Let A Billion Vatican II Blossoms Bloom

July 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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The following article appeared in current issue of EqualwRites, the newsletter of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference. It was originally titled “The Death of Vatican II,” but given the title of the piece I posted last week, I thought something more upbeat might be in order.

There’s nothing original about arguing that many of the hopes generated by the Second Vatican Council have been dashed. Leonard Swidler speaks of the “devastating disappointment” of the Council. Rembert Weakland observes in his 2009 memoir that the decision not to ordain women meant “the loss of the future.” Indeed, papers recently released by the Catholic moral philosopher Germaine Grisez reveal that even before the end of the Council, Paul VI indicated that he would do what he would do regardless of what the bishops had decided.

All this notwithstanding, recent developments suggest that the Vatican and the US bishops are now intent upon bringing the Vatican II era definitively to a close. These efforts began, I would argue, with the 2002 command that the faithful return to the (literally) medieval practice of kneeling during the canon of the Mass. Even as I regret the sexism of Mark Massa’s The American Catholic Revolution, I agree with his observation that for most US Catholics, Vatican II began with the renewal of the liturgy. I can still see the nun who taught religion at my Catholic girlsʼ high school during Vatican II, Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Marcella Marie Missar, explaining joyously that “we stand during the canon out of respect for the dignity of the human person.” I wish I could believe that we have been ordered to fall to our knees once again to increase our respect for God rather than for the male leaders of the church.

If kneeling during the canon was one step in the Vaticanʼs campaign to bring the Vatican II era to a close, the “new” translation of the Roman Missal is clearly another. That the translation is ugly, wordy, cumbersome and inaccurate is only part of the story.As the once-conservative Benedictine liturgist, Anthony Ruff, argues, another purpose of the Vatican veto of the translation the bishops had already approved was to show the entire community of English-speaking liturgists that their work didnʼt matter. Nor, apparently, do the beliefs of the English-speaking Catholic laity, who took from Vatican II the bizarre notion that they share some kind of equality with the clergy. “And with your spirit” reminds us, however, that the ordained possess a sacred quality the rest of us do not.

Another discouraging effect of the “new” translation is that before it was promulgated, a number of main-line Protestant denominations shared with the English- speaking Catholic Church certain responses and other fixed parts of the liturgy, for example, “And also with you.” Many of us considered these shared liturgical passages a foretaste of the eventual reunion of Christians–a foretaste now eradicated.

Recent doctrinal statements issued by the Vatican and the USCCB manifest another break with Vatican II. Unlike the previous twenty councils of the church, Vatican II defined no doctrines and issued no anathemas. It was a truly pastoral event. Documents like the recent Vatican assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the USCCB condemnation of Elizabeth Johnsonʼs Quest for the Living God show that the men in power are accelerating the new era of anathema begun in 1968. “The joys and hopes, the griefs and sorrows” of the men and women of this age recede precipitously as doctrinal truth becomes, once again, the center of the Catholic faith.

In the face of these attempts to move the church back to the First Vatican Council, and especially the vile CDF attack on the Catholic sisters who embody the faith for many of us, itʼs tempting to give up on the whole sorry business. To decamp to the Unitarian Universalists, or the United Church of Christ, or the Episcopalians, whose stances on women and gays and peace and justice are vastly more inspiring than those of our own church seem to be.

As I argue in a post on Religion Dispatches, however itʼs likely that this is exactly what the Vatican and the USCCB have in mind—to drive out the “Vatican II Catholics” and cut back to what Pope Benedict XVI has called “the church of the little flock,” the smaller, purer Catholic Church that tolerates no dissent, no theological development, no renewal.

In the face of this attempt to eradicate the most powerful manifestation of Vatican II—the people of God—I urge us all, myself included, not to take the bait and give up. Instead, let us continue to identify ourselves as Catholics in whatever ways our consciences allow—as members of parishes where the leadership clearly does not support Vatican repression; as members of small faith communities who ordain their own celebrants or celebrate the eucharist communally; as ordained or lay participants in an RCWP congregation; as members of Independent Catholic churches; as leaders and activists in a wide range of Catholic reform groups like SEPA-WOC and Call to Action and Dignity and Voice of the Faithful. And let us invite younger Catholics, gay and straight and Black and white and Latino and in between to join with us in these efforts.

Letʼs collaborate and speak out and publish and resist the death of Vatican II to which Rome and the bishops seem committed. Let a billion Vatican II blossoms bloom.




Everything that Descends Must Converge: Archbishop Sartain in the News

July 24, 2012 at 8:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Those following the Vatican effort to muzzle the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will recognize the name of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle as the bishop appointed to ride herd on the organization for the next five years. Today, on the New Ways Ministry blog, Francis DeBernardo quotes extensively from a recent article in America magazine about certain bishops overstepping “the boundaries of their tax exempt status” and entering “the world of politics in their zeal for opposing the Health and Human Services mandate on contraception and a marriage equality initiative.” And who is one of two bishops highlighted in the article?

Archbishop Sartain, who “launched a signature drive in every parish of his archdiocese to put Referendum 74 on the statewide ballot. The referendum would repeal Washington’s new same-sex marriage law.” This, as the author, Nicholas Cafardi points out, is called “lobbying.” He used his episcopal office in an attempt to pass legislation.

Cafardi and DeBernardo reflect helpfully on the various implications of Archbishop Sartain’s reckless action, but I would like to add another. Now we know that the person chosen to take control of the leading organization of Catholic Sisters in the United States is intemperate and headlong, willing to risk the non-profit status of a church to which thousands of the poor and sick look for support in their suffering, out of his passion for forcing institutional Catholic sex obsessions on the state of Washington.

Good luck, Sisters.

We Are All Going to Die

July 22, 2012 at 11:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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You may notice that I’ve been AWOL the past few weeks. I’ve been travelling. Six days in Toronto in June, followed by a little rest and then ten days in Berkeley and in Southern California. I intended to keep posting  while I was on the road, but it just didn’t happen. Too much else to deal with, especially my own emotions.

I went to Toronto to visit a dear college friend who is dying of metastatic breast cancer. I managed to fit in some visits with other Toronto friends, by mostly I just talked with and helped my friend, Margaret, while her husband was away at a conference. Since I came home, she has stopped chemotherapy and gone into hospice.

Throughout everyone’s life, people die. My grandfather, “Poppie,” died when I was five. When I was thirty-two, my Grail friend and mentor, Eleanor Walker, died, also of metastatic breast cancer. A few years back, my mother died at the age of ninety-three.

These deaths affected me greatly. I adored my grandfather. But I was five. His death didn’t make me think I was going to die. And Eleanor’s death at the age of fifty-nine was a genuine tragedy; she had been so full of life. But I was thirty-two. Fifty-nine seemed ages away. And while my mother’s death did make me think some about my own mortality, it also made me think that I might live as long as she had, that is, for thirty more years.

Margaret’s death is another matter entirely. You may recall that I turned sixty-five in April. Margaret is two months younger than I am; we celebrated her birthday during my visit. The thought of losing her makes me sick. I was in her wedding. She came down to Philly from Toronto for my father’s funeral. In the 1980s, we met in Venice after a theological meeting she’d attended and rode through the canals in gondolas and talked non-stop for several glorious days. More recently I visited her during her sabbatical at the Ecumenical Institute at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota. When I think about our praying vespers with the monks in the abbey church, I start to cry.

Margaret’s dying forces me think much more concretely about my own death. There’s no way to portray this as some terrible mistake, however painful it is. I am already doing things like not having the faintest idea why I just dashed into the kitchen; when I go back to my office, it comes to me, so then I dash back.  I can’t deny that people my age die, and I will too, before long.

I am trying to slow down and be present to this reality. Those of you who know me realize that this will be no small feat; slowing down is hardly a category in my mind. But I am determined. This means I may be slow to post on my blog sometimes. But perhaps when I do, what I write will be more worth reading.

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