So What Does This Make Me?

May 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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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 suburbs 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?

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Who’s Ruining Your Neighborhood?

October 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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What I love most about Ditmas Park, the neighborhood on the south side of Prospect Park here in Brooklyn where my husband and I live, is the extraordinary richness of the population. I can look out our front window and see the most amazing collection of people walking by: veiled Pakistani women pushing their kids in strollers, young white professionals taking their kids to the playground on the corner, Indian women and girls in saris with their men in white robes, men and women speaking Russian, Caribbean-Americans, people from all over Latin America speaking Spanish (or not), Orthodox Jewish men in yarmulkes and their wives in wigs, lesbian couples holding hands, and mixed-race couples of every conceivable combination. You name it.

One of my favorite among these neighbors is Mardi, as I will call her, the Caribbean-American night shift home health aide for the 102-year-old Jewish woman on the sixth floor who has lived in our building her entire life. Mardi doesn’t have an easy time of it; besides the night shift, she works another job in the daytime, to keep body and soul together. And since she doesn’t have $11,000 sitting around, as I do, when she got her front teeth removed, she got nothing to replace them.

Mardi was coming in the other night as Keith was leaving.

“Do you know who’s ruining the neighborhood?” she asked him. “The homosexuals.”

I was glad she had said this to Keith and not me, because I’d have been tempted to say, “You should tell that to the Jewish families who moved out to Midwood when the West Indians came .”

Which puts me in mind of a conversation I had when, in the mid-1980s, I was living out in Sunset Park, a strongly Latino section of Brooklyn. I told my Puerto Rican hairdresser that I loved the neighborhood, to which he replied,”Too bad you weren’t here before the Dominicans ruined it.”

Which reminds me of a comment made to my mother by the African-American serving woman at the 60th reunion of my mother’s graduating class at Chester High School, in Chester PA. Chester was once a prosperous shipbuilding city on the Delaware River, south of Philadelphia, which went into decline after World War II. This caused the white people (including us) to flee to the suburbs in droves. “You were lucky,” said Mom’s server. “You got here before the Korean’s ruined Chester.”

Which reminds me of the white Anglo-American Protestants who believed, in the middle of the 19th century, that the Irish Catholics fleeing to the US to avoid the Potato Famine were going to destroy American democracy, while at the same time allowing them to kill themselves digging ditches and canals and building the railroads for peanuts.

Which reminds me of the Irish Catholics who opposed the abolition of slavery because they were sure the freed slaves would work for less than they did and take their jobs, which in fact did sometimes happen, though lynching seems an unfortunate way for my ancestors to have dealt with the problem.

Which leads me to this question: Who, besides you, is ruining your neighborhood?

Vatican Welcomes Traditional Anglicans

October 27, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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Well, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent announcement that traditionalist Anglicans–including married priests, bishops (sort of), parishes and dioceses–will soon be welcomed into the Roman Catholic communion is certainly getting a lot of press.  For Ross Douthat, in the October 25  New York Times, “Benedict’s Gambit,” as he calls it, may be geared to a deeper conflict than the presenting intra-Christian one ( sex)–“Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.”

For the British novelist A.N. Wilson, in the Op-Ed section of that same issue of the Times, the Pope’s gambit may be a good thing, despite its conservative motivation. By weakening Anglicanism in Britian, the overture may bring about the demise of the Established Church there,  a “move toward the complete secularization of Britain, and an acceptance of its new multicultural identity.”   

And in response to Bob Abernathy’s question on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly about whether the Vatican is “fishing” for converts here,  John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter  replied that “the Vatican’s line is that even though we didn’t solicit them, when people knock on our door we have a responsibility to open it up.”  If Allen’s personal interpretation of these developments deviates at all from this Vatican “line,” he certainly doesn’t share it in this interview.

I don’t want to waste my time reiterating what these and many other commentators have said about the pope’s “gambit,” but I do want to make two ponts of my own:

The first is that I am deeply ashamed of the actions of the leaders of my church. To my many Episcopal friends and former students, I apologize. Commentators can talk till hell freezes about how none of this was the Vatican’s idea, but it’s hard to deny that the Roman Catholic Church is interfering here in the affairs of another Christian communion at a time when that sister-church is confronting great internal conflict. This I believe is a violation of the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. To suggest that it is somehow the culmination of years of ecumenical dialogue seems to me a travesty.  With this in mind, I look forward to reading soon some analyses of the Vatican’s actions in light of the Vatican II document on ecumenism.

Secondly, that the particular Christians ostensibly to be welcomed into the Roman Catholic Church are Anglicans is of some significance to me.  I am a second generation Irish Catholic; my father’s parents emigrated to the US sometime before the 1916 Easter uprising in part at least to escape English (and Anglican) oppression. (Also poverty, for sure.)

One of the reasons I have remained a Catholic over these many less than easy years is because of my loyalty to Irish Catholicism (and to the working class culture to which that Catholicism was linked for more than a century). As a Catholic women’s ordination activist I am often asked why I don’t just become an Episcopalian; because, I respond, my grandparents would turn over in their graves.

Now, however, it would seem that not just Anglicans, but extremely traditional (misogynist, homophobic) Anglicans are going to be welcomed into the Church to which I and many other Irish American Catholics have remained loyal for a century and a half. So here’s my question: are these guys going to become pastors of Catholic parishes, the ones my ancestors built with their 25-cent-a-week contributions over entire lifetimes , the ones Protestant mobs in Philadelphia tried and is some cases succeeded in burning down in the 1840s because we didn’t want to read the (Anglican) King James Bible in the public schools?

In an article in the National Catholic Reporter,  the optimistic John Allen suggests that this will not be the case.  Instead,  “bishops’ conferences around the world can create personal ordinariates, a special structure that’s tantamount to a non-territorial diocese, to accept Anglicans under the leadership of a former Anglican minister who would be designated a bishop.” Such “personal ordinariates” are “similar to the structures created throughout the world to provide pastoral care for members of the military and their families. The structures are in effect separate dioceses, presided over by a bishop and with their own priests, seminarians, and faithful. They are also similar to “the canonical status of a ‘personal prelature,’ currently held by only one Catholic group: Opus Dei.”

I note, however, that the current bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Nicholas DiMarzio–the one who kept wondering in public, before the 2008 election, how good Catholics could possibly vote for Obama–is a member of Opus Dei. So “personal prelatures” aren’t all that separate. And since some commentators have hypothesized that this move by the Vatican is at least in part an attempt to solve the priest shortage, I guess it all remains to be seen, doesn’t it?

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