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Entries from May 2022

With his Communion ban, Cordileone harms the church more than Pelosi does

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone assures us that his decree barring U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving holy Communion has nothing to do with politics: "I assure you that my action here is purely pastoral, not political." The assurance is laughable. As Melinda Henneberger pointed out in the Sacramento Bee, Cordileone's claim is "a silly thing to say, since no one who would believe him needs to hear it, and no one who wouldn't will be at all persuaded by it."

The fact that Cordileone misunderstands the politics, however, is the least of his and the Catholic Church's problem. The larger difficulty is that his understanding of the religious values at stake is lousy, too! He has misrepresented several cardinal points of church teaching and then erroneously applied that teaching.

The Catholic Church's opposition to abortion, dating back to the Didache in the first or second century, and repeatedly pronounced in the past 60 years in the face of efforts to legalize the procedure, is well known. As our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote in his 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," in a passage quoted by Cordileone:

When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for "instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature."

You see the problem. Cordileone does not, by his action, evidence the pope's conclusion that "everything is connected." He isolates abortion from all other sins and isolates, too, Pelosi's involvement in this issue.

Canon 1398 states: "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication." Pelosi has not procured an abortion. She has given birth to five children, in fact. Instead, she has voted to keep a procedure the church views as immoral, and many Americans view as unjust, legal.

I think Pelosi is wrong in this regard, but there are several prudential judgments that need to be made: How to legislate on the issue? Who should legislate on this issue, the federal government or the states? Whether to pursue a legal strategy through the courts or through the legislature? Is this the kind of issue about which a prohibition is likely to be effective? Cordileone cannot pretend those prudential judgments do not exist or that the Catholic Church has definitive teaching on any one of them, let alone all of them together.

Does voting to keep abortion legal constitute illicit cooperation with evil? Our Catholic tradition has a rich theology of cooperation to address the complexities of living in a world in which one's own choices are circumscribed by, and involved with, the choices of other people. That theology was developed by St. Alphonsus Liguori in the 18th century, drawing on the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas and others, long before the challenges posed by a modern, pluralistic society came about. Cordileone examines none of the careful distinctions that theology demands.

Why single out Pelosi? After all, she is but one member, albeit the most powerful member, of one branch in the federal government. An effort to enshrine the right to an abortion in the California constitution has begun, but that vote will happen in the state legislature, not the one over which Pelosi presides.

Are judges who sanction permissive abortion laws to be sanctioned too? Assigning responsibility to Pelosi and not to those who have played, and are likely to play, a far more consequential role in determining what abortion laws will look like is not a religious judgment, is it? Does the grace of office supersede the need for deft political analysis to make such a determination? Did Aquinas have anything to say about the separation of powers? Did Augustine examine federalism?

Cordileone's action also insults the affective collegiality the bishops should have with one another and with the pope. The Holy Father made clear last September that he had never denied anyone Communion. The U.S. bishops, despite the promptings of those bishops who, like Cordileone, favor weaponizing the Eucharist to make a political point, refused to embrace the strategy as they wrestled with their document on the Eucharist last year. The cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith warned against going down this path. Even the Catholic News Agency, owned by EWTN, had to admit that "only a small minority of U.S. bishops have come out publicly in support" of Cordileone's action.

Cordileone has now done an end-run around his brother bishops. They are now all going to be asked why they have, or have not, subjected pro-choice politicians in their ecclesiastical jurisdiction to a similar edict.

Cordileone is a bomb thrower of an archbishop and he has thrown a bomb all right. But the real damage will not be done to the halls of government. The real damage will be done — is being done — to the Catholic Church. For that reason, I hope Pelosi will appeal his edict to the Holy See.

Pelosi has a pretty good case. As Henneberger wrote:

According to a canon lawyer I consulted, Speaker Pelosi does have a right of appeal to Rome. If she chose to, she could base that appeal on Canon 213, which is that Christ's faithful have a right to receive the sacraments, Canon 843, §1, that the Church's ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who properly seek them, and that the archbishop has improperly interpreted Canon 915, barring "obstinate public sinners" from communion.

That is not a slam dunk, but it is a strong case.

To be clear, I disagree with Pelosi about abortion intensely. I believe the law should protect those not yet born but who have a distinct DNA, never to be repeated. They are human persons, albeit very small ones, whose lives and dignity should be accorded all the protection laws and culture can provide.

Creating a culture of life, in which both women and their unborn children are respected and shown solidarity, will not be achieved by edicts from snarling ecclesiastical potentates. A culture of life will be assisted, but not created, by civil laws. I wish Pelosi would think powerfully about how she could become a witness to the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church's teaching about the sanctity of life.

The browbeating means her archbishop has chosen, however, will only enflame the culture wars. The fact he is raising money off his effort only confirms it. Cordileone can beat his proud breast, thinking he has done his duty, demonstrating the courage of his convictions.

Alas, he has only demonstrated the degree to which his own crimped ecclesiology has brought the culture wars into the life of the church in this country. It is Cordileone, not Pelosi, who is harming the church the most.

Michael Sean Winters is a journalist and writer for the National Catholic Reporter.

Reprinted by permission of NCR Publishing Company  www.NCROnline.org
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The Little Children Suffer

Dunblane is a small town in Scotland, with a river tumbling through a wooded valley to the accompaniment of birdsong, and a beautiful medieval cathedral standing serenely amidst gravestones marking the many generations who have lived and died there. But some of Dunblane’s graves bear witness to a traumatic event that seared itself into the town’s history and changed British law.

Just after 9:30 a.m. on March 13, 1996, Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School with four legally owned handguns. In a shooting spree in the school gymnasium which lasted only a few minutes, Hamilton killed 15 children and a teacher before turning the gun on himself. Fifteen others sustained gunshot wounds, and a 16th child died on the way to hospital. It remains the deadliest mass shooting in British history, and it led to a radical change in this country’s gun laws. Two Firearms Acts, passed in the years following the shooting, led to the near-total banning of private ownership of handguns throughout Britain.

I am writing this the day after yet another massacre of school children in the United States, this time at Uvalde Elementary School in Texas. As always, social media is awash with grief, shock, prayers and outrage. In the aftermath of the shooting, Cardinal Blase Cupich tweeted, “As I reflect on this latest American massacre, I keep returning to the questions: Who are we as a nation if we do not act to protect our children? What do we love more: our instruments of death or our future?”

It is hard to imagine the grief and horror of those whose children were killed, injured or traumatised in what has become an all-too-predictable fact of life in the U.S. Much soul-searching will undoubtedly take place over the next few weeks and months. Whether or not it will finally bring about the kind of change that Dunblane brought about in this country remains to be seen, and I have nothing to add to this anguished debate.

Instead, I want to reflect on a question that is obliquely related to this, which is the ways that some forms of conservative Christianity influence how we understand violence in relation to childhood. In the U.S. context, there is something very strange about a society that claims to respect the absolute sanctity of the unformed embryo’s life while accepting that the repeated murder of schoolchildren is a price worth paying for the absolute right to bear arms. To quote Cardinal Cupich again, “The Second Amendment did not come down from Sinai. The right to bear arms will never be more important than human life. Our children have rights too. And our elected officials have a moral duty to protect them.” Yet apart from a few notable exceptions, the U.S. bishops are deafeningly silent on the need to outlaw guns, while being only too ready to engage in political grandstanding when it comes to outlawing abortion. The statement the USCCB issued in the immediate aftermath of the Uvalde shooting is blandly platitudinous.

Catholic teaching documents have much to say about the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, and in recent decades they have been admirable in their defence of human rights and dignity. There is however a lacuna in these teachings, for there is very little in Catholic social teaching about the rights of children once they are born, and virtually nothing about the plight of nearly 300,000 of the world’s poorest women and their unborn children who die every year through complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth.

But there is another aspect of Christian attitudes toward children that has preoccupied me recently. Grandparents will know what I mean when I refer to the gap between frequenting toy shops as a parent of young children and returning to that mode of shopping when grandchildren arrive on the scene. One of the largest high street toy store chains in the U.K. is called The Entertainer. I was horrified when I started going in there with my young grandchildren. Had I glossed my memory of what toy shops were like, or had they changed since my children were small? I think the latter. The Entertainer stocks toys that reinforce rigid gender stereotypes. The girls’ sections are glaringly pink, promoting activities such as playing with dolls, doing housework and beautifying oneself. But it’s the boys’ sections which shocked me most, for they are filled with the most ugly and violent monsters, robots and fighting machines.

I recently discovered that The Entertainer is run by an evangelical Christian owner who claims to uphold Christian values in the toys he stocks. For that reason, he will not stock anything featuring Harry Potter. Poor J.K. Rowling—banished by evangelical Christians for the ‘darkness’ of Harry Potter, and banished by transactivists for identifying with gender critical feminists!

As I reflect on why so many conservative Christians seem so pragmatic about violence— both war and militarism and the right to bear arms—I think of that warped idea that Harry Potter is dangerous but toys that encourage little boys to see themselves in terms of warriors and fighters are consistent with Christian values. If we teach little boys—against all the evidence of the Gospels—that machismo is virtuous, weapons are an expression of Christian masculinity and resorting to violence is an appropriate way of dealing with conflict, we should not be surprised that societies dominated by a certain kind of conservative Christianity have a problem with violence.

And the children suffer, and the children die.

Tina Beattie is professor emerita of Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton, London, and director of Catherine of Siena College. tina@tinabeattie.com

The Pope’s “Knee Problem”

“I am visiting Francis. He is in very good health and his mind is sharp as always.”

Thus began a message about the pope, which was posted May 14 on Twitter by Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández of Argentina.

“There’s a problem in one of his knees, but every day he does more than two hours of therapy, which is producing results. Otherwise, he is better than ever,” the archbishop insisted.

It was certainly a cheery update on something that’s become a growing concern for many— the 85-year-old pope’s recent struggles with health issues.

It has not even been a full year since Francis underwent aggressive surgery to remove one-third of his large intestine, a lengthier-than-planned procedure that the pope’s closest aides downplayed as something very routine. Now in the past several weeks the pope’s ability to walk has become severely hampered by what those same aides will only say is a “knee problem.”

That problem got so serious at the beginning of May that the elderly and overweight pope’s doctor ordered him to stay off his feet and use a wheelchair. Francis says the aim is to allow the knee to heal. But neither he nor anyone else at the Vatican has given precise details about what the ailment actually is, although the pope has mentioned something about a strained tendon. He’s also revealed that he’s had “injections,” but without disclosing what type of injections they were.

All we know officially is that his most pressing health concern at the moment is the “knee problem.”

It’s curious that a visiting prelate, rather than the Holy See Press Office or the pope’s personal physician, issued the latest papal health bulletin. But, then again, Archbishop Fernández is not just any visiting prelate. The man commonly known as “Tucho” is very close to Francis and has served for years as his personal theologian and main ghostwriter.

Francis, for his part, has been a mentor to the soon-to-be 60-year-old Fernández. The two men have long looked out for each other, dating back to the pope’s days as cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires when the Congregation for Catholic Education kept refusing to confirm his appointment of Fernández as president of the Catholic University of Argentina.

It was a long struggle that Cardinal Bergoglio eventually won. And once he became pope it took him only two months to make Tucho a titular archbishop, while resolutely denying the red hat to the Vatican official (a French Dominican) who was responsible for blocking Fernández’s appointment as university president.

Fernández is believed to have written a substantial part of Evangelii gaudium, the 2013 apostolic exhortation that Francis has repeatedly called the most important document of his pontificate. Indeed, this text offers a bold vision for an evangelical reform of the entire Church at all levels. Since its publication nearly nine years ago, the pope has taken slow, resolute steps to launch long-term processes that he hopes will eventually lead to the full realization of its vision.

But they are just baby steps at this point and there is a fear, at least among those who have enthusiastically embraced Evangelii gaudium, that this blueprint for a reformed Church (and much else Pope Francis has been doing) may not survive him. Hence the growing concerns about his health.

Has he done enough to ensure that the reforms he’s launched are irrevocable? Can we be confident that his eventual successor (or the one after that) will be unable to overturn was he has done?

According to Archbishop Fernández, the answer to both questions is yes. “There’s no turning back,” he said in a 2015 interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera. “If and when Francis is no longer pope, his legacy will remain strong...the majority of the People of God with their special sense will not easily accept turning back on certain things,” he predicted.

In other words, it’s the Catholic people—not the bishops, cardinals or Vatican officials— who will make sure the changes stick. Fernández is also convinced that the pope’s methodology—moving slowly, one step at a time—has been another key to laying down an unassailable foundation for reform.

“You have to realize that he is aiming at a reform that is irreversible,” the archbishop said in that same interview.

One thing for sure is that, despite the “knee problem,” the pope is showing no signs of slowing down. He even has extensive travel plans this summer to visit places as far away from the Vatican as Canada, South Sudan and the Congo. And his daily schedule of meetings has not been scaled back at all. If anything, it looks like the pope is actually picking up the pace.

If you find that reassuring, you’d better listen more carefully to what Archbishop Fernández had to say about this back in 2015:

“If one day he should intuit that he’s running out of time and he doesn’t have enough time to do what the Spirit is asking him, you can be sure he will speed up.”

Robert Mickens is the English editor for La Croix International website.

A Challenge for a Pro-Life Church

Justice Alito’s inept, inaccurate and ideologically motivated draft decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, if it becomes law in something like its present form, will pose a set of serious challenges for the Catholic Church’s pro-life stance. Let’s take them one at a time.

First, the absolutely worst thing to do would be for the Catholic Church to welcome and celebrate a decision simply because it removes abortion from the list of federally protected rights, and then sit back and do nothing more. If it should be the case that Roe v Wade is overturned, then Church authorities must ramp up support for those women who, whether they wish to or not, find they must bring their pregnancy to full-term. But it must also be ready to aid those who will have had resort to illegal abortions or have traveled to states where abortion is legal, whether their pain and suffering is physical or psychological, or both. Church teaching opposing abortion does not include judgment on those women who have chosen that path, and particularly not when it is quite obvious that a change in the law will disproportionately affect the poor. Both these groups will need material aid, not just pious words of encouragement or empty compassion. Compassion, after all, is “suffering with” those whose suffering we encounter.

A second necessity is for Church leaders to scrutinize the logic of the Supreme Court position and be ready to criticize it for its weaknesses. In other words, it might well be that they will find themselves in only moderate agreement with the stated reasons for overturning Roe v Wade. Legal strict constructionists like Justice Alito have no feeling for context and no nuanced way to read history. While the pro-life position of Church doctrine will obviously lead to welcoming what will presumably be substantial reductions in the number of abortions, leadership will need to ask what the further implications are of Alito’s unhistorical thinking for ecclesial life and American culture. In Church teaching obtaining an abortion is classified as an objective evil, a serious sin, but a sin is not the same thing as a crime. Crimes are punished, while sins are forgiven. Would we really be comfortable with the criminalization of abortion in such fashion that a woman could go to jail for it? Would we really want to argue that a surgeon who performed an abortion to save the life of the mother, or because the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, should be imprisoned for a crime? These are the consequences of arguments like those of Justice Alito, legal thinking devoid of compassion. The Church has absolutely no interest in the criminalization of abortion, neither the woman who has obtained the procedure nor the surgeon who has performed it.

A third issue of urgency is for the Church to abandon its outmoded, dead letter teaching on the “evils” of “artificial” birth control. For the most part, bishops have gone silent on the issue of contraception, perhaps because most Catholics of childbearing age who can access birth control do not have moral qualms about using it. And perhaps also because they know that teaching that is consistently ignored by the bulk of those to whom it is supposed to apply is of dubious, if any, authority. The next step is obvious enough. If Roe v Wade is overturned, it remains as important as ever to limit the number of unwanted pregnancies, and birth control is the only practical way to contribute significantly to that result. Curiously enough, there are parallels between Church teaching on contraception and the Alito draft document on abortion; both are based on forms of strict constructionism. Moreover, just as most Catholics do not agree with Church teaching on contraception, most Americans do not want to see Roe v Wade overturned. Perhaps our leaders in faith can attend to the important idea of the sensus fidelium, just as one has to hope that public opinion might influence the Supreme Court.

Fourth and finally, there is a difference between wishing for a world in which human life at all stages is cherished and using legal prohibitions to cause more pain and suffering to people than did the status quo ante. Would overturning Roe v Wade be better than the situation we currently have, imperfect though it is? Could the cure be worse than the disease? Might it not just be a wiser course of action, if one that would take longer, to put the energies of society to the service of building a better world, one in which “the common good” meant above all concern for the poor and the needy?

Paul Lakeland is a teacher, scholar and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.

It’s Time to Catch Up

St. Paul, of course, was right. When I was a child I really did think like a child—and for that, I would like to apologize to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, the wonderful women who ran the secondary school I attended way back in the 1970s.

I arrived in high school a little more than a decade after Vatican II began, heady days when we still believed so much was possible. The practical reforms we’d heard about had begun to unfold around us. While I received my first communion kneeling at an altar rail, I was likely one of the last children in my parish to do so. The nuns once swathed in yards of serge now appeared in either a modified habit or, more frequently, modest street clothes. Our grad year retreat included seniors from the local boys’ school. Change was the new normal and we were confident there was a place for all of us in this exciting new 20th-century Church.

So when the sisters teaching our religion classes would speak about the importance of inclusive language, for example, my classmates and I, largely daughters of privilege, would roll our eyes, groaning about how we all knew that the word mankind, for example, included us. We were confident this was a minor hurdle because we had been promised change. It just didn’t matter.

As we all headed out into the workforce, though, we began to experience the desire to be recognized as ourselves and not subsumed into a category that at once acknowledged one gender while neatly bypassing the rest of us. By 1984 I was a reporter in a local newsroom, a place that was still a bastion of sexism, and I developed an appreciation for the call for inclusive language, a trend that has long since become the norm in so many places, including newsrooms—although still not yet in many quarters of my church. While change is taking place, the pace can feel glacial.

Long before the notion of community service for students became popular, the sisters expected us to serve society. For that reason, I found myself, more than a little sheepish and self-conscious, picketing the local grocery store where my mother shopped, attempting to enlighten shoppers about the challenges faced by the migrant workers picking grapes in California. Memories of those days came back to me at the height of COVID, when I read of pandemic outbreaks among local migrant farmworkers lacking the same protections the rest of us had.

Far more immediate was a stint in our local children’s hospital, taking patients down to Mass on Sunday mornings. One morning, the first patient I wheeled downstairs was a classmate. She had a reputation for being trouble, but that day I learned she had both an eating disorder and had been battered by a parent. It’s a lesson I have never forgotten.

Today, many of the teenagers I encounter who are active in the Church are vocal in their desire for a return to more traditional ways—mantillas, more kneeling, more opportunities to attend adoration or to say the rosary. We each worship in our own way, and I certainly respect the right to focus on forms I may not normally participate in, but I am sometimes left with the question of where all this leads. Call me a child of the 70s, but if that personal relationship you are developing with Jesus is an end point rather than a starting one, I can’t help but be disappointed.

Today I am a white-haired grandmother. If my children attend Mass, it’s largely to keep me company. My Church is riven with a division often fueled by secular politics, and the change upon which I had built my youthful hopes simply hasn’t manifested itself to the degree I had expected. I now realize my life is finite, and I mourn the fact that I will die before so many of the developments I had hoped to see become a reality. Today’s Church does not hold out the same promise to my children that it did to me.

Now I understand—and appreciate—the urgency of the women who taught me. They understood that they stood between the paternalistic institution they had entered and a more egalitarian vision of Church that would allow all of us to share our gifts in our own unique ways. Experience made the sisters prescient about what the next generation of Catholic women needed to know.

My classmates became teachers and social workers, healthcare professionals and volunteers, all with an understanding that the many gifts we had been given should be given back. Instilled in all of us was a sense of purpose and dignity and value, and we headed out into the world — and the 1980s—with a view that we could make a difference.

More than 40 years on, we are still waiting for our Church to catch up.

Catherine Mulroney is a communications officer at the University of St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto.

Going, Going, Gone

We are now coming to the end of the spring semester within the University. For all colleges this time of the year is a wonderful opportunity to recall moments of joy, sorrow, achievements or failure. Whatever the case, it is a season of hope.

The graduates prepare for the next phase of their lives and beginnings of a career. The underclassmen are preparing for summer activities and employment. Yet for all students, it is a time to reflect, formally or informally, on the year and the changes or growth in their lives. Critical thinking, an important element in our core curriculum, does have its place in this year-end transition.

Today, in my last two classes of the Catholic intellectual tradition seminar, students were asked to choose three readings from the semester and reflect on the impact in their lives. I was amazed at the depth of their reflections on personal development, morals and faith. I have borrowed the name of a study by St Mary’s Press for this refection, since it captures the present state of our young adults.

During the semesters, readings ranged from Plato, Aquinas, Augustine, Frankel, Dorothy Day, Theresa and Pope Francis. From the readings, the students were challenged to discover more about themselves and their journey.

This discussion caused me serious issue for reflection. While one student professed to be deep into the sciences and abandoned the notion of God, another was coping with the notion of justice. Yet another could not reconcile suffering in a world with God.

The depth of their reflections was awakening. Their comments were filled, for the most part, with their testimony of faith and their struggles with that at times. The awakening, for me, was their indifference to the institutional church. This common thread was rooted, as they see it, in the hypocrisy and the rigidity of the institution. Yet, for many, there was a fondness for individual priests who had crossed their paths.

Leaving the class, it struck me that the formulaic services and the lack of inclusiveness have alienated this generation. The “who made you?” catechism style has absolutely no relevance and is insulting to these students’ intellectual capacities.

In a study conducted by St. Mary’s Press, they write that “disaffiliation from the Church is largely a thoughtful, conscious, intentional choice made by young people in a secularized society where faith and religious practices are seen as one option among many.” Listening to our class discussion, I could not help but think that this disaffiliation is the making of our own institutional church. These students are honestly groping with faith on their personal journey. They are not groping with a series of catechism questions. They are motivated by the works and writings of Merton, Day, Theresa of Calcutta. So, they are struggling to understand how these remarkable witnesses they have discovered on their journey relate to an institution and many of its leaders who are far from inclusive and seem to enjoy being judgmental.

I certainly do not have the answers, but I do realize that pious pontificating pomposity will not be part of these students’ faith journey. Ministers and leaders, if they are sincere in their faith, will have to answer for their part in this alienation. Maybe rereading the gospels can help each of us recall and understand how Jesus treated and respected the alienated. Clearly, as I have experienced, our students understand and appreciate notions of inclusiveness, respect and faith as critical to their journey. Walking with them gives me hope that belief in God will flourish.

John J. Petillo, Ph.D., is president of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.