Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Just Call Me Excellency!"

[Note:  This is the first post in the blog Call Me Excellency, originally published September 2, 2011.  To continue reading the posts in order, from beginning to end (first to last), consult the post archive on the right-hand side of the page, and begin with the second post, published on September 9, 2011.]


is Excellency, Urbane Angelus, has graciously consented to accompany us on this blog as we address multiple issues in the religious world today. His Excellency is the Titular Archbishop of Atoll #7 in the Pacific Ocean. He will help by way of commentary and illustration of what it is like to inhabit an elevated position in the Roman Catholic hierarchy and on hierarchical interpretations of moral and doctrinal issues.


We begin with some of the problems for which we will seek causes. Having found the causes, the solutions will appear:

1.  A 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Policy found that adult Catholics in the United States who have exited the Catholic faith number 22.8 million. The study found that 68% of those raised as Catholics have stayed in the Church.

We ask: what could cause such an exodus?

2.  Over the past decade it was suggested at the United Nations that there should be one world religion. The Roman Catholic response by Cardinal Arinze amounted to “That’s fine, as long as the one is Roman Catholic.” Similar responses came from other world religions.

Twenty years ago, theologian Hans Kung wrote in his work “Global Responsibility” that the enmity between religions reaches into the political sphere and prevents people from coming together. “There will be no peace,” he said, “until there is peace between religions.” He proposed that the way to achieve that peace would be for those religions to come together and reach an agreement on a common or shared ethic.

We ask: why don’t they come together? Doesn’t the basis of a common ethic already exist in the shared belief in the golden rule: love your neighbor as you love yourself?

We ask: where are the bishops in the peace effort?

3.  In this century the time bomb of clergy sexual abuse exploded with nuclear force. Subsequent investigations have revealed the worldwide extent of the abuse. They also revealed the behavior of bishops in their handling of priest abusers and the scandal. Bishops routinely stonewalled victims and the victims’ parents. They used attorneys to play hardball with victims. They used the common lie that “this was the first complaint ever received against Father Pedophile.” They transferred pedophile priests from parish to parish, diocese to diocese, where other children awaited the horror to come.

We soon heard a litany of excuses from the bishops as they pointed the hierarchical finger: they said gays were responsible so they mounted a campaign against gays saying they should not be ordained; they said that children can be very seductive tempters and temptresses. It was the children’s fault. The abusers were the real victims; they implied that the victims want the money that would otherwise go to the poor, as if it’s okay to work an injustice on one group as long as charity prevails for another group.

We ask: What explains this behavior of the bishops? And why did the recent John Jay College of Criminal Justice study (commissioned by the bishops) fail to detail the bishops’ own behavior in the scandal?

4.  A number of issues have emerged that illustrate a growing dissidence between the Catholic laity and the hierarchy: the role of the laity, sexual morality, the rights and place of women, married and women priests, contraception, and divorce – to name only the more apparent.

We will begin to tackle all of the above in the next and subsequent issues. We believe that the ultimate answer lies with the clerical culture at the episcopal level, and we will begin with a history of that culture’s development. We plan to publish weekly – given the availability of Archbishop Angelus. Thanks for visiting. We hope you will follow us as we progress. 

See also:  
Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse 
Sex, Priests and Secret Codes by Doyle, Sipe and Hall

Purple Culture

The Purple Culture by Stephen Boehrer

Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic
Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic by Hans Kung

Friday, March 9, 2012

Just Call Me Eminence

e have good news today and we have bad news. The good news is that our esteemed guide through this journey of understanding the purple culture and its legacy has been elevated to the rank of Cardinal. He is now a Prince of the Church and holds the diplomatic status just below a crown prince of the realm. He is now a member of the College of Cardinals, a more exclusive and illustrious club than even that of bishops and archbishops.
The news that brings sadness to us is the very same news. The Cardinal will now have to spend all of his time and energy in his new duties, those as titular Patriarch of Atlantis and Ordinary of all fishing ships at sea. He will travel an exhausting schedule around the seas and oceans of the world blessing all fishing craft: ships, trawlers, fishing boats of all kinds and sizes, runabouts, canoes and paddleboats. His blessing will also be in demand by fishing skippers for the various baits they use.

We, of course, will miss His Eminence for his insightful commentary-in-depth. Without his presence this blog can no longer compete for readership with the multitude of other blogs. So we will cease publication with this issue. We are grateful to His Eminence for his acute analyses and commentary, and wish him “Happy Sailing.”
There is a slim chance that we will see the Cardinal again. If he is given the license to give his blessings from Rome in the manner of the papal “Urbe et Orbe” blessing given by the Pope to the whole world on Easter Sunday, it might leave him with time for additional commentary. We will just have to wait and see.
Thank you all for your patronage.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Waiting for Grace: The Only Way Out of the Cultural Box That Imprisons Our Bishops

either the French and American revolutions, nor the current sexual abuse scandal of priests and bishops has been horrific enough to make the bishops of the world take a studious and professionally led look at the culture they inhabit. Buoyed by the innate narcissism of the culture, and hesitant from fear of those above them in the clerical pecking order, they deny to themselves and to the world that they have a problem.
There are two events that might be forceful enough to bring them to see themselves as they are: an overwhelming influx of grace or the departure from the Church of the wealthy. The wealthy won’t leave, as they have replaced the old aristocracy in the bishops’ eyes, and because the bishops honor and support the values and status of the wealthy, and court them. Recent studies have shown that the majority of wealth in the United States is held by one percent of the population, and that merely four hundred households have greater assets than fifty percent of all households in the country.
We hear bishops utter an occasional plea for the poor, but, while they can hurl excommunication and refusal of the sacraments to those who are pro choice in the matter of abortion, they simply have no stomach, on present course, to put such teeth into demands on those who deal death through poverty-caused lack of food, shelter, health care and the like. A sensible and justice-driven sharing of the world’s goods is beyond the ken of both bishops and the majority of those holding wealth. Any suggestion that there is enough for all, if shared, is met with cries of socialism or communism. Both “isms” carry the imposed stigma of being either anti-capitalist or atheistic.
Those with wealth who claim to be Christian, along with our bishops, should read and ponder the structure of the original Christian community:
         Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s need. They went to the temple area together every day, while in their homes they broke bread. With exultant and sincere hearts they took their meals in common, praising God and winning the approval of all the people.” (Acts 3:44-47)
Since we cannot expect the bishop/wealthy tie to disintegrate, we are left with the hope for a giant infusion of grace to enlighten our bishops to flee their cultural box. Pray for our bishops. We should never give up hope. Grace abounds and can bring about a Catholic leadership that responds to the wisdom of the laity. Today’s bishops are not evil men. They are prisoners of a culture that oozes evil if the culture itself is endangered. To our bishops, serving the culture is serving God.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Church's Unloving View of Sex

rom contraception to abortion, from ‘dirty’ thoughts to masturbation, from heterosexual to homosexual sex, from natural insemination to artificially induced pregnancy, and from unmarried cohabitation to marital sex, our Church leadership is obsessed with SEX, and its utterances on the subject are mostly negative and/or exclusive to marital sex.
Curiously, Jesus never talked about sex per se. In fact, the closest he got were references to adultery. Maybe that should tell us something.
It wasn’t until after Jesus died and after the gospels were written that Church leaders began to focus on sex. Since then, centuries of teaching on sex have been based on its appreciation by the early church ‘Fathers,’ especially Augustine. Their teaching derived from the world view of the time, a philosophy that looked at the universe as composed of good and evil. Good was identified with spirit, evil with matter. Sex, having to do with matter, fell into the world of evil. Over the centuries this association of sex with evil evolved to a point where every ‘dirty’ thought, word or action outside of marriage was considered mortally evil and worthy of eternal damnation.
That kind of teaching scared the hell out of many an adolescent, and made their natural probing and experimentations furtive and guilt-filled. The number of teens afflicted with psychological problems because of this repression is probably beyond calculation.

Calls are mounting in our time for a re-evaluation of sexual morality. Sex is good, a choice of the Creator. It builds intimacy and strengthens committed relationships. It fosters longevity and stability in those relationships. It is a servant of what the gospels are all about--love. Is it evil when it is in that service, whether among married or not, whether among straight or gay, whether used for the purpose of procreation from stored semen or ova?          
The argument that men and women should be held hostage to the strictly biological while not recognizing the intellectual, psychological and relational dimensions of sex is short-sighted on the face of it.

A word on obedience, much touted by bishops as high on the list of virtues: There exists a delicate balance between love and obedience. Blind obedience is not a virtue. (Militarily, it is a tactic.) When blind obedience is demanded of adults, history reveals that it has too often been a substitute for competence on the part of the demanding authorities.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Women Priests: The Time Has Come

s we noted in treating the French Revolution, the
 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 defined equality: “the law must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all … employments according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of virtues and talents.” One cannot get more pointed and straightforward than that.
Sixth graders understand the definition and concur with it. If you ask sixth graders why does the Church have seven sacraments for men and only six for women, they instantly get the point. Women have only six sacraments because they are barred from the sacrament of ordination. They are not allowed in the diaconate or the priesthood. The sixth graders’ eyes get wide at the realization and they burst out: “That’s not fair! That’s not equal!”
The bishops don’t get it and should take a lesson from the sixth graders. Pope John Paul II expressly forbade even discussion of women’s ordination. Of course, that prohibition failed to stop discussion. 

When the bishops try to justify patriarchy in the Church, they usually descend into triteness: “Jesus didn’t have women apostles,” omitting the fact that many of Jesus’ closest disciples were women, forgetting the male-dominated culture of Jesus’ times, and forgetting that Paul used the term apostle for Junia (a woman) in his epistle to the Romans. We might remind the bishops that Jesus didn’t establish a monarchy, though popes and bishops have no problem with affirming that he did.
The point is simple. It is impossible to argue that equality for all humans, male and female, is not a moral imperative. It’s time our bishops acknowledged this fact and argued the truth at the Vatican.
It is clear though, that we have no bishops who are courageous enough to act counter-culturally within the purple culture, even collegially. They are inhibited from doing so by fear of personal consequences and/or by the cultic structure of their culture, and by its innate narcissism.
Women are being ordained in our times without the approval of either the Vatican or the bishops. They are the forefront of more to follow. They are working in ministry, often with married male priests. Seventy percent of us, the laity, agree that this should be a permanent reality. When you meet these brave women, acknowledge their prophetic role and support them.


Dead Men's Bones, by Stephen Boehrer

Friday, February 10, 2012

Church Change by the Back Door: Usury and Contraception


ishops have made U-turns on moral issues in the past where the wisdom of the laity prevailed. The bishops do need some sort of back door, however, in order to camouflage the turn-around. An excellent example is the change in their position on usury, the taking of interest on loans.
Papal condemnations of usury and money lenders go back as far as the fourth century. Today, usury is often understood as the taking of ‘excessive’ interest. That was not the understanding of usury in the papal condemnations. The definition of usury used by the pope and curia is explicit in the Encyclical Vix Pervenit of Pope Benedict XIV in 1745: “Usury….consists in this: That someone, from the loan itself, which of its very nature demands that only as much be returned as was received, wishes more to be returned to him than was received, and therefore contends that some profit beyond the principal, by reason of the lending, is due to him. Therefore, all profit of this sort, which surpasses the principal, is unlawful and is usurious.”
When the Western world changed from a land economy to a money economy, people began taking or paying interest on loans. It became the common practice. Confessors began to notice that people were no longer confessing the sin of usury. Priests and bishops were confused on the issue and various opinions emerged even among the clergy. Harkening back to Vix Pervenit, the bishop of Rheims queried the Vatican on how to deal with the confessors and the differing opinion. The response from Pope Pius VIII (1821-1830) was: “They are not to be disturbed.” In other words, don’t worry, just stop talking about it. The practice of the people had prevailed, and the Pope slipped out a back door.

A contemporary example where the laity have decided by their practice on an issue that was and is still being condemned by the Vatican is contraception. Some 97% of Catholic women of child-bearing age use contraceptives. Some estimates say 98% of all Catholics disagree with the official position. The laity are simply relying on their own wisdom. 

They know that sex can be about loving and supporting intimacy as much or more than about procreation. They give importance to the relational aspects over the mere physical act. The gospels are about loving, not about sex. Contraception now has a firm acceptable place in their consciences. And the Vatican is looking for a back door. The door came slightly ajar recently when Pope Benedict XVI moved from a previous position to a contrary one saying that contraception might be appropriate to stop the spread of AIDS.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sexual Abuse in the Purple Culture

he behavior of bishops throughout the western world in the clergy sexual abuse scandal remains on daily exhibit in the media: the cover-ups; the transfer of pedophile priests from parish to parish, diocese to diocese and beyond; the stone-walling of victims and their parents; the attempt to ‘manage’ the ‘problem’ through attorneys.
We’ve heard their lame excuses: “most priests are good priests,” as if we should expect some pedophiles to emerge from their seminaries; “priests are only human,” as if raping or sodomizing a child is human.
We’ve seen them turn to scapegoating: saying that “gays are responsible and therefore should not be ordained,” (a statement shot down by competent psychotherapists); portraying children as “very seductive tempters and temptresses, sexually enticing;” depicting the abusers as the real victims; painting victims as money-grabbing complainers who want the money that would otherwise go to charity. The list goes on.
All of the above merge to exhibit a group of men, who posture as our moral leaders, acting uniformly out of a purple culture that immunizes them from empathy for the sufferings of children. It is narcissism at its zenith.
We should remind ourselves again just how powerful were the voices of the laity in the first centuries of the Church. They were strong enough to influence apostles and popes, and to move them in a different direction. Can anyone imagine there would have been a deluge of clerical sexual abuse of children if bishops had asked the laity, especially parents of young children: “Do you mind if I place accused Father Pedophile in your school, or parish?” 

The bishops never turned to the laity, an implicit denial of the wisdom they would find there. We will see going forward how the cultural box in which bishops are immersed prevents them from acknowledging their errors and from acknowledging the correctness of lay wisdom on other significant life issues.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Lay Wisdom Leads Away from the Church

here is no returning for the vast majority of bishop members of the Purple Culture, no returning to a time when error or imperfections could be admitted. The assumption of perfection and infallibility has permanently disabled members of the culture from emitting such human utterances as “I was wrong,” and/or “I am sorry.” When wrong or sorrow is obliquely admitted, it comes out with fingers pointed outward as in “certain theologians were at fault.” Those cultural assumptions lie buried beneath consciousness and often creep into prelates’ giving mouth to trivia.
We need not be surprised that a third of Catholics have left the Church in this country. The wisdom gleaned by the laity in the everyday grindings of work and human relationships hones their experience to recognize the basic truths of living and loving. They also recognize the gap between their lived experience and that of the ‘let’s pretend’ experience common to those enclosed in the purple culture. This recognition is especially true for younger generations who have never permitted fear, gathered from teachings and preaching, to gain root in their psyches. Nor do they accept a portrayal of God as more beast than loving creator. The centuries-old instilled fear of damnation is so incongruent with a loving God, they reject it spontaneously. If it’s all about love, then God wants love to motivate us, not fear.
And so these young people go elsewhere – to a more promising spirituality or church.
A recognition of this lay wisdom lies beyond the ability of purple culture members. It will take a tsunami of departures and an inward tsunami of grace to bring about this realization.

We have the answer to another question raised in our opening issue, i.e. why don’t religions get together and mutually promote peace in the world, if for no other reason than our shared acknowledgment of the Golden Rule? The answer is evident. From the position of our Catholic leaders’ views on primacy, there can be no action that would admit a significant degree of validity in another religion. It is a matter of turf protection, and turf expansion. For an expansion example, look at how the Vatican has recently tried to gain Anglican recruits by assurances that the bias against women and homosexuals entering the priesthood is secure within the Roman Catholic fold. It is simply another tactical version of using ‘soup’ to get hungry (bigoted) people into the Church.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Love Struggles for Primacy in the Church

hat happened to the standard (love of neighbor) set by Jesus as the identifying hallmark for his followers?  The law of loving others was replaced early in the Church’s history, but a contemporary illustration will help us understand exactly what happened.

Peter Hebblethwaite, in his biography, Paul VI – The First Modern Pope, relates the following: In July 1967 Pope Paul VI welcomed the Ecumenical Patriarch, Athenagoras II, to the Vatican. “Paul insisted on no title other than the primacy of charity.” In his comments “Paul quoted his patron: ‘Be eager to give one another precedence.’” (Romans 12:10). “Among Athenagoras’ suite was the Metropolitan Meliton, his chief theologian, who dangerously remarked, ‘Paul VI has made the papacy out of date,’” meaning that Paul had changed the primacy from the papacy back to love.

One can easily imagine the consternation those remarks brought to members of the curia for whom the primacy belonged to the Pope – and derivatively to themselves. The incident was among other omens of the coming Vatican retrogression from the advancements made at the Second Vatican Council.

The example is poignant in that it illustrates the placement of primacy by members of the Church’s purple culture onto a particular person and not on the intention and purpose of the “way” movement begun by Jesus. Loyalty to monarchical personages had long before assumed the priority over love of neighbor. To maintain this altering of primacy down through the centuries, practices were introduced that in effect supported this substitution of the true primacy. Chief among them were laws promulgated to change the spiritual focus of members. No longer were we freed from laws as Jesus and then Paul declared, but were subjected to ever increasing obligatory practices.

Even non-obligatory practices were exalted and substituted for response to God in place of love of neighbor: devotions to saints (a number of whom were designated as patrons, converting heaven’s culture so that it replicates the patronage system of the purple culture), the rosary, pilgrimages, etc. Bishops, drawing on their own need for admiration, presented God as demanding attention rather than a God who loves and nourishes. Christ present in the Eucharist has been presented as one there to be acclaimed rather than as someone there to nourish our journey. All of these practices are good and valuable only if they contribute to our ability to love our neighbor. If they don’t, they are at best irrelevant. If they are substitutes, they totally miss the mark.


Hebblethwaite, Peter, Paul VI – The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, 1993

Friday, January 13, 2012

Freedom in Love: Not for Sissies

octors are in the habit of telling seniors that “getting old is not for sissies.” Well, love is not for sissies either. 

When we imagine how free we would have to become to love an enemy, one who has seriously harmed us or harmed a member of our family, we realize the distance we have yet to climb. We can track that climb with two measures; our ability to accept others, and our ability to forgive others. Love of others begins with accepting them as equals. There can be no hierarchy or caste in love.


We are often quite good at accepting an abstract humankind, but not always the individual we face. We cannot honestly say we accept others when we make them invisible, as with innocent victims of crime or war. It is only when we allow ourselves to put faces on them and see their wounds that we can accept them so that we care for them.
Freedom begins with acceptance, but it stretches toward fullness with forgiveness, our second measure. They go together just as God’s passion for us incorporates forgiveness before we even ask for it. We have all read of parents who have forgiven the murderer or rapist of their own child. We can only marvel at their freedom to do that. In our times it seems almost incomprehensible that one of the most difficult acts of forgiveness many of us must muster is to forgive the leadership of our institutional church, even though we know they are only blind from living in an unhealthy cultural box out of which their behavior springs.
It is indeed a steep climb to the freedom exhibited by the type of parents described above. Often we sense a greater distance ahead than behind us. The important thing to remember is that God is with us on this journey. We are each a freedom to be achieved, an image of God to be advanced, and God wants us to become our full selves, that image.
It is a rare person who is free of disability when it comes to loving others. There is the disability of not knowing what is the caring thing to do. Do I do, or do I do nothing? Do I hug, or do I correct? The answer of course is, wade in. Do the best we can. Making mistakes is part of life and of loving. Waiting on the sidelines for a surety that will never come is death to freedom.
There exist other love-inhibiting disabilities rooted in our natures during our formative years. They are not the same for each of us, but we should learn to identify them so that we can present them to Christ for healing. They are disabilities that can only be overcome with the power of God’s grace. To discover your own personal disabilities you might find a study of the Enneagram helpful.

Rohr, Richard and Ebert, Andreas, The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective, Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004.

Palmer, Helen, The Enneagram – Understanding yourself and the Others in Your Life, Harper Collins, 1991.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Freedom in Love: A Challenge for the Church

he ability to love others for their own sake is a unique human freedom from self.  It is true human freedom.  We can gauge our ability to love, our inner freedom, by the markers that Jesus outlined for us.   

To the degree that we are under the control of anger, self-deceit, envy, fear, greed, gluttony, lust, pride or sloth, loving others can only rise to a minimum level if at all.  If we love only those who love us, we are still at a minimum level of ability.  

If we love our neighbors, strangers and foreigners, we go up a level. If we continue to love and forgive those who have hurt us, we move up again. If we achieve the ability to love an enemy, to forgive and do good for an enemy, we are at an upper level. And if we achieve the ability to lay down our life for any of the above, we could not be more free. At that point we are truly the fullest image or expression of God that we can be. At that point we are fully human. We then love as God loves us. It follows that to love our neighbor IS to love ourselves IS to love God.


Church is a happening. It happens when people love each other, when they reach to be their best selves by loving. 

Jesus did not start a church. Jesus started a movement. At first it was called simply “The Way.” He wanted people to love each other. 

The word church has come to have many applications: 1. As an institution (The Lutheran Church, The Catholic Church). 2. As prelates or leaders who define meanings (as in “The Church Says.”) 3. As a building. Church is none of these in its real meaning. Nor is church a juridical construct, a system of rules, or a collection of beliefs, a credal ID tag. Church is not people bound together by utility. What creates church is love. Church is the community that love puts together and holds together. 

When a religious leadership puts itself ahead of Jesus’ purpose and portrays ‘membership’ or ‘loyalty’ as the true mark of being Christian, they have left Jesus by the wayside. If the Church community decides to insert a leadership, or useful buildings, or particular practices, those additions must all serve and promote the community by being in the service of love. 

So, we can extend our list of simultaneous happenings. Love of neighbor IS love of self IS love of God IS to create Church. It’s that simple! But it is only a blueprint. Love still has to be lived, and we should not confuse simple with easy. The climb to the top of love’s freedom is laden with obstacles and difficulty. More on that next time.

Do you think that our bishops look upon the Church as described above?

Called to Freedom, by Stephen Boehrer