The Wisdom and Power of God …

Yesterday, Father’s Day in the United States and many other countries around the world, the Catholic Church celebrated (I assume by coincidence) Holy Trinity Sunday. The first reading at yesterday’s Sunday Masses was from the Old Testament’s Book of Proverbs, and set forth expositions from a personified Wisdom, seemingly separate from God:

Thus says the [W]isdom of God: …

“When the Lord established the heavens I was there,

when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;

when he made firm the skies above,

when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;

when he set for the sea its limit,

so that the waters should not transgress his command;

then was I beside him as his craftsman …

and I found delight in the human race.” [Emphasis added]. Proverbs 8:22 – 31

The juxtaposition of this Proverbs passage with Father’s Day – the image of the Loving Father — brought again to mind the Church’s seemingly visceral obliviousness both to the horror of the systemic human violations it let occur and covered up for generations and to the effect that the revelations of these atrocities have had upon its credibility. 35 years ago, our parish had five English Masses each weekend. Now, it has three.  (All credit for the fourth Mass, in Spanish, meeting a need that I don’t believe our parish had decades ago.)  Gray is a prevalent hair color among worshippers. This observation is in no way intended to impugn some very fine pastors we’ve had; good priests have also become victims of the Church’s conspiracy. It speaks to the now-obvious endemic failings within the Church.

At least in Madison (very possibly a legacy of our now-deceased Bishop, Robert Morlino), we are seeing more pomp and ceremony than I can recall since my youth [pre-Vatican II 😉 ] – incense, an occasional Latin chant, ornate tabernacles prominently on display. Perhaps some in Church leadership believe that gilt can be substituted for guilt. The hierarchy (as someone very close to me regularly points out, a bunch of old men) seems completely at a loss to either see or address the fact that most of the young people in developed nations are no longer listening. These young aren’t impressed by the Church’s grand physical manifestations; on a purely material level, its grandeur pales in comparison to the most mundane of the last decade’s video games.

As horrific as the specific instances of abuse are – and I admit that it’s easier for me to say this, since our children had positive experiences with our religious, all loving people dedicated to God – I would submit that Church leadership’s intentional disregard and concerted cover up of religious’ illicit activities over decades if not centuries was the even-more monstrous wrong. This went beyond individual aberration.

If Wisdom was indeed there as the Lord established the heavens, marked out the face of the deep, made the skies firm, fixed the earth’s foundations, and set the sea’s limit … it seems unclear where Wisdom was as the Body of Christ became infected by a chronic pernicious disease. The Doctrine of Free Will seems a less and less adequate explanation. It is gut wrenching. A cure seems out of reach … save for the Power of God.

On the Passing of Bishop Morlino

Bishop Robert Morlino of the Madison Diocese passed away on the evening of November 24.

To his supporters, Bishop Morlino was a righteous proclaimer of truth to those falling away from the Catholic Faith; to his detractors, he was a self-righteous sower of division who drove away many yearning for a relationship with a welcoming God.

The care and nurturing of souls is literally a sacred trust.  While I was firmly among the Bishop’s detractors, I hope for his sake that his view of his mission was the correct one, and if it wasn’t, that a merciful God credits good intentions, even those that yield unfortunate results.

On Bishop Morlino’s Letter, re: Recent Abuse Revelations

Madison Bishop Robert Morlino recently sent a Letter to the faithful of the Madison Diocese, addressing the recent disclosure of the abuse of children and other vulnerable victims throughout Pennsylvania going back decades.  In reading the Letter, I was initially heartened by the vehement tone the Bishop first struck in condemning abuse of children and other victims by the clergy … but then frankly appalled by the manner in which the Bishop pivoted to tie these acts to homosexuality.  I am beyond discouraged that the Bishop — as he has throughout his stay in Madison — has chosen to sow unnecessary and ill-informed divisiveness at a time when those that care about the Church need to come together as a community to address what are poisonous, systemic ills.  For a much more eloquent response to the Bishop’s letter, see the link below, called to my attention by a good friend.



Humanae Vitae … and Child Abuse: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there.  🙂

I would suggest that to this day, many Cardinals, Bishops, and others in the Church hierarchy seem glaringly detached from the harm caused to the many thousands of children by abusive clergy over the last decades (perhaps centuries) and stunningly oblivious to the visceral reaction that parents have had across the world to the revelations.  It has seemed to me that from the first revelations decades ago, the Church’s condemnation of these atrocities has been largely pro forma … curiously antiseptic.  Many in the Leadership clearly appear to believe that if the Church issues suitable expressions of regret when necessary, and keeps its head down, things will return to normal.  They haven’t yet realized:  things are not going to return to normal – at least in their lifetimes.  They literally don’t “get” the visceral effect that these continuing scandals have had on the faithful, and the crippling impact they have had on the Church’s credibility.

Pope Paul wrote in Humanae Vitae:  “No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law.”  Only members of the Magisterium apparently fail to recognize that due to these child abuse atrocities and the ensuing cover-ups, many of the faithful do now deeply question the Church’s competence to interpret natural moral law and its claim to moral leadership.

Despite the Church’s professions of love for the children, why did Church leaders all the way to the Vatican (that it reached the Vatican is no longer disputed) go to such lengths to cover up what has happened?

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul addressed priests as follows:  “[B]eloved sons … you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counselors and spiritual leaders ….”  He addressed Bishops, “… We turn Our mind to you, reverently and lovingly, beloved and venerable brothers in the episcopate ….” [My italics].

Our mothers all taught us:  actions speak louder than words.  It’s hard not to suppose that they covered up because their visceral reaction was to protect the Church and the brotherhood of priests – these were their family.  Who turns in his son? Brother?  Organization for which he has labored a lifetime?  They seem not to have heeded Matthew 18:6:  “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea …”

Ironically, August 15 – the day after the latest abuse revelations — is the Holy Day celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, during which the Church waxes rhapsodically about the Blessed Mother’s devotion to the Lord.  I’m confident … she gets it.

A few closing thoughts to these long notes:

I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of priests do their best to serve God and the faithful.  There is no man on earth I respect more than Pope Francis.  I feel deeply for the burden that these devout clergy carry as a result of the actions of their fellow priests.  I hope – notwithstanding the fact that the abuse appears to have been rampant throughout the Church – that many had no inkling of what was going on.  For those that did know, had no authority to act, and didn’t speak:    John 8:7:  “… Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone ….”  I wasn’t in their place; assessment here seems to me best left beyond the earthly realm.

Something even the most steadfast members of the Church hierarchy would probably agree with me about:  that those that conspired to cover up these instances of abuse in order to protect the Church suffered – ironically – from insufficient faith.  The Church didn’t need their “protection.”  Matthew 16:18:  “And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

After reading this, one might ask why I remain a practicing Catholic.  Because as imperfect as its leadership can sometimes be, it remains for me … the gateway to the Almighty (I believe that there are many gateways, in and outside the bounds of Christianity; it is just that this is mine).  My feelings are best described by a character in The Vicar of Christ, one of the three best novels I have ever read:  “The Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the symbol of the universal Church.  To whom could I now turn in my old age?”

Part I: Humanae Vitae … and Child Abuse

The original genesis – so to speak – of the concept for this note was the Catholic Church’s celebration of “Natural Family Planning Awareness Week” in late July, a national educational campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that “promotes awareness of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods” [i.e., the rhythm method].  At least this year (and perhaps every year), it’s timed to coincide with the anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 issuance of “Humanae Vitae” (Latin for “Of Human Life”), in which His Holiness declared generally “unlawful” the use of artificial contraceptive methods, going against the 1966 conclusions of a significant majority of the members of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control established by Pope John XXIII and that Paul later expanded.

Retirees have time to pursue long-delayed interests; although I understood the gist of Humanae Vitae, I recently actually read it.  A couple of general impressions emerge.  First, the Church, given passages such as the “Value of Discipline” and “Promotion of Chastity” (these in the context of marital relationships), considers sex inherently wrong, and can intellectually justify the act only as the unavoidable means to procreation; that the conjugal act can have value in and of itself as a manner in which a committed couple can manifest their love and support for each other is entirely foreign to its thinking.  Second, Pope Paul – clearly a good man torn between satisfying his own bureaucracy wedded to longstanding doctrine and addressing a technologically and scientifically evolving world unimaginable during the centuries when the Church formulated its body of rules – was attempting to counsel married couples in the conduct of their relationship and family responsibilities while having no better grasp of their struggles than I have of the challenges faced by a Somali farmer or a Cambodian woman.

While reading the Encyclical was intellectually instructive, studies indicate that most Catholics are making their own decisions about their conjugal lives and the formation of their families; the main point of the note as I originally considered it was a lament that the Church remains in such stubborn opposition to a practice in which the majority of the married faithful reportedly engage and, unlike abortion, results in no sacrifice of generated life.  However, the release this week of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report indicating that hundreds of priests had sexually abused over 1,000 children over a period of 70 years – and that Bishops and other leaders of the Pennsylvania Catholic Church had covered it up – caused me to think about several of the Encyclical’s passages from a different perspective.

Twice in Humanae Vitae, Paul mentions how the world’s (in 1968, mind you) increasing economic and educational demands made it difficult to provide for a large family.  He even states, “We have no wish at all to pass in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples,” … but in fact, he did pass over them.

In the parable of the Sower found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Christ describes how seed spread by the wayside dies, how seed spread on rocky ground sprouts quickly and then dies out, how seed spread among thorns grows and is choked, and how seed on good soil flourishes.  The seed in the parable represents the Word, not children, but I would submit that the message applies every bit as well to child rearing.  Very few children mature into well-adjusted adults without nurturing.  To get strong offspring, a loving parent does his/her best to get a child in danger of being lost by the wayside into better circumstances; does his/her best to alleviate physical, emotional, or other obstacles impeding the child’s growth; tries to block bad influences that might strangle the child.  Just as plants need tending to grow, children do as well.  The Church views children as a “Good” in the abstract, but His Holiness’ advice that unmarried couples rely on the rhythm method to manage their family size was a copout; he had to know that it was far from foolproof, and that unintended children would result.  He didn’t – nor does the Church today, by clinging to Humanae Vitae – demonstrate an understanding that parents need to be able to lovingly nourish each other when and as best while having only so much time, energy, and resources with which to raise children well.  I would submit that taking your chances with how many bushes you plant and then watching a number wither for lack of care is more than reckless; it’s immoral.

I fear that too many in the Church hierarchy view children as objects to be celebrated at a distance rather than as people requiring nourishment close at hand.  Part II of this lengthy note will look a bit more at Pope Paul’s comments in Humanae Vitae in relation to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report issued 50 years later.