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In Search of Deserted Places
Catherine Meeks, Ph.D.      Feb.19, 2012

I have always been fascinated to hear the words tucked away in Mark's gospel regarding Jesus seeking a deserted place to pray. "In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place to pray." (Mark 1:35 NRSV) These words are sandwiched in between the story of the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, casting out demons and healing all kinds of sick people.
. . . . 
There are times when our inner activist wants to chide us about wasting time in silence and visiting the deserted places to reflect and to pray. But this is not wasted time because this inner work helps us to better understand what we are doing and why we are acting in the ways that we are, as we move ahead in an attempt to make the world a better place for everyone to live. The balance that is exhibited by Jesus is a marvelous example of what works better than non-stop noise and activity. Our cultural norms have convinced us that we have to be constantly doing and there is very little appreciation for the possibility that silence and prayer might turn out to be powerful influences in changing the individual who engages in such a practice thus making it possible for the collective community to become transformed as well.

We know that widespread systemic change is needed in our world today. But that type of change is initiated by transformed individuals and if we allow ourselves to be as open to the power of the spirit as Jesus was then we can hope to see results that mirror that type of transforming energy. I hope that readers who are already keeping disciplines of silence and contemplative prayer will be encouraged by these words and those who are not will consider embarking upon this journey of seeking the deserted places. I think that silence will have much to do with all of the future healing that comes to us and to our world.
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President Kennedy would be shaking his head in disbelief if he could see the line up of the current bench of the U.S. Supreme Court: Six Catholics-count'em (!): Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and Sotomayor, two Jews: Ginsberg and Kagan, and a sole Protestant: Bryer. All of the "Conservative" justices are Catholic, including the "swing" justice, Kennedy. The sixth Catholic, Sotomayor, is the sole "Liberal" Catholic.

Now we have the prospect of adding another Conservative Catholic to the two top tiers of our American government, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum!

Question: How representatively do the Conservative five-sixths of the Catholic Supreme Court Justices and leading Republican presidential candidates reflect American Catholics, or, indeed, the hundred-plus years of the Vatican's Catholic social justice teaching? A succinct honest answer might well be: Miserably!

Most American Catholics are registered Democrats. Most American Catholics are mentally moderate to liberal. There are 65 million+ American Catholics, or about 24% of the U.S. population. Further, the Pew Survey found that 10% of current Americans are former Catholics - that would add another 30 million. Now these former Catholics most likely did not leave because the Catholic Church was becoming increasingly liberal (non-Catholics need to know that this tongue-in-cheek remark would bring gales of laughter from Catholics). Hence, together the total number of American Catholics and former Catholics would approach 100 million, or nearly 33% of the U.S. population-who together would tend to be overwhelmingly moderate to liberal.

First, how did this extraordinary religious make up of the Supreme Court happen-with traditionally despised, if not hated, Catholics and Jews making up 91% of the Court? How did this grave distortion of the mentality of 66% of the Court-Conservative Catholics-come about? To say nothing of a possible Conservative Catholic President?

Now, of course, there is no religious test in the U.S., nor should there be one. But the question asks itself: How did the long history of American anti-Catholicism suddenly turn up a Supreme Court Conservative majority of Catholics and a Conservative Catholic leading Republican Presidential candidate? Perhaps the answer is that it was never so much their Catholicism that was critical, but their Conservatism. In effect, conservative presidents appointed conservative justices-even if they were Catholics (maybe with a secret Schaden Freude hidden in the recesses of their souls?). Perhaps a variation is true of Presidential candidates-even a truly Conservative Catholic is better than a not so truly Conservative Mormon!

But then, how do the almost 100 million American Catholics/former Catholics - the vast majority of whom are moderate to liberal - feel about their majority "fellow Catholics" on the Supreme Court bench, and candidature for President? If we were to ask the current group of American bishops (almost all very conservative, because they were appointed by hyper-conservative Popes John-Paul II and Benedict XVI), they would doubtless allow that they were very pleased - except perhaps on a few matters like Hispanic immigration. This latter "social justice" issue might be supported by at least some bishops; after all, it would legalize or bring in to the U.S. more likely socially/ theologically conservative and obedient Catholic parishioners.

But the American public knows what weight the long Catholic tradition of social justice for workers is given when lined up against the Catholic bishops favorite bete noire - Sex! The bishops railed against the Obama health care law, aimed at helping the poor, focusing their sex-sotted rage solely on a flimsy pseudo-issue about contraception. Only a group of brave Catholic sisters covered our public Catholic shame by coming out in favor of the law - in defiance of the American Catholic bishops.

So, yes, doubtless the great majority of American Catholic bishops are exceedingly happy with the Supreme Court Conservative Catholic justices (not Sotomayor!), and Conservative Catholic presidential candidates, but doubtless the great majority of American Catholics/former Catholics are not.

What, if anything, could or should be done about this anomaly? I for one think that we majority moderate-liberal American Catholics should let the "Conservative Catholic Coalition" of the Supreme Court, and now also leading Republican presidential candidate know that we profoundly disagree with them - and that they are betraying the century-long Catholic (indeed, papal!) tradition of social justice concern especially for the marginalized of society. After all, the world-wide "Occupy" movement is just a non-theological form of Vatican II-begotten "Liberation Theology.

I strongly suggest that we moderate/liberal Catholics start a campaign to shame them and disavow their "anti-Catholic" anti-social-justice stances.

Leonard Swidler, Ph.D., S.T.L.
Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue (1966--)
Temple University (dialogue@temple.edu)


Some things we have been reading  

Policy, Not Liberty
America Magazie Editors     Mar.5, 2012

For a brief moment, Catholics on all sides were united in defense of the freedom of the Catholic Church to define for itself what it means to be Catholic in the United States. They came together to defend the church's institutions from morally objectionable, potentially crippling burdens imposed by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act.   . . . . Then, on Feb. 10, President Obama announced a compromise solution by which religious institutions would be exempt from paying the objectionable premiums but women would not be denied contraceptive coverage. A confrontation that should never have happened was over. But not for long.

After a nod to the White House's retreat as "a first step in the right direction," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected the president's "accommodation" as insufficient. 
 . . . .
The bishops have been most effective in influencing public policy when they have acted as pastors, trying to build consensus in church and society, as they did in their pastorals on nuclear war and the economy. The American public is uncomfortable with an overt exercise of political muscle by the hierarchy. Catholics, too, have proved more responsive to pastoral approaches. They expect church leaders to appeal to Gospel values, conscience and right reason. They hope bishops will accept honorable accommodations and, even when provoked, not stir up hostility. In the continuing dialogue with government, a conciliatory style that keeps Catholics united and cools the national distemper would benefit the whole church.
 . . . .
By stretching the religious liberty strategy to cover the fine points of health care coverage, the campaign devalues the coinage of religious liberty. The fight the bishop's conference won against the initial mandate was indeed a fight for religious liberty and for that reason won widespread support. The latest phase of the campaign, however, seems intended to bar health care
 funding for contraception. Catholics legitimately oppose such a policy on moral grounds. But that opposition entails a difference over policy, not an infringement of religious liberty.
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'Faithful Citizenship' gives Catholics a chance to seek the common good
Dennis Sadowski       Feb.17, 2012

Despite all the headlines lately, concern over the contraceptive mandate and the related issue of religious freedom is not the only thing on the minds of the U.S. bishops.

This being an election year, the bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development has undertaken an intensive effort to bring the quadrennial document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" to as many Catholics as possible.
 . . . .
The document was discussed during the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in the nation's capital Feb. 12-15 as much if not more than the religious liberty implications of the controversial rules governing the implementation of health care reform. The gathering's theme - "Faithful Citizenship: Protecting Human Life and Dignity, Promoting the Common Good" -- reflected the focus of daily programs.
. . . .
 Opening the gathering, John Carr, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, told the 450 attendees the document is rooted in the church's social and moral teaching and is meant to help Catholics discern their response to important political issues.
. . . .
The document already is forming the basis of a stronger advocacy push by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said Sheila K. Gilbert, the organization's national president.

"We have an absolute commitment to ending poverty," she said. The organization is looking to tap the stories of the poor people that local parish councils serve to help mainstream Catholics understand "there are policies, there are procedures, and there are laws that are really holding people in poverty," she explained. 
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Who's Behind the Leaked Letters Roiling the Vatican?
Barbie Latza Nadeau      Feb.26, 2012

Are "Vatileaks," as the Vatican leaks have been dubbed, really just a brilliant campaign strategy ahead of the next papal conclave or a sneaky way to show fiscal transparency ahead of a key European Union decision on the Vatican's anti-terrorism finance compliance?
For weeks, Vatican reporters in Rome have been lapping up salacious details about alleged church corruption and holy infighting that's been drip-fed from a yet-unknown source inside the hallowed halls of the Holy See.
. . . . 
 The Vatileaks scandal has exposed what appears to be fierce infighting within the Holy See.  With Pope Benedict XVI's ailing health and last week's consistory in which he named 22 new cardinals who will ultimately be part of the conclave that decides his successor, internal politics are certainly in play. But the leaks may be by design. Some Vatican pundits have suggested that by exposing the alleged corruption, those who can then fix the problem by offering greater transparency may ultimately benefit when it comes time to vote for the next pope. "These leaks are intended to settle scores ahead of the next conclave," says Vatican expert Andrea Tornielli, who writes a blog for La Stampanewspaper. "Very little is unscripted at the Vatican."

Another theory about what's really behind the leaks is that by exposing the Vatican's financial vulnerabilities now, the Vatican has a chance to tidy up the books and polish its reputation by June, when the European Commission will consider the Vatican's inclusion on the "white list" of anti-terrorism financial entities that abide by the international rules of transparency. This coveted honor is said to be a priority for the Holy See, which has for decades been plagued by rumors and allegations that it is a corruption-laden tax haven for a number of high-profile secret investors.
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Santorum Says Obama's Policies Elevate 'the Earth Above Man'
David Lerman       Feb.21, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says President Barack Obama is beholden to "radical environmentalists" and has "a world view that elevates the earth above man."

Santorum, who has emerged as the main challenger to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the Republican race, sought over the weekend to explain his statement that Obama practices "a different theology" that is "not a theology based on the Bible."
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Santorum Says Separation of Church and State Isn't Absolute
Sara Forden       Feb 26, 2012 

Republican presidential primary hopeful Rick Santorum said he doesn't believe in the separation of church and state, noting that a speech on the topic by former President John F. Kennedymakes him want to "throw up."

"I don't believe that the separation of church and state is absolute," Santorum said in an interview today on ABC's "This Week" program. "The First Amendment means the free exercise of religion and that means bringing people and their faith into the public square."
Santorum, 53, made the comments in an interview from Michigan, where he is campaigning ahead of the Republican primary this week. 
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The Moral Scandal Of Rick Santorum And "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques"
Andrew Sullivan       Feb.22, 2012
. . . .  
Here are the torture techniques Santorum aggressively defends and told Senator John McCain he didn't understand:
Using dogs to terrorize prisoners; stripping detainees naked and hooding them; isolating people in windowless cells for weeks and even months on end; freezing prisoners to near-death and reviving them and repeating the hypothermia; contorting prisoners into stress positions that create unbearable pain in the muscles and joints; cramming prisoners into upright coffins in painful positions with minimal air; near-drowning, on a waterboard, of human beings-in one case 183 times-even after they have cooperated with interrogators.
It seems to me that no politician who has aggressively defended these core violations of human dignity can be described as someone for whom human dignity is a "touchstone" of his worldview. The effrontery is not that of the media; the effrontery is from Santorum when he lectured John McCain that McCain
doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they're broken, they become cooperative.
In that very defense - in Santorum's own description of what he is defending - he is defending the "breaking" of a human person, made in the image of God. He is defending a core, absolute evil. Let us concede for the sake of argument that these are "enhanced interrogation techniques" and not "torture", as Santorum insists.

There is no meaningful difference between the two 
whatsoever from a Catholic perspective, and Santorum's public positioning as an avowedly Catholic politician, while defending and promoting an absolute evil, is a true and immense moral scandal - in the Church's sense of the word. No one should be giving the impression that the Catholic church defends "enhanced interrogation techniques". This is from the Catechism: 

Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.    . . . .
Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. 
. . . .
Santorum . . . . is advocating crimes "deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles". He is proposing to "break" a human person, without even due process. He is standing as the publicly Catholic foe of human dignity.
And notice that, unlike, say, allowing contraception or gay marriage in a free society, the government that Santorum proposes to lead is directly involved in such activities. A lawmaker who allows free contraception in health insurance can only be accused of indirectly causing sin to occur; but a president who authorizes the abuse and torture of human beings is directly, intimately involved with that decision and bears full moral responsibility for it. 

It seems to me that Santorum can and should be free to defend this evil as he sees fit. But his defense of torture is far, far more scandalous to the Catholic church than any liberal Catholic politician's views on, say, same-sex marriage or contraception. It is he who has made his faith integral to his public life. Yet he defends the equivalent of crucifixion for prisoners under his potential command.

When, one wonders, will Catholics hear a letter from the pulpit on the vital question of torture - and the support for it from a leading Catholic candidate for the presidency?
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Is Cardinal George latest participant in Ireland-Vatican tiff?
Michael Sneed       Feb.24, 2012

The Errin' Aisle? Cardinal Francis George has RSVP'd he is unavailable to attend this year's Irish Fellowship Club's St. Patrick's Day Dinner on March 16. His eminence is otherwise engaged. But speculation is running rampant amongst the Chicago Irish: Is the reason Cardinal George is absenting himself from the annual Irish fest because Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny will be there?
. . . .
Answer: The cardinal's office tells Sneed that Cardinal George has a previous engagement that night: He is attending a youth retreat at Guerin College Prep High School in River Grove. 
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Talks on sharing with Rome Embassy to start
Ed Carty      Feb.20, 2012

A senior civil servant appointed non-resident ambassador to the Vatican is to open talks with the Pope's representatives on sharing an embassy building with other diplomats assigned to Rome.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the option of using one site to house staff liaising separately with the Holy See and the Italian Government will be on the agenda.
. . . .
"When our ambassador David Cooney has his credentials submitted and when the Vatican makes the arrangements to receive those credentials and he is then in a position to have discussions with them we will carry that forward."

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin yesterday suggested the Holy See embassy would reopen in a leaner way and that it would not be long before other arrangements were found.
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Mexican Roman Catholic Church draws fire for issuing 'guidelines' for voting
Mark Stevenson       Feb.14, 2012

Mexico's Roman Catholic Church drew fire Tuesday for releasing a set of voting "guidelines" for the faithful ahead of the July 1 presidential elections.

All religious groups in Mexico are banned from engaging in electoral politics, or supporting or opposing any candidate or party. The guidelines published by the Archdiocese of Mexico on its web site appear to closely skirt the restriction.
. . . .
Bernardo Barranco, an expert at Mexico's Center for Religious Studies, called the guidelines "a provocation" and said that while they did not appear to violate the letter of the law, it violated the spirit of Article 130 of Mexico's constitution, which states that "priests and ministers cannot form political associations nor carry out propaganda for any candidate, party or political group."
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Vatican gives Easter reform deadline to Pontifical University of Peru
David Kerr       2012

The Vatican has given the Pontifical University of Peru until Easter 2012 to comply with the Church's requirements for Catholic colleges, marking the first time the Holy See has set a deadline for a university to reform.
 . . . .
University officials have been refusing to comply with the Church's guidelines for Catholic universities, which were laid out the papal document "Ex Corde Ecclesiae." 
. . . .
If the university chooses not to comply with today's Vatican recommendations, it could be stripped of its status as a pontifical university. Furthermore, the original donor who provided the land for the university stipulated that if the pontifical university is closed, the property would pass to the Archdiocese of Lima. 
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A Rift in the German-Speaking Catholic Church
Spiegel       Feb.20, 2012

With its often more progressive stances on some controversial issues, the arm of the Catholic Church in the German-speaking world has long posed problems for Rome. Now a modern day schism is threatening the area's priestly establishment. The brewing split exposes a rift in the German speaking world between more liberal reform minded and conservative Catholics regarding the future of the church. The stakes are high, with the number of men applying for the priesthood in decline as the church loses appeal among younger generations.

The liberal Pastors' Initiative wants to reverse that trend, which has forced parishes to close, by making priesthood more accessible. Last June it put out a "Call for Disobedience," calling for a rewrite of the church's long standing views against homosexuality, divorce and celibacy.
. . . .
The movement has its roots in Austria, where it counts more than 400 priests and deacons as members. But it is gaining ground across Europe with sympathetic clergy in France, Ireland and other countries expressing support. The Austrian group even has its own German Facebook page, with more than 900 likes.

The conservative Network of Catholic Priests, founded in Frankfurt in 2001, claims the movement is "on its way to building its own church." The reformers are "creating a schism in the German speaking Catholic world, which has long since happened under the eyes of the bishops," said a spokesperson for the network, which represents more than 500 clergymen.

Together with priests from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the network is calling for Catholic Bishops to intervene in a decisive manner. 
. . . .
According to the Vatican Insider, Pope Benedict XVI, who is German, is very worried about the growing schism and has been calling secret high level meetings over how to handle the group.

Helmut Schüller, head of the Initiative, told the Vienna Review that because their numbers are so high, they aren't worried about being kicked out of the church. The "Call to Disobedience" has been translated into nine languages and Schüller believes that it will gain support in much of the emerging world where the priest shortage is even more acute. In the end, he has said his goal isn't to create a separate church, but to modernize the existing one.
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Equality chief claims Churches cannot have their own 'Sharia' law
Tablet       Feb.17, 2012

Britain's equality commissioner has said that making an exemption in laws for Christian-run institutions is the equivalent of allowing Muslims to adopt Sharia law.

Citing the case of those Catholic adoption agencies that wished only to work with heterosexual couples, Sir Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said equality laws had to apply across the board.
. . . .
Sir Trevor said that "the law stops at the door of the temple as far as I am concerned" explaining that it was only inside a church or religious institution that believers could apply their own rules.
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An Italian newspaper writer had described Cardinal Dolan as a possible candidate for pope one day.

Asked about that, Cardinal O'Brien said "His mother thinks so."

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Staffer: Bishops 'will not relent' on contraception compromise
 Joshua J. McElwee       Feb. 16, 2012

A key staffer for the U.S. bishops' conference said Thursday that the bishops "will not relent" and "have no choice" but to voice their objections to the controversial mandate requiring coverage of contraceptive services in health care plans.

"Foundational principles, religious liberty are at stake," said Anthony R. Picarello, Jr., the bishops' conference's general counsel and associate general secretary, on a conference call with reporters from Catholic papers across the country Thursday afternoon.

"And...we're not going to stop until we get it done," he continued. "We're just not. The bishops have no choice. They just have no choice. They're not going to relent on this. They can't relent. They have no choice."
Picarello's comments come as several bishops are becoming more vocal about their opposition to the mandate.

Bishop William Lori, the chairman of the bishops' new ad hoc committee for religious liberty, testified Thursday before the House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington also wrote an article posted on the website of the Washington Post the same day, saying "What is at stake here is a question of human freedom."
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Contraception's Con Men
Garry Wills    Feb.15, 2012

By a revolting combination of con men and fanatics, the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office. Take the controversy over contraceptives. American bishops at first opposed having hospitals and schools connected with them pay employee health costs for contraceptives. But when the President backed off from that requirement, saying insurance companies can pay the costs, the bishops doubled down and said no one should have to pay for anything so evil as contraception. Some Republicans are using the bishops' stupidity to hurt the supposed "moderate" candidate Mitt Romney, giving a temporary leg up to the faux naïf Rick Santorum; others are attacking Barack Obama as an "enemy of religion."
. . . .
Omnidirectional bad-faith arguments have clustered around what is falsely presented as a defense of "faith." The layers of ignorance are equaled only by the willingness of people "of all faiths" to use them for their own purposes. Consider just some of the layers:

The Phony Religious Freedom Argument
The bishops' opposition to contraception is not an argument for a "conscience exemption." It is a way of imposing Catholic requirements on non-Catholics. This is religious dictatorship, not religious freedom.
. . . .
 The Phony Contraception Argument
The opposition to contraception has, as I said, no scriptural basis.  . . . . Then the "natural law" was fallen back on, saying that the natural purpose of sex is procreation, and any use of it for other purposes is "unnatural." But a primary natural purpose does not of necessity exclude ancillary advantages. The purpose of eating is to sustain life, but that does not make all eating that is not necessary to subsistence "unnatural."
 . . . .
The Phony "Church Teaches" Argument
Catholics who do not accept the phony argument over contraception are said to be "going against the teachings of their church." That is nonsense. They are their church. The Second Vatican Council defines the church as "the people of God." 
. . . .
The Phony "Undying Principle" Argument 
. . . .
A young priest I saw on television, modeling himself on his hero Santorum, said, "I would rather die than give up my church's principles." What we are seeing is not a defense of undying principle but a stampede toward a temporarily exploitable lunacy. Acton to the rescue! 
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Matters of Policy Only
America Editors       Mar.5, 2012

For a brief moment, Catholics on all sides were united in defense of the freedom of the Catholic Church to define for itself what it means to be Catholic in America.  . . . .  Then, on February 10, President Barack Obama announced a compromise solution in which religious institutions would be exempt from paying the objectionable premiums, yet women would not be denied contraceptive coverage. A confrontation which should never have happened was over. But not for long.
. . . .
 The campaign fails to acknowledge that in the present instance claims of religious liberty may intersect with the right to healthcare, or that the religious rights of other denominations are in tension with those of Catholics. But as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in "Deus Caritas Est," the church does not seek to "impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to the faith." Furthermore, the campaign fails to admit that the administration's February 10 solution, though it can be improved, fundamentally did what Catholic social teaching expects government to do-coordinate contending rights for the good of all.

By pushing the religious liberty campaign to cover the fine points of healthcare coverage, the campaign devalues the coinage of religious liberty. The fight the conference won against the initial mandate was indeed a fight for religious liberty, and for that reason, won widespread support. The latest phase of the campaign, however, is essentially an effort to bar healthcare funding for contraception. 
Read more


Pink Pills Aren't Evil Like Brown Shirts
 Jeffrey Weiss       Feb.16, 2012

Even Hitler would be offended by the repeated invocation of the Nazis by opponents of changes in health care provisions.

This past week's examples -- related to a requirement that contraception be included in health insurance -- are only the latest examples. Here's Chuck Colson's Nazi comparison. Here's Eric Metaxas doing it. And just for context, here was Newt Gingrich doing it last year.

I'm not going to be able to improve on Jon Stewart's rebuke from earlier this week on The Daily Show.
. . . .
And while morality is not necessarily a matter for referendum, do you really want to declare that the vast majority of Americans are tantamount to Hitler and the SS? That they represent an evil that is as evil as the most evil institution in modern history? Does the level of disagreement not at least give you some pause before you issue such a blanket and absolute condemnation?
You'd need to be very, very sure of yourself to do something like that. Like these folks.
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Cardinal Timothy Dolan issues strongest statement yet against the HHS mandate
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan & Bishop William E. Lori       Feb.22, 2012

His Eminence Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, President, and His Excellency Most Reverend William E. Lori, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, have released a very strong statement regarding the current status of the HHS mandate, dated February 21, 2012, to the bishops of the United States.

The statement warns of the severe danger posed to religious liberty by "an all-encompassing, extreme form of secularism" and notes that the narrow "exemption" in the mandate was "instituted only by executive whim" and so "can be taken away easily." Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori present the mandate as an assault on foundational principles and ask, "If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end?"
Here is the full text of the statement


Catholic Nuns File Brief Supporting Affordable Care Act
Ian Millhiser          Feb 23, 2012 

As further proof that conservative efforts to paint President Obama as the enemy of religion are a red herring, nearly two dozen leading Catholic nuns filed a brief in the Supreme Court last week supporting the president's signature legislative accomplishment. The Catholic sisters who joined the brief include the leaders of many prominent religious orders providing health care and other services to the needy. As they explain in their brief:

Amici curiae represent the leadership of Catholic women's religious orders from across the United States. Amici and the orders they serve have a long history of public service in healthcare in America dating back to the 1700s. These services include founding hospitals and free clinics and providing free healthcare to the underprivileged and uninsured. The work by Amici gives them a unique perspective on the unmet healthcare needs of the poor, as well as on the positive impact that will result from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA" or the "Act"). . . .  

These nuns have unique stature to explain why their support for the Affordable Care Act flows from their faith, given that so many of them have devoted their lives to providing care to those most in need. Nevertheless, their views are hardly unique within their church's hierarchy. Pope Benedict XVI called health care an "inalienable right," and added that it is the " moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens.
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Back to First Principles on Religious Freedom

Dorothy Samuels       Feb.25, 2012

Catholic bishops, leading Republicans and other social conservatives persist in portraying the Obama administration's new rule requiring employer health plans to cover birth control without a co-pay as an assault on religious freedom.

But the real departure from the Constitution is their specious claim to a right to impose their religious views on millions of Americans who do not share them. Virtually all American women, including Catholic women, use contraceptives sometime in their lives. In essence, the bishops and their allies are arguing that they are above the law and their beliefs should be elevated over pressing societal interests.

The political ruckus over the issue has tended to obscure a central fact: the legal case against the policy is remarkably weak. The contraception benefit is plainly constitutional and a proper exercise of government power under Supreme Court precedent and a federal law dealing with exercise of religion.
. . . .
Opponents of the contraception rule claim the fight isn't about birth control, but religious liberty. It's about both, though they are right that the battle for religious exemptions goes well beyond birth control coverage - to employment discrimination, zoning, mandated reporting of child abuse, a pharmacist's duty to fill valid prescriptions and that of hospitals to give life-saving emergency care. And now, the bishops and conservative religious groups are lobbying to get Congress to pass a law that would let any private employer opt out of covering any medical treatment as a matter of faith. That is an outrageous assault on the First Amendment.  

Read more


The phony war on religion
Tom Ehrich      Feb.21, 2012

In their relentless search for enemies to loathe and not love (sorry, Jesus), right-wing politicians have assumed yet another victim role, this time as targets of a "war on religion" and victims of an assault on "religious liberty."
. . . . 
If history is any guide, a government that wanted to declare war on religion would take these actions:

An anti-religion government would force churches to close their doors. In reality: Churches are closing their own doors, because they lost touch with a changing world and clung to old ways that new generations don't value as pathways to God.

An anti-religion government would ban churches from recruiting new constituents. In reality: Those bans do exist, but they come from change-resistant members who don't want children and diversity in their midst. Deterrents to recruitment also arise from sexual abuse by clergy and the hierarchy's determination to hide or minimize it.

An anti-religion government would prevent the publishing of sacred texts, religious books and religious newspapers. In reality: It is church hierarchies that compel authors and editors to toe the line or lose their jobs.

An anti-religion government would deny freedom of speech to believers. In reality: It is church leaders who shun, dismiss and persecute constituents who stray from approved doctrine.

An anti-religion government would remove church property and operations from the protections of normal laws, such as those honoring contracts and property rights. In reality: Churches divided over sexuality issues have taken full advantage of their legal rights, devoting months and years to legal wrangling in a self-inflicted bankrupt-the-enemy tactic reminiscent of Big Tobacco.

An anti-religion government would target powerful preachers for muzzling, hoping to silence smaller fry, as well. In reality: The only powerful preachers being muzzled did themselves in by adultery and financial misbehavior, and the muzzlers were their own boards of directors.

An anti-religion government would use tax policy against religious organizations. In reality: Churches are exempt from most taxes, and they dread having to operate on a level playing field. Religious leaders have undermined their own stewardship ministries and, at this point, have trained their members so poorly that loss of tax benefits would stifle giving.

An anti-religion government would divide and conquer by segregating churches into warring camps, turning people against each other, preventing churches from attaining the "oneness" that was God's desire for them, and protecting wealth and power from any intrusion by the actual gospel. In reality: Churches do this shattering and weakening themselves, as one group after another is lifted up for derision.
Read more


Editorial Cartoon of the Week
David Mixner       Feb.18, 2012



The End of Church
 Diana  Butler  Bass       Feb.18, 2012

Something startling is happening in American religion: We are witnessing the end of church or, at the very least, the end of conventional church. The United States is fast-becoming a society where Christianity is being reorganized after religion.

In recent decades, untold numbers of people have left the Roman Catholic Church. In a 2008 survey, Pew research found that one in 10 Americans now considers themselves an ex-Catholic.
. . . .
The end of church, however, is not merely a Catholic problem. For decades, mainline Protestants have watched helplessly as their membership rolls dwindled, employing program after program to try to stop the decline. In the last 15 years, conservative Protestant denominations have witnessed significant erosions in membership, money and participation -- with some of the greatest drops in groups like the Southern Baptist Convention that once seemed impervious to decline. In a typical week, less than a quarter of Americans attend a religious service, down from the half of the population who were regular churchgoers a generation ago.
 . . . .
 The end of conventional church isn't necessarily a bad thing. Christianity after religion, a faith renewed by the experience of God's spirit, is closer to what Jesus hoped for his followers than the scandalous division, politics, and enmity we have now. Will there still be Christianity after the end of institutional religion? Yes, there will be. But it is going to be different than what Americans have known, a faith responsive to the longings of those who are expecting more spiritual depth and greater ethical integrity rather than more conventional church. Indeed, I suspect that the end of church is only the beginning of a new Great Awakening.
Read more


Once Upon a Time : There was a Vatican
John W. Greenleaf       Feb.25, 2012
Today's First and Second Readings:

"For those who've seen the place in better days, the Vatican looks deeply troubled. In the absence of strong leadership, internal tensions seem to be bursting into view. Even at the height of his powers, the pope took scant interest in governance. As he ages and becomes more limited, a sense of drift is mounting - a conviction that hard choices must await a new day, and probably a new pontiff." (John Allen noting in a 24 February NCR article that the observation first made in 2004 is especially apt today.)

" 'No one puts new wine into old wineskins,' warns the gospel. 'Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins.' The 'new wine' that came forth from the Second Vatican Council - the rediscovery of episcopal collegiality and shared governance between the Pope and the bishops, the aware- ness of the Church being a communio of all the baptised, the full participation of the laity in the liturgy and the mission of the Church - risks being lost because the post-conciliar Church has not been able to provide 'new wineskins' or new structures to sustain such a kind of Church. The skins have not yet burst, but there are signs of them springing leaks, which the men in Rome are struggling to plug." (Robert Mickens reporting in The Tablet on 25 February)

The Homily:

As Robert Mickens from TheTablet, John Allen from NCR, and others have observed the institutional tectonic plates beneath the Vatican are shifting in a major historic way. Some observers speak of meltdown or an institutional implosion with tremendous international aftershocks....

Massimo Franco, Italian political writer for Corriere della Sera, has a new book which analyzes it all: C'era Una Volta Un Vaticano -- Once Upon a Time, There was a Vatican.
. . . .
I think my friend Robert Mickens says it best of all: "What no senior Vatican official seems willing to admit or able to grasp is that there may be something more serious going on.  . . . . . While Popes Paul VI and John Paul II made modest 'reforms' to the Roman Curia, they failed to address the lingering and deeper crisis. Quite simply, the crisis is this: the structures of the Catholic Church are no longer adequate for life in the modern world or responsive to the developments of the Church's own ecclesiology and self-understanding."

An implosion and a seismic shift for sure. On both sides of the Atlantic. And it is still rumbling deeply. When the air clears, perhaps we will see these days as days of grace when our institutional leaders rediscovered the church as a community of faith.
Read more


Head of Greek Catholics appeals to pope for help in crisis
Agence France-Presse      Feb.11, 2012

The head of Greece's Catholic Church on Saturday urged Pope Benedict XVI to come to the aid of Greeks who are in "a tragic social situation" in the face of draconian austerity measures.

"I hope my appeal will reach the pope," Francesco Papamanolis said in an interview with the Italian daily Il Messaggero. "We need aid to help the people. The social situation is tragic."
. . . .
Papamanolis said the Catholic Church in other European countries should lend a hand of solidarity, adding: "We have also informed the Congregation for the Oriental Churches at the Vatican. We launched appeals. So far nothing. I imagine that they read the papers and know what's happening!"
. . . .
With more than a million people unemployed in Greece, or over 20 percent of the workforce, Athens has nevertheless been told to revise labour agreements, slashing minimum wages and facilitating further layoffs. 
Read more


Vatican told to pay taxes as Italy tackles budget crisis
Michael Day       Feb.17, 2012

After several years of scandal in which the Catholic Church has faced allegations of financial impropriety, paedophile priests and rumours of plots to kill the Pope, the Vatican is now facing a new €600m-a-year tax bill as Rome seeks to head off European Commission censure over controversial property tax breaks enjoyed by the Church.
. . . .
Meanwhile, as the Vatican financial authorities do their sums and continue to lobby, the Holy See has announced an official investigation into a series of embarrassing leaks. After the child abuse and financial scandals of recent years, the prospects for another annus horribilis were underlined last week when a document emerged suggesting there was a plot to kill Pope Benedict XVI this year.

"It's now complete war inside the Vatican," said Robert Mickens, The Tablet's Rome correspondent, who has 20 years' experience of reporting on the Vatican. "Things are falling apart."
Read more


Jury selection to begin in Philadelphia church abuse scandal
 Dave Warner     Feb.20, 2012

A criminal trial in the Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese pedophilia scandal gets underway on Tuesday, a case likely to be watched closely as one defendant is the first high-ranking U.S. cleric to go to trial in a child sex abuse case.
Selection of a jury to hear child endangerment charges against Monsignor William Lynn and more severe sex abuse charges against two others is set to begin in Common Pleas Court.
. . . .
Given Lynn's rank, a plea bargain is likely to be under consideration, said attorney Marci Hamilton who is involved in six civil lawsuits against the archdiocese on behalf of men who say they were sexually abused as children by churchmen.

"I would be shocked if a plea was not at the top of Monsignor Lynn's list," she said. "It is very rare for any higher-ups in the Catholic Church to even testify at trial, let alone be a defendant at trial."

Typically in a plea bargain, the accused may plead guilty to certain charges so that other charges are dropped or in exchange for a reduced sentence.

If history is a guide, Hamilton noted, such a plea bargain could come at the last minute.
Read more


Lawyers: Bevilacqua ordered memo on priests to be shredded 
John P. Martin       Feb.24, 2012

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua ordered aides to shred a 1994 memo that identified 35 Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests suspected of sexually abusing children, according to a new court filing.

The order, outlined in a handwritten note locked away for years at the archdiocese's Center City offices, was disclosed Friday by lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former church administrator facing trial next month.

They say the shredding directive proves what Lynn has long claimed: that a church conspiracy to conceal clergy sex abuse was orchestrated at levels far above him.
Read more


Missouri Catholic bishop seeks dismissal of cover-up charge
Kevin Murphy      Feb.16, 2012

The Roman Catholic bishop in Kansas City has asked a court to dismiss charges he failed to report suspected child abuse by a priest on grounds he was not mandated to do so.

Bishop Robert Finn, leader of the 133,000-member Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, is scheduled to go on trial in September in Missouri's Jackson County Circuit Court on charges he failed to inform authorities for months that Father Shawn Ratigan had child pornography on his laptop computer.
. . . .
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker will oppose the defense motion, which was not a surprise, and has 15 days to respond, the prosecutor's spokesman, Michael Mansur, said on Thursday.

In addition to seeking dismissal of the case, Finn is asking that he be tried separately from the diocese.
Read more


Delaware priest abuse documents released online
Mark Eichmann      Feb.15, 2012

The victims advocate group BishopAccountability.org is posting thousands of documents, hand-written notes and other evidence of abuse by priests within the Catholic Diocese ofWilmington. 

The release of documents is part of the non-monetary terms of the church's settlement agreement with victims of abuse.  The papers detail the effort to keep the pattern of abuse by numerous priests under wraps.
. . . .
Dozens of documents were posted to the BishopAccountability.org website this afternoon. Thousands more will be added over the next few days.
Read more


Scandal-hit Legion of Christ's female branch in turmoil as director resigns, group splits off
Associated Press             Feb. 14, 2012 

VATICAN CITY - The female branch of the scandal-plagued Legionaries of Christ religious order was in turmoil Tuesday following the resignation of its leader and the decision of some 30 members to split from the movement.

Malen Oriol announced in a letter Sunday that she had asked to resign as the assistant to the general director of the Legion, which Pope Benedict XVI took over in 2010 after the order revealed its late founder had sexually molested seminarians and fathered three children.
. . . .
Oriol also revealed that a group of consecrated women had decided to leave the movement and live out their vocations under the authority of local bishops - a blow to the Legion that suggests that groups of reformers are now stepping outside the movement because their superiors are refusing to change.
Read more


Pope tells couples to shun artificial procreation, says arrogance drives infertility field
Associated Press             Feb. 25, 2012 

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has called on infertile couples to shun artificial procreation, saying such methods are a form of arrogance.
Benedict spoke Saturday at the end of a three-day Vatican conference on diagnosing and treatinginfertility. Reiterating Vatican teaching, he called marriage the only permissible place to conceive children.

Benedict also pressed a church ban against artificial procreation. He said infertile couples should resist resorting to any method to try to conceive other than sex between husband and wife.

He says the drive for profit as well as "arrogance" seem to dominate the field of infertility and warned against what he called the "fascination of artificial procreation technology."
Read more


Vatican Requests 1,500-Year-Old Bible Held In Turkey
Laura Hibbard             Feb. 23, 2012 

The Vatican has allegedly issued an official request to examine a 1,500-year-old Bible that has been held in Turkey for the past 12 years, the Hurriyet Daily News reports.

The Bible reportedly contains early teachings of Jesus Christ and is written in gold lettering on animal hide in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, which was the native tongue of Jesus.
. . . . 
Today's Zaman reports that the Bible is under high security and that a Turkish daily newspaper, the Star, claims the book could be a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas -- a controversial text which Muslims claim is an addition to the original gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- that was suppressed.

In it, Jesus is said to have predicted the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.
Read more


New Translation of the Roman Missal  
We  recommend that you watch these sites during the transition to the new translation:
1.  Misguided Missal
2.  U.S. Catholic; Special Section on the New Liturgy
3.  PrayTell blog
4. Louisville Liturgy Forum


Tempers flare over priest fired over Mass prayers
Tim Townsend       Feb 22, 2012

An Illinois bishop has confirmed that a Roman Catholic priest was fired because he "simply would not and could not pray the prayers of the Mass" under a new translation that went into effect last year.

In a rare letter of explanation about an internal personnel dispute, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., publicly responded to the firing of the Rev. William Rowe, who has been pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Carmel, Ill., for 18 years.
. . . .
Rowe said Braxton had warned him five years ago to stick to the words as written. Last June, the bishop sent a letter to the diocese's priests saying: "It will not be acceptable for any priest or any parish to refrain from using the new prayers due to their personal preference."
Read more


One Pastor's Experience

In our Parish, the congregation responses and prayers (Gloria, Apostles Creed, Sanctus, etc.) are from the NRM on a card in the pews prepared by the Liturgy Committee, with adjustments for inclusive language.

I use the prayers from the 1998 edition of the NRM which can be found here.  Pages are placed in formal 3 ring binders at the chair and altar.  These prayers are a tremendous step forward from the 1969 edition and would put the present edition to shame. Thus far, it is working very well.

Prior to Advent the parish went through a 10 week review of the liturgy at the weekend liturgies, explaining the history, Vatican II vision, signs, symbols etc.  I shared with the community the history of the NRM and its resulting poor quality, and that we would adjust as needed, with the support of the Liturgy Committee.
. . . . 
In conscience, I could not use such an inadequate translation when the 1998 version, approved by all the Bishop Conferences of the English speaking world is available. The post Vatican II liturgical documents encourage regional translations.  In my view, to use the present edition would be bending to an unjust, political intervention by those who desire to restore the liturgy to Pre-Vatican II form
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Actions you can take  beginning
the first week of Lent 2012



Upcoming Events   
New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium  
to be held March 15-17, 2012
From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium, will be held March 15-17, 2012, in Baltimore, Maryland, Major speakers: Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Luke Timothy Johnson, Patricia Beattie Jung, Richard Rodriguez, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson will facilitate a pre-symposium retreat day.  Workshop topics: marriage equality, transgender issues, youth and young adults, lesbian nuns and gay priests/religious, Latino/a issues, African-American issues, and coalition building. For more information: info@NewWaysMinistry.org, (301) 277-5674 or www. NewWaysMinistries.org.


ARCC's 2012 Hans Küng Award 
to be presented April 21, 2012
The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) will present its Hans Küng Award to John Hushon and Janet Hauter, cochairs of the American Catholic Council. The award presentation will take place Saturday April 21st, 1:00 p.m. at the O'Hare Best Western, 10300 West Higgins Road, Rosemont IL 60018. Hushon and Hauter join such illustrious recipients as Hans Küng (2005), Archbishop Jean Jadot (2006), Joan Chittister, OSB (2007), Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (2008), Sheila and Dan Daley (2010), and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (2011). For more information, and to register for this free event, please see 
or call 1-877-700-2722   (1-(870) 235-5200)


A Retreat for Spiritual Activists
Pentecost Weekend May 25 - 27, 2012 
Occupy Christianity, A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity.  Join Matthew Fox and others May 25 - 27, 2012 Boston, MA - Adelynrood Retreat Center, Byfield, MA.   It is said that "the prophet is the mystic in action;" The goal of this retreat is to develop the mystic and prophet in all of us to carry on the important work of reimagining and rebirthing religion and spiritual community for the 21st century.  
To Register:  http://www.matthewfox.org
Questions: 510.835.0655


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