Tiger Woods and the Pope

March 31, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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So what do Tiger Woods and Pope Benedict XVI have in common? They’re both celebrities. And of course, recently they have both gotten some very bad publicity about sexual misbehavior, either for engaging in it, or, apparently, for covering up somebody else’s.

For a long time–from the liberal European revolutions of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries till the second half of the twentieth century, more or less–that the pope would be a celebrity was inconceivable. The “prisoner of the Vatican” was no star. Rather, he was pinched, hidden, and adamantly opposed to the world many of us lived in–the modern one.

I suppose the change started with Pope John XXIII announcing Vatican II and pointing the Church in the direction of the “modern world.” But the real credit for making the pope a celebrity goes to Pope John Paul II. John Paul, now called by some Catholics “John Paul the Great,” studied drama as a young person, and his acute stage presence, whether in his popemobile, the papal helicopter, his journeys around the world, his addresses to sports stadiums full of cheering followers, even, I’m tempted to say, his managing to survive an assassination–made him a global celebrity. Perhaps the global religious celebrity.

Besides JPII’s  gift for acting, another thing that has made the popes  celebrities is the amazing get-ups that they wear. I am reminded here of Mark Noll’s question, the title of one of his books, “Is the Reformation Over?” In thinking about the pope, I’m inclined to say: yes, and the Catholics won. For a long time this seemed not to be the case, of course. The Protestant ethic underpinned the emergence of capitalism. And the shift to the Word from the Image at the beginning of the modern era seemed a no-brainer, with the printing presses running, and only illiterate peasants peering at stained glass and statues anymore.

But since the invention of television, and even more, the internet, I’m not so sure. Think of my poor husband, the ordained American Baptist. He occasionally wears an academic gown, but mostly, he makes his way through the world in a suit and tie. Whereas the pope looks like a character in Avatar.  He’s the symbol of world Christianity,  just by virtue of his vestments, even if half the Evangelicals in the world still don’t believe  Catholics are Christians.

Now I have to admit that the current pope, Benedict XVI, doesn’t have anything like the stage presence of the previous pope (though he does have those red shoes!) But the veneer of celebrity achieved by JPII does not wear off all that easily. 

Which brings us to the similarities between B-16 and Tiger Woods. In each case, nothing sells more newspapers, draws more viewers, gets googled more often than celebrities and sex. And so we have Benedict XVI in the news about as often as we had Tiger a few months ago.

Never mind that there are certain dissimilarities between them as well. That there was actual evidence against Tiger, who confessed his infidelities, and apologized to the world. Benedict XVI, on the other hand, has offered no such confession for failing to turn in priest sex abusers. Of course, it may be that he actually was not aware of these abusers, no matter how many times reporters announce that the scandal is “getting closer to the Vatican every day.” No text messages have been discovered in Benedict’s case. There were four hundred parishes in the archdiocese of Munich when Benedict was the archbishop there. Hard to tell what he knew and if he knew it.

In point of fact, in last Sunday’s New York Times, NCR’s John L. Allen, without minimizing the current crisis, argued that Benedict has done better than any pope in history at responding to clergy sex abuse. Better, it would seem, than John Paul II, about whom a documentary will run on PBS this weekend that proclaims him a saint. 

But the current pope is another matter. He’s not a saint; he’s a celebrity. And the beat goes on.


Response to Brendan Foley

March 21, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Since I don’t get too many comments about my blog posts, I thought I would express my appreciation to Brendan Foley for his response to my March 9 entry, “The Rupture of Inculturation?” by writing back. 

Brendan suggests that I don’t seem to know very much about Vatican II, and mentions that he himself took a course on Vatican II with Joseph Komonchak. Komonchak, as I mentioned in an even earlier blog, co-edited the great five-volume history of Vatican II, along with Giuseppe Alberigo.  Since I certainly did not take such a course, it seems likely that Brendan knows more, perhaps even a good deal more, about Vatican II than I do.

Brendan, as I read him,  doesn’t understand my criticism of a talk given at the 2008 Stonehill Conference on Religious Life in which Franc Cardinal Rode,  the prefect of the Vatican congregation on religious life, argues that there is a right and wrong interpretation of Vatican II.  Why, Brendan wonders, do I think that Rode’s condemnation of the “wrong” hermeneutic  is aimed at Komonchak’s reading of Vatican II as an event. Komonchak himself would say that some readings of Vatican II are wrong–those of the Lefebrvists, for example. I must admit, I hadn’t thought of the Lefebrvists. Brendan has a point here. I should have said I’d never heard any of the progressive Catholics I hang out with use the word “rupture” to characterize the Council.

All that notwithstanding, I want to assure Brendan that it isn’t the Lefebrvists that Cardinal Rode is addressing in his Stonehill talk. It’s the “Bologna school” historians who advanced the interpretation of Vatican II as an event (and US women religious).  John W. O’Malley SJ introduces his chapter in Vatican II: Did Anything Happen?  (Continuum 2008) with the details of a presentation by another Vatican official, Camillo Cardinal Ruino. In this presentation Ruino welcomed a new book on the Council as a counterpoint to–“indeed, the polar opposite”–of the interpretation that had previously monopolized conciliar historiography. As such, the new book would move the church on to a “correct” interpretation of the Council. In this presentation the Cardinal singled out the Bologna school as the principal and most influential creator of this incorrect understanding (52-53). O’Malley continues:  

“…the Bologna school and especially Alberigo are being singled out as the great propagators of a history of the council that badly distorts it and that must be opposed. Other scholars are being criticized for a similar approach, but Alberigo and his colleagues are the ones most often mentioned by name…

O’Malley then elaborates on these attacks:

“I do not see that Alberigo and others who have used ‘event’ as an instrument to interpret the council have given it the radical meaning that their critics attribute to them…Nowhere in the Alberigo volumes is there the slightest suggestion that “new beginning” meant in any way a rupture in the faith of the Church or a diminution of any dogma” (54-55).

And while O’Malley does not mention Komonchak by name at this point, the volume begins with Komonchak’s Henri de Lubac lecture given at St. Louis University in 1997, “Vatican II as an Event.” Komonchak knows that since he is Alberigo’s co-editor, the “wrong” interpretation of Vatican II–Vatican II as rupture– is being projected onto his work.

Lastly, let me respond to Brendan’s observation that if I were to learn more about Greek philosophy, I would realize that some things really are either right or wrong. Perhaps, Brendan; perhaps. On the other hand, pre-Enlightenment philosophy may not provide the most effective tools for understanding as massive and complex an event as the Second Vatican Council. Almost twenty years ago the historical sociologist Gene Burns published a penetrating study of Vatican II, The Frontiers of Catholicism (Princeton 1992). In it he argues compellingly that the legacy of Vatican II is  ambiguous. And indeed, here we are, still fighting about what it means, almost half a century after it ended. Perhaps while I’m boning up on the Greeks you should take a look at Frontiers.

Stupak: Who Cares What the Nuns Think?

March 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Well,  if you welcomed the health care reform letter from 59,000 US Catholic sisters that I posted earlier, you’re going to be amazed by this:

Congressman Bart Stupak, the leading “Democratic” opponent of the health care reform bill that the sisters say doesn’t fund abortion, has spoken back.:

“When I’m drafting right to life language, I don’t call up the nuns.” He says he instead confers with other groups including “leading bishops, Focus on the Family, and The National Right to Life Committee.”

Why would he listen to Catholic sisters? They run hospitals and clinics and food pantries and homeless shelters; they deal day in and day out with the parents of children in Catholic schools; they educated many of us for free. Better to consult the bishops and the lobbyists at Focus on the Family.

You go, Bart.

US Catholic Sisters Urge Health Care Reform

March 18, 2010 at 10:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the midst of yet another round of dispiriting reports on sex abuse by Catholic clergy, I’m thrilled to report that a large group of US Catholic sisters have spoken out in support of the health care reform bill now before Congress. The letter to Congress,  circulated by Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, is signed by 59 leaders of various women’s religious congregations, including Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Considering the current Vatican doctrinal investigation of the LCWR for taking just such positions as this one, it’s quite brave of Weisenbeck and the other congregational leaders to send out this message.

According to the letter, the signers represent 59,000 Catholic sisters. You should read it for yourself–it’s short and accessible–but here’s a crucial paragraph:

“The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.”

A major reason for the current visitations of women’s religious congregations and the investigation of the LCWR, is that Catholic sisters in the US , since Vatican II, have dared to speak for themselves. The LCWR submitted an unsolicited evaluation of the Code of Canon Law to the Vatican as it began revising that code in the 1970s (the sisters assumed, innocently, that their evaluation would be welcomed). Before that, the LCWR changed its name to “Leadership Conference of Women Religious” from “Conference of Major Superiors of Women.” Vatican officials resisted the change strongly; even the heads of women’s congregations, to their mind, are transmitters of church mandates, not “leaders.” 

And now theses women dare to suggest that there are other Catholic positions on health care besides that of the US bishops, and to point out that the bill does not expand abortion coverage.

Thank you, sisters.

Denver Archdiocese Refuses Girls II

March 16, 2010 at 8:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Yesterday I mentioned the exclusion of a little girl from Sacred Heart of Jesus School in (by) the Archdiocese of Denver.  An article in the National Catholic Reporter Online offers more detail about this exclusion. Turns out it’s two little girls, not one. I find the article’s description of the mothers of the little girls deeply moving. They seem to be going out of their way not to respond to the decision with hatred or animosity.  It sounds, in fact, as if they are much better Christians than I’m afraid I would be in a similar situation.

One of the interesting issues surfaced by the article is that there are very many of us Catholics here in the US (and not just here) who exempt ourselves from various aspects of Catholic sexual teaching.  Already in the 1950s in the little stucco twin houses on our street in suburban Philadelphia there wasn’t one Catholic family with more than two children. And when you register in a Catholic parish, in my experience at least, they don’t ask you for proof that you were married in the church. The understanding, then as now, is that as long as you don’t bring up such things, you’re fine. Catholics grasped the principle of “don’t ask, don’t tell” long before the Clinton Administration.

But a lesbian couple who goes to church regularly and registers their kids in a Catholic school is out there, no pun intended. These women actually asked if there would be a problem with their being a couple, or something to that effect, and were told no, at least at first. But not any longer.

But Some Catholic Bishops Are Brave…

March 15, 2010 at 11:27 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sometimes I want to resign from the various listservs I’m on. I get up, I’m feeling pretty good, and here comes an email reporting that the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver has expelled (well, not permitted to re-enroll) a little girl from a Catholic school because her parents are gay. And the school is called “Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Picture that particular Jesus appearing and saying, “My heart is a heart of love, except for little girls whose parents’ sexuality is intrinsically disordered.” Sweet Jesus.

Since I have clearly fallen off the wagon regarding my resolution to stop raving about the Vatican and the hierarchy, I now report, in an effort to move on to more productive things, that two other Catholic bishops (not from the US) have done something I am not ashamed of. To wit: the Catholic bishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have called on the United States and the rest of the world to take steps to abolish nuclear weapons.

In a press release issued in advance of a nuclear security conference to take place in Washington DC in April, Nagasaki Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami and Hiroshima Bishop Joseph Atsumi Misue say: 

“We, as the bishops of the Catholic Church of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, which is the only country in the world to have suffered nuclear attacks, demand that the president of the United States, the Japanese government and the leaders of other countries make utmost efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.”

They also say that responsibility for the bombings  “should be borne not only by the United States” but “also the other countries, including Japan, which have kept on waging wars throughout their history.” They call on the US  to “limit the purpose of retaining nuclear weapons to deterring others from using such weapons only” so as to move “toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Now begins the wait to see if the US bishops can withdraw their attention from the demonization of little girls who have the wrong parents long enough to amplify this brave call by their brother bishops from Japan.

The Rupture of Inculturation?

March 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In my last post, I held forth about a talk by Cardinal Rode, head of the Vatican office behind the current  investigations of American Catholic sisters.  I was struck by his use of the word “rupture” to describe the “wrong” interpretation of Vatican II. Never in my life have I heard anyone but Cardinal Rode (et al) describe Vatican II as a rupture. Event, yes. Paradigm shift, yes. Rupture? Never.

I am also struck by the conclusion of the cardinal’s talk, where, to explain what gives him hope for the future of religious life, he recounts the thunder of applause that greeted a talk he gave just after the election of John Paul II in 1978 in which he criticized the communist regime in Slovenia.  What gave Rode and his listeners courage to confront falsehood, we learn, was fidelity to the new pope. Just so, if we are to reform religious life, we must adhere to what John Paul II taught yesterday and what Benedict is teaching today. (p. 21).

Never mind the curiosity of using an event that occurred a third of a century ago under a regime that collapsed twenty years ago in a country most Americans couldn’t  find on the map if their lives depended on it to conclude a talk in Boston Massachusetts in 2008. Consider instead the spectacle of using such a Eurocentric story to illustrate fidelity to John Paul II.

I am not a big JPII fan. But one thing I do give John Paul credit for is his understanding of the critical place of the Global South in the future of the church. So if we’re confronting a rupture here, it’s one between this profound insight by John Paul II and  Benedict’s fixation on Europe, its secularization, its schisms, its ideal past.

One story about a talk in Slovenia in 1978 may seem like thin evidence on which to argue that the current papacy is oblivious to the future of the church. But to get the whole picture, shift your attention now to Vatican efforts to reform the liturgy. In an article in NCRonline, John L. Allen reports on comments by the papal liturgist, Msgr. Guido Marini. Msgr. Morini has said that the pope will be patient in reforming the liturgy; nothing will be forced on the church, at least not yet. At a conference in Rome, though, the pope’s liturgist did seem to call into question some Vatican II liturgical reforms,–among them, active participation by the laity in the liturgy (!!) and “greater ‘inculturation,’ meaning adjusting the church’s rites to reflect local cultures.”

Now you may have noticed that the word “inculturation” doesn’t figure massively in discussions of liturgy in the US. It is used frequently, however, in discussions of the church in the Global South. And when Catholics in Africa and Asia and Latin America use the term, they aren’t just referring to drumming and dancing at Mass. They’re talking about the reconfiguration of Catholicism by their cultures. For an especially compelling example of this,  see From Crisis to Kairos: The Mission of the Church in the Time of HIV/AIDS, Refugees, and Poverty by Nigerian Jesuit theologian A. E. Orobator (Paulines Publications Africa 2005).

The people Father Orobator writes about don’t seem awfully focused on   fidelity to the pope. For them, their faith in Jesus and the Gospel is what enables them to survive and keep their brothers and sisters alive in the face of war, destitution and epidemics. Let’s pray that the profound role the church plays in their survival doesn’t get ruptured anytime soon.


Nothing Changed at Vatican II Dontcha Know!!

March 2, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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Lately, there’s really a lot of talk about Vatican II. You know: the Council of the Catholic Church that took place between 1962 and 1965. Last week I went to hear Father Joseph Komonchak, the great historian of the Council, speak up at Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan. He gave a splendid talk about the Council as event, that is, something that happened that changed the direction of history. This is the argument that underpins the five-volume history of the Council that he edited with Giuseppe Alberigo. Komonchak is a tall, handsome, impressive man. He gave his talk as part of the vespers service at Corpus Christi for the first Sunday of Lent. He and the pastor, Father Raymond Rafferty, were fully vested, and there was a lot of singing and praying and incense. It was a great honor to hear him present an overview of his life’s work.

Now, today, there’s an article in the National Catholic Reporter on-line about the relationship between the Council and the future of the Roman liturgy. Here we learn that the great dispute is between those who say that the Council effected a rupture within Catholic tradition and those who say that it continued it. I note that the word “event” appears nowhere. When I went back to school twenty-five years ago I learned that “either-or” is a thought structure characteristic of the Enlightenment and that serious thinkers had moved on to “both-and” (at the very least). So it’s a little troubling that we are having this either-or fight in 2010.

But what’s really got me going is a talk given by Franc Cardinal Rode, the Vatican Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) at a conference on religious life at Stonehill College in September of 2008. CICLSAL is the body that’s conducting the current visitation of US congregations of Catholic Sisters. I am reading Rode’s talk for a paper I”m writing about the visitations. It doesn’t overstate the case to describe it as an opening shot across the Sisters’  bow. And guess what? A lot of it is about the meaning of Vatican II.

I knew we were in trouble as soon as I read the title of the talk: “Reforming Religious Life with the Right Hermeneutic.” As the NCR article referenced above observes, “hermeneutic” is a scholarly term meaning “frame of interpretation.” It seems that the big fight over Vatican II is focused on which hermeneutic should be used to interpret it.

The thing is, it’s pretty rare in academic settings to hear discussions about the “right” hermeneutic and the “wrong” hermeneutic. (See my comment above about “either-or” / “both-and”.) “Hermeneutics” signals a shift in humanities scholarship from a quasi-scientific, quantitative, right-wrong emphasis to more complex and nuanced readings of whatever is in question. Documents. Events. Cultures. 

So a talk about the “Right” (not even the preferred or the more adequate or the more authoritative) hermeneutic is cause for concern just out of the gate. But then Rode goes on to lay out the very either/or interpretation of Vatican II that the NCR alerts us to. The cardinal claims, quoting Benedict XVI, that some people interpret the Council in terms of discontinuity, or rupture– a complete “Yes to the modern era” (p. 7).  Such a hermeneutics of rupture has dominated the renewal of religious life in recent years (hence the visitations). But the right hermeneutic for interpreting the Council is “continuity and reform,” especially in religious life. Continuity continuity continuity. 

Let’s note a few things about Rode’s argument here. First of all, he never once mentions who these people are who advance this hermeneutics of rupture. Nor, again, does Komonchak’s word, “event,” appear even once, though Komonchak, and the American Jesuit historian John O’Malley, are surely the primary targets of the Cardinal’s attack. Finally, Rode never even hints at the possibility that an event as massive and overdetermined as the Second Vatican Council might involve elements of continuity and elements of change. As when Pope John XXIII, in his opening address, used the famous phrase  a “New Pentecost” to describe the Council. Pentecost: continuity. New: change.

I have  a lot more to say about Cardinal Rode’s talk, but I must stop; I’m way over any reasonable word limit for a blog. Stay tuned.

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