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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Andrew Brown and Rowan Williams on petitionary prayer

Saw this by Andrew Brown on petitionary prayer ....

[...] The second question is whether prayer works on the pray-er as a form of pain relief. It obviously sometimes does and I can't imagine any remotely plausible way to run a controlled trial of these effects. Now, my Christian friends would object at this point that the point of prayer is not "pain relief" and that prayer does not deliver from anguish. I don't think it does. But it makes life capable of being borne, and that is sometimes the only possible step forward.

Nor, in the accounts I have, do people pray for the pain to stop. They pray not to be alone and abandoned within it. As Rowan Williams put it in his Times interview: "The point of praying is to open yourself up to God so God can do what he wants with you. You come with empty hands, as silent as you can be and say, 'Over to you'. So you could say the function was to make you the person God wants you to be – in the full awareness that that might not be quite the person you think you want to be."

This invites the obvious response from the Onion: "God answers prayers of paralysed little boy: 'No' says God." But I still think Williams is talking about something else here. And I will still light candles for my friends when I visit a cathedral, not because I think it will do any good, but because sometimes a futile gesture is the only kind you can make.

I have to disagree with the ABC when he says .... "The point of praying is to open yourself up to God so God can do what he wants with you. You come with empty hands, as silent as you can be and say, 'Over to you'. So you could say the function was to make you the person God wants you to be – in the full awareness that that might not be quite the person you think you want to be."

That doesn't describe my petitionary prayers at all :) Doubtless I'm less spiritually evolved than the Archbishop of Canterbury but I really try, even if it embarrasses me, to ask God for what I actually want - if you can't be transparent with someone who's omniscient (and someone who loves you) who can you be that with? And if it's all about "your will not mine" why make a petitionary prayer in the first place?

I like what Eugene McCarraher said Herbert McCabe said about petitionary prayer ... McCabe’s advice is to just go ahead and ask for what you really want—a good grade, money for the mortgage, Grandmom getting better, not drowning. You’re not fooling God by praying for things you don’t really desire but rather think you should desire. Maybe you should pray for those things—the Holy Spirit will lead you there eventually—but if you can’t even pray for the things you do want, how are you ever going to pray for the things you should want?

Anna Hyatt Huntington

I came upon this page today, World's Greatest Visual Artists, and spent too much time looking at sculpture and paintings :) Here are two sculptures from an artist on the list, Anna Hyatt Huntington ....

- Mother Bear and Cubs

- Joan of Arc

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two poems

Spellbound - James Richardson

And what of the child Bad Magic
clanged shut in a bluebird,
who sat half-lit in the re-leafing arbor,
listening for his old name in the family hubbub,
who meant to cry out ... but seedflash, hammer of wings ...
couldn't hold to his dream,
small and quick as a spark, of having been
a child once? Who couldn't see into those windows,
quick as sparks, where slowly they still played,
who meant ... but shrill, but two flights twined
outflinging ... And sometimes in the clatter
of coffee on the lawn, their voices lowering
and slowed (that he could not tell
from landslide, from preliminary thunder),
they would seem to speak of him
something ... but it was years
and he meant, but too-swift heart,
flit like forget and South like a soft downstairs,
and something sang him something flew him away ...

All That Died in the Cat-Punctured Mouse - Dean Young

was needless to the eternal mouse
who gigantically stands over me
as I drop his used-tea-bag body into the trash,
even the trash standing over itself
with stink by the end of the week
suggesting a thing of beauty may linger
not eternally in the mind but it's not
beauty's fault, it is the mind's.
The mind is made of milk
and refrigeration has its limits.
So while in Italy, see as many Caravaggios
as you can and I will look here in my bushes
and grocery store. I will go through my closet.
It is shadow that brings forth grace
he would have agreed with Leonardo,
some things are truest only glimpsed
although reflectology can reveal
how a ruffian becomes a cherub,
the eyes that were once open half-closed,
a hand now lifted to a cheek.
Still as sugar is the house, distant
stays the sea, the eternal part of my friend
must be needed elsewhere which may account
for my continued grief. Come back
it's silly to plead yet the moon comes back
and it is everything to me, the springtime
crickets, the cheese steaks of Philadelphia,
my brain inside a bell until static overwhelms
the broadcast like a fire alarm a history class
and no one runs or screams,
having been so well drilled.

It's so hot! :(

My air conditioner/heater broke down a couple of weeks ago. I had thought it was the best time for it to do so, as this time of year is neither hot nor cold, but for the last few days we've been having a heat wave - today it's 102 degrees - and I think my brain is becoming denatured from the heat. Anyway, it's too hot to write a detailed post, but here are some tidbits:

- an article at Thinking Faith by Jesuit astronomer Guy Consolmagno .... Couldn’t God have designed a gentler universe?

- an article at Christianity Today on the book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Here's just the beginning of the article ......

Hunter, professor of religion, culture, and social theory at the University of Virginia, is author of "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America and The Death of Character: On the Moral Education of America's Children".

"To Change the World" comprises three essays. The first examines the common view of "culture as ideas," espoused by thinkers like Chuck Colson, and the corrective view of "culture as artifacts," as recently argued by Andy Crouch in Culture Making. Both views, argues Hunter, are characterized by idealism, individualism, and pietism.

Hunter develops an alternative view of culture, one that assigns roles not only to ideas and artifacts but also to "elites, networks, technology, and new institutions." American Christians—mainline Protestant, Catholic, and evangelical—will not and cannot change the world through evangelism, political action, and social reform because of the working theory that undergirds their strategies. This theory says that "the essence of culture is found in the hearts and minds of individuals—in what are typically called 'values.' " According to Hunter, social science and history prove that many popular ideas, such as "transformed people transform cultures" (Colson) and "in one generation, you change the whole culture" (James Dobson), are "deeply flawed."

The second essay argues that "the public witness of the church today has become a political witness." Hunter critiques the political theologies of the Christian Right, Christian Left, and neo-Anabaptists, showing that unlikely bedfellows—James Dobson, Jim Wallis, and Stanley Hauerwas—are all "functional Nietzscheans" insofar as their resentment fuels a will to power, which perpetuates rather than heals "the dark nihilisms of the modern age."

The third essay offers a different paradigm for cultural engagement, one Hunter calls "faithful presence." Faithful presence is not about changing culture, let alone the world, but instead emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. "If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world," Hunter writes, "it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God's command to love our neighbor." ......

- A few days ago an interview with Rowan Williams was published by The Times (subscription only) which touched on gay bishops in the C of E. Here's a bit about it from Ekklesia .....

Archbishop of Canterbury fails to bridge gay row gap

[...] It is Dr Williams' comments on gay clergy and bishops which have drawn instant attention from reporters and commentators, however.

He declared: "There’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop... It’s about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there’s always a question about the personal life of the clergy.”

Asked what is wrong with a gay bishop having a partner, the Archbishop replies: “I think because the scriptural and traditional approach to this doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it. The Church at the moment doesn’t quite know what to make of it...”

In the past, before assuming his key role within the Established Church, Dr Williams, as a pastor and acdemic, had affirmed gay relationships both pastorally and academically.

But he sees his priority now as holding the Church of England and the Anglican Communion - with its warring factions - together.

Responding to his latest remarks, gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused him of being inconsistent and hypocritical, while the hardline group Anglican Mainstream strongly objected to any gay bishops.

In its own leading article, The Times newspaper challenges the idea that the church has no room for reform or change on traditional, scriptural grounds - which has been the basis of the argument for welcoming gay people advanced by a growing number of evangelicals in recent years.

The paper declared: "In seeking a settlement within Anglicanism, Dr Williams risks diminishing its prophetic voice. If he were to worry less about politics, he might find the resources to strengthen Anglicanism and find spiritual fulfilment of his own. For with his profound theological insight, Dr Williams is better placed than anyone to, in the words of Matthew’s Gospel, discern the signs of the times." .....

- I can' remember if I mentioned this before, but those who are interested in learning more about Ignatian spirituality can read a online book about it - What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David L. Flemming SJ.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

David Hart, Jeff McMahan, and nature

There's a really challenging post at The New York Times philosophy blog by Jeff McMahan (I posted a past video talk by him on pacifism and just war theory). It begins about the problem of evil, and theology, and animal suffering, but then it goes to a place that I find very conflicting ... the question of whether we humans should intervene in the way nature operates. His example, and I've seen this discussed elsewhere, is whether we should contribute to the extinction or radical changing of carnivore species to help eliminate animal suffering. But the problem is not just animal, I think - as David Bentley Hart mentioned in The Doors of the Sea, even plant life is dog-eat-dog ...

[A]ll the splendid loveliness of the natural world is everywhere attended - and, indeed, preserved - by death. All life feeds on life, each creature must yield its place in time to another, and at the heart of nature is a perpetual struggle to survive and increase at the expense of other beings .... those lavishly floriferous but parasitic vines - that urged always upwards by a blind, thrusting, idiotic heliotropism - climb toward the light of the sun by choking the life from the trees around which they grow, constantly struggling out of the shadows in their thirst for the light, extending one tenuous tendril after another toward the sun to swell and slowly suffocate the boughs they entwine, until they burgeon forth at the last in such gorgeous and copious flowers that one might forget what had to perish to make such a triumph of beauty possible.

Here's some of the article. It's long, so I've left out a lot - best read it all ....


The Meat Eaters
By Jeff McMahan

[...] The continuous, incalculable suffering of animals is also an important though largely neglected element in the traditional theological “problem of evil” ─ the problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent god. The suffering of animals is particularly challenging because it is not amenable to the familiar palliative explanations of human suffering. Animals are assumed not to have free will and thus to be unable either to choose evil or deserve to suffer it. Neither are they assumed to have immortal souls; hence there can be no expectation that they will be compensated for their suffering in a celestial afterlife. Nor do they appear to be conspicuously elevated or ennobled by the final suffering they endure in a predator’s jaws. Theologians have had enough trouble explaining to their human flocks why a loving god permits them to suffer; but their labors will not be over even if they are finally able to justify the ways of God to man. For God must answer to animals as well .....

Certainly this and related ideas have been entertained since human beings began to reflect on the fearful nature of their world — for example, when the prophet Isaiah, writing in the 8th century B.C.E., sketched a few of the elements of his utopian vision. He began with people’s abandonment of war: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation.” But human beings would not be the only ones to change; animals would join us in universal veganism: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and the little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” (Isaiah 2: 4 and 11: 6-7).

Isaiah was, of course, looking to the future rather than indulging in whimsical fantasies of doing a better job of Creation, and we should do the same. We should start by withdrawing our own participation in the mass orgy of preying and feeding upon the weak .... But ought we to go further? Suppose that we could arrange the gradual extinction of carnivorous species, replacing them with new herbivorous ones. Or suppose that we could intervene genetically, so that currently carnivorous species would gradually evolve into herbivorous ones, thereby fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. If we could bring about the end of predation by one or the other of these means at little cost to ourselves, ought we to do it? ......

Many people believe that what happens among animals in the wild is not our responsibility, and indeed that what they do among themselves is none of our business. They have their own forms of life, quite different from our own, and we have no right to intrude upon them or to impose our anthropocentric values on them.

There is an element of truth in this view, which is that our moral reason to prevent harm for which we would not be responsible is weaker than our reason not to cause harm. Our primary duty with respect to animals is therefore to stop tormenting and killing them as a means of satisfying our desire to taste certain flavors or to decorate our bodies in certain ways. But if suffering is bad for animals when we cause it, it is also bad for them when other animals cause it. That suffering is bad for those who experience it is not a human prejudice; nor is an effort to prevent wild animals from suffering a moralistic attempt to police the behavior of other animals. Even if we are not morally required to prevent suffering among animals in the wild for which we are not responsible, we do have a moral reason to prevent it, just as we have a general moral reason to prevent suffering among human beings that is independent both of the cause of the suffering and of our relation to the victims. The main constraint on the permissibility of acting on our reason to prevent suffering is that our action should not cause bad effects that would be worse than those we could prevent.

That is the central issue raised by whether we ought to try to eliminate carnivorism. Because the elimination of carnivorism would require the extinction of carnivorous species, or at least their radical genetic alteration, which might be equivalent or tantamount to extinction, it might well be that the losses in value would outweigh any putative gains. Not only are most or all animal species of some instrumental value, but it is also arguable that all species have intrinsic value. As Ronald Dworkin has observed, “we tend to treat distinct animal species (though not individual animals) as sacred. We think it very important, and worth a considerable economic expense, to protect endangered species from destruction.” When Dworkin says that animal species are sacred, he means that their existence is good in a way that need not be good for anyone; nor is it good in the sense that it would be better if there were more species, so that we would have reason to create new ones if we could. “Few people,” he notes, “believe the world would be worse if there had always been fewer species of birds, and few would think it important to engineer new bird species if that were possible. What we believe important is not that there be any particular number of species but that a species that now exists not be extinguished by us.” ......

The basic issue, then, seems to be a conflict between values: prevention of suffering and preservation of animal species ..... Here, then, is where matters stand thus far. It would be good to prevent the vast suffering and countless violent deaths caused by predation. There is therefore one reason to think that it would be instrumentally good if predatory animal species were to become extinct and be replaced by new herbivorous species, provided that this could occur without ecological upheaval involving more harm than would be prevented by the end of predation. The claim that existing animal species are sacred or irreplaceable is subverted by the moral irrelevance of the criteria for individuating animal species. I am therefore inclined to embrace the heretical conclusion that we have reason to desire the extinction of all carnivorous species, and I await the usual fate of heretics when this article is opened to commen


My own conclusion .... I disagree with McMahan. I do believe in trying to mitigate animal suffering whenever possible, but not by eliminating carnivore species. Which is not to say I'm unconflicted. I'd save mice and bird prey-items from my outdoor cat Grendel, and I felt guilty about feeding my obligate carnivores cats meat. And I have to admit, I'm all for eliminating unattractive (to me) stuff like bacteria, fungi, viruses, the botfly, etc.. I guess I can't explain rationally why I don't want to eliminate carnivore species, but I don't.

The FT on the Vatican Bank

Vatican officials assert that although the bank is in Vatican City, it is not part of the Holy See. Such talk, however, is misleading. The IOR is the pope's bank since, in a sense, he is the one and only stockholder. He owns it, he controls it. - Thomas Reese SJ, Inside the Vatican: the politics and organization of the Catholic Church

I saw a really interesting and detailed (and disturbing) article from the Financial Times today on the recent problems with the Vatican Bank. Here it is ......


The Vatican: A murky See
By Guy Dinmore in Rome

After last week’s gruelling yet ultimately successful visit to the UK, arguably the most challenging mission of his reign – amid an exchange of accusations over child abuse scandals and secularism – Pope Benedict, at 83, could have been forgiven for seeking rest with his cats in the Vatican’s tranquil gardens upon his return.

Any repose was broken on Tuesday morning, however, when alarm began to mount in the nearby medieval bastion of Nicholas V, home of the city-state’s bank. News was emerging that Italy’s finance police had frozen €23m held by the Vatican in an account at an Italian bank, and that the Pope’s two most senior banking officials were under investigation for possible money-laundering.

Reacting with unusual speed, the Vatican issued forceful denials of the allegations. It expressed “perplexity and amazement” at the probe and full confidence in the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), as its bank is known, as well as in Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, chairman, and Paolo Cipriani, director-general, the suspects under investigation.

By the end of this week, calm was being restored by the damage-limitation exercise. The Bank of Italy had five days earlier flagged the Vatican’s non-compliance with anti-money laundering regulations in attempting to make two transfers to unidentified beneficiaries for unstated purposes. By now, though, officials from the bank and the Italian government were privately lending credence to Vatican insistence that the affair was simply a “misunderstanding” between IOR and Credito Artigiano, the bank where the account in question was held.

Nonetheless, veteran Vatican observers say, the events are a harsh reminder of the culture of secrecy that has cloaked the Holy See’s murky financial dealings, representing the most serious challenge for Pope Benedict after the child abuse scandal that has ripped through European dioceses in the past year.

“This is only the beginning. It will take a long time to clean up IOR,” says Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of Vaticano SpA (“Vatican Inc”) who lifted the lid last year on the bank’s allegedly nefarious connections, among others with Vito Ciancimino, a Sicilian mayor convicted of Mafia association who died in 2002.

Those accusations – ignored by the Vatican – followed the scandals of the 1990s Enimont trials, involving use of IOR accounts for bribes passed to Italian government officials, and the collapse in 1982 of the partly Vatican-owned Banco Ambrosiano whose boss, Roberto Calvi, was found hanging from London’s Blackfriars bridge.

It was against this background, upon his election in 2005, that Benedict acted relatively quickly to put right the financial problems he inherited, bringing it into line with global norms aimed at countering money-laundering and terrorist financing.

Peter Sutherland, Ireland’s former attorney-general and European Union commissioner, and Lord Camoys, a veteran UK banker, were brought in to advise the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (Apsa), which acts as a central bank.

The shake-up was completed a year ago when Mr Gotti Tedeschi – devout Catholic, banker and professor of ethics in finance – was put in charge of IOR. Then, in January, Attilio Nicora, an Italian cardinal and president of Apsa, was appointed head of a special IOR unit, tasked with bringing it into line with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development anti-money-laundering norms with the aim of inclusion on the “white list” of compliant jurisdictions.

“To this end, intense and fruitful contacts are ongoing with the Bank of Italy, the European Union and with the competent international bodies: OECD and GAFI (Financial Action Task Force),” said Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, in a letter to the Financial Times this week.

Mr Nuzzi and Vatican insiders credit Mr Gotti Tedeschi – non-executive chairman of Banco Santander’s consumer finance unit in Italy – for his efforts at IOR. “He is certainly there to clean up,” says Mr Nuzzi, who believes this week’s incident was the result of a “treasury glitch”.

“But accounts [at IOR] are not always in the name of a physical person, some are not traceable, they might be in the name of organisations that are not immediately definable. Also there are different layers at IOR that are difficult to penetrate even for IOR representatives.”

Running worldwide aid and development agencies with assets second in size only to those of the UN, the Holy See needs to manage significant sums and has been reported to hold more than $200m in US Treasuries. One of the disputed attempted transfers this month was, IOR says, being made to an IOR account at JPMorgan Chase in Frankfurt to buy €20m in German government bonds.

Notable Catholics not directly linked to the Vatican also hold accounts with IOR, which does not publish accounts but is believed by Italian bankers to hold assets in the range of €5bn. Exercising its autonomy as a sovereign state, the Vatican has used IOR to get round global sanctions, channelling money to Poland’s Solidarity movement in the 1980s and funding to Cuba in spite of the US embargo.

. . .

The benefits and pitfalls of that treasured unaccountability and secrecy are being ad­dressed by Mr Gotti Tedeschi, whose clean-up mission is mirrored by the more thorough vigilance exercised over Italy’s banking system by Mario Draghi as Bank of Italy governor. He is described by some as a “Calvinist” in comparison with his Catholic close-to-the Vatican predecessor, Antonio Fazio, who resigned in 2005 amid a domestic Italian banking scandal.

The Bank of Italy has no jurisdiction over IOR but twice this year it has issued a circular to Italian banks reminding them of the regulations they must follow in executing transactions by IOR, classified as a non-EU bank outside the “white list”. The latest, on September 9, sent shockwaves through some institutions, which interpreted it as a warning not to do business with IOR – an interpretation rejected by the central bank.

Their concerns were heightened by a separate series of Italian judicial probes into an alleged “secret organisation” – possibly involving prominent officials and businesspeople – suspected of corrupting the judiciary and fixing government tenders. One of those probes has included Naples’ Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe in his former role as head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which manages much of the Vatican’s property. He has denied wrongdoing and the Vatican has pledged its co-operation with the inquiry.

With some of his closest associates under investigation, Silvio Berlusconi, centre-right prime minister, has – not for the first time – branded the investigations as the efforts of politically motivated magistrates bent on undermining the government.

Those claims have been echoed in some commentaries on the probe into the Vatican. Mr Gotti Tedeschi, who was not available to speak to the FT this week, was quoted by Il Sole 24 Ore, a business daily, as saying the “procedural error” over the transfers was being used as “a pretext to attack the Institute, its president, and more broadly the Vatican”. He did not elaborate.

A well-placed Italian official, who asks not to be named, accepts Mr Gotti Tedeschi’s procedural explanation but also offers a further possible explanation. He says IOR had tried to carry out an ostensibly legitimate transfer of funds from one account to two others but without submitting the required details. The official says he believes IOR was testing “the Bank of Italy to see if they were serious about these anti-money-laundering norms”.

“The Bank of Italy showed they were serious. So IOR un­derstood it cannot move on to more complicated issues,” he says. The official and two banking sources say IOR repeatedly stalled when asked for more information on the transfers. Asked what could lie behind IOR’s “testing” of the system, the official admits it is a mystery. “Perhaps they want to go back to their past special status. But the world is more complicated these days. Perhaps it is just their culture of secrecy,” he says. “Who knows?” IOR has declined to comment to the FT.

Italian officials note that the freezing of IOR’s money was an automatic consequence of the Bank of Italy’s notification of non-compliance with Italian norms, which followed an alert by Credito Artigiano. The Credito Valtellinese group, which owns Credito Artigiano, says it has no comment.

Although the investigation by Rome magistrates continues, a Bank of Italy official, who asks not to be named, stresses: “This is not another Banco Ambrosiano or Enimont.”

Benedict is preparing for another milestone next weekend with his first visit to Sicily. There he is expected to commemorate the death of Father Pino Puglisi, killed by the Mafia in September 1993. Just four months earlier, John Paul had gone to Sicily to make an impassioned plea for its people to rise against the Mafia. As with other long-standing issues, not least finance, the Pope will again be confronted with the problems of his predecessors.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Two books ....

from the library ... in non-fiction, Radical Orthodoxy? A Catholic Enquiry (Heythrop Studies in Contemporary Philosophy, Religion, and Theology). It has essays on Radical Orthodoxy by different people, including John Milbank and Fergus Kerr ....... and in fiction, The Priestly Sins by Andrew Greeley.

I've never read a book by Fr. Greeley before and I hadn't planned on this one, but the book I really wanted, The Necromancer by Michael Scott, hadn't come in yet and I had no other audio book to listen to (panic!) :) In a way the book, which is about a priest who exposes a pedophile in the clergy, has kind of shocked me, not only because it's graphic in detail but because Fr. Greeley pulls no punches in describing how the church reacts to whistle-blowing priests as well as abuse victims. Here's the Publishers Weekly blurb ....

Greeley's experience as both a priest with 50 years of service to the Catholic Church and as a bestselling storyteller (The Cardinal Sins, etc.) perfectly equips him to take on the difficult subject of sexual abuse and its ensuing coverup. Greeley makes his position quite clear: "those who might seem to be the worst sinners are not the predators possessed by their own uncontrollable urges, but other priests who know about what the predators have done and remain silent or even defend them out of mistaken loyalty. And still worse are the bishops and bureaucrats who hide the truth...." Greeley builds his case and his fiction on the life of Herman Hugo Hoffman, whose Russian German forebears were farmers in the plains states of Midwestern America. His is a gentle story of growing up in a rural, close-knit family among other like-minded immigrant families in the town of Lincoln Junction. Herman's feisty, red-haired neighbor Katherine inserts herself into his family at age eight and grows up to be his best friend and lover until he enters the priesthood. The sweet story of Herman and Katherine is framed by the trial of child abuser Father Lenny "Lucifer" Lyon, whom Herman, several years before, walked in on while the priest was brutally raping young parishioner Todd Sweeney. The bulk of the novel is a study of Herman's calling and rise to the priesthood, and it's an affecting story. This is a well-told tale of love and courage that makes its valuable point without resorting to unnecessary violence or cheap and easy shock effects. It's fiction, but for anyone interested in the ongoing controversy it's a must-read.

Here's a little about Fr. Greeley from Wikipedia ...

The Reverend Father Andrew M. Greeley (born February 5, 1928 in Oak Park, Illinois, to Andrew and Grace Greeley) is an Irish-American Roman Catholic priest, sociologist, journalist and best selling author. Father Greeley is Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and is a Research Associate with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. He writes a weekly column for the Chicago Sun-Times and contributes regularly to The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter, America, and Commonweal ... He suffered a fractured skull and left orbital bone near his eye in a fall on November 7, 2008 in Rosemont, Illinois, when his clothing got caught on the door of a taxi as it pulled away, and was hospitalized in critical condition.[3]His website indicates that he is still recovering from the traumatic brain injury that he received.

For those interested, you can visit Fr. Greeley's webpage which has his homilies, articles, and book info.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Von Balthasar, Rahner, and Milbank

I read two things today - an article, "Von Balthasar, Rahner, and The Commissar", New Blackfriars, 79 (1998), 26-33, by Philip Endean SJ, and a bit from POSTMODERNITY: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age by Paul Lakeland. I found it interesting how Hans Urs von Balthasar's critique of Karl Rahner and post-Vatican II theology seemed sort of like John Milbank's (and Radical Orthodoxy's) critique of secular pluralist society and liberal Christianity.

First, here are a couple of paragraphs from Lakeland's book, in which he mentions Radical Orthodoxy's John Milbank (p. 68-70) ......

Milbank's thesis is quite simple. The 'nonfoundational metanarrative' of Christianity incorporates a social theory that is entirely adequate to, even vitally important to, our postmodern age, and that is distinctly superior to those secular social theories with which Christianity is thought by so many to need to engage in dialogue ... While Christianity can utilize the insights of social science, it accommodates itself to the paradigms of secular science at its peril. Christianity does not have to conform itself to the assumptions of the world: rather, the world has to conform to the vision of the Christian tradition ....

[T]he Christian metanarrative claims to be an interpretation of universal history. It rejects, he says, the Jewish claim to explain the mysteries of human community and salvation, and he *seems* to say that it must conclude that all non-Christians, "however virtuous seeming, [are] finally on the path to damnation." He argues that Christianity exhibits "the exemplary form of human community," and thus that it cannot admit that the social sciences might carry out a more fundamental investigation in this matter without abandoning its claim to truth. Christianity, he concludes, makes "a gigantic claim to be able to read, criticize, say what is going on in other human societies," and this "is absolutely integral to the Christian church." For Augustine, says Milbank, the political community is based on the necessary coercion that must exist in any society in which there is residual sin, and so it cannot be a realm of justice, whose basis is charity. Thus the political is imperfectly social, whereas true society, in the alarming words of Milbank .... "implies absolute consensus, agreement in desire, and entire harmony amongst its members, and this is exactly (as Augustine reiterates again and again) what the Church provides, and that in which salvation, the restoration of being, consists."

And, here's part of the article by Fr. Endean on Rahner and von Balthasar. It's best to read the whole thing, as I left much out, including the footnotes. The article can be found at Fr. Endean's site .......


Von Balthasar, Rahner, and The Commissar
- Philip Endean SJ

Von Balthasar's attacks on Rahner are scattered over several works. Sometimes their expression is very technical, and complex personal factors also play a part. But von Balthasar expresses his concerns vividly and concisely in a bitterly satirical dialogue near the end of a polemical text which he published just after Vatican II: The Moment of Christian Witness. A 'well-disposed commissar', a figure symbolising the culture of modernity both in its easy secularism and its nightmare terrors, arraigns a Rahnerian Christian. In less than three full pages, Rahner's theology is made to look ridiculous. For Rahner, God always transcends objects in space and time: we know God only in and through them, as their permanently mysterious, elusive ground. But the commissar refuses to distinguish such talk from secularist atheism .....

In The Moment of Christian Witness, the issue appears as one about the kind of security we can expect religion to give us. The uncertainties and vagueness of what, in the 1960s, was called 'progressive' theology cannot sustain the faith of a martyr. The original German title refers to Cordula, an apocryphal young girl saint. When the martyring Hun attacked, she managed to hide. Then, however, she realised that it is only through death that we find life, and thus emerged from hiding, submitted herself to death, the Ernstfall. Thus she became a credible witness. Von Balthasar is inviting a Roman Catholicism infatuated with Vatican II to see itself as Cordula in hiding, and challenging it once again to embrace the call to martyrdom. Contemporary theology, he implies, is too impressed by the uncertainties which a historical critical method generates; respect for legitimate Christian diversity has keeled over into excessive tentativeness, even destructive scepticism, about Christian obligation. The so-called Conciliar renewal misses the whole point about laying down one's life. One might summarize his whole message as a plea to the Church to read John's Gospel straightforwardly, and take it seriously. We must ignore the evidence in the text of neuroses and persecution-complexes; we must stop feeling anxious about the gross disrespect for Judaism this strand of Christianity encourages. Just see it as witness to God's absolute, unconditional, and unquestionable presence among us, a God in creaturely form, a God you can die for .....

For von Balthasar, Christ offers a clear revelation of divine beauty. This revelation is multi-faceted, and can be seen in different ways; but pluralism has its limits. Theology must proclaim this revelation in full-throated confidence. It gives us all something to die for.

Rahner never replied in public to von Balthasar’s strictures on his theology. One quotation from a talk given to a private Jesuit meeting in 1973 can, however, be taken as a rejoinder:

If we were to behave as if our being Christian gave us a ‘world-view’ in which everything fits together harmonically, we would, in the end, be setting ourselves up to be God. This is because the whole of realty is a symphony only for him. To make pluralism into a symphony - as good old Balthasar does - a symphony which we can hear as such: this is fundamentally impossible.

Rahner’s epistemology is more, not less, God-centred than von Balthasar’s. This God-centredness leads Rahner into a disciplined tentativeness. The kind of security von Balthasar seeks in Christianity is an idolatrous illusion.

Von Balthasar is worried that Rahner’s reticent, questioning approach to Christianity cannot foster the heroic spirituality of a martyr. It is not unfair, therefore, to introduce into the discussion one of their Jesuit contemporaries and colleagues who actually was martyred, and who left a powerful literary Iegacy from the period when he was awaiting trial and execution: Alfred Delp (1907-1945). Delp was arrested after the Stauffenberg fiasco in July 1944. He had made contributions on Catholic social teaching to a discussion group planning reconstruction from what they saw as Nazism's inevitable defeat .....

Balthasarian martyrs are so captivated in faith by God's beauteous presence that they can serenely and confidently lay down their lives in response. Delp's martyrdom is rather different. Martyrdom is something which happens to him, where his free choice pIays little part. There is faith in abundance regarding God's presence, but no secure knowledge of how or where this presence is operative, either for Delp at the time, or for us who read his writings half a century later. Delp's moving sense of God's abiding providence co-exists with his personal weakness, and with a powerful self-preservation instinct .... His letters show, all too understandably, evidence of psycho-religious regression, and of relationships being cut off before the ends can be tied. Like T.S. EIiot's Thomas Becket, Delp comes to doubt his own authenticity and sanity:

In these last few days I have been doubtful, and wondered if I have become a victim of self-deception, if my will to live has been sublimated into religious illusions, or what it's all been about."

Set against Delp's letters, von Balthasar's vision of martyrdom appears as a hagiographical abstraction: the actual experience involves a permanently ambiguous process of disintegration, in which the assurance of faith is always in interplay with an unmanageable unknown. A part of the pain lies precisely in the fact that the 'objective' clarity demanded by the commissars of this world is simply not available. For von Balthasar, Christianity offers some kind of miraculous exception to the human condition's insecurity and unfinishedness, and hence will always be a matter of clear lines and authority. God's last word has been spoken, in unsurpassable beauty. It is for us to contemplate, to respond in obedience - but never to doubt. Rahner's vision is structurally different. Christianity offers a promise empowering us to live and accept that insecurity without denial, in faith and patience.

It would be a complex exercise, and probably a futile one, to adjudicate between the two visions. Each answers different human and spiritual needs, and no Church seeking to appeal widely can afford to do without either of them. But Delp's experience suggests that Rahner's vision is more realistic, and ethically and spiritually more responsible. It offers us a Christianity that works with our fragmentariness. By contrast, von Balthasar's alternative, encouraging us as it does to seek the unsurpassably beautiful, can all too easily legitimate evasion and repression.


Monday, September 20, 2010


Creighton University's online 34 week retreat for Everyday Life, a version of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, started yesterday (for those who want to be in sync with the liturgical year).

Ten years ago I made the retreat. I still remember how I felt going into it - doubtful and hopeful, excited and scared. I'd thought the hardest part of the retreat would be believing in God's existence, but instead it was realizing that even with God existing and with a relationship between us, I still hadn't been transformed into a better person, and my questions about the problem of evil still hadn't been answered.

I still believe, and I'm still trying to figure out how to be good, and why God allows suffering. I've learned more about the church in these ten years, much of it discouraging, but what's kept me from giving up has been what I learned in the retreat - that prayer can be a relationship, that the discernment of spirits can help you figure stuff out if you're willing to trust that you're made for flourishing.

I think I mentioned this in a past post, but you can watch a Georgetown U video about the Spiritual Exercises featuring four Jesuits (William Barry, John O'Malley, Joseph Tetlow, and John Padberg) discussing the retreat.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Inclusive Jesus

A little more from The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment-Pickard before it goes back to the library (p. 58-59) ......


When we look with an open mind at the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels, we notice that he has very little interest in religious organizations and their rules. When he does speak of religion, it is generally to point out its dangers or to offer blistering critique. Jesus hardly mentions the idea of 'church' at all - indeed the word 'church' does not appear in three of the four Gospels. Instead Jesus speaks repeatedly about his mission to announce the arrival of what he calls 'the Kingdom of God'. This new kingdom is a new social order. And, as Jesus explains, this new social order places great emphasis upon 'inclusion'.

Although there are indications in the Gospels that Jesus thought of himself as a purely Jewish messiah and that the kingdom would only be for Jews, Jesus' predominant concerns are inclusive. He says (Luke 4) that his 'good news' will reach out to those at every social margin: good news for the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. Jesus keeps the company of the despised sections of society: 'publicans', tax collectors, Samaritans and prostitutes. One of the defining features of Jesus' ministry is his friendship with women and the absence in his teaching of any pejoratives about women. He mixes with lepers and he challenges the idea that anyone can be ritually 'unclean' .....

Jesus' inclusive ideal is perhaps best captured in his image of the eschatological feast. The fulfilment of his kingdom will be like a vast meal with a place for everyone at the table. The feast will not include those who have neglected their neighbors in need, but there are no categorical exclusions on the grounds of gender, divorce, race, sexual orientation or any physical differences. The inheritors of the kingdom will be those who hear his word and keep it: in other words, the future belongs to those who practice the inclusive ethics of the kingdom.

It is telling that the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal an alternative vision of 'perfect' human community among the Essene sect. The Essenes saw themselves as a messianic elite, a 'house of holiness'. They defined themselves by their exclusiveness, and they were obsessed with hierarchies, purity and protocols. Their view of perfect community was a stratified theocracy which could only come about once their foes had been destroyed. The priests would act as generals and there would be no mercy for the 'wicked flesh' of their enemies. Unlike Jesus' open feast, places at the Essene banquet were strictly reserved for insiders. Their imagined banquet specifically excludes 'anyone halt or blind or lame, or a man in whose body is a permanent defect, or a man affected by an impurity of his flesh'. Such glimpses of Essene religion throw into relief the inclusive and counter-cultural character of Jesus' teaching about ideal community ......


The pope's UK trip that might have been

Some news briefs from an alternate universe ....

Pope visits the poor ....
In response to Cardinal Kasper's tasteless remark about the UK being like a third world country, Benedict canceled his meetings with the Queen and the Prime Minister and instead met with the impoverished immigrants of London, whereupon he bade Kasper wash their feet

Pope meets with Richard Dawkins ....
In a move nobody saw coming, Benedict led the attendees of his Hyde Park prayer vigil to Downing Street where Richard Dawkins was speaking to a pope-protesting crowd. The pope encouraged the two groups to fraternize and invited Dawkins to discuss their differences in private over a beer.

B16 fires Cardinal Bernard Law ....
Breaking with his standard packaged private meetings with sex abuse victims, Benedict arranged a public forum, televised, in which he listened to everyone who wished to speak, acknowledged church cover-ups of abuse, and announced that Cardinal Law and others who had abused or covered up abuse were being defrocked even as he spoke.

The Pope goes ecumenical ....
In an historic ecumenical move, B16 invited Rowan Williams to co-celebrate the Eucharist with him at the Westminster Cathedral mass, citing a prayer akin to that of Peter's in Acts 19-11 as his inspiration.

Newman beatification ....
Crowds in Birmingham were surprised when the pope announced at the ceremony to beatify Cardinal Newman that the proto-saint would be named the patron of the laity, and that he planned, in Newman's honor, to create a body of lay people to contribute to the making of church doctrine.

Ok, I'm stopping now - this is actually making me kind of depressed :/

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Pissing on the corpses – or the ashes – of the dead."

I was creeped out that the pope brought up the Nazis, saying that atheism is responsible for such regimes. I could go into all the details of why his statement is untrue, I could post about the relationship that existed between the Catholic Church and Hitler's regime (or about Catholic clergy involvement with the Ustaše), but no one will care. I have to admit, I don't understand that - the lack of interest in what the actual truth might be, even given the difficulties in defining and discovering 'truth".

But anyway, here instead is part of what Andrew Brown wrote on the subject ....


Pope Benedict and Nazism

[...] The first thing to say is that national divisions were far more important than confessional ones in deciding how other countries reacted to Nazi Germany. The Polish Catholic church was violently persecuted and correspondingly anti-Nazi; in Ireland, another country where faith and nationality were closely entwined, the church was if anything pro-German; the admirable historian Hubert Butler was hounded for writing the truth about the Catholic Ustase in Croatia.

In Spain, Croatia and Slovakia, the Catholic church was closely associated with pro-Nazi regimes. In Britain it was firmly anti-Nazi and very large numbers of Catholics died in the fight against Hitler. Elements of the French church were absolutely vile, as they had been since the time of Dreyfuss. That was the soil from which the Lefevrist schism later grew. The Austrian church was deeply compromised.

The German church was nationalist but not heroically anti-Nazi, though individual Catholics obviously were. I don't judge this because I don't know that I'd have been braver. Obviously, many of the commenters here have no such difficulty.

But the general moral of this is that it is much easier to answer the question "Were many Catholics (or Christians) Nazis?" than "Was Nazism a Christian movement". I myself think it is absurd and disgusting to suppose it was. But that's not the point. The real disgusting absurdity is even to ask the question, because it is almost always done in a wholly anachronistic and shallow way.

To recruit the unimaginable and almost incredible horrors of the twentieth century into the service of internet flame wars is a kind of blasphemy against humanity. Shouting "nyah nyah, Hitler was on your team!" is pissing on the corpses – or the ashes – of the dead.

Anyone seriously thinking on how to derive their morals from their beliefs must of course work out how it is that their own beliefs and morals are incompatible with totalitarianism. To that extent the pope must always conclude that true belief in God is incompatible with Nazism; and Bertrand Russell would have to conclude that true humanism was. But this exercise is necessary precisely becasue neither atheism nor faith in themselves protect us from inhumanity. No one should take the apparently logical next step and conclude that those who disagree with us theologically are therefore morally inferior or closer to evil. Certainly no Christian should, who believes in the reality of sin. The Pope was unwise to give that appearance yesterday.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kasper's UK comments

I've been thinking about the pope's trip to the UK, about Cardinal Kasper's remarks and the pope's remarks. Today I'll post about Kasper, tomorrow the pope. Here's a link to the BBC story on what he said, and I've quoted him, with my own comments on each of his statements .....

What Cardinal Walter Kasper said about the UK ...

When asked why so many Britons had expressed resentment towards Pope Benedict, the cardinal replied: "England is today a secularised [literal translation], pluralistic country. "When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country," Cardinal Kasper told Focus.

Read Catherine Pepinster's piece in the Guardian, Cardinal Kasper take note: the Catholic church in Britain is full of immigrants, which says in part ...

"But what is truly baffling about Kasper's comments about the third world in Britain, the idea that this country is full of people who are not from Christian Europe, is that these are the people who are bolstering Britain's religious communities. If there is one church in Britain whose congregations are a melting pot, it is the Roman Catholic church. Once dominated by Irish migrants, Catholic churches now have rainbow congregations – Poles, Ukrainians, Romanians, Spanish, Italians, Brazilians, Costa Ricans, Ghanains, Nigerians, and people from many Middle Eastern countries, including Iraqis and Palestinian Christians who have fled the troubles in their homelands. Plenty of them arrived recently and are the kind of people who keep London going through their employment as cleaners, taxi drivers, catering staff and shop assistants. In fact, they're just the kind of people who work at Heathrow. Cardinal Kasper, take note."

The reporter asked Cardinal Kasper why the Pope was opposed to the planned equality of treatment of homosexuals in Britain. "The question is whether we can accept partnerships of same-sex [couples], and regarding this issue, the Church has for centuries defended the understanding of marriage and family which equates to the order of God," he replied.

About the remark on equality in the UK for gays and lesbians (the Equality Bill), I have some past posts about this ... B16 and the Equality Bill and Something of a rant.

So what is the Pope setting out to achieve in the UK? "He wants to work on the difficult dialogue with the Anglican community. He will discuss possible fields of co-operation," said the cardinal. And when asked, will women priests ever be ordained in the Catholic Church? Cardinal Kasper's response was blunt: "The decision of John Paul II was so clear-cut that I don't expect that." And not even in 100 or 200 years? "I am not a prophet. But I don't think so," said Cardinal Kasper. He added: "Have a look at the Protestant churches: they don't have celibacy and they have women priests. But are they doing better? The Anglican Church has also taken on formidable problems with these new developments. I wouldn't wish those problems on my church."

And to think this guy was in charge of ecumenism for my church - yikes! I still remember him pushing the Church of England not to ordain women bishops in 2006. NT Wright shut him down. Here's a quote from Andrew Brown's piece in the Guardian, Cardinal Kasper reveals the Vatican's true beliefs ...

"This is not only stupefyingly tactless, and wrong (the Church of England has 600 priests in training, half of them women; the Roman Catholic church here has 39), it is also bizarre, in view of the pope's initiative last year to welcome married Anglican clergy, if they are opposed to women priests."

On the issue of the sex abuse scandals, Cardinal Kasper admits that the sex abuse scandal has severely "wounded" the Catholic Church but he claims that it is "unfair" that Pope Benedict has been the target of criticism in his native Germany.

I'm still thinking about the thirteen people who committed suicide in Belgium because of sex abuse by Catholic clergy, clergy who will not ever be held accountable, and who won't even apologize because they'd rather cover their assets. I'm truly disgusted at the assertion that the pope has been treated unfairly on the sunject of clergy sex abuse.

Speaking of apologies, I read that Kasper won't apologize for his UK remarks. I guess the arrogant assumption of your own untouchability means never having to say you're sorry.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Adirondack Park

I thought of posting today about Cardinal Kasper's icky Third World comment but instead here's the place where Gabriel Allon has most lately visited in the novel I'm reading - Adirondack Park ....

The Adirondack Park is a publicly protected area in northeast New York. It's the largest park and the largest state-level protected area in the contiguous United States .... The park covers some 6.1 million acres (9,400 mi²/24,700 km²), a land area greater than Vermont, or of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks combined. Much of the land is directly controlled by the state's Forest Preserve, but more than half the land within the Adirondack Park is privately owned, including several villages and hamlets.

The vast majority of the Adirondack Mountains are within the bounds of the traditional territory of the Mohawk First Nation until at least 1720. A sedentary agrarian democratic society before Contact, they controlled the eastern part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy or Six Nations. The Mohawk population had already been decimated by European diseases when they were largely driven out of their homeland by foreign European settlers. Although the Confederacy was divided, most of the Iroquois sided with the British during the American Revolution. After the war, most of the Iroquois land which fell within the American border was forcefully signed over through treaties or seized outright. During the 1800s, the U.S. Government forced most of the Iroquois off their traditional territory into reservations in the Midwest to punish them for having sided with the British .....

In 1885, legislation declared that the land in the Adirondack Park and the Catskill Park was to be conserved and never put up for sale or lease. The park was established in 1892, due to the activities of Colvin and other conservationists. The park was given state constitutional protection in 1894, so that the state-owned lands within its bounds would be protected forever ('forever wild'). The part of the Adirondack Park under government control is referred to as the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Further, this became a National Historic Landmark in 1963 .....

A couple of creatures in the park - the American Martin ....

and the Canada Lynx ...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Orvieto, Oxford, Paris, and Lake Como

I'm re-reading The Defector by Daniel Silva. I like Gabriel Allon novels - he visits lots of neat places I've never been. In this book, he begins in Umbria, near Orvieto, restoring a painting for the Vatican while staying at an estate that was once a monastery ....

- Orvieto

Next he's off to Oxford, England, where he meets a friend and Russian defector on the Magdalen Bridge ....

- the bridge with Magdalen Tower in the background

They then go to Paris, the Jewish quarter, where they eat at a restaurant they wish was as good as the famous but disappeared Jo Goldenberg's ....

- Jo Goldenberg's

I've just reached the part of the book where Gabriel assembles his team in a villa on Lake Como :) .....

The Church and Rwanda

Last year I had a post on Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire, a documentary film inspired by the book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, by Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, who was in charge of a United Nations peacekeeping force during the 1994 genocide. Though the movie hadn't brought up the Catholic Church, while I was reading about the genocide in Wikipedia, I'd seen a brief mention of such ....

Though religious factors were not prominent (the event was ethnically motivated) the Human Rights Watch reported that a number of religious authorities, particularly Roman Catholic, in Rwanda failed to condemn the genocide.[17] Some in its religious hierarchy have been brought to trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and convicted.[16] Bishop Misago was accused of corruption and complicity in the genocide but was cleared of all charges in 2000.[18] The majority of Rwandans, and of Tutsis in particular, are Catholic.

What brought this to mind was an op-ed article from March 2010 in the Guardian that I saw today .... For Rwandans, the pope's apology must be unbearable by Martin Kimani, an Associate Fellow at the Conflict, Security and Development Group at King’s College London. Here's the article, for those interested ....


For Rwandans, the pope's apology must be unbearable

If you are an Irish Catholic, and have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, you were recently read a letter from Pope Benedict that tells you: "You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated."

For any practising Catholic in Rwanda, this letter must be unbearable. For it tells you how little you mean to the Vatican. Fifteen years ago, tens of thousands of Catholics were hacked to death inside churches. Sometimes priests and nuns led the slaughter. Sometimes they did nothing while it progressed. The incidents were not isolated. Nyamata, Ntarama, Nyarubuye, Cyahinda, Nyange, and Saint Famille were just a few of the churches that were sites of massacres.

To you, Catholic survivor of genocide in Rwanda, the Vatican says that those priests, those bishops, those nuns, those archbishops who planned and killed were not acting under the instruction of the church. But moral responsibility changes dramatically if you are a European or US Catholic. To the priests of the Irish church who abused children, the pope has this to say: "You must answer for it before almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres."

The losses of Rwanda had received no such consideration. Some of the nuns and priests who have been convicted by Belgian courts and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, respectively, enjoyed refuge in Catholic churches in Europe while on the run from prosecutors. One such is Father Athanase Seromba, who led the Nyange parish massacre and was sentenced to 15 years in jail by the tribunal. In April 1994, Seromba helped lure over 2,000 desperate men, women and children to his church, where they expected safety. But their shepherd turned out to be their hunter.

One evening Seromba entered the church and carried away the chalices of communion and other clerical vestments. When a refugee begged that they be left the Eucharist to enable them to at least hold a (final) mass, the priest refused and told them that the building was no longer a church. A witness at the ICTR trial remembered an exchange in which the priest's mindset was revealed.

One of the refugees asked: "Father, can't you pray for us?" Seromba replied: "Is the God of the Tutsis still alive?" Later, he would order a bulldozer to push down the church walls on those inside and then urge militias to invade the building and finish off the survivors.

At his trial, Seromba said: "A priest I am and a priest I will remain." This, apparently, is the truth, since the Vatican has never taken back its statements defending him before his conviction.

In the last century, Catholic bishops have been deeply mired in Rwandan politics with the full knowledge of the Vatican. Take Archbishop Vincent Nsengiyumva. Until 1990, he had served as the chairman of the ruling party's central committee for almost 15 years, championing the authoritarian government of Juvenal Habyarimana, which orchestrated the murder of almost a million people. Or Archbishop André Perraudin, the most senior representative of Rome in 1950s Rwanda. It was with his collusion and mentorship that the hateful, racist ideology known as Hutu Power was launched – often by priests and seminarians in good standing with the church. One such was Rwanda's first president, Grégoire Kayibanda, a private secretary and protege of Perraudin, whose political power was unrivalled.

The support for Hutu Power was therefore not unknowing or naive. It was a strategy to maintain the church's powerful political position in a decolonising Rwanda. The violence of the 1960s led inexorably to the 1994 attempt to exterminate Tutsis. These were violent expressions of a political sphere dominated by contentions that Hutu and Tutsi were separate and opposed racial categories. This, too, is one of the legacies of the Catholic missionary, whose schools and pulpits for decades kept up a drumbeat of false race theories.

This turning away from the Rwandan victims of genocide comes at a time when the Catholic church is increasingly peopled by black and brown believers. It is difficult not to conclude the church's upper reaches are desperately holding on to a fast-vanishing racial patrimony.

Perhaps it is time Catholics forced the leaders of their church to deal with a history of institutional racism that endures, if the church is truly to live up to its fine words. Apologies are not sufficient, no matter how abject. What is demanded is an acknowledgment of the church's political power and moral culpability, with all the material and legal implications that come with it.

The silence of the Vatican is contempt. Its failure to fully examine its central place in Rwandan genocide can only mean that it is fully aware that it will not be threatened if it buries its head in the sand. While it knows if it ignores the sexual abuse of European parishioners it will not survive the next few years, it can let those African bodies remain buried, dehumanised and unexamined.

This is a good political strategy. And a moral position whose duplicity and evil has been witnessed and documented. For, it turns out, many people, scholars, governments and institutions inside and outside Rwanda are excavating their own roles in the genocide. The Vatican stands as an exception, its moral place now even lower than that of the government of France for its enduring friendship with genocidaires.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pictures for today's reading

- The Prodigal Daughter by John Collier

- The Prodigal Son by Gaston de La Touche

In the news today

Priest sex abuse linked to 13 suicides in Belgium ..... Hundreds of sex abuse victims have come forward in Belgium with harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy that reportedly led to at least 13 suicides and affected children as young as two, a special commission said Friday. Professor Peter Adriaenssens, chairman of the commission, said the abuse in Belgium may have been even more rampant than the 200-page report suggests.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Some poems ....

Shelley's Guitar - Michael Collier

How much more beautiful it is
because it's Shelley's guitar—
a coffin of trapped song
in a body like a grave.

Because it's Shelley's guitar
it's been put on display,
a case within a case,
a wooden hand inside a velvet glove.

And nearby, the copy of Adonais
that held his heart for thirty years.
Next to it, other incomparable relics:
his baby-rattle, a watch, the plate

off which he ate the beautiful
raisins of his diet. Everything
encased, preserved, though
the heart now is only a stain, a watermark

on pages his widow used to save it.
Never mind the guitar was given to his friend,
Jane, as if it were the heart
unauctioned, a neck

with tuning pegs, gut strings, arabesque
filigree. And never mind the guitar
was meant to be a pedal harp
he couldn't afford. "Take this slave

of music," the poem says, "for the sake
of him who is the slave of thee."
Whose heart is it but Shelley's?
Whose grave, whose book, and glove and raisins?

All those things that have been given
either by "action or by suffering,"
left behind, collected, to prove
the dead have substance.

Augury - Ellen Wehle

Laugh if you want, when the fortune teller
told me to "take a new road" I took
her at her word, turned
a block from home and found it
waiting: gabled night, the secret trees
spilling darkness around streetlights, blown roses
singing hosannas over a fence.

Don't get me wrong, nothing was solved.

I walked, a cat cried at my passing,
grave old oaks
watched. I knew myself
not. Say, How can we help it—this waterwheel
of our days, each day a bucket
bound in copper rings and dripping, each
bucket a hand, cupping sky?
Who knows what

I knew. Moon open as a gate.

As Close as Breathing - Mark Jarman

Called or not called, God is present.
Delphic oracle

The flicker doesn't know his call's not needed,
But he's not calling God. He lifts his beak
To show his black bib, as the females chuckle
Off in the oaks somewhere. They hear him all right.
The metal gutters make a fine percussion.

If God is present, why then aren't we talking?

The sugar water feeder stews in the sunshine.
The mud daubers fall asleep there, suckling.
The hummingbirds blur past. Last summer
One came with a ruby wart on her neck,
An imperfection that was almost perfect.

Does God assume our silence is a call?

If I write down the day I see the first swift
(Never the same day but always April),
It's not a prayer, though it may count as one.
They like grade schools where one cold chimney stands,
An obelisk in a cloud of darting hieroglyphs.

Words too can be as close to us as breathing.

A spider's dragline, glinting like a thought,
Trolls through the depths of shade and morning light.
The hemlock limbs bob as if at anchor.
And a pair of downy woodpeckers swoops up
To the seed bell at my study window. Everything answers.

Everything says back, "I am present, too."

Two Poems - Michalle Gould

I. When I Was Big

I was the dune in the Mexican desert a pilot mistook
for a replica of the Pyramids, the wind brushing ripples
across my surface, as if I were not sand but water.
I was the lake birthed by the intercourse of five rivers.
A forgotten king named me the palm and these rivers
the fingers of god. An outstretched hand of water.
I was the plane brought up from the sea, bearing no evidence
of human remains. Two days later, a fisherman pried a glass eye
from an oyster. Blue, like water. I was the Mississippi,
when I burst my banks. The clouds mistook the roofs
of submerged houses for barges floating on the river. A pilot
took the clouds for lily pads. The sky for water.
I was a watercolor of lilies painted by a retired fisherman
in New Mexico. One day someone asked him, who is like god?
His only answer was water.

II. When I Was Strange

What is this place? Where are my mops, my mice,
my sisters, those big-footed women? This bed
is too soft for my bad back. When the man
claiming to be a prince made his entrance,
I would rather have been elsewhere. His ear,
almost muscular in its thickness, contracted
abruptly into a cavern, resembling the knothole I saw once
in a tree neighboring my mother's grave.
Where is your wand now that I actually need you
to save me? What will he think of my rags,
my pumpkin, my bare and dirty legs? I have stayed
too long in a place I never wanted to visit.
Where is that door, a window, here is that closet
I was told never to open. Whose are these slippers!
Six pairs of discarded glass slippers, exactly like mine?
But still wearing their bloody feet.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jesus and Spiderman

There's a video at Mark Goodacre's NT blog on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, with one of the commentators being JD Crossan. I read that non-canonical gospel a few years ago, and I was horrified :) because it features the child Jesus as a kind of Bad Seed or one of the inhabitants of The Village of the Damned who murders those who try his patience. Crossan comments that Jesus does seem to learn from his errors in judgement throughout that gospel, but still - eek!

The retreat I once participated in had a week (A Hidden Life for Thirty Years) when we were to contemplate the missing years of Jesus, the years that aren't recorded between his early childhood and his baptism. In my contemplations I never considered the possibilities related in the Infancy Gospel. I guess I'd been harboring an assumption about Jesus - that he was always good, never morally ambiguous, even when he was a child (but then there was that incident at the temple in Jerusalem .... uh oh).

Here's a different video, one with Joseph Uncle Ben telling Jesus Peter that with great power comes great responsibility :) ....

Thursday, September 09, 2010

An encounter, an invitation, a coming back to life

I'm still reading The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment-Pickard. I'm at the chapter on atonement - the penal substitution theory of Jesus as sacrifice to an angry God, and Jürgen Moltmann's idea of a God who passively suffers alongside humanity - both theories are rejected. Here's what comes just after that bit; something I really liked (pp. 70-73) .......


Losing Control: The Cost of Inclusion

The claim that Jesus is divine does not begin with speculations about his metaphysical make-up, but here, with the shattering experience of the cross that he shows us what really matters and takes us to a place where we can begin to live it out. These first followers believed that Jesus reigns, invites and forgives even as he hangs on the cross. They believed it so much they refused to take part in the imperial cult, serve in its armies or play in gladiatorial circuses of cruelty. And that was a huge challenge to the violent imperial political system under which they lived, and to all the notions of religion which defined communities by sacrifice, scapegoating and exclusion.

The Christian Church that began to grow after Jesus' death only did so out of the rubble of its own attempts to control and define reality according to inherited ideas of power and purity. It bears witness to the fact that Jesus' death is inseparable from the creation of a new sort of human community. But it also bears witness to its inability to be that community, except in fragile and broken ways. It has to point beyond itself, because Jesus does not come to create a church as another in-group over and against everyone else, but to show what the whole business of being human is and can be about. If the Church is a faithful witness to Christ, it has to practise his open and inclusive fellowship and it has to recognize and celebrate the fact that people are being caught up in that commonality beyond its own limited borders and restricted imagination. Whenever the Church proclaims the Lord's death, it announces its own provisionality, and it rejoices in that. A church which asserts itself as the goal of God's mission, the definer of God's truth or the ruler of God's people is falling into the old compulsions which have always enslaved people.

Many accounts of differences in the churches seem to suggest that we have to make a choice between two basic directions. The first option is that we defend a form of Christianity which is distinctive, demanding and which stands against many of the cultural trends in our society. The second is that Christians adopt a more conciliatory approach to the surrounding world, recognizing God's presence within it, learning from it and seeking points of contact between world and Church. And it is assumed that these two approaches are mutually incompatible.

Nonsense. The inclusivness of the Church is precisely what makes it a demanding, counter-cultural presence in the world. The Church bears witness to the good news that tribalism, militarism and consumerism do not have the last word upon us, because all these forms of securing human identity are at bottom violent, grasping and anxious. The kind of community opened up by Jesus and marked with the sign of the cross offers a place for unlearning this violence and fear, and living in different kinds of personal and political relationship. If the community turns inward, if it starts proclaiming itself as the goal of salvation and the bastion of certainty, then it is turning its back on the way of Christ. It is mimicking the powers of the world, be they political, corporate or military. It is by living an inclusive and reconciling way that the Church can bear witness, with others, to the radical challenge that Jesus embodies.

The centrality of the cross makes this inescapable. The cross is a decisive break with religions of control and exclusion and purity. It is the stumbling block for all our attempts to create a God we want, whether that means a God of dominion who takes from us the responsibility and anxiety of living as free human beings, or a God of ethereal spirituality who helps us escape from the harshness of life. Dictatorships and capitalism have little to fear from such convenient deities. The crucified Jesus shows us the God who is real and inconvenient ......

So Jesus is a good man living out his teaching to the bitter end. But that teaching is not mere information or morals. It is a way of living in which we can be caught up with others and shaken enough to question and change our destructive patterns of behavior. It is not just another disciplinary voice telling us to try harder, but a way of grace into which we are invited.

Jesus is the one who shows us God's solidarity and compassion. But that only bears fruit in forms of human relationship which are empowered to resist the deadening forces of repression, poverty and division. God does not helplessly share our pain, but creates a new context for us to resist the forces that dehumanize us.

In other words, we can see the grace of God at work in the cross, but not if it is something done to us, as passive recipients. Jesus called people to lose their lives to find them, and Paul speaks of Christians sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ. Revelation is not a mechanical event 'out there' or a downloading of new information from 'up there'. It is an encounter, an invitation, a coming back to life in the company of others: he 'became what we are that he might make us what he himself is' ......


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Intrinsic value not!

- me and my high school boyfriend (who soooo didn't do sports :)

There's a post at America magazine's blog - The Sports Wound - about the angst guys suffer when they aren't good at school sports ...

Perhaps we cloud this topic with euphemisms--but many a boy or growing young man who is poor at sports faces hurdles of bias, loneliness, and rejection. Despite many ways of compensating (intellectual, musical, artistic), poor athletic coordination keeps many boys and young men alienated from their peers, watching athletic contests from the stands or through a window, wishing to be “one of the guys.”

At my high school there were those who studied a lot, those who used drugs (like me), and those who were jocks. The twain hardly ever met so I never knew anyone involved in sports. I hated team sports myself, both in high school and college - I'm probably the only student to get a note from the counselor to let her out of field hockey because of stress :) Towards the end of college, though, I took an adaptive PE class and a whole world of exercise outside of team sports opened up for me .... jogging, weight training, martial arts, ballet, yoga, etc.

I hope those with "sports wound" come to realize that being good at team sports has no value beyond that you choose to bestow.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Ignatius and Pope Paul III

- Pope Paul III with his grandson (R) Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma

I'm still slowly reading the journal article by John Padberg SJ ..... "Ignatius, the Popes, and Realistic Reverence", Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits , 25 (May 1993). The more I read about Ignatius, the more I like him :) This part of the article recounts how he and his companions were being accused of heresy. Ignatius asked for a thorough investigation of himself and his companions to prove once and for all that they weren't heterodox, but he was unable to get the ball rolling until he met with Pope Paul III in person. What I found kind of shocking in this excerpt below was that Pope Paul III had children and grandchildren.

Here's a bit from the article (pp. 15-17) ......


[...] Up to this point, then, Ignatius had been unable to get a written declaration of any kind. So he took the last step. Paul III had gone to Frascati in mid-August of 1538. Ignatius followed him to the papal residence and asked for an audience. (This may have been the first actual face-to-face meeting of Paul III and Ignatius.) He himself in a letter told what happened:

I talked alone with His Holiness in his apartment a whole hour. Then, while speaking at length to him about our designs and intentions, I related clearly how many times judicial proceedings had been taken against me. ... I begged His Holiness, in the name of all my companions, to have a remedy devised, in order that our doctrine and manner of life should be investigated and examined by whatsoever ordinary judge His Holiness would appoint.

He then asked again for a formal judgement. The Pope took the request well, gave firm orders to the governor's office to get on with the investigation immediately, and then for the next several weeks spoke in public quite favorably of these matters ......

By now it was early November 1538, and work came to a halt at the papal court for the spectacular festivities attending the triumphal arrival in Rome on November 3 of Madama, Margaret of Austria, the sixteen-year-old natural daughter of Emperor Charles V. (She was later to be a penitent and a firm friend of Ignatius, who was also called in to help keep peace in the family.) Now she was to be married the next day, November 4, to Ottavio Farnese, the thirteen-year-old grandson of the Pope. To celebrate the occasion of the marriage with proper splendor, dancing, fireworks, banquets, races (horse, bull, and buffalo), much of it paid for by the Holy See, went on day after day for the next week or more, ending with the main festival, including a magnificent parade with twelve floats, city officials, hundreds of mounted citizens, and uncounted merrymakers on foot.

After this extravaganza, work resumed, and finally on November 18, 1538, the official judgement came down. In it the governor .... declared Ignatius and his companions not guilty. Indeed, not only were they not guilty, said he, but their lives and their teachings were shining examples; and so he urged all to look upon them as Catholics and completely free from every suspicion ....