Saturday, June 30, 2012

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Those words come from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, scene II, where they are spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. The phrase aptly describes the bishop's overblown "outrage" over contraception.

In 23 years of pastoral service and experience, I can confidently state that an average of 3% of practicing Catholics strictly follow the teachings of the hierarchy on contraception. More disturbing than this for the bishops is reported in the following Huffington Post article,

The exemption debate has largely focused on Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies. Critics of the HHS mandate say it forces institutions to subsidize treatments that violate the tenets of their faith. Parishes and other church organizations focused on preaching and teaching the faith are exempt from the mandate.

Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) say that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide employees with free contraception coverage. Nearly as many (46 percent) say they should not.
A majority of Catholics (58 percent) support the contraception mandate generally. While Catholic Church teaching proscribes the use of artificial birth control to avoid conception, 98 percent of Catholics use contraception, according to separate surveys.

Aquinas said that we must follow our own conscience, even if it means excommunication, since it is our conscience that will acquit or accuse us at the end of our life. Religious Freedom (Freedom of Conscience) applies primarily to individuals and not to institutions. It means that no one, especially the state, or religious "authorities" can dictate to an individual what they must do, or practice in matters of conscience. Moral teachers, like parents, can give guidelines and help to develop values, but they cannot make every moral decision for a child, especially after the child reaches adulthood, or an adherent. You cannot abdicate your personal conscience to another person or an institution (cf. Nuremberg trials).

Religious Freedom (Freedom of Conscience) is primarily applied to individuals. No one should be able to impose upon an individual beliefs or practices with which they disagree. Religious Freedom (Freedom of Conscience) is secondarily applied to Religious Organizations since these are voluntary associations of like-minded people, e.g. churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc. These organizations enjoy Religious Freedom/Freedom of Conscience, because their individual members enjoy these freedoms. However, these organizations may not use these Freedoms as a license to attempt to impose their beliefs/practices on the whole of society. If they attempt this, these institutions become guilty of violating the Religious Freedom of individuals. Ironically, the very attempt to use legal coercion on others constitutes in and of itself a violation of the principle of Freedom of Religion/Conscience that they invoke.

If an insurance company provides a benefit, it does not mean that you must use it. However, it is quite another matter to insist that others (especially your employees, students, or other subordinated peoples) not have that same option. The Jehovah Witnesses might just as well take exception that they are required to pay for your blood transfusion, a procedure they consider immoral. The Society of Friends (Quakers), religious pacifists, could well object to their tax dollars supporting the maintenance of the military and financing foreign wars. Orthodox Jewish people could object to their tax dollars supporting food programs that include non-Kosher items and preparation practices at public schools.

What is particularly offensive about this feigned outrage on the part of the bishops is that it is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to increase their political power. Katherine Stewart, writing in the Guardian brilliantly captures the logical and moral inversion the bishops are attempting with their feigned outrage over "Religious Freedom."

“In the writings and speeches of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders in recent months, "religious freedom" has come to mean something close to its opposite. It now stands for "religious privilege". It is a coded way for them to state their demand that religious institutions should be allowed special powers that exempt them from the laws of the land.”

It is time the Vatican cleaned their own house first, and held personally accountable/punished bishops who Covered-Up pedophilia to protect the corporate wealth and "reputation" of dioceses. Apply Catholic social teaching to Diocesan employment (wage/benefit) practices AND then perhaps, they will have the moral authority to address general social issues. They would certainly look far less ridiculous to their clergy and the faithful. Then again, their attempt to mobilize society against Marriage Equality and The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act may simply be an effective way to divert the public's attention from the bishop's role in the Cover-Up scandal.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ten Minutes in Hell

I viewed the following video this morning on Huffington Post and am sharing it, along with some insights here with you now.

Things to keep in mind as you view this video:

• The bus-monitor in this video is an adult who has volunteered to help keep order and peace on the bus. Presumably she is acting with the authority of the school and parents. Her testimony of events would carry a weight of credulity normally not assigned to an adolescent by adult authority figures.

• The woman on the bus possesses the emotional, psychological and spiritual development of an adult. She is a widow, a mother, a grandmother and has years of experience to help her cope with the assaults she suffers on this bus ride. A child or adolescent does not possess this experience, skill set, or adult level of development to help him/her cope with such a barrage of abuse.

• The woman on this video can quit in her role as a volunteer bus monitor and never have to endure this level of abuse again. A student must suffer this abuse twice per day, nine months of the academic year, throughout junior high school and high school years.

WARNING: This video contains offensive language and is disturbing to view. Unlike you, students are not free to “turn this off,” many endure similar treatment on a daily basis.

THE GOOD NEWS: You can do something to make a real difference.

Here are hyperlinks to various Anti-Bullying Organizations. Find out more information, become informed and personally involved. You can do this, you can make a difference, and you can be a voice for the voiceless now and in your community.

Bully Police USA
Bullying UK
Bullying. No Way!
Great Schools
International Bullying Prevention Association
National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)
National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)

National Bullying Prevention Center (A Project of PACER Center)
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
PFLAG: Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesibians and Gays
Schools Anti Bullying Web Gateway
Stomp Out Bullying
Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE)
Social Web Watch

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Times, they are a change'n

Last night I received a message from a former parishioner at Holy Family Church in Visalia. The parishioner informed me that the Visalia City Council was about to pass a resolution commending and honoring the LGBT Pride Parade in downtown Visalia.
A Parade may seem like a small thing, especially in an Election year, but it represents a tectonic shift in hearts and minds on Main Street.

I had the honor and privilege of serving as the Pastor of Holy Family Church in Visalia from June 1993 through April 2008. An official directive regarding the education and formation of priests I once read as a seminarian stated that a priest was to be a catalyst for his parish. A catalyst is something that changes, without being changed.

As I reflect back on twenty-three years of service in active ministry I realize how absurd the idea of a priest as “a catalyst” is really. If you remain unchanged after hearing confessions, where people open their hearts in confidence and reveal to you what they reveal to no other person.

Parishioners opened their hearts to me; I am still in awe at the capacity that the human heart possesses to suffer in silence, not for a week, or a month, but for years and decades. Some of those parishioners were LGBT people. I did the best I could to counsel and guide them over those years. I recall some happy breakthroughs, reconciled family members and healed lives.

I also recall reading an Opinion to the Editor piece in the Visalia Times Delta in the 1990’s. Someone had written regarding an outrage against the LGBT minority in Visalia. Honestly, I don’t remember what the particular issue was per se there have been so many injustices over the years that frankly, it is impossible to remember them all. What I do vividly recall is that the author of the Op-Ed piece asked, “Where are the clergy’s voices?”

Those words stung at my conscience as I quietly ate my breakfast at Carrows restaurant on Mooney Blvd. across the street from Visalia Community College. I thought of all the “good” reasons why I could not publicly speak out. The work I had done and was doing with parishioners. Working to change the Church from within. These were subjects that came up periodically when speaking with other priests.

Frankly, there was also the question of my life. I had what one friend called “a recession-proof job” with health care benefits, retirement benefits, one month paid vacation per year, two weeks private retreat per year, paid housing, an expense account, a flexible schedule, and I really loved and enjoyed my work.

There was something I read that also caused me much thought:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

-Elie Wiesel

My parents left everyone and everything behind when they left Cuba, so that my brother and I could live in freedom. All of these thoughts and more importantly the flesh and blood human beings who I was privileged to serve over the years changed me. When the late bishop John T. Steinbock directed us to promote “Yes on Prop 8” I could not. It was immoral. It was wrong on every level. It remains a discriminatory law motivated at best by ignorance and fear, and at worst by hatred and bigotry.

So when I heard that the city of Visalia (in the heart of the “Reddest” part of California) had voted to pass a resolution honoring the LGBT Pride Parade in downtown Visalia; I smiled. I smiled for all the good people I was privileged to know and serve. I smiled for Eric James Borges a 19 year old who took his own life after a lifetime of suffering from the same hatred and bigotry that inspired Prop 8. I smiled for Robin McGhee, a professor in Visalia who founded GetEQUAL to push for Full Federal Equality for LGBT Americans, using the principles of Non-violent Direct Action taught by Gandhi and Dr. King.

Visalia may be a small town (by California standards) but it makes up in spirit for what it lacks in physical size. That spirit and the hope it engenders are opening hearts and minds throughout our nation and our world. It represents what is most noble in the human heart and mind. It is why we will not lose.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gay Priest to Minnesota Catholics: You Can Oppose Marriage Discrimination

Father Bob Pierson quoted a theologian, Joseph Ratzinger's words as the reason why Catholics can validly dissent from the hierarchy's orders on "how to vote." “Our holy father taught in 1967 that we must obey our own conscience, even if it puts us at odds with the Pope. I doubt that he knew that he was going to be Pope when he said that.” Father Bob is a living reminder that all faith must both be grounded in reason and be reasoned. He is also a living reminder that all faiths, at core, share the central value of compassion. When any faith stays from this value, it strays from its polar star and the truth.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Out of the Box, from Integrity of Episcopal USA

"Voices of Witness: Out of the Box" is a groundbreaking documentary giving voice to the witness of transgender people of faith. Courageously inviting the viewer into their journeys, the film is ultimately a celebration of hope and the power of God's love to transcend even seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Produced by Integrity’s Communication Director Louise Brooks, the film is being offered by Integrity USA as a gift to the Episcopal Church, as a resource for both teaching and transformation.