On Changing Mandatory Celibacy: We Must be Careful What We Wish For

For nearly the past week, the media covering the imminent retirement of Benedict XVI has been awash in tales of a gay scandal inside the Vatican. The stories, we were told, were revealed in a 300-page dossier bound in a red (of course!) cover.

Reports about the dossier cleverly mixed in older stories about gay priests skulking around chat rooms, dirty dancing at parties, and jumping out of their lovers’ beds just in time to preside at Mass.

These sordid tales were actually told years ago in an expose by Italian journalist Carmelo Abbate and had no direct relationship to the dossier. But mixing these older stories with the latest rumor made the contents of the dossier seem even more salacious.


Leaving the Church is a Luxury the World Cannot Afford

It was no surprise when, last week, Bill Keller’s New York Times column declaring that progressive and liberal Catholics should leave the church, received a seemingly endless screed of online comments, as well as Facebook shares, tweets and recurring spins on blog rolls.

It was easy for those feeling demoralized by the hierarchy’s condemnation of nuns, its thinly veiled political campaign for religious freedom and its ongoing, unhealthy preoccupation with matters of the pelvic zone to resonate with Keller’s disappointment and despair.

The hostile takeover of the church by archconservative forces, best summed up in the rants of Bill Donohue, is a fait accompli, Keller concluded, and things are not going to change.

I share Keller’s assessment that church officials seem to want Catholics who dissent from some, if not all, of the church’s teachings related to sexuality — the ordination of women, support for same-sex marriage — to leave the church. How else can one explain the unpleasant, reactionary atmosphere the hierarchy is straining to cultivate within the church’s walls?

But what seems to elude Keller, as it does many of those who comment on this topic, is that the ability to leave the church is a luxury afforded only to Catholics in the West.


Recognizing the Church that We Already Are

On the evening of Friday, Nov. 4, NCR columnist Jamie L. Manson offered the opening night keynote address at the annual Call to Action national conference. The theme of the conference was “Living the Gospel of Love.” Below is the text of her speech. Read more about the address here.

I want to begin by telling a story because stories, perhaps more than any other element of faith, are vital to sustaining religious communities. Stories pass on insights; they help to give shape to religious traditions; they recall paradigmatic moments or people; they define a community; they are vehicles for revelation; even though they may be ordinary, stories can tell us a lot about the sacred.

This story, I think, does all of those things. It is a true story that happened in a place as ordinary as St. Louis and as recently as 2008. The year that stretched from the summer of 2008 to the summer of 2009 was especially bizarre for the Catholic Church in the United States (and, I know there is a lot of competition for that title).


Anthony Ruff: The Accidental Activist

The last time Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, came to New York, he was visiting with an editor from First Things, a theologically and politically conservative journal founded by the late Richard John Neuhaus, six years ago.

Ruff recently returned to Manhattan to offer the first presentation sponsored by the newly formed New York City chapter of Call to Action. Since CTA groups are rarely allowed to meet on Roman Catholic property, Ruff gave the lecture in the common room of an Episcopal Church in Greenwich Village.

This radical change of scene isn’t the only transformation that has marked Ruff’s life in the last six years.


Shattered Expectations of Institutional Change Bring True Vision of God

As life-giving as it is for me to attend meetings with progressive Catholics who are committed to inviting this institutional church into greater integrity and inclusion, I always come away from these gatherings with a slight heaviness in my heart.

What weighs on me, I believe, is the palpable hurt in this group of faithful people whose expectations have been betrayed. In the late 1960s and through the 1970s it was not unreasonable for Catholics to believe that major reforms were beginning to unfold.

So often traditional Catholics make progressive Catholics feel like they are asking the impossible, or they are imposing their own secular needs on a church that is unchangeable.

In the face of these criticisms, it helps to remember that the movement to bring a spirit of change and open-mindedness to the Catholic Church was initiated by the hierarchy. It was church authorities that sought the reforms that would allow them to understand more fully the lives of the people they were serving.


A Challenge to Elder Prophets: Help Empower the Next Generation

If you attended the Call to Action conference earlier this month, you no doubt came in contact with Shane Claiborne. He offered a Friday evening keynote address that was at turns affecting and entertaining.

If you didn’t attend the conference, you may have seen Tom Roberts’s recent profile of this urban monk.

Claiborne became the highly visible figurehead of the “new monasticism” movement after starting a community called The Simple Way with a group of friends from his Evangelical college. The Simple Way is one of many faith-based communities that live among those in need in the hope of creating positive change and transformation through service to the surrounding neighborhood.


Relationships Create Church, Not Loyalty to the Institution

They disagree with the Roman Catholic Church’s stances on women, ordination, contraception, and gays and lesbians, but still, they remain faithful to their individual Roman Catholic parishes.

It’s an interesting phenomenon — and surely not new one. But as the institutional church becomes more and more reactionary in its teachings on these issues and the faithful in the U.S. become increasingly more liberal on these issues the connection that Catholics feel to their parish community becomes ever more intriguing.


The Priests We Seek Are Already Working Among Us

Janine Denomme was deeply respected in her church and her community in Chicago. For years, she served her local parish as a lay preacher, church musician, parish council member, spiritual director and religion teacher. She held a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, taught at a number of Catholic colleges, and, later, was the director of youth programs at a Chicago gay and lesbian center. She was an out lesbian in a loving, committed relationship.

Mercy Sr. Margaret McBride has more than 34 years of experience in health care management. Most recently, she served as vice president of mission integration at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, a prominent Catholic hospital in Phoenix, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1895. McBride was the highest-ranking Mercy sister on the staff, and a member of the hospital’s ethics committee.

Denomme had a lifelong struggle with the church that she loved and her belief that God was calling her to the priesthood. After years of discernment, Denomme decided to pursue ordination in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests community. In April 2009, while preparing to be ordained, Denomme, at the age of 45, learned that she had terminal colorectal cancer. She battled the disease with extraordinary grace, and, as a final act of ministry, kept a powerful journal recounting her illness, treatment, and movement toward death. She was ordained in April 2010. With only a few weeks to live, her dying wish was to have her funeral Mass held at St. Gertrude, the parish she loved and served for years.


A Challenge to Old Progressives

Last Saturday, I attended an event that has undoubtedly happened hundreds of thousands of times on Staten Island, that little known borough of New York City. An Italian guy and an Irish girl got married. It was the first marriage for both of them.

But something was different. The wedding ceremony took place in a catering hall. And the officiant was the cousin of the groom. He had been ordained by an internet-based church just a few weeks earlier.

Though the bride and groom were both baptized and raised Catholic, they were not at all interested in having their ceremony in a church.


Misogynist? Homophobic? We’ve Got the Church for You!

On Friday, Oct. 16 the most e-mailed article on The New York Times Web site was the story of Pat Bond’s fight to receive financial support for the terminally ill son that she conceived with a Franciscan priest over 20 years ago.

Four days later, the eighth most e-mailed Times article told of the Pope’s new initiative to welcome larger numbers of Anglican priests and seminarians, regardless of marital status, into the Roman Catholic clergy.

The Pontiff is putting this plan into practice in an attempt to offer a spiritual home to those who have either left or are considering leaving the Anglican Communion because of their opposition to the ordination of women and openly-gay priests as well as the blessing of same-sex unions.

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