Archive for February 2009

Hurray for Ash Wednesday

February 28, 2009


People just can’t give up a story.That’s what the kids tried to do in the 60s and the 70s.They tried to stop living as takers but there was no other way for them to live.They failed because you just can’t stop being in a story.You have to have another story to be in.

Daniel Quinn in Ishmael


LENT  is part of the story which nourishes us.

Ash Wednesday reminds us in the middle of winter that we are once again in a story which makes demands.

Most of the culture finds itself in pseudo-stories like Valentine’s Day or before that the consumer steeplechase called Christmas.

The liturgy reminds us to whom we give our ultimate allegiance.As does the Sabbath.

Sadly the Church which gave us the story has morphed to a near death experience which does not nourish. It almost totally defines itself in a moribund institutional and fundamentalist way. It sees itself as en soi, almost totally closed in on itself, arrogantly preaching to those on the outside.Its feast days are not linked in any dynamic way to God’s reign of peace and justice. Its professional ministers are not part of the major movements of our time.This then is the tragedy of much institutional religion.

Nevertheless Ash Wednesday and the 40 days which follow remind me  and us of who we are.It still has the potential to lead us to a deeper immersion in life.It’s a thousand times better than the bland secular culture of official optimism and cheerfulness. These never lead to a cross and then to a resurrection.

Salvation as entertainment

February 23, 2009


In lieu of fast breaking shock cuts on TV and the movies, 19th century religion was dull, prosaic, linear and predictable.It was meant for an agrarian society when the literacy level was fairly high and the Bible was a book in every home.

Evangelical Protestantism made inroads almost as entertainment, a kind of a carnival act—colorful and animated barkers who moved around gesrticulating wildly and summoning the formerly passive congregation to become an active part of the audience.

It was long on emotion and  guilt but short on reflection.It functioned as spiritual entertainment. People flocked to it. Catholics raised on propositional religion resisted it as low grade.

The 20th century speeded up and so did evangelical religion.Witness the success of Oral Roberts, the dramatic crusades of Billy Graham and latterly the histrionics of cartoon buffoons like Jimmy Swaggart.

Some even approximated the TV talk show format like Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and all his knock offs modelled on the Tonite Show.

Salvation as entertainment

Linz: a hopeful trend

February 20, 2009

0203-wagner-l3Almost bishop Gerhard Wagner


He must increase but I must decrease.” John 3:30

Fr Gerhard Wagner has asked the Pope to withdraw his name as auxiliary bishop of Linz, austria. The controversial nominee outraged many with his dumb comments on a number of issues Hurricane Katrina according to Wagner who presumed to know the mind of the almighty, was divine retribution for the city’s tolerance of homosexuals as well as its abortion clinics, 5 of which were washed away in the cleansing flood. 

Wagner’s reactionary views were well known in Linz and 31 of the 39 deans of his diocese gave him the thumbs down.

“Regarding the fierce criticism, I am in prayer and, after consulting the diocesan bishop, I have decided to ask the Holy Father in Rome to take back my promotion as auxiliary bishop,” Father Wagner said in a statement on Sunday. 

Fr.Wagner correctly read the tea leaves and good man that he is, resigned for the greater good.

Will Rome begin to get the broader picture?

Unlike the docile clerics in North America, Europeans have a long tradition of consultation and are not easily bypassed—as John Paul ll found out in some of his bizarre episcopal choices which blew up in his face.

Particularly galling was the nomination in 1987  of Kurt Krenn as the successor of the giant church man, Cardinal Franz  Koenig. This was a dagger to the heart of the man who had secured the papacy for Woytyla and the reciprocated message was  We do not trust you.

There were several other imperial impositions , maybe the worst was in the diocese of Chur in Switzerland. 267 priests wrote Rome to rescind the nomination of another far right winger Wolfgang Haas, appointed again with no consultation. 200 protesters forced Haas to step over them on the way to his elevation. Thanks, your Holiness. You’ve done a lot for the morale of the people of God.

Similarly Latin Americans became disenchanted at the monarchical ways of JP ll whose narrow  criterion of slavish obedience to a pontiff’s interference consistently trashed the ways of subsidiarity and the sensus fidelium.

One hopes that this necessary uprising  will continue in the Church.The Petrine office is never to be used for imposing personal opinions, theological or otherwise on the faithful.For a true communio to exist, lay sensitivities, ideas and input must increasingly be honoured.The spirit belongs to the whole church.

It is time to respect the holiness of democracy and the views of the faithful.

No more Roman impositions.Linz should be but the first of spirit uprisings.

Calgary brings Bush to Canada

February 17, 2009



GW Bush speaks on Paddy’s Day in Calgary. March 17, a day of shame in Cowtown.

Calgary  should embarrassed. Ralph Klein was bad enough.

“It’s our understanding it’s one of the first — if not the first — times he’ll speak since leaving office,” said Geoff Pradella, vice-president of public and government affairs at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, which is partnering in the event.

Boy are we excited. How much are they paying?

What would Bush have to say that could be of possible interest to a Calgary audience?

What would the creator of the second great Depression say to us?

Sorry maybe. I blew it?

This is truly extraordinary. 

His speech should not be in Calgary but in the Hague before a panel of judges—trying to justify his catastrophic war and the million deaths in Iraq.

Maybe an apology for brushing off warnings of 9/11?

Not a chance.

Denial is not a river in Africa.

Thanks also to  Ernst & Young accounting firm, the Bennett Jones law firm and the Calgary CFA Society, a professional organization for financial analysts for bringing such a renowned statesman to Canada.

Our man Jim Flaherty

February 15, 2009

There he was bold as brass at the G-7 meeting  trumpeting the Canadian banking system cobbled together when Tories were real Conservatives and Liberals gave a damn  about the common good and local communities.

Yes the same Jim Flaherty who said he’s never run a deficit, the same guy who as a member of Mike Harris’ lamentable red meat Tories who ran roughshod over communities in the 7 lean years in Ontario. Yep the same Flaherty  who never met a poor person he wouldn’t bash or a tax break for the rich he didn’t relish.

No sense of irony—a great deregulator who didn’t hate any restriction on a corporation to do what it wanted to the public good—here he was preening like a peacock.Yes part of the team whose deregulation led to Walkerton and people dying and wheels flying off transports and killing innocents  because his government wanted free rein for capital.

There he was our Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty taking a bow for a banking system he had nothing to do with and whose natural prudence was foreign to him, the new neocon Tory who embarrassed Red Tories.

Whatta guy, our Jim Flaherty. Makes a guy proud to be a Canadian.images4

Reese stops far too short

February 11, 2009


Tom Reese SJ

Christoph Schonborn, the archbishop of Vienna, a papal loyalist said there is no place in the church for Holocaust deniers. But apparently there is little room for Catholics who insist on the sensus fidelium and demand by virtue of baptism a much greater say in the admin of the Church.

Hans Maier, a theologian and former president of the German Catholic Association made this point on  Vatican Radio.

“It’s unforgivable bishops were not consulted,” he said. “The Vatican needs a system of checks and balances, just like any government.”

Thomas Reese SJ  a shrewd clerical commentator of Georgetown University says there is a fatal systemic flaw in the decision-making process in the Vatican. “You need people with different ideas, not just loyalists, not just people who are yes men, but people who will actually argue and give different perspectives on a problem when it arises.”

Reese does not go far enough. He should be demanding a Vatican 3 which honours the 3rd magisterium, the People of God. Reese knows the people who would argue like this are never listened to in Rome and they constitute the vast majority in the Church.

Nothing less than this will save the Catholic Church from its monarchical and clerical pretensions. Right now it is a dysfunctional institution out of tune and out of time.

The racist candidate

February 9, 2009


If you want to know what is sad about Israeli politics go no further than today’s Globe profile on Avigdor Lieberamn, the Kingmaker in the election tomorrow.

Here is this oafish Russian immigrant, the  leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, a non-religious Jew who campaigns on a blatantly racist platform.

Described by Patrick Martin  as a poor orator  who “speaks in a monotone, with in a thick Russian accent despite having been in this country for 30 years. But the words have seldom been heard in Israel; certainly not coming from someone with a shot at a major role in government. ”

The great Israeli historian Tom Segev, interviewed on the CBC by Peter Armstrong last night made the same point. Segev said that this buffoon’s distasteful remarks dared not be repeated in polite company in times past. There has always been an underbelly of anti-Arab racism in Israel. This is no secret. Read Yoram Binur’s classic My Enemy, My Self for confirmation of this known fact. Liebermann is much like   the holocaust denier Williamson, causing much damage to the German pope, Ratzinger. Decent people cringe or should at the bluster of a man who is himself an immigrant to Israel who wants to expel the original inhabitants, the Palestinians!

As far as Liebermann is concerned the Palestinians can go to hell—or Cyprus!

“Cyprus used to be in the condition that we are in. Greeks and Turks lived together, and there was friction between them, that included bloodshed and terrorism. In 1974, they put 100 per cent of the Turks on the northern side of the island, and 100 per cent of the Greeks on the southern side. There is no peace agreement to this day. But there is stability, security and prosperity. That is our ambition.”

Whew.Talk about gall. add to this a loyalty oath for Arab citizens.


Here’s how Haaretz quoted one of his high school supporters:

“Sergei Leibliyanich, a senior, draws a connection between the preparation
for military service in school and student support for the right: “It gives
us motivation against the Arabs. You want to enlist in the army so you can
stick it to them. The preparation gives you the motivation to stick it to
the Arabs and we want to elect someone who’ll do that. I like Lieberman’s
thinking about the Arabs. Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] doesn’t want to go as

Yeah, let’s stick it the Arabs! whoopee for the great democracy in the Middle East.

But Liebermann even pisses off the Orthodox.

Rabbi Ovadia Yusef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, denounced  the secular party of Liebermann Yisrael Beiteinu: “God forbid that anyone should vote for the party whose platform is to establish stores that sell pork, to establish civil marriage, to recruit yeshiva students to the army.” “God forbid that any man of Israel vote for them. That is forbidden, completely forbidden. … Anyone who does such a thing will be punished by God.”

Crazy? Sure. an symptomatic od the present situation in Israel.

Pope Benedict blows it again

February 5, 2009

images-1Poor Pope Benedict. Now he has the German hierarchy angry at him for his clumsy handling of the Williamson affair. Germans in general are deeply embarrassed over Ratzinger’s ineptitude here. There has been unprecedented criticism of the pope everywhere in the land of Adolf Hitler where nerves are still raw over the role of Germany in the Holocaust. Catholics world wide shake their heads over Benedict’s hamfisted handling of this affair.

Hans Kung phrased it well:” In order to promote the “expiation” with a small spoonful of arch reactionary traditionalists, this Pope is risking the loss of trust of millions of Catholics in all countries, who hold true to the Second Vatican Council.  That such missteps are creeping into the German Pope only sharpens the conflicts.  Subsequent excuses can not cement shattered porcelain.” 

Do not buy the view that the Vatican did not know of Williamson’s reactionary views.Nobody is rehabilitated much less a bishop without serious scrutiny. Apparently church unity was more important  than Williamson’c noxious views on the Shoah. He is not the only one of the Pius X crowd who holds these crazy ideas.No matter. Escriva,the founder of Opus Dei,  now a saint also denied Vatican ll and was much taken with Franco’s fascism.  He too was a Vatican darling,  a right wing RC with no love of the Council and he bought into the feudal monarchical structures which still prevail. Pope John Paul ll courted the disgraced Fr Maciel Dellogado of the Legionaires. He too was slavish in his outmoded views on the hierarchical church. Come on in and take the first place at the banquet he  was told.

The whole Williamson affair must be seen with the elevation of the bizarre Fr Wagner to the episcopate in Linz, Austria. How could a man who believes that Katrina was punishment for the immorality of New Orleans be made a bishop? No matter he too buys into the arcane ecclesiology of the present pope too. Meanwhile any priest who advocates for optional celibacy or female ordination will never become a bishop. This is all part of the same pattern.Elevate slavish right wingers to the episcopacy; Banish all who reject this narrow ecclesiology and who champion the ongoing necessary  reform. Only Benedict apparently  has a correct view of Vatican ll and the Roman sycophants who advise him are afraid to tell him he is out to lunch.

The Jewish community rightly is perplexed here.Has Rome learned nothing they wonder. Not much it seems.Historical anti-Judaism in the Church had nothing to do with the Shoah.It was only the neopaganism of the Hitlerites.It was never the Church who sinned, only individuals.

Just wait until they elevate Pius Xll to the pantheon of saints. 

You ain’t seen nothin yet.

The corrupted business culture

February 4, 2009


Read no more than the Associated Press’s release about the corporate culture’s sense of entitlement than the  following.

Then we have the case of the arrogant John Thain, the former Merrill Lynch & Co. chief executive officer recently fired who spent $1.2 million redecorating his downtown Manhattan office last year as the company was firing employees.

Business leaders lionized to no end by the consumer culture have fallen lower in the public esteem than any other group—including the Catholic Church.


Wells Fargo, once among the nation’s top writers of subprime mortgages, has booked 12 nights at the Wynn Las Vegas and its sister hotel, the Encore Las Vegas beginning Friday, said Wynn spokeswoman Michelle Loosbrock. The hotels will host the annual conference for company’s top mortgage officers.

The conference is a Wells Fargo tradition. Previous years have included all-expense-paid helicopter rides, wine tasting, horseback riding in Puerto Rico and a private Jimmy Buffett concert in the Bahamas for more than 1,000 employees and guests.

“I was amazed with just how lavish it was,” said Debra Rickard, a former Wells Fargo mortgage employee from Colorado who attended the events regularly until she left the company in 2004. “We stayed in top hotels, the entertainment was just unbelievable, and there were awards — you got plaques or trophies.”

While the nation’s recession has led other banks, such as Bank of America, to cancel employee recognition outings, Wells Fargo has not.

“Recognition events are still part of our culture,” spokeswoman Melissa Murray said. “It’s really important that our team members are still valued and recognized.”