Thursday, August 25, 2011

No Altar Girls = No Justice = NO LAW!

Okay, I'll admit it. One of my favorite things is to "tweak" reactionaries with provocative words or statements. Hence, the last part of the title of today's "musing." They aren't "conservatives," for they don't seek to maintain what is - the meaning of conservative. Rather, they seek a return to the 1950s (which, in fact, is a return to the 16th century for the Roman church). They'd like to pretend the Second Vatican Council never happened.

Ah, Vatican II. Ecumenical councils, teaching authority, the hierarchy of authority...okay, I gotta focus. That's for another blog.

The bishop of Phoenix has declared that girls may no longer serve on the altar in his diocese. This, he states, is for boys who can thus be groomed for the priesthood. Well, as bishop he can say whatever he likes. The truth is, every parish in his diocese has the right to continue having girls serve (bet they have more girls than boys volunteering for that, as females do for everything else!). The bishop's ruling has no force of law because - like the prohibition on ordaining women - it's unjust. As Aquinas says, an unjust law is no law and therefore has no binding force! He doesn't say we can disobey an unjust law - he denies it existence as law.

Papal teaching - at least in places - is that females have precisely the same value, the same human nature, the same Savior as males. Things like equality in housing, employment and such are due to women no less than to men. (When we get to the religious arena things change radically - once you work through the doublespeak - but again, that's another "musing.") Justice demands - according to papal teaching - that women be accorded such equality. While teachings are consistent in denying that such equality extends to ordination, they do extend that to ministries performed by the non-ordained. They might be more than a little reluctant to do so, but they do. Serving at the altar - by any non-ordained person - is therefore open to females as well as males.

That service is open to females based on their equality with males, as persons. In justice to females, a ministry open to a non-ordained male must be open to females.

To deny females access to a ministry based on their gender, and the desire to encourage young boys to pursue a priestly call, is to treat females as not equal. It is therefore inherently unjust. And an unjust teaching lacks any authority - as with an unjust law - which frees pastors to ignore it. In fact, they would be required to "do the good" - to continue treating their people, male and female, with equal justice. (CAN one "pursue" what only God can offer? hmmmm...must muse on that one.)

I know media statements have been made by various organizations protesting the bishop's action. Phone calls flooded his office, at the urgining of groups like Womens Ordination Conference. These things are good. Perhaps, though, we should be writing to all the pastors in the diocese, providing them with the means to bypass this dictate - the teachings on women's equality, the injustice to females of any age in denying them access to a ministry open to males, and what Aquinas has to say about an unjust law (in this case, episcopal ruling - but it comes to the same thing!). We might remind them that justice is required of all Christians, it's not optional. And maybe we could even get their opinion on whether one can/ought to "pursue" a call?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Media take note: Catholic does NOT equal Roman Catholic!

I confess. I feel a deep resentment, even anger, when I read headlines or watch news report that say "the Catholic Church" as though this is automatically and exclusively the Roman church. Now, I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, went through parochial school, Catholic high school, even got all my degrees at Roman Catholic college/universities. Technically, I suppose, I was still a Roman Catholic when I got my PhD in Theology...although at that point I went to RC churches only when compelled (i.e., weddings and funerals - and I very nearly walked out of one funeral!). We attended an independent Catholic church 70 miles away...getting home from church around 2pm, which cut severely into our weekend and grandkids' events.

On the other hand, I'd supposedly "excommunicated myself" a couple of times by then...I just recognize that the very concept of excommunication is theologically untenable, so I ignore those.

Since last Fall/Winter we've been members and liturgical ministers at an independent Catholic church in St. Louis. Again, this isn't local - the 40 minute drive, each way, and Saturday evening service make it pretty awkward at times. But we love the community, find challenge and nurture in the liturgy, so we're satisfied until an independent church forms on our side of the Mississippi.

It seems to me some simple definitions are needed for the media...and probably for a good number of Catholics, Roman or otherwise:

Church: a building dedicated to worship of the Judeo-Christian God, or the institutional structure of a religion embodying that community's politics, governance and legal system.

Religion: The codification of a community's beliefs, values and mores..

Faith: A quality of believing without "scientific" proof; the beliefs of a person or group, sometimes but not always embodied in a statement of belief (i.e., creed).

Look at "Church" as the U.S. government, encompassing the federal, state and local levels. "Religion" would compare to the U.S. Constitution, and our "faith" would equate to the beliefs about that Constitution held by one and/or more citizens.

Now, a basic tenet of our government is that our democratic republic (we are not, in fact, a democracy) is the best form of government; we wage wars to force it on other nations/cultures. We are not, therefore, the only democracy (okay - democratic republic). Other nations adopt that basic form - more or less set out as a "creed" in the Declaration of Independence - without being named, or tied to in any way, the United States.

So it is with being "Catholic." We claim a particular faith - that of the Nicene Creed, the Christian faith. We also claim a particular form of that faith - the Catholic form, or religion. However, that's where the unity ends! When religion forms an institution - politics, governance, laws - differences arise, and identity is defined.

I don't mean to be overly simplistic regarding the aspect "faith." All those claiming a Catholic faith accept the teachings of the Nicene creed - but not all understand those teachings the same way. All accept "God, the Father Almighty," but while some Catholics see God as very nearly a literal Father (compete with penis), others understand this as defining a loving relationship with all that God has created, one as "motherly" as it is "fatherly," and totally non physical (as John's Gospel names God as Spirit, therefore without a body). All accept "true God, true person." Some, however, believe that the divine is overarching, so that the human 2 year old Jesus would never throw a temper tantrum (a natural process of human development, as the toddler separates self from parents - especially the mother, which is why she's most often treated to them :D). Others see "true person" as indicating Jesus of Nazareth grew and developed as all other human beings - temper tantrums, puberty, learning to speak and read, stubbing his toes, and getting splinters as he learned the carpenter's trade. So, while claiming the Catholic faith means embracing the teachings of the Nicene Creed - whether one is Roman Catholic, Coptic Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Greek Catholic or some other form of the Catholic faith - Catholics understand those teachings in a wide variety of ways.

And all this leads to....independent Catholic churches are no less Catholic than the Roman church (Latin rite is the proper name), or than the 21 Catholic churches (rites) which Rome accepts as "authentically and validly Catholic," although the pope has no authority in these - he is one among equals with the heads of those churches.

There are something like 200 forms/institutions (more or less formalized as such) of the Catholic faith around the world. Roman Catholic may be the largest, but it's neither equivalent to "the Catholic church" (even worse, "the Church"!) nor exclusively "the Catholic church."

We need to keep educating the media on this. Maybe enough voices would begin the change... and send a message to the Vatican.

Blessings on this lovely morning,

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fr. Roy Bourgeois - A Renegade's Conscience

Back towards the end of my "earlier life," when I was just coming out of my reactionary-right stage, and studying, "conscience" had to do with "obeying the law." Rules were rules, you know what they are, follow them and that's all. Grace was a "shot" - something that enabled you for heroic virtue to "do the right," at any cost. Now, I'd been wondering about these for a while, and my studies led me to Aquinas. For him, the moral life was about pursuing the "good" - a quality, not a legal referent. Much more complicated and uncertain, pursuing the good means a wider role for conscience. I have to consider - seriously and thoughtfully - the "law," but I must also reflect on what my imagination, my intellect and my intuition tell me. These too are valid and necessary sources of information, and so the "informed conscience" seeks their input. What are the real possibilities for me? What is the base issue?

Fr. Roy Bourgeois obviously followed this road too. It led him to begin protests at the School of the Americas - where some of the most terrible dictator-terrorists in the western hemisphere were taught their trade. Maryknoll wasn't thrilled, I'm sure, especially when he was arrested, but they supported him. The tide turned only - and that's important - when his conscience led him to support the cause of ordaining women.

Fr. Roy sought "the good." He examined the basis for church teachings (intellect) but as he delved into this further - understanding the sources of objections to these teachings - he saw the base issue wasn't "the Gospels" but gender, and justice.

The "good," as I said earlier, is a quality. It has to do with pursuing what brings about the Reign of God on earth. That, according to Aquinas, requires justice. The "right" is a legal referent, obedience to laws. Aquinas also tells us that "an unjust law is no law at all," and has no binding power for that reason. What is "right" does not - necessarily - bring about the Reign, the good, especially when the "right" is an unjust law.

The teaching on exclusion of women from ordination relies heavily on so-called exclusion by Jesus in the Gospels. Now, Jesus ordained no one - male or female! He was a good Jew, and the Jewish priesthood was hereditary and temple-bound (hence, there have been no Jewish priests since the destruction of the Second Temple in approximately 70 C.E.). It is highly unlikely (almost impossible) that no women were part of the Last Supper; this would have taken place during Passover, and women played a role in all Shabbat and festival meals. Two biblical commissions were appointed in the late 20th century by popes seeking solid biblical support for their stand against women. In both cases the commission had to return to their masters with a report that no biblical evidence whatsoever, in fact, supports it. There is, however, a good deal of evidence outside the Bible for the practice of women priests in the early Church - as late, perhaps, as the 9th century. The Vatican dismisses it as "anecdotal," but scholars in archaeology, anthropology, history and even ancient languages don't agree (the Vatican has no such scholars). They've seen epitaphs, letters, even records of liturgical services of ordination for women priests, deacons - even bishops! Abbesses in monasteries (co-ed until the middle ages, by the way) were consecrated with precisely the same ritual as bishops, and received the same signs of their consecration - headgear, shepherd crook, ring. The Vatican likes to say that ordained women existed in "schismatic sects," but this is not only erroneous, it's anachronistic. No such sects (no such word!) existed until the second millenium.

Well, there's a lot more to the support of women's priestly ministry, but back to Roy. Undoubtedly he was exposed to a great deal of this. Perhaps he even read (or re-read) the little book by Aquinas entitled On Kingship. In this one-hour-read Aquinas tells the story of man who is unable to find work, and therefore unable to feed his family or himself. He steals food, therefore, for himself and his family. In doing so, says Aquinas, he commits neither a sin nor a crime. Rather, the community sins against him and his family by not seeing the needs of this family and providing food, and work. They are responsible to provide for basic needs of all who live in the community and failed to do so. They should both feed the hungry (hmmm, where have I read that before?), and empower the man to provide for his family through honest work.

Here, the "right" would require the man to allow himself and his family to starve rather than steal. The "good," on the other hand, involves the immediate need (food) and the source of his moral dilemma - the lack of work by which he fell into such a state.

The Reign of God involves pursuing the fullness of who and what we, as human beings, can and should be. What holds us back is unjust. A teaching that women are excluded from ordination because Jesus did not include them is not only false, but blatant sexism and injustice. Both restrict the ability of women who are called to priestly ministry to pursue the good, to become "all they can be," to paraphrase a popular military slogan. It is therefore no "law" at all, and has no binding power.

Now, if the Maryknoll community's leaders could only find in this the courage and strength to face down the Vatican and support Fr. Roy, rather than threatening to "exclude" him! Women's communities have done so - and the Vatican backed off. Earlier Maryknolls priests and sisters defied governments, religious powers and anyone else who threatened to restrict or stop their work of pursuing the good with and for their people. What happened?

By the way, FOSIL (Faithful of Southern Illinois) is sponsoring a presentation by Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Sr. Jeannine Grammick (another "renegade" who pursues the good, supported by her community) in O'Fallon, IL on Sunday, September 25. You can find all the info on this at

Forming our conscience - and the sacred requirement to follow it - might form a pretty good subject for another blog would the topic of "pursuing the good" and "being all we can be"...I'll "muse" on this. :)