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Seeing red.

Robert Mickens of the Tablet and Sandro Magister of Chiesa are reporting the names of the men behind the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. You're going to recognize a few. First, Magister:

The inspection [of LCWR] had been urged above all by some cardinals of the United States, both of the curia and residential [i.e., those who live in Rome], with direct knowledge of the "problematic" orientations of the LCWR.Cardinal Franc Rod, prefect of the congregation for religious until the end of 2010, had given the go-ahead to a rather hostile apostolic visitation of the LCWR. But after, on January 4, 2011, he was replaced by Brazilian cardinal Joo Braz de Aviz, a focolarino [member of the Focolare movement], and even before that, when the American Redemptorist Joseph W. Tobin became secretary of the same congregation, the apostolic visitation continued and concluded in a much more conciliatory manner.This changing of the guard at the top of the congregation for religious was not at all to the liking of the cardinals from the United States residing in Rome at the time Levada, Raymond L. Burke, James F. Stafford, Bernard F. Law, John P. Foley so much so that none of them attended Tobin's episcopal ordination at Saint Peter's Basilica on October 9, 2010.

That's extraordinary. On Magister's telling, those American cardinals were so disappointed with the decision to appoint Tobin -- an outsider who didn't want the job and freely admits to "ranting about the curia" -- that they couldn't be bothered to attend his ordination to the episcopacy. (I wonder who attended Cardinal Law's 2004 appointment as archpriest of St. Mary Major. His retirement ran silent.) Imagine their surprise when soon after a nun was appointed undersecretary for the congregation -- and one who doesn't usually wear a habit, just like those troublesome LCWR nuns. Those American cardinals must have seen the writing on the wall. Under new management, the apostolic visitation of the LCWR seems to have gone precisely nowhere.

Unlike the doctrinal investigation, which was run by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Levada. As Mickens explains, the CDF had been looking into the LCWR for quite some time:

By the late 1990s, [conservative U.S. bishops] began taking their complaints about the sisters to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. The CDF, under the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, even issued a doctrinal warning against the organisation in 2001, though the last remnant of a more conciliar group of US bishops was able to stave off any direct Vatican intervention.The saga entered a new phase in 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. He quickly appointed the then Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco to his old post as CDF prefect. Significantly, the soon-to-be Cardinal Levada was also chairman of the doctrinal committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). According to sources in Rome and Washington, his successor at the conferences doctrinal office the then Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut was the man who formally petitioned the CDF to launch the current doctrinal investigation of the LCWR. Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 because of his perceived mishandling of the clerical sex-abuse crisis, was reportedly the person in Rome most forcefully supporting Bishop Loris proposal.

Both Cardinal Law and Archbishop Lori (he was appointed to the prestigious see of Baltimore in March) have long supported womens religious orders that have distanced themselves from the LCWR. Cardinal Law, 80, staffs his residence in Rome with the Mercy Sisters of Alma (Michigan) and Archbishop Lori, 61, helped set up several traditional communities of sisters during his tenure in Bridgeport (2001-12). All these communities, marked by their loyalty to the hierarchy, belong to the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), which broke away from the LCWR in 1992.

Incidentally, Cardinal Law was a member of the Vaticans Congregation for Religious when it launched its own visitation separate from the CDF investigation of womens communities in the US. According to news reports, that project was at least partially funded by the Knights of Columbus, a wealthy fraternal order of Catholic men for whom Archbishop Lori has been supreme chaplain since 2005. Under the leadership of an influential Washington lawyer and former Reagan White House official, Carl Anderson, the knights have increasingly backed conservative causes and routinely make sizeable donations to the Holy See.

How sizable? According to its 2010 tax filing (.pdf), the Knights of Columbus donated about $1 million to the Vatican. But the Knights of Columbus doesn't cut checks just to Rome. In 2010, the organization gave close to $2 million dollars to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. And it donated $25,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is spearheading the legal challenges to the contraception mandate; and $50,000 to the Federalist Society. It will be interesting to see the 2011 totals. (Of course, the Knights of Columbus also donate generously to humanitarian relief efforts.) But back to Mickens:

Mr Anderson is a member or consultor of several Vatican offices, and one of the five-man board of directors for the so-called Vatican Bank. His close association with the Vatican and Archbishop Lori, and the archbishops own determination to bring the LCWR into line, should not be underestimated.After appointing Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo (Ohio) to conduct the initial phase of the controversial investigation of the Leadership Conference, the CDF has now asked Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead phase two. He heads a three-man team (which includes Blair [and Paprocki of Springfield Illinois]) to reform the organization or, in the CDFs sanitised words, to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the Church.

Gee, when you put it that way, it almost sounds fun. Mickens concludes: "This is the Vatican team entrusted with reforming the LCWR -- three men considered to be rising stars in the American hierarchy. Each has said he has accepted the mission for the good of the church." That sentiment was echoed by Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan, who recently explained that while some people have had a tough time understanding Vatican decrees, including the imposition of the new translation of the Missal and the censure of the LCWR, accepting them "is a small price to pay for our unity with our mother church."

Perhaps Archbishop Sheehan is on to something. American Catholics have not forgotten how long it took bishops to wake up to the sexual-abuse crisis they created. And now they see that the Vatican took just three years to determine that it had no other option but to put 80 percent of U.S. nuns -- whose average age is seventy-four -- into receivership, an effort led in part by Cardinal Bernard Law. That decision has unified a good deal of Catholics all right -- against Rome.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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The hubristic statement of the week:" --- while some people have had a tough time accepting Vatican decrees, including the imposition of the new translation of the Missal and the censure of the LCWR, accepting them is a small price to pay for our unity with our mother church. "And he actually thinks that these examples of Vatican interference will actually foster unity? If you consider "unity" to be represented by an ever-increasing body drain from the world-wide Catholic Church, he's right.

John Allen, scooped by Magister and Mickens, is now on the bandwagon with his customary Vatican shill

Grant Gallicho: Hold on! When you write of a good number (not "deal") of Catholics being united against Rome, have you taken conservative American Catholics into account?When I was in the Jesuits in the 1980s, the pope and Vatican intervened to take over the Society of Jesus.In all honesty, I do not recall hearing any Jesuit say at that time that he was thrilled by the intervention of the pope and the Vatican. However, I would not be surprised if there were some conservative Jesuits somewhere who were thrilled by the intervention of the pope and the Vatican.So here's my point to you, Grant: The pope and the Vatican do undertake interventions from time to time.Now, I've read the CDF's critique of the LCWR. The criticisms are small potatoes.So what did you expect?

"This is the Vatican team entrusted with reforming the LCWR three men considered to be rising stars in the American hierarchy." Rising stars, of course. Both Sartain and Paprocki are among the ten bishops on the newly formed, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Well, as the holder of a Harvard degree myself, it's comforting for me to know that the Harvard man at the Vatican, Bernard Law, disgraced though he has been, is still throwing his weight around.

Sandro Magister tells us that the brother of Mother Mary Clare Millea, who was the appointed apostolic visitor for the Vatican investigation of U.S. religious women, is Msgr. William Millea, an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, who serves as a master of ceremonies for papal Masses. Now we know how she got the job. She knows people in high places! Nepotism?

Absent Christian charity, one might say this whole episode cries to heaven for vengeance!That said, we are witnessing the increasing number of Vatican actions motivated by fear of change. Is the Roman Church imploding?Are we now undergoing Reformation II?Hot damn, these are exciting times!!!

And "who will guard the guardians"? How about a scrutiny of the records of the proposers of this fiasco?

"This changing of the guard at the top of the congregation for religious was not at all to the liking of the cardinals from the United States residing in Rome at the time Levada, Raymond L. Burke, James F. Stafford, Bernard F. Law, John P. Foley so much so that none of them attended Tobins episcopal ordination at Saint Peters Basilica on October 9, 2010."How petty. And this is what we have in Church leadership. Boo hiss!

The dire reality is that the Vatican and American bishops miss it completely that the CDF is hardly relevant and that doctrinal edicts do not move people. Thomas Farrell, your example more than limps. The nun imbroglio impacts like the pedophilia crisis. Here is but one example of what is going on all over. people need is vision not people like Law harassing others while seeking personal justification. We are in a Catholic world which is keenly aware that the leaders continue to lose it. Most crucially they have no idea how much they are sinking. The Titanic, at least, was built well. The Vatican/bishops structure is falling even before hitting an iceberg or encountering a torpedo.

Helen: Exactly -- petty! Well stated.

Bill Mazzella: I asked Grant Gallicho if he had considered the views of conservative American Catholics. It sure sounds like you have not.The CDF critique of the LCWR is no big deal. It's just the conservative pope and the conservatives in the CDF acting the way conservative Catholics act at times -- petty, as Helen was allowed to put it. (Grant Gallicho deleted from my message my most charitable characterization of the Catholic bishops, just as he has deleted one of my earlier messages characterizing the Catholic bishops.)Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is a conservative Catholic, as are the other Catholic bishops. There are many conservative American Catholics who cheer on Benedict and the CDF when they do things like the recent intervention with the LCWR.

"How petty. And this is what we have in Church leadership. Boo hiss!'Well, they don't have wives and (supposedly) girl friends with which to fight. No kids to lord it over. Petty jealousy rises to an ecclesiastical game of thrones.

To all you Vatican watchers out there:1. Who proposed James Tobin for his current job? 2. How can we get that person anointed as nominator-in-chief for all new bishops and all posts to be filled in the Vatican for the next 30 years?

Wow, is that right? The average age of LCWR-affiliated nuns is 74? Does not such a complete failure to attract vocations suggest that maybe, just maybe, some of these orders could you a bit of help in understanding their vocation? Just asking... I find striking is that many commenters year seem positively convinced that when he Vatican says they want to help, start a dialogue etc. they are clearly LYING because what they want is just to affirm their OPPRESSIVE POWER. On the other hand, help will come from Ms. Marx and some of the other distinguished speakers at the LCWR annual conferences!What is a stake here is really whether we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work through the apostolic institutions of the Church (in spite of the possibly horrible flaws of the human beings involved) or not.

I find it striking that Carlo doesn't think it strange to start a dialog with an organization by effectively taking it over.

Carlo Lancellotti: When I read that number (74), it was described as the median age, not the average age.As you may know, the median age of 74 would mean the mid-point of the ages of the sisters represented by the LCWR. Roughly half the sisters would be over 74, and half under 74. Of course one or more than one could be exactly 74, so I use the qualifier "roughly."As you may know, in the United States, women usually live longer than men do, at least in terms of statistical averages.Just to be clear, I earlier posted a statement that Archbishop Sartain had stated publicly that he sees this intervention as an opportunity for dialogue. It remains to be seen how well he will live up to his statement about dialogue.I. for one, am fully confident in the ability of the leaders of the LCWR to stand in there and carry on a dialogue with him and his two fellow bishops.Nevertheless, I have also stated that Sartain and his two fellow bishops will prevail in the intervention because they hold all the power. Let me now qualify my statement a bit. Those three bishops will not have the final say because anything they work out will also have to clear two Vatican offices, one of which may very well play a very supportive role toward the LCWR. That also remains to be seen. The other Vatican office, the CDF, will undergo a change in personnel in the near future when Cardinal Levada retires. It remains to be seen who will replace him.

"a small price to pay for our unity with our mother church."A pretty telling notion of unity, isn't it? Not even obedience is a matter of "payment," much less unity. Only a modern, liberal individualist would see unity in terms of an economy of wills. Being in unity--one body--happens only through learning, the sole path to being of one mind. The student whose teacher expects rote agreement in exchange for payment, no matter how "small" and figurative, eventually finds out only that the teacher doesn't really want her to learn.

Carlo: Bishops screw up, just like the rest of us. Exhibit A: the sexual-abuse scandals here and abroad.

Stephen McKenna: Let's be careful here. In oral cultures, rote agreement is what teachers expect of students. Even in our universities in Western culture today, we as students first need to learn the basics of a given disciplines -- we need to be able to state in our own words what the basic points are that we have learned, to show that we have learned the basic points, rather than nothing.

Carlo, I think your comment has alot of truth: perhaps, just perhaps, it is the Holy Spirit acting. It may not be a certainty, but it definitely has a positive probability. Some seem to forget that this process started years ago. The LCWR had plenty of chance to adjust course on their own and for whatever reason did not. And they can still refuse to change; that refusal has a consequence - their relationship with the Church as defined by the Vatican - which seems appropriate. Even children learn that decisions have consequences...Btw, I saw a group of the Sisters of Life recently. Seemed there were about 70 of them at an average age of about 35. FWIW, here is how they describe a vocation:A vocation is not, contrary to what we sometimes hear, a career that one chooses; neither is it about our plans to do good, or to serve others as efficiently as possible. It is important to distinguish a desire to do good work or to grow closer to Jesus from a life-calling that demands our very essence given in love to the Lord.

I attended the ordination of Archbishop Tobin, C.Ss.R. I have known Joe for almost 40 years now. Yes it true the Cardinals were not present for Joe's ordination. But the first Mass celebrated at San Afonsos in Rome, Cardinal Law was present and joined in the celebration with the new Archbishop along with a very large Redemptorist Community. It was clear from the very start the good friendship with Law and Tobin. I even had a good conversation with the Cardinal at our table. So I think that maybe you need to rethink some of your ideas on this subject.

Re: Alan C. Mitchell 05/03/2012 - 4:51 pm John Allen, scooped by Magister and Mickens, is now on the bandwagon with his customary Vatican shill Mitchell took the words right out of my mouth. John Allen needs a byline ID as PR counsel for all things Vatican.Mickens is really the one who connects the dots with various links among the cast of characters.Brother Luke: please read the Massachusetts attorney general investigation of Law and Law's depositions to understand what criminal child endangerment and distorting the truth involves. Start with his abuse of confessional secrecy by imposing a seal on a survivor never to speak to anyone about the abuse he endured. The survivor was at the funeral of the perpetrator when he quietly told Law what happened, whereupon Law swore him to secrecy. The man has blood on his hands, IMHO.Look at his decision to put a rapist back in ministry even though the priest abandoned the mother of his child who had collapsed in drug-induced unconsciousness and died later that night. Law's very first concern: scandal. Not the death of the woman, or the child's welfare, but the priest's soppy letter saying he would be fine in another parish because no one would ever find out. So, he was reassigned. But the judge eventually ordered documents released. Please read them sometime.BTW, I am told Law is the de rigeur prelate for Americans like Tobin to meet when in Rome (don't ask me why), and I am sure Law is a good conversationalist and sparkling dinner companion.

[A] small price to pay for our unity with our mother church, says Archbishop Sheehan. But what if this is a moment when the emphasis should be on challenging the church, and even on not obeying it? Such moments have occurred before. One person who recognized that was Joseph Ratzinger. Paul Knitter heard him say this at a press conference in Rome in1963, during the Vatican Council. Knitter, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary, said that Ratzinger told us that throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church it has happened that the bishops so lost touch with the message of Jesus that it became incumbent upon the laity to exercise their prophetic role given in Baptism and to stand up and refuse to obey. for losing touch with the message of Jesus, Knitter refers to a quote from Terry Eagleton: It's hard to think of a historical movement which has more squalidly betrayed its own revolutionary origins [than Christianity]. Knitters response:

The squalid betrayal is real. But so are the revolutionary origins of the church. Im committed to the hope that the origins are stronger than the betrayal. To paraphrase St. Paul: Wherever there is an abundance of sin, there is an even greater abundance of grace.

Carlo L. @9:33 pm:As he goes about the work of guiding the Successors of the Apostles, do you suppose the Holy Spirit ever asks, like Casey Stengel in 1962, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

"What is a stake here is really whether we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work through the apostolic institutions of the Church (in spite of the possibly horrible flaws of the human beings involved) or not."I don't believe this action by the Vatican is the work of the Holy Spirit at all. Nor do I believe it is the work of the Spirit that our Church is currently being run by a small group of men who aggressively and consistently exclude women from leadership.Maybe it is the Spirit, though, that is moving Catholics everywhere to stand up and say, enough of this, we need to change this Church so becomes what Jesus wants it to be.

"When I was in the Jesuits in the 1980s, the pope and Vatican intervened to take over the Society of Jesus."Is that the incident with Father O'Keefe? Father O'Keefe was on the Board of Directors of a neigborhood group I worked for in the Bronx in the late 80s. He seemed just the nicest man and they would have been very lucky to have him running the order.

I could not agree more with the characterization of John Allen's work...the bishops and the Vatican should be paying him a fat salary for all the spin doctoring he does for them. Very disappointing.But back to the main issue here: speaking to my fellow Christians, I will tell you that the more these men behave this way while all the time insisting that it is God's plan for them to be in charge of everything as the only "authentic teachrs of faith and morals," the more I begin to doubt the goodness and providence and mercy of God. If I had a chance, I would tell them this to their faces. They are a scandal, and a disgrace to the Gospel (which they apparently do not read much). They are driving people away from the Lord. My heart just aches.

I for one would be very grateful if someone would describe a useful definition of the word "conservative". I agree the word "liberal" attempts a reach so broad it is near impossible to define. However, I believe conservatism's worthy attempt to enlarge its tent is not being done with sufficient attention to one of its most recognizable attributes and its often greatest challenge, a near obsession with details. Irrepective of language it is easy enough to agree upon the notion and the reality of a ball. Conservatism, not so much. Does not conservatism find contrived ignorance, outside of humor, an expression of something that could be more than a little worrisome? From the point of view of a conservative, ignorance on the other hand, is quite often merely an opportunity for change or a thing easily enough avoided. Obviously I am describing attributes as I see them. As for a useful definition I really do not know and my lack of understanding contributes to my inablity to follow all these remarkable discussions.

Carlo: Bishops screw up, just like the rest of us. Exhibit A: the sexual-abuse scandals here and abroad.I do not believe Carlo claims the hierarchy is incapable of sin. Everyone, including the hierarchy up to and including the pope, sins. But dealing with a crime and sin in the workplace of the Church is fundamentally different from teaching on an issue of faith and morals. Using the former to undermine the latter is a disservice to all.

I don't see that Allen's story warrants the vitriol being directed at it (and him). To my reading, it seems to cover a lot of the same ground as Mickens and Magister; it synthesizes those two reports and adds some more detail. I don't see it as some sort of apologetics. It reads as straightforward reporting to me.I suppose these background stories are mildly interesting, but I don't find any of the revelations terribly surprising. The idea to launch an investigation had to come from somewhere. Did anyone doubt that the impetus would have originated with Americans, who after all are the ones who are most likely to be aware of, and affected by, the LCWR's activities? If the LCWR has the issues and problems that the CDF's report describes, that would be the case whether it was Americans, Canadians or ancient Phoenicians who instigated the investigation.

Bruce: In reply to your two comments:- "But dealing with a crime and sin in the workplace of the Church is fundamentally different from teaching on an issue of faith and morals. Really? Tell that to the victims of the abuse and their families. So, our actions are not teachings as significant as our words?- Using the former to undermine the latter is a disservice to all."A disservice? I would say it is really pointing to a credibility issue.

Despite the usual best face from Bruce, Jim and even worse, Carlo, it's clear that the rightist US heirarchs played a major fole in the "PR diaster" discussed here already.What did you expect?My own bishop (Abp. Sheehan) when I first came to Nm seemed to be a moderate , but has continually shifted to right.e proclaimed his good friendship with Cardinal Law, was a big pleyer in Steenson's coming over to the Romans and heading up the ordinariate, has issued a number of pastorals that are to say the least by the book, etc.There is so much intertwining of who gets ahead in the hierachry game and how protected loyalists are (as we've seen in thew phily discussion.)I think the future of the US Church is rather grim given the leadership people in place.Then there's their political interventions.....

Isn't a point that the LCWR acknowledges that the traditional approach to women religious is in fact aging, and is not likely to recover its vitality as currently organized? Hence the exploration of alternative ways to organize women to carry out their spiritual and philanthropic mission -- including organization that might be outside of the formal organization of the Church. Isn't that at least part of what this is about? Just asking.

Helen,What is your argument? That because the hierarchy made a mistake, even a criminal mistake, in the sexual abuse scandal they forfeited their credibility on every other issue? Under that regime, no human has any credibility ever because we have all made mistakes, some egregious.My point is that unless you believe the magisterium has been given a special charism to teach faith and morals by Christ and the Holy Spirit then, it seems at least to me, there is no particularly rational reason to believe the creed or any dogmas of the Church. Further, Christ's promise to send the Holy Spirit becomes empty.So I believe it is a disservice to impinge the magisterium's hopefully God-guided actions in areas of faith and morals with its acknowledged and accepted failures in human activities. On the other hand, if you want to argue that the Vaticans human understanding of the faith and morals of the LCWR is mistaken that might be a fruitful area of discussion. But the fact that the nuns are involved in good works does not in any way define their view of faith or morals.

Bob Nunz:"Then theres their political interventions.."Don't get me started.Will the U.S. Bishops have tea party like support for the "Fortnight for Freedom?" I wonder now.

Bruce, they made not one mistake but systematic "mistakes" consisting of ignoring the victims and putting the clergy first. They showed callousness but also dishonesty, hypocrisy, and lack of integrity in general. Those faults are also pertinent when reacting to their statements on faith and morals. For example, on women's or family issues, I fully expect them to ignore people's suffering and callously overlook their needs when making a judgment of applied ethics. I also expect them not to say what they think but whatever seems most suitable. I am not even convinced any more that when they talk about, say, the resurrection, they honestly, in their heart of hearts, believe what they are saying. There's a long-standing habit of sweeping problems, doubts, questions under the carpet, and pretending that all is well. Of course there is a way forward for them. The way forward is for them to rebuild credibility from scratch, by their words and by their actions. They have to figure out what they truly think and believe, and they have to go by that without being afraid, come what may. In 2009 Pope Benedict wrote to the bishops of Ireland: "Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. " (Obviously, we're still waiting on decisive actions, honesty and transparency.)Haven't you noticed the outpouring of support on the rare occasions when a member of the church hierarchy unexpectedly shows some integrity? We are waiting with keen expectancy for a leader whom we can trust. That's the way forward. At this juncture I think that it is a singularly bad idea to talk of imposing penalties, to voice threats, and to govern with a heavy hand, before rebuilding some credibility. That's not the way forward.

ClaireThank you for your most recent post. I believed you have captured the sentiment of many Catholics today who have experienced this cumulative effect of the bishop's lack of effective leadership. They have come to the point where now they can only insist on their authority, but when that authority is not expressed by means of credible pastoral approaches to problems in the Church, they have given up any right to govern in that way. As Benedict himself has said, leadership also comprises the activity of the Holy Spirit on the Church faithful, the sensus fidelium. If the hierarchy does not listen to what the faithful say, the faithful are less inclined to listen to them. As you say, the way forward now is to rebuild trust.

Bruce:I would be the last person to deny a truth of our faith even if taught by some bishops and priests, who have acted so egregiously. (St. Augustine of Hippo would not approve.) But it seems to me that there is another sense to the word, credibility, that is, worthiness to be believed. Have these authoritative messengers of the content of the faith, shown themselves to be worthy of being believed?

That should be "I believe" -- auto correct

Good point, Prof. Farrell--which furthers my impression that the curia take a fairly infantalizing view of Church members.

Claire,Your expectations are just that, your expectations. They may or may not materialize. Personally, I find it quite demeaning when someone else acts on their assumption of what I might or might not do.Btw, my personal experience and observation of Cardinal Dolan is that he is the leader you can trust.

Bruce, they are not arbitrary expectations but based on past experience. I learned what to expect from experience.

Helen,I think the 'worthy of being believed' about faith and morals comes with the position precisely because of Christ and the Holy Spirit, not because of the humans involved.On the other hand, prudential judgements of how to deal with the aftermath of sexual abuse do not have the same promise.I have no idea why God choses to lead his Church this way. From a human perspective, I generally agree with you. But for some reason unfathomable to me, Christ chooses to operate in this manner and I choose to trust Him. So for faith and morals, I'll follow the magisterium.

Grant:"Carlo: Bishops screw up, just like the rest of us. Exhibit A: the sexual-abuse scandals here and abroad."Obviously they do. But I see no reason to constantly interpret their actions in the most negative possible way (as suggested by the words "crackdown", "taking over" etcetera). Everybody around here seems perfectly certain that their concerns are purely disciplinary and never pastoral.

CarloI think you are very naive about how the Vatican works. You probably do not know that at the present moment there is a serious power struggle going on in the Roman Curia. In part, it was manifest in the debacle over the finances which Archbishop Vigan tried to reform, for which he was unceremoniously shuffled off the the US to be Nuncio. The crackdown on LCWR may also be another manifestation of it as Mickens and Magister have reported on the conflict between Archbishop Tobin and the American prelates, who have influenced CDF to undertake a reform of the group. The Pope has lost control of his curia and only recently has decided to try to regain control by cracking down on Caritas Internationalis and the German bishops. I believe he may be a bit late and I suspect that people in the Vatican are already looking for his successor, with whom they hope to have better luck. These are men with huge egos exceeded only by their ambitions. It would be nice to think of a role for the Holy Spirit in all this, but I doubt that she can squeeze in among the competing egos. Even Benedict was honest enough, after orchestrating his own election, to admit in an interview that he did not think that the Holy Spirit actually picks the person who becomes Pope, but rather oversees the whole process. Decisions in Rome are largely political and then announced as pastoral.

Claire,I assume your expectations are well-grounded. That still makes any expectation about the future a learned guess at best. People change and they act differently in different circumstances. Your expectations cannot predict that change or forecast that future.

The CDF came down on the LCWR using "evidence" collected from the organization's website. Perhaps guileless as doves, the nuns were touchingly transparent on that site, posting material one commenter at dot.commonweal rightly observed made him feel as if he were eavesdropping on a private conversation. Not surprisingly, the CDF hardly seemed to recognize the nature of the genre on which they were basing their critique. Their preferred M.O. is so different: Do everything important in executive session. Create a public record of what you have done that will satisfy the demands of your superiors and protect your own backs now and in all conceivable future situations. No need to waste time on focus groups and sharing sessions, as your marching orders have already been given to you from above. Certainly no need to admit in public that some members of your own group might, along the way, have on occasion said things to which certain audiences of a different cast of mind might take exception.

Bruce and all the lovers of all things from hierarxhs - grace stil builds on nature.

"Wow, is that right? The average age of LCWR-affiliated nuns is 74? Does not such a complete failure to attract vocations suggest that maybe, just maybe, some of these orders could you a bit of help in understanding their vocation?"I venture to guess, but wouldn't know where to find the states, that the age of the average Catholic in the pew is one heck of a lot older than it was 40-50 years ago. Does not such a complete failure to attract and retain younger members suggest that maybe, just maybe, this church could use a bit of help in understanding its lack of attractiveness to younger people?

Jimmy Mac:Your comment: "Does not such a complete failure to attract and retain younger members suggest that maybe, just maybe, this church could use a bit of help in understanding its lack of attractiveness to younger people?"YES, and it may have very little to do with poor catechesis.

Many Catholics are actually post-Catholic. The hierarchy does not understand this and have no clue about how to address the issue. They still the think that Catholicism is monolithic and if they keep beating the orthodoxy drum everyone will fall in line. We will just have to see how this all shakes out.

Another example of the magisterium making mistakes is the recent "for many" change compared to "for all." It is dogma and not gospel. A move to favor one's power bloc while ignoring all reality. matter how one may try a conscience cannot be excused by simply following the magisterium.

These two links are to lectures by (retired) Bishop Gene Robinson and Vassar Prof Michael McCarthy, respectively, and they deal with root issues of the the ugly and apparently intractable conflicts that seem to be increasing in the church today. Don't miss them.

Alan:I am happy to be naive, if that means thinking that the Lord can write straight sentences on the crooked lines of our humanity. But anyway, all your complaints about Vatican politics have nothing to do with my point: that people like you are way too ready to eager in judgment of other people intentions. Bishops at the Vatican are human beings like you and I, sinners like you and I. The idea that, as a general rule, their actions are mostly dictated by unworthy motives is worse than naive, it is deeply cynical and self-righteous.

Thanks for your link, Bill. Every day comes with another piece of bad news, it seems. Are Germans really going to say that Jesus poured his blood for many, not for all?In my parish for the past two weeks our pastor has changed his tone. His "for many" used to ring out loudly. The last two Sundays, it's been swallowed in an inarticulate ending. I cannot say that he does not say it, but it's all but inaudible. That is much better - I almost don't notice it. If this Sunday he does it again, I will know that it is deliberate. Maybe it is the way of the future.

Bill:"It is dogma not gospel"I would say "it's the Gospel, not dogma" since "for many" are just the words by Jesus recorded in the Gospel, but there is no dogma whatsoever that denies that Christ died for all.

"that people like you are way too ready to eager in judgment of other people intentions. "Isn't that itself a very judgmental statement?

"there is no dogma whatsoever that denies that Christ died for all." There is actually a dogmatic statement that rejects the claim he did not die for all (Unigenitus, 1715).

The heart of democracy is open discussion, and open discussion is dreaded by all undemocratic institutions.It does not matter what you discuss the crime is that you discuss at all.Before Luther many a mighty figure battered at the doors of the Roman Church Catherine of Siena, Wycliffe, Huss, Savanarola in vain. When Luther pushed, the doors flew wide open. Why? Because a new medium, the printing press, exposed the Church to open discussion in an unprecedented way. (Later the Index of Forbidden Books kept at least Spain and Italy in blissful ignorance of such discussion for another few centuries.)Today again, a new medium has arisen the internet. Perhaps it can achieve what apostles of reform and open discussion such as Kng and Drewermann and Fox have attempted in vain.No Vatican figure can take part in internet discussion, for it would compromise his authority. How will the Vatican handle this disadvantage? An index of forbidden websites?

Excellent llink, Bill. Too bad the pope and his minions keep mistaking uniformity for unity, and doubly bad that they seem to care nothing for a whole lot of the OTHER words of Jesus---you know, the ones about humility, service, love and marauders parading as shepherds. The Emperor is stark naked.

Fabulous idea Joseph - Index Textus Situ Prohibitorum. What sites should be on it? The three most powerful tools the faithful have to reform Church governance and save it from eating its own are knowledge, their voices and their pocketbooks. (And I can't help but think, satire.)

Imho, the TWO most powerful tools the "faithful" have are their feet.

Jeanne --I bet you're right about satire. Arrogant people hate being laughed at. Satire, unlike sheer name-calling, sometimes hits its mark.

there is no dogma whatsoever that denies that Christ died for all. There is actually a dogmatic statement that rejects the claim he did not die for all (Unigenitus, 1715).--J. O'Leary, yes, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that Gods love excludes no one: So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. He affirms that he came to give his life as a ransom for many; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.

In his recent letter to he German bishops, the Pope says that Jesus was recalling Isaiah 53 and it's important to maintain the link back to Isaiah in the Missal translation.

The heart of democracy is open discussion, and open discussion is dreaded by all undemocratic institutions.Of course, the Church is not at all a democracy. Unlike all democracies, it was founded by Christ and lead by him. I dont believe He designed it to follow a majority, but rather to lead humans to His Father.

As a young woman I was convinced that if I had a daughter, the flowering of Vatican II would make her a full and equal member of the church by the time she was an adult. Not only has that not happened, we now have a Pope who is reinterpeting the vision outlined by that Council to support an agenda of "no change, no way, no how". I agree with a previous comment that, in order to be guided by the Holy Spirit, the Curia would have to suppress their inflated egos and most of them do not seem to be capable of that. Many of the Catholics I am acquainted with are not liberal or conservative, but uninformed and/or intimidated. So, despairing of the Roman church becoming the church I hoped to leave to my children and their children. I am presently a Catholic refugee in the Episcopal Church.

No, the Church isn't. democracy...but there are two completely orthodox theological reasons why some sort of democratic elements should characterize some aspects of our lives as Catholics: 1. We are all sinners, and 2. We are all baptized and, thus, graced. Jesus wasn't a tyrant or a despot or a monarch. He pleaded with those who refused to believe that he was the Messiah to at least believe in his works. John's gospel---amazingly---is peppered with incidents like this. But the authorities in our church, who claim to act in his name, simply demand acquiescence and obedience, because they "say so." This was never the way of Jesus, and he had every right to behave otherwise. Speaking of John's gospel: I have been very moved by the film "The Gospel of John," produced 7 or 8 years ago by the Visual Bible project (which is now defunct). It is a word-for-word enactment----nothing added or removed. The central performance by Henry Ian Cusick is astonishing. I expected to hate it because it sounded absolutely awful and I simply could not imagine how it could be pulled off with any quality. It is not flawless by any means, but it enfleshes John's Jesus in a truly unique and really appealing way. So many of its scenes have come to mind while listening to John proclaimed in the liturgy these days of Easter, but even more so as I reflect on the current shenanigans in the church. I recommend it highly. I will never read/hear/think of John in the same way.

BruceJesus was a Jewish layman from the tribe of Judah, and not from the tribe of Levi from which priests derive. In the first century CE judaism was very diversified, There were sects of Sadducees, Pharisees, Qumran Covenanters, Zealots and there were those Jews who did not being to any of these sects. Jesus offered yet another interpretation of the Judaism in his day. His first followers were Jews, Jesus Messianists with whom other Jewish groups disagreed with their claims of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. The Christian Church was formed after Jesus had been resurrected from he dead. Luke tells us that they were first called Christians at Antioch. So your claim in the above post should be adjusted to reflect the actual history of the situation.

TANGENT:Here's a repeat of Notre Dame's commencement in 2009;

there are two completely orthodox theological reasons why some sort of democratic elements should characterize some aspects of our lives as Catholics: 1. We are all sinners, and 2. We are all baptized and, thus, graced.Janet, I accept these are true but I have no idea why these imply democratic elements.

Janet @ 05/04/2012 - 8:57 am said: They are a scandal, and a disgrace to the Gospel (which they apparently do not read much).Tim Unsworth of blessed memory said something similar in his book Tim Unsworth, a collection of his articles in NCR between 1982 and 2007, published by Acta Publications in 2008: Why is it that a church founded by a man who walked on water is now often administered by mean, mindless men who walk on the manure of guilt and betrayal and who prefer to flay consciences rather than to read the book of John? Its awfully hard to subordinate ones love of God to the rules of earthly ministers.

The Christian Church was formed after Jesus had been resurrected from he dead. Luke tells us that they were first called Christians at Antioch. So your claim in the above post should be adjusted to reflect the actual history of the situation.Alan,If the statement you want me to correct is 'it was founded by Christ and lead by him', then I'll stand by it as written. Christ is alive even today.

BruceThank you for that clarification. But if you were making a theological statement rather than an historical one, you should not have written:"Unlike all democracies, it was founded by Christ and lead [sic] by him." I agree with your theological point that Christ is "alive" even today and that he leads the Church. That can be affirmed by his exaltation at the right hand of God, something that Acts and Hebrews are quite clear on. That exaltation is a post-resurrection event. Historically, however, Jesus led a band of Jewish followers, not the Christian Church as it was later to become. To use the verb "establish" is not entirely incorrect since the later Church stands in continuity with the Jewish followers of Jesus. I don't think we really disagree over the substance of your claim, only the expression of it. I apologize for being so obtuse.

Hi, Bruce...the reason these truths could nudge us toward developing some democratic elements in our chuch (esp with regard to the way authority is exercised) is that 1. all power and authority should not be held by a small group of relatively "alike" folks in an exclusive way and exercised in the heavy-handed manner of the tyrant or the absolute monarch is because these men are sinners and are thus afflicted with the same blndness, recalcitrance, hard-heartedness and penchant for "missing the mark" that is the biblical definition of sin. They need the insights and the "checks and balances" provided by others who are not part of officlaldom but who have a high stake in how the church operates. Thus, on to 2: the other baptized are the ones to provide these checks and balances, as they have also been given gifts of insight and wisdom and discerment. The hierarchy has no monopoly on these gifts. A perfectly realistic example of something that could happen democratically: the election of their bishops by the people they govern. I believe Lord Acton was correct about power and its abilty to corrupt. The church is not immune from this corruption and, in fact, may be afflicted with it much more deeply because of its origin in God and hence, its tendency for those in power to see their position as "the way God wants it.". For an interesting take on this, see "The Holiness of Democracy" in James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword". I think I stole the whole idea from him. Read the book several years ago...think I'll reread now that the Pope and bishops have put on their "power suits" yet again.

Janet, Bruce -- James Carroll has a relevant piece in the Boston Globe on the current Church situation. His opening premise is "The Catholic hierarchy is walling itself off ideologically ". He concludes with a few lines on the very subject of claims about the Church and democracy and on how that needs to be thought of more deeply as an earlier Benedict did.

Another article that gives an accurate, albeit painful, assessment of the current situation both with the crackdown on the LCWR and the church in general: is also a very moving video presentation somewhere on the BC Church in the 21st Century in which Kevin Dowling gives a personal glimpse of his work with HIV/AIDS patients; he presented it as part of a talk he gave at the C21 program a few years ago. I could not locate it so I don't have the link, but please search for it. Absolutely worthwhile and filled with hope that there are at least a few among these men who understand the depths of the human condition and the greater depths of God's love for the most forsaken. He is an inspiration.

Jack: Just read this. THANK YOU!!!

Jack BarryThanks for the link to James Carroll. I found his article to be spot on. History, history, history -- there is nothing like it -- sobering and real.

OK, this is it for today but I keep forgetting to ask:Was anyone here offended or at least taken aback by the fact that the pope's homily on Holy Thursday was about the grave disobedience involved in thinking about the ordination of women? HOLY THURSDAY!!! Of course I know that the traditional (and biblically oh-so-wrong) idea is that HT is about Jesus "ordaining" the Apostles and setting up the priesthood, etc., etc. But even if that WERE a correct interpretation (and surely it is not), can you imagine anything more crass than taking a preaching opportunity on one of our most sacred feasts to scold and scowl and make damn sure that no one thinks those dirty women can EVER do this???? These men are shaking in their Gucci loafers, for sure. They are so threatened and afraid!

Janet, thanks for the link to the BC Church in the 21st Century presentation by Bp. Dowling. He also expresses in strong terms his appreciation for the religious sisters working with him (a little after the 7 minute mark).No, not offended by Pope Benedict's homily. His words carry a lot less weight for me after I waited in vain for several months in 2010 that his letter to the people of Ireland be followed by action. Then I realized that it would not be from him that change and renewal would come. Since his election I had placed some hopes in him to deal with the great problem of the church in the present times (the sexual abuse scandal), but I had to realize that they were misplaced. Now I'm indifferent to what he might say.

Claire: Thanks for your post and I understand completely. I really do my best---despite what some of my posts indicate!---to ignore the pope and the run-of-the-mill clergy and bishops since it's nothing but a big echo chamber. It's all the same and it bearls little to no resemblance to the Gospel, wven if they mention Jesus once in a while :)One good word for Benedict Ratzinger is that he did finally take Maciel out of circulation. JP2 turned a deaf ear---more than once---to the cries of the men who had been abused in his seminary and BR finally removed him. I have to give him credit for that...I think JP2 caused a great deal of harm to the Church. He is no saint in my book, no matter how much they want to force that down everyone's throat. Michael McCarthy's talk gives a pretty fair and truthful assessment of the JP "style." I suppose the trend of beatifying and canonizing these guys before they are cold in the tomb will continue. It's an attempt to smother and steamroll more prudential views of their legacies and certainly a legitimation of their cries of "dissent" every time someone disagrees with these "saints." It's just another trick to control "uniformize" the church according to their own image...

Hi Janet,I dont personally find your arguments about democracy in the church the least bit persuasive. I believe any group of humans acting together is every bit as much susceptible to human foibles as anyone acting alone. One need only look at how Hitler managed to use democracy to commander Germany: Through the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Nazis gathered enough electoral support to become the largest political party in the Reichstag, and Hitler's blend of political acuity, deceptiveness and cunning converted the party's non-majority but plurality status into effective governing power in the ailing Weimar Republic of 1933. (from Wikipedia)On the other hand, my belief is that God has promised us that He will keep the leaders of His Church from making serious leadership errors. And Jewish history tells us He did not need democracy to do this. It doesn't preclude democracy but it certainly doesn't require or suggest it either.

IMO the analogy of dissenting faithful to Nazis is insulting and ignorant.That goes,I suppose, wit hsimple minded trust in all hierachical pronouncements.It was nm not ever thus - til JPII 9as noted_ dregdeg up "definitive" linked to "assent."Once more, grace builds on nature.

Bruce: Your analogy is ridiculous...I wasn't expecting you to see my point or be persuaded. Unless, of course, we posit that Benedict-Ratzinger might act a bit Hitler-esque if he tried to be democratic. There might be something to that, but I am sure that is not what you mean...The institutioanl church HAS made MANY serious errors...the institutional church fabricated the idea that the men running it would not make serious errors but that in itself is a serious error. All we are promised by the Lord is that the gates of hell will not ultimately prevail. The machinations of these men are a direct parallel to the actions of the men who sent Jesus to his death. It doesn't take any super-duper insight to see the patterns in the Gospel that suggest this.If you don't think the handling of the sex abuse crisis was a serious error---scandalizing the faithful worldwide and bringing a sense of spiritual death to many victims, then I guess we have a very different view of error. As long as the institutional church refuses to listen and learn, the more it reveals itself to be a huge con game, blindly running on conflict of interest and corruption.

Some of the language used by Bishop Daniel Jenky in his 'homily' on April 14 is utterly disgraceful, and way beyond the bounds of what could be called reactionary.Having Cardinal Bernard Law still making important decisions in the Vatican is equally disgraceful.

Wow, people are touchy. Sorry I upset you all. I definitely did not equate dissenting faithful to Nazis nor did I make an analogy. I simply provided an example where the democratic process was hijacked to show that democracy has no inherent protections from bad human actions. The idea that Catholic democracy somehow has this protection seems false on its face.I readily acknowledge the Catholic Church has made many bad management decisions: the sex abuse scandal is a prime example. That poor management was not a promulgation on faith and morals however.

Hi again, Bruce: Can you come up with a few examples where democracy does work better than tyranny? I'll betcha there are some...Isolating the formulation"faith and morals" apart from the direct results of institutional actions is just another part of the game. God will judge on "what we have done to the least...," not on our endless parsing of the natural law or our stunning Creeds. Their concrete errors----life-destroying errors----have far greater impact than anything else.

The latest census findings, reported by Conor Dougherty and Miriam Jordan in their May 17, 2012, Wall Street Journal story, "Minority Births Are New Majority," reveals relevant demographic changes in America data that no doubt plays a key role in the Vatican's calculus in its crackdown on the LCWR, ( authors report: "For the first time in U.S. history, whites of European ancestry account for less than half of newborn children, marking a demographic tipping point that is already changing the nation's politics, economy and workforce." It will also change Catholicism in America. Hispanics are not only well on their way to becoming the new majority in America, but also the new majority in the church.Contrast this change with the declining population of LCWR members with a median age of 74. It seems clear that the Vatican is counting on a rise in the number of obedient, conservative Hispanic Catholics and the dying out or smothering of the progressive forces represented by the LCWR and its fervent supporters.

[...] Grant Gallicho at dotCommonweal notes that The Tablet and Chiesa have scooped John Allen (not to mention Rocco Palmo) on the brains (or lack thereof) behind the LCWR witch hunt. Is this Bernard Law’s long distance middle finger to Catholics in America? That’s not going to play very well in circles here. [...]

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