Removal of Australian Bishop Raises New Questions

The National Catholic Reporter posted a story today (via Cindy Wooden of CNS) about the removal of Bishop William Morris of the Diocese of Toowoomba, Australia. This follows an apostolic visitation by Archbishop Chaput of the U.S. Diocese of Denver, Colorado. Bishop Morris issued a letter in which he explained that he has not been granted access to the report written by Bishop Chaput, and that “without due process it has been impossible to resolve these matters, denying me natural justice without any possibility of appropriate defense and advocacy on my behalf.” Bishop Morris did not want to resign, but negotiated early retirement, albeit “with profound sadness.” Why was Bishop Morris removed? Cindy Wooden writes that it is because of his Advent Pastoral Letter of 2006, in which he indicated he would be “open to ordaining women and married men if church rules changed to allow such a possibility.” The removal of Bishop Morris, without a public explanation, raises some serious questions. I wonder, what is this really about? Is this about ordination? Is “openness” to women’s ordination a sign of infidelity? What would due process look like in this case? Why was Archbishop Charles Chaput appointed as Apostolic Visitor to the Diocese of Toowoomba? Anne M. Burke, former chairperson of the USCCB National Review Board, wrote an Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribute on April 29, in which she...

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Fender Benders and Witnessing the Risen Christ

Third Sunday of Easter  –  May 8, 2011  Acts 2:14,22-33  ~  Ps 16:1-2,5,7-11  ~  1 Pt 1:17-21  ~  Lk 24:13-35 As we walked out of the Easter vigil mass a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine observed a car with its front fender partially detached.  It wasn’t clear if it had happened recently or not, but her immediate response struck me: “Let’s get out of here before someone wants us to serve as witnesses.”  Now granted, this friend has extensive experience with the legal system and knows all too well the games played and the inequities that can pass as justice.  Still, what do we make of the knee-jerk response that wants to avoid being a witness? If nothing else, it reminds us that being a witness can be a hassle.  One moment you are minding your own business and then, in an instant, you are saddled with the responsibility to testify to what you have seen and heard.  Wrong time, wrong place.  Maybe you’ll even be forced to take time off work if it goes to court.  Although in modern parlance we reserve the term martyr for those who sacrifice their lives for a noble cause, the original meaning of the Greek term was simply “witness.”  Perhaps we see shades of a supererogatory sacrifice in those who are willing to stand witness today, even for a little...

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American Justice and Divine Mercy: Thoughts on Osama Bin Laden’s Death

Here are just a couple scattered thoughts that have come swirling into my mind in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death: First, should we consider it anything more than a blind coincidence that this momentous attack was carried out on Divine Mercy Sunday? (And coincidentally the same Divine Mercy Sunday set aside for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, who designated the Easter Octave as a universal commemoration of divine mercy?) Second, is it appropriate to feel at least feel a little uncomfortable with the primary meaning which our President (and the media) has attached to this momentous attack, which was  set in motion on Divine Mercy Sunday, namely that  “Justice has been done” ? True: mercy and justice have always been inseparably linked in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  (“Love and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss,” as Psalm 85 famously puts it.) But is there any way of intelligibly linking the justice done to Osama Bin Laden with the divine mercy proclaimed by Jesus to St. Faustina, and through her to the whole world? Yes, justice has been done; but whose justice, exactly? Is the justice that was done to this terrorist the sort of justice that Christians should recognize and celebrate? Should Christians consider the eradication of this murderer as an act of divine mercy? If so, how do we fit together his execution with the execution of our Lord? Can we reasonably and...

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Should Christians Pray for Osama Bin Laden’s Soul?

The front page of the New York Times today bears a picture of Osama bin Laden with the headline: BIN LADEN KILLED BY US FORCES IN PAKISTAN, OBAMA SAYS, DECLARING JUSTICE HAS BEEN DONE. The news touched off an extraordinary outpouring of emotion as crowds gathered outside the White House, in Times Square and at the Ground Zero site, waving American flags, cheering, shouting, laughing and chanting, “U.S.A., U.S.A.!” In New York City, crowds sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Throughout downtown Washington, drivers honked horns deep into the night. I am always a little shocked by emotional displays of rejoicing at the demise or death of any human being, even an enemy. Leaving aside the question of whether or not bin Laden’s death was just, I want to briefly examine what reaction Christians ought to have to this news. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we ought to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). As a model of such agapic love, Christ prays for his persecutors on the cross “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We see the emulation of this agapic love especially when Stephen is martyred, praying as he is stoned “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). I always like to think of the “Oh my Jesus” prayer, often...

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Relief or Rejoice? Reflections on the Death of Osama Bin Laden

Just after midnight, President Obama announced to the American public that Osama Bin Laden was dead. He gave a powerful and measured speech detailing a covert military operation into Pakistan. He began: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. This is THE story dominating today’s “news cycle.” As a New Yorker, who vividly remembers the events of 9/11 and a Catholic moral theologian highly critical of the way the memory of 9/11 has been used to justify two wars, Guantanamo detention centers, and the deaths of thousands of civilians – I find myself perplexed and uneasy with what I am seeing. On the one hand, I too feel a sense of relief. Was arresting and putting Bin Laden on trial ever really an option? I’d always assumed and attempt to capture him would result in a firefight. Was his covert existence “out there” a persistent threat to the United States and its citizens at home and abroad? Yes, I do believe he was. However, there is a difference relief and rejoicing.  Retributive justice being done and  a sense of profound relief is quite different from active rejoicing in the death...

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Be Attentive Instead of Liberal or Conservative

Bernard Prusak recently reviewed Leaving and Coming Home: New Wineskins for Catholic Sexual Ethics.  While having the book reviewed is itself an honor and while Prusak hailed the book as “courageous” for addressing sexual ethics, he concluded that overall it was a failure (my word, not his) of scholarship and in overcoming the liberal-conservative bifurcation of Catholic moral theology. Prusak stated that the book was insufficiently critical, historically inattentive, and mostly irrelevant to the needs of the Catholic Church.  He noted only one essay was critical of Humanae Vitae, two essays were in agreement with Church teachings, and the rest dealt ineffectively with such “college ethics class” topics like cohabitation, dating, abuse, and pornography.  Driving Prusak’s review seems to be the idea that “it is difficult to imagine, without a change in the Vatican’s teaching, ‘effectively moving beyond the impasse’ occasioned by Humanae Vitae.” As a contributor to the volume, the review stung.  As a scholar though, the review indicated why the categories of liberal and conservative function more like biases than frameworks for intellectual inquiry. Bernard Lonergan, the Canadian Jesuit who is best known for his work on epistemology and theological method, said that bias is “a block or distortion of intellectual development”.  The liberal and conservative frameworks are biases in that they fail to grasp the reality of the situation.  In other words, the perspectives make us...

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Providing Compassion Without Judgment: Homeless Alcoholics & St. Anthony’s “Wet Room”

As a nation, when we see our neighbors in need after horrific natural disasters, Americans respond with immense compassion and charity. This is clearly evident in the responses to the stream of storms and tornadoes that ravaged Alabama and the entire region.  Tornadoes, hurricanes, oil spills, tsunamis, earthquakes – natural disasters elicit a strong sense of compassion, interdependence and charity. At the same time, however,compassion for the poor and vulnerable in American culture is often criticized for its distinction between the “deserving and undeserving poor.” In 2005, Eileen McNamara of the Boston Globe highlighted the distinction between the victims of Katrina deserving of compassion and the undeserving Boston homeless men in her op-ed “Selective Compassion,” The front page contrast could not have been more clear: Above the fold, the state of Massachusetts was embracing evacuees from the rooftops over New Orleans, below the fold it was evicting squatters from underneath the bridges of Boston. Like those homeless men being evicted from the bridges of Boston, a population that is often met more with judgment than compassion are homeless alcoholics.  Today’s NY Times profiles St Anthony’s House or “The ‘Wet House’ Where Alcoholics Can Keep Drinking” Here, at one of several “wet houses” for chronically alcoholic and homeless men, there is little expectation that he will get sober. Instead, there is a tacit acceptance that tomorrow will most likely be...

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Ethics after Easter

May 1, 2011–Second Sunday of Easter Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31 “Peace be with you!” When I say this greeting, which Jesus shares with his hiding disciples, in class to my students, they initially are caught off guard and aren’t sure how to respond. Some automatically respond, “And also with you.” Others almost do so. Indeed, outside of Mass or worship, this greeting and response seem out of place to most of us. But why is this so? Shouldn’t there be a connection between what we say and do during worship and what we say and do during the rest of the week outside of Mass? In his book, Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship, the Catholic theological ethicist, Paul Wadell, recalls how, many years ago, he was struck by a question that Methodist theological ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, once asked upon making an initial observation: “You Catholics go to Mass all the time. What do all those Masses do for you?” (15). In other words, does worship make a difference in our lives? Does it have anything to do with who we are (or ought to be) and what we do (or ought to do)? Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the earliest Christians, according to the author of Acts, experienced a new way of life together. “They devoted themselves...

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Would you deny Jesus food stamps?

What would Jesus Cut? Arguing that the budget is a moral document, Rev Jim Wallis and Sojourners magazine has embarked on an admirable and controversial campaign to protect our social safety net. Wallis and his colleagues just completed a Lenten fast for hunger and poverty demonstrating their commitment through an organized collection of religious, political and personal activities. While the ubiquitous What would Jesus Do? is considered popular and part of most teen-spirituality programs, what would Jesus cut? is proving far more controversial.  Debra Saunders of the San Fransisco Chronicle is particularly angry at Wallis’s efforts: While the Sojourners recognize that the deficit is a “moral issue” – as it would be wrong to “leave a world of debt for our children” – the group warns against reducing the debt “on the backs of poor and vulnerable people.” Yet, Ryan would counter, the poor and vulnerable stand to lose the most as the looming “debt crisis” could destroy America’s safety net if Washington fails to address the federal debt. The GOP wants to change the focus of welfare programs away from rewarding dependency and toward rewarding independence. Ryan did not claim to know what Jesus would cut. The Sojourners did. Why, it even knows Jesus believes in global warming. Reader Glen Franklin Koontz came to a different conclusion. “In the Christian faith, the individual is commanded to love his...

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Would you like a slice of reality with that ideal?

One of the complaints that people sometimes make about Catholic social teachings is that they don’t seem very related to “real life.” For example, the Catholic social tradition often discusses fairness in wages and the concept of “decent work”. Of course, the term “just wage” is hotly debated, as is “decent work.” What would it mean to have a just wage? How would one account for disparities between peoples’ life/family situations? Some have made good choices and some bad. And “decent work” is, well, “nice work if you can get it.” In the past few months I have been struck by the petulance with which people discuss “collective bargaining” and “those government workers who get all these perks that we’re paying for.” Somehow, in the minds of many, these so called perks are luxuries that ought to be done without (and let us remember, the perks amount to: pension plans, the “good” health insurance, and three extra vacation days on average – so 11 vacation days rather than 8. And even with 11 days, we still are dwarfed by most other nations.) Strangely enough, though, these “perks” sound quite a bit like what Pope Benedict XVI writes about in Caritas in Veritate: [Decent work] means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively...

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