dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

dotCommonweal Blog

New issue is live

We’ve just posted our June 1 issue to the website. Among the highlights:

Amanda Erickson describes the struggle of a Catholic parish community in Freddie Gray's Baltimore neighborhood to respond adequately, in the wake of the riots, to the root causes of hopelessness there:

The life expectancy of those born in Sandtown-Winchester is thirteen years shorter than the national average. Those are problems that can’t be fixed by one man, or in one morning. So instead, Rev. Bomberger grabbed a broom and headed across the street.

Andrew Bacevich reviews Andrew Cockburn’s “imperfect but exceedingly useful book,Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, about the motives behind and justifications for targeted assassinations and drone warfare—now common practices in U.S. foreign policy. 

Cockburn quotes one U.S. Air Force general bragging, “We can now hit any target anywhere in the world, any time, any weather, day or night.” Yet why bother with bombing bridges, power plants, or communications facilities, when taking out Mr. Big himself provides the definitive shortcut to victory? Here was the ultimate critical node: Decapitate the regime. As an approach to waging war, what could be more humane, not to mention efficient?

Plus: New poetry from Marie Ponsot, Celia Wren explains why the once-promising plotlines of Mad Men hit a dead end, Paul Johnston reviews the latest from Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi, Molly Farneth reviews the latest, uncomprehensive but newly non-Eurocentric Norton Anthology of World Religionsand Charles Morris reveals the dirty little secret of major-league banking bankers don't want to believe. 

See the full table of contents here.

New stories on the website

We've posted two new stories to the website.

First is Robert Mickens's latest Letter from Rome, in which he tracks the angry reactions of traditionalist-leaning Catholics to certain words from an archbishop (one of Francis’s most trusted theologians) interviewed by an Italian newspaper. He also examines the continuing threats of schism from these Catholics "should Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops allow for changes in church teaching on marriage" and gives an interesting look into how Opus Dei has taken advantage of the saint-making process, which was streamlined by St. John Paul II in 1983.

Read the whole thing here.

Next, the editors weigh in on the European Union’s welcome, if belated, announcement to take an active role saving refugees and expediting asylum requests for the hundreds of thousands fleeing war, poverty, and religious and ethnic persecution in Africa:

…certainly the nations that are blessed with relative economic strength—and whose military and political missteps have helped bring about the crisis in [Africa]—owe it to the afflicted to stop the loss of lives at sea.

Could the Obama administration’s response to the migration crisis in Central America be a useful model for European nations dealing with their own migration crisis?

Read the whole editorial here.

Gustavo Gutiérrez awarded President's Medal at Fordham

Last night at Fordham University, Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez was awarded the President’s medal—an award given about thirty times in the university’s history. The award came as a surprise, at the conclusion of a conversation he had with Fordham theologian Michael Lee. Gutierrez, widely regarded as the father of liberation theology, spoke softly in a thick Peruvian accent. He was very expressive with his hands, and hit the table often, drumming a rhythm to his words. He repeated words, and simple phrases. By academic standards, the conversation didn’t “say anything new” but it said the important stuff Jesus had to remind his disciples of all the time, over and over again: that God loves everyone, especially the poor.

The auditorium was packed with theology students, professors, priests, journalists, a significant number of bright-suited nuns and Commonweal editors (including Grant Gallicho who live-tweeted and took some video), readers, and writers. Gutierrez’s fame meant the event was oversubscribed. So when he first spoke, I felt a slight, guilty, let down. I expected an orator, someone who would rouse in me the kind of inspiration “liberation theology” ought to inspire. This happened, but quietly.

The talk came a week before Gutierrez will travel to Rome to meet with the pope and speak at the annual gathering for Caritas Internationalis. Pope Francis has chosen him to be one of the lead figures in the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy.

Lee began by asking about Gutierrez’s relationship with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Last year, when Gutierrez was a surprise guest speaker at the cardinal’s book launch, the irony wasn’t lost on many who remembered when the liberation theologian was investigated by the CDF under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He’s been friends with Mueller since “1988, the last century,” and said the cardinal is “one of the best” when it comes to understanding the perspective of liberation theology. He also praised Mueller for spending his summers teaching theology in parts of Peru where even some Peruvians won’t go. “I have never seen one liberation theologian take his vacations on the beach.”

Other subjects avid readers of the Catholic blogosphere might find most interesting, he found less interesting. When asked whether, as some have recently claimed, his 1971 book A Theology of Liberation, was authored by the KGB, he swatted the air and twirled a finger around his temple: “I have to laugh.” When asked about the last time he spoke with Archbishop Oscar Romero, he made sure to qualify the story afterward: “But my personal relations with Romero aren’t important.” What’s more important is the meaning of “the poor, the painful riches of the church, the Latin American martyr…there are hundreds of thousands.” When asked what advice he would give to future theologians: “I don’t care about the future of liberation theology. All I care about is my country and my people.” He told the story of the time a U.S. Evangelical theologian asked him what liberation theology had to say about the conflict in Israel and Palestine—he responded, “Do you think liberation theology is a political party and I’m its general secretary?”

No, what he kept returning to was the preferential option for the poor. He spoke at some length about the meaning of the preferential option: Jesus saves all of humanity, but he is very close to the poor; the church is a church of everyone, especially a church of the poor. “The preferential option for the poor is 90 percent of liberation theology; it comes from the Bible…. When we take the question of the poor it is not an obsession, it is to underline the central point of Christianity.” But, he points out, “preference does not conflict [or] contradict with universality. Are they in tension?” He shakes both fists “Yes!” “Even the poor must make the option for the poor,” he continued. “It’s one universal question; the poor are also first for the Christian poor…the option for the poor is a theocentric option…. We believe in the God of justice who is the source of this. We have human resources, but there is pride. It’s a problem…. I have great respect for non-Christian believers doing the option for the poor.” 

With this core principle established, Gutierrez spoke about what liberation theology actually is: “Maybe we don’t need the name 'liberation,' because it means salvation. The theology of liberation is the theology of salvation, which is to say communion with God, between us.” He reminded the audience that his theology of liberation originated “not in theological institutions,” but in the concrete experience of poor people. Other theologies of liberation: Black theologies, feminist theologies, mujerista theologies, these also come from the experience of being poor, of being “a person who does not even have the right to have rights,” as he paraphrased Hannah Arendt.

Gustavo Gutierrez did not propose a theory of implementation of, raise an argument for, or give a defense of Liberation Theology in the context of the modern world. But he made a clear point.

New issue, new stories

On the website now, our May 15 issue. Here are some of the highlights:

Jo McGowan examines the effects violence against children has on society at large—effects so drastic it is being treated as an "any other epidemic," “says forensic psychologist Karen McCluckey:

Isolate the contagion. Prevent transmission. Treat outbreaks instantly and aggressively.

Jerry Ryan reflects on his struggle to discover "what the person of Jesus means" to him, spiritually and theologically:

Classical theology has the angels deciding their destiny in a single, unalterable choice. I sometimes dream of being able to imitate such an act, one that would free me from all my ambiguities and contradictions, my half-hearted aspirations and ineffectual resolutions. This is not the way things work, however...

Read all of "Knowing Jesus" here.

Eve Tushnet reviews an exhibit produced by over 40 artists at the National Museum of African Art that recreates Dante's Divine Comedy on three floors:

I’m sitting in hell with a couple of little boys, who are trying to prove they’re not scared. We’re watching a cloth-wrapped figure prostrate itself and bang its fists against the floor, as sobs and wordless singing give way to a howled “I, I, I surrender!”

Read about the beautiful, horrific, beatific and redemptive show here.

Also in the May 15 issue: James Sheehan on how Greece and Ukraine are "testing Europe"; reviews of books about abortion, the short history of the black vote, a young Lawrence of Arabia, and secular humanism—plus poetry from Michael Cadnum, Thomas Lynch, and Peter Cooley; and Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill reflects on bodily decrepitude and wisdom.

Also featured on the site now, the latest from E.J. Dionne Jr., who writes about a senator's sensible stance on faith and secularism. Read the whole thing here.

Progressive/liberal Catholics: what do they think?

Last Tuesday Paul Baumann posted “An unbroken tradition?”—an analysis of an article by Ross Douthat in The Atlantic.  Paul’s post drew almost a hundred comments.  Some expressed indignation that anyone claiming intellectual credibility might say anything positive about Mr. Douthat.   Others advanced to a lengthy and very substantial discussion of Catholic teaching on marriage.  All too belatedly I reintroduced one of the main points of Paul’s original post.  By that time, of course, virtually everyone had moved on.  Allow me to try again:    

Having admitted that Garry Wills is an “outlier” among progressive Catholics, Douthat nonetheless stated that what most progressives share with Wills is a belief “that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.” 

Paul indicated that he shared some of Douthat’s worries “about how far the sort of church reform called for by some “progressive” Catholics can go before it damages something essential in Catholicism’s DNA."

“The problem,” he immediately added, “is determining what is essential and what isn’t.”

Now I, too, sometimes share these worries about the loss of essentials and the challenge of defining them.  But by and large I find—and I'd guess Paul does as well—that Douthat’s generalization about progressive Catholics’ almost nonchalant readiness to alter or abandon “many once-essential-seeming things” hugely exaggerated. 

Am I wrong?   And if there is not solid evidence for such a generalization, where does it come from?

More new stories on the website

E.J. Dionne Jr. provides a deeper look into social problems in Baltimore--how globalization of the economy, technological change, and deindustrialization have taken manufacturing jobs out of the city without ever replacing them. Dionne interviews Thomas J. Vicino, author of Transforming Race and Class in Suburbia: Decline in Metropolitan Baltimore, who explains:

“This is a double-whammy for poor black people left in the city....They are not in a position to share in the development downtown and, with the loss of manufacturing jobs, they are left, at best, with access to relatively low-paying service jobs. This, in turn, creates a spiral for those left behind, damaging families and devastating neighborhoods.”

This cycle hurt working-class whites as well, Vicino added, “but whites were in a better position to move elsewhere, whereas black mobility was limited by housing discrimination.”

Reading all of "The Roots of Baltimore's Anguish" is worth your time.

Also, in “Does the Earth Have Rights?,” Robin Darling Young writes on the anticipation (and political polarization) surrounding Pope Francis's upcoming encyclical on the environment. Both Climate skeptic Catholics and non-Catholics with assumptions about the church's views on science will be surprised to learn just how traditionally Catholic progressive scholarship is. In Young's view this raises serious questions:

 How [are we] to balance individual moral responsibility, described in the moral teachings of the church, against a general Catholic or human responsibility as developed in more than a century of modern Catholic social teaching?

More broadly and just as important:

What could it mean for nature itself to have rights—rights that are being flagrantly violated by human beings? And what could it mean for Catholic theology  if a pope says this?

Read the whole thing (and get thinking) here.

New stories on the website

We've posted two new stories to the homepage.

First, Robert Mickens reports in his weekly letter from Rome that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila will replace Honduran Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga as president of Caritas Internationalis,"the church’s leading advocate of Catholic social teaching and human development in the international arena."

And, provoking “volcanic enthusiasm” from leading women in Rome, Pope Francis has been confronting historical gender bias and economic discrimination against women during his Wednesday audiences.

...what is sure to surprise some, [the pope] refused to blame the crisis of marriage on the women’s liberation movement, though he didn’t use those exact words. “Many people hold that the changes these past decades were put into motion by the emancipation of women. But this argument is not valid, either. It’s an insult!” he said, again to loud applause. “It’s a form of machismo, which always tries to dominate women.”

Read the entire "Letter from Rome" here

Second, the editors comment on the pope’s ousting of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who was convicted of failing to report child abuse in 2012 and how it might mean that the era of “tolerating bishops who fail to protect the most vulnerable under their care has come to an end. This pope will hold them to account.” Some have criticized Francis for taking too long to remove Finn, but:

Francis is running a church with five thousand bishops. In order to educate himself about the controversy in Kansas City, a diocese of about 133,000 in a country he’s never visited, Francis initiated an investigation last September. He allowed that process to run its course, despite increasingly strenuous calls to sack Finn. The pope’s favored methods of listening and deliberation—most evident in the Synod on the Family—are themselves instruments of justice.

Read the entire editorial, “Held to Account,” here.

An unbroken tradition?

Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is among the most intelligent and fair-minded commentators on Catholic issues writing today. I often disagree with him, but even when I do I tend to share his reservations about how far the sort of church reform called for by some “progressive” Catholics can go before it damages something essential in Catholicism’s DNA. The problem, of course, is determining what is essential and what isn’t. The history of Catholicism can be quite surprising in that regard, as Frank Oakley’s article in our ninetieth anniversary issue demonstrated (“Authoritative & Ignored”).

Less compelling is Douthat’s tendency to wave the bloody shirt of schism when struggling to come to grips with a pope who is clearly not as punctilious when it comes to doctrine and discipline as were his immediate predecessors. Douthat has a long article in The Atlantic, “Will Pope Francis Break the Church?” that rehearses many of the arguments he has made on his blog and occasionally in his columns about the dangers of “a kind of progressive ultramontanism.” Unfortunately, beyond a brief indictment of Garry Wills, when it comes to the errant views of Catholic progressives Douthat does not name names. Wills’s views are fairly unrepresentative, even idiosyncratic, as Douthat himself concedes. But what most progressives share with Wills, Douthat insists, is a belief “that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.” Worse, “progressives” think “a revolution from above can carry all before it.”

I have made the acquaintance of many so-called liberal Catholics, and a desire to strengthen Rome’s hand for any reason has never been high on their wish list. Indeed, for most liberal Catholics a revolution from above would not be a liberal solution at all. I have, however, heard many conservative Catholics say something about the need for “a revolution from above” when waxing on about how the steely witness of John Paul II and Benedict righted the church’s sinking ship. George Weigel, for one, won’t stop proclaiming the resounding success of that revolution.

Still, Douthat is right to ask hard questions about what in the church can change and what cannot.

Read more

'The Pope and Mussolini' Has Won the Putlizer

David Kertzer's biography The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe was awarded a Putlizer Prize earlier this week. Kertzer was able to write it because of the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy. The complex details of the seven years it took Pius and Mussolini to negotiate two agreements--a political treaty that recognized the pope’s sovereignty over Vatican City and a concordat that regulated the church’s position in the Italian state--is the subject of this book, told through vivid biographical sketches of Pius and Mussolini's personal lives leading up to their positions of power, and how these personalities both clashed and compromised:

With strong opinions and an increasingly authoritarian manner, the pope shared the fascists’ opposition to communism even as he continued to distrust their sincerity and press for greater influence over Italian society.

If you're thinking of reading it, James Sheehan wrote a great review for us last September.

Cardinal Müller discovers new role for CDF under Francis.

In an interview with La Croix this week (English translation here), Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, suggested a new area of work for the Holy Office: theological architecture. The cardinal was asked how he viewed his role under Pope Francis, especially given that Benedict XVI was a theologian. "The arrival of a theologian like Benedict XVI in the chair of St. Peter was no doubt an exception," Müller replied. "But John XXIII was not a professional theologian. Pope Francis is also more pastoral and our mission at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to provide the theological structure of a pontificate." If that's how the cardinal views his role, that might explain why he's given more interviews than any of his predecessors, according to Andrea Tornielli at La Stampa

Read more

The Story Behind 'Nostra Aetate'

John Connelly, professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, and a frequent Commonweal contributor, gave the annual Catholic-Jewish Engagement lecture at Fairfield University last week. Connelly is the author of From Enemy to Brother: the Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews 1933-1965, and his lecture touched on many of the personalities and themes from his award-winning book. Commonweal subscribers might remember his 2012 article, “Nazi Racism & the Church,” adapted from that book. What Connelly’s extensive research uncovered was the little known but pivotal role played by Jewish and Protestant converts to Catholicism in the Second Vatican Council’s abandonment of the traditional Catholic teaching of contempt for Jews. It was John XXIII who insisted the council take up the question, and in the council document Nostra Aetate (“The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”) the bishops denounced anti-Semitism and proclaimed that “God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues—such is the witness of the Apostle. In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder.’”

Whether God’s faithfulness to his covenant with the Jewish people should also mean an end to the church’s missionary outreach to the Jews and a rejection of traditional supersessionist teaching is a notoriously thorny and complicated theological issue. That question has frequently been debated in our pages (see “What Christians Owe Jews,” February 9, 2015; “Getting Past Supersessionism," February 10, 2014). Doubtless the theological argument will go on. As a matter of history, however, the story Connelly tells is as fascinating as it is surprising. For the lecture, he focused on the life of Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher and the role he played in the drafting of Nostra Aetate.

Read more

Ignatian LGBTQ & Ally conference turns two

Tonight at Georgetown University the second annual IgnatianQ conference kicks off a weekend of lectures, breakout sessions, dialogues and keynotes that uniquely focus on LGBTQ issues and Jesuit values, aiming to create a community of people active in their faith, community and campus, who continue conversations. The first IgnatianQ (after ivyQ) was hosted by Fordham last year—created, planned and organized entirely by students. It grew from one conversation between two people on a roof to a three-day dialogue of 96 participants traveling from six different Jesuit schools to attend. And now it's in it's second year.

Bolstered by the University’s mission statement and the powers vested in academic freedom, the group of organizers approached the Theology department first with a 12 page proposal they’d carefully put together through months of weekly meetings, unsure and anxious about how well it’d go over. They not only received “overwhelming support” of the idea for IgnatianQ but also a keynote speaker, $300, and a room to hold meetings on campus—legitimacy. Soon enough many other departments signed on and they had enough money and backing to let real preparations for the conference begin. Anthony, one of the originators, remembers with slight disbelief meeting with the University vice president, who’d need to talk with the president (both priests) who’d need to approve the conference. “I told him ‘I pray that the politics of man do not interfere with the work of the holy spirit in organizing this conference’” Plainly, “Don’t let your reservations about the word queer get in the way of what these students need right now.” And they didn’t.

Read more

Fr. Richard McBrien, R.I.P.

Yesterday Fr. Richard P. McBrien, for decades one of the most influential American Catholic theologians, died in Connecticut at the age of seventy-eight. He served as chair of the University of Notre Dame Theology Department for over a decade, and was a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, as well as a recipient of the group's John Courtney Murray Award for distinguished work in theology. From the National Catholic Reporter's obituary:

It would be difficult to find a figure comparable in making understandable to a broad public the basic beliefs and traditions of the Roman Catholic church.

For more than three decades, he was the star of the theology faculty at the University of Notre Dame and the go-to voice on all matters Catholic in the popular press. His books, particularly Catholicism, Lives of the Popes and Lives of the Saints, were staples of libraries, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

At his peak in the 1980s and ’90s, it is arguable that McBrien had a higher media profile than anyone in the Catholic church other than Pope John Paul II. He was the ideal interview: knowledgeable, able to express complex ideas in digestible sound bites, and utterly unafraid of controversy.

In a 2008 interview with the Boston Globe, McBrien was asked whether he had become more liberal or outspoken over the years.

No, I don't think so. I don't think of myself in those terms, although it's a relative term. I mean obviously I'm liberal if you define liberal stands as being open to the ordination of women, feeling that abortion shouldn't be a litmus test defining whether one is a good Catholic or not. I'm very much against the policy of a certain handful of bishops to threaten to deny Communion to Catholic Democrats -- and they're always Democrats.... I regard myself as a broad centrist. But to an extreme right-wing person, especially in religion, and within the Catholic Church, a centrist or a center/left person is automatically perceived as an extreme left-wing person, bordering on, if not actually in, heresy.

So why didn't he leave the church?

Because it's my church. It's my home. And I was born in it. I've been a Catholic all my life. And I have affirmation from so many good people. I feel that I have a responsibility to them to continue working at it and doing the best I can.

Richard P. McBrien, R.I.P.

***

McBrien wrote for Commonweal from the 1960s through the 2000s. His first article was about the radical theology movement, and his last was a review of Cardinal Avery Dulles's Church and Society. In between he wrote about homosexuality in the priesthood, the trouble with contemporary theology, the difference between faith, theology, and belief, the agenda for the pope who was elected in 1978, how the church should admit error, and an assessment of the pope who was elected in 1978. Do read Robert J. Egan's review of McBrien's last book, The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism.

An interview with Archbishop Blase Cupich.

A few days before Christmas, I interviewed Blase Cupich, who was recently installed as Chicago's ninth archbishop. We spoke about the Synod on the Family, immigration, the sexual-abuse scandal, the bishops conference, and more. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

GG: As you mentioned, the pope speaks often about the need to foster a culture of encounter and accompaniment. This seems key to his idea of church—a church that goes out of itself and should not fear the discomfort that entails. How is that approach changing the temperament of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?

BC: Institutions are constitutionally prone to protecting themselves, and being conservative in that sense. There are any number of forces in our society today that erode institutional life. We can’t be naïve about that. There are those who would like to truncate the freedom of religion—especially of the Catholic Church, given its footprint in society. At the same time, we can’t let that drive our agenda. That’s what the business of “Be not afraid,” which John Paul II said, is about. We have to be mission-oriented.

In the readings for the Feast of the Assumption, Mary goes off to the hill country to visit Elizabeth, and the image that one comes away with is that this dragon—mentioned in the first reading from Revelation—is chasing Mary. But Mary is not directed by the dragon’s pursuit. In the Gospel we hear that she is directed by her desire to help Elizabeth. The church has to use that image of itself. The trajectory of our pilgrimage is not going to be determined by an escape from forces that are out to harm us. It has to be a trajectory that is determined by helping people. That’s why the pope said we can’t be a self-referential church.

GG: The ethic of accompaniment seems to have guided the pope’s design of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Some bishops expressed some confusion about that meeting—whether it was over the media’s coverage of the synod, or what actually took place.

BC: The media is not to blame at all. I think the media reported what actually took place. What really took place at the synod was that a majority of the bishops voted for all the proposals that were there in the final summary document. And I think Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that at the November bishops meeting. It’s true that three of the paragraphs [about divorce and gay people] did not get two-thirds majority support, but they got more than a majority. That’s what’s new. That’s the story. Those hot-button topics had been highlighted, and the majority of synod bishops voted for proposals that said we need to consider aspects of these issues.

The pope has a firm belief that the spirit of the risen Lord is working in our midst and is alive in the hearts of people—and we cannot squelch that voice. We have to look for ways to listen to how the Lord is working in the lives of people. That’s why the pope said to the synod fathers, “Don’t come to the synod and say ‘You can’t say that’”—because it may be the spirit of Christ who is calling us to say these things. And we have to listen to that.

Read the rest right here.

Too Many Interviews

Does anyone remember the phenomenon of “Our Lady of Bayside”? Beginning in 1975, there was a series of supposed apparitions of the Blessed Mother (deemed inauthentic by church authorities) in Bayside, Queens. The visionary there, a Queens housewife, claimed she received some 290 messages from Mary, and many other saints as well. The devotees of these apparitions gathered in the former (1964) World’s Fair grounds, at the site that once was the Vatican pavilion. The alleged messages from Mary were many. Many! And they just kept coming. They included tirades against removing altar rails and warnings against playing guitars in church, and numerous other things.

I’ll never forget the story of a theology professor who, when asked about the plausibility of these so-called revelations, dryly observed: “Our Lady seems a bit… talkative.”

Alas, being “a bit… talkative” is not limited to apparitions. Remember how Pope Benedict was going to be “hidden from the world” after his retirement? This fall the emeritus pope sent a talk to the Urbaniana (Oct 21), a message to Summorum Pontificum pilgrims (Oct 25), a message to the Anglican Ordinariate (Oct 30), and met with leaders of Caritas Veritate International (Nov 6), all of which were reported in the press. On Nov. 17 he again made headlines by changing his 1972 views on admitting the divorced and remarried to communion, with his new views now being published in his collected works. He then talked with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Dec 7) saying it’s ridiculous to think he was trying to influence the Synod on the family. “I try to be as quiet as I can,” he said.

And then there’s his secretary and master of the papal household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. When his picture appeared on the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, in January 2013, he was quoted virtuously suggesting that his role should be like glass: “the less you see of the glass, the better it is.” But that didn’t stop him from giving interviews. He was interviewed on Rome Reports, Reuters, Vatican Radio, the Washington Post, and Gloria.tv. Next thing you know, he gave an interview on German television in March 2014 saying Pope Francis is “not everyone’s darling,” and darkly predicting that his popularity won’t last.

But the all-time chatterbox award has to go to Cardinal Raymond Burke, now former head of the Apostolic Signatura.

Read more

About that celestial menagerie ...

Leave it to David Gibson to ferret out the facts on Pope Francis’s alleged comments about pets going to heaven. He maps out the origins, paths, and mutations along the way of the story many might have wanted to believe in spite of their doubts, and not just the doubt sparked by its appearance on the front page of the New York Times last week (and repeated in brief by Serge Schmemann in the paper’s Sunday Review section). In short: an increasingly common combination of misinterpretation, credulous recounting, embroidery, and misleading headlines—wed with generally held beliefs about Francis’s uncommon appeal—lent the story plausibility, not to mention legs. Why wouldn’t this pope, in particular, make it okay for our pets to meet us in paradise?

As Gibson points out, Francis did not say all dogs go to heaven, and that further he has previously expressed concern over the attention and money society lavishes on pets at the expense of people in need of more of both. Even those who don’t hold with the concept of dominion might wonder more these days where humane treatment and sensible protection slips over into something more than accepted notions of stewardship would warrant. (And what does it say that cat content accounts for fifteen percent of all internet traffic?) Plus there’s the question of where to draw that other line, of just which animals might or might not have consciousness. “Where do mosquitoes go, for God’s sake?” was the widely reported reaction of religion professor Laura Hobgood-Oster. 

New Jersey, I’d answer, the very thing that might make the most densely populated state in the nation hellish for us making it paradise for mosquitoes, of which I recall multitudes. I also recall the neighbor’s German Shepherd, which bit my brother on the day of his first Communion and sent him to the hospital for a dozen stitches to his chest; mightn’t it deserve just a little bit of otherworldly torment? But the majority of the pets I grew up with, even if I could remember them all, I’d be fine not having to encounter again in any realm (the belligerent pair of gerbils that fought each other to the death one night while I slept, for example). All except maybe the beloved family mutt, with the unlikely name of Mulligan, who if he didn’t have a soul definitely had soul. Living in the rural part of the state, we lost a number of pets to “misadventure”—hunters, cars, wild animals—but Mulligan made it to old age, leaving, as well, a number of local descendants. His eventual decline was accompanied by distemper and overwhelming fear of thunder; it was hard then not to treat him like a loved one, and there was no reason not to. I’ll admit it now: Among a handful of occasionally recurring dreams I have is one where he’s hanging around and talking, sometimes sagely from a barstool. In terms of getting to see him again, it seems just about right, and so just about enough.

On synod eve, Kasper proposal gets a boost. (UPDATED WITH VIDEO)

See video update after the jump.

The public dispute over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics is heating up. In the United States, Ignatius Press is preparing to release a few books featuring several cardinals arguing against Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal to allow certain -- not all -- divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. On Tuesday, one of them, Cardinal Raymond Burke, joined a press call sponsored by Ignatius Press to unburden himself of some thoughts about Kasper. He doesn't like that Kasper has claimed Pope Francis agrees with his proposal. It is "outrageous" that Kasper "claims to speak for the pope," Burke said on the call. "The pope doesn’t have laryngitis." Last week First Things ran an excerpt from a new book-length interview with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which he too tilts against Kasper's argument (not too successfully--which I'll say more about later). And today in Rome Vaticanista and papal critic Sandro Magister (who recently defended the deposed bishop of Ciudad del Este, republishing the entirety of the bishop's long-on-chutzpah-but-short-on-facts self-exoneration) introduced Cardinal George Pell, who has written the forward to one of the Ignatius Press books opposing Kasper.

When asked what he made of this coordinated effort to rebut his proposal, Kasper called it a "problem." He continued: "I do not remember such a situation where in such an organized way five cardinals write such a book. It’s the way that it’s done in politics but it should not be done in the church." Kasper's opponents claim that relaxing the discipline barring divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving the Eucharist would be to effectively change church teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, a teaching based on the words of Jesus. But their arguments, Kasper has noted, tend toward theological fundmentalism: "We cannot simply take one phrase of the Gospel of Jesus and from that deduce everything.... Discipline can change."

It's not as though the church has never made pastoral adjustments on this question.

Read more

Confirmed: there are five whole women on the CDF's new advisory board

We now have the names of the new members of the International Theological Commission, including the five women theologians Cardinal Gerhard Müller mentioned a few weeks back, when he revealed in an interview that Pope Francis had asked for more women to be included. Looking over the list, I'd say the CDF won't need to fear exposure to the influence of radical feminism any time soon.

According to the press release from the Vatican announcing the new appointments, the list of advisers was proposed by Müller (prefect of the CDF) and approved by Pope Francis. Among the appointees, who will serve a five-year term, are five women, two of them sisters, and twenty-five men. That may not sound like much, but it's a significant increase over the two-out-of-thirty women who served on the previous roster. "Women now constitute 16% of the Commission’s members," the press release says, calling that fact "a sign of growing female involvement in theological research." Is it a "sign" that more women are involved in theology, or a belated acknowledgment of that fact?

I am mostly interested in what the advisers might have to say to the CDF on the subject of their reform of the LCWR. Remember that Cardinal Müller cited the USCCB's negative judgment of Elizabeth Johnson in a public scolding of the LCWR leadership -- something he might not have done if he'd asked around about the quality and reception of that particular document. I had hoped a broader complement of women among those chosen to advise the CDF might help prevent such lopsided interventions in the future, but I can't say I'm optimistic that the CDF will be getting the advice it needs to hear.

Of the five new women members, there is one American: Sr. Prudence Allen, RSM. Lest you be misled, as I was at first, by the "RSM," please note that she is a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, a more traditional offshoot of the well-known congregation founded in Ireland by Catherine McAuley. (Those Sisters of Mercy belong to LCWR; the congregation to which Allen belongs is a member of the alternative religious-women's leadership group, the CMSWR.) She is a philosopher, the author of a two-volume work called The Concept of Woman, an expert in the complementarity of the sexes, and a proponent and supporter of John Paul II-inspired "New Feminism." She formerly held the Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, Chair of Philosophy at the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. I am sure she is a fine scholar and will bring wisdom and dedication to her new role. I just can't see her prodding the CDF to reconsider its ingrained fear of ordinary, not-actually-radical Catholic feminist theology. (On the other hand, according to this brief biography, she is also a divorced mother of two, so she may represent a greater diversifying of the committee than is at first apparent.)

I'm more familiar with the other American named to the commission: Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap, author of Does God Suffer? and former executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine of the USCCB. Weinandy was in that position when the USCCB's committee on doctrine released its critique of Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God, and although the final document (available as a PDF, linked here) did not bear his name -- signed, as it was, by the members of the doctrine committee, all of them bishops -- it bore strong marks of his involvement (see John F. Haught's expert take on that, in Commonweal). If the USCCB's take on Johnson was wrong, as I would say it clearly was, that error was likely due in large part to Weinandy's personal approach to reading her work. I can't see him telling Muller to ease off on judging Johnson, and by extension the LCWR, based on the USCCB's badly argued takedown of her book. Remember also his weak explanation for why the USCCB doctrinal committee wouldn't meet with Johnson before issuing its judgment of her (misrepresented) views. And of course there was his weirdly hostile reproach to CTSA president Terrence Tilley, published in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly -- here's the PDF -- and replied to by Tilley here. And then there's this response he wrote to Richard Gaillardetz's Commonweal article "The Limits of Authority," disagreeing with Gaillardetz's claim that "The bishops’ teaching authority is not binary in character; it is simply not the case that they either teach with an authority that demands unconditional and unquestioning assent or they teach with no authority at all."
(Daniel K. Finn replied to that here.) In short, if the CDF is looking to broaden the range of viewpoints it considers, and especially if it wants to get on top of the contributions of women in contemporary theology, Weinandy would not have been my recommendation.

I haven't found any evidence of progressive views or an inclination to challenge authority among the other members of the commission, which includes Moira McQueen, a Canadian bioethicist and mother of seven (per her Twitter bio), and Tracey Rowland, who is among other things Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.

Still, a few more women, a few more lay people, a few more non-Europeans: all of these are steps in the right direction. It's worth noting, too, that Francis has indicated that policing doctrinal disputes is not a major priority for him. Perhaps we'll be hearing less in general from the CDF during this papacy.

Prison as Purgatory

Stephen Webb makes a startling claim at the close of his First Things article on the U.S. penal system: “Revival will come to America when Christians begin doing justice to the American prison system.” He speaks from his experience in prison ministry and by analogy argues to substantiate his remarkable claim. We have to ask: What is the fundamental link between prison reform and national spiritual revival?

Frankly, when I read his piece for the first time, I felt myself uneasy, sensing that something was wrong. Part of this unease came from an assertion, almost a plea, that I have heard in one form or another for the two and a half years I have worked as a prison volunteer: “We need a voice.” This from a man all too aware of his crimes and his powerlessness within the system (yes, he is a felon), but more directly, his woeful prospects once he finishes his sentence. Stephen Webb’s article is not that voice, I reckon.

This is not a denial of the three telling assertions that Webb makes. Quite the contrary, I can’t but agree with his analysis. He sees the common human condition, bondage to sin in a fallen world, as most clearly exemplified in the life of prisoners. He calls for a re-examination of notions of justice in terms of the traditional teaching about Purgatory. Divine justice is restorative, and prison reform should follow from or reflect this model. We need to see rehabilitation not punishment as the end of correction. Finally he points to the paradox of modern conceptions of heaven – shall we say caricatures that pass for concepts. For too many, heaven appears as eternal imprisonment among the unbearably devout. Re-envisioning the ends of the criminal justice system and its practice points directly to a profound engagement with Christian life: faith, contrition, penance, amendment, the just life and the afterlife. We have to see ourselves in those who live behind bars and revive our Christian commitment.

I think, “What would the inmate who asked ‘for a voice’ say to Stephen Webb?”

Read more

Francis wants more women theologians advising the CDF

In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano (not yet published in English Update: strike that, here it is), Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, revealed that Pope Francis has directed that more women be included in the Vatican's international theological commission. Andrea Tornielli reports for Vatican Insider:

The members of the theological commission that assists the Holy See, particularly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in examining crucial doctrinal questions are nominated for a five-year period and there are currently thirty of them, including two women: Barbara Hallensleben (professor of Dogmatic Theology and Ecumenism at the Faculty of Theology in Fribourg, Switzerland) from Germany and sister Sara Butler (professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake - Mundelein Seminary – in Chicago, US).

According to Müller, the number will increase to "five or six," which "would be a significant increase," Tornielli points out.

An increase in the number of women theologians would also, of necessity, mean an increase in the number of lay theologians. I'm a little baffled by the honorific titles in the list of members on the Vatican website, but from what I can tell, everyone identified as "Rev." is ordained -- with the exception of "Rev. Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT." That means twenty-five priests and five lay members of the commission, including Butler; the other four are Hallensleben, Thomas Söding, and Johannes Reiter, all of Germany, and our friend John Cavadini of Notre Dame.

In her address to the LCWR last month (which I blogged about here), Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, pointed out that the opening of the study of theology to lay Catholics after Vatican II led directly to the increased participation of women in church life. That participation has been reflected, valued, and celebrated in academia, in many dioceses, and most especially in the congregations of women religious whose leaders make up the LCWR. But it has not been reflected in the hierarchy, where the relationship between power and sex remains firm (and is carefully protected).

Johnson talked about what it means for her to do theology as a woman:

Early on one key question arose for me when I realized that all the great thinkers whom I had been exposed to in my studies were men. I loved many of their insights. But where were the women? I was struck by the absence of their critical insights and spiritual wisdom. Inspired by a pioneering generation of American women theologians, I grew committed to bringing women’s voices to the table. This does not mean thinking about women all the time. It does mean using the human dignity of women as one lens through which think about other religious and ethical subjects. It means attending to poverty, lack of education, sexual violence, and other injustices that ruin women’s lives. It means employing theologically what promotes the flourishing of women in all their diversity....

Clearly, my work engages theology done by men and does so with critical appreciation. But I am convinced that this is not enough for the church of today and tomorrow. The submerged female half of the church, indeed of the human race, is rising, and the faith we pass on to the next generations will be poorer if women’s insights are ignored.

Now, she said, thanks to the open doors of Vatican II, "while excellent theology continues to be done by ordained priests, all kinds of new questions, methods, and understandings are now blossoming, fed by the experience of the laity, women and men alike." That experience will be reflected to a much greater degree on the international theological commission if the number of women members is increased, even to just one-sixth of the membership instead of one-fifteenth.

What kind of difference could that make? Well, imagine if the U.S. bishops' conference committee on doctrine had sought out the input of some women theologians before expressing its alarm at Johnson's not-very-radical thoughts on female images of God. And the evidence is strong that the CDF could benefit from closer aquaintance with a diversity of women's views. See David Gibson's report on the same interview with Müller, which focuses on his remarks about the LCWR. He sounds some familiar, minimizing notes -- they don't represent all the U.S. nuns; they need help to "rediscover their identity"; the CDF is obliged to come to the rescue of more orthodox sisters who are upset with their orders' rogue leadership. But Müller also insists that he is not a misogynist, which is a good sign, I guess. I presume the way in which he phrased that avowal -- "We are not women gobblers!" in Tornielli's account; "We don’t want to gobble up a woman a day!" in Gibson's -- makes more sense in Italian.