Saturday, February 15, 2014
Ever since my daughter’s copy of “The Rolling Stone” magazine arrived with Pope Francis’ smiling face on the cover, Dr. Hook’s 1970s song, “Cover of the Rolling Stone”, has been playing in my head. I keep wondering if Francis “bought five copies for his mother.”
According to the song’s lyrics, making the cover of “The Rolling Stone” epitomizes success, beyond any amount of money or other material goods. Therefore, in today’s world of spirtu-tainment approaches to faith, I wondered if church attendance was sky-rocketing with a Francis “bump.”
As luck would have it, that same week the local parish bulletin published the diocese’s October, 2013 Mass count numbers. In 2013 6 of the 10 diocesan counties experienced their all-time lowest Mass attendance since the history of Mass-counting began. Overall diocesan Mass attendance was down year to year in 2013. These reflect similar findings of a Pew Research study which indicated 2013 U.S. Mass attendance dropped. Furthermore, between 2000 and 2013 my diocese’s overall geographic population grew 3% yet diocesan Mass participation dropped 28%. At my parish we rattle around like B-Bs in a shoebox.
Evidently Francis alone cannot reverse the multi-year downward participation spiral. Why not?
Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted a survey about Mass attendance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell an accurate story because CARA limited respondents’ choices for reasons they miss Mass to the following:
Busy schedule or lack of time
Health problems or a disability
I don’t believe missing Mass is a sin
Conflict with work
Inconvenient Mass schedule
I’m not a very religious person
There are glaring omissions from that list. CARA’s survey provided more insight as to their sincerity for understanding the issue than on the issue itself.
The Pew Forum conducted a more insightful study entitled, “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.” which inquired why people changed religions and to what religion they migrated. This 2009 study indicated that former Catholics number as one of the largest religious demographic groups with an almost even split between ex-Catholics becoming unaffiliated versus joining another denomination. Here’s a summary of the most common reasons for leaving the Catholic Church.
Responses from a 2013 Vatican survey about marriage, family and sexuality are also trickling into the public domain. Regardless of country, common themes repeatedly appear that strongly align with the Pew Forum study’s top reasons for leaving the church. Therefore, it would seem many remaining Catholics are “at risk” for departure since their frustrations mirror those of already departed Catholics. It would also seem urgent to address these issues.
It’s been 5 years since the insightful Pew Forum study. How are the departure reasons being addressed?
To slow or reverse the exodus, church leaders embarked on a “New Evangelization” campaign. This seems to consist of telling people with whom they disagree that they are wrong and/or damned but delivering the message with a perky smile, modern lingo and perhaps a “friendly” handshake or over an adult beverage. I suspect that just more regularly and stridently, or even more “kindly” and colloquially deriding people will only lose not regain members. The statistics seem to support my assertion.
“New Evangelization” tactics seem based on incorrect assumptions that lapsed Catholics don’t know church dogma or scripture and just need these screamed or sung at them in bars, Jesus pep rallies, and other spiritu-tainment venues until the person wakes up and says, “Hallelujah, I’m going back to church.” However, study after study reveals Catholics do know dogma and just disagree with, if not outright reject facets of it. Church doctrine espouses this practice as a way of fostering the organization’s continual maturation but many church leaders reject it. Furthermore, many Catholics left the church because of familiarity with gospel teachings and belief that the hierarchy strayed too far from those teachings. Floating amongst all this is a lot of “us vs them” mentality.
Strongly fueling the “us vs them” mindset is the hierarchy’s belief that it has cornered the markets on truth and correctly interpreting scripture. Insistence on supreme “listening-to-God” qualities creates an impasse perhaps beyond resolution. It is impossible to be just “us” - one integrated Body of Christ - as long as any individuals or factions believe they serve a superior versus a different function within the body. The Spirit is violated and faith in the Holy Trinity is replaced by worship of the organization itself via making adherence to “tradition” more sacred than truth or love.
If church leaders sincerely want lapsed Catholics back, it’s time to quit before getting farther behind in the infallibility game. It already has pinned the institutional church into what the hierarchy perceives is an inescapable and what others perceive is an intolerant extremist corner on homosexuality, birth control, treatment of women, divorce and remarriage as well as abortion – the top reasons people leave the church. In the past 5 years there have been increased political lobbying expenditures and activities, excommunications, threats of excommunications and job terminations pertaining to all those topics. I suspect if the Pew Forum survey were taken now, the top departure reasons would be even more pronounced.
Continuing down the list of departure reasons, we hit the sex abuse tragedy. The institutional church refuses to address the clergy abuse scandal in an effective way that holds bishops accountable and works towards institutional reconciliation. Instead it continually tries to downplay the scandal’s impact and existence despite scandal after scandal unfolding and the recent publication of a scathing U.N. report.
Right after sex abuse we hit clergy celibacy. A simple stroke of Francis’ pen reinstates the practice of married clergy because no theological reason prevents it. Why hasn’t this happened?
We finally arrive at topics associated with clergy’s personal charm and Mass quality. The cardinals did select a personally charming pope, charming enough to make the cover of The Rolling Stone. Aside from that, there’s a reversion to the Council – not the Second Vatican Council but the 1500s Council of Trent. Seminarians seem dipped in heavy impenetrable wax coatings of Tridentine philosophy which features weak biblical scholarship, fears the God-created world, promotes misinformation about human biology, sexuality and psychology and further fosters an “us vs them” relationship with the laity. Significant investments were made to re-translate the Mass but this was done to adopt more Tridentine-esque language and aura despite about 90% of former Catholics saying the church’s departure from old traditions had absolutely nothing to do with their departure from the church.
Help me understand how re-entrenching on things that caused people’s departures while “fixing” things that didn’t is going to bring people back? Is there an ounce of sincerity in lamentations about missing those who’ve left if even the simplest reforms are not made?
Please note that Francis’ laudable favorite topic of poverty is pretty far down the list of reasons people leave the church. Perhaps laypeople and religious sisters living Catholic Social Doctrine already defined the Catholic experience enough on this topic that finally having a pope aligned with it just doesn’t move the attendance needle.
Piecing this together makes sense. Addressing Catholics’ lesser concerns by electing a more personable, poverty-minded pope does not negate ill effects from neglecting people’s most impacting concerns.
Where do we go from here? How do we work as “us” when groups continue to foster “us vs them” mentalities? Is the Body of Christ – the church - really dismembered or just in diaspora?
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Rumors are circulating that Pope Francis might visit the U.S. next year. He is most cordially welcome to visit my home and even stay here – no charge. In addition to walking side-by-side with him and the economically challenged in my area, I’d like to discuss this “theology of women” concept with him. Maybe I’ll send him a letter extending a sincere invitation. But, just in case he doesn’t accept my offer, let me discuss some things here.
1. We’re not going to get anywhere with a “theology of women” if the hierarchy’s emotional abuse of women continues. So all this stereotyping of women as fluffy, delicate, glowing, wispy, cookie-baking, child-bearing, child-rearing, walking uteri needs to stop. For instance Francis needs to stop saying stuff like this about women:
- “The gifts of delicacy, of a special sensibility and tenderness, which are a richness of the feminine spirit, represent only a genuine force for the life of the family, for the irradiation of a clime of serenity and harmony, but a reality without which the human vocation would be unrealizable.”
- “How is it possible to grow the effective presence [of women] in so many ambits of public life, in the world of work and in the venues where the most important decisions are adopted, and at the same time maintain a presence and a preferential attention, which is extremely special, in and for the family?”
Francis, as the song says, “I can bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan and never, never, never let you forget you’re a man…’cause I’m a woman…w-o-m-a-n.” Heck I’ll probably even wind up washing the darn dirty pan. That’s some of my “special sensibility and tenderness.” And, you do realize you just said that the most important decisions occur outside the home. That's not a ringing endorsement for the value of families.
2. “Theology of women” can’t merely consist of a bunch of unmarried men telling women what it means to be female. Hierarchy members are lesser authorities on what it means to be a woman than pretty much any female on the planet. As the character Gracie Hart says in the movie “Miss Congeniality”, “I can’t talk girl talk with a guy in my head.” So, Francis also needs to stop saying stuff like this about women’s roles, “In this process, the discernment of the Magisterium of the popes has been, and is, important.” No, really, on this one, it’s not important. Actually, what is important is making the extensive corrections needed to previous popes’ flawed writings about women.
3. Stop telling me I’m supposed to imitate the Virgin Mary just because we’re both female. She said “yes” to God. That’s great for men and women to imitate. But there isn’t anything about Mary’s female life that resonates with me. She got pregnant without having sex. She remained “free from the stain of sin” because she remained a virgin. She was born perfect and raised a son who is sinless and God. I share no common experiences in that string. I have to believe raising one perfect son whilst one is perfect themselves is considerably easier than being born imperfect and raising multiple imperfect children. Mary’s motherhood was purposely abnormal, so I have no desire to emulate it.
4. Stop telling me my primary purpose is to be a mother. On average women have about 15 years of peak fertility. Against a 74 year average life expectancy for women globally, that’s only about 20% of their lives. Even if a woman had children in the first and last of her 15 peak fertility years that would mean about 33 of her 74 years involve raising children – less than half her lifespan. Why disregard more than 50% of women’s lives?
Similarly, stop this hypocrisy wherein “good” fathers should work outside the home but “good” mothers need to prayerfully consider it like they are contemplating entering the bowels of an operating nuclear reactor. Women and men should work outside the home as called by God. Good parents will be good parents regardless of if they stay home or not provided they align with God’s will. That goes for mothers and fathers.
5. It is dehumanizing to reduce femininity to a mere metaphor, especially when it is used to mask male hegemony. The “church’s anthropology” asserts that Jesus, a male, marries the church, a female. Priests celebrating Mass in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) are supposed to continue this marriage celebration of Jesus to the church. Since the church is “female”, the hierarchy teaches that priests must be males lest they provide a same-sex marriage example.
However, doctrine also asserts that priests act both in persona Christi and in persona ecclesiae (in the person of the “female” church). Thus you rightly could claim that every time clergy alone celebrate Mass they actually do perform a symbolic same-sex marriage, but the hierarchy will quickly tell you that the metaphorical “female” church is there. You see, the hierarchy feels the male role is so important that it must be played by an actual human man. However the female part is so inconsequential in this marriage that it can be reduced to a metaphor played by anybody – male or female. That teaching really accentuates the hierarchy’s devaluation of women.
The document, Inter Insigniores, outright admits the hierarchy’s long history of devaluing women, “It is true that in the writings of the Fathers, one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavorable to woman..." However, that document goes on to explain that these “unfavorable prejudices” did not impair the hierarchy when conjuring up dogma about women. I think that is an impossible thing to do.
6. If you balanced the Vatican Library on a fulcrum and then moved all the dogmatic writings by women in it to one side and those by men to the other side, the library will topple to one side. Women’s writings drown in a sea of men’s voices. Yet dogmatic writings and the male hierarchy form the “female” church’s official voice. How can a “female” church have such a decidedly masculine voice?
It’s not that women have been mute. It’s that they have been largely ignored unless they parrot what the male hierarchy says. This systematic suppression of the “female” church’s actual female voices and replacement of them with male voices also makes a very strong case that the hierarchy’s marriage example is of a male-male same-sex union with the “female” church being played by male “queens.”
This suppression and exclusion of the female voice deprives the church of truth by denying the Spirit’s work through women. This cannot be tolerated. Indeed, with the increasing exodus of women from the church, it’s not being tolerated. Until this is fixed, no “theology of women” will be taken seriously by the majority of women in the church.
7. The current “theology of women” rests upon flawed biology and is basically a protracted, hyperbolic romantic fantasy based upon that flawed biology, written by men with limited, healthy intimate relationships with women. The hierarchy must step away from the arrogance and flawed logic of “but we always thought this…” Clinging to teachings based upon flawed premises and institutionalized sexism unacceptably sacrifices truth in favor of protecting the status quo.
Before we can define a “theology of women” we must purge ourselves of these rampant inaccuracies. Women are best qualified to analyze existing teachings about women, highlighting and correcting the many errors. To not permit women to do this is like saying, “Italians are not credible experts on life in Italy. We better have some Americans write about it instead.”
Once we correct what a “theology of women” isn’t, we can begin to expand upon what it actually is.
What is our role correcting the flawed “theology of women?”