Archive for September 2013

The “pro life” priest

September 29, 2013

Fr. Charlie McCarthy writes about the pro life priest.

Air Force Lt. Col. Douglas Cunningham, a Roman Catholic priest, has a security clearance that allows him to be in the control room during active bombing missions by drone operators killing human beings on the other side of the earth from a clean, well lighted, climate-controlled room about five miles from the Walmart in Syracuse, NY. Since his arrival,

Cunningham has tried to gain the trust of the pilots of the Predator drones so he can see if the stress of switching between dropping bombs and helping their children with homework is starting to wear on them. Cunningham tries to offer some comfort. “I let them know,” Cunningham said, “They are protecting life.” (Brian Bennet, Tribune Washington staff, 7/30/12)

What part of the Sermon the Mount did this poor man miss?


Chaplain not of the gospel but of the empire.


Prophetic Jesuit resigns over dualistic thinking

September 26, 2013

Pope Francis has flagged clericalism as one of the ongoing wounds in the Catholic church.

There are some brave priests who are doing something about this sin of gender injustice and clerical supremacy in a church where the baptized have inherent equality.

Meet a marvelous man, Bert Thelen.


Jesuit priest Fr. Bert Thelen,  celebrated his last mass as pastor at St. John’s Parish at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska — a position he held for 14 years — on June 16, 2013 and resigned from the priesthood. It was a prophetic act of solidarity with those brave men like Roy Bourgeois who was kicked out of the Maryknollers for simply saying that women should be ordained.

Thelen criticizes all dualisms, not only men over women but humans over the environment.He links God’s reign to climate justice, the central moral issue of our time.

In his letter of resignation, Fr. Thelen says that his spiritual journey has led him to the realization that “we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity.”

 And he adds that “following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples.”

Bert Thelen’s Letter of Resignation

TO : Family, Relatives, and Friends, Colleagues and Partners in Ministry, CLC Members, Ignatian Associates, Project Mankind, Parishioners of St. John’s, St Benedict the Moor, Sacred Heart, Jesuit Classmates and Companions

FROM: Bert Thelen, S.J., June, 2013

Dearly Beloved,

May the Grace of Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Peace of the Holy Spirit be with you! I am writing to tell you about what may be the most important decision of my life since entering the Jesuits. With God’s help, at the behest of my religious superiors and the patient support and wise encouragement of my CLC group and closest friends, I have decided to leave ordained Jesuit ministry and return to the lay state, the priesthood of the faithful bestowed on me by my Baptism nearly 80 years ago. I do this with confidence and humility, clarity and wonder, gratitude and hope, joy and sorrow. No bitterness, no recrimination, no guilt, no regrets.

It has been a wonderful journey, a surprising adventure, an exploration into the God Who dwells mysteriously in all of our hearts. I will always be deeply grateful to the Society of Jesus for the formation, education, companionship, and ministry it has provided, and to my family for their constant support. I can never thank God enough for the loving and loyal presence in my life of each and every one of you.

Why am I doing this? How did I reach this decision? I will try to tell you now. That is the purpose of this letter. For about 15 years now, as many of you have noticed, I have had a “Lover’s Quarrel” with the Catholic Church. I am a cradle Catholic and grew up as Catholic as anyone can, with Priests and even Bishops in our household, and 17 years of Catholic education at St. Monica’s Grade School, Milwaukee Messmer High School, and Marquette University. I took First Vows at Oshkosh in the Society of Jesus at age 25 and was ordained at Gesu Church to the priesthood ten years later in 1968. I have served the Church as a Jesuit priest in Milwaukee, Omaha, and Pine Ridge for 45 years, including 18 years on the Province Staff culminating in my being the Wisconsin Provincial for six years and attending the 34th General Congregation in Rome. 

My last 14 years at Creighton and St. John’s have been the best years of my life. I have truly enjoyed and flourished serving as pastor of St. John’s. I cannot even put into words how graced and loved and supported I have been by the parishioners, parish staff, campus ministry, Ignatian Associates, and CLC members! It is you who have freed, inspired, and encouraged me to the New Life to which I am now saying a strong and joyful “Yes.” You have done this by challenging me to be my best self as a disciple of Jesus, to proclaim boldly His Gospel of Love, and to widen the horizons of my heart to embrace the One New World we are called to serve in partnership with each other and our Triune God. It is the Risen Christ Who beckons me now toward a more universal connection with the Cosmos, the infinitely large eco-system we are all part of, the abundance and vastness of what Jesus called “the Reign of God.”


Why does this “YES” to embrace the call of our cosmic inter-connectedness mean saying “NO” to ordained ministry? My answer is simple but true. All mystical traditions, as well as modern science, teach us that we humans cannot be fully ourselves without being in communion with all that exists. Lasting justice for Earth and all her inhabitants is only possible within this sacred communion of being. We need conversion – conversion from the prevailing consciousness that views reality in terms of separateness, dualism, and even hierarchy, to a new awareness of ourselves as inter-dependent partners , sharing in one Earth-Human community. In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, “Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.” As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples. 

I have become convinced that the Catholic Church will never give up its clerical privilege until and unless we priests (and bishops) willingly step down from our pedestals. Doing this would also put me in solidarity with my friend, Roy Bourgeois, my fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bill Brennan, the late Bernard Cooke, and many other men who have been “de-frocked” by the reigning hierarchy. It will also support the religious and lay women, former Catholics, and gay and lesbian couples marginalized by our church. I want to stand with and for them. I am, if you will, choosing to de-frock myself in order to serve God more faithfully, truly, and universally.

But why leave the Jesuits? Make no mistake about it: the Society of Jesus shares in and benefits from this patriarchal and clerical way of proceeding. We still regard ourselves as the shepherds and those to whom and with whom we minister as sheep. I discovered this painfully when the Society of Jesus decided against having Associate members. We are not prepared for co-membership or even, it seems at times, for collaboration, though we pay lip service to it. “Father knows best” remains the hallmark of our way of proceeding. I can no longer, in conscience, do that. But I still honor and love my fellow Jesuits who work from that model of power over. It is still where we all are as a company, a Society, a community of vowed religious in the Roman Catholic church. Leaving behind that companionship is not easy for me, but it is the right thing for me to do at this time in my life. When I went through a formal discernment process with my CLC group, one member whose brilliance and integrity I have always admired and whose love and loyalty to the Jesuits is beyond question, said of my decision, “You cannot NOT do this!” He had recognized God’s call in me.

A few other considerations may help clarify my path. The Church is in transition – actually in exile. In the Biblical tradition, the Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian captivities led to great religious reforms and the creation of renewed covenants. Think of Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. I think a similar reform is happening in our Catholic faith (as well as other traditions). We have come through far-reaching, earth-shaking evolutionary changes, and a new (Universal) Church as well as a new (One) World is emerging. My decision is a baby step in that Great Emergence, a step God is asking me to take.

Consider this. Being a Lay Catholic has sometimes been caricatured as “Pray, pay, and obey.” Of course, that is a caricature, an exaggeration, a jibe. But it does point to a real problem. Recently, the hierarchical church mandated the so-called revision of the Roman Missal without consulting the People of God. It was both a foolish and a self-serving effort to increase the authority of Ordained men, damaging and even in some ways taking away the “Pray” part of “Pray, pay, and obey.” No wonder more and more Catholics are worshipping elsewhere, and some enlightened priests feel compromised in their roles. I, for one, feel that this so-called renewal , though licit, is not valid. It is not pleasing to God, and I feel compromised in trying to do it. 

Now, consider this. All of this liturgical, ecclesial, and religious change is located in and strongly influenced by what both science and spirituality have revealed as happening to our world, our planet, our universe. The very earth we are rooted and grounded in, as well as the air we breathe and the water we drink, are being damaged and destroyed even beyond (some say) our capacity to survive. And, as Fr. John Surette, S.J., has so wisely observed, “Injustice for the human and destruction of Earth’s ecosystem are not two separate injustices. They are one.” Biocide is even more devastating than genocide, because it also kills future inhabitants of our precious Earth.

It is time. It is time to abandon our refusal to see that our very environment is central to the survival and well being of ALL earthlings. It is time for the Church to turn her attention from saving face to saving the earth, from saving souls to saving the planet. It is time to focus on the sacred bond that exists between us and the earth. It is time to join the Cosmic Christ in the Great Work of mending, repairing, nurturing, and protecting our evolving creation. It is time for a new vision of a universal Church whose all-inclusive justice and unconditional love, an expression of Christ consciousness and the work of the Holy Spirit, empowers ALL and can lead to a future that preserves the true right to life of all of God’s creatures. This includes future generations who will bless us for allowing them to live, evolve, and flourish. Can’t you hear them crying out, “I want to live, I want to grow, I want to be, I want to know?”

In light of all this, how can I not respond to the call both Isaiah and Jesus heard, the call of our Baptism? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me and sent me to bring Good News to the oppressed.” All creation will be freed, and all people will know the freedom and glory of the Children of God. Yes, Lord, I will go. Please send me.

And that is why I am leaving Jesuit priesthood. Since first vows I have always thought and hoped and prayed that I would live and die in this least Society of Jesus. But now, something unexpected! A real surprise! I HAVE lived and died in the Society of Jesus, but, now, nearly 80, I have been raised to new life. I am born again – into a much larger world, a much newer creation. I have greatly benefited from the spiritual freedom given in and by the Society of Jesus. I feel no longer chained, limited, bound, by the shackles of a judicial, institutional, clerical, hierarchical system. As St. Paul once reminded the early Christians, “It is for freedom that you have been set free.” And as St. Peter, the first Pope, learned when he said to Jesus, “You know that I love you,” love is all about surrender and servanthood.

Thank you for your attention to this self presentation. I am grateful that you have followed me in the journey described here, and I am sorry for whatever sadness, disappointment, or hurt this may have caused you. But what I have written here is my truth, and I can’t not do it! If you want to discuss this with me, ask questions, or give me feedback, I welcome your response, either by letter, e-mail or phone…Please pray for me, as I do for all of you, the beloved of my heart and soul. 

Yours in the Risen Christ, Bert Thelen

Pope Francis gives right wing heartburn

September 24, 2013


Pope Francis is sending shock waves through the Catholic right wing.

In his recent interview with Jesuit publications he said: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.”

Dead on. Catholic people are so tired of this one note drum beat particularly when we are burning the planet down. Climate justice must be our prime focus.


Good for the Pope.

There are several names for this  right wing group, my favourite being “Market Catholics.” In the USA they are Republicans, believers more in the market than the gospel. They have all done well worshipping at this altar and any papal statement—and there are dozens- warning about the total autonomy of free markets is ignored by them.  This ideology has widened the gap between the rich and the poor, looted pension funds and virtually eliminated the middle class. Having the institutional focus on the groin and the pelvis instead of the one place Jesus told us to look—in the lives of the marginalized, lets these people off the hook.Morality for this group is strictly personal, disconnected from the world and the non-human community.

Sadly, many are called “pro-lifers”(really anti-abortion), generally a worthy orientation but as Francis stated—”talk about this in a context.” There  is care before life and after death and precious in between. Does the planet, the very basis of our common life, not have a “right to life?”But curbing emissions like in our earth-aborting Tar Sands would interfere with capital’s untrammeled rights.

It is safer then to narrow gospel teaching to pelvic issues and ignore poverty and the poor. Ignore climate justice and gender justice. Focus on the groin as the epicentre of Catholic teaching.

Particularly reprehensible are the Catholic “celibate” prelates who know so little about sexuality but who pontificate relentlessly on sex. The irony is that by denying conscience-driven birth control they make wider the choices of abortion. Ir is misogyny like this which has driven hordes from the Catholic church now  widely seen as the all male celibate and patriarchal club. Not to mention that so many priests are gay and having to live  inside a church perceived as unsympathetic to homosexual people.

Francis is right…give pelvic orthodoxy a well deserved rest.

Syria and hypocrisy

September 21, 2013


Obama and Kerry protested way  too much.

Syria indeed is a bridge too far. Most Americans are now sick of war and lies that Bush, Cheney, and Powell told..

You do remember Cheney? 5 deferments in the Vietnam years but gung ho about sending poor blacks and Hispanics into war.

No more wars please. Even the right wing said, “we’re out.” Toffs like Britain’s Cameron was all for lobbing missiles into Syria. The British parliament humiliated him and said no way.

The people said no. The Pope said no.

Obama’s “line in the sand” disappeared

The Russians were dubious about Assad being responsible for the horrible Sarin gas attack. They had a right to be .Bild am Sonntag a German newspaper  cited high-level German surveillance source suggesting Syrian president was not personally behind same.

If Assad did order these attacks can anyone really think there is a difference between innocent dead people? Sure Sarin is horrific. So is war! Fight war not wars. The Iraqi Body Count stated that in Iraq there 115,000 dead civilians. No sarin gas but innocents wee  killed nevertheless.

War is a line to be crossed,not Sarin gas.

Kerry’s crocodile tears were cringe-inducing, given the US track record over civilian deaths and the use of neuro-toxins

In 1970 the US  Senate reported: “The US has dumped on Vietnam a quantity of toxic chemical (dioxin) amounting to six pounds per head of population.” This was Operation Hades, later renamed the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand – the source of what Vietnamese doctors call a “cycle of foetal catastrophe”. Then there was the cancer-inducing depleted uranium used in Iraq—as well the use white phosphorus, the same white phosphorus the Us surrogate Israel used in Gaza.

Why does Syria have chemical weapons if not to counteract Israel’s nuclear arsenal of which the US says nothing. It tells Iran to stop developing nuclear but is mum about Israel

It my be that even the Us is getting tired of war in Muslim lands. Lobbing a few missiles into this awful conflagration  will not help.

Churchill said it best: Jaw Jaw is better than fight fight.

La Lucha continua

September 16, 2013


Richard Rohr ofm makes a great point about prophetic religion.

In clear and unmistakable language the prophets, Mohammed and Jesus were talking about people changing. Yet how is it that the groups formed in their names  frequently became bulwarks against change? So often we have been protectors of the past, lovers of empire, power, business as usual-especially when the present arrangement was to our advantage. In fact if you ask most people how they view religion, they’ll answer that it is supposed to be a protector of the tradition. This is why for so much of our history we have made good bedfellows with kings, queens, dictators and repressive regimes. 

This came to mind when Julian Assange the brilliant muckraker of Wikileaks fame awhile back released over 1 million new cables he called “the Kissinger cables.”

These  damning leaks of this notorious war criminal  covered the years 1973-1976.

To Richard Rohr’s point  about imperial religion many of these cables exposed the ugly relationships between the Vatican and dictatorial regimes.

And since this is the 40th anniversary of the Pinochet coup in Chile, the subverting of Chilean democracy  by Richard Nixon and Kissinger it s interesting to peruse these cables.


History of course has not been kind to Nixon and General Pinochet, least of all to the mad bomber of Vietnam  and Nobel winner Henry Kissinger. One is almost stunned into incomprehension when one counts up the murder of so many innocents—literally in the millions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia—not to mention his dirty work in Chile.  Socialism could not be allowed to succeed in Chile.It stood in the way of untrammeled capital. One Cuba was enough in the American lake as spelled out in the Monroe Doctrine. That the man is not in jail is amazing. Yet he does fear international travel as did his friend Pinochet before he died.

To the Vatican.

In a cable dated October 18, 1973, Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, Vatican Deputy Secretary of State, denied the crimes committed by Pinochet’s junta, expressing “his and Pope’s grave concern over successful international leftist campaign to misconstrue completely realities of Chilean situation.” Did Pope Paul, a wonderfully sophisticated  man really believe this?

Benelli went on describing : ” the exaggerated coverage of events as possibly greatest success of communist propaganda, and highlighted fact that even moderate and conservative circles seem quite disposed to believe grossest lies about Chilean junta’s excesses.” Wow. Where were they getting this information?

Here is where this gets intreresting.

Benelli says Cardinal Silva and Chilean Episcopate in general have assured Pope Paul that junta making every effort to return to normal and that stories alleging brutal reprisals in international media secret are unfounded.”

Could this be the same Raul Silva whose vicariate later stood tall against the dictatorship by documenting the horriofic abuses? Did Silva see through the smog and change? Quite possibly.

Benelli states that “validity and sincerity of Cardinal Silva cannot be challenged since Silva is known internationally as one of Church’s leading progressives who, moreover, gave tacit support to President Allende.”

These  events show the Catholic Church in turmoil. Between 1968 and 1978, two important moments in Latin American church history took place, Medellin and Puebla. To simplify the Church was moving  away from Rohr’s imperial church location to the side of the poor.This was the  critical phase of a liberationist perspective, led often by Jesuits and  summed up by the life, death and resurrection of the voice of the poor in the ministry of Bishop Oscar Romero. We must appreciate that Romero was  virtually a lone episcopal voice in El Salvador before he was martyred. The other bishops  were stuck in the old paradigm—on the  side of wealth, privilege and power.

The wikileaks cables  shows the Church not yet converted to the cause of Jesus in the poor.

 And as they say in Spanish, la lucha continua, the struggle goes on.

The righteous bombers

September 15, 2013


It is surely obvious now to anybody with even a basic understanding of history, politics and the nature of fascism that something revolutionary has to be done within months — if not weeks — if we are to preserve world peace.

Put boldly and simply, we have to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran.

Canadian right to lifer Michael Coren, Sept 2, 2006

From Peter Dyer’s archive courtesy of Phil Little the following:

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly who – regarding both Afghanistan and Iraq – advocated such crimes forbidden by the Geneva Convention as collective punishment of civilians (Gen. Con. IV, Art. 33); attacking civilian targets (Protocol I, Art. 51); destroying water supplies (Protocol I Art. 54 Sec. 2) and even starvation (Protocol I, Art. 54 Sec. 1).

Sept. 17, 2001: “The U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble: the airport, the power plants, their water facilities, and the roads” in the event of a refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the U.S. Later, he added: “This is a very primitive country. And taking out their ability to exist day to day will not be hard.  … We should not target civilians. But if they don’t rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period.”
On March 26, 2003, a few days after the invasion of Iraq began, O’Reilly said: “There is a school of thought that says we should have given the citizens of Baghdad 48 hours to get out of Dodge by dropping leaflets and going with the AM radios and all that. Forty-eight hours, you’ve got to get out of there, and flatten the place.”

Another tremendously influential journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner and former executive editor of the New York Times, the late A.M. Rosenthal, also advocated attacking civilian targets and collective punishment in regard to waging war against Muslim nations in the Middle East.

In a Sept. 14, 2001, column, “How the U.S. Can Win the War,” Rosenthal wrote that the U.S. should give Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Sudan three days to consider an ultimatum demanding they turn over documents and information related to weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organizations.

During these three days, “the residents of the countries would be urged 24 hours a day by the U.S. to flee the capital and major cities, because they would be bombed to the ground beginning the fourth day.”

Ann Coulter, on the Sean Hannity Show on July 21, 2006, called for another war and more punishment of civilians, this time in Iran: “Well, I keep hearing people say we can’t find the nuclear material, and you can bury it in caves. How about we just, you know, carpet-bomb them so they can’t build a transistor radio? And then it doesn’t matter if they have the nuclear material.”

The pacifist priest and the bomber bishop

September 10, 2013

8.3  Gods of Metal, 1988, Platte, Boylan, Morlan, Gilbert,   Cordaro Andrews AFB, NCR

Rosalie Riegle collated amazing stories  of nonviolent resisters to war. (Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace Cascade Books, 2013)

One chapter was given over to the life of midwestern priest Larry Morian, a graduate of St Ambrose seminary in Davenport, Iowa. Pictured in middle above.

Yes, Virginia at one time there were actually priests like Morian coming out of American seminaries. That was then and this is now. And Morian has just died. Riegle writes about him in chapter 8 of her book. What strikes you about Morian’s life is his ebullience and great humour.

Riegle writes:

I met diocesan priest Fr. Larry Morlan in the winter of 2005 while he was on sabbatical and living in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. At the time of the interview, I felt a strong connection to him but then we lost contact for several years.  I finally spoke with him by phone in April of 2012; a paraphrase from this conversation concludes his interview .

Morian speaks of his conservative background and his “bomber” bishop

1980 started me off. Draft registration. I can see myself still in my parents’ living room on a Saturday morning. It was the first time I’d really sat down and read the Gospels, and when I came to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus just. . . He felt real. So no draft registration for me! Now you gotta’ know that all my family were Republicans and when I was a kid I was hanging out campaign literature for Nixon on the doorknobs of unsuspecting Midwesterners.

Anyway, I went to my spiritual director and he introduced me to Gandhi, and it just so lined up with the Gospel, you know, that you do a good thing with complete disregard of the consequences. Because the good thing has a value and energy that resonates in the universe–in the world, in your soul. You do it because it’s good and then let it go.

Then my director also had the great good sense to suggest that I go Davenport to hear this couple speak. It’s Brian [Terrell] and Betsy [Keenan], and they’re talking about Dorothy Day. “Wow! Why have I not heard of this woman before?”

That year—1980—was something else! Romero was killed, the Maryknoll women were killed, Reagan came in, and nuclear war’s right over our shoulder, you know. So I didn’t register for the draft, along with some other men, and my parents kicked me out of the house and I lived in my car for the whole summer and did some resistance over at the Rock Island Arsenal.

Then the next fall, I’m sitting in my seminary dorm room, and I see this photograph—no article, just a photograph—with a little caption about these priests who had hammered on a nuclear weapon. I thought, “Swords into plowshares. It’s perfect! If you want to organize your life around Jesus, can you imagine a better symbol to organize yourself around?” Boy, I was in trouble then! [Laughs.]

So then I’m in St. Ambrose seminary, and I become a really manic organizer. In my last year there, I organized hospitality for some Buddhists and others who were walking from California to New York for a UN Conference on Disarmament. They give this big presentation about nonviolence in the chapel, and my Bishop is there—Ed O’Rourke. Afterwards, he takes all of us seminarians out for coffee and pie, and I asked him what he thought about the presentation.

I can remember it word for word. He said, “These people don’t realize they’re pressing the free world will to commit the greatest sin of social injustice possible, the sin of unilateral disarmament.” From then on, it was a rant. He just went on and on and. He was monopolizing the whole conversation, but finally I got in: “Bishop, can you imagine Jesus pressing a button that would indiscriminately wipe out civilians?

Yes!” he says. “In the name of freedom, of course He would.”

So. I took a year’s leave of absence after I graduated, which turned out to be ten years, most of which was in jail or prison for the first of the two Plowshares actions and other resistance.

My first jail sentence was in 1983. We came out [to Washington, D.C.] for the Holy Innocents Retreat. People were going to do a theater piece, early in the morning when the workers were coming into the Pentagon. I was to be a spray painter, painting “Herod” and “Reagan” on the pillars at the river entrance. Phil said we were just stage hands, providing the scenery. “The actors will take the bust, so don’t worry!”

Final thoughts on Labour Day

September 6, 2013


Labour Day—never offered by governments  but demanded by working people.

As the brilliant slave rebel and black statesman Frederick Douglass reminded us

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

So Labour Day in Canada was demanded by workers in 1889. This was part of the Royal Commission on the Relations  of Labour and Capital—a holiday would be set aside to honour labour. This of course was ignored by the plutocrats but workers kept marching and five years later a statutory holiday was finally granted. And the march still goes on.


For many Labour Day marks the end of summer. It has become wholly depoliticized attempting to make us forget that we are all workers. And we either stand together or hang separately.

We need to remember that hard fought victories were won against horrible working conditions and  child labour and for the promotion of living wages and  the 8 hour day.

Many in the teaching profession are uncomfortable about  being members of a union. Many the sons and  daughters of post war immigrants felt a need for an upgraded psychic evaluation of their work. They saw themselves as “professionals” and preferred to be an “association.” They were about upward mobility. yet the Catholic story promoted “downward mobility” and “solidarity” with all workers.

From 1973 onward, capital has mounted a furious assault on labour consistently attempting to break unions and accelerate the race to the bottom.

The financial collapse of 2008 brought on by the stunning greed of the super rich and the banksters finally woke many people up to the necessity of the countervailing voice of labour.

Among the last group to wake up are Catholic bishops. Their scandalous absence in Labour Day celebrations has not gone unnoticed.

The retired Archbishop of Niagara. John Bothwell prided himself on wearing a pectoral cross made by the Steelworkers. It was one small way of identifying with the aspirations of working people.

We could use come of that Catholic episcopal solidarity these days.

Labour Day 13

Labour Day: the Search for the Lost Heart

September 1, 2013


Each year i walk in the Labour Day parade. The reason is simple. It protects me from amnesia. This annual pilgrimage from downtown Toronto to the Dufferin Gates is a gentle reminder of the Story which gives me meaning. It reminds me that I owe solidarity to workers struggling today for a decent life

This age old story reminds me that i am part of creation, that my labour is an essential part of building God’s reign. It reminds me  that the work I did and do,  that of teaching is holy work. It reminds me that much of labour today is exploited and devalued. It reminds me that labour unions which fought and are fighting still for worker dignity are in full retreat today and need our support. This past week I saw American workers at fast food outlets demanding a living wage. The Walmartization of workers occurs in the wealthiest country in the world which is also deemed “the most religious.” What kind of religion is this?

This is why i walk on Labour Day

I was invited awhile back to speak at city council about the need for a living wage not a minimum wage. Forces at City Hall were attempting to cut the wages of those largely female municipal cleaners from $19.00 an hour to $13,00.

“God love them, they’re nice people but they don’t deserve $19.00” said  councillor Doug Ford, he born with a silver spoon in his mouth

I was enraged at this lack of respect for these workers.

I was haunted by the women who preceded me, one Irish and one Jamaican who spoke so movingly about the pride they had in their work. They both said they could not survive on $13,00 an hour.

I came as an adult educator who has taught thousands of Catholic teachers about Social Ethics, the extraordinary teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as it relates to the Common Good of the broader community. This teaching began with Pope Leo Xlll in 1891 and is built on the inherent dignity of each human person. It broadly resembles the call to compassion and justice at the heart of all religions.

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 has seen the advent of  market fundamentalism, the neoliberal nightmare which has shredded organic communities and facilitated a race to the bottom.

The wonderful Toronto Labour Council mounted an effective challenge and the motion to cut was defeated. Decency, common sense and justice prevailed.

When Catholics moved out of the economic straightjacket of poverty in the post-war years, something was lost. The  rush to the suburb and the middle class life played havoc with our call to solidarity with the poor. We substituted charity for justice. We began to vote for parties which defended our economic interests. This embrace of “a life of pitiable comfort” of course was not unprecedented.

Philosophers  had warned us of the consequences.

Mang tzu (370-286 BCE), known to the West as Mencius, was  probably the greatest interpreter of Confucius. He reminded his countrymen and us that we must pity “the man who has lost his path and does not follow it and who has lost his heart and does not know how to recover it. …The principle of self-cultivation consists in nothing but trying to look for the lost heart.”

Jesus of course in his crucified cry for the kingdom reminded us  of “the Way” of “the heart”—radical solidarity with all of creation.

Organized religion, Catholicism included, seems to have lost “the Way” The real social justice tradition of the prophets has been muted. Bishops are decidedly absent from the front line struggles for justice today.

In March of 1965 on the historic march from Selma to Montgomery the great rabbi Abraham Heschel was seen walking arm in arm with Dr.King. He knew that this march was not simply a political occasion. It was a religious event.


Heschel shook the Jewish establishment’s ‘comfortable pew”. he challenged his co-religionists to “re-member”, to knit the body scarred by segregation, back together again. “For many of us,” he said,”  the march from Selma to  Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are  not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our  legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march  was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

There will be no religious leaders  walking hand in hand with with unionists  in the Labour Day parade. That is the sad reality. Our religion is still searching for its lost heart.

For many of us, like Heschel, this is not merely a secular  parade and Labour Day is not simply a holiday. It is indeed a holy day. It is a sacred pilgrimage. Our goal is not a modern Canterbury but a simple act of solidarity with brothers and sisters, workers all, whose dignity is under attack.

It is always inspiring to see many Catholic educators flying the flag of solidarity this day. I am happy to join them.