Archive for May, 2012

Vatican Declares “Year of Assault”

By John C. Sivalon, M.M. 

Under the guise of a “Year of Faith,” the Vatican has launched an all-out assault on any theology or interpretation of Vatican II based on what it calls a “Hermeneutic (Interpretation) of Rupture.” This theological assault is articulated in the document known as “Porta Fidei” written by Benedict XVI and further specified in a document titled “Note on Recommendations for the Implementation of the Year of Faith” which was developed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Both of these documents are cited by Cardinal Levada in his statement on the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The rationale for that assessment and other punitive moves that have been made in recent months (Caritas International, educational institutes, and the Girl Scouts) must be understood in the broader context of this special “year of assault.”

The real crux of the issue according to the “Note” is a “correct understanding” of Vatican II over against “erroneous interpretations.” Benedict likes to refer to these interpretations as being based on a “hermeneutic of discontinuity” while referring to his own interpretation as being based on a “hermeneutic of renewal.” In truth, better labels for these respectively, are a “hermeneutic of mission” over against Benedict’s “hermeneutic of retrenchment.”

The hermeneutic of mission sees in the documents of Vatican II an attempt by the Church to rediscover in its past the kernels of fresh understandings and ecclesial structures that respond more authentically and relevantly to what the Council called the modern world. This hermeneutic sees the Council Fathers confirming tradition as a foundation upon which faith can continually build and grow as its context changes. It also sees God as continually present in history and culture, graciously offering new perceptions for understanding and interpreting the fullness of revelation.

The hermeneutic of retrenchment, on the other hand, sees in the documents of Vatican II the restatement of ossified doctrines in language that can be understood by the modern world. The hermeneutic of retrenchment regards tradition as a wall which functions to deter erroneous understandings. It also tends to see the modern context of the world negatively, often assigning to it labels such as secularism, relativism or pluralism. As Benedict says, “whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, . .” The hermeneutic of retrenchment, hence, longs for the past; for an idealized age of Christendom.

Thus, the action against LCWR and the other actions against loyal voices of faithful Christians open to discerning God’s wisdom in modern culture, should be seen as initial forays of shock and awe to soften the strongest areas of resistance, before the actual onslaught begins. That major assault is scheduled for October of 2012, with the opening of the Synod of Bishops on the “New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” The first working paper (Lineamenta) for this synod clearly sets forth the target of “New Evangelization.”

The target is plainly modern culture. According to the document the modern world is epitomized by a culture of relativism, which it says has even seeped into Christian life and ecclesial communities. The authors claim that its serious “anthropological implications are a questioning of basic human experiences for example the relation between a man and a woman as well as the meaning of reproduction and death itself.” Associated with this phenomenon, the document states, is the tremendous mixing of cultures resulting in “forms of corruption, the erosion of the fundamental references to life, the undermining of the values for which we exert ourselves and the deterioration of the very human ties we use to identify ourselves and give meaning to our lives.” Benedict in other places has labeled this pluralism; thus completing his trilogy of the demonic: secularism, relativism and pluralism, as he dreams of a reestablished, romanticized culture of Medieval Europe.

In stark contrast, the institutes of women religious dramatically exemplify the hermeneutic of mission: they moved out of “habits” that set them apart from the world; face the challenges of embracing the presence of God in modern culture; and faithfully struggle with being an authentic and clear sign of God’s love for the world. The assessment against them is outrageous for its patronizing arrogance and its patriarchy. But it is also clear that it is about much more: the dramatic fissure within the Roman Catholic church concerning the interpretation of Vatican II and the embracing (or failure to embrace) God’s presence in modern culture.

In this assault what is so pernicious, besides the effects on the lives of those immediately and dramatically targeted, is the appropriation of concepts developed by those operating out of a hermeneutic of mission by those who uphold a hermeneutic of retrenchment, who then redefine and use those concepts to defend and support their assault. Three quick examples of this are found in the Statement of Cardinal Levada on the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR and in the doctrinal assessment itself.

First, Levada claims that the overarching aim of the Assessment is to assist in implementing an “ecclesiology of communion.” The theologians who developed this ecclesiology based their reflections on the Vatican II emphasis on Church as the People of God, Body of Christ or A Pilgrim People. All of these images were employed by Vatican II to broaden the understanding of Church as being more than the hierarchy. None of these paradigms envision unity as fabricated through force or obedience to doctrine. Rather, unity is seen as flowing out of dialogue and common discernment as the People of God struggle together to be faithful and authentic witnesses of self-emptying Love. Who more than these institutes of religious women epitomize communion founded on faith and lived as self-emptying love?

Second, the doctrinal assessment of LCWR defines the sacramental character of the Church almost exclusively as patriarchal hierarchy. Again, the assessment document usurps a Vatican II understanding of Church as sacrament and recasts it. Vatican II on the other hand posits the Church in its entirety as the sacrament of the Reign of God.

Finally, in the post-Vatican II period, many theologians from various parts of the world have developed the image of Church as Prophet. They established this vision on a preferential option for the poor, a belief in salvation as liberation and the need to be critical not just of structures of the world but of the Church itself and its role in support of situations of oppression and human denigration. However the assessment document denies any possibility of prophecy aimed at the Church hierarchy itself or separate from that hierarchy. This abhorrent disregard for the Biblical prophets and their strong stance against the priest, kings and empty rituals of faith somehow is not perceived as a rupture with the past or tradition by those operating out of this hermeneutic of retrenchment.

As modern Catholics celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, we have entered into a new chapter of church history. The Council that was declared to open the windows is now being reinterpreted as closed shutters, protecting the Church from the gale force winds of a world searching for spiritual authenticity. While said to be a time of renewal, the “Year of Faith” is really dedicated to the idolatry of doctrine, power and hierarchy. The sisters in their communal service to the Church and world, who not only take a vow of poverty but actually live that vow without privilege, status or accumulation of wealth are a vivid and prophetic contrast to the inauthenticity of the call to retrenchment masquerading as renewal.

The column appeared originally on the blog “I Stand with the Sisters for Justice in the Church” and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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Thanks to all who came to New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral to stand with our sisters in faith

The third of three vigils outside St. Patrick’s attracted well over 100 on Tuesday, May 29th as we showed our public support for the Leadership Conference of Religious Women and for all the religious women the LCWR represents. Thanks to all for showing your support.

Here are the pictures from the May 29th NYC vigil: 3rd NYC Pro Sisters Vigil (Facebook)

Thanks to Matt Rosenwasser for taking the photos and posting them for us all to enjoy. Please forward to your personal contact lists.

The LCWR is meeting this week to decide on a response to the ‘doctrinal assessment’ from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. May our prayers be with the sisters as they seek to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit during this difficult time.

A special thanks to all the members of Voice of the Faithful® and Call to Action New York who banded together for this important witness. We can take justifiable pride in the public statement we made on three successive Tuesdays in May, joining with vigilers in many cities across the US. May this action be an inspiration for more public actions in the future as we work to inspire Catholics across the US and around the world to stand in defense against those who reject the wisdom of the People of God.

Francis X. Piderit
VOTF NY Leadership Team
Voice of the Faithful New York

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…Another voice blogging in support of the sisters: Vatican Declares “Year of Assault”

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Is the Catholic Church Downsizing into a Sect?

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson asks this question in her column today (May 24, 2012). As counterpoint to an institutional Church she sees as increasingly outside society, Manson proposes, “Jesus never allowed absolute obedience to the law to trump the pastoral needs of the person standing before him. He defied religious ritual for the sake of healing the suffering. He called everyone — tax collector, rich man, woman, drunkard, prostitute — to his table, no loyalty tests or confessions required.”

Jamie Manson will speak at Voice of the Faithful’s 10th Year Conference in Boston this September. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for NCR earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.

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Cleveland Catholics Want Church Reopened Now

The National Catholic Reporter told us yesterday (May 23, 2012) in Cleveland Catholics demand Lennon reopen parish immediately that Catholics there have filed a second suit in Canon Law court in Rome to force Bishop Richard G. Lennon to follow the Vatican’s March 1 order to reopen 12 local churches. The diocese has countered that the bishop is meeting with the parishes and that the churches will re-open soon, but this second lawsuit shows parishioners apparently are upset at the delay.

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Progressive Catholic Bishops Are Overcoming Their Reticence

Yesterday’s (May 23, 2012) issue of The Washington Post carried a column by E.J. Dionne, Jr., called The battle among Catholic bishops. Dionne comments in the column on what he sees as evidence that progressive Catholic bishops in the United States are overcoming their reticence about publicly challenging conservative views. In his column, he references Kevin Clarke’s article in America magazine, Bishop Blaire Seeks ‘Wider Consultation’ on Religious Liberty, as an example. Dionne concludes, “For too long, the Catholic Church’s stance on public issues has been defined by the outspokenness of its most conservative bishops and the reticence of moderate and progressive prelates. Signs that this might finally be changing are encouraging for the church, and for American politics.”

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There are powers and principalities in our Church trying to make us victims

“My Brothers and Sisters, there are powers and principalities in our Church trying to make us victims…,” said Fr. Kenneth J. Hughes, S.J., in a homily on Sunday, May 13, 2012, at St. Mary of the Angels Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As he concluded his homily, the congregation rose to its feet and applauded. With Fr. Hughes’ permission, we’re reprinting his entire homily here —

“One blue sky above us,
One ocean lapping all our shores,
One earth so green and round,
Who could ask for more?
And because I love you,
I’ll give it one more try
To show my Rainbow Race
It’s too soon to die.”

“Go tell, go tell all – – – – – the little children.
Tell all their mothers and fathers, too – –
Now’s our last chance to learn to share
What’s been given to me and you.”

Do you recognize those words? They are from a protest song of the 70’s by Pete Seeger. It is called, “My Rainbow Race.” This song, a long time ago, was translated into Norwegian and made popular as a children’s song by a well known Norwegian artist, Lillebjoern Nilsen.

Now, do you remember last summer that tragedy in Norway when 32-year-old Anders Breivik bombed a government building and then massacred a group of teenagers and young adults on an island north of Oslo, killing 77 people in all? Do you remember that I told you how the people of Norway responded by placing thousands of flowers, mostly roses, and thousands of candles, flags and messages of love before the cathedral? Do you remember that I told you how the government quickly assured foreigners, especially Muslims, that they were welcome. And do you remember the words I quoted of a young woman survivor who said, “If one man out of hatred can cause so much destruction, think of what all of us together can do out of love?” The key words were “together” and “love.”

As you may be aware, the trial of this man is currently going on in Oslo. And. just two weeks ago, in court, Breivik accused Nilsen of brainwashing the Norwegian people with this very song because he saw “My Rainbow Race” as embracing all people, all foreigners, including Muslims, whom he detested. He wanted a pure Norwegian nation, and that is why he killed.

How did the people respond? By singing, “My Rainbow Race.” Two young women, unknown to each other, but connecting through Face Book, proposed singing this song and Nilsen agreed to it. And so, in pouring rain some 40,000 people (and, remember, Oslo is a small city of only 400,000) gathered with red roses in hand to sing, “My Rainbow Race.” Then, they processed to the courthouse where the trial is taking place and lay their roses on its steps. Once again, they wanted to show the world that, in Norway, love is stronger than hatred and that love seeks to embrace all, love does not exclude. The people refused to be victims of another’s anger.

My Brothers and Sisters, there are powers and principalities in our Church trying to make us victims just as Breivik tried to make victims of the Norwegian people. I pass over in silence (well, not really!) the rejection of graduation speakers, the marginalization of gays and lesbians, the censure of theologians without dialogue, the silencing with threatened excommunication of justly complaining parishioners, the dismissal of girl altar servers. What I will not pass over in silence, however, (especially on this Mother’s Day) is the Church’s treatment of women in general and of religious women in particular. The manner of this proposed latest scrutiny of the leadership of women religious is an insult to the many dedicated and hard-working women who express most in our society the compassion and love of Jesus Christ.

Have we forgotten so soon that it was to the faithful women of Good Friday Jesus appeared first on Easter Sunday and whom He asked, first, to proclaim the Good news? And the men did not believe them. Has nothing changed? Have we learned nothing from today’s reading from Acts of the Apostles? Peter says, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” And the people, we are told, “were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles.” Who of us dares limit the power and movement of the Holy Spirit today?

Are we listening to St. John tell us, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God. Are we listening to Jesus say, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” That is the Christian orthodoxy first: to show love to one another. It is a chain of love beginning from the Father: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” It may seem like a hierarchic love from above, but Jesus turns it into a circle. He says, “I call you friends.” In friendship we become a circle of love with God and with one another. And, at the center of this circle of friendship is the Eucharist, the presence of Jesus, strengthening us to do what we cannot do of ourselves: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

I know that, on behalf of women religious, people are keeping silent vigil from 5-6pm every Tuesday in May at various churches, but I found myself wondering: what would it be like if, on a particular Sunday, 40,000 Catholics, in each of our major cities across the nation, were to process to their cathedrals, singing hymns of love and placing flowers on the cathedral steps? How can we show our Church leaders that they need not be afraid? Yet, at the same time, how can we show them that we will not be victims of coercion, neither will we stop the mission which Jesus has given us through the Church when He said: “Love one another as I have loved you?”

So, my Brothers and Sisters,

“Go tell, go tell all – – – – the little children.
Tell all their mothers and fathers, too – –
Now’s our last chance to share
What been given to me and you.”

And that is the gift of love!

Acts: 10.25-26, 34-35, 44-48; I John 4.7-10; John 15.9-17

If you dream of a church defined by what it stands for rather than what it stands against, join us at Voice of the Faithful’s 10th Year Conference, Sept. 14-15, 2012, Boston, Massachusetts.

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The Prosecution Rests in Philadelphia

The prosecution in the trial of Philadelphia Msgr. William Lynn, the first Roman Catholic Church official charged with child endangerment for covering up clergy sexual abuse, rested its case yesterday. The trial judge has dismissed one of two conspiracy charges against Lynn, but left intact the other conspiracy charge and two child endangerment charges. The New York Times has been covering the trial and posted on its website this story, Prosecution Rests Case Against Philadelphia Monsignor Accused of Abuse Cover-up, which wraps up the prosecution’s case.

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