I AM a Catholic, born in 1921 of Italian and Irish families and raised in California seminaries. After decades of work as a priest, I was astonished that Pope Paul VI appointed me a bishop in San Francisco. I love my church, and every night I pray that I might die in her warm, loving arms.
Yet I worry about my church’s future. Basic doctrines will not change. But the church may change policies and practices after doing serious study.
So, as we await Pope Francis’ visit to America, I offer a peaceful contribution to the controversies that convulse the church today.
American Catholics are divided, primarily, by three internal church conflicts.
The first is over priestly celibacy. Observers within and outside the church point to mandatory celibacy as a principal factor driving down the number of American priests.
A celibate life is admirable for a priest who personally chooses it. For 1,000 years, great good has been accomplished because priests could fully devote their lives to their ministry.
Nevertheless, in recent years married clergy of other Christian churches have been accepted into service in the Catholic Church. So far, the ministry of these married priests has appeared successful.
The church should start relieving the desperate shortage of clergy members by also accepting for ordination men of mature age, of proven character and in stable marriages.
Optional celibacy allows a choice between an abstinent life, totally free for ministry, or a married life that enables better understanding of the lives of parishioners.
American Catholics are also divided over the ordination of women as priests.
Recent popes have said publicly that priesthood for women cannot be considered because the gospel and other documents state that Christ ordained men only.
Yet women have shown great qualities of leadership: strength, intelligence, prayerfulness, wisdom, practicality, sensitivity and knowledge of theology and sacred Scripture.
Might the teaching church one day, taking account of changing circumstances, be inspired by the Holy Spirit to study and reinterpret this biblical tradition?
Finally, why is a divorced Catholic who has remarried denied the Eucharist? Such people are considered living in an irregular union.
Valid marriages remain indissoluble. However, in confession a priest, after reviewing the circumstances with a remarried penitent, already can assist that person to develop a clear conscience with God and resume receiving the Eucharist.
Last month, Pope Francis stated that divorced and remarried Catholics were “not excommunicated,” perhaps suggesting that prohibition of the Eucharist is under review.
In surveys today, the question “to what church do you belong?” increasingly prompts the answer “none.” Polls show that many high school and college students have gradually come to believe that what they learned as children about the nature of God can be erased as readily as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.
The culture that surrounds them focuses on science, growing out of the long history of Copernicus, Darwin, Freud, Einstein and Hawking. Still, most young people become not atheistic but agnostic, still searching even as they entertain doubts about God.
Pope Francis prefers the simple title “bishop of Rome.” So I ask my brother bishop: Should we not convene a third Vatican Council just as ethical and paradigm-shifting as Vatican Council II of the 1960s?
A Vatican Council III would bring together the world’s bishops under the unifying guidance of Peter. It would include representative major theologians, scholars of sacred Scripture, scientists and appropriate academics, lay people of all ages, clergy members and parishioners, and officials of other faiths.
In addition to the three issues dividing the church, this council and future councils would explore the morality of world economies, spiritual life, human sexuality, peace and war, and the poor and suffering.
Such a council might slow or reverse the flow of the faithful out of the church. It would also stimulate a new conversation about God, one that shows young people that God is not an old man with a long white beard. God is infinite and unlimited.
This is not easy to grasp. God is incomprehensible to our finite minds. We surmise that God is spirit, straddling the universe and parallel universes. At the same time God is intimate to each of us. We cannot prove existence by reason, nor can science disprove God’s existence.
Moreover, faith and science are not in conflict.
Many of the young say they relate to God personally and do not need a church. We applaud this personal relationship, but it is also truly human to do things in community: We party together, we play sports together, we enjoy meals together. The three generations of my own nieces and nephews are just as moral as I am, if not more so. Could it be that they know more clearly what Pope Francis has been asking of us for the past two years — to be more loving and accepting?
What caused much of the church over the centuries to underestimate the gospel’s core message, which is love? After the emperors Constantine and Theodosius embraced Christianity in the fourth century, one strain in the church developed a spirit of power and dominance, seen most clearly in the Crusades and the Inquisition. Many, including Pope Gregory VII, tried heroically, but unsuccessfully, to stop this trend.
Therefore, the main challenge facing the church today is not simply to resolve questions like celibacy, but to relearn how to communicate a deeper, more intelligent, more relevant religion that leads to a life of acceptance and love.
Complete Article HERE!
Most Americans who were raised Catholic but have since left the church could not envision themselves returning to it, according to a new Pew Research Center survey examining American Catholics and family life. The survey’s findings were released Wednesday, weeks before Pope Francis makes his first visit to the United States, and as Catholic leadership contends with dramatic demographic shifts.
Seventy-seven percent of those who were raised Catholic but no longer identify with the religion said they could not envision themselves eventually returning to the church, according to the Pew survey. The survey also examined U.S. Catholics’ views on issues such as divorce, same-sex marriage and sinful behavior, finding an openness for non-traditional family structures.
Although Catholics have long made up about a quarter of the U.S. population, recent data has shown that percentage dropping. In 2007, 23.9 percent of Americans identified as Catholic. In 2014, 20.8 percent of Americans said the same, according to previous survey results from Pew.
But the new survey illustrates something else about Catholic life in the United States: while the percentage of Americans who may identify their religion as Catholicism is dropping, a much larger group of Americans identify as Catholic in some way.
In all, 45 percent of Americans say they are either Catholic, or are connected to Catholicism. That larger percentage includes “Cultural Catholics” (making up nine percent of those surveyed) who are not practicing Catholics but who identify with the religion in some way; and “ex-Catholics” (also nine percent) who were formerly Catholic but no longer identify with Catholicism at all. And another eight percent said they had some other connection to Catholicism, for instance by having a Catholic partner or spouse. For the purposes of the survey, Pew kept each category mutually exclusive.
According to the survey, about half of those who were raised Catholic end up leaving at some point, while about 11 percent of those who left have since returned.
The breakdown provides an interesting look at the cultural reach of Catholicism, beyond those who would call themselves members of the religion. For instance, the survey also found that eight in ten American Latinos have some direct connection to Catholicism, whether as a current practicing Catholic, as an ex-Catholic, or otherwise.
The study also sheds some light on how Catholic American attitudes on family, sex, and marriage compare with church teaching. When asked whether they believed the church should change its position on a variety of issues, a very large percentage of religiously identified Catholics — 76 percent — expressed a desire to see the church allow the use of birth control. Sixty-two percent felt that the church should allow priests to marry, and about the same percentage thought that the church should allow divorced and cohabitation couples to receive communion.
Fifty-nine percent of Catholics surveyed thought women should be allowed to become priests. Meanwhile, just 46 percent of Catholics believe the church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples.
Among those Catholics who attend Mass weekly, support for these changes was lower overall. But Pew notes that even among this particular population, two-thirds of Mass-going Catholics think the church should relax its prohibition on contraceptives.
Overall, cultural Catholics were more supportive of the changes named by the survey, while ex-Catholics were more supportive of allowing priests to marry, and for women to become priests.
Although an overwhelming majority of Catholics (nine in ten) believe in the concept of sin, they don’t seem to agree on what, precisely, constitutes one. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics think it’s a sin to have an abortion, compared to 48 percent of the general U.S. population who say the same. Forty-four percent think homosexual behavior is sinful (about the same say this among the general public). And just 17 percent of Catholics believe its a sin to use contraceptives, while 21 percent say the same of getting a divorce.
And although those percentages are higher for those who attend Mass weekly — 73 percent of weekly churchgoers say that abortion is a sin, for instance — the numbers are still pretty low on the issue of contraception: just 31 percent of weekly Mass attendees say the use of artificial contraception is a sin.
Despite those disagreements between U.S. Catholics and church teaching, the poll does not indicate that a change in that teaching would lead more Catholics to “revert” to their faith than do already.
Cultural and ex- Catholics gave a variety of answers when asked why they decided to leave Catholicism, and no consensus emerges from those reasons that could point to any one factor driving away those who were raised Catholic from the faith. A 2008 Pew study asked a similar question, and found that fewer than one in four Catholics said that the rule banning priests from marrying was an important reason for leaving Catholicism. About 3 in 10 said that the church’s teachings on abortion and remarriage were important.
Far more common, in that 2008 survey, were those who said they simply stopped believing the church’s overall teachings, or gradually drifted away from Catholicism, or said that their spiritual needs weren’t being met.
The latest survey finds clearer answers for why “cultural Catholics” identify with the religion in some non-religious way – 59 percent of those who were raised Catholic or have a Catholic parent cite this familial connection as the reason they are tied to the church. Cultural Catholics without a parental connection cite a variety of reasons, including having a Catholic spouse (15 percent), a general affiliation with Christian beliefs or practices (nine percent) or the idea that their religion is rooted in Catholicism (15 percent).
The 2015 Pew survey was conducted between May 5 and June 7 among a national sample of 5,122 adults reached on conventional cellular phones, including 1,016 Catholics. The margin of sampling error for results among Catholics is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is 5.5 points among the sample of 425 “Cultural Catholics” and among the sample of 413 “Ex-Catholics.”
Complete Article HERE!
There is a battle going on within the Irish Catholic Church at the moment.
Father Martin Dolan faced a difficult decision. With Ireland’s referendum on marriage equality looming, he could either go along with his bishops’ official opposition to it, or he could be honest with his Dublin congregation.
He made his choice during a Saturday evening mass in January. Not only did he urge his congregation to vote Yes on May 22, he also took the opportunity to come out as gay.
The worshipers greeted the revelation with a standing ovation.
Dolan is one of at least 10 members of Catholic orders who have publicly endorsed marriage equality. They have been willing to defy their bishops, suggest progressive priests, because they see the referendum as just the latest skirmish in a long-running war. As church attendance has plummeted, progressives argue they are trying to save the church from the wounds inflicted by a moribund and authoritarian leadership.
“There is a battle going on within the Irish Catholic Church at the moment,” said Father Iggy O’Donovan, a priest from Limerick who called for a Yes vote in a letter to the Irish Times in March. “There’s a group of us, we try to still hold on to the belief that Catholicism is compatible with modernity … [while] the church is dying at [the bishops’] feet,” he said in an interview with BuzzFeed News.
Progressive factions across the Catholic world have been emboldened by Pope Francis to confront the conservatives who dominated under Popes Benedict and John Paul II. The church has a particular interest in overhauling itself in countries like Ireland, where weekly attendance fell from around 86% in 1990 to less than 40% in 2012. That decline was largely due to revelations of widespread child sexual abuse, which coincided with economic changes that took more and more Irish people to more secular European countries for work.
With popular support for the referendum consistently showing overwhelming support in opinion polls, many Irish bishops appear worried that a misstep on the referendum could further marginalize the church. Indeed, their initial public statements were so muted it seemed they simply wanted to get through the campaign unscathed.
But the bishops have never wavered in their opposition to same-sex marriage, making it hard to maintain a conciliatory tone in an environment where LGBT rights supporters have successfully framed the referendum as the ultimate test of equality. And Pope Francis hasn’t provided a clear answer to this conundrum; while he has tried to moderate the church’s language on homosexuality and even raised the possibility that civil unions could be acceptable to the church, he has always firmly opposed full marriage rights for same-sex couples as well.
And so, for the global church, there is more at stake than the outcome of the vote itself — Ireland is the clearest test case yet of the strength of the progressive movement under Francis.
In a sign of how deep this disagreement may run within the Irish church, it is possible that hundreds of Irish priests could vote Yes on Friday, based on the internal discussion of the left-leaning Association of Catholic Priests. The group was formed in 2010 out of frustration with the bishops’ handling of child sex abuse allegations, and now has 1,070 members — around one-third of the country’s priests, according to one of its organizers, Father Brendan Hoban.
When the Association asked its members what position to take on the referendum, Hoban told BuzzFeed News, the group “split down the middle,” so it decided to take no public stand. The group’s founder, Tony Flannery — a priest who was suspended by the Vatican in 2012 for challenging the church’s historical legitimacy and advocating positions like the ordination of women — told BuzzFeed News he thought around 25% of the country’s clergy might yet cast a Yes vote.
Opponents of the marriage equality referendum disagree with the way some of its advocates have framed the debate as a question of whether Ireland is a modern secular country or still beholden to a backward-looking church. Opponents — even the bishops — maintain that their arguments against the referendum aren’t based in religion at all but rather they are making a secular case warning that marriage equality will cause harm to society. Their primary case against it is that treating heterosexual and homosexual couples the same would harm children, who, they claim, would no longer be legally entitled to grow up with both a mother and a father.
“If this is framed as Catholic Ireland versus modern Ireland, it’s the wrong way to frame it,” said David Quinn, head of the Iona Institute, a conservative Catholic think tank in Dublin and a driving force behind the No campaign. “The arguments for and against are ultimately secular, not religious.”
But, Quinn told BuzzFeed News, there was “no question” that the push for same-sex marriage rights was part of a “secular reaction against the years of Catholic dominance in Ireland.”
In this environment, Ireland’s bishops have been so cautious in their opposition that their major statement against the referendum at the start of the campaign didn’t even call for voters to cast No ballots. The closest thing to a battle cry offered by a resolution released in March was this: “We say to all voters: Marriage is important — reflect before you change it.”
A March speech by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin showed how some of the bishops are looking to apply the model offered by Pope Francis.
“There is a radical difference between marriage between a man and a woman and the union of two people of the same sex. But we must also welcome people as they are,” he said at a talk hosted by the Iona Institute. He also chastised those who have spoken against the referendum in language that is “not just intemperate but obnoxious, insulting, and unchristian in regard to gay and lesbian people.”
But this tone has won the bishops a different kind of backlash — the editor of a Catholic newspaper later suggested Martin would “have to accept some responsibility” if the referendum passes because there hasn’t been “a clear campaign by the hierarchy” against it. And Martin even faced hecklers during his speech who questioned whether he actually opposed the referendum at all.
The bishops now seem to have grown concerned about such criticism from the right — or, with opinion polls still showing a firm lead for Yes despite a tightening race in the campaign’s final week, their caution has been overtaken by a concern the referendum will pass.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin began a speech on May 6 saying, “I think I should begin by saying that I intend to vote No in the upcoming referendum on marriage,” a disclosure he said was a response to the suggestion that he had “given constant solace to the Yes campaign.”
That was part of a broader shift to more active opposition from the bishops. On May 1, archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin issued a statement urging people to “speak up courageously for the union of a man and a woman in marriage.” Over the following weekends, bishops circulated further statements opposing the referendum throughout Ireland, though many hewed closely to the argument that urged people to “think before you change” marriage.
“In a sense, the church has placed itself in a no-win situation,” said Father Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests. “If the Yes vote wins it’ll be seen as a defeat for the church; if the ‘no’ vote wins there will be more anger heaped on the church as being responsible for its defeat.”
The clergy publicly supporting the Yes side have given a range of reasons for their vote. In his March letter to the Irish Times, Father Iggy O’Donovan argued that the church members should vote Yes in the name of pluralism in a secular state. Some, like the well-known activist nun Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, seem ready to question church teaching on homosexuality more fundamentally.
“I am going to vote Yes in recognition of the gay community as full members of society,” she told the Irish Times last week. “They should have an entitlement to marry. It is a civil right and a human right.”
Perhaps as extraordinary as these statements from members of Catholic orders is the fact that the bishops don’t appear to be disciplining them — or at least not yet.
The hierarchy has in the past taken steps to silence internal critics; Father O’Donovan, for example, was sent to Limerick after being removed from the congregation he had long led in the town of Drogheda in 2013. But he said he had “heard nothing from the hierarchy” about his letter, and Father Martin Dolan told BuzzFeed News that “no one has told me I cannot speak” about the referendum after he came out in January, though he said he was “not giving interviews at this time.”
This is the most hopeful sign that the Irish church is growing under Francis, suggested Association of Catholic Priests’ Father Tony Flannery.
“The fact that these people nowadays feel they can oppose the official church in public … that in itself is a real indication of the Francis effect in the Irish church,” he said.
But it’s not clear how Francis’ desire to extract the church from culture wars can be applied when the church is directly confronted with a marriage equality movement. Francis’ gentler tone as pope followed his own experience unsuccessfully combating a 2010 marriage equality bill in Argentina when he was the country’s top bishop, deploying rhetoric that even church conservatives concede embarrassed the church. And he has appeared to wade into marriage fights even as pope when conservatives were favored to win.
If the amendment passes, Ireland will be the first country in the world to establish marriage equality by a popular vote. This historic vote comes just five months before bishops from around the world are due to come to Rome for what is known as a synod, which follows a three-year process launched by Pope Francis to review church teaching on the family. The process has largely been viewed as a litmus test of how much the church can moderate its condemnation of homosexuality — a draft discussed in a meeting last October included language that spoke of “welcoming homosexual persons,” but it was rejected by the bishops and no language on same-sex couples got enough votes to be adopted in that meeting.
The Irish campaign is unlikely to make reaching an accord any easier in this year’s synod. But it’s a stark reminder as to why it’s so important that the church continues to work toward a third way in marriage fights, which are spreading faster and faster in many countries where the church has only just begun to slip from the center of power.
And the stakes are high in Ireland, said Father O’Donovan.
“There’s an angry sea, and the hierarchy are the first rocks on the shore who will have to face it,” he said. “If [the referendum] fails … it will be a pyrrhic victory” that will damage the church in the long run.
And if it passes, he said, the vote will be “the latest nail in the coffin of old Catholic Ireland.”
Complete Article HERE!
Let that be our rallying cry!
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
Remember these photos every time you hear a Catholic bishop tell you to ignore your conscience and blindly follow what he tells you to do, think, and how to vote.
Our bishops tell us that we homosexuals are intrinsically evil, but when they had the opportunity to say something similar about the Nazis…well, not only were they silent, but they were actively complicit with the regime.
Our bishops are as morally bankrupt today as they were then!