Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Police and Governments adopt a new attitude towards Vatican

Last week something extraordinary occurred in Belgium.

Armed with a search warrant, police entered the archbishop's office at 10 a.m. (0800GMT) just as the country's nine bishops were starting their monthly meeting with Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, Danneels successor, who took over in January. Also present was Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the papal nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg. Officials said all were held for nine hours and – along with diocese staff – had to surrender their cell phones. Full Story.

Forget all of your preconceptions about the Roman Catholic Church, the Cover-Up Scandal, etc and consider for a moment that one of the individuals who had his cellular telephone seized and who was detained is an Ambassador. If this occurred with an Ambassador from any other nation, said nation would immediately protest the police action. It would be considered a serious international incident and it would be considered so by diplomatic protocol and international law. Yet, as the report states, there was no immediate reaction from the Vatican. Why?

Imagine what occurred in the moments after the police returned those cell phones. The Vatican was immediately informed by their representative. Before making any statement, they most probably had many questions for Cardinal Danneels. What information is contained on your confiscated computer? What was the nature of the documents seized? Do any of the documents that have been seized contain any information that might be damaging to the Church?

The following day the Vatican reacted vociferously to the raids.

Investigators also opened the graves of archbishops in the St. Rombouts Cathedral in Mechlin, north of Brussels, looking for possibly incriminating documents, said Jean-Marc Meilleur, spokesman for the Brussels public prosecutor. Separately, police seized the records of an independent panel investigating sexual abuse by priests, some 500 cases in all. The victims are mostly men now in their 60s and 70s. This also drew the condemnation of the Vatican, which said it regretted the violation of the confidentiality due the victims of child abuse. Full Story.

These two points of protest constitute a diversion from the main issue for the Vatican. Neither the pope, nor his bureaucrats are losing any sleep over a “violation” of the confidentiality of victims of child abuse. They are not particularly upset over the fact that two graves were inspected by police.

What is of interest in this whole incident is that fact that prosecutors and police in Belgium, a Catholic nation, are investigating the Cover-Up Scandal as a criminal matter. They are investigating the hierarchy as they would investigate anyone else. This is really, what is most disturbing to the Vatican. The rest of the world is watching and other nations might follow the precedent set by the Belgian government.

Two days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed some of those fears. Incidentally six of the nine Supreme Court Justices are Catholics.

The Supreme Court won't stop a lawsuit that accuses the Vatican of conspiring with U.S. church officials to transfer a priest from city to city despite repeated accusations that the clergyman sexually abused young people. The high court Monday refused to hear an appeal from the Vatican, a decision that allows the lawsuit to move forward. No one has ever successfully sued the Vatican over sex abuse by clergy. Sovereign immunity laws hold that a sovereign state -- including the Vatican -- is generally immune from lawsuits. The U.S. has had diplomatic relations with the Holy See since 1984. Full Story

It appears that lay Catholics, from the King of Belgium and his government to US Supreme Court Justices have little patience left for the Vatican and its role in the Cover-Up Scandal. As in the case of the abuses that prompted Martin Luther four centuries ago, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church still operates in a reactive, rather than in a proactive mode. As was the case then, they refuse to address critical issues, never mind implementing substantive change, until they are forced to do so.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fighting for our lives!


This week Judge Vaughn Walker heard closing arguments in the California Proposition 8 trial. He is expected to rule in July either to overturn Prop 8 (this would allow Same Sex Marriage again in California), or to uphold Prop 8 (this would continue the ban that stripped Same Sex couples of their legal right to a Civil Marriage License). If the judge rules in favor of overturning the ban and restoring marriage equality, the proponents of Prop 8 will seek a stay of that order. Regardless of the ruling on Prop 8, the losing side will appeal the case to the Federal Ninth Circuit Court.

Regardless of how the Ninth Circuit Federal Court rules, the losing side will then appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court may decide to hear the case, or not. If they decide not to hear the case, then the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Federal Court will be the rule of law in that jurisdiction. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear the case (probably in 2012), then their ruling on Same Sex Marriage would become the law for the entire United States of America.

This presents both a great opportunity and a great risk for marriage equality. The Court’s famous ruling in Loving v. Virginia eliminated prohibition of inter-racial marriage instantly and gave force of law to equality. There would probably still be some jurisdictions, even today, where inter-racial marriage would be illegal. Following that precedent the Court represents a hope for any disenfranchised minority, since one of the functions of the judicial branch of government is to protect minorities and their rights against the tyranny of the majority.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court has at times issued infamous rulings which have been an affront against justice and in fact represented a legal enshrinement of injustice. One of the most infamous examples of this was the monstrous Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857. It was that grotesque injustice that prompted Abraham Lincoln to become radicalized in his opposition to the institution of slavery.

As the U.S. Supreme Court is currently constituted with a 5-4 membership that tends to vote in favor of conservative positions, bringing a social justice question before the Court represents a serious risk.


If you live in California the Election in November of this year will have a tremendous impact on Same Sex Marriage and Equality legislation. There are specifically two elected positions that are important to secure.

Governor of California. Vote for Jerry Brown (D) and donate (time, talent and money) to his election campaign. Presently, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has refused to defend Prop 8 in court Brown’s opponent Meg Whitman (R) supports the “Yes on Prop 8” side, she is in favor of bigoted and discriminatory laws aimed against Same Sex Marriage. She would use her authority as Governor to actively defend the “Yes on Prop 8” ballot decision using State funds and resources towards those bigoted ends.

Vote for Kamala Harris (D), who is running to be Attorney General – says that she, like Brown, would refuse to defend Prop 8 in court. However, her opponent, Steve Cooley said he would defend Prop 8 in court.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is already gearing up for the election fight in November. It is imperative that those working for marriage equality and to defeat Prop 8 get into gear, too.

Regardless of who you are, or where you are, fight for justice. Speak to your family, your friends, your co-workers. We have made much progress towards full Civil Rights (including the right to a Civil Marriage License), but there is still much more work to be done.

Here is something to help you remember what this is all about. MILK

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Do you remember when you were a kid and you would jump in a puddle on the way home from school? Remember when your grandmother baked you chocolate chip cookies? Remember your birthday and your birthday cake, party and friends celebrating with you?

Sometimes it is good to remember that there are loving and good people in this world. Sometimes it is good to remember that there is a noble humanity deep within each heart that can be awakened. This video is for you. Smile.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Roman Catholic priesthood and the ordination of women

I read an article this morning regarding a group protesting on behalf of the ordination of women at the Vatican. A few years ago I was having lunch with my niece who was in her last year of High School studies at the time. Amy announced to the table “The problem I have with the [Roman Catholic] Church is that they refuse to ordain women.” I put down my knife and fork, looked at my dear niece and said “The problem I have with the [Roman Catholic] Church is that they ordain men.” She smiled and laughed.

When I was assigned as the new pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Fresno I met with a group of women who were advocating for the ordination of women. I shared with them a story. The diocesan vocation director (the person who attempts to recruit new priests) asked all the clergy in our diocese to preach sermons to attract new recruits. A group of priests had gathered for a meal and someone asked us all a hypothetical question. If your nephew came to you and informed you that he wanted to become a priest, would you encourage or discourage him? Everyone present, old and young, said they would discourage their nephew from pursuing ordination to the priesthood.

The point here is simple. The Roman Catholic priesthood, as it currently exists needs radical reform. Let me review just a few issues. Retirement benefits should be protected by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa). Most lay Catholics are unaware that their priest’s retirement program is not protected by law. In simple language what this means is that a person can serve as a priest for 20, 30, 40 years and be denied retirement by the bishop. Retirement for priests is considered “a gift” which may be granted, or withdrawn at the pleasure of bishop.
Is this just? Would you want such an arrangement for yourself? If you worked for a soul-less profit oriented corporation, you would be treated better. Oh, I forgot to mention in our diocese you may retire at 75, because the bishop is so “gracious” he will permit you to request “early” retirement at 70.

Salary should be raised. In our diocese priest receive an annual salary of $16,000.00, that figure is taken from my tax return. At this point many of you are thinking, but priests take vows of poverty. Wrong! Diocesan priests do not take such vows. Priests who are members of religious orders do take vows of poverty; however, the flip side to those vows is that the order/congregation assumes financial responsibility for its members. To be ordained a priest requires 4 years of undergraduate studies and 4 years of post graduate studies. Obviously, one does not enter the priesthood to become wealthy, but there is another point here. The Church’s financial policies towards priests have NOTHING to do with money. They are about control. By paying poverty level salaries to priest you effectively rob them of autonomy.

Why should lay Catholics care about this? If your priest cannot speak the truth from the pulpit, you are robbed of the truth. You too become a victim of manipulation by the bishop. The bishop in turn, is controlled and manipulated by the Curia (Vatican bureaucracy). Essentially, the whole Church becomes an organization who’s primary purpose is to manipulate and control individuals; rather than, proclaim the truth.

Celibacy should be restored as a gift from the Holy Spirit to those individuals called to monastic life. The Orthodox Church has preserved this practice of the early Church. In the Orthodox Church before a person is ordained they must either 1) marry or 2) join a monastic community. Their rationale for this practice is simply that no person may fruitfully engage in ministerial service without the support of a community of love. That community of love is either a spouse, or a monastic/religious community. In the western [Roman Catholic] Church, this ancient practice of the Church was discarded and celibacy was required by the pope of all who were ordained. Celibacy has nothing to do with sex, it is about institutional power and wealth. In fact bishops are aware that most priests “struggle” with celibacy.

Celibacy means you are not and will not marry. Bishops expect their priests to be discreet, as my own bishop said to a brother priest. “We all struggle with celibacy, please don’t say anything more. There are some things a bishop doesn’t want to know.” Wink, wink, be discreet. Stay out of the newspaper and the evening news. Celibacy means that a bishop may move priests, at will. If a priest was married moving the priest would mean moving the whole family. Celibacy gives Roman Catholic bishops much more power than their Orthodox or Episcopal counterparts. It also provides an inexpensive work force and the revenues generated by a priest in his career accrue to the institution and not to the priest’s spouse/family.

By speaking of these few issues, I have only begun to scratch the surface of what all of this means in the life of a Roman Catholic priest. An elderly monsignor once told me, “every day I have lunch and dinner alone with my cat. I ask myself, does this please God?” Think of the emotional costs of loneliness, isolation, powerlessness over your personal life and you will quickly understand why there is a “shortage” of priests. You will also begin to understand why, although I am in favor of ordination of women, I would not support the change until the Roman Catholic priesthood is reformed first.

The obvious way to force a reform of the priesthood is to eliminate mandatory celibacy. Priest would then be able to marry. They would have to be paid a just and living wage. Their retirements and other benefits would come into line with the employment norms of society. Priests would gain financial independence and the self-esteem and freedom of speech that accompanies such independence. Lay people would hear sermons from an individual who understands their practical lives, because he himself lives like them. Which was the very purpose of the diocesan priesthood in the first place.

I cannot tell you how many priests wish they could say the foregoing to their parishioners, but dare not. As one of my pastors, the late monsignor Patrick G. Daugherty once said to me privately, “the worse thing you can do is make the bishop frown!” My parents left everything and came to this country so that my brother and I would never have to fear a “knock on the door” never fear making “a commissar frown.” Reform the priesthood and ordain women as deacons, priests and bishops, then there will be no shortage of priests. We will have a healthy, honest and spiritual priesthood and Church.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Americans' Acceptance of Gay Relations Crosses 50% Threshold

Good News! Take a few moments, pour yourself a cup of coffee and read the following article. It includes recent results from the Gallup poll. Americans' support for the moral acceptability of gay and lesbian relations crossed the symbolic 50% threshold in 2010. Among Catholic Americans those viewing gay relationships as morally acceptable changed from 46% in 2006 to 62% in 2010. We still have much work to accomplish; however, we have passed a very significant turning point.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) says gay people aren't distracted by things like religion.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) says that Republicans need to get the money flowing the way the gay community does for Democrats -- though it helps, he said, that gay people aren't distracted by things like religion. (Full Story)

I cannot tell you what a wonderful epiphany this has been for me personally! That I have not been “distracted by things like religion.” I guess that the three years of undergraduate studies, the four years of post graduate studies in the seminary had nothing to do with religion. The twenty-three years of ministerial service as a priest had nothing to do with religion. Since I am gay, I have never been distracted by religion.

Perhaps I am being oversensitive. Perhaps I am the only gay priest on planet earth. Perhaps there are no lesbian nuns. Perhaps the many Catholic parishioners who confided in me that they were lesbian/gay are a statistical anomaly. After all, who could question the omniscient and objective insight of a professional politician who views religion as a distraction from politics?

A philosophy professor of mine said that it was important to define terminology. So, what do we mean by “religion?” What defines a person as being religious? The Hebrew word “Amen” translated into English means “I believe this and I live this.” The Jewish understanding of religion was not simply a social association, not simply an intellectual ascent to a certain dogmas; but rather, a total ascent of one’s life to God. Curiously, this is one of the few Hebrew words that has survived in contemporary Christian worship.

Who is truly worthy of speaking the word “Amen” as a personal response to the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount? To what Jesus taught was the Greatest Commandment (to love God unreservedly and our neighbor as our self)?

Senator Hatch reveals what he believes is the hallmark of authentic religion when he stated to college students: "Gays and lesbians don't pay tithing, their religion is politics," By those standards, most Catholics and most Protestants are not religious, since most of these do not pay 10% of their gross income to their Church. Mormons; however, are required to pay the 10% tithe. By Senator Hatch’s standard, only those who pay a 10% tithe may be classified as “religious.” I wonder Senator, does that include paying 10% on Campaign contributions?

Jesus made this comment on tithing “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” [Matthew 23: 23-24]

Jesus’ words require no further commentary.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

...and they lived happily ever after.

Dan said...
I don't believe in gay marriage. Every married person I know is miserable!

Dear Dan,

I have given much thought to your comment regarding marriage. It really deserves a response on a personal level and on a universal level.

On a personal level, my heart goes out to you. It sounds like you have experienced a great personal hurt, possibly a betrayal by someone who you sincerely loved. Intimacy entails risk. Consider the process of dating. On the first date, people usually take great care in their appearance. They usually, are very deliberate in how they speak. We tend to try to put our best foot forward. When we feel more comfortable with the other person, we (or a friend/relative GRRR) will reveal a vulnerability. How that other person reacts to that revelation will determine what further revelations (if any) we dare to make.

Entering into a relationship with another person is literally placing your heart in their hands. Frankly, the question of sexual orientation here is moot. One need only pick up a great work of literature, a current novel, or a copy of the DSM (a reference book used by psychologists and therapists) to see that this is a reality that transcends time, culture, education, etc.

There is a danger inherent in all intimate human relationships. Sexual orientation does not trump the human condition. There is a great passage in the Book of Sirach 6:7-17 that catalogues the various types of “friends” one encounters in this life. When speaking of a potential mate, you can expand Sirach to the tenth power. As regards the issue of marital fidelity, I can assure you (having heard confessions for 23 years) that heterosexuals (male & female) are not immune from infidelity. As in all other areas of life, we learn from our failures, these can lead to personal depth, growth and new opportunities.

Evangelicals and other literalists love to speak of “the homosexual lifestyle.” The obvious response is to speak of “the heterosexual lifestyle.” Are Hugh Hefner and Marilyn Monroe exemplars of the “heterosexual lifestyle?” Are Laura & George W Bush exemplars of the “heterosexual lifestyle?” Are your Mom & Dad exemplars of “the heterosexual lifestyle?” A person’s sexual orientation does not determine the character of that person. One needs to consider the individual’s psychological, emotional and spiritual development., not to mention the interplay of those realities with one’s own and a host of other variables.

Obviously, to reduce a relationship to its mechanical sexual components is violence to both that particular relationship and to relationships in general. Yes, there exists a physical component to relationships, because we are physical beings; however, the physical is given meaning by the affective component of relationships. On a physiological level, there is no difference between rape and making love. On an affective level, although the physical act may be identical, there is a huge emotional, psychological and spiritual difference!

The California Supreme Court cited and quoted an amicus brief filed by the APA in the Court’s opinion issued on May 15, 2008 that struck down California’s ban on same sex marriage. Specifically, the court relied on the American Psychological Association’s brief in concluding that the very nature of sexual orientation is related to the gender of partners to whom one is attracted, so that prohibiting same sex marriage discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, rather than just imposing disparate burdens on gay people.

Essentially the court stated that denying individuals with same sex orientation the civil rights of marriage is unjust discrimination. No one is required to marry anyone. Some chose to remain single for their entire life. That is their right. However, for society to say to a person or a group of people “you may never marry” simply because of a person’s sexual orientation constitutes both an injustice to that individual and to that minority. The false and hollow argument offered by religious zealots that homosexuals have the right to marry someone of the opposite sex is both offensive and ignorant. The California Supreme Court, in its ruling, cited the APA’s amicus brief that corrects the ignorance and thereby explains the injustice.

As far as every married person being miserable. Mr. Lyles, a high school teacher of mine, once advised us regarding taking True/False tests. He said: If you ever have a True/False question that states, every, all, always or never and you are unsure of the answer mark it “False.” Aside from God, there are very few absolutes.Your statement is comprehensible only when understood from the depth of pain you suffer when someone betrays your love.

When it comes to marriage, we grew up hearing fairy tales end with the phrase “and they lived happily ever after.” We tend to think of marriage in idealized terms, we seek perfection and guarantees. The reality is that these are non-existent. What two people do when they exchange marriage promises is to say to their beloved, as long as I have the use of my mind, you can count on me. I will be there with you and for you, to share the joys and to help shoulder the difficulties we encounter together.

The two people, regardless of sexual orientation, are imperfect. They will falter and perhaps fail themselves and their spouse. Encouraging and challenging each other towards self-actualization is both the act of and the gift of love. The future is unknown. Arguably, that is the beauty, strength and value of marriage, which is a union of love and of life. Will it always be happy? Probably not, because regardless of one’s marital status life is not always happy. However being married means that at the end of a long hard day you do not return to a house, but to a home. In my experience, love is worth it and to deny that to an individual or a group is both an injustice and a moral evil. Paradoxically religious zealots promote the very promiscuity they denounce as “the homosexual lifestyle” by denying same sex couples civil marriage.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Pope's investigation

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday appointed nine prelates, including the archbishops of Boston and New York, to investigate child abuse in Ireland's Catholic institutions. (Full story)

What’s wrong with that?

The scope of the investigation, for starters, is what is wrong here. It is limited to the Catholic Church in Ireland. The Cover-Up Scandal has plagued the Catholic Church in the United States of America, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Chile, Brazil, etc. Limiting an “investigation” only to Ireland implies that this is a problem only in that local church. It most certainly is not.

Secondly, who/what is being investigated and specifically why? Pedophilia, like murder and rape will always occur, despite law enforcement’s and legislators’ best efforts to stop these horrible crimes. Civil governments can implement intelligent laws and police procedures in an honest attempt to protect innocent people. The hierarchy may implement pro-active policies and re-write Canon (church) law, they may mandate cooperation with civil authorities, but this would need to occur on a universal (international) level. It is not.

Who could possibly object to such an investigation?

As the article clearly states:

But U.S. victims of clerical abuse were not impressed by Benedict's selections, saying some of the bishops themselves had "troubling" records on confronting abuse.

"We must look outside a largely complicit church hierarchy for real solutions to this devastating ongoing crisis," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the U.S. victims' group Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

"For an apostolic visitation to have any chance of success, the participating bishops cannot be guilty of the same offenses they are investigating," said, which conducts research into the abuse crisis.

The problem here is not only pedophilia, it is the Cover-Up of pedophile priests and religious by their superiors (i.e. the hierarchy). Asking the hierarchy to self-investigate this Cover-Up, at the very least calls into question the legitimacy of the investigation and its findings. At worst, it invalidates them. Investigators would have to include lay persons (Catholic and non-Catholic). Preferably with backgrounds in psychology and law.

Sadly, this investigation strikes me as an exercise in containment and public relations damage control. The widespread international nature of the Cover-Up scandal indicates a systemic problem within the universal church and not merely a problem with the church in Ireland. Such an international systemic problem would require a reform of the whole church. The scope of this investigation will not be able to address the needs of the universal church, or reform it to help it heal from this systemic problem.

When I was in seminary, a professor told our class a joke about the anti-Christ. A Dominican Friar approached the pope and said “Holy Father, the anti-Christ is alive and here in Rome!” The pope paused and asked “How old is he?” Three years old, responded the friar. The pope thought for a moment and said “Leave it to my successor.” Benedict knows that systemic reform is the effective cure to the Cover-Up scandal and the mentality which facilitated it. However, such reform would compromise the hierarchy’s power, specifically its autonomy from lay oversight. This “investigation” is a way of appearing to act, while not acting at all.