Friday, December 30, 2011

Religious Laws and the "Unclean" Jesus: A Heritage Neglected

fter revealing God as one who loves us unconditionally, Jesus invites us to love God in return by loving our neighbor, not to earn salvation, but to respond naturally to God’s great love.  “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”  This law of love is attested to in all four gospels and in Paul. But, love of neighbor is not a command hurled at us from above. It is law only because, written in our hearts, it says: if you would be yourself, your best self, love your neighbor. Instinctively we know this to be true. Throughout all of our history mankind has recognized that the hero, the best anyone can be, is someone who puts his or her life on the line for others. True religious response to God calls for nothing more or less than putting ourselves on track to become our best selves. I can only show love to God by loving people.

BUT, WHAT IS LOVE? Jesus by his example, and philosophers like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle define love for us. To love is to be for others for the other’s own sake.

We look to Jesus for our lived example. Jesus wanted to free people from religious laws, many of which were actual obstacles to loving. In the religious culture of Jesus’ time there existed a whole range of laws that covered nearly every moment of people’s daily lives. Should anyone violate one of these laws they were considered unclean. They required purification before they could again be considered clean and allowed once again to associate with the clean people. A lawbreaker was sent out, ostracized, kept out of law-abiding society until he or she had gone through the purification requirements.

Jesus broke these laws with total abandon. He violated the hugely important Sabbath laws. He defended his disciples for plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. He healed people on the Sabbath. These were grave violations of the Sabbath law, and Jesus was unclean because of it.

There were laws about washing hands often each day, and laws about what you could or could not eat. Jesus summed up his response: “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” He didn’t worry about these laws, and was unclean because of it.

In that culture you were not permitted to touch or associate with anyone considered unclean. Jesus did. He touched and healed the outcasts: lepers, the blind, the lame, a hemorrhaging woman. He ate and drank with the outcasts, the despised tax collectors, the wounded. And he was unclean because of it.

Jesus lived in a patriarchal society where women were practically invisible, or who left the men unclean by association. Jesus’ association and friendship with women made it clear that women were equals to men in His kingdom. And he was unclean because of it.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and Levite didn’t walk past the wounded man because they were mean and uncaring. They walked past him because their laws said they would be unclean if they touched him. And, who did Jesus point out as being a good neighbor to the wounded man? A Samaritan, a foreigner, an unclean person.

For pointing out the unloving nature of their laws, the religious leaders eventually took their clean revenge and had Jesus killed.

Have you ever noticed that our bishops love laws whose only purpose is to control?

Resource: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus J. Borg. HarperCollins, 1995.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jesus' Love: A Standard for the Purple Culture

e need to establish a standard before we go further, a standard by which we can measure the purple culture and the dictates that emanate from that culture.
I suspect that many of us older people have or had an image of God imprinted on us that saw God as an avenging, punishing, hellfire-threatening God. That God is dead. He/She does not exist and never did. Isn’t it some species of blasphemy to paint attributes on God that we would find unacceptable in our next door neighbor?
But how does a person look through the everyday tragedies that surround us and find a loving God? We all sense how difficult it must be for many people to find a God of love through a prism of pain, suffering and privation. I believe, however, if we listen quietly to our personal experience, we will find the measure we seek in Jesus.

Jesus was, in his life and in his dying, the revelation of the character of God. Jesus did not die on a cross to ransom us from a devil, as the metaphor of St. Paul would have it. Nor did Jesus die to satisfy some demand of justice on God’s part as retribution for Adam’s sin, as theologies from the eleventh century onward would posit. The sole mission that Jesus had was to show God to us, and our salvation flows from that.

Jesus was an intimate of God. He called God Abba (Daddy). He said to his apostle, Phillip, “If you see me, Phillip, you see the Father.”

What God is revealed when we study Jesus? He loved his neighbors, and they included the outcasts, the untouchables, the maimed, foreigners, prostitutes, rogues, tax collectors, and the invisible of his time, women. He healed anyone who needed healing. More important, he ate and drank with them. He lived at their level. He was one of them, an absolute egalitarian even with those at the bottom rung of society. For his efforts and for directing religious expression away from laws and ritual, he became a threat to the religious leaders of his time and to their privileged status. They had him killed. So, for loving others he died, and in dying showed the full passion of God for us.

It is not possible for a human to comprehend a love greater than that of one who lays down his or her life for others. But that is exactly what Jesus did in his living and in the dying his living led to. For speaking the truth, for naming the self-serving hypocrisy of religious leaders, he was killed. His death is as God-revealing as was his teaching. His death reveals a God who, in terms of human understanding, is someone who lays down his life for us. God is someone who loves each of us to the limit of our ability to understand what love is.

That’s the Gospel! That’s the Good News! That is the rock core of what Jesus was all about.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Infallibility" and All-Too-Human Clerical Leadership

n a moment seemingly graced with both arrogance and a peoples’ cry for salvation security, Pope Pius IX declared himself and all popes to be infallible in matters of faith and morals. The declaration flaunted centuries of inquisition-caused murder, centuries of witch burning, centuries of wars and crusades, and centuries of papal self-indulgence. As we noted before, the declaration also established a new form of monarchy for the Pope just as the Papal States were being wrested from his control.

But, the declaration did even more than that. It also put a padlock on the episcopal cultural box. As time passed, the sense of infallibility crept beyond its original, somewhat limited, intent. It extended its tentacles far beyond relevance. It made itself felt at every level of the Church from the papal halls to the smallest remote parish. It eventually reached into every possible concern of the clerical estate. By intimation, bishops appropriated it in their most inane and mundane utterances, and priests too often assumed its mantle on their own shoulders, both in their speech and in their demands for deference and privilege.

We find the shadow of infallibility alive and well in the purple culture today. It works on both pope and bishops to incapacitate their ability to admit mistakes and errors. Teachings that were uttered by the “Fathers” of the Church in the early Christian centuries were often based on a limited understanding of the universe, a limited understanding of Sacred Scripture, a limited understanding of human biology, and a limited understanding of human psychology. Pope John Paul II blamed theologians for the condemnation of Galileo–four hundred years after the event and after the world knew that the earth orbits the sun, not the other way around.

We find shades of infallibility in their inability to show genuine remorse to victims of clerical sexual abuse, and in their ongoing attempts to prevent justice being done for the victims. They point fingers at irrelevant causes. Perhaps above all, we find it in their inability to give hearing and credence to the laity’s wisdom in matters of faith and morals. We find it in their removed and incestuous thinking that they alone have the authority to dictate values in moral matters, and that authority somehow equates with competence. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Catholic Church Hierarchy as Cult

oday we take a look at a more serious implication of the monarchical structure of our Roman Catholic Church: the relation of monarchy to cult, and the consequent relation of cult to its members.
         Monarchy is easily understood as the prime paradigm of a cult. A cult is always centered around a living leader who requires absolute submission. Questioning and dissent are forbidden, and violations of either are quickly met with immediate consequences including marginalization and/or expulsion.
         An example of marginalization toward a member bishop is the case of Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle, Washington. Cardinal Ratzinger (Now Pope Benedict XVI) of the Vatican Curia subjected Archbishop Hunthausen to a humiliating investigation, and for a time took away much of his authority with the appointment of a coadjutor archbishop. The investigation centered around progressive perspectives that Hunthausen held on moral issues: e.g., women’s role in the Church; use of married priests; ministry to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transvestites; justice and peace; group confession, etc.  Hunthausen retired in 1991.
         A cult presents itself as special and elitist. We saw this when we presented the narcissism native to the culture of bishops. In a cult, behavior of members is controlled, sometimes to the minutest detail. By custom; insertion of fear by the Curia; controls at every level of behavior; and by their own timidity in the face of danger to their status, bishops have no stomach for straight talk or argumentation on moral or doctrinal issues with the Vatican power base. The thought of representing the wisdom of the laity on a host of issues is frightening to bishops and they cannot entertain the idea, even collegially.
         The cult structure of the episcopacy, and the cultural addiction of its members, imprisons both individuals and the group itself in a box, the equivalent of a steel trap. Escape becomes almost unthinkable, and rarely occurs. Once a priest candidate commits to membership in the episcopal cult, he already feels, thinks, and behaves as the cult leader prescribes. And then the puppeteers take over. Not all is golden in the purple culture.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Mirror, Mirror": Narcissism and the Church Hierarchy

he Roman poet Ovid wrote of the tragic tale of Narcissus, son of the river god, Cephissus, and the nymph, Leiriope. Narcissus, handsome beyond imagination, rejected all who loved him. The nymph, Echo, lacking the ability to speak directly, was one of his rejects. Another reject, a young man, prayed that Narcissus would love only himself, Narcissus, forever. A goddess answered the prayer and arranged that Narcissus would stop at a spring to drink. Looking at his reflection in the water, he fell hopelessly in love with his own image. He was unable to free himself from his reflection in the water and gradually starved to death.
Narcissists have a fantasy life loaded with self-images that possess the heights of beauty, wisdom, love, power, success, etc. They believe themselves so special that only persons of equal grandeur can understand them.
Narcissists require huge amounts of admiration while, paradoxically, their self-esteem is very low. They need praise from others to give themselves a self. And they are very deft at extracting expressions of admiration from others. They feel entitled to special considerations and can be unreasonable in their demands for them. This sense of entitlement, like their grandiosity, does not depend on any external achievements on their part.
There is a great deal of envy in the narcissist. They become green with envy at the success of others and the applause given them. They feel applause belongs to them. They are lacking in empathy and show disdain for others.
We all begin life as narcissists. Most of us grow out of it in the daily give-and-take of family and school life. It is only lately that psychotherapists have realized that narcissism can be re-acquired. They give examples of various celebrities, doctors and the like. The experts refer to this circumstance as “acquired situational narcissism.”
Large groups of people can also acquire narcissism. Experts give the example of an elite military force. Members are indoctrinated as being special. They receive praise for their specialness. They wear the insignia of their specialness. They look upon themselves as warriors without peer, and dismiss the regular foot soldiers and the enemy as inferior. They acquire a sense of invulnerability. When shown to be vulnerable by those they dismiss as inferior, they often react with violence on the unprotected.

One can easily see the parallel between the military culture and that of the bishops.  In their cultural mindset theirs is the only intellectual capacity, theirs is the only moral authority, and protection of their aristocratic status is always a first consideration in their dictates.  They are ever ready to exclude and excommunicate to protect their voice and their status.  We hear them refer to their assembly as “the most exclusive club in the world.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Clerical Aristocracy: An Addictive Cultural Box

e have seen how and when bishops took for themselves the style and purple culture of the aristocracy, and how that culture is now totally integrated within the episcopacy. In the next few issues we want to describe relevant components of that culture as it exists today, and as it impacts on the matters mentioned in the first issue of this blog, matters important to the laity and to their sense of participation.

First of all, any culture has many addictive attributes. We float in our culture with only rare consciousness of it. It inhabits us and we act or don’t act out of it without awareness of our non-reflection on it. We assume, again non-reflectively, that the culture that supports us is the best culture in the world. An analogy of culture is easily seen in a common science lesson: If you throw a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out and save itself. If, however, you put that frog into water at room temperature and then bring the water to boil, the frog won’t realize what is happening and will perish. The latter example perfectly describes culture.

Experts tell us that addictions can be either substance addictions (drugs, alcohol, etc.) or process addictions (gambling, sex, work, religion, etc.). Addictions seize control over one’s life and the addicted person needs outside help to regain their life.

Cultural anthropologists and psychotherapists agree that organizations can be addictive and that the addiction extends to the particular culture of the organization. The episcopacy is easily compared to a corporate entity, and just like that of any corporate entity, the culture of the episcopacy is addictive.

Within the organization the message goes out that the organization (episcopal culture) comes first. The priority given the episcopal culture leads to an attempt to control everything and everyone in the organization. An insider of the culture does not question the culture and the policies that support it. The sense of interior perfection also prevents insiders from accepting wisdom from the outside. We will see the cultural consequences of denigrating and ignoring intelligence from the laity as we progress through each of the components of the bishops’ culture.

The bishops’ unique form of denial, the common defense mechanism used by addicts to protect their addiction, is best found in their use of Scripture. They project their culture as coming directly from Jesus, a fantasy drawn and expanded beyond any rational recognition, to “prove” that He founded a monarchical church: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18). But, as we have seen, the monarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church had its beginning only four centuries after Jesus. The monarchical culture with its class separations came into existence and embedded itself thoroughly into the daily details of the church only from repeated unfounded affirmations, evasions and lies, the common tools of addicts.

Our bishops live in an addictive cultural box.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Aristocratic Trappings Alive and Well in the Church

n this issue we respond to the question:  Does the hierarchy today really retain the trappings of the aristocracy of old?  The answer of course is yes.  Still we should reassure ourselves that this is true.

Historians have determined that a papal court existed at least from the seventh century. It has possessed its full grandeur since the Renaissance in the fourteenth century. Pope Paul VI, in his Motu Proprio, Pontificalis Domus (1968) reorganized the court. No longer called the papal court, the same entity is now subsumed under the titles Papal Household and Papal Chapel.

Prior to the issuance of the Motu Proprio, pontiffs regularly granted titles such as duke, marquis, count, and duchess to select lay people. An American woman received the title, duchess, from Pope Pius XII through the mediation of Cardinal Spellman. Today those former titles are no longer bestowed, though some individuals retain those previously awarded. Other titles such as Stewards of St. Peter and Gentlemen of His Holiness are now in use. Basically it is more a matter of titles than of substance.

Cardinals today still rank just below crown princes in the aristocratic alignment. They are thus given the appellation Your Eminence. Bishops, Their Excellencies, remain princes of the Church. Monsignor translates as My Lord.

Besides Gentlemen of His Holiness, the highest honor given a layman, there are a slew of papal knights: The Supreme Order of Christ, The Order of the Golden Spur, The Order of Pope Pius IX, The Order of St. Gregory the Great, The Equestrian Order of Pope St. Sylvester, etc. Knight Orders have corresponding “Dame” awards for women. Precedence governs all these awards as is evidenced in the order found in ceremonial processions.

Aristocratic heraldry is alive and flourishing in the Church. Heraldry is described as “a celebration, based on ancient symbols, of the sense people have of themselves, personally and in groups.” One does not need to speculate on just who those persons and groups are.

Precedence, the pecking order, within the hierarchy is visibly displayed on their coats of arms. The color and number of tassels (fiocchi) on each coat of arms immediately tells the knowledgeable viewer what is the title and rank of the bearer.

In a prior issue of this blog, we touched on how the trappings of the aristocracy fill the liturgies of the Church.

Clearly, the purple culture is alive and thriving in the episcopacy.

Note: For any reader interested in observing the full extent of aristocratic trappings in the Church, we recommend leafing through The Church Visible – The Ceremonial Life andProtocol of the Roman Catholic Church by James-Charles Noonan Jr, 1996, Penguin Books.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bishops Hold Fast to Their Views as Nearly 1/3 of Laity Depart the Church

he aristocratic purple culture of the bishops has become a prime moral and doctrinal principle in their consciousness. Anything that seems to threaten the ordering of society according to that culture is immediately assumed by them to be an attack on God and on the gospels. They truly believe that the privileged status and absolutist authority they assert for themselves are God’s will. It follows that any danger to that status (they will say, danger to the Church), is defended with righteous indignation, and with any weapons at their command ranging from slander to excommunication.

Astonishingly, they seem to have no problem in either ignoring the servant leadership commanded by Jesus, or in somehow identifying servant leadership with aristocratic domination.

However, people today are no longer uneducated. We question many things, even matters we assumed were accurate because we heard them from people to whom we were taught to accord authority. When flaws and inconsistencies appear in the life and dictates of those authorities, we question even more. And when our questioning leads us to see that our authorities are neither so knowledgeable or pure of heart as we had been raised to believe, our next step is to leave those authorities without authority. “Do it because I/We say so” no longer carries the force it once had, nor does it carry the feelings of guilt that were once such an integral Catholic trait. The Catholic populace is beginning to formulate a Catholic conscience that is their own in every way.

As we noted in the first issue of this blog, nearly one third (22.8 million) born and raised Catholics have left the Church. Over nine million of them are not affiliated with any Church. Over ten million have joined various protestant denominations. Over two million have joined other religions. The majority of those who left did so before reaching the age of twenty-four.

Our bishops like to explain these departures as the result of external cultural realities, the nebulous isms: indifferentism, materialism, individualism, relativism, etc. The current papal and Vatican buzz word for enemy is relativism, the mind-set of those who hold that judging doctrinal and moral matters is relative to the people, events, conditions etc. involved in a particular matter. A friend of mine recently quipped: “In their world, everything is relative – to them.” Neither the Vatican nor the bishops around the world seem capable of looking at the components of their own culture as a major disconnect with both the Catholic laity and the Jesus of Scripture.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Shoring Up the Purple Culture: The Church Turns Away From Equality

oday, we deal with the Bishops’ response to the question of equality within the Church. Have we returned as a Church to the egalitarian quality of the gospel and the first four centuries of church history? Obviously, no! Is the tinseled clerical aristocracy defunct as is the secular aristocracy? No again! Do the laity have a voice that is heard by the clerical aristocracy? Not at all, unless we reduce the level of conversation to what type of flowers should go on the altar for a particular feast, or to their listening to attorneys in the present sexual abuse crisis. Does the wisdom of the laity enter into declarations of appropriate moral behavior? No. It is not an exaggeration to say that our bishops today inhabit a purple culture that is as unheeding of the laity as the aristocratic culture of old was to its peasants.

As the monarchical world of secular aristocrats declined following the French and American Revolutions, the Vatican felt threatened. Along with its nostalgia for the monarchies that fell, it felt itself in jeopardy. The pope and bishops mounted steps to secure their status. Those steps went further than the condemnations decreed against the liberating forces. 

At the insistence of Pope Pius IX, in July, 1870, the First Vatican Council, with its Declaration of Papal Infallibility, established a new monarchy, one of moral and doctrinal dominance. The Pope now had two monarchies, both absolutist, the Papal States and the newly defined Spiritual Kingdom. The possession of two kingdoms lasted only three months as the foreseen absorption of the Papal States into a united Italy occurred in September, 1870. Still, the Pope and bishops retained their newly formed kingdom. And this new spiritual kingdom maintained all of the aristocratic trappings of the old order. The Pope remained a king. Bishops were still princes. In sum, the clerical aristocratic structure and purple culture remained the same as it had been, and has to this day.

To support the legitimacy of this new kingdom the Vatican began to load the practice of Catholicism with images that subtly carried the message. A feast of Christ the King was established by Pius XI in 1925. The feast of the Queenship of Mary followed in 1954, established by Pius XII. Both feasts work subliminally to validate the aristocratic (purple) culture of the Church. It is difficult to believe that they foster the images of Jesus and Mary that we glean from Scripture.

The Pope and bishops continue to dub knights of various papal orders with all the pomp and ceremony of old. The liturgy remains today a visible celebration of aristocratic manners and style. In liturgical ceremonies we see the throne, the royal garb, the etiquette of bows, genuflections and kneeling, precious metal chalices and ciboriums, all taken from the aristocratic life style. There is, in fact, an ongoing effort to restore all changes to the liturgy made by the Second Vatican Council, especially a return to the Latin language, exclusive to the clerical kingdom. 

Bishops of past centuries had wealth-producing constituencies and appointments. Today as well, bishops have virtually unlimited access to money. In recent times we have witnessed how easy it is for a bishop to reach into the till to cover personal peccadillos, to travel at will, and to live in luxurious abodes. And the laity have no way to give significant input into such expenditures. If bishops utilize lay boards, the members are handpicked by the bishops themselves.

In the past issues of this blog we have seen the history of how and when the episcopacy took on the status consciousness and cultural lifestyle of the aristocracy. We have also seen the shallowness, narcissism, and cultic characteristics native to that culture. In the coming issues we will look at just how this culture has affected moral and doctrinal issues.

We hope you will stay with us.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Equality and the Church: Post-Revolutionary U-turns

ow did the Church react to the ousting of the secular aristocracy?  First, when asked to support the French revolution, Pope Pius VI roundly condemned it in 1791 in the ironically titled encyclical, Caritas.  The condemnation was the opening move by the Vatican against the emerging liberalism, liberty, and equality.

Shortly after the French Revolution, calls began to be heard suggesting that the Church take a leadership role in the cause of liberty. Surely, people said, freedom is consistent with and even lies at the heart of the gospel message and the whole of Sacred Scripture.

Felicit√© Robert de Lamennais, born prior to the revolution, a scholar, priest and author, engaged a group of followers in this cause. Because there was governmental interference with the Church at every level: governance, education, etc., Lamennais stated that separation of Church and State, complete freedom for the Church, was in the Church’s best interest.

Lamennais and his followers started a daily newspaper, L’Avenir, The Future. Its slogan was "God and Liberty." It subscribed to the full liberating agenda: complete religious liberty, freedom of education, freedom of the press, etc. Lamennais wanted to start a movement based on his belief that this concept of liberalism would find its proper home in the Church. L’Avenir attacked the bishops as blind, worldly and cowardly.

As you might suppose, tremendous opposition arose among the clerical aristocracy to these ideas. The final denunciation came from Pope Gregory XVI in the encyclical Mirari Vos. (1832). In the encyclical he complains that the Church is afflicted with indifferentism. A brief quote says it all: “And so from this rotten source of indifferentism flows that absurd and erroneous opinion, or rather insanity, that liberty of conscience must be claimed and defended for anyone…. Nor can we foresee more joyful omens for religion and the state from the wishes of those who desire that the Church be separated from the State.”

Thanks to the wisdom and efforts of an American Jesuit, John Courtney Murray , insanity made a U-turn and became sanity when the second Vatican Council made plain in its Declaration on Religious Freedom (1965): “In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully…. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.” And in the same document: “Government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens.” 

There we have it: freedom of conscience and separation of church and state. It is just one of many examples down through history where bishops have made a U-turn in their positions on moral issues.

In our next issue, we will look at the bishops’ post-revolution position on equality. 

The Documents of Vatican II, edited by Walter Abbott, S.J.

The Sources of Catholic Dogma, by Henry Denzinger

Church and Revolution:  Catholics in the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice, by Thomas Bokenkotter.