Wednesday, November 14, 2012

San Francisco in archbishop Cordileone’s sight

Newly installed archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has arrived with more baggage than San Franciso International airport can handle. Here are some of the more unwieldy pieces of that luggage:

1) “Cordileone first made headlines in 2008 when he helped draft and finance Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage. At the time, he called gay marriage a "plot by the Evil One" to destroy marriage in the modern world.” [Huffington Post]

2) He was in fact the man most responsible for Prop 8, as this article in the East Bay Express explains in detail.

3) Even before his installation as Archbishop of San Francisco, Cordileone issued the following ultimatum to those engaged in pastoral ministry to LGBT persons in San Francisco:

“In an April 12 letter to the association's board, Cordileone stated he would ‘take public action to clarify the status of [Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry] CALGM with regard to authentic Catholic ministry’ should they refuse to take an oath that requested that each member ‘strive to clearly present Catholic doctrine on homosexuality in its fullness’ and ‘profess personally to hold and believe, and practice all that the holy Catholic church teaches, believes and proclaims to be true, whether from the natural moral law or by way revelation from God through Scripture and tradition. "The board has twice rejected the bishop's request."

To place this in context, imagine if he required all Marriage Encounter/Engaged Encounter Couples to take an oath that they practice and publically advocate for Natural Family Planning. The majority of Catholic married couples use artificial contraception.

4) Within one month of his installation as the new archbishop of San Francisco Cordileone issued the following letter:

November 6, was a disappointing day for marriage, as the effort to preserve the unique meaning of marriage in the law lost by only a narrow margin in four states, even though vastly outspent by those who promote the redefinition of marriage.
The meaning of marriage, though, cannot be redefined because it lies within our very nature. No matter what policy, law or judicial decision is put into place, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any children born of their union. It is either this, or it is nothing at all. In view of the fact that every child has a mother and a father, our society either respects the basic right of every child to be raised by his or her mother and father together and so supports the true and unique meaning of marriage for the good of children, or it does not. In a society marked by increasing poverty and family fragmentation, marriage needs to be strengthened, promoted, and defended, not redefined. I hope and pray that political leaders, judges, and all people will seek to honor this foundational and common sense truth of marriage.

To this Jay Barmann comments: “Read it and try to understand how this guy is going to keep living here” in SFist.

In answer to Jay Barmann, Salvatore Cordileone has no desire or intention to remain archbishop of San Francisco for too long. I say this because the archdiocese of San Francisco is not a “red hat” archdiocese. There are no cardinal-archbishops of San Francisco. Well, with the exception of cardinal Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco. Who along with cardinal Roger Mahony, and retired SF archbishop Niederaure all collaborated with Cordileone in passing Prop 8.

However Levada was promoted a cardinal AFTER he resigned as archbishop of San Francisco and was made the head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Holy Office of the Holy Roman Inquisition). This is the number 2 position at the Vatican and is the watchdog organization for doctrinal purity within the church.

This is a critical point in considering the words and actions of archbishop Cordileone. He has no desire or intention to remain in San Francisco; however his performance in this role will facilitate his promotion to become a cardinal. Realistically, this means leaving San Francisco and moving elsewhere. Elsewhere is ideally one of the influential congregations [Departments] in the Vatican bureaucracy. For example, the Sacred Congregation of Bishops, that selects those who will be promoted from the ranks of the priesthood and be made bishops.

Cardinals also act as electors to the next pope and, since Benedict XVI is very elderly, the next papal conclave (election) will happen soon. One doesn’t become a cardinal and promoted to high office in the church on merit alone. In fact, many cardinals have reached high office with very little personal merit, for example cardinal Roger Mahony does not even hold a doctoral degree. However, he and Cordileone have two things essential for advancing an ecclesiastical career: 1) Napoleonic ambition and 2) influential friends in high church office.

Cordileone certainly possess both of these and, unlike Roger, he does hold a doctorate in Canon (church) law. His mentor in fact is cardinal Raymond Burke the head of the Roman Signatura, which is the equivalent of the church’s Supreme Court. Burke is very well connected and an influential ultraconservative in Vatican circles and Cordileone is seen to be his protégé.

Cordileone has had a meteoric rise within the hierarchy from his position as auxiliary (assistant) bishop of San Diego, fueled by the suffering of LGBT people. He was rewarded for his central role in promoting Prop 8 with a promotion to diocesan bishop [CEO] of Oakland. Now Benedict XVI has strategically placed him as archbishop of San Francisco. This is no accident San Francisco is perceived as the heart of the LGBT movement in America and Benedict has sent Cordileone to strike at the heart of our struggle for civil rights, because this pope knows that if the U.S. embraces full civil rights for LGBT people that the world will follow. He is desperately trying to stop that from happening and Cordileone’s past performance promises success in turning back the clock.

For Cordileone even pausing the clock may be enough to earn him a red-dress and a renaissance palazzo in Rome, replete with a chauffer driven Mercedes (no more pesky DUI’s) and a small army of sycophantic staff to tend to every whim and desire. Not to mention, becoming a powerful player in Vatican politics.

A clue as to how Cordileone can pause the clock is found in his letter. Note the passage: "I hope and pray that political leaders, judges, and all people will seek to honor this foundational and common sense truth of marriage." Cordileone knows that the Supreme Court will decided, possibly as early as this month, the fate of Prop 8 and within this next year the so called “Defense of Marriage Act” [DOMA].

The “judges” to whom Cordileone is appealing are: Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Roberts, and most especially, Kennedy. Cordileone’s letter is what is visible in the light of day, imagine what he’s doing behind the scenes.


What can you do? Write, speak out, let your voice be heard by elected officials, editors and online. Vatican intrigue may have a home in Rome, but it most certainly should not have a home in Washington DC.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

You Matter

On Election night in 2008 I stood at the Music Box in LA and watched the election counts come in. That night four years ago, I experienced two opposite emotions at the same time. The hope for substantive change promised by our newly elected President, Barack Obama; and the just anger at the bigotry manifested by the passage of Proposition 8. A hateful “law” that stripped LGBT people not only of their civil right to marriage, but of their human dignity.

I came to realize in the weeks and months following the passage of that hate inspired law, that its passage was a blessing in disguise. If we had won and defeated Prop 8 in November of 2008, the rest of the nation would have brushed it off: “Eh, that’s California, the land of fruits and nuts.” But because we lost here, in what is perceived to be the bastion of liberalism in the USA, it was a slap in the face to LGBT people across America. If our civil rights can be trampled in California, what chance do we have in the Deep South or the Midwest? Prop 8 was a painful but effective national wake-up call to LGBT people and their loved ones.

Harvey Milk said: "Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight." It is true that if every LGBT person came out to family, friends, coworkers and society that homophobia would collapse. Social change, social justice and social equality would ensue. But there is also another truth here that is equally important: This is a personal matter, either you do it or it doesn't get done.

Each of us is personally healed and made whole the day we speak the truth about ourselves. The joke is: The last person you come out to, is yourself. The Prop 8 crisis was for me personally a moment of truth. A moment in which I had to make a personal decision that would change my life.

Speaking the truth can exact a painful price. Speaking the truth cost me my parish, my career, my financial security, my health care insurance and my retirement. I had to file for bankruptcy in July of 2010. Everything was stripped away. As Alexandr Solzhenitsyn said: “Once you take everything away from a man, you have no power over him.” In America we call this the “golden handcuffs.” Incidentally if anyone reading this has any influence in legislation, please help repeal ERISA exemptions to religious organizations. Everyone’s retirement benefits should be protected.

Today I am free from the fear that grips many priests in active ministry. I have lost false friends and discovered who are my true friends. I discovered that my parents love me unconditionally and that my family is there with and for me. The Prophet Job wrote: “Naked we come into the world and naked we go forth from it.” The only thing we have is ourselves and the love we have given and received.

Tuesday night, four years after the passage of the infamously unjust Prop 8, Maine, Maryland and Washington state all passed Marriage Equality laws that extend the Civil Right of Marriage to all couples. Minnesota voters rejected an Anti-Equality amendment to their state’s constitution. This along with the reelection of Barack Obama, the first sitting President to support Marriage Equality, in his victory speech affirmed the civil rights of all Americans “gay or straight.”

This represents a cultural tipping point in American society towards full legal equality and eventual social acceptance. Because of America’s influence in the world, it also represents an acceleration of international legal and social equality for LGBT persons. That is my assessment, but I think it prudent to look at last night’s events through the eyes of others.


Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an organization that actively works against the Civil Rights of LGBT people, predicted that the President would lose reelection last night. She was wrong. She did however have the foresight to step down as the president of NOM and hand on the helm to Brian Brown, just before everything hit the fan.

Effectively leaving Brian Brown holding the bag of failure and defeat, while Maggie walks away unscathed. Last night’s defeat of NOM was its death knell. Major donors (Knights of Columbus & the Mormon Church) will connect the dots and realize that NOM is now a costly and ineffective tool in preventing Marriage Equality.

The U.S. Supreme Court:

There is a popular myth that the U.S. Supreme Court is insulated in a hermetically sealed bubble from social issues and partisan politics. That the Court is an institutional version of Mr. Spock from Star Trek, a few moments of reading Justice Scalia’s pontifications on various issues will disabuse you of this fantasy. However, the Court does attempt to foster and maintain a patina of disimpassioned objectivity.

The Court has to decide a series of cases that deal directly with Marriage Equality. These include the case of the infamous Prop 8, that has been invalidated by the Ninth Circuit Court and been appealed by Prop 8 backers to the Supreme Court. Additionally the Second Circuit Court has declared that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

Make no mistake; the Supreme Court Justices were all keenly watching the results of Tuesday night’s Election. It is clear that Marriage Equality is increasingly the will of the Electorate. It would serve the Supreme Court well, as an institution, to be on the winning side of history. More importantly it would erode the prestige and image of the Supreme Court to rule against Marriage Equality, especially in the wake of their highly contentious ruling in Citizens United.

The Republican Party:

If the Supreme Court rules that DOMA is unconstitutional, it will be granting a HUGE gift to the Republican Party. Republican political strategists have been warning for some time now that an Anti-Equality position on marriage will cost dearly in future elections and reduce the Republican Party to a permanent minority party, incapable of winning the Presidency. Read this memo from George W. Bush’s advisor Jan van Lohuizen, published in Politico:

1. A review of public polling shows that up to 2009 support for gay marriage increased at a rate of 1% a year. Starting in 2010 the change in the level of support accelerated to 5% a year. The most recent public polling shows supporters of gay marriage outnumber opponents by a margin of roughly 10% (for instance: NBC / WSJ poll in February / March: support 49%, oppose 40%).
2. The increase in support is taking place among all partisan groups.

The problem for the Republican Party is finding a way out of their doctrinaire Anti-Equality stance that does not alienate its political base, specifically white evangelicals in the former Confederacy and Great Plain states. A Supreme Court ruling such as Loving v. Virginia in favor of Marriage Equality would be an elegant solution for Republican leadership. They could simply blame “activist judges” and underscore the need for their base to vote Republican so that they could block the Democratic Party from appointing new liberal justices.

Essentially, they’d take a page from their handling of the abortion issue: use “repeal”, as a carrot to motivate the base where they are the majority (the Deep South & Great Plains states); and play it down where it is expedient to ignore the matter (e.g. the Northeast and West Coast).

U.S. Catholic Bishops/Vatican:

The French have a saying: “Nothing succeeds like success,” sadly for the Vatican and its hierarchy the opposite is also true nothing fails like failure. The hierarchy failed and they failed massively in this Election and on the issue of Marriage Equality. Archbishop Dolan’s anointing of Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa hoping for an ally to replace President Obama failed. Romney lost and so did Dolan, the USCCB, and the Vatican.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ abuse of “Religious Freedom” in this election cycle has been judged absurd. The bishops claimed that a mandate that Catholic institutions (e.g. universities, charitable agencies) provide insurance coverage (such coverage normatively includes reproductive services/procedures) to employees, students and their dependents violates Catholic’s Freedom of Religion/Conscience.

Voters saw through this attempt by the bishops to redefine Religious Freedom as belonging primarily to institutions and only secondarily to individuals. An employee, student, etc of a Catholic institution would have their conscience effectively overruled by the bishops; unless they could afford to pay for these services/medications/procedures out of pocket and many cannot. This would have had the practical effect of violating the Freedom of Religion/Conscience of employees, students and their dependents.

The good news for Dolan and American bishops is that this pope is very, very old and will probably not be around by the next national election. They simply have to lay low provide minimal lip service to the pontiff’s fanatical eccentricities, in order to protect their careers, and wait for his replacement. A practical example of this can be found in the inaction of Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine. As the Seattlepi reports:

“The Catholic Church didn't play an active role in the referendum debate, focusing instead on education. But Malone did issue a statement saying Catholics who support same-sex marriage are "unfaithful to Catholic doctrine."

Election night 2008 made Election night 2012 possible. Much hard word and many painful sacrifices by LGBT folks across America and internationally have made this progress possible. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to you. When you speak the truth you change the minds and move the hearts of those who know you. You change their votes and in doing so, you change society for the better. As Harvey Milk said:
"Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Eye of the Storm

Recently my Dad had a bad cough. Mom insisted that he go to the doctor, who dismissed the whole matter saying: you’re in perfect health; you just have a nagging cough. My Dad answered: “The cough isn’t as nagging as my wife. She insists that I have an X-ray of my lungs.” The doctor laughed and said: “To put your wife at ease, I’ll order the X-ray.” The X-ray came back with a spot on my father’s right lung. Mom never insisted on an apology from either the doctor or my dad.

The first moral of that story is the importance of listening to your intuition, even when experts mock you. We have an inner spiritual sense that guides us. It happens when we first meet a new person, we may feel an affinity or repulsion towards that person. Listen to that! A nagging sense that we need to do something, go somewhere, etc may well be the universe telling us that this is (in) opportune. Listen to that!

The spot on my father’s lung, we feared, might be cancer. Both of my dad’s parents died of lung cancer making this spot in the lung especially ominous. Intellectually, of course, I know that one day my parents will die. It is quite another thing to accept that truth on an emotional level. Mom told me shortly after the death of her mother: “The day your mother dies, on that day you become an orphan.”

Two days ago I officiated a wedding, it is how I earn a living these days, it is honest work and I enjoy working with the couples. This particular couple had set up a table with their deceased grandparent’s photographs. The father of the groom walked up to me, wiping away tears with a handkerchief. “All that is left are memories and sayings.” Your really are an orphan when your folks die. While they are still alive, there is always someone to turn to for orientation and advice. After their death, there are just memories and their sayings.

In this time under the shadow of my dad’s possible (inevitable) death, I thought of my late bishop. Bishops are referred to as the “spiritual father” of their priests. Well, my “spiritual” father dropped me from the diocesan health insurance policy less than 30 days after I made my statement of conscience on Prop 8. My real father offered to pay for my health care insurance. Due to the work ethic he inculcated in me, I politely refused. I’ll pay for my health care insurance myself in the near future. My attorney, a former priest and a canon (church) lawyer, invoked cannon law that requires a bishop to provide material assistance to priests, even suspended priests. My “spiritual father” (bishop) responded: “Get a job.”

Actually, I’m happy that all of that happened. It underscored for me that all of that language of “spiritual father” is a lie. The nuns who fought for universal health care are real, the bishops who threw the poor under the bus with health care and became choirboys for the Republican Party, are fake. They are the modern day Pharisees who place institutional image above the well being of children; and who view morality as SEX and not as charity. My dad illustrated what a real father is: someone who honestly cares. Who loves even when he doesn’t fully understand his crazy kid. Who loves me simply because I am his child and accepts even though his child seems incomprehensible to him.

Thankfully, my dad’s lung spot turned out not to be cancer. One day I know I will lose my dad and mom, but I also know that their love will accompany throughout life. I know that their sense of justice, tempered by charity and warmth, are my greatest inheritance.

All this time I have been silent on this blog. This has been a time for me to process not only the possible loss of my Dad (and one day both my parents), but also my identity as a person.

I entered the seminary in 1978, as a 19-year-old undergraduate who had a conversion experience. I find myself at 54 undergoing another conversion experience. Both have placed me in touch with something both transcendent and imminent. Both were unexpected and life changing. Both led/are leading me to something beyond myself and both have given me a sense of mission and serenity.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Every Biblical Argument Against Being Gay, Debunked Biblically

This election year the states of Washington, Maryland and Maine will vote on Marriage Equality. The state of Minnesota will vote to prohibit Marriage Equality in its constitution.

Some Christian church leaders will encourage members to vote against Marriage Equality citing the Bible as their reason. This presentation by Matthew Vines debunks their arguments and makes a compelling case for Marriage Equality. I urge you to watch it, take notes and incorporate these arguments when debating this issue.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why was a college student in the car of drunken Archbishop-elect Cordileone at 12:26 AM, when Cordileone was arrested for a DUI?

Listen very carefully to the announcer of a local San Diego news station:

“According to police, 56 year old bishop Salvatore Cordileon was driving along the edge of SDSU when he entered a sobriety checkpoint he appeared drunk and was arrested shortly after midnight. He was in the car with his elderly mother and a foreign exchange student, a young male adult.”

If San Francisco Archbishop-elect Cordileone were just the simple priest that he claimed to be to at his arrest, his superior would have demanded explanations.

What were you doing driving drunk?

What was a college student doing in your passenger seat at that time of night?

After you dropped off your mother, where did you intend to go, and what were you going to do when you arrived?

Have you ever spent time with, or socialized, with this young man prior to your arrest? If so in what context and what is the nature of your relationship?

The matter would be brought to the attention of the bishop, and it would most probably affect his career and, of course, it would be handled discreetly.

The fact that Cordileone’s mother was present in the car with Cordileone and the young student would not clear the concerns or suspicions from the mind of a superior. Consider the statements of the police:

“Cordileone's mother, who was a passenger, was allowed to drive the mid-size black car home following her son's arrest after officers made sure she had not been drinking and had a valid license, McCullough [the arresting police officer] said.”


"He was a driver that was obviously impaired,” Officer Mark McCullough also stated.

These two statements from police clearly indicate that Cordileone’s mother was sober and capable of driving the car that night. The second statement by officer McCullogugh that “he [Cordileone] was…obviously impaired” raises some serious questions about both the judgment and the laxity of Cordileone’s mother, with respect to her son. She can’t tell, or is unwilling to protest, that he is obviously drunk and poses a threat to human life behind the wheel of an automobile. How objective and outspoken would she be about a possible inappropriate relationship with a young student?

A superior/pastor/bishop would ask all of these questions of Salvatore Cordileone and so, it surprises me that the press does not. Then again, the Catholic hierarchy has much experience in managing the press. This is not a story they want pursued, it would be highly inconvenient in an election year. Especially on the same week that the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), New York Archbishop cardinal Dolan blesses the Republican National Convention and Mitt Romney’s bid to replace Obama as President. If Romney wins, the USCCB’s social conservativism will become national policy and this increases both USCCB [Vatican] power and prestige.

Cordileone is not a simple priest. He is:

“Known as "the architect of Proposition 8," the 56-year-old played a pivotal role in convincing many Catholic organizations in California to help bankroll the 2008 campaign to overturn the state's same-sex marriage law. With his help, Prop 8 supporters raised some $1.5 million, which went a long way toward helping get the measure passed.”

That is why Benedict XVI promoted him to put a lid on gay San Francisco and use that position to influence politicians to deny LGBT Civil Rights. In this election cycle the bishops define morality as being about sex, specifically controlling women and LGBT people. Archbishop-elect Cordileone’s arrest on a DUI can be handled; the fact that a young male student was a passenger in the drunken bishop’s car is a monstrous embarrassment to the USCCB’s agenda. It could have far reaching negative political consequences for Benedict’s plan to stop Marriage Equality in the USA.

Post Script

What can we do now?

1. Determine the identity of the young male student who was a passenger in Cordileone’s car on the night of his arrest.

2. Interview that young male student and publish his story.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Whose Freedom of Religion/Conscience?

I received a comment from a reader, which is posted on the preceding blog comments. Occasionally, I post a response as a blog, because I believe the comment contains sentiments/ideas that touch on general interest.

Dear Silias,

In regard to your statement,

“Actually, democracies have THE WORSE [worst] record of protecting minority rights of all types of governments, historically speaking.”

I would very strongly disagree with your assertion. You need merely consider the Twentieth Century to realize the absurdity of such a claim. The Third Reich under Hitler, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong (all totalitarian regimes) together arguably murdered more people than all other governments combined in all previously recorded history. Incidentally, democracies constitute a small sliver of all forms of human government throughout history, the overwhelming majority have been authoritarian governments in which the common people have had little or no voice in decisions directly affecting their daily lives such as the subject at hand, their health care.

I agree with your sentiments regarding minority rights in the face of majority rule; in fact, I have argued that very point in previous articles. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the courts exist to protect minority rights (admittedly imperfectly) against majority tyranny.

That stated I think you have misunderstood the thrust and main point of my article.
I think it prudent, as my old philosophy professor used to say, to begin by clearly defining our terms. Specifically, what is meant by the expression “Freedom of Religion/Conscience.” Black’s Law dictionary, Seventh edition, defines Freedom of Religion as,

“The right to adhere to any form of religion or none, to practice or abstain from practicing religious beliefs, and to be free from governmental interference with or promotion of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment and Article VI, Section 3 of the U. S. Constitution.”

Since laws are the codified values of a people, Black’s definition provides us with definition that represents both the legal, and culturally normative understanding of the term Freedom of Religion/Conscience in the USA. Reading that definition it becomes apparent that this right is primarily conferred upon individual citizens and secondarily upon associations of like-minded people (including religious organizations).

The bishops claim that a mandate that Catholic institutions (e.g. universities, charitable agencies) provide insurance coverage (such coverage normatively includes reproductive services/procedures) to employees, students and their dependents violates Catholic’s Freedom of Religion/Conscience.

The bishops are attempting to redefine Freedom of Religion/Conscience as being primarily, or at the very least equally, accorded to institutions (e.g. the Catholic hierarchy) and secondarily, or at most only equally, to citizens. The NCCB seeks to interpret a special right/privilege that they will first, use to effectively impose their views/beliefs and practices upon subordinated people (i.e. employees, students, staff, and their dependents). Second, to carve out and enshrine a special legal status for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) within American society.

Ironically, the practical effect of their demands will involuntarily impose NCCB beliefs/values/practices on citizens, who happened to be their employees/students/and dependents thereof, regardless of the beliefs, values and practices of these subordinated people. In effect, the NCCB will trample on the Freedom of Religion/Conscience of individual citizens (employees/students/and the dependents thereof) through raw economic coercion. If you work for us, or attend one of our universities, we will involuntarily exclude you from normative health care insurance benefits that contradict the employer’s religion, regardless of your religious beliefs or practices.

An employee, student, etc of a Catholic institution would have their conscience effectively overruled by the bishops; unless they could afford to pay for these services/medications/procedures out of pocket and many cannot. This has the practical effect of violating the Freedom of Religion/Conscience of employees, students and their dependents.

The fact that a majority of Catholics find no moral issue with disregarding the bishop’s prohibition of contraception, unmasks that this is NOT about the issue of Freedom of Religion/Conscience, as it has been historically understood. Nor is this per se about contraception. This is about power and control by the bishops of American law and society, period.

This is not an attack on Catholics by the government; in fact, it is the government protecting the Freedom of Religion/Conscience of all its citizens (including Catholics) against a powerful elite attempting to force its very narrow interpretation of Catholicism involuntarily on others by redefining Freedom of Religion/Conscience and attempting to intimidate elected officials.

The most succinct and insightful statement on the hierarchy I’ve yet heard was voiced by the Prime Minister of Ireland, a historically Catholic nation, when he said to the Parliament of that nation,

Prime Minister Enda Kenny denounced to lawmakers last week what he called "the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism – and the narcissism – that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."

P.S.: More "Special Rights" for Catholic institutions.

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.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Father Geoff Farrow Interview Part II

Questions explored in this interview include, 1) How can Equality spread? 2) Can Catholic teachings on Sex adapt? 3) How do we take effective political action now? 4) “Equality is Civil Rights,” is the perceived racial divide real?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Passover Now

The following is a portion of a letter I wrote recently to a friend,

Always a pleasure to hear from you, I was touched by the story of how nuns hid your family during the Shoah. I think that story beautifully illustrates two strains within Catholicism that I believe exist in all organized religions. In all of the world's great religions there is an emphasis on Compassion. That "God" is compassion and that as God's children we are called to a personal transformation to become like God who is Compassion. This spiritual process is precisely that, a process through which we chose to become more empathetic towards others and ourselves.

Recently, observant Jewish people all over the world celebrated Passover. The Passover story that most of us grew up with in America featured Charlton Heston as Moses. The climax of the film is when Moses parts the sea and the finger of God writes the Ten Commandments. However, I think the real story of Passover is the forty years in the desert. Forty years, in the Scriptures, represents a life span (a generation).

After the dramatic deliverance from Egypt, comes a life long journey. In the desert the people grumbled against Moses. They longed for the flesh pots (reliable food rations) of Egypt (slavery). I am reminded of Churchill's quip that those who prefer security to freedom deserve neither. In Torah it states that God sent serpents to afflict the people, the recipient of Churchill's quip probably felt similarly afflicted.

The Torah states that the people had a change of heart and God then commanded Moses to fashion a bronze serpent on a staff. The people were required to look upon the bronze serpent to be healed. Think about that. In the wilderness, they had to face what they feared in order to be healed.

The desert sun transformed the gold of Egypt into a heavy and useless burden. What the people originally considered a treasure became a burden. In life's journey we learn to drop into the sands those things we initially thought indispensable. We discover that things (and people, including ourselves) we took for granted are the authentic treasures.

All of that to say, that religion is a first step towards spirituality and that spirituality is not an end in itself, but rather a process towards something greater. That "something greater" is personal integrity, integration with others and with nature, and the fruits of this harmony are peace and serenity.

The problem with all of this is that most of us do not want to face our fears, precisely because we fear them. Most of us want to avoid the work required by the spiritual process and most of us do not want to find ourselves in the situation of the freed Jewish slaves. We, like they, want security and we want to be in control.

Religion (and spirituality) can be externalized and thereby, the perfect place to hide from ourselves, others and God (Compassion). It can be the perfect place to avoid the work of authentic spiritual growth. Religion can be reduced to a myriad of laws that must be obeyed, a game we play. God can be reduced to a celestial version of the IRS that will audit and penalize anyone who dares to violate the smallest part of the law.

The danger here is that religion becomes a "Contract Religion" in which, if I do "X" God must do (give me) "Y." If you happen to believe in a divinity, this is both delusional and blasphemous. It also leads to a false “spirituality” that gradually puffs up the adherent with pride. I am good/holy/superior because I do "x, y and z" while others are ignorant or sinners.

In each of the world's religions, both strains can be found. People may view their tradition as possessing insights and Scripture as a starting point that challenges to both personal and communal development. Alternatively, people may view their tradition as perfect, what Cardinal Dolan called "settled matters of faith" that require no further discussion, thought and certainly not any change. This vision requires personal and communal conformity to attain an idealized utopia. I am reminded of the preface in the book “Brave New World” that states, “The problem with utopias is that they are possible.”

The first vision sees the tradition, Scriptures, laws, etc as being in place to serve people. Practical compassion is the transformative imperative of this understanding. The second vision sees people being in place to serve the tradition, Scriptures, laws, etc. Purity codes and doctrinal/dogmatic rigidity are the hallmarks of this understanding.

The Passover story is not something that happened in ancient history. It is something that is happening today in my, your and everyone’s life. Like the slaves then, we must stand up to our oppressors to gain our freedom. Like them that initial freedom will be sweet, but brings with it the difficulties of personal responsibility. Like them we must face our fears. As we journey through life, we learn who and what is of true worth and value in our life. “The Promised Land” is not a geographical destination; it is a state of being, a way of relating with others and ourselves now.

Post Script: A hopeful sign.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Compassion and its role in Spirituality and Justice.

On Monday evening I was invited to attend a meeting of a men’s group at a local Church. This Lent the parish is focusing on the theme of “Compassion.” A panel consisting of accomplished attorneys, financiers, a CEO, a university professor and, an MBA all explained the role that compassion had played in their professional and personal journeys.

After the presentation, the panel fielded questions from the audience. An elderly gentleman raised his hand and asked, “What is the role of compassion in the case of this Sergeant, now held in Fort Leavenworth, for the massacre of sixteen people in Afghanistan?” I sensed that the questioner was prompted not out of a spirit of contrariness; but rather, out of a genuine sense of both frustration and just anger. The moderator answered the man by quoting a passage from the Gospel of Matthew,

“If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly father will forgive you yours. If you do not forgive others, neither will your father forgive you.” [Matthew 6: 14-15]

Several thoughts flooded my mind. Compassion is a word that comes to us from the Latin language. Literally translated from the Latin, compassion means, “to stand with [someone].” In this sense, compassion is not about “being nice,” compassion is an intellectual and emotional process actively engaged in by a person. Compassion means putting myself intellectually and emotionally in the skin of a person who is suffering.

In the case posited by the questioner, this exercise would entail trying to intellectually comprehend what it means to have lost a loved family member to an evil act of violence. What it means to be a widow in Afghanistan today. I thought of the questions that a widow and mother would contemplate in this scenario. How will I feed and take care of my children? What will happen to our home? Where/with whom will we live? How do I help my children make sense of this, how can I comfort them? What will happen to me? How will I manage, where will I find the strength and means to move forward? Then there is the wife of the Sergeant in Leavenworth and the questions/difficulties she faces.

The importance of compassion is that it is both an intellectual and emotional process, whereby we move beyond ourselves and view reality through the eyes of another person. This has the practical effect of requiring me to consider things from a new perspective, from the perspective of another person.

The danger with the answer from the Gospel given to the questioner is that it can become a forced response. I MUST forgive everyone always. No, you do not. In fact, in the particular case cited, even the widows and orphans of the victims can only offer partial forgiveness, they can only forgive the offender for the hurt he has caused them personally. The deceased cannot voice their forgiveness, or voice their refusal to forgive in this life. The offender would always be left with that question, assuming that he posses/developed the sensitivity of conscience to ask that question.

The other danger with that answer is that it can easily lead to a “contract religion.” Incidentally this is the appeal of religious fundamentalism (literalism), I do “X” and God must therefore, do (give me) “Y.” This is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate God. If you happen to believe in a Supreme Being, such an attempt is simultaneously a delusion and a blasphemy.

The nobility of the sentiments expressed in Matthew, are that they represent a spiritual ideal. This ideal is also beautifully expressed by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, wherein the qualities of mercy are listed; as well as how mercy heals both the offended and the offender. However, mercy is not automatic and should never be presumed.

The following morning, I read an open letter to Cardinal Dolan by Carl Siciliano. Carl is the director of the Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth. What Carl has done in his letter to the Cardinal, is to invite Cardinal Dolan to engage in this exercise of practical compassion vis-à-vis LGBT youth. Carl is asking Dolan to place himself inside the skin of a young LGBT person and to view reality through his/her eyes. I invite you to read both the article and the comments that follow below.

Many readers commented that Carl's letter is an exercise in futility, that Cardinal Dolan is so entrenched in his polemics and his personal end game, that these youth would at best merely be seen as unfortunate, but necessary, collateral damage. Perhaps, but Cardinal Dolan’s strength and position do not come from his titles, wardrobe, or connections in the Vatican. Ultimately, they come from the type of people whose donations built Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Simple Catholics.

The brilliance and the power of Carl Siciliano’s open letter, is that it appeals to what authentic religion/spirituality is intended to be. Its real purpose and power is about honest compassion, putting oneself in another person’s shoes and seeing reality through their eyes. This leads to becoming a voice for the voiceless, seeking real justice, and extending practical charity.

Holding those in positions of high religious office/authority to the spiritual standards that they call others to will either move them to a higher level of compassion, or it will reveal the emptiness of their claims to spiritual authority.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Freedom of Conscience/Religion has U.S. Catholic bishops seeing Red & White.

Bishops in more than 140 dioceses issued statements that were read at Mass last weekend [28-29 January 2012]. Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., called the requirement “a radical incursion on the part of our government into freedom of conscience.” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh wrote that “the Obama administration was essentially saying ‘to hell with you,’ particularly to the Catholic community by dismissing our beliefs, our religious freedom and our freedom of conscience.”

This is significant, because it signals a nationwide coordinated plan put into effect by U.S. Catholic bishops. This all revolves, ostensibly, around the question of “Freedom of Religion” or, “Freedom of Conscience.” The particular issue in question here is contraception health services for women being paid for by health insurance plans; however, it can (and will) be expanded to include spousal benefits for Same-sex married couples, Same-sex adoption, etc.

Catholic Culture reports the following statement from Cardinal Mahony on this subject,

“Cardinal Roger Mahony, who served as Archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, has blasted the Obama administration for announcing that Church-related institutions will be required to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage for employees in their health-care plans.

Cardinal Mahony said that “I cannot imagine that this decision was released without the explicit knowledge and approval of President Barack Obama. And I cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience than this ruling today. This decision must be fought against with all the energies the Catholic Community can muster.”

I did a double take when I read Mahony’s statement, since he has never been a champion of the Humanae Vitae (the Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception). Read this article from the California Catholic Daily, a conservative Catholic publication along with comments from “orthodox” Catholics, and Mahony’s 180 degree apparent course change on this subject seems breath-taking.

Then again, Mahony’s nickname, “the Teflon Cardinal” is a testament of his ability to perform flip-flops usually associated with an Olympic gymnastic team, or some politicians. Consider the following statements, from some notable people, on Mahony's quality of conscience.

Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times reporter, in his new book “Dreams and Schemes: My Decade of Fun in the Sun,” shares this vignette,

“it includes such tales as the time Lopez was offered a free crypt in the Los Angeles cathedral by Cardinal Roger Mahony if he would take it easy on the Catholic leader on the church’s pedophile-priest scandals.”

and this article from the Los Angeles Times, on Mahony's handling of pedophile priests.

Before His Eminence passes the torch, I put in one last request for an interview, to no avail. That keeps my record intact, but it's a shame because I had several questions about the latest scandal at the archdiocese. This one involves a priest who admitted he was a molester but remained in ministry. The good reverend was even appointed, if you can believe this, to Mahony's sexual abuse advisory board.

and then there is this insight by former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating on the role of Mahony’s conscience in the priest sex abuse/Cover-Up scandal,

"To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy. Eventually it will all come out," Keating said.

Cardinal Mahony, who Keating accused of listening "too much to his lawyer and not enough to his heart," issued a sharp rebuke Friday, calling the comments "the last straw" and saying he would ask other bishops to consider calling for Keating to step down during their meeting this week.

Keating's spokesman told the Times the former governor stands behind his remarks. "He uses strong language to make a point. He tells the truth, and apparently some people don't want to hear the truth," Mahony said.

David Clohessy, national director of the nationwide victims support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Keating's resignation would leave victims and lay Catholics "terribly disillusioned."

"It's very disturbing that a couple of candid remarks are apparently so upsetting to the bishops," Clohessy told the AP from Indianapolis, Ind.

"Here's a devout, conscientious, Catholic lay person who volunteered his time and essentially his reputation to get the bishops out of trouble, and he's suddenly forced out," he said.

But perhaps the most penetrating insight into Mahony’s motives is offered by Peter Hebblewaite, an outstanding Vaticanologist who in some 30 years of reporting on the papacy and the worldwide activities of the Catholic church, its enemies and admirers.
Hebblethwaite, gives the following assessment of Mahony’s intentions,

“he mentions Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony who, he maintains' arrived in that California see with two fevers -- scarlet. for the red biretta; and white for the papacy.”

New York’s Archbishop, and the current head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Dolan and newly minted Cardinal stated to the New York Times,

“We see in our culture a drive to neuter religion,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the bishops’ conference, said in a news conference Monday at the bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore.

Dolan is the rising star in the church, unlike Mahony who’s mandatory letter of resignation upon reaching his 75th birthday was instantly accepted by Benedict XVI, enjoys the favor of the current pope. This pope has packed the College of Cardinals, who will elect the next pope, with individuals who share his pre-Napoleonic vision for the future of the Catholic Church.

Using the bishop’s logic on the stated issue of the day (insurance coverage for health care), if your employer were the Jehovah Witnesses, they could deny you coverage for a blood transfusion, since this violates their religious tenets and would be an assault on “freedom of conscience/religion.” The bishops are taking a cherished inalienable right endowed to every person and co-opting it to a corporation. They are saying that an institution’s conscience trumps the conscience of employees of that institution.

What the Catholic bishops are attempting to do here is sleight of hand. They are not speaking of an individual’s freedom of conscience/religion. This becomes very evident when you read Archbishop John Nienstedt’s pronouncement on individual conscience and freedom of religion.

Archbishop John Nienstedt is warning Catholic clergy across Minnesota that there should be no "open dissension" of the church's strong backing of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as a union only between a man and woman.

In a letter to his clergy, Archbishop Nienstedt wrote,

It is my expectation that all the priests and deacons in this Archdiocese will support this venture [a state constitutional amendment against Marriage Equality] and cooperate with us in the important efforts that lie ahead. The gravity of this struggle, and the radical consequences of inaction propels me to place a solemn charge upon you all — on your ordination day, you made a promise to promote and defend all that the Church teaches. I call upon that promise in this effort to defend marriage. There ought not be open dissension on this issue. If any have personal reservations, I do not wish that they be shared publicly. If anyone believes in conscience that he cannot cooperate, I want him to contact me directly and I will plan to respond personally.

Contrast Nienstedt’s understanding of conscience with that taught by the Church for centuries,

“Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins.” –Saint Thomas Aquinas

So why would Mahony, Dolan and Nienstedt all set aside this principle, the primacy of an individual’s conscience, and pretend such “shock” regarding contraception, as if this were still 1968 and they were collectively unaware that most Catholics (and theologians) disregard Vatican pronouncements on contraception?

First, the Catholic Church is a very highly hierarchical organization. The only way to advance in a clerical career is to please your superior. Right now that means pleasing Benedict XVI and he has very traditionalist views on human sexuality, women, contraception, and the role (power) of the Catholic Church in society. For members of the hierarchy, this means that the only way to move your career forward, is to move your views backwards.

Second, Benedict XVI will probably die in the near future and a new Conclave (election of a new pope) will take place. Cardinals are already considering (and some quietly campaigning) who should be the next pope.

In Cardinal Mahony's case, he is 76 and has less than four years before he turns 80 and no longer will have a vote in papal elections. He has to distinguish himself to the College of Cardinals before he becomes yesterday's news. At 80, he will have zero chance at trading in his red dress for a white dress.

In newly minted Cardinal Dolan's case, he is a rising star in the Church. If he can manage to stall Marriage Equality in the U.S. until after the next papal election and intimidate President Obama into a retreat on contraception, he will impress the cardinals who will elect the next pope. It has been a long held opinion that it is unlikely that any American would be made pope, because of America's international dominance. However, an American pope who can bring an American President to heel, is another matter entirely.

Sadly, we are led to the obvious conclusion that there seem to be two standards at work in Catholicism, one for 99% of Catholics (laity, nuns and simple priests) and another for the 1% elite (bishops, cardinals and popes).

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, in announcing he was recalling the Irish ambassador to the Vatican, denounced "the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism – and the narcissism – that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."

Once in a blue moon, a person of sincere principle actually is elected pope. It happened with the election of Blessed John XXIII and it happened in 1978 with the election of John Paul I. For the sake of the world's 800 million/one billion Catholics we can only hope it will happen at the next Conclave.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Price of Hate and Compromise

Tonight I sat down to check messages on my computer and I found myself overwhelmed with incredible sorrow as I read the following post, “CA Teen Filmmaker Commits Suicide After Making ‘It Gets Better’ Video.”

The article goes on to say that Eric James Borges a 19-year-old resident of Visalia, CA was, “Not accepted by his birth family, Eric James was striking out on his own, trying to deal with his personal situation, but also wanting to help others. Sadly even involvement with the Trevor Project was not enough to help him navigate the turbulent waters of young adulthood.”

Eric grew up in Visalia, California, a town I know very well because I lived there for 15 years. One year 1989 as associate pastor at St. Mary’s (the wealthy White parish) and 14 years as pastor of Holy Family Church (the poor Latino parish) located at 1908 North Court Street in Visalia.

The website for the City of Visalia speaks of the pro-South culture of Visalia during the Civil War that alarmed the Federal government enough to build a military installation in 1862 to prevent an uprising, centered in Visalia, in favor of the Confederacy.

Visalia, like most rural communities in the USA, is socially conservative. I recall walking down Main Street about ten years ago; a new shop had opened up called, “Prim and Proper.” Another priest, also assigned to Visalia quipped, “That’s Visalia.”

There is much that I loved and still love about Visalia, but there exists a dark side to most conservative rural towns in America. They are very wonderful places to live IF you happen to belong to the majority and conform to conservative ideas/values, or at least appear to conform. Eric’s story is chillingly familiar because it is the story of far too many of us.

Most of us become aware of our sexuality at puberty. Our physical attraction (sexual orientation) slowly “dawns” upon us uninvited, it simply emerges as we grow from children into adolescents. The greatest fear for a young LGBT person at this point in their life, is that they would be rejected by the very people that they love the most in this world, their family and their friends. As survival mechanism LGBT children adapt by denying who they are, they learn to lie about themselves to their parents, siblings, friends and classmates.

The price of all of this is ultimately self-hatred. The Center for Disease Control’s 1999 Youth at Risk Behavior Study, found that one-third of gay adolescents attempt suicide. One-Third! Not reflected in those statistics are the abuse of alcohol and drugs by LGBT youth. Not reflected in those statistics are the large numbers of gay teens that are driven from their homes, or emotionally alienated by parents practicing “tough love.” Parents attempting to force their children to be something they are not, heterosexual. All too often parents have been misled into adopting this tough “love” by clergy.

The fact that the hierarchy of many religions, including Catholicism, promote these attitudes towards LGBT people and makes them accomplices to this moral evil. The prejudice, emotional and physical violence, alienation of affection between parents and their children, the resulting despair and tragic suicides can all be traced back to religious authorities who willfully disregard the insights of psychology.

Pope Benedict XVI, just this week, made the absurd and unsubstantiated statement that; gay marriage was one of several threats to the traditional family that undermined "the future of humanity itself".

In the USA those states that have Marriage Equality laws have substantially lower divorce rates that those that prohibit Same-sex marriage.

Consider the following report from the BBC,

“A UK HIV charity said there was a clear link between happiness and health.
Research has already suggested that gay men are more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts than heterosexual men, and that social exclusion may be partly responsible.

Same-sex marriages are legal in six US states, with Massachusetts the first to allow them in 2003.”


“Researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health surveyed the demand for medical and mental health care from 1,211 gay men registered with a particular health clinic in the 12 months prior to the change, and the 12 months afterwards.
They found a 13% drop in healthcare visits after the law was enacted.
There was a reduction in blood pressure problems, depression and "adjustment disorders", which the authors claimed could be the result of reduced stress.”


“A spokesman for the Terrence Higgins Trust, a UK-based sexual health and HIV charity, said: "There is a known link between health and happiness.
"It's no surprise that people who are treated as second class citizens tend to have low self esteem, which in turn makes them more likely to take risks.
"Whether this is drugs, alcohol abuse, or unsafe sex, treating gay men unequally has lasting repercussions for their health."

Tragically, society (like our President) is “evolving” too slowly to have saved the life of Eric James Borges, 19, of Visalia, California. Hopefully, his death will outrage us to speak louder, work harder and fight more uncompromisingly for full federal equality and protection. For the human dignity that is every person’s birthright.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reactionary "Catholic" Moral theology, cutting the foot to fit the shoe.

The Hartford Archdiocese wants gays and lesbians to practice abstinence in the New Year.
On Tuesday, the archdiocese announced it was launching a local chapter of a national ministry called Courage "to support men and women who struggle with homosexual tendencies and to motivate them to live chaste and fruitful lives in accordance with Catholic Church teachings."

1. This is wrong within the realm of current Catholic moral theology.

The following book description of “The Sexual Person” by Professors Todd A. Salzman and Charles E. Curran is found on Amazon Press.

"Two principles capture the essence of the official Catholic position on the morality of sexuality: first, that any human genital act must occur within the framework of heterosexual marriage; second, each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life. In this comprehensive overview of Catholicism and sexuality, theologians Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler examine and challenge these principles. Remaining firmly within the Catholic tradition, they contend that the church is being inconsistent in its teaching by adopting a dynamic, historically conscious anthropology and worldview on social ethics and the interpretation of scripture while adopting a static, classicist anthropology and worldview on sexual ethics.

While some documents from Vatican II, like Gaudium et spes ("the marital act promotes self-giving by which spouses enrich each other"), gave hope for a renewed understanding of sexuality, the church has not carried out the full implications of this approach. In short, say Salzman and Lawler: emphasize relationships, not acts, and recognize Christianity's historically and culturally conditioned understanding of human sexuality. The Sexual Person draws historically, methodologically, and anthropologically from the best of Catholic tradition and provides a context for current theological debates between traditionalists and revisionists regarding marriage, cohabitation, homosexuality, reproductive technologies, and what it means to be human. This daring and potentially revolutionary book will be sure to provoke constructive dialogue among theologians, and between theologians and the Magisterium."

The critical piece in the thinking of Salzman & Lawler is to view/understand human sexuality not as merely a physical act; but rather, in the context of human relationships. What makes the sexual act morally good, or bad, is not the act per se, but the relationship between the two people engaging in the act.

2. It is wrong because it ignores the findings of science; the American Psychological Association states the following on this subject,

"The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation (Bell, Weinberg & Hammersmith, 1981; Bullough, 1976; Ford & Beach 1951 ; Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953 ). Homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder (APA, 1975). Since 1974, the American Psychological Association (APA) has opposed stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and has taken a leadership role in supporting the equal rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals (APA, 2005).

APA is concerned about ongoing efforts to mischaracterize homosexuality and promote the notion that sexual orientation can be changed and about the resurgence of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)1. SOCE has been controversial due to tensions between the values held by some faith-based organizations, on the one hand, and those held by lesbian, gay and bisexual rights organizations and professional and scientific organizations, on the other (Drescher, 2003; Drescher & Zucker, 2006). Some individuals and groups have promoted the idea of homosexuality as symptomatic of developmental defects or spiritual and moral failings and have argued that SOCE, including psychotherapy and religious efforts, could alter homosexual feelings and behaviors (Drescher & Zucker, 2006; Morrow & Beckstead, 2004). Many of these individuals and groups appeared to be embedded within the larger context of conservative religious political movements that have supported the stigmatization of homosexuality on political or religious grounds (Drescher, 2003; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2005; Drescher & Zucker, 2006)."

3. Finally this is wrong because it places an inhuman life long burden on children who happen to have a same-sex orientation.

All of these theological and scientific discussions may be very stimulating and even entertaining; however, the real effect of these abstract ideas is made concrete in the lives of real people. The American Psychological Association states,

“According to current scientific and professional understanding, the core attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence. These patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction may arise without any prior sexual experience. People can be celibate and still know their sexual orientation-–be it lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual.”

Imagine yourself at the age described by the APA in the preceding statement. Further imagine yourself at Sunday Mass with your family and hearing the “Courage” message from the pulpit. Imagine how your classmates hearing the same message would view you, if they “knew.”

Listen now to the words of a young Rabbi,

“You lay impossible burdens on men but will not lift a finger to lighten them.” Luke 11: 46

• Telling a child that there is something inherently defective about them as a person is evil.
• Telling them that they may never date, hold hands, fall in love with or marry the person they are naturally attracted to is evil.
• Telling them that they must live their life alone for the next 50, 60, 70, etc years is evil.
• Doing all of this in the name of God while claiming to be “compassionate” is both evil and a blasphemy.

This is the real sin here and it is the sin of the bishops who close their eyes to the truth in order to advance their careers and make an idol of an institution while forgetting God who is love and the people who they were ordained to serve.