Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, October 09, 2015

Sight Unseen (Star Trek: Titan)

The latest kindle book I've been reading is Sight Unseen by James Swallow, the latest (8th) in the Star Trek: Titan series.

As I wrote before in past posts about other books in the series, it's set after the last Star Trek: The Next Generation movie, the one in which Commander Riker and Counselor Troi get married and in which Data sadly dies. Now, Riker is the captain (and eventually an Admiral) with his own ship, Titan, which in addition to Riker and Troi, is manned by a very biologically varied and culturally diverse crew. There are some familiar characters, like Tuvik, but three of my favorites are new ... Ensign Torvig, who is of an alien race that looks like a cross between a sheep and a deer with bio-mechanical implants ... Chief of security Lieutenant Commander Ranul Keru who's an unjoined Trill and (a first for Star Trek, I think) gay ... Dr. Ree, the chief medical officer, who looks like a velociraptor.

This particular book in the series is based in part on a past Star Trek tv episode - Schisms - in which crew members were unwittingly abducted while asleep by subspace aliens and experimented upon. Here's a clip from the episode which shows Riker, exhausted from having been constantly kidnapped during his rack time, trying to stay awake through Data's poem about his cat Spot ...

So far I'm liking the book very much.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Day 4 of the synod

Today's press briefing included some comments from Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckley of Accra, Ghana ...

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckley of Accra, Ghana, said that the world needs to be patient with Africa when it comes to dealing with issues like homosexuality. “Give countries time to deal with issues from our own cultural perspectives,” he said. He added that the dignity and rights of all God’s son and daughters need to be upheld.

Also speaking from the synod was Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa ...

Archbishop Palmer-Buckley wants the world to be patient on the subject of how LGBT people are treated in Africa, so how *are* they treated? In Palmer-Buckley's country of Ghana they're treated badly ... gay male sexual relationships are illegal (unclear about female relationships) and those who have them shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than twenty-five years. British Prime Minister David Cameron, the US State Department, and the UN have all spoken out against the policies towards gays in Ghana. I'm not sure why we should be patient with that kind of situation. The 'respect for culture' argument seems based on a kind of moral relativism that the church usually criticizes, at least when it's referring to the west's so called "culture of death".

Cardinal Napier mentions 'ideological colonization' and population control - he says that countries in the west want to control the populations of Africa so that they don't "overrun the world". Is this true? Nope. What's true is that women in Africa want very much to have access to safe, effective, and affordable contraception - it's not being forced on them. Why do they want contraception? Because ... Most of the countries with the lowest rates of contraceptive use, [have the] highest maternal, infant, and child mortality rates .... over half of all African women would like to use birth control if it were available. The main problems that prevent access to and use of birth control are unavailability, poor health care services, spousal disapproval, religious concerns, and misinformation about the effects of birth control (Birth control in Africa). Here's a TED talk from Melinda Gates about access to contraception for women in the developing world ...

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sleepy Hollow: old and new

I've just seen the first episode of the new (3rd) season of Sleepy Hollow. It appears that a lot has changed, and not just the hair ;) ...

Many of the actors I really liked on the show have left, like Clancy Brown who portrayed Sheriff August Corbin. OK, yes, he died in the very first episode, but on Sleepy Hollow that doesn't keep you from showing up in episodes. Remember when Clancy was The Kurgan :) ...

Also gone from Sleepy Hollow now ... John Cho (Star Trek) who played Officer Andy Brooks, Katia Winter who played Ichabod's wife, and John Noble (Fringe) who portrayed Ichabod's son.

Also gone is Matt Barr who played Nick Hawley, an arms and artifacts dealer ...

And I'll especially miss Orlando Jones who played Captain Frank Irving (heh - get it?) ....

I hope the show will still be worth watching, but it won't be the same.

Day 3 of the synod

Every day you can read about the latest press briefing at Vatican Radio. Here's today's - Synod on the Family: Press Briefing Day 3 - in which Archbishops Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Laurent Ulrich of Lille, and Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón of Ayacucho o Huamanga of Peru appeared to discuss what;s happening in the small language-similar groups the bishops have broken into. Chaput is, of course, a conservative, and he commented about the necessity of keeping church teachings on marriage untchanged. Read more - Philly’s Chaput: Bishops sorting out into lobbying groups at synod

One thing that struck me today was this from Damian Thompson ...

I remembered that when I saw the list of those invited by the Pope to the synod, that name had caught my attention ... Cardinal Godfried Danneels is considered a liberal and in our church I guess they're thin on the ground, but he's also notorious in the area of sex abuse (see my past post). Here's a bit from the 2010 NCR article ...

Audio recordings leaked to the Belgian media this weekend reveal Belgium's Cardinal Godfried Danneels urging a sex abuse victim not to make public that his abuser was his uncle Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium. The recordings show Danneels pressuring the young man not to force Vangheluwe to resign. Vangheluwe eventually did resign April 23. He had served as bishop of Bruges for more than 25 years and was 73 years old.

A spokesman for Danneels told NCR that the cardinal did not comment about his meeting with the nephew and Vangheluwe, during an earlier press conference, because "he assumed that it was a confidential conversation to be kept within the family." ....

Yuck :( More creepy - the discussion about Danneels and if he deserves to be at the synod is fraught with liberal/conservative politics, and this is just a particular example of the larger liberal vs conservative synod tug of war.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Day 2 of the synod

A couple of soundbites from Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher ...

*** One was his suggestion that women be allowed to be deacons .... "I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the church's tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry."

Whenever I see this suggestion I have to sigh :( Oh, the suggestion has been made before, the last time (that I recall) was in 2013 by Cardinal Kasper, though he titled them "deaconesses" and they weren't to be ordained. Even that conditional suggestion was shot down soon after it was made, by Cardinal Marx and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer.

I understand why the idea keeps coming up - some church leaders actually do want to give women some worthy role in the church, but with the Pope continuously dooming the idea of women as priests, they don't have a lot of other options to suggest.

The thing is, even if women *were* allowed to be ordained deacons (and they won't be) that just will not be enough - no pit stop along the road to full equality of opportunity for women in the church will satisfy justice.

*** The other thing Durocher spoke about was communion for divorced/remarrieds. You have to watch the short video to get the full impact of the byzantine complexity that's been woven by the church around a few of Jesus' words on divorce. What's never asked is 'what did Jesus mean, what was his aim, when he said what he did' (read what Keith Ward wrote on this) ...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Day 1 of the synod

- Introductory Report of the Synod on the Family

On Day One of Synod 2015, conservatives strike first That strike was dealt by Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő, the man chosen to guide the synod's work.

[...] In his 7,000-word opening address on Monday morning, intended to set the tone for the synod’s work, Erdő seemed determined to close a series of doors that many people believed the last synod had left open — beginning with the controversial proposal of German Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to Communion. That Communion ban, Erdő insisted, is not an “arbitrary prohibition” but “intrinsic” to the nature of marriage as a permanent union. Mercy, he said, doesn’t just offer the possibility of forgiveness, it also “demands conversion.” ...

The progressives like Kasper want to have divorced/remarried people take communion based on the idea of being merciful. The conservatives will almost certainly not allow this to become an accepted MO.

Some believe the problem will be solved by the Pope having made annulments cheaper and less complicated, but as I mentioned earlier, most people don't decide not to get annulments because they cost too much or because they are complicated .... many people just don't want to embrace the fiction that their failed marriage was never really a marriage at all.

What will not come up at the synod is any re-examination of what Jesus said and meant about divorce. I fear that the synod will end up keeping things as they now are.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The synod: and so it begins

[...] Few events in contemporary church life have been as hotly anticipated as this month's synod on the family. The global meeting of Catholic bishops is in many ways an incredible attempt to bring together the universal church's rich diversity in one place to discuss pressing issues of our time. More than half of voting participants of the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops come from the global South. Francis' appointments represent a breadth of theological diversity.

There is, however, one glaring exclusion: Not a single woman has a vote. For a synod convened to discuss struggles faced by families, that is particularly appalling. Several women have been appointed as auditors (able to listen and occasionally join in discussions) and collaborators (to provide expert advice to members), but those are non-voting roles. Three women religious serve in non-voting roles, while the 10 delegates from male religious orders all get votes.

The synod is, of course, a meeting of bishops, so it's not women as such who are barred from voting, it's non-bishops. And that's the trap. One can't be a bishop unless one is first a priest. And women can't be priests. That door, we know well, is shut.

When asked about women in the church, Francis ardently calls for women to have a more "incisive presence" in the church, calling them in a recent Wednesday catechesis not just needed but necessary.

Yet he bars the door for their entry to the halls that will discuss issues of great need .......

This excerpt from an editorial at National Catholic Reporter is just one example of why I don't have much interest in or hope for the Synod of Bishops on the family which has begun today.

Not only is almost everyone invited male, but also almost everyone invited is a conservative. And even those few who are considered liberals, like Cardinal Kasper, have no intention of changing doctrine but want instead to offer "mercy" to those of us whose lived experience is miles away from those doctrines.

The thing is that many Catholics around the world who disagree with church doctrine (those in Ireland, Japan, Germany and Switzerland, the UK, and Belgium) don't need or what mercy, but instead want the church to be humble enough to re-examine it's failed teachings.

From Candida Moss

A couple of things from Candida Moss, professor of NT studies at Notre Dame ....

- She has an article in The Daily Beast about the downside of the pressure on victims to forgive those who have hurt them or their loved ones. I agree with her - I have to admit that my skin crawls when I see a parent make a public statement forgiving the person who murdered their child. What Christians Get Wrong About Forgiveness

- And here she comments on the news. She mentions the fact that though the Pope has changed the "tone" of the church's stance on various issues like LGBT relationships or women's roles, he refuses so far to make any *real* changes in doctrine or operation. I bring this up because it both exasperates and angers me that so many people seem completely satisfied with a change in tone only. We need real concrete changes in the church. It's not good enough for the church to simply be nice to people as it's disenfranchising them - it has to to *stop* disenfranchising them.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Into Thin Air

My latest book from the library is Into Thin Air by Joe Krakauer ...

Since the 1980s, more and more "marginally qualified dreamers" have attempted the ascent of Everest, as guided commercial expeditions have dangled the possibility of reaching the roof of the world in front of anyone wealthy enough to pay for the privilege. In 1996, Outside magazine asked Krakauer, a frequent contributor, to write a piece on the commercialization of Everest, and Krakauer signed on as a member of New Zealander Rob Hall's expedition. The disastrous outcome of the 1996 expedition forced Krakauer to write a very different article.

You can read more about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster at Wikipedia.

What made me decide to get the book from the library was seeing the trailer for the movie adapted from it - Everest ...

a 2015 British–American disaster drama and adventure thriller film directed by Baltasar Kormákur and written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. The film stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal .... It is based on the real events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, and focuses on the survival attempts of two expedition groups, one led by Rob Hall (Clarke) and the other by Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal).

Here's the trailer ...


- In the wake of the Pope meeting both Kim Davis and a gay couple, the church fires a priest (who works at the CDF and teaches theology at the Pontifical Universities) from his job at the Vatican for coming out as gay. From Newsweek: Vatican Dismisses Gay Priest Who Planned Demonstration

- Remember the anti-abortion group that made those deceptive Planned Parenthood videos - the Center for Medical Progress? One of their board members, Troy Newman, also a member of the notorious Operation Rescue, is being deported from Australia as a danger to public safety ... "I am most concerned that Mr. Newman's call for abortionists to be executed could lead to threats or the commission of acts of violence against women and medical professionals," wrote Terri Butler, a member of the opposition Labor Party. Meanwhile - Planned Parenthood Clinics Targeted With Vandalism And Arson In The Wake Of Released Videos

- I deleted my latest post about the Pope and his Kim Davis meeting, but this article covers many of the points I made ... Vatican ‘Clarifies’ and Complicates Story of Pope Francis-Kim Davis Meeting

- From The New York Review of Books ...

Thursday, October 01, 2015

A new rug :)

'Mine, mine, all mine!' ...

Not for long ...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

More on the Pope Francis/Kim Davis thing

From The Atlantic - Why Did Pope Francis Meet With Kim Davis? ...

[...] That this meeting happened is somewhat of a surprise: Davis has been one of the most polarizing figures in American politics in recent months, seen by some on the right as the foremost fighter against violations of religious liberty. When Pope Francis came to the U.S., his message was exactly the opposite—one of unity and reconciliation, not combativeness.

But it’s not surprising that the Vatican went about it this way. During his visit, the pope made a non-public stop to speak with victims of sexual abuse that the Vatican didn't announce until the last day of his trip, hoping not to distract from the pope’s larger message. This is how the Vatican often arranges controversial meetings: privately, and not to be shared until later

Yes, we're all too painfully aware of the Vatican's secrecy policy .... think sex abuse cover-up. You would think that the Vatican would have learned by now that deception is the enemy of trust.

The pope's comments about religious liberty and conscience sound good but I think he's being disingenuous. If the Pope is so supportive of conscience, why did he not reinstate Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest who was laicized, excommunicated, and dumped from his order because his conscience prompted him to support women's rights in the church .... he had the chance when Fr. Bourgeois sent him an open letter asking for his consideration. Nope, this isn't about conscience, it's about the Pope's very negative feelings on marriage equality.

More from NCR - Pope Francis met Kentucky clerk Kim Davis

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


- Kentucky clerk Kim Davis claims private meeting with Pope Francis ... yuck :(

- From the Pew Forum ...

- From The New York Times: Eward Snowden is now on Twitter and his first tweet has had over 90,000 retweets ...

Edward Snowden started his Twitter feed with a joke about surveillance, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers but following only one account: the N.S.A.’s. He tweeted back and forth with the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, saying, “Thanks for the welcome. And now we’ve got water on Mars! Do you think they check passports at the border? Asking for a friend.”

National Pink Out Day

Today is a day to show support for Planned parenthood - Planned Parenthood to Offer Free S.T.D. Testing on National Pink Out Day ...

This is also the day Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards mounts defense before Congress. I don't know how the Republicans are going to come to a reasoned conclusions when Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards was barely allowed to answer the questions they asked her - this video shows the zillions of times she was interrupted and talked over ....

More: Planned Parenthood Emerges Unscathed From GOP Attacks – WSJ/NBC Poll

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Man in the High Castle

UPDATE: uh oh - it looks like we can only watch the first episode, with the rest of the episodes not available until November. Boo hoo :(

The latest tv series I'm trying out is The Man in the High Castle ...

an American dystopian alternate history television series produced by Amazon Studios. The series is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by American science fiction author Philip K. Dick. The story is an alternate history of the world in which the Axis powers won World War II. The United States has been partitioned into three parts: The Japanese puppet state of the Pacific States of America, which comprises the former United States west of the Rocky Mountains; a German puppet state that comprises the eastern half of the former United States; and a neutral zone that acts as a buffer between the two areas, called the Rocky Mountain States.

I read the Hugo-Award-wining book when I was a teen, so I was interested to see there had been a series made of it. I've only seen one episode so far but I do like it and plan to watch the whole thing. Here's a review from The Atlantic: The Man in the High Castle: When a Nazi-Run World Isn't So Dystopian.

And here's a glimpse ....


- #ShellNo

Shell abandons Alaska Arctic drilling

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Kittens pooped on a hot afternoon

Gretel and Hansel trying to catch some ZZZZZs ....

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bill Nye: Stop Telling Women What to Do With Their Bodies

I saw a Big Think video from Bill Nye (the science guy) today. I only know who he is because he and Neil deGrasse Tyson were once on an episode of Stargate Atlantis - they appeared as past colleagues of the character of scientist Rodney McKay :) .....

But anyway, here's the video from Big Think ...

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Pope at the UN on the environment

Pope Francis to the UN: environmental degradation threatens ‘the very existence of the human species’

I'm very happy the Pope is on board with environmentalism. I've been a supporter of the environment since I was a teen and really appreciate the work of organizations like the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity and others. I wonder how all the conservative Catholics and Republicans are dealing with the Pope's message - they're traditionally the people who want to exploit the environment as a product for consumption. Democrats are usually the defenders of the environment, and I saw an article at NCR today about Hillary Clinton's agreement with the Pope on climate change.

You can read the transcript of the Pope's talk at the UN here at TIME.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis at St. Patrick's tonight

Tonight Pope Francis visited St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan ....

Here's a bit about that from The New York Times ...

Pope Laments the Wages of Materialism

Another danger comes when we become jealous of our free time, when we think that surrounding ourselves with worldly comforts will help us serve better. The problem with this reasoning is that it can blunt the power of God’s daily call to conversion, to encounter with him.

In his homily to clergy members, nuns and members of religious orders at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Pope Francis reminds them that they should live simply.

This is a common criticism of the church hierarchy in many American dioceses, including in New York, where Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan lives in a Madison Avenue mansion attached to the cathedral instead of in simpler quarters.

A bit more about Dolan and his mansion: In Era of Humble Pope, Earth Shifts Under Cardinal Dolan. St. Patrick's was renovated in the last few years at the cost of $177 million. Here's an article about it from Architect Magazine: St. Patrick's Cathedral Gets an Update Fit for the Pope

Pope's Congressional speech and scientists on his climate message

Reading Pope Francis' speech to Congress today. The parts that appealed to me were the mention of the Golden Rule, his request to abolish the death penalty, his hope that there will be a redistribution of wealth, his criticism of arms dealers, and his mention of his encyclical on the environment. Read more - Inside Pope Francis’ Address to Congress

Speaking of the Pope on the environment, I saw this article today ... What Scientists Think About the Pope's Climate Message. Here's just the beginning of the article ....

As Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress today (Sept. 24), scientists are praising his encyclical on climate change — with a few caveats about population control.

A series of editorials published today in the journal Nature Climate Change applaud the pope's in-depth missive for his calls for collective action on warming temperatures, which are driven by fossil-fuel combustion. The encyclical was a "decisive democratic act," wrote Anabela Carvalho, a communication sciences professor at the University of Minho in Portugal. It was "passionate and compelling," added Stanford University ecologist Paul Ehrlich and University of California, Berkeley environmental scientist John Harte in their co-authored editorial.

But the researchers warned that change would be difficult in the face of an entrenched status quo. And it might not be possible, some said, to save the world without contraception, which the Catholic Church opposes. [Catholics in America: Views on Contraception & Other Social Issues (Infographic)]

"Pope Francis needs to heed his own comments on the church's 'obsession' with contraception and abortion, and assume a leadership position in support of women’s rights and family planning," Ehrlich and Harte wrote ......