Surprise! The Pope is Pro Life.

I’m sure he didn’t mean it this way. I’ve had quotes in newspapers come across differently than I intended many times.

But this does need clarifying.

Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island gave an interview to the Rhode Island Catholic in which he almost sounded as if he was questioning Pope Francis’ commitment to the sanctity of human life. His comment concerning the touching moment when the Holy Father reached out and embraced Dominic Gondreau, (photo above) who is from the Bishop’s own diocese, was:

Obviously it was a very blessed moment for Dominic himself and for the whole Gondreau family, and through them for our whole diocesan church. We were truly blessed that day that the Holy Father reached out and touched and embraced a member of our flock. It was a great moment and a great blessing. The other thing I want to say though, is that I’m a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis that he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion, and many people have noticed that. I think it would be very helpful if Pope Francis would address more directly the evil of abortion and to encourage those who are involved in the pro-life movement. It’s one thing for him to reach out and embrace and kiss little children and infants as he has on many occasions. It strikes me that it would also be wonderful if in a spiritual way he would reach out and embrace and kiss unborn children.

I assume that Bishop Tobin did not intend this comment to sound the way it does. That kind of thing happens once in a while to everyone who talks to the press. It has certainly happened to me. Unfortunately, when a bishop of the Church says something like this about the Holy Father, the statement has to power to undercut the authority of the Church, everywhere.

So … just for the record, here’s Pope Francis himself on the subject.

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The Church is a Widow, Seeking Her Bridegroom

In his homily at morning mass, Pope Francis described the Church this way: The Church is a widow, seeking her bridegroom. He went on to say some beautiful things about our mother and how we should seek her,

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Married Priests? I’m not Holding my Breath.

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The press has jumped all over another errant remark from the Vatican, this time about married priests.

I’m not going to hold my breath until the Vatican decides to do away with the celibate priesthood. The reason is that I like breathing. However, I am game to, just for fun, look at as a proposition. Let’s consider for a moment how doing away with the requirement for celibacy for our priests would affect our Church.

So far as I know, not even the perpetually-hyping press has gone so far as to suggest that the pope is considering doing away with chastity for priests. Chastity means, in its most base interpretation, no sex outside of marriage. I am giving you the bottom drawer meaning of this word for the purposes of this discussion, but it has many layers beyond that.

Just for now, we will limit the concerns about chastity to the no-sex-outside-marriage consideration. Since no one wants priests who are not chaste, we have to assume that even if the Church decided to waive the requirement for singlehood for its priests, it would still hold that they must either be celibate or married.

If the Church suddenly started admitting married men to the seminaries in large numbers, the face of the priesthood would change along with them. Changes in the institutional Church and the way it does business would have to follow.

First, allowing married men would almost certainly increase the overall percentage of heterosexual men in the priesthood. It would do this for two reasons. One: I doubt that the priesthood would remain as attractive to homosexual men under these circumstances, for lots of reasons. Two: The priesthood would attract a number of heterosexual men who had previously given it a pass because they felt called to marriage.

Second, allowing married priests would mean that our priests would have wives and families, with all the concerns that go with them. I’ve heard talk about the finances involved in providing priests an income that would allow them to support their families. That is certainly one change that would have to happen. The Church would also have to address the lifetime sinecure of health insurance, retirement lodging and other things it provides for priests now.

Priests today sign their lives over to the Church. They even make their bishop the next of kin on their living wills. They go where they are sent and do what they are told. In exchange for this, they never have to worry about a roof over their heads, medical care, retirement or any of the other things that bother the rest of us.

They are “sons of the Church” in a literal, almost childlike, way.

But if these “sons of the Church” were married men with other people they were responsible for, the dynamic of all this would change drastically. Not only would decisions have to be made about how the Church would go about providing for their families, which if the priests followed Church teachings, would be large, but it would have to consider these families when making assignments to the priests.

It’s one thing to transfer a single man from hither to yon at a moment’s notice. It’s quite another to ask a wife to quit her job and the kids to leave their schools and move around like a flock of hummingbirds.

Another consideration is the resentment and anger of the families of these men. I’ve heard deacon’s wives complain about the fact that the Church does not recognize their existence. If the deacon was a priest, and the priest had a wife and seven kids with one on the way, how would the Church deal with the multiple angers and resentments of family members who felt that their existence was being denied?

Wives can be reasoned with (sometimes) but children are another matter. With kids, it’s ignore now and visit them in the drug rehab later.

Third, would be the major change in how Catholics themselves view their priests. Catholics dote on their priests. They shower them with gifts, respect, trust and compliments. In exchange, they expect to be catered to and coddled by their pastors in a way that no Protestant could even conceive of.

I know. I was a Protestant for a long time, and I can tell you no one expected the kind of one-to-one, personal attention that Catholics expect and receive from their priests. Catholics go running to their priests with their problems, expecting (and receiving) filial attention and comfort.

It’s an incredible relationship, and most of it is based on the simple fact that the priests are all-in for their ministry in a way that no married man could ever be. Catholics dote on their priests, and their priests dote back. All this mutual doting forms a kind of glue that holds this disparate Church together as an incredibly well-functioning social unit. We, all of us, priest and laity alike, stand before the Eucharist — which in a real way is the Church — in a relationship based on the fact that the priests have made the priesthood their life’s commitment.

All of this — all of it — would change if the Church moved away from the celibate priesthood.

I’m just touching on three areas I can see that would have to change if the Church waived the requirement for non-married celibacy for priests. In truth, the entire dynamic of the priesthood as it’s been practiced for a thousand years would change. This would require painful adjustments for the Church, the men who are priests now, for the families of future priests and for the parishioners.

Do we want to do it?

I don’t know.

It’s not my call.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Book Review: Coming Home to Wholeness

To join the discussion about Atchison Blue, or to order a copy, go here

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Life is hard. 

Life for Americans is not only hard, it is usually frantic. 

We are frantic, almost driven, people. I did not realize this until I went to a country where people live by a different internal clock. The contrast was stunning. 

Americans are certainly not the only people who race from deadline to goal to commitment to task. And we have a sense of self about how we do it that is our special grace among the driven places on this earth. But living here is a tough boogie.

Life is hard and it is fractured and in some ways desperate. Our nation is divided between the drop outs who just sit, and the doers who never sit at all. In both cases there is a kind of desperation and overwhelmed thing going on. In the case of the drop outs, overwhelmed is where they live and what they do. But for the doers, overwhelmed is the demon they fight every day. 

Judy Valente, the author of Atchison Blue, is an overwhelmed fighter. She is an astonishingly high achiever who has managed to carve out a flourishing career for herself in two competitive worlds: free lance writing and human interest broadcast reporting. 

Her private demons are a nagging dread of death and the great bugaboo of everyone; family problems. The major betrayal of her life was being laid off from her job at the Wall Street Journal the year after she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Based on what she writes in this book, losing this job was an earthquake for Ms Valente, a wake-up call about trusting career to be the all-in-all of life. 

Her solution for her human woes is to seek the thing we lack in our American society: Wholeness. 

It is a simple fact that the abundant life that Christ offers us is based on a spiritual and emotional wholeness that the larger society (any larger society) can never provide. Anyone who wants to be whole must find a way to retreat at intervals from the squabbling bitterness of our workaday lives. Without these retreats, we slide into a kind of fractured insanity without being aware of it. I see this insanity quite often in the exceedingly fractured world of politics. In fact, there was a time, back before Jesus rescued me, when I was pretty sick with it myself. 

There is no permanent cure for this fractured-ness. It’s causes are so thoroughly woven into this fallen world and the way it treats people that no one anywhere can completely escape its pull. However, for overworked, over-stimulated Americans, it is particularly ubiquitous. We are a driven people. The fact that we in large part drive ourselves does not change this. 

Without retreats, stopping places, we become so fractured that the insanity of life becomes our own insanity. 

My retreat is simply going home. When I walk into my house and shut the door behind me, I leave the frantic outside world. Nobody inside those walls is going to attack me or betray me or go on the internet posting lies and accusations about me. Inside these walls, I am free of that. 

Ms Valente sought something akin to this when she went to the Benedictine monastery, Mount Scholastica, in Atchison Kansas.

I’m beginning to think that monasticism is a particularly good fit for writers. After all, writers are already contemplatives by nature and avocation long before the monastery bug bites them. 

For someone like Ms Valente, who is a poet and human observer writer, walking into the monastery must have been something akin to what I feel when I walk into my house. She must have known at some level that this was home. 

Atchison Blue is a lovely book written by a journalist-poet whose writerly skills enable her to tell the story without letting the poetry overwhelm it and still keep the romance of the contemplative life in the midst of the story. It’s a delicate balance; the kind of writing that probably comes naturally to a journalist-poet. 

Reading this book makes me want to pack my bags and head off to Atchison myself. I imagine it will do the same thing for many of its readers. 

Love stories are like that. They make you want a love of our own. 

In the final analysis, that’s what Atchison Blue is; the love story between one woman and monasticism. It is the tale of her homecoming to wholeness in the contemplative life at a Benedictine monastery. 

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The oblates of Mount Scholastica, Benedictine Monastery. Ms Valente is the one on the bottom right. 

California Makes a Bad New/Old Law

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I’ve voted two times against giving people who rape children the death penalty.

I authored a bill to put them in prison for life without parole.

That pretty much sums up my attitude toward people who sexually abuse children. I don’t want to kill them, but to say I have no use for them is an understatement.

I’ve also written several times about the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

I point to all these things now in hopes of forestalling what I am guessing will be a hailstorm of negative reaction and wild accusations because of what I’m about to say. I think the new California law temporarily erasing the statute of limitation on child sexual abuse is a bad law. I would have voted against it.

The new statute I am talking about passed both houses of the California legislature a few weeks ago. It is now on the governor’s desk, waiting for his signature to become law. The law is clearly aimed at the Catholic Church. It exempts public schools and and other government institutions, as well as the child abusers themselves. It also repeats something California has already done once, which is to rewind an old law and essentially erase the statute of limitations on old sexual abuse cases.

Here are the reasons why I think this is a bad law.

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1. It is a dangerous practice to make people retroactively guilty. Change the law going forward, if you want. But don’t go back and re-write laws in the past to find people guilty of things they wouldn’t be guilty of under the laws as they were at the time they committed the crime. The situation in the new California law is a shade of that practice (which is unconstitutional on its face) since what we are talking about is re-winding the statutory time in which a crime can be punished, in this case, by civil lawsuit.

Let’s say, as a for instance, that the statute of limitations on rape is 5 years. Let’s also say that it comes to light that a general in the armed forces participated in the gang rape of several enlisted personnel back when he was a lieutenant. This was decades ago, but he even though he hasn’t participated in any more rapes (that we know of) he is now turning a blind eye to other rapes in the ranks.

One way to get at this monster would be to rewind the statute of limitations (say we do it for one year to give prosecutors a window to get at him) and extend the time rapists can be brought to justice to 40 years instead of 5.

Problem solved, right?

No.

Problem created.

What we would be doing is setting a precedent of selective justice, and worse, selective law-making, to get at one man. We would be declaring open season on anyone that prosecutors and legislative bodies of the future want to take a crack at retroactively. It might not be such an undoubted monster the next time. It could be anybody, including anybody that the special interests who actually write most legislation want to get at.

We could end up with powerful businesses retroactively suing their competitors out of existence with this practice. In fact, given that most legislation is about helping businesses destroy their competition with laws they write themselves and then get their bought and paid for legislators to pass for them, you can bet it would and will happen.

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2. The California law is, as I mention above, aimed at one group of people, in this case the Catholic Church. The practice of writing laws to get at one group of people, no matter who they are, is egregious.

Here’s why.

When we’re going after a group of people most folks think of as the boogeyman, in this case, a huge Church that not only tolerated, but enabled child abuse for a long period of time, it’s easy to decide that any way we can make them suffer is a good way. However, as always happens with these intrusions of the irrational in lawmaking, what begins as a seemingly justifiable exception, soon becomes the unjustifiable norm.

If the legislature can do this once, as they already have in California, then the legislature can do it again. And as with most things, the more they do it, the less outrageous it seems and the smaller the reason required to do it again.

Pretty soon, we’ve got major corporations writing up legislation that specifically limits their competitors or uses the government to control their customers, and doing it by name.

This is actually just the next step in special interest legislation. Special interest legislation of this type takes up almost all of legislative time right now. This is a bit off the subject, but if special interest legislation was eliminated, most legislative bodies in this country could finish their work in about a quarter of the time they spend today.

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3. There are better ways to punish long-term miscreants than retroactive laws. Legislators do have to put on their little thinking caps. But it can certainly be done. What they have to do is pass a law that begins when it is signed by the governor and goes forward and that is written for everyone.

Of course, I am guessing that California already has all the laws it needs to deal with child sexual abuse in institutional settings. Those laws just weren’t utilized at the right time. Outrage that child sexual abusers escaped punishment because the powerful abused their power is what fuels the desire to use lawsuits to punish the child abuse enablers now.

But civil lawsuits are a poor way to deal with this problem. People who sexually abuse children should go to prison. I am not talking here about Catholic priests. I am talking about all child sexual abusers. I’ve had some dealings with this in Oklahoma and I can tell you that far too many of these guys skate. There are lots of reasons, but judges who, like Dr Richard Dawkins, just can’t seem to see the harm, are among the primary causes.

I believe that sexual abuse by a priest, or any clergy, is especially egregious simply because the trust people place in their clergy puts them in a vulnerable position vis a vis the clergy. People confide things in their priests that they don’t tell anyone else in the world. This makes them deeply vulnerable to this priest. Sexual abuse, especially of a child, is a horrific betrayal of this trust.

At the same time, I am becoming concerned that we are developing a legal and social double standard about child sexual abuse. Dr Dawkins, as a for instance, engaged in grand-standing talk about arresting the Pope because of the Church’s child sexual abuse scandals. Then, he turned around and tried to take a wink-wink attitude toward child sexual abuse in other contexts.

Dr Dawkins isn’t alone in this behavior.

I agree with giving longer sentences to those in a position of trust, such as counselors, clergy and doctors, who violate that trust in this way. I think that, considering the vulnerability of their patients and parishioners to them, it is appropriate to hold them to a higher standard. However, those higher standards should be statutorily defined, not handed down willy-nilly as vengeance.

I do not agree with a wholesale two-tiered system of justice which singles out Catholic clergy for higher sentences simply because they are Catholic clergy. That is discriminatory on its face.

I think the new California statute is a bad law that sets a terrible precedent. It’s just a matter of time before that precedent ends up being used and abused in ways that none of the backers of the law foresaw or intended.

The Pope, Priests and Fatigue


Pope Francis recently discussed a letter he received from a parish priest at a gathering of Rome’s priests at the Vatican.

The priest had mentioned his fatigue. I think that’s something everyone who bears a responsibility for other people can understand.

Here are the Holy Father’s comments.

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Habemus Papam 1939-2013

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The Church.

The Rock.

Against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.

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Did Pope Francis REALLY Say That?

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An Italian atheist I’ve never heard of published an open letter to Pope Francis with a string of questions (challenges, is probably more like it) to the Pope.

The Holy Father astonished everyone, including, I am sure, said Italian atheist, by answering him.

The letter Pope Francis wrote is, like so much else he does, deeply pastoral. It’s clear when you read it that he was responding as a pastor of souls.

However, there was one paragraph that has gotten the whole internet in one of its kerfluffles. The atheist had evidently asked one of the usual atheist questions about can they, with their unbelief, go to heaven. For all I know, this question with its unadmitted longing for grace, was what caught the Holy Father’s attention in the first place.

I know, based on the large number of similar comments I get both here and in my public life, that this particular question is almost ubiquitous among atheists. They ask it — or rather, they use it as a means of denunciation — almost constantly. I’ve often thought that there was an underlying hunger for all the things that Christ offers — forgiveness, grace, peace that passes understanding and eternal life — in the way they fling this particular challenge down so reptitively.

Maybe the Pope saw the same thing I do and his Pastor’s heart reached out to this man in response.

I don’t know if that’s true. I only know that I often have an impulse to comfort them when they do this, but I do not have the pastoral tools to do it.

The Pope obviously was trying to tell this man one of the great truths of the universe with his answer: Christ’s grace and love are for everyone. He loves us all. He loves us every one. And yes, that includes atheists, unbelievers and people who spit on Jesus’ name.

The beautiful parable we call the Prodigal Son is Jesus’ way of telling us this. God loves us, even when we don’t love Him. He yearns for us, even when we turn our backs on Him.

So of course atheists can go to heaven. Heaven was made for them, just the same as it was every other human being.

The question is not can they, but will they?

Pope Francis comments in his letter that “God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so with contrition and a sincere heart.” This is something every Christian knows and has experienced. I can attest from my own life that God’s mercy is indeed limitless.

But the Pope adds something else after that and this has set the internet on its ear all day long.

“… the issue for those who do not believe in God is in following their own conscience,” he wrote.

This one sentence has set the bells ringing since it sounds for all the world like a direct admonishment to practice self-referencing moral relativism by the Pope himself.

After all, if all that’s necessary is to never violate your own personal code of conduct, then a universalist understanding of heaven and the Almighty become (excuse the pun) absolute. We go to heaven in just the way that the punsters and social experimenters have been telling us we do: By “self-actualization” and following a self-referencing, self-promoting, self-idolizing version of morality that is a-ok because it checks with our “own conscience.”

The question is, did Pope Francis really mean that?

Is he telling us that heaven is a slam-dunk for everybody, so long as they don’t cross their own conscience? Considering the messy and highly personal things that consciences are, I certainly hope not. If the unrepentant self-worshipping are going to heaven, then heaven would be pretty much like the world we have now: Mean, selfish, ego-driven, bloody and cruel.

More to the point, it would be a place where God Himself would be most uncomfortable.

Let’s go back to the question I asked a moment ago. Atheists most assuredly can go to heaven. The question I asked, and I think it’s the salient one, is, Will they?

If someone has never heard the name of Christ, then they have to function by the light they are given, and the Church teaches that they are judged according to that light. However, even for them, their only hope is through this Jesus they do not know. There is one Way, and that is Jesus Christ and the atonement he bought for us with his shed blood on Calvary.

But if someone who knows of Christ and has heard of Him all their lives, openly and dramatically chooses the darkness over the light, is God going to throw a net around them and drag them to heaven?

Did the father chase down the prodigal son, hog-tie him and drag him home?

No.

Pope Francis began his papacy by admonishing us not to be self-referencing. The scriptures plainly say things like “The fool says in his heart, there is no God. They have done abominable works.”

In my opinion that pretty much describes folks who defame Christ while they abort, euthanize and plunder their way through life.

So what did the Pope mean?

I don’t have a full answer for that, although I’m sure one is coming. I am also not a theologian. But I think what he meant is that someone who does not believe in God still has a responsibility to follow the inherent dictates of right and wrong that are planted in every heart. We call this natural law. It’s what tells everyone, everywhere, that murder is wrong. It’s how we know, without complex moral reasoning, that killing innocents, rape, and cruelty in all its forms are wrong.

This runs deeper than any commandment. It is written by the hand of God on each individual heart.

Even an atheist knows these things, and when they use their verbal skills to frame arguments denying these basic truths of moral existence, they are denying, in fact and in truth, their own God-given consciences. When they replace the truth of God that is encoded into their souls, with their own self-referencing anti-God, anti-life morality, there is no second chance for them without repentance and contrition.

At the least and at the beginning, every person must heed this internal voice, which is, whether they will admit it or not, the voice of the Divine. That is the beginning of our lives as moral beings.

Which of course we are. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, which means that we are also moral agents — free moral agents — acting in the universe.

We know what is right and wrong. We know it because it is part of our very being to know it. But we also have the verbal skills to weave mental sophistry that we claim exempts us from accepting these dictates of our true nature.

That is the beginning of sin, the first and primary rebellion against the God Who made us. It’s only remedy is to go back where Pope Francis began his discussion on this topic; to the point where we approach God through the open doorway of Christ’s sacrifice with true contrition and ask forgiveness, which, as the Pope says, He is always ready to give us.

Book Review: Trusting God on the Rocky Bottom of Life

To join the discussion about Rock Bottom Blessings, or to order a copy, go here RockBottomBlessings 1

Rock Bottom Blessings is Karen Beattie’s autobiographical description of finding the hidden blessings in the losses that everyone faces in life.

The rock bottom for Mrs Beattie was losing her job and her dream of adopting an Ethiopian baby.

Mrs Beattie married at the age of 40. She and her husband were both in the grip of delayed dreams they wanted to fulfill while life still gave them enough time to do it. They heard their life-clocks, ticking away the time they had to do these things.

For her husband, the delayed dream was a career change from journalism to counseling. Since his new wife had a well-paying job, they couple decided he should pursue this dream. He was accepted into a good school and received a scholarship to pursue his studies.

At the same time, the couple began trying to fulfill Mrs Beattie’s delayed dream of having a baby. After infertility treatment and two miscarriages, she accepted that she would not be able to have a baby herself, and immediately turned to international adoption.

The couple ran head-on into the spider’s web of government regulations and expense which has grown up around these adoptions, but moved ahead with the process, anyway. Then Mrs Beattie lost her job, and the financial wherewithal to adopt along with it.

Ultimately, they were faced with a decision as a couple as to whose dream they would go for: The husband’s dream of changing careers, or Mrs Beattie’s dream of international adoption. They chose to go for the career change.

I won’t spoil the book by telling you what happens next. What I will do is say that the needs of children are being lost in these adoption regulations.

While we debate what are essentially red herring issues such as whether or not homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt, we ignore the overwhelming adoption issue, which is the red tape and expense we have hung on this process. This spider’s web of regulations often make it impossible to place children in loving homes.

The truth is, children languish in situations which are destructive to them as human beings while their potential parents grieve because they can’t adopt.

Private adoptions have become fraught with the peril of emotional devastation for adoptive parents. So much so, that many people simply won’t try it anymore. I personally know a couple who arranged a private adoption, only to have the birth mother change her mind later and take the baby away from them.

This is hell for the adoptive parents, and hell for the baby.

I do not want to see young women coerced into giving their babies up for adoption. But neither the birth mother nor the birth father should be able to change their mind after the baby goes to the adoptive home. I also think that we need firm limits on how long parents who have had their children taken from them for drug addiction or mistreatment of the children will have to demonstrate changes in their lives. If the parents do not care to change, these children should be placed for permanent adoption so they can have a chance at life. 

This is a difficult issue for the simple reason that social workers are sometimes ham-handed in removing children from homes. I know of instances where this was done for trivial or even bogus reasons. Other times, they leave children in abusive situations so long that the children end up getting killed.

There is one thread running through all of this: The needs of the children come last in our system.

We have developed a “rights based” system of government in which children are not given the power of “rights” of their own to defend themselves.

Mrs Beattie’s book is a small window on this world of adoption. That is not the book’s primary focus. The main storyline of the book is Karen Beattie’s attempt to grapple with the disappointments of her life through her Christian faith.

Don’t be bitter. She admonishes herself at one point, which is good advice for all of us. She struggles to understand how God can love her and still deny her the gift of children.

All in all, the book is an interesting read. The narrative moves well and keeps you interested as you wait to see if this good woman will be able to realize her dream of adopting a child.

What We Need: Divine Mercy

I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every Friday. I also pray the main prayer after Communion. It is a beautiful prayer of atonement and Christ’s unending mercy towards us.

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