Tags: Catholic Sisters, crossing a picket line, Democratic Party, Fortnight of Freedom, Irish Catholics, Irish-American Catholics, Monsignor John. A Ryan, Opus Dei, Reagan Democrats, Republican Party, Roman Catholic Church, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Vatican Council II
I have, from time to time, mentioned my working-class Irish-Catholic upbringing in a county immediately south of Philadelphia. I was actually born in Chester, a ship-building city on the Delaware River, south of Philly on the way to Wilmington. We moved to Collingdale, a few miles north of Chester, when I was two-and-a-half.
Some would call Collingdale a suburb, but I never do, at least not since people started thinking that suburb are full of 12,000 square foot houses with hot tubs in the back. Collingdale was a whole like the Northeast section of Philadelphia, row houses and “twins” built after World War II and occupied by the families led by shift workers like my father–people who were excited out of their minds that they owned anything. The bedroom I shared with my brother till he was seven and I was fourteen was so tiny, you could hardly get between his bed and mine. The dresser (which I still own) was out in the hallway.
There are a number of things I could tell you about my neighborhood, and the street we lived on, Juliana Terrace. The people were decent, and we felt safe enough to play out on the street. (We were all white, of course; it was the 1950s.)
My shift-worker father, Joe Ronan, was a hard-working guy who had had a difficult childhood and youth–orphaned at the age of nine, put out on the street during the Depression by the unmarried aunts who could no longer feed him, a stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps before joining the Navy in 1939 (because it paid better than the CCC) . Privilege was something he did not have to pass onto us.
What I did get from my father were certain ideological convictions. You see, I grew up thinking that being a Democrat and being pro-union were the most important things in the world, and that they were somehow inextricably linked with being an Irish Catholic. My father would sit at the dinner table and announce, with absolute certainty, that if we ever voted Republican or crossed a picket line, we would go to hell. This was the beginning of my theological education. I was in college before it dawned on me that it was possible to be a Catholic and a Republican.
Things have changed a lot since those days, of course. First there were the Reagan Democrats. After my father died, despite my terror about what she might say, I asked my mother if my father had voted for Reagan. I was greatly relieved when she assured me he had not.
But the big change came when the Catholic Church, or at least the U.S. Catholic Bishops, shifted all their eggs into the sexual morality basket. Time was when American bishops hired people like the great social justice advocate, Monsignor John A. Ryan, or wrote letters on economic justice and peace. In recent years, however, their battles have been primarily, if not exclusively, against contraception, abortion, and gay marriage.
Although I have written at length about the institutional church’s fixation on sexuality and gender since Vatican II, I guess I was still unconsciously operating out of my pro-union/Democratic/Irish/Catholic identity before the last election. I could not grasp why the bishops would launch their “Fortnight of Freedom” attack on a Democratic –and Black!–candidate in a presidential election year. I said this to one of my Catholic friends who was less out-to-lunch than I was; she replied: “Because they’re Republicans, Marian.” I was stupefied. I couldn’t take in what she had said.
Subsequently, a priest I know here in Brooklyn shared with me that the local Catholic bishop, who’s a member of Opus Dei, had told him he had a moral obligation to vote for Mick Romney in the presidential election. My friend bravely replied that as an American, he would follow his conscience about who to vote for.
Since then I have been having something of an identity crisis. I mean, the boys began attempting to roll back Vatican II in 1968, and since I am, at heart, a Vatican II Catholic, I guess my identity has been under assault for decades, at a certain level. And then last year the Vatican went after the Catholic sisters, who were like the grandparents I never had on my father’s side (even if some of them were only ten years older than I was). But now I come to find out that a majority of the U.S. bishops are Republicans, for Christ’s sake.
What does this make me? Or perhaps I should ask, what does it make them?
Tags: Climate Change, Curiosity Rover, drought, Hurricane Sandy, Keystone XL Pipeline, Mars
So you already know that climate change is doing very bad things to the planet. People around here, in New York and New Jersey, are still scrambling to recover from Superstorm Sandy. Record flooding has ended the drought in parts of the midwest, but 46.9% of contiguous states are still in a drought, “with water content in the California snowpack at 17% of normal, an ominous situation for a state that depends on a steady stream of snowmelt to replenish reservoirs throughout the summer.” And last Friday scientists reported that CO2 in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million, a level not seen on earth for millions of years, and that guarantees future catastrophic weather events and related problems..
But now there’s a solution. We can just go to Mars–well, some of us, at least.
If, like me, you don’t follow space exploration very closely, you may have missed the fact that in August, NASA achieved one of the biggest breakthroughs in space exploration since the 1970s: its space rover,” Curiosity,” landed successfully on Mars, and in the months that followed, accomplished tasks that resulted in a number of major discoveries. Basically, the “Curiosity” mission determined that water has existed on Mars, and that therefore certain locations there constitute the first truly habitable places in the solar system not on our planet. A fine article by Burkhard Bilger in the April 22 issue of the New Yorker details the exploratory process and the discoveries that emerged.
It seems unlikely that the average person will be setting off for Mars any time soon. The “Curiosity” mission cost two and a half billion dollars, but the Great Recession resulted in a significant cut-back in NASA funding; the next two planned missions will be modest by comparison, “NASA technology from the 1960s”, as one scientist described it. Even the missions being planned by private firms like Space X and Orbital Sciences sound like pretty small potatoes.
Yet the entire episode reminds me of learning some years ago that a group of extremely rich men were investing millions of dollars in stem cell research. They were doing so in hopes that near the end of their lives they could be frozen until stem cell research progressed to the point where whatever problem threatened their survival would be cured. They were hoping, in effect, to become immortal.
The prospect of leaving our burgeoning environmental destruction behind and flying off to Mars may soon be equally appealing to those with the resources to do so. Bilger reports a possibly apocryphal survey in which three-quarters of astronauts said that they would go to Mars if the opportunity presented itself, despite the fact that, for the foreseeable future, such a trip would be necessarily one-way. “The pilgrims on the Mayflower didn’t hang around Plymouth Rock waiting for a ship to take them back,” the Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin later told him.
But that was theoretical. Now, a Dutch non-profit organization, Mars One, is actually planning to send a crew to Mars in 2022, according to Time magazine. Thus far, seventy-eight thousand people have applied to go, the vast majority of them from the US. The non-profit is producing a reality television show to raise the six billion dollars needed to fund the expedition.
This all sounds absurd, of course. But so, I suspect, did Columbus’s outing half a millennium ago. At least there are no indigenous people on Mars to have their environments and cultures destroyed.
Meanwhile, those unwilling to abandon the blue planet in favor of the red one are massing in Bryant Park, in Manhattan, tomorrow at 5 PM, to tell President Obama what we think about the Keystone XL Pipeline. We hope you will join us.
Tags: Irish Potato Famine
A friend from Zürich said recently in an email that she was waiting for me to write something about the Boston Marathon bombings, but seriously, what’s left to say? Even now, more than a week later, the statistical odds of turning on the radio and hearing about anything else are close to zero. Today’s endlessly repeated secular antiphon is “…charged and could face the death penalty.”
I have been thinking, however, about a related matter,–efforts by Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and others to link the Boston bombings to the current conversation about U.S. immigration reform. “While we don’t yet know the immigration status of people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system,” Grassley stated in opening remarks in a Senate hearing on immigration last Friday. Since then, some of our more distinguished news outlets have begun using the felicitous phrase, ”immigrant terrorists.”
I can’t help wondering whether Senator Grassley and his allies, as they attempt to link contemporary immigrants with terrorism, are aware of the rich history of ”immigrant terrorism” by the white-ethnic ancestors of some of our most conservative, not to say right-wing, politicians. I’m thinking specifically of the Draft Riots of July, 1863, in which mobs of white-ethnic immigrants, the majority of them Irish Catholics, rioted across Manhattan in response to the implementation of the draft law passed the previous March. According to historian James M. McPherson, at least 120 civilians were killed, at least eleven black men were lynched, and two thousand people were injured. Property damage in today’s dollars is estimated at between fifteen and seventy-five million dollars.
Like most acts of violence, the causes of the Draft Riots are complex. A major factor was the Draft Law’s three hundred dollar “commutation” fee which allowed individuals to escape being drafted by paying the equivalent, in today’s money, of $11,100. The vast majority of New York Irish had emigrated during or after the Irish Potato Famine a decade before and were desperately poor, living in the basements of filthy tenements, and dying of diseases like typhus and diphtheria. They could about as easily pay eleven thousand dollars as they could pay eleven million. They were also convinced that emancipated slaves would take their already lousy-paying jobs. Indeed, the shipping industry had not long before the riots used black men to break a dockworkers strike. It also probably wasn’t much help that an ardently abolitionist British government had used the Potato Famine to force poor Irish farmers in huge numbers to give up their acreage and emigrate (many of them to New York City).
By mentioning these motivating factors I do not in any sense mean to justify the New York Draft Riots, which historians regularly characterize as “the largest civil insurrection in American history.” Violence is violence.
I do wonder, however, what the results might have been if Republican legislators had used those riots to exclude white-ethnic immigrants from the U.S. in the years to follow. They would never have done so, of course; they needed such immigrants to continue building the railroads and bridges and sky-scrapers that would house and otherwise enable the Anglo-American barons of industrial capitalism.
But if the politicians had outlawed further Irish immigration, who knows what distinguished figures might not have made it onto the American stage. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, you say? Indeed. But also Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan and a number of other contemporary Irish-American right-wingers who will, one suspects, have all too much to say about “immigrant terrorists” in the days to come.
Well, I am turning out to be a very hip and trendy writer. In an article in the New York Times on Wednesday, Leslie Kaufman holds forth on the practice of an increasing number of authors publishing their own books instead of using commercial publishers. The next day, I uploaded the manuscript of my new book, Sister Trouble: The Vatican, the Bishops, and U.S. Nuns, onto the CreateSpace webpage. (CreateSpace is the self-publishing arm of Amazon.) I have to admit, I’m pretty excited.
I began thinking about self-publishing after a meeting with an editor at an academic publishing house here in New York several years back. The editor was about 35, a pleasant young woman. But after I explained my proposed project, a biography of a Catholic sister who had in the 1970s been the executive director of the recently much-maligned Leadership Conference of Women Religious, she assured me that no publishing house would ever publish a book with the name of this “obscure figure” in the title. I will not tell you what I thought to say in response, but the first word in the phrase has four letters in it and the second three. What the young woman was saying, of course, was that there’s no money to be made in biographies of figures less well-known than Oprah. So much for people on the ground in American religious history.
Sister Trouble is a collection of articles that I have written, for the most part, since the Vatican launched a visitation of U.S. Catholic women’s religious congregations and the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in 2009. They appeared in a number of periodicals and then some appeared subsequently on this blog page. Read together, they provide a pretty good overall picture of what’s gone down between the Vatican and the nuns, and, of course, what I think about it. Other articles I wrote in the late 1990s; I’m republishing them now to make clear why I care as much as I do about what’s been happening to the sisters. A longer piece uses the gender theory of the distinguished feminist theorist Judith Butler to argue that what’s really got the boys riled up–and has done throughout the history of Christianity–is that nuns, by standing on the boundary between male clergy and “female” laypeople, mess up the ostensibly clear distinctions between genders. God forbid that we should have any ambiguity in that department! I mean, Jesus is male, and the church is female, right??
Sister Trouble will be available for sale on Amazon. Since I am no longer funding the publishing industry, it will be reasonably priced. I’m told it takes CreateSpace two to three months to design the cover and lay out the text, so that would mean the book will be available in the middle of the summer, more or less. You can bet I’ll be letting you know. I also hope to travel around a bit and talk about the book, probably in the fall, so maybe we can drink some bubbly together and toast the good sisters.
Tags: Climate Change, fossil fuels, "The Whole Story of Climate", E. Kirsten Peters., the "Roc Doc", solar and wind power, greenhouse gases, underground coal fires, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
I was more or less grandmothered in to the environmental movement when I began spending time at the Grail’s organic farm and conference center outside Cincinnati in the late 1960s. Some of my readers will recall my blogpost back in 2011 about taking care of the chickens there. As a result of my training at Grailville, I have been washing, reusing and recycling plastic bags for forty-five years, more or less.
But then, a decade or so ago, I became intensely aware of the ecological crises that are imminent—the world water crisis, and climate change. So in addition to writing about Catholicism, my other mania, I also do a certain amount of writing about the environment.
Today I share with you a review of a 2012 book about the climate; it was published this month in Gumbo, the newsletter of the Grail in the United States.
The Whole Story of Climate: What Science Reveals About the Nature of Endless Change. By E. Kirsten Peters. Prometheus Books, 2012. Hardback, 290 pp. $26.00.
At one level, The Whole Story of Climate by geologist E. Kirsten Peters of Washington State University is “a history of Earth’s climate and…of how scientists learned about climate.” Readers like me, wary of abstruse scientific writing, will be pleasantly surprised by the narrative drive of Peters’s book. Who would have thought it possible to fashion the rise and fall of temperature over millions of years into a page-turner?
An example of the author’s gift for making science accessible is her use of a football field to explain the history of climate. The far end of the gridiron represents the start of the Pleistocene Era, 1.8 million years ago, while the other end is today. Each 5.5 yards (100,000 years) there’s an Ice Age, followed by a warmer period. Six and half yards from our end zone there’s an even warmer period, followed by several yards of bitter cold, and then our own, warm but not the warmest, Holocene Epoch. The point of the football field—and the rest of the book—is to show us that over its entire history, climate has changed repeatedly, and radically. Moreover, Peters argues, it’s much more likely that we’re on the verge of another cold snap than a warm one.
At one level, then, The Whole Story of Climate is a well-written, accessible book that provides readers with a much-needed wider context for the debate over climate change currently taking place. At another level, however, there’s a good deal in this book that readers should be wary of. This is so because it’s virtually impossible to have a dispassionate scientific discussion about climate change in our time. Peters herself rails repeatedly throughout The Whole Story against the misrepresentations of climate change by “journalists” who, in her reading, fail to communicate to the public that climate change is natural, and that calls for mitigation of global warming by expensive sustainable fuels are baseless. Yet Peters herself is a journalist—her book bio mentions that she, as “the Roc Doc,” writes a syndicated newspaper column—and surely the book’s title is a journalistic, not a scientific one. No reputable scientific work is titled “The Whole Story of” anything.
I also have some concerns about the perspective geology itself brings to the dangers of climate change. Fairly early on in the book Peters states that “geologists take as a sacred responsibility the task of understanding, identifying, and providing energy sources for our societies” (89). The use of the word “sacred” is striking here, and one suspects that the fuels geologists are sacredly committed to providing are fossil fuels, a commitment that may make it difficult to advocate for solar and wind energy.
More to the point, geologists necessarily think in terms of millions, or even billions, of years, within which the extinction of species is not a big deal. Peters does admit from time to time that the increasing level of greenhouse gases could be a serious problem; that, in fact, it could precipitate the flipping of Earth’s climate into an era of either extreme heat or extreme cold. And her discussion, in the concluding chapter, of the possibility of a 3% reduction is greenhouse gases by extinguishing the thousands of underground coal fires around the world alone makes the previous 242 pages worthwhile. Why, I join her in asking, aren’t we doing something about this?
Finally, though, the harm likely to occur in the near future as a result of a warming planet concerns Peters a good deal less than the very long range climate picture and the ideological wars between geologists and other environmental scientists. At the end of the book, for example, she spends less than a page acknowledging that global warming through 2100 is likely to have many more negative consequences for the poor in places like Africa and the Middle East than for people like us in Europe and North America.
But she spends eighteen pages accusing (non-geologist) environmental scientists of dishonesty by virtue of being in the pay of big-government and comparing them to Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” based on a mistake in the 2001 Third Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I can’t help thinking that the people here in New York whose lives were upended by Hurricane Sandy, as well as the Pacific Islanders whose cultures are being washed away by sea level rise, are a lot more concerned about the “short term” implications of global warming than Peters is.
Tags: "Tracing the Sign of the Cross", American Catholicism, Catholic culture wars, Culture Wars, James Carroll, marian ronan, Mary Gordon, Philip Jenkins, Richard Rodriguez, US Catholicism
A friend of mine recently published a book, and she’s doing a great job of marketing it–calling libraries, giving talks, getting people like me to review it.
Myself, I am terrible at marketing. It feels so pushy asking people to pay attention to my book, and by extension, me. This is precisely why I write–to avoid having to do such things.
But I am trying to emulate my friend. So here’s the deal: during the month of April, my book, Tracing the Sign of the Cross: Sexuality, Mourning, and the Future of American Catholicism, is on sale for 50% off. And since you read my blog, you know you’re interested in what I write about–in this case, the sex/gender conflicts within US Catholicism and how we might move beyond them. The book traces these conflicts and their possible resolution through fiction, memoirs, and essays by a number of noted U.S. Catholic writers, including James Carroll, the novelist Mary Gordon, and the gay Latino essayist Richard Rodriguez.
Regarding my book, Philip Jenkins of Penn State writes, Tracing the Sign of the Cross “is a genuinely pathbreaking book, offering an innovative interpretation of the worldview of contemporary American Catholics…offering valuable insight into the agendas, conscious or otherwise, of so many of those engaged in the culture wars that have raged within American Catholicism in recent decades.”
To read more about it, you can click on the Columbia University Press webpage, and to order it for $22.50 instead of $45.00, use the coupon code SALE when you check out.
There’s also an interview I did about the book in 2009 on the Columbia University Press webpage.
Tags: Easter, Father Michael Perry, Holy Week, Our Lady of Refuge Church Brooklyn, Passion story, Philippians 2, The Grail in the USA, triduum
Well, its Thursday of Holy Week. Time for what we Catholics call “The Triduum” –three days of services during which we follow Jesus from his last supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane, through his passion and death, to his resurrection on Easter Sunday. It’s quite a journey.
For me, though, the journey got underway big time last weekend at the Palm Sunday Mass at my parish church, Our Lady of Refuge here in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. At that Mass we read for the first time during Holy Week the New Testament Passion story (this year, from St. Luke). Then, probably because the Passion takes longer to read than the usual Sunday Gospel, the pastor, Michael Perry, got up in the pulpit and instead of giving a sermon simply reread the epistle, Philippians 2. There are times when I might have regretted such a choice, but the passage from Philippians is, in my opinion, spectacular–a liturgical proclamation that’s at the heart of the Christian faith:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
a thing to be grasp,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and given him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Now I know there will be all sorts of objections to this text–it adulates suffering, there are many other religions so why should every knee bow to Jesus, it ignores women, etc. In the past I myself have offered these criticisms (and more) of other biblical and theological texts.
But I still want you to know, Philippians 2 moves me very deeply.
Perhaps my saying this will make more sense if I add that my first conscious encounter with Philippians 2 was singing the Gregorian setting of it–the “Christus Factus Est”–along with other Grail women when I lived at the Grail’s national center outside Cincinnati in the 1970s. I still close my eyes and sing it to myself from time to time, decades after Gregorian chant has pretty much died out in the Grail (and other places).
Perhaps listening to a recording of the “Christus Factus Est” will help you to understand why the text moves me as deeply it does–in a way that my talking about it cannot. (Had I found a recording by a group of women, you might understand the strength of my feelings even more.)
Tags: "Latino Catholicism", "Raised by the Church", "Sacred Dread", Brenna Moore, Edward Rohs, Judith Estrine, Raissa Maritain, The Catholic Revival, Timothy Matovina
If, like me, you are getting reaaaaally tired of hearing about the new pope and the Vatican, you may enjoy my review of three new books about Catholics. It appeared in the most recent edition of EqualwRites, the newsletter of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference.
Sacred Dread: Raissa Maritain, the Allure of Suffering, and the French Catholic Revival, by Brenna Moore. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013). 293 pp. Paper, $30; e-book, $21.
Raised by the Church: Growing Up in New York City’s Catholic Orphanages, by Edward Rohs and Judith Estrine. (Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press, 2012). 238 pp. Hardbound, $22.95.
Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church, by Timothy Matovina. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012). 312 pp. Hardbound, $29.95; e-book, $16.19.
In recent years, what with attacks by the Vatican and the hierarchy on US sisters, affordable health care, and lgbt equality, it hasn’t always been easy to remain Catholic. But as the three books reviewed here demonstrate, the Catholic tradition, past and present, is no less enriching for all of that—growing, changing, providing insight into vital issues.
I begin with Sacred Dread, Brenna Moore’s study of the French philosopher, mystic, and Jewish convert to Catholicism, Raissa Maritain, and the French Catholic Revival (1905-1950) of which she was a part. Moore is one of a cadre of young Catholic feminist scholar here in the New York metropolitan area (among them, Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Elena Procario-Foley, and Julie Byrne) making significant contributions to Catholic studies. Moore’s book introduces readers to the extraordinary work of a woman who has, for the most part, been eclipsed by her husband, the French Catholic neo-Thomist philosopher, Jacques Maritain. I was reminded throughout the book of how much the female member of this pair has been overshadowed by the male: whenever I read “Maritain,” I would think of Jacques, and then remember that the book is actually about Raissa.
The central question of Sacred Dread, as Moore tells us, is “How did suffering and anguish achieve such a prominent presence in so many French Catholic revival works, and how can this fascination with suffering be understood.” Feminist theologians like Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock have in recent years condemned the Christian doctrine of vicarious suffering. But the French Catholic Revival, spearheaded by figures such as Leon Bloy, Charles de Foucauld, Charles Peguy, Simone Weil, and Maritain herself, had an enormous and in many respects positive impact on American Catholicism, suffering and all.
Moore’s analysis does not ignore the problematic side of the Revival’s focus on suffering and abasement, for example, its use of Jews and women as the primary figures of such suffering. But it also places this focus in an historical and social context that does the phenomenon far more justice than do blanket liberal feminist condemnations. Even before the horrors of the two world wars, French Catholics were turning to the suffering of Jesus and Mary as an alternative to the naïve optimism of nineteenth century Romanticism and scientific positivism. Maritain was a Russian Jew who emigrated to Paris at the age of ten and turned, at the Sorbonne, from liberal secularism to a vision of this “sacred dread” that sustained her through the extermination of European Jewry. Moore’s reading of the life of this remarkable woman adds much-needed nuance to liberal feminist scholarship on Christianity.
In 1946—not long after Maritain and her husband returned to Paris from their exile in New York City—the unmarried mother of newborn Edward Rohs left him on the steps of a Sisters of Mercy orphanage in Brooklyn. Raised by the Church is a memoir of the next nineteen years of “Ed’s” life, as he moves up through the post-war Catholic orphanage system, and of what becomes of him after he leaves. Interwoven with this personal narrative is the history of the child welfare system in New York.
Compared with Brenna Moore’s sophisticated analysis of Raissa Maritain, Rohs’s memoir is almost innocent, but I enjoyed every word of it. A resident of five different orphanages in the gender and age-segregated New York Catholic orphanage system, Rohs shares his experiences in a moving, deeply personal style. Early in the narrative, for example, he reports his shock at the disappearance of mother figures when he moved up from orphanages staffed by Catholic sisters to those staffed by brothers. For the rest of her life, he treated one of the Sisters of Mercy from his childhood, Sister Johanna McLaughlin, like the beloved aunt he never had.
Perhaps most striking, for me, are the stories Rohs tells of an experience of physical and sexual abuse by a lay counselor in one of the orphanages and of attempted sexual abuse by a visiting Catholic brother at another orphanage when he was a bit older. Although Rohs admits to experiencing both trauma and rage in response to the first case, (less so to the second), he is ultimately forgiving, if not of the perpetrators, then of the institutions in which they acted. With regard to treatment by the sadistic lay counselor, Rohs writes, “”these memories are wrapped within the larger context of a child being raised in an environment that lacked sufficient staff trained to listen and respond to me.” Rohs went on to work in the Catholic orphanage system himself, and later, as a professional in the New York State Office of Mental Health. Writing of the violence experienced by young people in the New York state system, Rohs describes his own isolated incidents of abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to protect him as “peanuts.”
The chronological structure of this review, and even the subtitle of Timothy Matovina’s book—Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church—might lead a reader to assume that “Latino Catholicism” is a contemporary phenomenon. And indeed, that’s what many of us think: all these Hispanic immigrants came to the US in the twentieth century, the way the Germans, the Irish and the Italians did in the nineteenth. But as Matovina clarifies immediately, there were Spanish-speaking Catholics in the territory that is now the US four decades before the English founded Jamestown, and seven before the first English Catholic settlement in Baltimore. And nativists were killing Spanish-speaking priests in the Southwest even as they were burning down white-ethnic Catholic churches and convents in the Northeast before the Civil War.
But it’s the present as well as the past that drives Matovina to call for—and enact—a remapping of American Catholicism in light of the mutual transformation of the US Church by Anglo and Spanish-speaking members. For, as we learn, forty-five per cent of all Millennial Catholics (born between 1979 and 1987) are Latinos, as are two-thirds of Catholics under the age of thirty-five who attend church regularly. If we are concerned about the future of the church, then, it is crucial to absorb what Matovina tells us about Hispanic church leadership; parishes and apostolic movements like Cursillo; worship and devotional practices to Our Lady of Guadalupe and others; Latino involvement in Catholic networks of education, health care, social service, ministry, pastoral training and publications; as well as how Hispanic Catholics are passing on the faith to the next generation. It is impossible, in a review of this length, to do justice to the sweeping and comprehensive study of the Catholicism of Spanish-speaking Americans past and present that Matovina offers in Latino Catholicism. I was struck, however, as I worked my way through his nuanced arguments, by the extent to which the future of Latino Catholicism is threatened by problems that also undermine the rest of the American church. Matovina argues convincingly, for example, that the future of US Latino Catholicism, in large part, will be determined by the quality of Hispanic ministry, especially to Hispanic youth—pastoral juvenil. And studies show that the most effective youth ministries are led by paid pastoral staff. But the vast majority of Latino ministers in the US Catholic Church are deacons, who are, by definition, not paid, and by women, who for the most part earn lay ministry certificates because they can’t afford the academic ministry degrees generally required for paid positions. In 2006 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops likewise replaced its Hispanic ministry office with a less well-funded office of “cultural diversity.” Why all this underfunding of the future of US Catholicism? Because of the costs of the sex abuse crisis, as well as the lost contributions of alienated former Catholics and of Latino Catholics who are joining evangelical churches in significant numbers.
This depressing conclusion is not what you may have anticipated from a review that begins by referring to the “enriching” Catholic tradition. But difficulty, and even betrayal, have always been part of that tradition. I can do no better, then, than to close with the final lines of Latino Catholicism, the words of San Antonio Archbishop Patricio Flores:
“’Let us not falter,’ the Lord told his apostles when they struggled against the winds. He tells us, now that we are in mid-sea, ‘Courage, do not be afraid. It is I.’”
Tags: Catholic Church, feminism, HIV/AIDS, Latin America, Liberation Theology, Pope Francis I, poverty, Vatican, women
(Or as Ronald Reagan would have put it: “Pope Francis, tear down this wall!”)
Well, we have a pope. After two weeks of speculation, prediction, even handicapping, the first non-European pope in over a thousand years, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, stepped out on the Vatican loggia at 8:22 Central European Time yesterday to be introduced to the world.
In some respects, the election of Cardinal Bergoglio is a very promising sign. As an archbishop from the most populous Catholic continent on earth, Latin America, the new Pope Francis I symbolizes a shift that has been a very long time coming, from Eurocentrism to the church of the Global South. And his reputation as an advocate for the poor, emphasizing the Christian Gospel of love, washing the feet of AIDS victims, and more, can’t help being a good thing.
The new pope’s ethnic heritage will stand him in good stead as well, since his parents were Italians, and he speaks Italian fluently—not a bad thing for a pope—even as he has never served in the Vatican curia, the focus of much criticism and concern in recent months. He is also the first Jesuit pope in history. Being a member of the largest religious order in the Catholic world certainly can’t hurt.
For a church that isn’t exactly known for headlong change, this may well be the best we Catholics could have hoped for. But let’s be clear: Pope Francis is a conservative, as anyone elected by this conclave would have been. From the beginning of his career, he has opposed liberation theology, the Latin American-rooted progressive theology that has inspired many liberal Catholics, myself included, since the 1960s. And he is opposed to homosexuality.
Most people have already heard more than they need to about the problems the new pope will face: the sex abuse scandal, corruption at the Vatican Bank and throughout the Vatican administration, secularism in the West, reaching out to the burgeoning church in the Global South. Good luck to him on all counts, I say.
For me, though, the kicker, the “line in the sand,” as Archbishop Timothy Dolan would put it, is the church’s benighted attitude toward and treatment of women. This could be perceived as the opinion of a privileged North American woman who cares more about gender than about the poor to whom this new pope is dedicated. But let’s be clear: half of the world’s poor are women, and the church’s efforts to deprive the Catholic women among them of contraceptives, of the use of condoms that could protect them from HIV-AIDS, and of the ministry of women priests who would baptize, absolve, and bury them, is no service to them.
Even as President Ronald Reagan challenged Michael Gorbachev to tear down the wall between East and West, the much-loved Pope John Paul II put every effort into freeing the Catholics of Eastern Europe from religious and political oppression. The new supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis I, has the opportunity to end another form of oppression, the second-class status of women in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, bring down this wall!
Yesterday the eyes of the world were fixed on a chimney over the Sistine Chapel, eager to see the color of the smoke that would pour out. And at 6:45 PM, the smoke that they saw was black, indicating that the current conclave of cardinals had failed to elect a new pope. (As of Wednesday morning, a decision has yet to be made.)
From a balcony across the square, however, smoke of a different color rose—pink smoke—generated by women priests and ordination activists. Their action, announcing that women deserve to be recognized as Catholic priests—and eventually as cardinals and popes—replicated “pink smoke” demonstrations held in front of US cathedrals during the 2005 conclave that elected Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.
And even as these two clashing shades of smoke were rising over the Vatican, reform Catholics in various parts of the U.S. were coming together to view Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, a documentary film about the movement for Catholic women’s ordination, and, in particular, about Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP), a group that began with the 2002 ordination of seven women on the Danube River and has expanded to include several hundred women priests and bishops and the communities they lead.
(Read the rest of this article on Religion Dispatches)