Archive for February 2013

Self censorship in the Church

February 27, 2013


After those with the official muffler, a Roman collar, do not take seriously the comments of anyone working in a Catholic university who speaks about the pope.

Forget that they may have tenure. Few will venture any real, serious critical commentary.

Why? They work for the Pope!

Well, not really but like  the centurion in the synoptic story they “are under orders”, this time quite subtle yet determining orders. They are employed by a pontifical institution. Yes, this is how far the tentacles of Rome reach. The  ordinary (what a superlative name for this crop of bishops) has final say on who gets employed in these places. And for a moment do not think that this “power” will not be used. Creative theologians have been let go, not rehired etc. University administrators, perceived to be at all critical have been denied jobs.

Well do I remember when Pope  JP ll’s successor was named.I was on the end of a CBC  reaction line and when   I heard in the background the name“Josephus” (Ratzinger)  I groaned and went on to say publicly as a layman editing an independent Catholic paper, “What a failure of nerve.” A feisty nun from the  west concurred.Then the Catholic official came on and of course demurred. This is a real problem. And this is why Catholic scholarship at these places has stopped dead in its tracks, The most creative theologians have been proscribed if not by JP ll/Ratzinger (the same pontificate) but by their local carefully vetted representatives who know exactly what headquarters wants.

So who is left?

Well  there are the laity—the first and freest people in the Church, the best educated  people in Church history.They answer to their consciences and to Christ.They  have been called forth by their baptism as “priests, prophets and kings”.

Chancery offices try to pressure TV outlets to quell the criticism but a few  get to speak with some candour. And why not ? They represent 99.8 of the Church.

The papal sweeps: don’t be collared!

February 25, 2013



One of the first rules of thumb regarding commentators on the papal election is to take anything a cleric says with a massive grain of salt. The reason is simple.Clerics have too much invested in the male patriarchal system to generally tell the truth.They  know there will be a steep price to pay for any criticism, no matter how harmess it may appear. Those who appear on TV with their Roman collars firmly in place will be sycophants jockeying for favour in the ecllesial system. They will off er up pure boiler plate, praise the Pontiff to the skies and never allude to the elephants in the living room. the terrible shape the Roman church is and how inffectual the reign of Benedict has been.They are  very sad people and have little respect among the knowledgeable  inside and outside the Church.

Lay people and ordinary church folk  would be astounded and disgusted if they knew how absolutely cruel some of these bishops have acted and will act.



Many priests  of course will freely speak “off camera”.They know all too well how “the system” works and keep their own counsel but privately are not shy about the disgust they feel about their bishops. As one priest said to  me about a bishop, “The boys are onto him.” They know their boss has been chosen for his slavish obedience to Rome—but not to Jesus and the reign of God. Most are an uninspiring lot, “grey men” as the theologian Richard McBrien has called them.

The priests  are intelligent men, many good pastors  and often are quite critical of the restorationist reign of Josef Ratzinger. This they will never say this  for public consumption. Their jobs are literally at stake.

They scan the Church news and know what happens to those who dare break  ranks (Roy Bourgeois, Tony Flannery ) with the official line–NO WOMEN PRIEST, NO CHANGE IN CELIBACY–They keep their heads down and “tend to their flocks” as best they can. They can be wickedly funny and almost cynical about the games being played.

So, first rule about any “Pope show”— See a clerical caller. Change the channel.

Ignoring the Holy Spirit, the sacred is in the secular

February 22, 2013


Tens of thousands of climate activists marched in Washington D.C.on February 17. A theological reading of this action suggests that the Divine Presence, active since the great flaring of the Big Bang and never contained to a large degree in the world religions, was not only here but is active in movements which incarnate  the “presence”. Right relations, compassion, social justice, planetary and cosmic loyalty and concern are all hallmarks of what the creative Spirit is doing. Within theological circles, the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, long neglected is making a big comeback.

it is in this area that “religious” people need to awake, a constant admonition of Jesus and Buddha, Dualisms need to be junked—sacred and secular in particular, religion and politics another. The truly Holy seems to have bypassed institutions like the Catholic church consumed as it appears to be at institutional levels by inward looking ephemera such as religious behaviour, church admin, church attendance, papal elections. The NEW seems to be passing us by. Pope Benedict (April 15,2006) was correct when he described Jesus resurrection as a qualitative leap in the history of evolution.” This Spirit Force Jesus named “the kingdom”. It was not his. It produced  him.” It” has been coming for 14 billion years.He was open to it and it is intended for the whole cosmos, the macro and the micro, Those around Jesus were captured, charged with with this new (but old) energy. Jesus never proclaims himself but this elusive “kingdom.” New patterns of relationships (The  resurrected Christ begin to infuse the Roman Empire. This still continues but it has moved beyond religion yet religion can re-appropriate this energy field. This is catholic (katholikos) in that it “makes whole”—as Jesus miracles, exorcisms  however we define them, do. This is extraordinarily hopeful and exciting, this potential future for the Church if we can grasp it. But we are not alone in not yet understanding this cosmic reality.



The corporate media totally downplayed the presence of thousands of activist who converged on Washington (no bishops in attendance) to protest the Keystone pipeline, the conduit of Alberta’s “dirty oil.” There were of course other religious leaders and probably many traditional “believers” too. Bill McKibben (  used an interesting metaphor, not too dissimilar to the theological reading above when he said, those present were “the antibodies kicking in as the planet tries to fight its fever.”

This huge climate change action, decades in the building received scant attention in the huge media corps. This was well documented by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).  in the US.ABC News-43 words, CBS  Evening News -49 words, NBC a whopping 63 words. The NY Times shuffled this off to the Business Section( God’s business?) The Washington Post did better and CNN’s anchor Deborah Feyerick said “History is being made in Washington. Thousands marching for more action on climate change.”

FAIR’s conclusion was more to the point:

Indeed, it was a historic action. And when history looks back on how we responded to the climate change crisis, the fact that most of the corporate media missed its importance will be remembered.

And what about the Church?

From religion to spirituality

February 20, 2013


It  is now reported that over 35,000 planetary citizens marched in from to the White House demanding an end to the US collusion with tar sands  oil. The  bigger story for Christians  is the acknowledgement that we are living in the midst of a massive paradigm shift in history, one in which the old theology is hopelessly unable to discern. The  churches and in particular the top down bureaucratic Catholic church seems absolutely at sea. The conversations among Catholics as to the next pontiff totally miss the point.

The leadership of the Church has absolutely failed to come to terms with evolution and cosmology. Catholics of a certain age grew up with the idea of “salvation history”, God was active from Abraham on, culminating in Moses and then Jesus. God apparently was not active before  biblical times. Prehistoric man was ridiculed for his simplistic nature beliefs.

This idea it now appears is totally discredited. God has been co-creating within the evolutionary  creation since the beginning. There never has been a time when the divine energy has been absent.

The Church arose around the personhood of Jesus the Jew of the first century. This man who had internalized the God experience in his own community, proclaimed a new inbreaking of God he called malkuta or as we know it “the kingdom”. Jesus never  proclaims himself but holy power which has been gestatiing for eons and it is available to all. This apparently  In Leonardo Boff’s words was “an empowering vision of  of the divine presence in the cosmos”, “Kingdom” obsesses Jesus.It is used about 80 X in the New Testament and the Church a mere two times. This is the same presence which indigenous peoples centuries prior worshipped in dance and song. In the Jesus stories we call the gospels, this power (“exousia” )  shows itself in his healings, exorcisms and words. This power, like the power of evolution results in communion, diversity, wholeness, compassion. Of course it is resisted by those who do not like a challenge to the warped status quo where domination, power, control—especially the patriarchal modus vivendi—of the Roman empire—and indeedin our world today rife with poverty  diminished lives..

So we  ask: are not those arrested outside the White House more in tune with the divine impulse? None of them mentioned God or church in their statements. And the represenatives of organized religion were absent.Those arrested are those who have apparently moved from organized religion to spirituality. How to define such a term? My simple definition would be a radical concern for life and life’s systems, for compassion and loyalty to the earth which they correctly see is under attack.They see in Thomas Berry’s words we have moved from “Wonderworld to wasteworld”.There is something demonic and evil being done to our primary sources of life—earth, air and water.And the Catholic church inter alios  seems obsesssed with administration both hierarchical and patriarchal. moralism and  pelvic orthodoxy as the planet  is burning down,

The Church needs to recover its “kingdom” focus, to be a herald of that evolutionary power. When it does maybe religion can make a comeback.Right now most people  have moved beyond it to spirituality.

Can Catholicism hold the New? Not yet.

February 17, 2013


We are stardust

We are golden

And we have to get back to the garden

Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”

When so many Catholics were focussed on the “apples” of the papal resignation, “oranges” appeared  on the White House lawn. 48 environmental activists were arrested for calling attention to the Keystone XL pipeline. This pipeline will carry tar sands Albertan oil to Texas, dirty oil squeezed out of the bowels of  the earth, the largest ecological footprint in the world in our own Canada. It is in this coterminous event which we will best understand why religion is in stark decline today. On this Valentine Day protest no Catholic bishops were seen. Among the arrested however were  civil rights leader Julian Bond, the indefatigable environmentalist Bill McKibben whose blog is a secular encyclical alerting us to the perils of climate change, the brilliant  NASA climate scientist James Hansen, lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Daryl Hannah. And for the first time, the highly respected environmental organization the Sierra Club joined the group. It has moved from moved from education to resistance at this crucial juncture of history.


It is in this secular  snapshot that we see the increasing irrelevance of formal religion whose questions and energies seem divorced from our world and planet. Millions are abandoning  these religions which seem incapable of grappling with the deep questions of ultimate concern. There is nothing wrong with these people. Like most of us they are hardwired for “spirituality”. The difference is that they have abandoned religion as narrow, inward looking and out of touch with life on earth today. It is as if Darwin, Hubble and Teilhard never existed. It is as if cosmology and its younger sister ecology are interlopers and personae non gratae in the house of religion. It is as if Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Mattthew Fox, John Haught, David Toolan, Sean McDonough and Stephen Scharper, all serious Catholic evolutionary thinkers never existed.It as if Thomas Aquinas and his 14th century medieval worldview  is the final matrix of Catholic theology.


Those on the White House lawn are among the many  who have moved from religion to spirituality. They are not angry about religion. With their vibrating antennae they have sensed in an inchoate way the mysterious and holy call of the cosmos itself, a spirituality which has been with us since the advent of homo sapiens, 40,000 years ago. Salvation history for these people (even if they are formally religious) simply does not begin 3,000 years ago with the Bible. The divine Spirit has been a presence since the universe began. It is that Spirit which goes by many names—and no name—which is summoning them to action. The wounded cry of the earth is too much to bear. The 10,000 years of patriarchal domination must end, anthropocentric arrogance must stop.The White house prophets understand at a deep level what humans are doing to the elegance, the beauty, the nurturing and life-giving evolving cosmos and with their lives and actions they are yelling STOP. Political leaders like Stephen Harper seem autistic here, unable to comprehend the oncoming disaster.

And Catholics ask: where is the institutional leadership here? Will a new pope make a difference? Where shall we place our spiritual energy today?

Has the Holy left the church building?

February 16, 2013


All over the Catholic world clerics were opining on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVl.The  papal media steeplechase has begun! Start your cameras! Turn on those tape recorders! That venerable institution  is at it again! Who will the next pontiff be? I hear there is a Canadian in the running. Could it possibly be?

All of this media hullabaloo is deeply regrettable.The focus seems to be on the papal office as  a celebrity commodity, a great news story. What will happen with the venerable institution etc.

For Catholics however it is problematic. Most of the oped pieces by clerics are fawning  and predictable. They are written by men in religious life (almost always priests) who owe their exalted positions to a hierarchical church which up until recently has marginalized the female and lay voice. There will be few critical comments from this priestly demographic. The reason is simple. For over thirty years a Roman chill has descended on Catholic institutions and those under Holy Orders are vulnerable to quick dismissal even if those comments are in the area of the non-doctrinal e.g. the shocking sacking of the  great priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois whose major crime was to advocate female ordination.

What comes out of our Catholic universities then should be taken with a grain of salt as they are loosely under a Pontifical aegis. Any realistic assessment of Benedict’s tenure as pope will be simply seen as disloyalty and not be tolerated. The author then will be quickly reprimanded, told to recant or he will face increasingly serious ecclesial penalties including dismissal. Most as we know will remain silent. Ireland’s brave priest Tony Flannery is the rare exception. So far the best and most honest commentary on Benedict’s legacy  has come from secular sources, those who are no longer affiliated with the Church or who see it as a hopeless retrograde institution mired in a medieval world disengaed from contemporary history.

Compelled by conscience to speak

Paradoxically, and this is a new phenomenon, many lay Catholics feel absolutely free to be critical of the institution. They are under no episcopal control and see that their comments, positive or negative, are both worthy and absolutely necessary if the Church is to flourish. At Vatican ll  it was stated that “the laity too share in the priestly, prophetic and and royal office of Christ.” This is no passive role either: “An individual layman is permitted, even obliged to express his opinion on matters  which concern the good of the Church.” In an almost sardonic expression which Catholics came to deeply appreciate Gaudium et Spes (43) said, “Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are always such experts….” We have been quickly disabused of that idea.

The Church at large and in fidelity to the Hebrew scriptures, has appreciated the gift of the prophetic as a  necessary counterbalance to imperial and arrogant pretensions. Benedict XVl acknowledged this himself in 1962 when as Joseph Ratzinger, theologian  he said that the meaning of prophecy is ‘in the prophetic protest against the self-righteousness of the institutions…God throughout history has not been on the side of the institutions but on the  side of the suffering and the persecuted.” This biblical truism drips with irony as Ratzinger himself embodied “the self-righteousness of the institution” when as Grand Inquisitor of the Holy Office since 1981 he attempted to silence the prophetic voices of over one hundred theologians.This lamentable performance may be described as “intellectual abuse.”


And now briefly  to “oranges”.

In my last post I commented on Pope Benedict’s Ash Wednesday sermon where he  flagged the Catholic anarchist Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. The Pope praised Day for recognizing that her activism  in the world, her peace protests, writing and marching were not enough.She had to return to the bosom of the Church and a life of prayer.

Benedict as the papal enforcer and Grand inquisitor under Pope John Paul ll initiated a holy war against “activist” priests and their bishops. His attitude seemed to be that somehow these  men were less spiritual, maybe  “Marxists” too heavily engaged in society.Like Day, they were “protesting”, raising their voices as Ratzinger earlier stated “on the side of the suffering and persecuted.” Ratzinger’s presumptive, false judgment was that because these clerics were activists they had no interior spiritual life. The classic case was the martyred hero of El Salvador, Oscar Romero who was humiliated by Pope John Paul ll and whose dismissal was on his desk when Romero was murdered. But there were hundreds of others whose major crime seemed to be their vigorous defense of the poor and abused in their respective countries. These victims of imperial oppression (largely supported by Ronald Reagan), the biblical anawim,  (“the poor ones of God)  are the locus of God’s special love. Ratzinger as an academic could not grasp  the ministry of these holy men. And they were legion in the  southern cone.

When so many Catholics were focussed on the “apples” of the papal resignation, “oranges” appeared  on the White House lawn, 48 environmental activists were arrested for calling attention to the Keystone XL pipeline. This pipeline will carry tar sands Albertan oil to Texas. It is in this coterminous event to the  papal obsession which we will best understand why religion is in stark decline today. On this Valentine Day protest no Catholic bishops were seen.It is in this secular  snapshot that we see the divine presence embodied, in movements of the Spirit which seem to have bypassed the institutional leadership of the Catholic Church.

The wilderness of the world

February 15, 2013


A new Copernican revolution is called for that puts at the centre of God’s mission not the splendid life of the church but the equally splendid life in the wilderness of of the world.

Anglican primate George Carey

Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous. The Church has remained 200 years behind the times. Why has it not been shaken up? Are we scared? Fear instead of courage?

Carlo Cardinal Martini just before his death in 2012

I wish to link what most people would consider disparate events. Many would think this is a mistaken case of “apples” and “oranges.” I am arguing otherwise. And I will need at least two posts to briefly sketch this out.

The first event is the remarks made at possibly the final liturgical act of Benedict XVl, Ash Wednesday liturgy. Let me say at the outset I have never regarded the pope as a great theologian at all. His theological corpus is simply never incarnational, drenched in history. He appears to float above the human condition, albeit in mellifluous language. The man was a master stylist. Let’s leave it at that.

The Jesuit Bernard Lonergan has described the change which occurred at Vatican ll as as a move from a Classicist world view to Historical Mindedness.This new theological paradigm which pays attention to incarnational, personalist and existential responses to newness and evolving ideas within history. After decades of self-censorship and suppression, Vatican ll unleashed a theological revolution which had been quietly simmering for 50 years. These “new” ideas in scripture, ecclesiology etc. found a home in the emergent theologians after the Council. One of the most important voices was that of  the Jesuit palaeontologist Teilhard de Chardin, a champion of the spiritual meaning of evolution and God’s activity in “the wilderness of the world.”


A new way of being church was evolving in our pilgrim church. This  ecclesiology from below found its articulation at Vatican ll as “the people of God”, an egalitarian discipleship of equals” all united in baptism. This was a accompanied in biblical studies  by a Christology from below, seeing Jesus in his humanness, the one open to  the eruption of divine love which flowed through him to make people whole. Evolution (Teilhard) comes to its highest expression in a human life, a Jew of the first century. He points a new way to wholeness, to an integrated life.This will be our way forward. Yet we also know the forces of darkness, greed, power, patriarchy etc. will challenge this new direction. This is the Jesus we meet in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), a radical Palestinian Jew who seems in  touch with the deepest currents of life. This Jesus never found a home in Ratzinger’s writings. He was much more comfortable with the “high” Christology of the Fourth Gospel, the “Classical” view. It was this Jesus which he championed in his writings. If one analyzes the trajectory of his life, one spent largely in the academy one can see him as a virtual stranger to historical engagement. He tried but failed to denigrate the great churchmen of Latin America who saw  the gospel as liberation from all kinds of oppression which stood in the way of making “whole lives.” In 1986, Pope John Paul ll in a letter to the Brazilian bishops corrected Ratzinger’s condemnation of a liberation gospel by saying that liberation theology “was not only useful but necessary.


One looks in vain for “historical mindedness” in his  writings   which can compare to Kung, Schilebeeckx, Segundo, Sobrino, Metz, Boff and a host of others engaged theologians. One may wonder if there was not a correlation between his vicious attacks on these men and his own ethereal theology.

I do not want to belabor this point but I simply do not think Benedict is a creative theologian which brings me to his Ash Wednesday remarks.

The pope did make a salient point about Dorothy Day, He says:

In her autobiography, she confesses openly to having given in to the temptation that everything could be solved with politics, adhering to the Marxist proposal: “I wanted to be with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dreams to the world. How much ambition and how much searching for myself in all this!”. 

Day then acknowledges her deep understanding that she had need of God, that she could not convert the world by her sheer activism.

 “It is certain that I felt the need to go to church more often, to kneel, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I slipped into the atmosphere of prayer 

The Pope writes… “. God guided her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a lifetime spent dedicated to the underprivileged.”

This I believe is accurate. It describes quite well the ego’s surrender to the divine initiative, the necessity for humility and self-abasement

What I find disquieting  is the pope’s use of the expression “conscious adherence to the church.”

It is as if going to jail, being with protesters is second-rate activity. It’s as if the living Christ was not among the protesters. ”Prayer” as the great Rabbi Heschel reminded us,” is no panacea, no substitue for action.” The great Jewish scholar  also lamented that, ”We have imprisoned God in our temples and slogans and now the word of God is dying on our lips.”


Pope Ratzinger has spent his life within the church where like many  of us he has found ultimate meaning but what is problematic is the assumed idea that the church  is where the action is, where the divine spirit resides.This is  where I believe him to be radically wrong.

We are told in the 4th Gospel (John 3:8) that “The Spirit blows where it wills,” and today that Spirit has largely left institutions.The Holy Mystery largely lies elsewhere.The spiritual energy percoalting for 14 billion years, certainly flaring deeply in the life of Jesus is way beyond organized religion and the inward concerns of the Catholic Church. I conclude these thoughts tomorrow,

Benedict missed on women

February 14, 2013



During his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI continued to miss the boat on women, amazingly declaring  women’s ordination the gravest crime against the Church. Even worse one supposes  than the  massive pedophilia/bishops scandal  for which no bishop has paid the price. It appears those  inside the Vatican can not move beyond obsessive institutionalism forgetting that the Church is not an end in itself but an agent of God’s reign. In an interview with me, renowned religious scholar Karen Armstrong alluded to this by terming the Church, “simply a bureaucracy.” When the soul has left the building and an institution forgets its raison d’etre, the “powers and principalities” (formerly called Satan) twist the benign purpose of that group into a self-serving mode. A movement inspired by the Spirit-force of Jesus devolves into an ideology of power. This is not at all unusual in institutions per se, but inside the bowels of a great historical religion this is toxic.  The great abolitionist Frederick Douglas phrased this well when he said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Now the demands for absolute equality, gender justice are reaching a crescendo within the base of the Church’s family. They are shaking the last wall to fall, that of the Curia.


Lest we forget  Pope Benedict  excommunicated all Roman Catholic Women priests and now Fr.Roy Bourgeois has been fired from the Maryknoll family for supporting  female ordination—a position the majority of the society believes in. Add to this, of course, is the ongoing hectoring of the female religious leadership. None of these moves has played well with Catholics.

Now, take a mental picture of the upcoming conclave. 118 grey haired men shuffling into St.Peter’s to decide on a new leader. Just picture the optics. Yes, it is the Old Boys’ Club, Catholicism 101 in 2013. This surely will inspire  women in the Church and the men who support them.

Sexism and patriarchy have had their day.The futile resistance of men like Joseph Ratzinger is coming to an end and none too soon.

Pope Benedict resigns. Is there a John XXlV around?

February 13, 2013


The odds against a progressive pope are small given that the 118 men have all been chosen by Woytyla/Ratzinger. And they have been chosen for rigid orthodoxy even on the issue of contraception which lay Catholics in their wisdom(after all they administer the sacrament to each other) have almost totally rejected.I know a few priests who turned down the  fancy hat because in conscience they could not defend this test of orthodoxy.They had too much dignity but sadly those were and still are the “rules” for the upwardly mobile priestly caste who “seek the purple.” Another proviso for advancement: Never ever mention female ordination or celibacy.Two more No Nos.If as a priest you persist in these wild assertions you will run the plank as has Roy Bourgeois.Tony Flannery in Ireland may be next.

This is what it has come down to in the “ice age” (Rahner) of Woytyla/Ratzinger, even in matters of church discipline which could easily be changed (as John XXlll said about celibacy, “I could change it with a snap of my fingers.”).

Think hard on this.

The Church which gave the world universities, which championed the use of reason and critical thinking has now become a fear-based institution, promoting Yes  men and sending some of its best thinkers into the nether darkness. This is shocking beyond belief and should be a source of concern for serious Catholics.

In the diocese of Toronto where I live there is a dearth of “upper rooms” where Catholics can come in freedom, the same freedom the New Testament called “Parrhesia”, plain-speaking, venues where the faithful can speak without censure, fear of reprisal in this age of ecclesial confusion.Now you must get a pass from the Toronto archdiocese to come into town to give a talk—and woe to you if you might have different thoughts!


Pastors still are living in fear.We experienced this when a bishop in good standing the brilliant Geoffrey Robinson, the most respected and intelligent Australian bishop came to town to speak about the Church. Geoff had written a book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church which was honest but he was deemed persona non grata by Catholic institutions, universities and parishes. No Catholic institution would host him, a bishop in good standing! The bishop who “banned” him was a good man who had lost his independence and common sense.

The Woytyla/Ratzinger pontificate some day will have to answer not only for their toleration of sexual abusers but for their active intellectual abuse of good theologians, many who cannot work in Catholic institutions now.This has stalemated Catholic theology and raised up sycophants who readily appear on national television as spokesmen of all things Catholic.

Given all of the above one of the hoped-for events of the next pontificate would be a return to “the message of mercy” which John XXlll proclaimed when he called the great Council over 50 years ago.The youngest bishop at that Council Remi De Roo told me he was stunned at the end of the council when Pope Paul Vl appeared to say the final mass and who was at the altar with him, all the great men banned before the Council! This is exactly what the Church needs, a man with a large heart who acts more like Jesus than a fearful power broker terrified of the New which alone can rescue this Church from irrelevance.

Is there one such man in the 118?

Benedict resigns; questions arise

February 13, 2013



Exiting the TV studio the anchor asked me what kind of a Catholic I was. I replied a “Vatican ll Catholic.” She replied “I just heard that expression yesterday”. Yet she was responsible for putting together a one hour show on the pope’s resignation. I watched her cringe-inducing interview with Toronto’s Cardinal Collins.It was like a celebrity interview. Like most of these telegenic anchors  they are lousy journalists, displaying an appalling ignorance about church matters.

I was asked many times about the Papal sweepstakes—like it was an exciting horse race, odds on favourites etc.. More excitement to brighten up a slow news day, expel those winter blahs.

The fact is who “wins” here is irrelevant to most of the world and in particular youth.This is the wrong question to ask.Seldom has change ever come from the top.Though this question might be relevant: Can the man at the top make a difference to those at the base.The answer must be Yes if we look at Pope John XXlll, the greatest pope of the twentieth century. Because of his profound pastoral experience, his closeness to the living currents of history, the dynamic changes he saw coming, this man allowed that “Underground river” (God-Meister Eckhart)) to break through in the Roman Catholic Church. We must always remember that John was really reading “the signs of the times”, the same signs being read by MLK, the peace movement, the rising feminist consciousness etc.This great pope, because he was planted firmly in the world, close to the ground of human experience, he was moved by these fresh shoots of a new world coming. “The times are a changin”—and they still are.

The real tragedy of the Catholic Church is the failure to read the signs. The clerical leaders chosen by Wotyla/Ratzinger(one pontificate) seem sadly “church-centric”, hardly bearers of God’s reign. They seem to be missing signs of the inbreaking kingdom—the insistent cry of women and the cry of the earth etc. Most seem to be living in a church-bubble, disengaged from history. Does this cntinued marginalization of women come with celibacy, a lack of the feminine in their lives? Can they actually be unaware of the Holy within feminism or is it willful blindness. “Rome doesn’t like it” so I better shut my mouth.

Increasingly great clerics are putting their priesthood on the line, speaking out for gender justice.There is a tectonic shift on the ground. The lay citizens,increasingly theologically literate are assuming the fullness of their baptism, asserting their consciences and speaking up. They are  shaking the Catholic world. Millions on the other hand  have simply walked away, tired of waiting for a Church they love to enbrace an evolving ecclesia. For many the final straw was  that “institutionalists” like Benedict and so many bishops chose deadness, institution-think  over the vulnerable lives of innocent victims.The majority of the Catholic people are married. They find it hard to forgive men who failed to protect their most treasured gifts, vulnerable children.They sit in shock as great priests like Roy Bourgeois and now Tony Flannery are made to walk the plank while not one bishop is in prison.


Will the next leader “read the signs of the times” and recognize women as full members of the Church? Will he get off the pelvic bandwagon and throw all the resources of the Church into the greatest moral issue of history, climate change? Will he get off his throne and become part of a Spirit movement already active in the world or will he remain inside the Church’s walls missing the New moving outside the ramparts?

Sigh. The old adage rings true about the Church, “If we are not leading the parade we are not in the parade.”

Will there be another John XXIV inside the conclave or will these men continue to walk down the same tired path?