posturing going on between the pro-life and pro-choice movements, it's easy to pick up on misinformation dressed up to look like fact. Goodness knows I've picked up plenty of misinformation myself and believed that it was factual. The important thing is being open to further discussion and correction; I'm confident that Rob will be open-minded enough for that, and I hope that I will be as well.

To conclude, all of my readers know how loathe I am to support any Republican-led initiative. I see alterior motives in virtually everything the Republican Party does, and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is no exception. I know that Republicans hoped and continue to hope to use abortion and the controversial issues surrounding it to divide and confuse the electorate, and I have trouble believing that most Republican politicians are very concerned about respecting the dignity of human life given their abominable record with helping the most poor and vulnerable among us. That doesn't change my conviction that a ban on partial birth abortion is not only reasonable but morally imperative, that this ban is reasonable and meets the requirements of the Constitution and Roe v. Wade, and that this ban should be upheld as constitutional. While I am reluctant to join with Republicans on any matter, my conscience does not allow me to move in any other direction when it comes to this issue.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Partial Birth Abortion

The Supreme Court today agreed to hear Gonzales v. Carhart, a case on the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by the 108th Congress in 2003. Three lower courts have ruled that the ban is unconstitutional because it does not include an exception for the health of the mother, even though nine years of congressional investigations have revealed that partial birth abortion is never necessary for the health of the mother.

It's possible (perhaps even likely) that the Supreme Court will overrule the lower courts and uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. The last Supreme Court decision on partial birth abortion struck down a Nebraska state ban in Stenberg v. Carhart -- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the deciding vote in that 5-4 decision, and it's likely that her successor, Justice Samuel Alito, will swing the court in favor of the dissent which held that Nebraska's ban on partial birth abortion was constitutional. Of course, this is also dependent upon Chief Justice Roberts sticking with the dissenting opinion of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Planned Parenthood has responded to the Supreme Court's decision to hear Gonzales v. Carhart, referring to the decision as "a dangerous act of hostility aimed squarely at women's health and safety." Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, added references to "judges far outside the mainstream" and "anti-choice politicians" for safe measure -- even though most Americans oppose partial birth abortion. Unfortunately, Ms. Richards did not address the argument involved in Gonzales v. Carhart, that Congress has already determined that partial birth abortion is never necessary for the health of the mother and that a provision for the health of the mother would therefore be superfluous. Maybe far-left rhetoric will win the battle for partial birth abortion in the court of public opinion and maybe it won't, but I doubt that it will carry much weight with any serious jurist concerned about upholding the law rather than appeasing Planned Parenthood.

The fact of the matter is this: Almost a decade of congressional investigation has determined that partial birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of the mother, meaning that partial birth abortion is an unnecessary and barbaric abortion procedure which actually takes the lives of viable babies who could be brought to term and live. We cannot allow such a grievous and indefensible violation of the most important and fundamental human right, the right to life, to be protected by our nation's highest law and those responsible for interpreting it. A federal ban on partial birth abortion is long overdue, and it is time for the Supreme Court to uphold it and stop abusing the Constitution to protect the most serious abuse of human rights that our nation is currently engaging in. History will look back on Gonzales v. Carhart and see either a ruling which upholds the dignity of the human person like Brown v. Board of Education, or a ruling which denies the dignity of the human person like Dred Scott v. Sandford. It will be up to the justices what kind of history they're going to make.

In the meantime, while it is true that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act would put an end to a brutal abortion procedure, it is also important to point out that it would not prevent a single late term abortion. There are three other late term abortion procedures, all of which are more painful for the child and all of which are more painful and dangerous for the mother. If the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, Congress cannot be satisfied -- it's time for a ban on all late term abortion procedures, all of which are flagrant violations of human rights and none of which are necessary to preserve the health of women. In the meantime, pro-life Catholics must work for both social justice and charitable endeavors which would reduce and eventually eliminate the factors which lead women to seek abortion so that we can truly create a culture of life in which all human life is welcomed and respected.

Adventures in Blogging

I'm honored to announce that the Christian Alliance for Progress has invited me to be one of their full time bloggers; this will make me the first Catholic and the first gay man asked to frequently contribute to the Alliance's blog. My assigned day of the week will be Tuesday, and I'll be starting next Tuesday. I can't express how humbled I am to join the Alliance's contributing bloggers -- many of whom I've looked to as examples of how progressive Christian bloggers should interact with the Church and the world.

I'll be sure to post a link to my first post next Tuesday.

Woo Hoo, the Flu

I'm unhappy to report that I've caught the flu. The up side for my readers is that I'll likely be blogging more this week, since that's about all I'll have to do with my free time. I try to look on the bright side.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Episcopal Nominees for California

Karen (Kinesis) reports that the Episcopal Diocese of California has selected its nominees for the next diocesan bishop. Their resumes are available here. It turns out that one of the nominees is a gay man (Very Rev. Robert Taylor) and another is a lesbian woman (Rev. Bonnie Perry). Integrity USA has released a statement (it's in PDF format), and there is also a non-PDF version of the statement available at Orthony.

GLBT issues aside, it seems to me based upon their qualifications and past experience that either Rev. Jane Gould or Rev. Robert Taylor would be the best fit for California. Then again, I'm not Episcopalian nor do I live in California -- and I've never been one to tell other Churches how they should do things.

It almost goes without saying that the nomination of a gay man and a lesbian is causing an uproar, and there are already charges that the Episcopal Diocese of California has abandoned the Windsor Report. Right, because Anglican conservatives have done such a good job of respecting the Windsor Report. Sure. And how does one abandon a non-binding set of recommendations from a non-authoritative ecclesiastical commission, anyway?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

St. Andrea Santoro, Priest and Martyr

So far, I've been silent on the firestorm over the anti-Muslim cartoons published in the Danish press. The reason I've been silent is that until now I've seen no reason to involve myself in the controversy; many of my liberal readers will likely disagree over one part of my opinion, while many of my conservative readers will likely disagree over another -- because my opinion is neither liberal nor conservative.

Essentially, there are three points to my opinion:

  1. As a rule, the press should refrain from publishing intolerance -- especially religious intolerance. And that is most certainly what the Danish cartoons were.

  2. With that said, I strongly believe in freedom of the press. I believe that the Danish press had a right to publish the cartoons, and I strongly disagree with any international attempts either by the Vatican, the European Union, or the United Nations to limit freedom of the press. I believe that the United States should exert all of its influence in the UN to prevent such a limitation from occurring.

  3. Finally, no efforts should be undertaken to appease the Muslims who have reacted violently. It is time for the world to tell Muslim radicals that it is unacceptable for them to react with violence and terrorism every time some group of people, some religion, or some nation does something with which they do not agree. The governments of the nations in which violence has arisen must bring violent protesters back under control; blame for this cannot be placed upon the shoulders of the Danes or the Europeans just because they are unwilling to sacrifice their freedom of the press. We should not be forced to sacrifice freedom of the press on the altar of radical Islam. If we sacrifice this freedom, what other freedoms will we be required to sacrifice?

Why am I bringing this up now? I'm bringing it up because of Sr. Joan Chittister's most recent column in the National Catholic Reporter, with which I profoundly disagree. In the column, Sr. Chittister makes the case that Fr. Andrea Santoro, an Italian priest in Turkey who was killed recently by a young Muslim radical who was violently protesting the Danish cartoons, should not be recognized as a martyr. I couldn't disagree with Sr. Chittister more.

First of all, Sr. Chittister takes a very restrictive approach to martyrdom. She limits it to martyrdom of Christians at the hands of a political establishment which will not tolerate Christianity, but there is no basis in Catholic tradition for limiting martyrdom in such a way. Martyrdom occurs whenever a Christian is killed out of hatred for the faith (odium fidei), not just by a political establishment but by anyone. The question is: Was Fr. Santoro killed out of hatred for the faith? The answer is most certainly that he was. This boy walked into his church and shot him, reacting to the anti-Muslim cartoons in the Danish press. Why else would a Muslim boy walk into a church and shoot a priest, any priest, even if that priest were an Italian rather than a Dane? He did it because the priest was Christian, and at the moment he hated Christians because of the Danish cartoons published in the "Christian" West.

Some, Sr. Chittister included, have alleged that the boy was psychologically unstable. So what? Are we making the case that anyone killed for his or her faith by someone who is psychologically unstable cannot be a martyr? If so, we had better take some of those martyrs killed by the Emperor Nero off the books -- unless, of course, we are making the case that Nero was psychologically balanced.

It seems that Sr. Chittister's primary concern is avoiding more violence, and with this concern I can sympathize. But it would be wrong to deny the sanctity of a man who clearly was killed out of hatred for his faith just to avoid more violence. What would that say about our Church's commitment to faith and truth? As I've already pointed out, I also think it's a bad idea to do anything to appease violent Muslims. What kind of message do we send if we refuse to recognize a martyr for who he is because we don't want to provoke violence from Muslims? We send the message that violence can quiet us and lead us to attempt appeasement, that we will give them what they want if they kill enough of us. We send a message that we are ready for them to make more martyrs who we will not recognize as martyrs. It would be far better to send a message to the Muslim faith that we believe one of their people killed one of our priests out of hatred for his faith, that we're going to recognize his faith and that he was killed for it, and that we expect better from them. We expect to be tolerated and respected as we have tolerated and respected them.

Perhaps my biggest problem with Sr. Chittister's column, however, is that she compares Fr. Santoro's martyrdom with the "martyrdom" of Muslim terrorists:

In the third place, the world is already dealing with a passle of Islamic fundamentalist martyrs for the faith, called jihadists, all of them almost universally condemned by moderate Muslim communities and leaders everywhere. The world doesn't need Christian ones, too . . . From where I stand, this does not seem the time to elevate the present political situation to the level of religious warfare by incorrectly declaring our own dead, like those of Islamic fundamentalists, to be "martyrs." All we need is to trigger another century of Crusades by beginning a competition of martyrs.

It was at this point that I was genuinely angered by Sr. Chittister's column, and it is over this that I demand, in the name of all Christian martyrs, a retraction and apology from Sr. Chittster and the National Catholic Reporter. How can Sr. Chittister possibly compare the martyrdom of Fr. Santoro -- as she did, explicitly -- to the murder-suicide committed by Muslim terrorists? Fr. Santoro was kneeling in his church at prayer when he was shot by a Muslim radical; Muslim terrorist "martyrs" end their lives by exploding bombs attached to their bodies in order to kill non-Muslims, usually Jews or Westerners. There is no comparison, and the Muslim men and women who commit murder-suicide are not "martyrs," they are terrorists and murderers.

Sr. Chittister and NCR must apologize for associating Fr. Santoro and other Christian martyrs with Muslim terrorists who have committed murder-suicide, and they must do so without delay. They have now engaged in the same religious intolerance that the Danish press has engaged in, and they have done so against their own co-religionists. I urge other Catholics, other Christians, and other people of faith to join me in demanding a retraction of and apology for these scandalous remarks.

Long Live the "Truce of 2005"

Fr. B (Bartimaeus' Quest) drew my attention to an article from The Tablet, discussing the recent installation of "liberal" +George Niederauer as Archbishop of San Francisco. Although I suspect that Archbishop Niederauer is not quite liberal according to my standards and is probably more of a moderate, there are some encouraging signs for the many GLBT Catholics who live and serve in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Archbishop Niederauer has indicated that Pope Benedict XVI's recent encyclical on love, Deus Caritas Est, will guide his pastoral service of the San Francisco Archdiocese. He has drawn criticism from American Catholic conservatives (more on them in a minute) for his liberal interpretation of the recent Vatican instruction on the admission of gay men to seminaries, refusing to accept the instruction as a blanket ban against gay seminarians and also refusing to place the blame for the sexual abuse scandal on the shoulders of gay priests. Archbishop Niederauer has also acknowledged that he saw Brokeback Mountain, referring to it as "very powerful." Finally, as Bishop of Salt Lake City, Archbishop Niederauer opposed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The conclusion that one comes to is that Archbishop Niederauer may be the most pro-gay archbishop in the United States, if not in the whole world, which means that Pope Benedict XVI seems to have made a good pastoral choice for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Of course, as I mentioned, some American Catholic conservatives are quite unhappy with recent developments. Their jubilation over the election of Pope Benedict XVI and his apparent laying the smackdown on GLBT Catholics has subsided, and now Fr. Richard John Neuhaus says that "there is a palpable uneasiness" among those who reacted favorably to Pope Benedict XVI's election. Fr. Neuhaus first cites as a matter of concern Pope Benedict XVI's appointment of former San Francisco Archbishop William Levada as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, primarily because Archbishop Levada did not sufficiently bash GLBT citizens of a city Fr. Neuhaus (probably accurately) refers to as "the gay capital of the world." Fr. Neuhaus then launches into a litany of concerns he has about the appointment of Archbishop Niederauer.

Finally, Fr. Neuhaus concludes as he started, lamenting the possibility that Pope Benedict XVI will allow a "Truce of 2005," in which those who disagree with the strict interpretation of the Vatican's ban on gay seminarians may not be punished -- much like what happened with the "Truce of 1968," when Pope Paul VI refused to punish those who disagreed with Humanae Vitae. Commonweal has responded to Fr. Neuhaus extensively, but I would like to offer my own thoughts.

I believe that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted a "Truce of 2005." And I think he's accepted it because he knows that punishing those who disagree with the recent instruction would mean more than just punishing a few dissenting priests and laypeople. It would mean punishing a number of bishops and religious superiors who have also publicly criticized the instruction, or who have interpreted the instruction in a liberal manner. What is currently a debate about gays in the priesthood could quickly become a debate that Pope Benedict XVI would welcome with less enthusiasm: a debate over papal authority.

Trying to punish bishops and religious superiors for disagreeing with the recent instruction would bring up a number of unsavory topics, left largely unresolved by the Second Vatican Council and certainly left unresolved by the postconciliar teaching authority. For instance, does the pope even have the authority to tell bishops and religious superiors who they can or cannot admit to seminaries and ordain in their dioceses and provinces? This particular question could have implications for ecumenism as well, because other Christians (particularly the Orthodox) would look upon the continued expansion of papal authority over and against episcopal collegiality with great dissatisfaction. Exacerbating the problem would be the unresolved question of the Roman Curia and how it fits into the collegial scheme of things. Are bishops bound to follow even curial documents to the letter? Do they have no authority and discretion of their own? If the answer is no, then the charge that Catholic bishops are no more than the pope's glorified altar boys would seem to be a valid one.

On the same page with the article about Archbishop Niederauer in The Tablet, there is another article discussing how the Orthodox Churches could come to accept the doctrine of papal primacy. Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk, the president of the theological commission of the Russian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod, laid out what he believes would be necessary. Rome would have to recognize the "full plentitude" of local Churches, and "genuine bishops" should not be made subject to papal jurisdiction but instead their "equal dignity" should be recognized. He went on to say:

"The Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church, the sacrament of sacraments -- wherever it's celebrated by a legitimately consecrated priest, the Church is present and it's possible to live the fullness of the church experience," Metropolitan Filaret continued. "No primacy can be exercised at the expense of this catholic fullness of the local Church. Yet in the Catholic Church, the Pope projects his ecclesiastical power over the whole earth. This complicates relations with Orthodox sister Churches."

If Pope Benedict XVI were to punish bishops and religious superiors who disagree with the recent instruction, he would be confirming the kind of authoritarian primacy that the Orthodox can never accept. But if he does not punish the bishops and religious superiors who disagree with the instruction, then punishment of priests and laypeople who disagree with the instruction would not only be unfair but also meaningless. It seems that Pope Benedict XVI has no choice but to accept a "Truce of 2005" if he intends to keep the Church committed to principles of collegiality and ecumenism as Vatican II demanded. Something tells me that the mandate of the Second Vatican Council, the affirmation of collegiality, and the continued evolution of our ecumenical relationship with the Orthodox will all weigh more heavily on Pope Benedict XVI's mind and heart than punishing bishops, religious superiors, priests, and laypeople who disagree with a low level and ill-advised document.

In other words, long live the "Truce of 2005." The Congregation for Catholic Education's instruction has gone the way of Humanae Vitae, and the Church is better off for it.

Hopes for the Pope

A friend of mine from the Esoteric Theological Seminary forwarded an article to me entitled, "Hopes for the Pope." Although I didn't agree with the whole thing (I thought that excommunicating American bishops and cardinals who support the war on terror was a bit extreme, for instance), I especially liked the parts about declaring a worldwide effort to end capital punishment and opening the priesthood to women. My favorite quotes from the article? "I don't love myself with napalm or atom bombs, so I won't love my global neighbors that way, either" and "Maybe Jesus was so chill because he burned blonde Lebanese hashish."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Lisping Lector: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I: Isaiah 43:18-19,21-22,24b-25
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 41:2-5,13-14
Reading II: 2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Gospel: Mark 2:1-12

- - -

In today's Gospel, Jesus reveals a different kind of paralysis: the paralysis of sin. It is sin that paralyzes us and prevents us from moving toward God and closer to one another. It is sin that breaks up our partnerships and marriages, freezing us in place and blocking us from meeting the other halfway. It is sin that divides queer and straight and sin which impedes any move toward unity. It is sin that keeps us from going back to church or from receiving Eucharist, stuck in the quicksand of despair or indifference.

But in Jesus Christ, God boldly fulfills his promise: "See, I am doing something new!" Jesus Christ is the one who removes the hold sin has over us, enabling us to once again move toward him and toward one another. Jesus replaces the sin which has so stubbornly kept us apart with his own love, which draws all things together in the Holy Spirit.

As Christian queers, we can certainly see the paralyzing power of sin in the Church. But we can also see the mobilizing power of Christ's love. Catholic queers have seen this recently in the bishops, religious superiors, and priests -- gay and straight alike -- who have said that they will not allow the Vatican ban on gay seminarians to translate into blanket discrimination under their jurisdiction, and who have affirmed the ministry of gay priests and the good they have brought to the Church.

We have also seen the mobilizing power of Christ's love hard at work and prevailing in other Christian Churches and Communities. We have seen the United Church of Christ move toward the blessing of same-sex marriages. We have seen the Anglican Church of Canada move toward the blessing of same-sex unions, and the Episcopal Church USA has taken the first challenging steps in this process as well. The Episcopal Church has also consecrated its first openly gay and partnered bishop, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. We have seen the Religious Society of Friends and the Unitarian Universalist Association widely accepting us and fighting for our rights in the Church and in the State.

We have seen the mobilizing power of Christ's love struggling against the paralyzing power of sin in other Churches and Communities. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we have watched as an increasing number of straight allies have stood with us to demand an end to the hypocrisy of a church which claims to accept us while refusing to bless our unions and refusing to recognize that God is calling us to ministry. We have watched as an increasing number of straight allies have stood with us against the defrocking of Beth Stroud in the United Methodist Church, and we look forward to the day when justice will visit that church. We have watched as the Church of England, the heart of Anglican Christianity, has been faced with challenging decisions regarding the blessing of civil partnerships -- and they have taken the first tentative steps in the right direction.

Sisters and brothers, the Lord Jesus is again breathing the Holy Spirit into the Church. And the wind is picking up!

We would be remiss, however, if we didn't acknowledge that we too have been paralyzed by sin. How often has sin mired us in hatred for the sisters and brothers who persecute us, even as Christ's love has tried to guide us toward love for our enemies? How many times has sin paralyzed our own hearts, trapping us in despair and blocking us from moving toward a place where we can see the hope that the Holy Spirit is pouring out on the Church of God? How often has sin prevented us from joining in common mission with those who do not entirely agree with us? How many times have we allowed sin to keep division alive while love has been striving for unity?

As we contemplate the Gospel reading today, let us hear Christ's words spoken to us: "Child, your sins are forgiven." And let us know that this is an exhortation to abandon our paralysis, to rise, to pick up our mats, and to walk back toward God and one another. Let us glorify God, saying: "We have never seen anything like this."

Friday, February 17, 2006

NCC Urges Closure of Gitmo

From Chuck Currie: Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, is urging Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to comply with a UN report which calls upon the United States to bring all Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial or release them, to close Guantanamo Bay, and to refrain from torture and other violations of human rights. Rev. Edgar's letter to Secretary Rice is also being circulated as a petition by NCCCUSA and Faithful America. It reads, in part:

These recommendations are consistent with a February 23, 2004 resolution of the Executive Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, which states, "Our concern is based on the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person created in the image of God, and on the rights accorded all persons by virtue of their humanity" . . . and the belief "that indefinite detention of persons without due process is a violation of their dignity and worth as children of God."

The American bishops(www.usccb.org) have not yet responded to the UN report.

Lent With St. Benedict

As Lent approaches (it is now less than two weeks away), I find myself trying to prepare myself spiritually for the penitential season. It seems kind of odd to prepare for Lent, I know, since a major part of the Lenten Season is preparation for Easter, and yet the importance of Lent itself almost demands some preparation. I sometimes feel like every liturgical season is a season of preparation; that Ordinary Time prepares us for Advent and Lent, which in turn prepare us for Christmas and Easter respectively, which in turn lead us to the Epiphany and Pentecost experiences and prepare us for Ordinary Time.

But I digress. Having become Catholic not by infant baptism but by the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), I find Lent very important because it is for me a reliving of that intense preparation to meet the Risen Lord during my reconciliation with the Church and confirmation. I feel like I'm preparing to meet him for the first time each Lent. This Lent, however, I think I'll find it a bit more challenging to observe the season of penitence since the end of Lent coincides with the beginning of my college classes. New academic challenges and social experiences are sure to distract me at least a little, and there's no preventing that.

Reading Sr. Steph's Narrow at the Outset today, though, I came up with a way to keep my Lenten preparation for Easter at least somewhat on track. I'm going to reflect on chapter 49 of the Benedictine Rule, which details how Benedictine monastics should observe the Lenten Season. I don't make any claim to being a Benedictine; at this point, I hardly have the discipline to call myself anything other than a somewhat lazy lay lector (now say that ten times fast). But the Rule of St. Benedict did help me find peace during a time of great turmoil, and I'm confident that it can help me stay focused on Lent even with the hubbub of my daily life. I find that my reflections serve me best when I write them down, so I will also be posting them here beginning on Ash Wednesday and then continuing sporadically throughout the rest of Lent. I hope they'll help others stay focused on the Lenten Season as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Tell Your Representative: Vote "No" on H.R. 4694

On February 10, I mentioned the Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act (H.R. 4694), introduced in the House of Representatives by several Democrats. H.R. 4694 would require public financing of congressional campaigns, itself a positive reform, but it would also require a prohibitively large number of signatures for third party and independent candidates -- making it practically impossible for them to run for office.

I thought I would pass along some more information: you can now write to your representative(www.democracyinaction.com/dia/organizationsCOM/Greens/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=1726) or send a letter to the editor(www.democracyinaction.com/dia/organizationsCOM/Greens/pickMedia.jsp?letter_KEY=337). I've already written to my representative. Will you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What I'm Reading

I recently finished reading Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis by former President Jimmy Carter. I would recommend the book to anyone who is concerned about the direction America is going in, and even those who think they aren't concerned about it. Although I did not agree with everything President Carter had to say (I shuddered when he referred to "sexual preference"), the former President did accurately identify many of the issues comprising America's current moral crisis and offered some concrete solutions to many of our most serious problems.

While waiting for Spanking the Donkey by Matt Taibbi and How the Republicans Stole Christmas by Bill Press to arrive at the library, I'm re-reading Gifted By Otherness.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

2006 CBA Endorsements

Voting has begun for the 2006 Catholic Blog Awards, and it will end at noon on February 21. In the meantime, here are my endorsements.

* Most Informative Blog: Happy Catholic

* Most Humorous Blog: Dyspeptic Mutterings

* Most Bizarre Blog: The Curt Jester*

* Best Presentation: Against the Grain

* Best Design: Sollicitudo Rei Socialis**

* Most Devotional: Flos Carmeli

* Best Group Blog: Moniales

* Best Blog by a Man: Catholic and Enjoying It!

* Best Blog by a Woman: Musings of a Discerning Woman**

* Most Insightful Blog: Moniales

* Most Bizarre Blog Post: The Curt Jester

* Best Blog by a Priest or Religious: Dappled Things

* Best Political Blog: Catholic and Enjoying It!

* Best Apologetics Blog: Pontifications

* Most Intellectual Blog: Disputations

* Most Creative: Ales Rarus

* Most Theological Blog: Ad Limina Apostolorum

* Best New Blog: No Endorsement***

* Best Social Commentary: Catholic and Enjoying It!

* Best Blog by a Seminarian: No Endorsement***

* Although I consider both of them friends and love their blogs, I did not endorse Joe Cecil's In Today's News or Eric Williams' Ales Rarus for Most Bizarre Blog because I don't consider their blogs bizarre.

** In the interest of full disclosure, I am a contributing editor for Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (which I've endorsed for Best Design), and Musings of a Discerning Woman (which I've endorsed for Best Blog by a Woman) is edited by Susan Rose Francois, a co-editor at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

*** If I did not issue endorsements for any category it's because I'm not familiar with any of the blogs in that category, and it is not a reflection of the quality of those blogs.

Breaking: Democrats Lose 2006 Election

Democrats lose Hackett; Democrats lose spine; Democrats lose credibility; Democrats lose 2006 election. (http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/2/14/0135/82714)

For the record, I do not and will not support the candidacy of Rep. Sherrod Brown for the Ohio Senate seat -- if for no other reason than the strong arm, elitist politics used to make him the candidate. If and when the Green Party has a candidate for the Senate, I will likely support that candidate.

Profaning the Priestly Ministry: A Letter to Fr. Frank Pavone

I received something in the mail today from Fr. Frank Pavone and his Priests for Life(http://www.priestsforlife.org/) organization. Upon opening the letter, I discovered that it was a screed against Frances Kissling and Catholics For a Free Choice(http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/), along with a survey asking some carefully crafted and loaded questions about abortion, hoping to present his findings to the bishops and the media. I responded to Fr. Pavone by filling out the survey as best I could and including the following letter.

- - -

Dear Father Pavone:

I do not agree with the extreme rhetoric of Catholics For a Free Choice, nor do I agree with your extreme rhetoric.

As a priest, your job is to be a pastor, not a lobbyist. There are plenty of lobbying firms in the United States that you could work for, but the Catholic priesthood is not one of them. Please stop using the priesthood and the lay faithful that you serve to advance the agenda of your political friends in Washington. You risk the Church's moral credibility and tax exempt status by meddling in political affairs as often as you do.

I believe that abortion is morally wrong. I also believe, over three decades since the Roe v. Wade ruling, that we need to be focusing on helping pregnant women and reducing the social and economic pressures that lead them to choose abortion. While you have played sacred campaign manager to President Bush, Republican congressmen, and the President's extremist nominees to the courts -- they have all been hard at work eroding social and economic aid to poor mothers and their children. How can you sleep at night knowing that you have profaned your priestly ministry by abandoning women and children to partisan politics and cheapening the Church's teachings on the dignity of human life by turning them into Republican talking points?

Frances Kissling does not speak for me or for most Catholics, but neither do you. I hope you'll take that to the bishops when you present your findings.

God bless you,
Nate Nelson

P.S. Please remove me from your mailing list.

Happy St. Valentine's Day

I just wanted to wish all of my readers a Happy St. Valentine's Day.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end . . .

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Master, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well." Jesus said to him, "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all." For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean."

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it . . .

"I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:1-17,34-35).

"As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

"This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.

"This I command you: love one another" (John 15:9-17).

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13).

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Truth in Advertising?

Damien Scott(http://damiensspot.blogspot.com/2006/02/lets-make-deal.html) asks the amusing question: "Come on, guys! Let's do a little informal marketing survey. Share! What was the selling point for you when the homosexual agenda agents showed up at your school to sign you up?"

For me, the selling point was that I would get to date guys -- but not just any guys, mind you. Guys like Ryan Reynolds (left), Brody Hutzler (right), and Tom Brady (below, center).

Damien also asks: "And perhaps more importantly, did they come through on what they promised?"

Alas, no.

Celibate Gay Catholic Assumes Too Much

Via Dappled Things: John Heard(http://donjim.blogspot.com/2006/02/promiscuity-is-tiresome.html), AKA Dreadnought(http://johnheard.blogspot.com/2006/02/dreadlust-rebours-or-promiscuity-is.html), has an interesting reflection on St. Augustine and the boredom of lust. In and of itself, the reflection is good -- but it assumes too much about gays and lesbians, who are depicted as constant horndogs. John Heard perpetuates what he must know is not really true, the straight myth that all gays and lesbians are primarily concerned about sex. He perpetuates the straight libel against us, that we are all a bunch of nymphomaniacs who want to get it on with every person of the same gender in sight.

This libelous claim gains much force when it is put forth by gays and lesbians, and I think it's shameful that John would so injure his lesbian and gay sisters and brothers.

Terri Schiavo and Bulimia

From HuffPo: Dr. Deborah Lynn, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, has an interesting take on the Terri Schiavo case which made headlines last year. She discusses Terri's case focusing on reports that Mrs. Schiavo was bulimic. It's an interesting article and discusses the horrible situation that Terri and her family went through last year from a perspective I haven't heard before.

For the record, I opposed the removal of Terri Schiavo's nutrition and hydration. I have never understood the reasoning behind associating basic nutrition and hydration with extraordinary medical care. I don't believe that providing nutrition and hydration is medical care at all, and I oppose the removal of nutrition and hydration as a very crude form of assisted suicide or euthanasia; I believe that there should be laws against the removal of nutrition and hydration. If Terri Schiavo was indeed bulimic, then I think it's sad that her life ended as it was lived: deprived of needed nutrition and hydration.

Freedom to Marry Week

I already mentioned that this week is Sexual Responsibility Week, but Damien Scott informed me that it is also Freedom to Marry Week. I've added an icon to my left sidebar for this event as well.

Pentagon Prepares for Strike Against Iran

From Daily Kos(http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/2/11/215710/033) and The Telegraph: The Pentagon is preparing for bombing raids against Iran's nuclear sites as a "last resort" option to prevent the Iranian government from continuing its nuclear program, which may or may not include the development of nuclear weapons. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) are among the voices speaking up for a possible preemptive strike against Iran.

In their 2004 statement, Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility(http://www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship/bishopStatement.html#7), the American bishops expressed grave concerns over the preemptive use of force:

Catholic teaching calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding ever more effective ways to prevent conflicts from arising, to resolve them by peaceful means, and to promote post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation . . . While military force as a last resort can sometimes be justified to defend against aggression and similar threats to the common good, we have raised serious moral concerns and questions about preemptive or preventive use of force.

Both the late Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, have been similarly concerned about the preemptive use of force.

It is important to note that military action against Iran could not be interpreted to meet just war criteria as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm #2309):

  1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

  2. All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

  3. There must be serious prospects of success;

  4. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

A military strike against Iran would not meet any of these criteria. Since Iran has not attacked any other nation, and certainly not our own, a military strike against Iran could not be interpreted as defensive rather than preemptive as some interpreted the Iraq War. Given the fact that the United Nations and the international community have just begun to work on ending the diplomatic conflict over Iran's nuclear program, it would be difficult if not impossible to make the case that all other means have already been exhausted. The prospect for success in Iran is even more grim than it was in Iraq, and in fact there is a good chance that attacking Iran could ignite greater violence in the Middle East and destabilize the entire region -- thus violating the fourth criterion of just war teaching.

My hope is that Catholics and other Christians who supported the Iraq War will think long and hard about lending their support to a military strike against Iran, which would be an even clearer violation of just war teaching than the Iraq War has been.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Lisping Lector: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I: Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 32:1-2,5,11
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 10:31--11:1
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45

- - -

This Sunday, we are confronted by a clear dichotomy between exclusion and inclusion. The Book of Leviticus instructs the Jewish priesthood on what to do about lepers in the community. The short answer: Get them out! But Jesus sees the Kingdom of God differently. By curing the leper, he not only relieves the pain and suffering that accompany a terrible disease; he removes the stigma which has separated the leper from the community and restores him to full inclusion in God's Kingdom.

Other lepers have not been so lucky. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the scourge of leprosy began to spread in the Hawaiian Islands following the arrival of Western settlers late in the eighteenth century. In 1868, a leper colony was established on the island of Molokai in order to isolate lepers and prevent the spread of leprosy in Hawaii. Conditions on the island of Molokai were reprehensible; the lepers were abandoned to die brutal and lonely deaths. To these lepers, it must have seemed as though the community had shunned them and they had lost their place in the Kingdom of God.

The man who would change that was Fr. Damien De Veuster, now known to us as Bl. Damien of Molokai. Fr. Damien was a Belgian missionary who requested an assignment to work with the abandoned lepers of Molokai. Upon arriving, Fr. Damien transformed the leper colony into a community of faith, restoring dignity to the lives and the deaths of the lepers of Molokai. Christ's apostle to the lepers did not heal them, but he did offer them inclusion in the Kingdom of God. Truly standing in the person of Christ, Fr. Damien became one of the lepers as Christ became one of us, and in so doing proclaimed to them that they were meant to enjoy the eternal blessing of God's Kingdom. Fr. Damien offered his life as a living Eucharist, uniting the sacrifice made by the Molokai lepers with his own and presenting them to the Father even as he made Christ present to the lepers of Molokai.

In the Church today, Christian queers are the lepers. We are the pariahs, the outcasts, the ones from whom the community must be protected. We have been declared unclean by the priests and forced out of our communities of faith: abandoned to lives without meaning, left to journeys without destinations, and barred from the Kingdom of God. Those who claim to be our sisters and brothers would have us go around shouting, "Unclean! Unclean!" and walk out of their communities and their lives forever.

But we know that Jesus Christ has a different plan for us. We have met him along the way and he has said to us: "I do will it. Be made clean." He has told us to present ourselves to the priests, but they have refused to recognize that the Lord Jesus has made us clean just as he has made them clean. Although the Lord God has been moved to reach out to us and make us part of his Kingdom, the priests have hardened their hearts against us and against him. They will not allow us to be included in their faith communities. May God replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.

For our part, we must be like Bl. Damien of Molokai. Like the healed leper, can we not help but tell others what Jesus has done for us, even though his own Body may resist it? Like Bl. Damien, we must live among our queer sisters and brothers and in so doing reveal the God who came to live among us. We must be crucified with and for our queer sisters and brothers, and thus reveal the God who was crucified for love of each one of us. We must rise above our persecution and refuse to submit to it, lifting up our queer sisters and brothers with us, revealing the God who rose from the dead and conquered sin and death for all.

In our own lives, we must live as part of the Kingdom of God so that our queer sisters and brothers will see us and know that this way is open to them as well. We must be the Word who became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

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