Archive for the ‘Church & Culture’ Category

When Israel becomes a religion

July 31, 2014



We do ourselves irreparable harm when we make Israel our surrogate synagogue.
Alexander Schindler , former leader of American Reform Jewry

The task of the historian is to allow the voices of the suffering to be heard, particularly by their children, who while venerating their oppressed ancestors, tend to ignore their cries by persecuting others…empowerment is possible but those who are empowered must bear in mind that solidarity with those suffering in the present is the only link with suffering in the past.
Marc Ellis, Jewish theologian

The Presbyterian Church in the USA at its general assembly in Detroit voted to divest from three companies doing business in the illegal occupied territories.

Before the vote the Nobelist South African prophet Desmond Tutu sent an open letter to the assembly

The sustainability of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people has always been dependent on its ability to deliver justice to the Palestinians. I know firsthand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed.

The Moderator of the Church Heath Rada stated that the vote that “in no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Predictably American Jewish organizations went ballistic as they did four years earlier when their full court press scared the church into pulling the BDS motion. Four years later however as one of the commissioners said, “we know more of what is really going on in the west Bank.”

One understands that all churches tread very softly when Israel is concerned so they worked hard on the issue and narrowly passed the motion.

And again the message from the Anti Defamation League: “This is a painful message to American Jews.”

No doubt but it would be a painful message I would have to to deliver to my alcoholic brother (if I had one). ”Look, bro, this has to stop. Your behaviour is destructive.” Is this love or hate?
Yet the canards keep coming. According to New York-based American Jewish Committee the measure was “driven by hatred of Israel.”

This has been a longtime, tired tactic. Label any critic of Israel an antisemite. The purpose of course is to silence principled criticism. The shocker was that 1,700 putative leaders of Reform Judaism signed an open letter which opposed the resolution. This is the sad state that Reform Judaism has come to—apologizing and justifying the expansionist and colonialist policies of Israel, its patent injustice over decades to another people on the land which wad stolen from them. Dispossession and humiliation, the daily portion for Palestinians. These rabbis all know the admonition from Torah “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof—Justice, Justice you shall pursue. Deut 16:20.

Are they that deaf and blind? Are they actually justifying the flaunting of international law and the ethnocentric oppression of one people over another. Has Jewish nationalism trumped the universal cry for justice?

For decades Zionists have been exploiting Christian guilt over Jewish persecution over the centuries. Less and less is this effective. The issue simply is the massive abuse of human rights
Are these religious leaders actually conflating Zionism with Judaism? Zionism was a colonialist ideology. Judaism is a great world religion with high ethical ideals, a rich history of justice rapidly being suborned by blind adherence to the terrible policies of a secular state.

The problem of course is not simply that of Judaism. The neoconservative movement of the last 40 years has had a deleterious effect on Catholicism and Christianity. In due time i will deal with this but our focus here is shock at the loss of prophecy in the Jewish community.

In 1982, the New Jewish Agenda (NJA) was a counterpoint to religious neoconservatism among jews.

The NJA stated at that time” Our history and tradition inspire us. Jewish teachings can address the social, economic and political issues of our time. Many of us find our inspiration in our people’s historical resistance to oppression and from the Jewish presence at the forefront of movements for social change. Many of us base our convictions on the religious concept of tikkun olam(the just ordering of human society and the world) and the prophetic tradition of social justice….Survival is only a precondition of Jewish life, not its purpose .Our agenda must be determined by our ethics not our enemies.

Oz ve Shalom was founded in 1975 was formed to counteract the blasphemous misinterpretation of religious texts by the settlers.It was a valiant attempt to bring Jewish citizens back from ethnocentricity and chauvinism. In 1982 Oz ve Shalom in an editorial summed up the choice for Jews in Israel

A Jewish state governed by Biblical values or a garrison state characterized by chauvinism, institutionalized injustice and xenophobia.
A democratic society flourishing within small borders in which Arab minority enjoys full human dignity and civil rights

All of Eretz Israel at the price of repressing the political freedom over 1 million Palestinian Arabs.
And here we are today in a state of lamentable incomprehension as 1,700 rabbis seemingly are turning their backs on their prophetic tradition.

The oldest sin in scripture is idolatry and as I have stated before idolatry is not exclusive to vast segments of the Jewish community here and In israel where the state seemingly has massive support for this sickening massacre. Capitalism, security and uber patriotism can become idols anywhere .The only response to this that of Jesus and the prophets—atheism to these false gods



Often we know that the prophetic is carried outside organized religion. In the case of the Presbyterian assembly what tipped the scales was the presence of mainly young secular Jews who bore shirts with the slogan ‘Another Jew Supporting Divestment.’ Many of them were with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

Religious or not they have internalized the fact that Palestinian people have been deeply wronged in the creation of Israel and are suffering terribly under an unjust occupation.

George Bush to the Hague

June 12, 2014



The American occupation, however, has made this internal and external violence worse. The Americans destroyed the remnants of our culture, banished those among us who were struggling to create a space to think, to help us use our imaginations, to transform our society peacefully. Even under the dictatorship we had some semblance of a civic life. It was not perfect, but people were learning.
from The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq, by Hassan Blasim,
Richard Clarke, the USA’s top counterterrorism official under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, accused Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney of committing war crimes in their 2003 invasion of Iraq . Clarke, resigned in 2003 after the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq.


George Bush whose “favourite philosopher is Jesus Christ.”
The most effective Catholic in the United States, Michael Moore, a layman who wore the prophetic mantle while so many bishops wore the stars and stripes, almost wept when the Iraq city of Mosul fell. He wrote on Facebook
So today, Mosul fell. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq. The Iraqi government we “installed,” has now “lost” Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul and other large swaths of the country we invaded at the cost of thousands of American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives and a couple trillion dollars. (What could your school district do with a trillion dollars?).
One more maddening day in this 11-year illegal, immoral, greedy and stupid war. Today in Mosul, that Iraqi Army YOU pay for, freaked out, threw down their guns, and literally RAN away. I have friends and acquaintances who lost sons in all three of those cities. I can only imagine what they’re feeling tonight. FOR WHAT? FOR WHAT! I am so sorry we couldn’t do anything to stop this when it started. A few million of us tried. Last week, Richard Clarke, Bush’s former head of counter-terrorism, said he now believes that his fellow members of the Bush administration committed “war crimes.”
I continue to await the perp walk.”

Moore suffered so much abuse in the Bush era for his powerful antiwar message,He should have been made a papal knight for his extraordinary courage


Imagine being flailed by those sunshine patriot Republican Catholics for daring to put the Sermon on the Mount into practice.


The church below the church

May 26, 2014


Miguel Cifuentes, presente!

It was a female Mexican theologian who told the story about walking in the shadow of the cathedral in her town when her granddaughter asked her if that church was their church. “No,” she said, “We belong to the church below the church.”
That was the congregation which met to say goodbye to Miguel who had escaped the death squads in Guatemala and landed in Toronto where he met and married Trish a Catholic teacher who had a similar liberationist  worldview. Over the years Miguel continued his work in the union movement with those on the margins of Canadian life. The union UNITE  represented many lowly paid hotel workers and every year they were a big part of the Labour Day parade.
At  one time Labour was close to the heart of the institutional church. We cobbled  a strong social teaching based on the dignity of the working person. Leo Xlll driven by the Marxian critique of exploitative capital  finally jumped into the fray in 1891 with his encyclical Rerum Novarum
“Wealthy owners of the means of production and employers must never forget that both divine and human law forbid them to squeeze the poor and wretched for the sake of gain or to profit from the helplessness of others.” (#17
The  US bishops in 1940 wrote: “A wage so low that it must be supplemented by the wage of wife and mother or by the children of the family before it can provide adequate food, clothing, and shelter together with essential spiritual and cultural needs cannot be regarded as a living wage. Furthermore, a living wage means sufficient income to meet not merely the present necessities of life but those of unemployment, sickness, death, and old age as well.
John XXlll in his encyclical Mater et Magistra (1961) continued:
We therefore consider it our duty to reaffirm that the remuneration of work is not something that can be left to the laws of the marketplace; nor should it be a decision left to the will of the more powerful.
John Paul ll’s powerful encyclical Laborem Exercens (1981) ratified these sentiments.
The right to unionize and collectively bargain was vigorously promoted by the Church and this created stable communities and secure families based on living wages. Sadly the last 30 years have seen market fundamentalism and movable capital shred organic communities and facilitated a race to the bottom.  “Labour priests” began to disappear. Ordinands in these  new religious orders knew nothing about this tradition.
Miguel gave his life in resistance to the ongoing degradation of labour. In the “most religious country of all” the USA minimum wage laws are scandalous. 
What is the point of all this?
All too often unions and working people in the last decades have not seen the institutional church dramatically raise its voice on behalf of labour.  “Pro life” never seems to extend beyond the fetal stage. The actual lives of of working people  were left to the church below the church. These  were the people who march in solidarity in  the Labour Day parade and these were the people at Miguel’s funeral.




Justin Trudeau, Cardinal Collins and pro life

May 17, 2014



The Toronto cardinal Thomas Collins wrote Liberal leader Justin Trudeau about his proscribing all future Liberal candidates if they were not “pro choice’, now the official party’s platform. Most people regard Trudeau’s policy as foolish and alienating. Collins is not the only one shaking his head. For many the “right to life” position is a strong conscience one. Life is sacred and it begins at conception. This is one Catholic position but it is not the Catholic position.


The stance on abortion has never been absolutist. Two of the giants of Catholic theology  saints Augustine and  Thomas Aquinas stated that  the early fetus  had the moral status of a plant or vegetable. It took months before the fetus was ‘ensouled’ and thus a person. “Six weeks for a male embryo and three for a female” stated Aquinas.If the great Doctor knew modern embryology would this ensoulment be the last trimester? Questions, questions.


No to any abortion is the province of the radical religious right. To most Catholic moralists, there must be nuance here. Bishops are not the sole source of Catholic truth. Theologians and the sensus fidelium, the lived wisdom of the Catholic people including women who have faced this choice—must be heard from. They are part of the teaching church. This is why the absolutist position has never been proclaimed de fide. There are many non-frivolous reasons why women chose abortion. This may be  lamented but is it always immoral? And what about the Catholic insistence on the primacy of conscience? This  is a very complex issue. And the Catholic position is much richer than the absolutist  stance Ubi dubium,ibi libertas—where there is  doubt there is freedom is an ancient truism.


Most people want to see abortions reduced. One way of course is by effective contraception but we  all know where too many male bishops stand on that one. They would not be bishops under John Paul ll. So we have absolutist bishops condemning contraception. Is there something they are missing? Will bishops have to bear unwanted children? Care for those children if conceived ? Do they want to  send women into depression and mental illness? Priests, bishops and theologians are mostly men. Is there any serious listening to those who will bear the brunt bear of rearing children? Does a fertilized egg trump a woman’s experience? Are we dealing with a whiff of sexism in the Roman church? Should  men control women’s reproductive rights?After the massive sex abuse scandal maybe we should look twice at priests’ obsession with the issue of abortion.


Cardinal Collins was on rocky ground when he waded into Pope Francis territory. He told Trudeau the pope could not become a Liberal politician if he had come to Canada. Collins would be  one bishop Pope Francis referred to  for focusing too much on gays, abortion and contraception. We recall Francis saying saying the church has become  “obsessed” with those issues to the detriment of its larger mission to be “home for all.” Collins previously tried to pressure Catholic  schools into proscribing gay and lesbian clubs. He was rebuffed by the teacher union whose membership was much closer to kids in Catholic schools. The teachers made the decision, not the bishop.

The cardinal’s letter chiding Trudeau was appropriate. Slipping Pope Francis into the conversation was a two edged sword. Should Catholics now abandon the Liberal Party? Where will they go? All parties are de facto “pro choice.’  Is there a hidden agenda here? Collins is known to be close to Tory cabinet minister Jason Kenny having invited him to a national bishops’ meeting. Will Catholic voters migrate to the Tories whose policies  on poverty, the environment, and the common good are as far away from Catholic social teaching as you can get. Who knows?


Collins is always front and centre at “pro life” rallies. Fair enough but he is never seen at pro life rallies for the  earth and its threatened climate.  Is this not a pro life issue? Abortion  will never  be settled at the ballot box. Canadians are stale mated here On the other hand Canadian Catholics need to raise their voices on climate justice, the major moral issue of our time. The institutional church and religious leaders like Cardinal Collins seemingly have no pastoral plan to combat the ongoing degradation of the earth. Bishops are never seen at climate justice  rallies.They need to heed the brilliant nun Sr.Elizabeth Johnson who names the present situation: “Christian churches often choose not to face this calamity with the energy they spend on other matters. It’s as though the planet were undergoing its agony in the garden, and we, the disciples of Jesus, are curled up fast asleep.”


Wide awake on abortion, fast asleep on climate justice, a recipe for irrelevance. A failure of episcopal leadership.

Papal saint making

April 28, 2014




In a marvelous sleight of hand on Sunday Pope Francis canonized two recent popes, John Paul l and John XXlll,

Much to the chagrin of those in the Curia, he waived the necessary “second miracle” and brought the great John XXlll into the vaunted company of the saints.

Nothing the Curia could do as the pope has total control of saint making.

The putative ‘miracles” are an embarrassment anyway. Who can tell what constitutes real healing ?That doctors can’t explain it means nothing as there is much the medical community does not know about disease and wellness.

The problem is what kind of a God answers some prayers and not others? A bit arbitrary as Pope Francis knew as he ushered Angelo Rocalli into “sainthood.”. And two year old babies still die of cancer. Did their loved ones not pray enough. The question is absurd. Nevertheless the double play was a brilliant stroke as many Catholic commentators pointed out.


They figured Francis was cornered after Pope benedict rushed his former boss onto the fast track. As much papal politics as anything. The thinking is the canonization would de facto bless his whole pontificate and his attempt to turn the reforms of Vatican ll back


Many in the curia never welcomed Vatican ll,”the greatest change in Catholic thinking” ever according to the great apartheid fighter the late Durban archbishop Denis Hurley.

John’s pontificate lasted but five years but he changed the sclerotic Catholic church forever and now Pope Francis has stated that there is no going back on the great council.


JP ll was a global superstar and quite good on human rights and a trenchant critic of consumerism.

Sadly “ad intra”, that is inside the Church he was not a good pope.This very good man had may great flaws not the least was raising so many Yes man to the head of major Catholic Sees thus stalling the necessary reforms of Vatican ll. He created a monoculture which hindered the evolution of Catholic moral teaching and he attempted to impose a one size fits all template on the whole Church.

The great Chicago theologian David Tracy predicted that it wouldn’t work and it hasn’t.The Church in Poland had been frozen in time, authoritarian in nature(as some would argue it had to be next to the communist behemoth) but this model was hardly a model for an increasingly educated lay Church. The result was massive defections in the educated Catholic world. His attempts to ban female ordination forever, almost declaring it de fide, central to faith was embarrassing.The theology which attempted to justify this exclusion was intellectually barren and an insult to the rich Catholic tradition which honours the role of the spirit and the “signs of the times.” In Pope John XXlll’s final encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) he flagged this sign as one that needed serious attention.

Secondly, the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture. Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.

This glaring sign of the time, an authentic irruption of the Spirit in history was ignored by subsequent popes.It has come to haunt the institutional church and render it gulty of sexism in the eyes of a majority of believers.

But his greatest weakness so devastatingly portrayed in Maureen Dowd’s NYT column of April 27 was his presiding over the greatest scandal in modern church history,the pedophilia crisis. More on this tomorrow.

Dan Heap, presente!

April 26, 2014


Dan Heap “on the march”.

They threw away the mold when Dan Heap left this earth on Friday. I do not expect to meet his likes again—as a politician or clergyman.


Imagine an Anglican priest picketing his own church for its failure to speak on the horrific genocide in the USA assault on Vietnam—over 2 million innocents killed. That was Dan in 1966. That was the first time i heard about Dan Heap.


Holy feces, Batman there are clergy like this?


Dan opened up new vistas on the gospel of peace and in my own city.


I first met him in the 70s when as a city councillor he was supporting Caesar Chavez. I called off basketball practice and took the team to City Hall for a rally on behalf of the California Grape pickers, I told him how much I appreciated his steadfast moral compass.


Then I learned that in the 60s as an Anglican priest he had. worked for 18 years in a paper box factory. He thought it a good way to show solidarity with workers and support the union movement.


Now we can’t even get Catholic priests or bishops to walk in the Labour day parade. But I digress.


Dan was intense, not a great speaker but his flame burned brightly for just causes—peace, immigration, poverty—he was always there working for the common good. people instinctively knew he was the real thing. Along the way he mentored people like Olivia Chow and the late Dan Leckie.


In 1982 in what was considered a safe Liberal seat Dan knocked off the Trudeau secretary Jim Coutts in the Spadina riding and spent 12 years in parliament.


Once i got him out of bed when the Feds tried to keep the valiant peacemaker Phil Berrigan out of Canada. One phone  call from Dan and Phil was let go.


After his years in Parliament he just kept on keeping on, always worshipping at Holy Trinity Anglican church next to our shrine to consumer excess, the Eaton Centre.


In 2006 Dan was going into the dark with Alzheimers and I happily attended his last eucharist as a clergyman.

One could never talk about Dan without mentioning in the same breath his amazing wife Alice who died in 2012.

They were a formidable justice couple.



How blessed to have such models in my own city.

The Mob and Good Friday

April 17, 2014



The Mob is an agent of crucifixion. We see the mob in Jerusalem screaming “Crucify him and give us Barabbas” The Mob is always with us today usually as an uninformed voice screaming for vengeance, personal gain over public good.No taxes, it screams in Rob Ford’s Toronto.It never links taxes with livable cities and social cohesion

These voices have grown exponentially with the rise of the internet,a notorious anarchic place for uninformed opinion. Often these voices are faceless and anonymous, silent in the wake of human suffering, voluble in the promotion of private goods over public squalor, often racist and sexist as well.

The Mob is the bystanders who do nothing to advance redemption. It sits out history’s great drama and brays just as it did in the time of Jesus. This is the mob today.


St. James

April 14, 2014



As we know (a known unknown) from the New Testament, Jesus reveals his true nature when he appears before 3 of his most beloved disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. This inner circle, composed of Peter, James and John, have been venerated for 2000 years as the most prominent of the sainted 12 apostles.


And now taking a cue from medieval Christian memory and typography, Canada has after 20 years at last perfected its own secular version of the canonization process. For years, the Liberals had exclusive celebration rights with the early sainthood of the sometimes difficult but much admired, St.Pierre. And then the NDP realized an opportunity to elevate their own much “beloved” St. Jack. This, of course, left the PC’s holding the halo, so to speak. But not to be outdone and with an untimely death of their man coming like a bolt out of the blue, the PC’s at last make their “santo subito” contribution to the Canadian  sainthood trifecta with the recent glorification of St. James.

How strangely embedded is the deep human need for cultic mythology! One wonders if this Is this the flip side of our newly minted medieval re-imaging of Canada’s soldiers as “warriors” after our participation in Bush’s “crusade?”



Next up…St. Stephen?

Go figure…


The Venerable Bob is an esteemed member of CRAIC

Crazy like Jesus

February 26, 2014

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:21

That crazy 84 year old nun Megan Rice is at it again.


Three years in the jug for breaking into a nuclear weapons complex and defacing a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium in Oakridge, Tennessee.

In her closing statement, Rice asked the judge to sentence her to life in prison, even though sentencing guidelines called for about six years.

“Please have no leniency with me,” she said. “To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift you could give me.”

Megan is the best the Catholic church offers and as Pope francis, she has the smell of the sheep on her, a stench which few of the boys in purple can claim.

her story is illuminating.

Born to privilege in Manhattan, a doctor father and an amazing mother who did her PHd on Catholic views on slavery. They were “Catholic Worker” catholics who counted Dorothy Day among their friends.

At 18 Megan entered the sisters of the Holy Child and gained a Masters degree in cellular biology. She t taught in Ghana and Nigeria from 1962 to 2004. It is  here where I met Megan—well kind of. She told me that she was a big fan of our paper the Catholic New Times which reached the sisters in Africa. All this she related to me when my wife and I visited her in her humble office in Las Vegas located located on the Las Vegas Catholic Worker’s Bartlett Avenue property. There were no slot machines visible to our eyes.  For many years Megan has been part of the Nevada Desert Experience ( whose mandate is  “to stop testing, development and use of nuclear and other weapons systems through a campaign of prayer, education, dialogue, and nonviolent direct action.”

Each year the center leads a prayerful expedition into the heart of darkness at the infamous Nevada Test Site, the very spot the nuclear age was spawned.

Megan Rice has been arrested  over 35 times for her witness to the nonviolent Jesus. She  spoke an obvious truth to power:

“The U.S. government is spending too much money on weapons and the military.” What an understatement! She told the judge about the many letters of support she had received, including one from youth in Afghanistan.

“This is the next generation and it is for these people that we’re willing to give our lives,” she said.

Her deep belief is profoundly Catholic : “nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace so desperately needed throughout the world and therefore cannot be justified.”

Sr. Mary Ann Buckley, head of the American Province of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus supported Sr. Rice.

“Our Society has a history of standing up for those in need,” Sr. Buckley added. “We are dedicated to helping women, children and families by providing educational, spiritual and social programs across four continents and throughout the United States. We intend to stand by Sister Megan and our Church’s clear teaching against nuclear proliferation as the current situation is resolved.

Maybe Rome and the American bishops could “stand by” such a witness.

Pete Seeger: the tall and the small

January 30, 2014


I looked at Pete, the first black president of the United States was seated to his right, and I thought of the incredible journey that Pete had taken. ..At some point, he decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends. It was like, “Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man! 

Bruce Springsteen  on Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday in 2009

Disagreement with the magisterium may render an important service to the Church, helping it to respond to the signs of the times in light of the Catholic faith…This may be a duty of conscience.” 

Gregory Baum

Pete Seeger died yesterday, a man beloved by most. He lived a long and principled life with music as his nonviolent weapon. I met Seeger about a decade ago when the film about his manager Harold Leventhal (Isn’t This a Time) was  shown at the old Downtown Loews. The remaining Weavers sang a few songs and there was a party later at the Royal York. I happened to be walking in with my friend Canadian jazz singer Don Francks when I literally bumped into the American legend. In retrospect I was shocked at how tall he was and  recalling that impression today about his physical size, I ruminated that he really did stand tall in his long commitment to justice and the common good. Pete  also paid a price he paid for his truth telling (The Weavers were blackballed in 50s  as part of the McCarthy scare). This set me thinking about all the “small” men in the last 35 years of Catholic reaction.

Here I am thinking of clergy and right wing bloviators who fit  the description  in W H Auden’s Unknown Citizen:

Our researchers into Public Opinion are content

That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year;

When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.

No need to name them here but they were the ones who ascended in last 2 pontificates, who tailored their views to the forces of reaction. They were in vogue, on the telly and in the paper genuflecting to local bishops whose careers were rewarded for following the leader in Rome.

The last three decades were not a great time for the Catholic Church. The earth-shaking  Council created an equal reaction. It was simply Newton’s second law, pure physics. The reaction was led  by the Polish pope whose national church had been frozen in time next to the communist monolith. For historical reasons  Poland had not had its  Vatican ll spring.

As a great British theologian aptly said, “some people just show up at the wrong time.” John Paul ll was that man. A genuine justice man on the world stage, he was anything but inside the walls of the church. He literally imposed his ossified theology on the whole church and the Catholic Church lost a brilliant chance to modernize itself. Millions left in disgust as critical thinking was shut down. Power was totally centralized and the Church appeared more like a Politburo than a “discipleship of equals” and the People of God.

Pope Paul Vl, much maligned, was  a sophisticated Vatican insider who understood the necessity of ongoing renovation and he allowed our best theologians to exert peer review on the thousand flowers which were blooming. He silenced no theologians. He recognized them as loyal teachers in service to the universal church. Contrast that with the shocking intellectual abuse of Woytyla and his henchman Ratzinger. They both tried to shoe horn critical thought into one narrow channel. As Chicago theologian David Tracy said at the time, “It won’t work.” And it didn’t. Many careers however were ended and good men and women were sacrificed on the the narrow grounds of ideology. Uninspiring men, absolutely loyal to Rome,rock solid against birth control and  female ordination were placed in charge of major sees. It was if the clock stood still. All in all  It was a shameful period.

But like Pete Seeger, many stood tall, great principled resisters to the “ice age”(Rahner) we had to endure, There were many national theological conferences who refused to buckle under. Thse were professional theologians who loved the church but were cast into nether darkness by both Woytyla and Ratzinger. There were hundreds of such teachers who were denied positions in Catholic institutions. We know the names of the more famous ones but many felt the chill of non-promotion and marginalization. Theology in Catholic institutions particularly in the moral realm ground to a halt

”If the Pope does what does not belong to his office, he cannot demand obedience in the name of Catholicism,” some 163 theologians from West Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland stated in January of 1989.

Now known as the Cologne Declaration it said. ”In such a case, he must expect opposition.” Their objections were tripartite:

• John Paul’s appointment of bishops “without respecting the suggestions of the local churches and neglecting their established rights,” which runs counter to the Catholic tradition that the selection of bishops “is not some private choice of the pope’s”;

• The Vatican’s refusal to grant official license to theologians with whom it disagrees, part of its general campaign to silence dissent, representing “a dangerous intrusion into the freedom of research and teaching”;

• The pope’s “overstepping and enforcing in an inadmissible way” his proper doctrinal competence, insisting that every pronouncement of the magisterium be treated as ipso facto infallible. The declaration called special attention to the ban on birth control.

Complaining that the collegiality called for by Vatican II was “being smothered by a new Roman centralism,” the declaration predicted: “If the pope undertakes things that are not part of his role, then he cannot demand obedience in the name of Catholicism. He must expect dissent.”

From June 6-9 of 1990, the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) with Canadian Basilian Walter Principe as its president, affirmed “the right of theologians to freedom of research, their right to raise questions, their right to re-examine the meaning of dogmas, and even more to explore the import of past authoritative statements by the magisterium, and finally the right within a faithful unprejudiced presentation of the official teaching to disagree publicly with that teaching under certain circumstances.”

The statement “Do not Extinguish the Spirit” was critical of the growing chill within the Church and the increasing denigration of theologians who were now seen as “dissenters,” rather than loyalists who had a different opinion. Principe addressed the Vatican criticism about “harm being done to the faithful by theologians.” He countered with the harm being done by “the Vatican issuing of documents without prior discussion and consultation with bishops and theologians, their inhibiting legitimate discussion by premature decisions on complicated questions, their condemnation or silencing of theologians and their presentation of reformable teaching almost as if they were matters of faith.” Do not extinguish the Spirit was concerned about “excessive Roman centralization” that diminishes the role of local bishops and which impugned the authority of bishops’ conferences.

This brave statement well summarizes the general disenchantment with this papacy.

While the theologians raised objections, the best educated generation of Catholics were becoming restless at the attempted ecclesial coup and the overturning of Vatican ll.


And then 2002 happened, The explosion of the sex abuse scandal and church coverups, generally by the servile bishops promoted by JP ll and Ratzinger. 55 Boston priests told the imperious  Cardinal Law it was time to go. The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer prize for uncovering the rot  which a bloated church had allowed to fester for decades.

The laity was energized. The sensus fidelium was rediscovered, the fact that each baptized person has a sensus fidei,  the indwelling of the  Spirit which was not a preserve of  a celibate priesthood but was present in the whole Body. It was basic Vatican ll stuff we had forgotten:  “the whole body of the faithful have received an anointing” (Lumen Gentium #12,)

The Church i.e. the institution  cannot speak without listening to the sensus fidelium. Even the autocratic pope began to understand this shortly before his death. He was worn down by the fierce resistance to his dictatorial style and finally in 2004 said,  “Certainly this will involve a conscious effort on the part of each bishop to develop, within his particular Church, structures of communion and participation which make it possible, without prejudice to his personal responsibility for decisions he is called to make by virtue of his apostolic authority, to listen to the Spirit who lives and speaks in the faithful.”

This of course has yet to happen. Power historically concedes nothing and we have yet to be consulted on major issues.

And now a new pope has arrived, a Vatican ll man. The small men are in retreat. Meanwhile in the life of Pete Seeger we once again realize that “the Spirit blows where it wills” (John 3:8) and the Roman Church best realize that  a gale force may be coming.


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