Category Archives: Excommunication

28 June, DOMA, Dolan et al

In reaction to SCOTUS on DOMA and Prop 8, Cardinal Dolan, president of the NCCB said, “This is a tragic day for marriage and our nation”. Archbishop Cordileone said, “the future of our democracy is very, very worrisome”. They are company men, and so they have to say things like this. Perhaps they just don’t know any any other way. Their performances strike me as similar to the disciples in this weekend’s Gospel Story who wanted to call down fire upon the folks would wouldn’t treat them as they thought they should be treated. Jesus rebuke them. Hmmm  .  .

If we believe Jesus was serious when he said he would be with us until the end of time, and that the Spirit would teach us to observe everything Jesus taught us, and I do believe this very strongly, then we have to believe that everyone on all sides of these issues is in some way being guided by the Spirit. What we bring to the table is our human condition with all its gifts and limitations. The work of the Spirit is to bring together. The work of human limitations is to drive apart. If we believe the Spirit is involved, then how about we let the Spirit lead us to dialogue.

If any believe they alone have all the answers and so there is nothing they can learn from anybody, there is no possibility of dialogue. Honest and open dialogue means, among other things, respecting others, attributing good will to others, looking for truth in others, and a willingness to listen and learn. It does not mean watering down one’s own beliefs.

Either we believe we are all created in the image and likeness of God, or we don’t. None of us, any person or institution, gets to determine what is or is not a real image of God. For any person or institution to state that their way is the only way for everybody on anything seems to me vacuous and inane, not to mention arrogant. A fundamental basis of Christianity is a relationship with Jesus – an open relationship that leads us to accept Jesus however he comes to us, and doesn’t set conditions on how or in whom we will recognize or accept him. It is dangerous when any religious institution sets itself up as the only way to God, or states that obedience to its rules is more important than a person’s own relationship to God.

No tradition has the right to impose its will or viewpoints on anyone else. As the Jewish Council for Public Affairs said, “We live in a democratic society in which we are all free to express our opinions about social issues and to advocate vigorously for those opinions  .  .  .  No one group and no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic”.

It does not seem to me that there is much difference between the religious leaders of Jesus’ day demanding that he be punished by Rome for not following their religious rules, and the way some religious establishments in our own day are reacting to folks who don’t go along with them. Fortunately Washington didn’t react today as Rome did then. Perhaps managers might leave their fancy clothes, bling, and nice lifestyles and start moving among the folks to find out what life really is like for so many.

Just sayin  .  .  .

June 19, Who do you say I am?

In the Gospel (Luke 9:18-24) Jesus asks, “who do people say I am”, and, “who do you say I am”. There is a difference between what we hear about Jesus from others – our parents, teacher, church – and how we come to know him in our own journey and story. There is a difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone, like the difference between our looking at a map of New York City and our actually walking the streets and meeting the folks. This suggests some questions: whatever our idea of Jesus may be, do we have the right to force it on others; what if the way we come to know Jesus from our time with him in prayer and our walking with him leads us in a direction that a given religious institution might not go along with. This is what got Jesus in trouble.

Especially these days parents are concerned and upset when their children do not have the same religious values as they do. What they often forget is that every one of us at some point on our journey has to make our own choices on many things, one of which is religion. We live in an age when just about everything is open to being questioned, and this is a pretty good thing. Earlier generations might not understand this. God gives us an intellect and expects us to use it. God does not tell us mindlessly to accept everything a given religious tradition has to say. Many religious institutions are, to say the least, self-serving, saying something to the effect that “we alone are right, and everybody else is wrong”, or, “everybody else’s story is a myth, and only ours is true and accurate”. However, rather than hand-ringing or judgmental labeling, there always needs to be room for honest and open dialogue where all sides can learn from each other.

Many folks today see the big disconnect between the stated and operational values of some religious traditions, and they want nothing to do with these institutions. Who is to say they are wrong? If an institution proclaims that it alone has all the answers and therefore cannot possibly learn from anybody else, that is the only way to God, and declares that certain topics cannot even be discussed because authority disapproves and punishes dissent with draconian measures, why would any intelligent person want to be part of it? When a religious institution is perceived to consider formal obedience to its laws and belief in its dogmas as more important than following Jesus on a deeply personal level, folks will look elsewhere, as, indeed, is happening on our days. As Pope Francis has said, the church cannot continue to be “self-referential”, judging folks as to whether or not they meet the church’s standards. The role of the church is instead to live the gospel with everyone everywhere, and not demand that others live by its standards or else.

At some point on our journey we have to let go of what others have told us and move ahead on our journey with Jesus. It might just happen that we return to the ideas we have learned from others, and come to see them not just as dogmas, but as matters of our own experience. We come to know that these ideas, etc, are good as far as they go, but they go nowhere near to the reality that we call God. There is always the danger that for some, believing the “right things” about Jesus might become more important than believing and trusting in him.

Then there is the question of what happens when folks are sincere in their efforts to live in a relationship of open trust in Jesus as they have come to know him, and find they are moving in a direction that is putting them at odds with religious systems and institutions. Who can say they are not truly following Jesus as they are coming to know him? Are folks in favor of marriage equality wrong because their position is not the same as a given institution’s teaching? What about folks and communities who, in the setting of their own journey with Jesus, are trying to live the gospel with folks whose sexual orientation and lifestyle are not approved by some religious institutions? Are folks who favor the ordination of women not being true to Jesus because their position does not fall in line with a given religious institution’s teaching? Are the priests who are in favor of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative (also know as the “Disobedient Priests”) untrue to Jesus as they have come to know him because a given religious institution believes otherwise? Are theologians, and others who have been silenced for their opinions, departing from Jesus because their prayer and study on their journey has led them to conclusions that a given religious institution does not approve of? Are folks whose journey leads them to work actively for optional celibacy and allowing persons whose marital status is “irregular” to share fully in the sacraments wrong because their position is not that of some religious institutions? Is a parish community who, having been shuttered by a local bishop, moves ahead and their journey with Jesus and forms their own liturgy centered and ministerial community wrong because they are not knuckling under to a bishop’s threats and intimidations?

Who among us can say with absolute certitude that someone is not journeying with Jesus? Pope Francis reminds us not to do that, but to live the gospel with everybody, whether or not they share our views on whatever. None of us has all the answers. None of us knows anyone else’s story or journey. Most of us have enough trouble with our own. Pope Francis, and Pope Benedict before him, says our main responsibility is to live in a relationship with Jesus that leads us to be open to however and in whomever he chooses to come to us, and beg the courage to do what we have to so we can truly live the gospel with them, not cram our interpretation of the gospel down their throat. Pope Francis: “All the outskirts, all the intersections of paths: go there. And there sow the seed of the Gospel by word and by witness.This is a big responsibility and we must ask the Lord for the grace of generosity and the courage and the patience to go out, to go out and proclaim the Gospel.”

Jesus aso says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. Which is probaly what we will find from some religious institutions if one’s journey with Jesus differs from the established standards. After all, this is what happened to him.

Just sayin . . .

May 13, Ordination Thoughts

Recently a local friend told me of her upcoming ordination to deacon in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, as well as her ordination to priesthood next year. She asked me for any words of encouragement or advice. She, and all other women who follow their conscience believing they are responding to Jesus’ call, believe they are and remain christian and catholic. Who is to say they are anything else? The Roman version of christianity will declare her to be excommunicated. While this threatened sanction has nowhere near the impact it once had, it is still something to be reckoned with, either by knuckling under or by standing courageously in truth to one’s conscience.

What can I possibly say to her in the face of her profound personal courage? I feel humbled even to be in her presence. I have been a priest for a few years, but, then, I am of the accepted gender, while she is not. The accepted gender has been determined solely by others of the same gender, who claim to be acting “after the example of Christ, and at his command”*. Other than the minions of the accepted gender’s managers, few folks these days believe the institution’s stated excuses for not allowing women to be ordained. Yet, with the emotional investment of the institution and its religious police, taking such a step is an act of courageous faith.

Her choosing to be ordained, based on her belief that Jesus is calling her to be a priest, is proclaimed by the institution to be a “grave delict”, a serious sin. In my opinion, a sin against God, no. A sin against the institution’s efforts to preserve its male oriented power and influence, yes. Since the institution’s managers claim to be the only ones who can speak or act in the name of Jesus, any challenge to their prerogative is a challenge to God. And so they would claim that this courageous woman, and others who walk with her, is a challenge to God.

I think she is following Jesus’ words to us that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross every day and follow me”.  She, and other such priests before her, display courage, no doubt of that. She will be subject to threats, name-calling, vitriol, and undoubtedly “christ-like paternal concern” from management. She has a tough road ahead of her, made even more difficult by those claiming to be acting in Jesus’ name, doing things and having attitudes that Jesus didn’t have or do. The “Catholic Taliban” is alive and well.

She has a solid prayer life, no doubt of that. She will need it on her journey. She will have the support of a Eucharistic Community, even though institutional management will vehemently deny folks who support and agree with her the right to use these words. But the Eucharistic Reality will still surround them. When Jesus said “wherever two or more gather in my name I am with them” he didn’t say anything about getting anybody’s permission or authorization, what words to use or clothes to wear.

I wish her courageous firmness, and perhaps a bit humility, on her journey. She will need it. Jesus’ followers are not always the kindest or most charitable folks. She will learn as she celebrates Eucharist the power and reality of Jesus’ words – all of them. Hopefully she will come to “recognize and know what she does, and imitate what she handles”**. Perhaps she will come to recognize Jesus present in the most unexpected folks, relationships, and situations, and realize that grace has brought her to where she is needed, and grace is always powerfully real.

Ultimately she may come to realize it is not about her, her call, or her response. It is about her living in a prayerful and practical relationship with Jesus that leads her to be open to however he calls her. Perhaps she will learn continually to beg the courage to do whatever he calls her to do. Undoubtedly she will beg the grace not only to love whomever Jesus brings into her life, but to care, really care for and about, too.

*from Eucharistic Prayer IV for Various Occasions.

** paraphrase of the ordination rite.

Just sayin   .   .   .

6 March 2013, Excommunication- Part Deux

The Q&A part of the Bishops’ letter states excommunication is the Church’s way of saying a person has done something that harms the Church and also harms the person’s relationship with God. In threatening people who disagree in some way with the Church the phrase is often used that they are putting their immortal soul at risk. I don’t buy that. The Roman Catholic Church is not the only way to a relationship with God, with Jesus. A given action might damage a person’s relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, but that is not the same as damaging their relationship with God. Being in trouble with the RC Church is not the same as being in trouble with God. There are some wonderful folks who are in trouble with the RC Church, yet who are in a solid relationship with God and who are doing their best to respond to what they believe is God’s call to them. Can anybody absolutely say they are wrong? God and the RC Church are not co-terminus. I am not sure that the hierarchy have anything to do with anyone’s immortal soul other than their own. Jesus criticized the religious authorities of his day with saying pretty much the same thing – that their way was the only way to God for everybody always. I have served with many folks of many and no traditions who were good folks. Who is to say that they were not in a solid relationship with God, as they understand God, or with the good, as they understand it?

Can anyone say with absolute certainty that the priest in question is not in a real relationship with God, with Jesus, and doing what his prayer journey is calling him to do, that he is not in some way a prophet speaking out on the injustices and inequities in todays RC Church? Most of his critics, knowing very little about the practicalities of priesthood, find him to be wrong simply because he is not conducting his life as they believe he should, armchair quarterbacks who have no special insight into his prayer life or his journey. The words of Teddy Roosevelt come to mind here: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I am not sure that the promise of obedience made by priests at ordination is one of absolute or blind obedience. To me it is a mature attitude of listening to the Holy Spirit in the setting of what is going on in our life at any given time, prayerfully examining all courses of action available to us,. In many ways blindly following the dictates of a one’s bishop is easier than following the call of one’s conscience, especially if one believes the Holy Spirit is calling them to walk a difficult and lonely path. It might have something to do with taking up one’s cross everyday and following Someone.

The priest’s community has some discerning to do. As they have in the past, they will probably do their best to be open to the Holy Spirit. The fruits of their collective prayer life are obvious in their community’s ministries. Again, those with only a theoretical understanding will be quick to judge and declare solutions. They do not know the stories and journeys of the community’s folks as individuals and families, or of the community itself, yet they have the answers. I believe it is essential to posit good will for everyone involved on all sides of this issue. Self-righteous finger-pointing and judging do nobody any good. The important thing is for all of us to help each other heal the pain.

Benedict XVI tweeted that the way to follow Jesus is to “have a prayerful relationship with Jesus, listen to what he says to us in the Gospels, and look for him in the needy folks around us”. He also said that “Loving the church also means having the courage to make tough choices, suffering, having always before you the good of the church and not yourself”. He didn’t say anything about telling others that they have to live by our standards. His words are worthwhile for all of us on all sides of these issues.

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is involved in all this. I do not claim to know just She is involved, nor do I claim to have any answers for anyone. I have enough trouble trying to figure out what I am supposed to do. The Holy Spirit has very good OPSEC (operational security, keeping Her plans secret).

This is both a disturbing and an exciting time for our diocese, and for the RC Church, but not pleasant by any means.

Just sayin   .   .   .


6 March 2013, Thoughts on Excommunication

Yesterday’s announcement by the Bishop is a disturbing event in our diocese. Probably it will lead to self-righteous judging and polarization on all sides, always, of course, in the name of Jesus. There is a lot of pain.

The Bishop cannot be happy with the position he as taken. He is a good man with a pastoral sense who, I believe, cares deeply about the excommunicated priest and the so-called breakaway community. He has taken the only position he believes canon law allows. This whole process cannot have been easy or joyful for him.

There has to be pain also for the priest and the community — good people all who have been trying to do what they believe is they only thing they can. Their community in many ways reflects what parishes are looking to be — quality liturgies, educational opportunities, community ministry involvement. The priest is prayerful, well-educated, liturgically gifted, and also pastoral. No doubt all are suffering from the way their home parish was closed, and are dealing with their pain as best they can.

There are any number of theories about how we got into this mess, most of them involving finger-pointing of some sort. But that is the past, and the past cannot be undone. How we got here is not as important as what we do now that we are here. In the annals of international diplomacy there are numerous stories about dangerous issues being resolved by “underlings” from different sides of issues who get together and talk about things when their principals could not. The story is told about a potentially world-ending situation being worked out by a low level functionary of the White House meeting with a low-level functionary of the pertinent embassy getting together in a Georgetown bar just talking and relaying ideas back to their principals. When folks get on stage with a public position there is rarely any wiggle room, and nothing can get done. Its a bit like two branches of our government these day, each pointing fingers at the other while everyone suffers. Some things are best discussed in privacy and confidentially by folks who do not have an emotional investment.

No doubt there have been missteps on all sides. But who is to say that all involved in this mess are not following the Holy Spirit as they see her in their own prayer? All the people involved in this are good people, perhaps so involved and entrenched in their own positions as to be unable to see the good in the other side. This is just part of human nature. But finger pointing doesn’t work. In many ways the Holy Spirit is process, one that has been described as the ongoing revelation of the Trinity.

Perhaps we might learn from some of the studies of war and PTSD. Pain is a terrible thing, both for individual folks and for institutions. It has to be dealt with, and it will be dealt with one way or another. It is better if persons in pain deal with their pain on their terms rather than on the pain’s terms. If it is not dealt with, the pain will arise with a vengeance when we are not ready for it, and it is devastating. Without pointing fingers, it might be that this is some of what is happening here. Perhaps collectively our diocese is going through its own form of PTSD. Pastors who have watched their parishes being closed have experienced pain, and I would guess that many of them have not gotten the needed help, so they have hidden their pain and moved on. The same can be said, in my opinion, about many congregations, including the community at the center of all this. Maybe not. I don’t know, but it looks that way to me.

The Bishop has stated publicly that he wants to repair what is seen as damaged relationships with the priests of the diocese. He seems to be trying, and there is anecdotal evidence that things are getting better. I believe we all want to see him succeed. He has had a tough time here. But every once in a while something happens that causes wonder. Rightly or wrongly, because of his previous track record with us, anything he says or does is met by many of us with skepticism and mistrust. Morale among priests is not all that good.

We priests also want to see things get better for our diocese and our Bishop. Yet there are many who are afraid to say what we really think and feel. Many are still stung by the previous years of our Bishop’s tenure. Some issues are the “arbitrary” and “unilateral” movement of the priests’ retirement age from 70-75. Many priests are wondering if they will live long enough to enjoy their retirement. Some priests are hesitant to express their thoughts because of the reprisals they fear the Bishop will take against them. Maybe this fear is justified, maybe it isn’t.  It points out the underlying current in our diocese. The atmosphere of fear among priests is real, subtle, unnerving, and debilitating. Many are just not happy. As some say, “it’s just not fun anymore”. It is not fair to judge any of them. It would be nice if more of us would express publicly what we say privately.

Perhaps our current situation might provide some hints as to where the Holy Spirit is calling all of us. In the interests of full disclosure, I believe Jesus meant it when he said, “I am with you always, even to the end of time”, and “the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you”. I believe he was speaking not only of the universal church, but also of local churches, of our local church today.

Just sayin   .  .   .