Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Message from Catholic Coalition for Church Reform

Don’t complain, Organize!

If lay people want a voice in the Church, they have to organize to make themselves heard--about leadership, about accountability, about the future of parishes.  We are organizing a network to take responsibility for a strong and united voice in our Church.

How can you connect up with the network?  It’s easy.  Go to and give us your name and parish and email address.  We will connect you with others in your parish and your deanery and together we will speak out on how our local church addresses its mission.

While you are there, nominate a local pastor for bishop/archbishop.  We need leadership to pull the Archdiocese together behind its mission.

Besides joining the network, you can step up to do more.  CCCR is calling for two or more people from each parish in each deanery to create a lay email network among the 15 deaneries of the Archdiocese.

First out of the shoot, Deanery 14, comprising 15 parishes in South Minneapolis, has a network in the making.  Forty-five people from 10 of the 15 parishes held their first organizing meeting on March 26, at Spirit of St. Stephen Catholic Community.
Go to, Lay Networking in Deaneries and Bishop Selection.  Find out what you want to know, then call 612 (379) 1043 to help grow the network.

Lay Network Organizing in Deaneries

Who is doing the organizing?
Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR)* is organizing an email network of lay people in the deaneries of the Archdiocese. A Lay Network Organizing Team has been formed to implement the plan.  Members are Bill Bailey, Sabrina Mauritz, Mary Jane Mitchell, Bernie Rodel, Eileen Rodel, Paula Ruddy, and Mary Beth Stein

What is a deanery?
The priests of the Archdiocese are organized in a deanery system. There are about 12 to 15 parishes to a deanery, and there are 15 parish deaneries in the Archdiocese, grouped geographically. The pastors meet regularly. Each deanery has a dean; one of the pastors serves in that role. We plan to use this Archdiocesan structure for parishes to form our network of parishioners.

We are beginning to organize our lay network with Deanery 14, the parishes in South Minneapolis. Since this kind of networking has not been done before, we are building a model from scratch. With your help, we can succeed.

Why are we doing this?
People usually have a strong parish identity, and that is a good thing. But we are thinking that an inter-parish email network with a deanery identity would give lay people a much stronger voice in the direction of the Church. It would provide a channel for feedback to the Church decision-makers-- pastors, deans, the Archbishop. At this time, there is no organized way for the lay people to communicate with them.

We want to target the Church decision-makers and bring the people’s voice to them. The network of parishioners within deaneries is our strategy to make the voice of the people heard in one campaign after another.

What campaign will be first through the network?
For example, one decision-maker in the institutional Church is the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican diplomat in Washington, D.C. One of his jobs is to send recommendations to the Vatican for bishops in the U.S. Through our deanery network, we can invite people to nominate and elect candidates to suggest to the Papal Nuncio for his next recommendation for bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

CCCR has a Bishop Selection Task Force, formed at Synod of the Baptized 2013, planning a campaign to nominate and elect candidates for bishop to send to the Papal Nuncio.
The Lay Network Organizing Team will use the bishop selection campaign as the first campaign to engage the lay deanery network.

Check on the website, , for the Bishop Selection Task Force information and the nomination form.

The people’s voice in the election of bishops is part of Church tradition.  The Council of the Baptized** published a position paper entitled People’s Participation in Selection of Bishops in January, 2013, giving the history and the rationale for the election of bishops.  It is available free of charge at  Click on “Publications.”

OK, what is the plan?
Step one: We are forming “seed teams” in each parish. A seed team is two or more people who will step up to lead the email network in their parish. It involves talking to people about 1) joining in the network and 2) nominating a candidate for bishop.  CCCR Lay Network Organizing Team will get the parish teams together in a deanery meeting.

Step two: After the first organizing meeting, the seed teams will invite as many people as they can from their parishes to join the network and at the same time invite them to fill out a nomination form for Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Step three: The network will channel emails with information and other campaigns, and we will get together from time to time.  Never can tell what the Holy Spirit will lead each deanery to accomplish. 

Step four: CCCR will network all the deaneries together and serve as the clearinghouse for the concerns of the laity. The network will bring the concerns of the people to the decision-makers.  The Council of the Baptized will continue to provide the firm grounding in scripture, Church tradition, and contemporary theology for the positions the laity takes.
What is your next step?
·        If you want to be part of the network, go to and nominate a local pastor for bishop/archbishop.  You may list qualifications you value if you do not have a nominee in mind.
·         If you want to build the network, email us at or call (612) 379-1043.

*CCCR is a MN non-profit with federal tax exempt status. It was established in 2009 to join all the organizations working for a Vatican II model of church in coalition.  See for more information.

**Council of the Baptized was formed by CCCR in 2012 to listen to the concerns of the faithful and to give voice to their concerns in position statements and position papers. Programs proposed to be implemented by the proponents are brought to the Council for endorsement.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Our Responsibility to Call Church Leadership

Nominate a candidate for Archbishop! 

Since Vatican II (1962-1965), people in the pews have been talking about electing Roman Catholic bishops, but centuries of practice are not easily changed. We think the time has now come to begin.

In 2014, Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are taking a first step to electing bishops. It is a first step in that we are proposing a hybrid process of initial nomination/election combined with finally sending the names of candidates to the Papal Nuncio for appointment in accord with current Canon Law.

Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) is asking Catholics to nominate local pastors who are capable of pulling the Archdiocese together to work for the mission of the Church in the world. The nominations are due by June 30. You can find the criteria we are suggesting and a nomination form at

The nominations will be sifted according to the criteria into a slate of candidates by a committee of ordained and lay men and women. Then in November, people will be asked to vote on the slate to produce a list of three names which they will suggest to the U.S. Papal Nuncio for his investigation. It is the Papal Nuncio’s job to recommend names of ordained men to the Pope for appointment as bishops of vacant sees.

The first step is about building a sense of our own responsibility and the possibilities for action. Building our electoral strength will take a while.

What is the hope of having one of the men we recommend appointed Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis? The See of St. Paul and Minneapolis may not be vacant for another 8 years. Bishops serve until age 75, and the current Archbishop is 67. Nevertheless, we think beginning to get accustomed to having a voice is necessary. As it happens, archbishops and bishops are frequently moved to larger dioceses or to positions in which their skills are needed without notice to the people. We want to have readiness to elect a successor archbishop when the time to act arrives.

What makes us think the Papal Nuncio will listen? Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the current U.S. Nuncio, responded to a letter from us that he is always willing to receive recommendations from the people for bishops and archbishops. You will find his message in a letter from Archbishop Nienstedt to us in May 2012 on the website. We understand that the names have to be sent by individuals to him by U.S. mail or by email.

In 1974, the priests of our Archdiocese organized to name three men to succeed Archbishop Leo Binz who was retiring. The priests invited the current lay organization to participate but they were not ready to do so. The priests’ senate sent the name of John Roach, a local man, to the Papal Nuncio and he was appointed Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Perhaps Roach was also the choice of Archbishop Binz. Only the Vatican archive knows. Nevertheless, that initiative by the priests of our Archdiocese 40 years ago gives us courage to move forward today.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Pope Francis is Listening

By Francis Barry

Note: This commentary was first published March 7, 2014 by

The Pew Research Center poll released yesterday showing that American Catholics strongly favor allowing the use of birth control – and allowing priests to marry and women to be ordained – comes as no surprise. It has long been thus. Catholics also continue to give high marks to His Humbleness, Pope Francis, whose approval rating remains in the mid-80s, unchanged from a year ago. Even the fact that half of Catholics think the church should recognize same-sex marriage is old news, given past polls.

The more interesting news came earlier in the week, on Ash Wednesday, when an interview with Francis was published in which he revealed his willingness – even eagerness – to re-examine these kinds of cultural flash points.

Asked about the role of women, the pope declared that they "must be more present in places of decision-making in the church." You could almost hear the nuns cheering. He also said he is reading a book "on the feminine dimension of the church." When was the last time you heard a local bishop say that?

On birth control, Francis noted that Pope Paul VI, whose encyclical "Humanae Vitae" formalized the church's ban on artificial contraception, recommended "much mercy" on those who use it. He said the challenge was to ensure that pastoral ministry "take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do." His reluctance to judge, which sent tremors through the church last summer, was on display again.

Francis has called a synod for October – only the third of its kind since the 1960s – to focus on family matters, and in the interview he declared that birth control will be a topic for discussion, as will divorce. Last month, German Cardinal Walter Kasper delivered an address raising the issue of divorced Catholics who remarry, asking if it wasn't "perhaps an exploitation of the person" to bar them from receiving communion. Francis called it a "beautiful and profound presentation" and welcomed the intense discussion it generated among the cardinals.

This is a pope who isn't afraid to stir the pot – inviting diverging opinions to be heard on matters that some would prefer to consider settled. We're used to popes declaring answers. Francis poses questions.

When I was a student at the University of Notre Dame in the 1990s, I remember attending a lecture on the life of the church by Professor Charles E. Rice, then dean of the law school, in which he responded to questions about controversial social issues by saying: It depends on whether you believe the pope is God's messenger "or a guy in Rome who wears a funny hat." Translation: Stop asking questions.

It was a theologically bankrupt answer, but it's the kind of message that Catholics have long been accustomed to hearing. Last fall, in preparation for the upcoming synod, the Vatican sent a questionnaire to every Catholic diocese in the world inviting opinions on controversial issues, including birth control, divorce, cohabitation outside of marriage and married priests. The response from Catholic America, as elsewhere, was almost disbelief. Who, us?

In some countries bishops posted the questionnaire online and encouraged public participation. But old habits die hard, and most American bishops chose to distribute the questionnaire only to the diocesan priests' council or parish councils, not all parishioners and the public. Francis, whom we know is a fan of the Internet, may want to check the results against the Pew poll.

Either way, he has done more than raise hopes among Catholics for doctrinal change, which will be slow in coming. He has shown us that Rome – or at least the top guy in the funny hat – can listen.

Francis Barry is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter at @FSBarry.

Related Off-site Links:
Faith, Hope—and How Much Change?The Economist (March 8, 2014).
A Year In, Has Pope Francis Really Changed the Church? – Eric J. Lyman (USA Today, March 9, 2014).
After Year a Conclave That Demanded Reform, a Year of 'Fresh Air' – Gerard O'Connell (National Catholic Reporter, March 8, 2014).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Let Our Voices Be Heard
Local Catholics Respond to Pope's Interview
The Pope's Radical Whisper
Ending Marginalization in the Catholic Church
Pope's Reform Path: Francis Shakes Up Church Establishment

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nancy Sylvester, IHM: "We're Always Evolving"

Nancy Sylvester, IHM
will be the keynote speaker
at Call to Action MN's Saturday, March 22 event,
“Transformation in a Time of Uncertainty.”

Register early as space is limited!
$40 before March 1; $45 after March 1.
$15 for students. Scholarships available
(call Sharon at 651-457-3249).
Morning coffee/rolls and lunch included.

For more information and to register,
call Art Stoeberl at 651-278-6630 or e-mail

Nancy Sylvester’s work has grown out of the realization of the growing divide of worldviews and ideologies within the Church and society. She believes that we must reach deep within ourselves to find a new way of working toward systemic change.

Influenced by the work of Constance Fitzgerald OCD, Sylvester identifies the powerlessness and “impasse” that so many feel in their work for justice. Only change that is rooted in commitment to contemplative practice can carry us into the future, Sylvester says. Her work reflects the spirit of evolutionary theologian, Ilio Delio OSF, who has said that “we need to discover the inner desert of the heart, that ‘still point’ of love within us that empowers us to do new things.”

Following are excerpts from a recent U.S. Catholic interview with Nancy Sylvester. The full interview can be found here


You entered the [Immaculate Heart of Mary] order at the end of the Second Vatican Council. How were things changing at that time?

It really started the unraveling of my dream. First, we were going to keep our names, so I was going to be Nancy after all. Then I found out we weren’t going to have the postulant habit that they had worn for decades. We could bring three skirts and three sweaters and three blouses, that was it. It was all regular clothes. I was received in the habit, but we were the last class to do so. And we were the first class not to take different names.

I was put into this world that was only somewhat what I had expected, but then it all just exploded for me. I started studying philosophy and theology, and there was a great revolution in me, a 180-degree turn, in the ensuing years.

How did the church as a whole react to the changes in women religious? Was there excitement, or more confusion about the changes?

Well, like in any pluralistic institution, it was both. I’m getting close to 50 years in religious life and there are still people who say to me, “You don’t wear habits anymore?”

We’ve never been able to create the marketing that used to happen when you could see a nun in a habit. You knew that was a nun. Now you don’t, and we understand that, and we know that can perhaps be problematic for some people.

I remember when I was in the habit, one time this gentleman who was probably 80 insisted on holding the door open for me. Now, I thought I should be holding the door open for him, not the other way around. It was a realization for me that what you wear should not be what creates respect, it should be based on who you are.

So for some people, getting out of the habit was really a positive thing. For others, it meant, “Well, now you’re no different from anybody else.”

Part of the goal of Vatican II was to promote the understanding that we are all called to holiness. That was really quite radical, because many people, including me, came to religious life wanting to be perfect. Now all of that shifted. That idea that nuns and priests are better than the rest of the church really changed with Vatican II.

It was important to pray over that, because in fact, that’s right—we are no different from anybody else. We have chosen a specific way of fulfilling how we believe we’re being called by God. But it’s no better than someone who wanted to be married or stay single.

That was not the teaching of the church when I was growing up, so that universal call to holiness was a significant shift for a lot of people. Those who wanted nuns and priests to be special and on a pedestal were confused. They didn’t know why it was happening. Others of us said, “No, we’re part of this culture. We were not to stand apart from the world, but within it.”

Was there a point where you felt women religious had really fulfilled the call of Vatican II in their work?

I don’t know that I ever thought, “We’ve arrived.” Part of that is because we’re always evolving. And of course there was more to it than Vatican II—there was the women’s movement and the civil rights movement. Women religious have been involved with people at all those stages. That’s not something that was talked about in Vatican II, but it’s what Vatican II set in place.

I often say it was an invitation to our institutions to really open themselves up to what is happening in the world and to try to understand our faith through a new lens. I think women religious really did that. They really engaged and transformed their consciousness. Not everyone did at first, because it can be frightening to look at things differently.

In a way, our habit used to be like we had blinders on—we saw everything through a very parochial Catholic view. Once we removed the blinders, it allowed us to look around and see that there were other non-Catholic views that may have something to offer.

Of course, when you start to see from a new consciousness, you often resist it. Who likes to be changed? I wanted religious life to stay the way that it was. I can still say I don’t like change, although I think that’s all we have. But it’s tough.

And if you’re in a position of power, to change often means you have to let go of some of that power, and you’re not going to do it easily. As we discovered after Vatican II, some people in the Curia chose to not ever see some of the council’s invitations as authentic or legitimate. They just stayed the way they were.

When did you start to sense a push-back from those in power to the changes of Vatican II?

First, let me say, some people think the church hierarchy supports women religious financially. They don’t—we are on our own. But we did receive support from the church in the sense that many priests and bishops were our friends. We knew these men, and in some cases they were right there with us.

There was a much greater openness in terms of them listening to our input and encouraging our work. It was under John Paul II where this idea of creeping infallibility began. Eventually you notice that there’s maybe a tolerance for what you’re doing, but not really an encouragement.

They hardly ever interfered with NETWORK, which is an independent 501(c)3. It’s not at all within the purview of a bishop, which is probably one of the reasons they find it problematic.

Now we’re really feeling the push-back, especially with the investigation of each religious congregation and of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). For many it was the assessment that was scandalous, not what the sisters were doing. We’ve heard that some U.S. bishops and the American cardinals in Rome were quite significant in pushing for that investigation.

Why do you think that happened?

When you’re talking about a patriarchal structure, which the church is, religious women in the past had always been sort of the handmaid of the clerical cast. The priests and the bishops said something, and the sisters did it.

I think the big problem came with the health care law, when the bishops lost a political fight and the sisters were mostly on the other side. I don’t think that sat well with them.

I think they are saying, “Look, you’ve got to get behind the teaching of the church, this is too much.” They had to defend that in some way, and I think they got quite angry.

Do you feel there’s a push from the hierarchy for women religious to go back to the way things were?

Well, I think that we are still evolving. I can still feel the tug of where we were in the 1950s because it was nice to have all those processions and all the symbols. I think what’s missing today is that we haven’t been able to express our faith symbolically in the new context. We had it for so long, and it was rich. It was Gregorian chant. It was incense. We knew how to do ritual.

Do we have the poets, the songwriters, and the artists to depict new understandings as we did in the Michelangelos and the great Italian painters who shaped our religious imagination? We need that, because if we don’t have religious imagination, then we’re just using our head, and that’s not where faith is. We need to find that again.

So I think, yes, there are some who want to go back. But they are the traditionalists, the ones who have stayed at a certain level of understanding of church and God. For the vast majority of us, that won’t feed us. I think we’re still searching for what will—the symbols, the music, the art. We need a new expression of that.

What do you think will be the next evolution for women religious?

Obviously, we’re going to be smaller in number. However, I believe we need to place more of an emphasis on engaging people in contemplation, from which action comes.

We need to be doing the things that are needed now that are not being done in the world, just like the nuns used to do when they started a school or started a hospital.

So there’s a real question now, in this country in particular, of “Where should we be?” Obviously we have to minister in a way that’s needed, doing the things that no one else is doing. We could be bolder in speaking out within the church. We could be witnesses to the roles of women in the church. We could speak out more in defense of the gay and lesbian community.

We need to try to evolve into a new understanding of how we live out the gospel today, so we can become a planetary community, with a greater sense of justice, peace, and right relationships.

To read U.S. Catholic's interview with Nancy Sylvester in its entirety, click here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Bill is in Keeping with Catholic Values


By Mary Beth Stein

Note: The following was first published February 13, 2014 as a letter-to-the-editor in the Twin Cities' Pioneer Press.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference rejects the Safe and Supportive Schools bill, expressing concern that the bill is part of a larger agenda to normalize same-sex attraction. These suspicions reflect the attitude of some of the ordained Church leaders but not the heart and soul of Catholics in the pews. As was demonstrated in the high Catholic percentage who voted against the marriage amendment, we already accept same-sex attraction as normal. Everyone is created by God; who are we to judge? Rather than judge we are called to cherish.

The real issue at hand is protecting students. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are frequent targets of bullying. The concern for all Catholics, indeed all Minnesotans, is to protect these and other vulnerable students from harm. What could be more in keeping with Catholic values?


Background Information and Action Steps

The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act:

House File 826: The bill was passed in the House in May, 2013, and sent to the Senate.

Senate File 783: The bill was tabled in May, 2013, and is currently in Finance Committee. The MN legislature convenes February 20, 2014.

Legislators to Call: Finance Committee Chair Dick Cohen (651) 296-5931, asking him to pass the bill out of committee and send it to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as the legislative session begins.

Senator Scott Dibble, the author of the bill and member of the Senate Finance Committee, (651) 296-4191, supporting him in moving the bill onto the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (651) 296-8881, asking him to facilitate the bill's passing on the Senate floor.

Council of the Baptized Position Paper:
Catholic Support for Anti-Bullying Legislation Without Exemption for Private Schools – Daniel DeWan, Lisa Vanderlinden and Patty Thorsen (February 11, 2014).

See also the previous PCV posts:
MN Catholic Bishops Oppose Anti-Bullying Legislation – April 6, 2013.
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough" – November 10, 2013.

Related Off-site Links:
Groups Organize Support for Safe Schools Bill – Andy Birkey (, February 12, 2014).
Bullying's a Problem. Could This Proposed Minnesota Law Be a Solution? – Christopher Magan (Pioneer Press, February 8, 2014).
Pioneer Press Fails to Identify Anti-LGBT Lobbyist in Bullying Report – Andy Birkey (, February 10, 2014).
GOP, Tea Parties Forge Ties with Anti-Gay Group to Stop Safe Schools Bill – Andy Birkey (The, January 27, 2014).
Meet the Team Behind the Minnesota Child Protection League – Andy Birkey (The, January 8, 2014).
Catholic Hierarchy's Rhetoric Does Not Reflect Changes to Safe and Supportive Schools Act – Rep. Jim Davnie (MinnPost, April 26, 2013).
The Minnesota Safe Schools for All Coalition

Sunday, February 9, 2014

12 Awesome, Radical Catholic Ideas

By Nathan Schneider

Note: This commentary was first published February 9, 2014 by The Daily Beast.

These are interesting times to be Catholic. Pope Francis has put a spirit of change in the air, a kind of change that brings the faith back to its roots. When I became Catholic as a teenager, the sex abuse scandals were going from bad to worse; the Catholic legacy of outward social justice and inward contemplation drew me to the church, but they were mostly obscured from public view. That has begun to change, finally—though the recent United Nations report on sex abuse is another reminder that there is still a long, long way to go.

Francis’ call for a church with open doors and concern for the poor is just a tiny glimpse of what might be in store. There’s a lot more where that came from. The Catholic Church is many things, and it has a lot to ask forgiveness for, but part of it is also a 2,000-year effort to devise a social order based on love. This is neither Democratic or Republican. It’s meant to be as universal as it is radical, and Francis has only scratched the surface.

The poor are the bosses

The notion of “the preferential option for the poor” is bandied about a lot by Catholics, but often without really hearing the words. Jesus said that what we do for the least among us is what we do for him; the justice of a society, then, is not to be measured by the wealthy, or even the middle class, but the poor. What if the State of the Union were delivered by a homeless teenager in Detroit or the Bronx? When our picture of society privileges the most vulnerable, we start seeing every aspect of it upside down.

Usury: not okay

On January 29, Francis referred to usury as “a dramatic social ill.” This isn’t a word we’ve heard much of for a few centuries, but throughout much of Catholicism’s history—as well as that of Judaism and Islam—the church has considered profiting from the crippling debt of others a grave sin. Francis was denouncing egregious Italian loan-sharks, but this concept implicates our whole economy when bankers make billions designing loans that can make lifelong entrapment in debt the price of attending college, receiving medical care or owning a home.

Labor is about people

Jesus was a carpenter; the Apostle Paul made tents for a living, even though his followers could’ve supported him. Their examples, and the experience of ordinary Catholics, have resulted in the church’s commitment to the fundamental dignity of work and workers—including migrants forced to cross borders to earn a better wage. The people hired in a business are not disposable assets. They are the heart of the organization, and the church upholds their right to form a union to ensure they are treated as such. At a time when “right to work” has become a byword for union-busting, this is radical indeed.

Anarchy, almost

It might come as a surprise for a church known for its centralized authority, but Catholic social teaching calls for “subsidiarity,” or local autonomy, whenever possible. Even the pope is technically just one bishop among the others, which is why Francis has called for the Vatican to share more power with bishops. The economic theory of distributivism—held by Catholics as varied as G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy Day—proposes a society where the means of production are controlled by cooperatives of families and small collectives, not corporations or governments.

You can’t own everything

The Book of Acts says that in the earliest church, “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” While the church since then has allowed private property, property should never be allowed to trump the common good. A cathedral in the center of a city symbolizes the Catholic belief that the most beautiful and valuable assets should be held in common. This runs in stark contrast to the temptation to privatize every resource and turn it into a profitable market. It’s also why the church, under Pope Benedict, identified environmental pollution among the “new forms of social sin.”

War is really, really hard to justify

Catholic pacifists have lamented the church’s official espousal of just war theory, but the conditions for a just war are far stricter than anything recent U.S. presidents have been able to satisfy—which is why the Vatican has consistently denounced their wars. Ever since Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, there has been a vibrant tradition of Christian non-violence. On January 18, in fact, a Vatican commission released a document focused on “the relationship between the revelation of God and a non-violent humanism.”

Universal means universal

“Catholic” literally means universal, even if it’s often used to refer to a hierarchy of mostly old white men devoted to vestiges of European feudalism. But if you visit Catholic communities around the world, the ways they differ are as striking as what they have in common. Alongside a sad history of participating in colonialism, the church has also been learning from indigenous traditions it encounters and incorporating them into a global faith. In the 20th century, the Vatican finally acknowledged that there is truth in other religions, but this came after centuries of borrowing from them left and right.

God is female, too

One of the most striking ways Catholicism has learned from non-Christian cultures is in ways of worshiping the feminine aspects of God. Since the fifth century, it has affirmed Mary as “mother of God,” and through devotion to her and other female saints, Catholics have seen much more to God than just “He” and “Lord.” Medieval mystics experienced visions of Jesus as a lactating mother. Despite the patriarchal makeup and outlook of the church hierarchy, which has yet to change under Francis, popular Catholicism harbors a deep recognition that non-males equally reflect God’s image.

“Family values”? Yes and no

For all the Christian talk out there about family values, early Christianity posed a challenge to the traditional family values of the Romans—and to the nuclear family of today. Many of the most important early Christians were women who joined the church to escape a lifetime of near enslavement in marriage. And while women’s religious orders ever since have had to answer to male leaders, they’ve often allowed women more autonomy than was possible in mainstream family life. Catholicism supports those who choose to give family life a go, but it has also encouraged a wide range of alternative arrangements, celibate and otherwise, that are radically distinct from normal family life. These alternatives have allowed people to devote their lives more fully to hospitality and service; in this they follow Jesus, who loved his human parents but referred to God as his real parent and called all those who act on God’s love his siblings.

Everybody’s accountable—even the Pope

Part of what makes the church’s ongoing cover-ups so disturbing is its failure to practice the accountability that Catholics are supposed to learn in the confessional. We’re all flawed, but we embrace the consequences of our actions. Church teachings on abortion and divorce come partly out of this: the need to follow through on our decisions that affect the lives of others. Too often, the church has expressed these teachings through guilt and condemnation, rather than by showing people the compassion they need in difficult times. Until leaders like Pope Francis show real accountability themselves, they’ll have a hard time teaching it.

The people are usually right in the end

Cardinal John Newman, a 19th-century English convert, wrote a famous essay celebrating the tradition of “consulting the faithful on matters of doctrine.” It focuses on an ancient theological debate (whose details would probably sound ridiculous) in which bishops and theologians clung to heresy while ordinary believers held to what would finally be recognized as truth. It’s an often-repeated story. At a time when many Catholics disagree with official teachings on contraception and other issues, church leaders are in a tricky spot. The original word for “church” in Greek, after all, means “assembly”—a body in which all people’s voices are heard. These include, thanks to the church’s deep respect for tradition, the voices of the dead.

And then, silence

For all these enticements to prophetic ranting and raving, the Catholic tradition of social justice has always depended on prayer. Becoming a Catholic activist means learning to make contemplation and action mutually reinforcing, not opposed. People fighting for social change often act impressively for a while, only to burn out when the revolution doesn’t happen. But radical Catholicism assumes that the struggle is lifelong and ongoing, so one should balance accordingly—personal courage with community, work with rest, poverty with feasting, speech with silence. No one is exempt. For all that a pope can do, the church is really its people, and it will only ever be as radical as we are.

Nathan Schneider has written about religion and resistance for publications including Harper’s, The Nation, the New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere. He is an editor of the online literary magazine Killing the Buddha and for Waging Nonviolence, a daily source for people-powered news and analysis from around the world. He is the author of God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse, both published by University of California Press in 2013.

Related Off-site Links:
Michele Madigan Somerville: "I Love the Radical Catholic Church"The Wild Reed (July 2, 2009).
Fueling the Fire of Real Change: The Radical Ethic of the Catholic Worker Movement – Chris Hedges (, September 28, 2008).
An Australian Bishop's "Radical" Call for ReformThe Wild Reed (August 27, 2007).
Jesus: The Upside-down MessiahThe Wild Reed (March 27, 2013).
Is Pope Francis the New Champion of Liberation Theology? – Harvey Cox (The Nation, January 6, 2014).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Working for Change, Recapturing the Institution

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following is the text of a reflection delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of February 1-2, 2014.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it is my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

Some of you may know that I am a college professor and that a lot of my teaching and research is focused on the environment, hunger, agriculture and international development. In some of my classes my students and I get to this moment where we are discussing the need for social change and debating the best way to bring that about. Now my students, typically 20 somethings, by and large see government as part of the problem (and this is in spite of the fact that the vast majority of them are politically progressive). For them, if we are to reform society and change the way government does business, then you really have to work though non-governmental organizations and civil society. For them, this applies equally to situations overseas as well as in the US. So, while these discussions are happening, I am secretly screaming inside. I am thinking, damn it, Ronald Reagan did really win because now even politically progressive students don’t believe in the power of government to do good. So I ever so calmly, and professorially, talk about the ability of government to do good. I give examples: FDR and the New Deal, social security keeping millions of seniors out of poverty, JFK and the Peace Corps, Cuba’s commitment to agro-ecological research, Botswana’s ability to smartly manage its resources and build strong social safety nets, etc, etc. In all cases, these programs were developed with the support of allies outside of government, but it also took key movers and shakers inside government to make them happen. Change was a product of people working on the inside and the outside. And, furthermore, people never abandoned government all together. They believed it could be a force for good and thus worked to change and reform it rather than giving up and creating parallel organizations to do this work. I am not saying my students buy this argument, but it does lead to some very interesting conversations about social change.

This brings me to the Church. I am an outsider to the Catholic Church in many ways as I was not raised Catholic, but as a Presbyterian and then an Episcopalian. The story of how I ended up here is a long and twisted one, in part related to the fact my wife was raised Catholic, and also because my spiritual life had ceased to grow, and in fact was in the process of shriveling up in our previous faith community. This place, Cabrini, revived and reinvigorated my spiritual life with its music, wonderful tradition of lay preaching, healthy group of similarly questioning believers, commitment to social justice, and supportive community. I am at home here.

But then there is the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which tests me everyday. And while there is the bright spot of Pope Francis, my impressions of the Catholic hierarchy over the past several decades have not been entirely positive and, frankly, just seem to be getting worse. Honestly, part of me just wants to throw my hands up in the air and say the heck with it. Why doesn’t this community just break away from a Church that is seemingly un-reformable. People have been talking about Vatican II for decades and, while it led to wonderful reforms of the liturgy, the male dominated, sometimes morally questionable hierarchy of the church seems immune to reform. And so, oddly and ironically, I find myself in that same place as my students, unable to believe any longer that this large institution can do any good, ready to go rogue, to work on the outside, to create parallel organizations to do good work and create social change.

So how is this related to today’s readings? The first reading, from Malachi, chapter 3, is about the messenger that God will send before him – a direct allusion to John the Baptist. There are also several lines that first struck me as typical Old Testament fire and brimstone, until I learned that the phrase about “purifying the descendents of Levi” refers to the Levites, the priests of the time. In other words, it’s a call for the priestly order to clean up its act – a point still relevant in today’s world. The second reading is from Hebrews, chapter 2, which affirms the humanity of Jesus – a point I wholeheartedly embrace.

The Gospel reading, from Luke Chapter 2 is arguably the most complicated for it describes the presentation of Jesus in the temple, as well as the commentary on this event by two elders in the community, Simeon and Anna. It’s complicated because this event likely never happened with many biblical scholars suggesting that this passage was added at some point in the Middle Ages. Whether or not this event happened, and regardless of the reasons this passage was added, this piece of scripture speaks to me for at least two reasons. First, this story describes a moment when Jesus is both introduced as a member of a community and he is being welcomed into an institution representing that community. This is a moment which is unproblematic if the community and the institution are in sync, but potentially deeply problematic if they are not. Secondly, we have these two older people, Simeon and Anna, who are present at this event and see hope in this child. Perhaps they have been waiting for a very long time, waiting for the savior, waiting for that opening for change that never seems to come, and now they see a glimmer of hope in this person, not a divine otherworldly powerful being, but in this human, a child. These themes of tension between community and institution – and of signs of hope raise questions for me. Do the people, the community, take back the institution or do they cast it away? Do we work from the inside or the outside? Do we see a glimmer of hope and an opening for change?

One of my personal heroes, Nelson Madiba Mandela, the former president of South Africa, died late last year at the age of 95. I cannot help but think of him, and the movement behind him, when I reflect on social change. For a black man living in South Africa, most of 20th century was a very, very dark time. Racial oppression and disenfranchisement had existed since Europeans fist arrived in the 17th century, but it became significantly worse in the 20th century. Of particular note is when the National Party came to power in 1948, ushering in High Apartheid, a highly formal, extensive and oppressive system of racial segregation. Nelson Mandela helped form the Youth League of the African National Congress (or the ANC) in the 1940s. Mandela quickly established himself as a leader of national and international stature in the 1950s and he also traveled widely to different African countries during this period to cultivate relationships and allies. At a time when things just seem to be going from bad to worse in South Africa, it is important to remember that Mandela could have just left. He could have written off South Africa as the last bastion of colonialism, and started a new life in some place where Africans were in control of their destiny. But I don’t think that was ever an option or question because Mandela loved his homeland, he loved South Africa no matter how oppressive, undemocratic and racist the ruling regime.

Now I am not equating the Church with the Apartheid regime, but I do think (like Mandela and his relationship to South Africa), many cannot leave the church because it is their cultural home. No matter how frustrated they are with the hierarchy, they just cannot leave. And so they have been waiting and hoping, they have lived through countless e-mails and Facebook queries from friends asking them, 'Why?' Why do they just not leave the church? How can they live with the sexism and misconduct in the hierarchy?

In 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. He would spend the next 26 years behind bars, much of it on Robben Island. I can’t even imagine how challenging this must have been. My family and I have been to Robben Island; it is a wind-swept, desolate, and cold place. Then, in 1990, at the age of 72, he was released from prison. Prior to his release, Mandela had been secretly negotiating with the South African government. The government assumed it could outsmart this old man in prison, co-opt him, and then use him as a symbol. But Mandela did not compromise. He kept in touch with his compatriots within the ANC who worked tirelessly to put pressure on the South Africa government, along with international allies who reluctantly joined in a boycott of South African during the waning years of regime. The rest of the story is history. In 1994, Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa. Before and after his election, Mandela would lead by example, above all preaching, and more importantly showing, his countrymen how to reconcile with each other. But, lest we not forget, Mandela was only the tip of ice berg in this seismic, political shift that no-one foresaw happening in the relatively peaceful manner that it did. He was an important symbol, a moral example, but thousands and thousands of South Africans are the ones who made this change happen.

We now have a Pope who seems to be creating an opening for change, someone who is leading by moral example. He is a glimmer of hope for many who have been waiting for a very long time for change, for those who can’t leave the church because it is their cultural home, for those who understand that the church can be a force for good, and even for those like me who love this place but are baffled by the hierarchy. Yes, for the Simeons and Annas in this room we see a glimmer of hope. But we must also remember that one person, even the Pope, does not make change. Now, more than ever, is the time to push for change within the Catholic Church. And if you think you’re too old for that, then think of Mandela who didn’t get out of prison until he was 72, was president of his country from the ages of 75-81, and didn’t really retire from the public spotlight until he was 90. Yes, it is finally time that we resolve this tension between the community and the institution, the people and the hierarchy, it is time we finish the job of Vatican II.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Save the Date!

Our Families: Rooted in Love,
Enriched by Diversity

A Retreat for Catholic Parents of LGBT Children

• Active or disaffected Catholic?

• Parent of one who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?

• Willing to share your story and hear the journey of others?

• Ready to be strengthened in faith, hope and love?

Then join us on . . .

Sunday, February 23, 2014
11:30am-5:00pm (lunch included)

Prospect Park United Methodist Church
22 Malcolm Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

Optional (but encouraged!): Mass at 5:00pm (regularly scheduled Dignity Mass) and Potluck Supper at 6:00pm (supplied and served by partner sponsors)

Free will offering accepted at retreat

For more information and to register, please contact Myrna Ohman at 320-223-1008 or

This retreat is sponsored by Equally Blessed coalition members Fortunate Families, Dignity/Twin Cities and Call to Action Minnesota.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pope Francis Makes Cover of Rolling Stone

By Dylan Stableford

Note: This article was first published January 28, 2014 by Yahoo News.

Pope Francis — Bishop of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, His Holiness — has another title to add to his papal résumé: Rolling Stone cover subject.

The pope graces the cover of the iconic music magazine this week for a "The Times They Are A-Changin':
Inside the Pope's Gentle Revolution
," a 7,700-word profile by contributing editor Mark Binelli, who went inside the Vatican to report on Francis' break from tradition, less than a year since he was installed as leader of the [Roman] Catholic Church.

"In less than a year since his papacy began, Pope Francis has done much to separate himself from past popes and establish himself as a people's pope," Binelli writes.

More from the profile:

Surprising desk clerks at the hotel where he'd been staying during the papal conclave by showing up to pay his own bill; panicking bodyguards by swigging from a cup of maté (the highly caffeinated tea-like beverage popular throughout South America) handed to him by a stranger during a visit to Brazil; cracking up cardinals with jokes at his own expense hours after being elected (to those assembled at his first official dinner as pope, he deadpanned, "May God forgive you for what you've done").

After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis' basic mastery of skills like smiling in public seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic. But he had far more radical changes in mind. By eschewing the papal palace for a modest two-room apartment, by publicly scolding church leaders for being "obsessed" with divisive social issues like gay marriage, birth control and abortion ("Who am I to judge?" Francis famously replied when asked his views on homosexual priests) and – perhaps most astonishingly of all – by devoting much of his first major written teaching to a scathing critique of unchecked free-market capitalism, the pope revealed his own obsessions to be more in line with the boss' son.

Francis has been on other major magazine covers, including Time magazine, which declared him its 2013 Person of the Year last month. (It was the second time in a year Time ran a pope cover.)

But never Rolling Stone, the so-called "music bible" founded in 1967 by Jann Wenner.

Not surprisingly, Francis is the first pope to make the cover of Rolling Stone — something bands including the Velvet Underground, Public Enemy, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine each failed to do.

Related Off-site Links:
The Trouble with Francis: Three Things That Worry Me – Mary E. Hunt (Religion Dispatches, January 6, 2014).
New Pope, New Hope – Joseph S. O'Leary (Joseph S. O'Leary Homepage, January 28, 2014).
Correcting the "Theology of Women" That Currently ExistsQuestions from a Ewe (January 26, 2014).

See also the previous PCV posts:
"Healing Message" from Pope Francis Provokes Conservative Outrage
Pope Francis is Going to Be Heard
The 'Francis Effect': Five Ways the Pope is Resuscitating the Catholic Church
Conservative Catholics Question Pope Francis' Approach
Local Catholics Respond to Pope's Interview
The Pope's Radical Whisper
Pope's Reform Path: Francis Shakes Up Church Establishment
A Humble Pope in An August Office
Waiting for Francis to Reform the Curia? He Already Has
Reflections on a New Face

Monday, January 13, 2014

Students Are Winning the Gay-Marriage Fight at a Seattle Catholic High School

By Danny Westneat

Note: This op-ed was first published January 11, 2014 as "Students Winning as Eastside Catholic Twists Gay Marriage Logic" by the Seattle Times.

The ongoing morality play about gay marriage at an area Catholic high school keeps getting foggier. Except for one part that is becoming clear: The student protesters are winning.

Consider the jumble of values, rules and official gobbledygook the students of Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish have exposed with their agitating in the past month:

It’s apparently OK to be gay and teach there. Unless you get married — then you are fired. With the caveat that if you agree to get divorced — then you can keep your job.

Now if you’re a lesbian who teaches part-time and announces on the radio that you’re getting married — not only do you keep your job, you get a raise!

Said the school’s board in a four-page letter and Q & A to families Thursday: “The public behaviors of our faculty and staff must at all times be consistent with the values and teachings of the Catholic Church.”

I’m not Catholic, so who am I to judge and all that. But “consistent” is about the last word I would choose for the school’s message.

“Tortured,” maybe. “Befuddling?” Or how about just: “Wrong.”

I don’t mean wrong in a technical sense. Eastside Catholic was probably well within its legal rights last month when it forced out Mark Zmuda, a vice principal and swim coach, for marrying a man.

A few years ago I covered a case in which World Vision, the church-based Federal Way relief agency, fired three employees because they confessed they didn’t believe in the Holy Trinity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Even though the workers were in seemingly secular jobs such as shipping, the firings were upheld in the courts. The point is religious organizations can discriminate in hiring and firing. Employees know that going in, or ought to.

I mean it’s wrong in a moral sense. That’s what those spirited students are appealing to in their protests: Not the law’s strict letter, but a sense of “passionate discernment,” as Father John Whitney of St. Joe’s in Seattle wrote in praising the students.

Whitney likened the “noisy uproar” of the students to the Apostles: “We in the broader Church should be grateful for the mess these young people bring.”

A mess it is, no matter where you stand on it. That the school fired Zmuda for getting married is one thing. But offering to keep him if he got divorced — if he renounced his love? That is some disturbing moral bargaining.

It’s asking Zmuda to retreat partly back into the closet. The church can rationalize this by arguing that in a religious sense his marriage never existed, so canceling it is not as serious as a traditional divorce. But if that’s so — if his civil marriage isn’t recognized by the church anyway — then why is it such a problem?

That was followed by the contrary news that a part-time drama teacher at the school, Stephanie Merrow, could not only keep her job but would get a raise even after she came out as a lesbian and announced her engagement to her female partner.

School officials said this works for them because she’s part-time. But on the consistent values and teaching front, it sure is confusing. It’s OK for the two women to marry, but not the two men?

Here’s what I think it means. When you tie yourself into knots like this, it usually means you know you’re wrong.

It doesn’t mean the pope is suddenly going to back gay marriage. Or even that Zmuda may get his job back. But it probably means the church, at least around here, will find its way to some morally ambiguous “accommodation” in which it continues to oppose gay marriage but sees fit to look the other way when the lives and loves of real human beings are at stake.

It looks to be heading there already.

“Though it is a painful time, their teachers and their parents should be proud of the Gospel spirit that has been planted in these young hearts,” Father Whitney wrote of the students.

Non-Catholic translation: I’ll be damned, these kids are winning.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday in the Seattle Times. He can be reached at 206-464-2086 or

Related Off-site Links:
Catholic Students Protest Firings in Seattle and Philly; What You Can Do to Help – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, December 20, 2013).
Seattle High School Administers a 'Vaccine Against Faith' – Jamie Manson (National Catholic Reporter, January 9, 2014).
Anti-LGBT Policies Create Vaccines Against Faith in Catholic Schools – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, January 10, 2014).