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I was intellectually offended to read an article written by a Jesuit priest that talks about Mary and Joseph referring to angelic messages and dreams in an attempt to understand the significance of their child’s birth.  First of all the angelic messengers and the dreams are parts of two different, non-historical versions of Jesus’ birth story written by two different authors with two very different theological agendas to two different communities.  The author of the article knows that.  Yet he puts the two pieces together just as they are in the children’s version of the Christmas Story that has become the popularised version.  And this article is published in America Magazine and in the Huffington Post.

I was Jesuit educated and I am offended by this lack of academic honesty. Though a beautiful story, Matthew’s Infancy narrative is a vehicle for communicating late first century beliefs about the identity and role of Jesus, not a historical record of events of his birth. Written decades after his birth to a community of primarily Jewish converts to Christianity, the story teaches that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and fulfillment of Jewish prophecies. His birth, like his death, is part of the plan God had to save us. The Magi’s homage throws light on Jesus’ kingly, Davidic ancestry, again emphasizing his Jewishness. Luke’s Infancy Narrative, more poetic in style, is likewise not a history but communicates the faith of a primarily Gentile-Christian community, that Jesus’ came not just for Jews but for all of God’s children, including the lowliest and poorest (represented by the shepherds).

The Gospels are documents of faith not history. It is time for priests to stop aiming Catholic homilies and articles at the lowest level of theological sophistication and to use the knowledge that good scholarship has provided to help people better understand the scriptures as adult thinkers. Why is it that priests like this one and countless others feel it necessary to put aside their education when they enter the pulpit or sit down to write a reflection on the birth of Jesus? Are they worried about offending? If Catholics can’t deal with the fact that the Christmas Story is an amalgamation of two totally different, theological not historical, Infancy Narratives, then they are obviously not reading their own scriptures or the footnotes provided in Catholic Bibles, and it is high time they did so.  Catholics need to be challenged to grow up not encouraged to remain infantile in their faith. Maybe if priests began to preach Christmas homilies based on their theological education and current scholarship, and not on children’s versions of the Christmas Story, we would see more “Christmas Catholics” return for another homily the following week and not just the following Christmas.


Words of wisdom from the ever wise William O’Malley S.J,

  • Heighten awareness of the miraculous order of the universe, the omnipresence of the immutable laws of physics, the innumerable elements that had to fall into place just for life, much less intelligence, to emerge from inert matter. It should help students develop sensitivity to the numinous presence of God in nature and not presume that science teachers evoke this (even Catholic ones). They don’t.
  • Slowly develop, very early on, a familiarity with centering prayer, a budding relationship with God, without which “religion” (religare, to connect) has no meaning.
  • Demand at least a rough understanding of epistemology, the study of which opinions are true and why (it establishes that subjective opinions are valid only if they are substantiated by objective facts) to challenge nearly universal relativism. Make clear that faith is not absolute certitude, as taught by Aquinas (who described absolute, physical and moral certitude) but moral certitude, which is a calculated risk.
  • Through the legends and myths of all cultures, grasp the universal truth-bearing value of stories, which makes libraries worth preserving. Few English teachers engender this.
  • Foster a felt awareness of the insidious influence of media brainwashing; it is an influence high school kids routinely deny. Brainwashing is useless if the victim is critically aware he/she is not free, so that awareness is critical.
  • Grasp what Ignatius Loyola called the radical difference between the two standards—the self-serving of the world versus the self-giving of the kingdom. After 12 years of our religious education, would most kids choose a retreat over a rock concert? Evangelize this audience.
  • Understand that morality means simply being a decent human being, while Christianity goes a quantum leap further: forgiving before a perpetrator has “earned” it.

An Open Letter from One Catholic Priest to All Other Catholic Priests

Regarding the Need for the Revelation of Truth Concerning the Priest Sexual Abuse Scandal

December 6, 2010

Dear Brother Priests,

Soon after Christmas 2009 a group of priests here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee met to begin what has become an effort to provide some pastoral outreach to victim/survivors of sexual abuse of minors by priests. Quickly we expanded our group to include some victim/survivors and others who support them. Together we initiated an ongoing series of simple candle vigil services for prayer and talking. The effort is making a difference.

A question that is asked by some victim/survivors is where have all the good priests been? No doubt our presence now is warmly appreciated, but this challenging question has caused me to reflect on my own accountability. During my homily on the weekend of November 13 & 14, I explained that I had not been where I should have been. I was not standing with people in pain who needed the public presence of a priest. I had been inattentive when I should have noticed. I apologized. Of course, I cannot reverse time, I told my parishioners, but I can be different going forward, especially by standing publicly with those who seek the revelation of the complete truth regarding the priest sexual abuse scandal in the Church. The reaction of my parishioners has been powerfully supportive.

Surely, everyone wishes that this crisis would be resolved for the good of all. Unfortunately, however, I find that some people are saying that the victim/survivors should simply forgive and move on with life. Yet such an expectation overlooks what seems to me to be the necessary sequence of events for forgiveness and peace to happen: (1) knowing and understanding the whole truth; (2) doing justice based on the whole truth; (3) allowing healing to blossom over time; (4) then granting forgiveness that releases one from bondage; and (5) finally welcoming the peace that comes from healing and forgiveness.

What has caused me to be more attentive now to this scandal and crisis? Listening to and being moved by the stories that I hear. These stories can be discomforting but they are part of the truth needing to be revealed and understood. Here is some of what I hear.

1. Sexual assault is violent, at times causing bleeding. The word blood captures me. However, what is more captivating is to hear victim/survivors say that as agonizing as the assault was, the reaction of the Church has been more traumatic. They loved the Church and were involved in the Church (which probably is why they were available to be preyed upon), but the Church wasn’t there for them in their need.

2. Many people, from victim / survivors to parishioners in the pews, have left the Church because of the priest sexual abuse crisis, and that is true scandal. Moreover, some of these people who are disconnected from the Church would like to be reconnected, but the absence of truthfulness and accountability stops them.

3. Many victim/survivors “lost their voice” and can’t speak about what happened. They depend on others to speak for them and to cry out on their behalf.

4. Some victim / survivors and their families not only were not believed they were tormented by some clergy and laity such that the families decided to move to a different parish (if they remained in the Church), or even to a different city.

5. A prevailing question is why is it so difficult for the Church to reveal the truth?

I see four positive results coming from the complete truth being available to all people.

1. The truth would complete the puzzle so that the picture can be seen clearly, both validating the stories of the victim/survivors while also clearing the names of the innocent.

2. The truth would help create accountability for what happened.

3. The truth would empower the laity and the clergy alike to become the seedbed from which can come forth justice, healing, forgiveness, and peace. This effort needs the people in the pews but first they need to know the truth.

4. The truth would provide the energy to generate necessary changes in the Church.

My brother priests, obviously the revelation of the truth is not forthcoming easily, but we can be the catalyst for change. We have been sent into the Lord’s vineyard with a mission to provide voice and witness to all that Jesus Christ is about. I trust that you will do all that you can to help bring about a grace-filled resolution to this crisis and scandal. And, as I say, we need to do this in a vocal and public way.

I suggest that this Christmas season we raise our united voices in calling for the necessary sequence of truth, justice, healing, forgiveness, and peace, regarding this most difficult challenge in the Church. Indeed, doing so in this season of peace would provide a route to peace for all who suffer in any way because of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Let us always embrace the words of the Lord: fear not; the truth will set you free.

Sincerely in Christ,

Rev. James Connell

Sheboygan, Wisconsin

A reminder to myself and others of the riches and reason of Catholicism at its best, as it is with Fr. Rohr.









Love Must Be Your Name

Yahweh, Jesus, Allah God,
I do not suppose you are very tied to titles,
You seem to revel more in creating and loving
Than arguing like we do.

You are beyond any name,
Beyond this group or that,
Beyond ideas or any ability to
Control You by definitions.

You are the Utterly Free One.
You are the Eternal I
That always allows me to be a Thou
Whenever we meet.

You are the Speaker, I am the spoken,
So Love must be your name!
Which is always beyond words.  Amen
                                           Fr. Richard Rohr


Like the presidency of George W, the sexual  morality teaching of the Catholic Church is a gift that keeps on giving…if you are a stand up comedian. Sometimes in the theology classroom it felt like doing stand-up. But it’s only funny for so long, then you have to cry or shout or join a protest, or leave the church.

The Catholic Church is pro-life. And in many ways this is a consistent and traditional (ages old) value, in general. But in specific terms it is tough to defend the church’s positions. Pro the unborn, life begins at conception. But not anti-war because of the right to defend our country in a just cause. Has anyone heard any debate about Just War theory recently?  It seems that any “conflict” is by definition just simply because we are involved with it.  Very lax moral guidance here from the church.

Catholics are pro-life and against abortion. So what about condoms is not to like? It avoids conception; it doesn’t abort a fertilized egg. And if you are HIV positive you should never consider putting your partner at risk by not wearing one. You should probably wear a whole wardrobe of rubber, not just a rubber “glove.” Because that is the loving, “life-affirming” thing to do. And we are pro-life. In the matter of protecting life, the gender of the sex partner or the profession of the sex partner is not the primary concern. Those are moral matters for another discussion. Sexual behavior that the church considers immoral – be it homosexual acts, oral sex, heterosexual anal intercourse, sex with prostitutes, these are all behaviors that need to be addressed separately if at all … yeah, sorry guys, the church doesn’t think those acts are “natural” because they are not open to creating life. But then neither is french-kissing and heavy petting. And mutual masturbation? Double no-no. Not even in marriage? Nope. I know — they need to get their heads out of our bedrooms and allow us to develop our sensual, sexual intimacy in ways that satisfy our marriage. They don’t need to be “sinning” good sex.  And yes, I do believe that if they were married they would develop a healthier sense of what good,loving sex is. But then again, I’m not sure that the Baptists have much broader ideas about sexual morality. Now, those Mormons might have something going on. I can see sharing the housework with a few other wives.  Ah, but here I am verging on stand-up again.

The issue of disease and the threat to life that Aids poses is a more pressing issue. Certainly no Catholic prelate should be expected to condone immoral sexual behavior, but neither should any prelate side-step the issue of life and death involved with unprotected sex with an HIV carrier. The pope has recently expressed a view that any rational thinking Catholic has accepted as appropriate years ago.

What is scary here is that all the vatican lackeys are trying to twist out of it. No, the pope hasn’t changed his mind about condom use. It is still immoral. Umm, actually he has changed from the official Catholic position guys, and it’s about time. He has made a distinction between contra-ception and contra-death. He points out that if it is about avoiding death then yes, condom use is reasonable. This doesn’t condone the sexual acts or the sexual immoralities  but it does suggest for the first time a common sense attitude in the issue of condom use.

Catholic adults have for decades believed that protecting sex from conception could be a moral good in some cases, disease is one such case, but avoiding dangerous pregnancies is another. As is avoiding the stress on the woman physically, on the marital relationship, and on the family when children’s numbers are unlimited. Catholic adults have been making difficult decisions about contraception for decades. The sad thing is that they were never officially offered the support and spiritual guidance they needed to make these decisions. Instead they heard that their decisions were immoral and could be enough to result in exclusion from the sacraments. In other words, decisions made responsibly in good faith, with input from the bible, church teaching, and prayer wasn’t affirmed unless it agreed with the official teaching of the unmarried, celibate(?) male clerics who tell us how to manage our sexuality.

Did you hear the story about the priest who got a woman pregnant but refused to pay for the upkeep of the child, even encouraging an abortion. When asked why he didn’t use a condom he answered, “But that would have gone against Catholic teaching.”  When is not wearing a rubber glove more morally imperative than helping to raise a child? How out of proportion our pre-occupation with rubber and pills has become. We should return to the main issues: love, life, family, self-control, self-respect, self-sacrifice. And on a practical level: if you are going to sin, sin responsibly. Don’t create more chaos and stress by having a child out of marriage, don’t create more disease and death by passing on HIV. But if you do screw up…do the next best thing. Care for the child or consider adoption, care for your partner and take on some of the burden of his/her health issues.

Final word: Any Catholic who doesn’t take responsibility for rational and moral decision-making in their own lives is not yet an adult in their faith. Any Catholic who is waiting for permission from the Pope to wear a condom to avoid an unwanted disease or an unplanned pregnancy is not yet an adult in their faith.

So…grow up why don’t you. Pray, reflect, seek advice, read the scriptures, read the Catechism and make your own best decision. Then don’t blame the pope for it. He’s a ways behind us yet. 

(And if you are an unmarried teenager, no, I am not giving you permission to go out and have sex as long as you use protection. I know you want to hear that, but it is not what I am saying. Read the bit about prayer, bible, reflection, catechism, spiritual guidance and responsible decisions. Look up the meaning of love, marriage, self-respect, commitment, and reflect on the demands of self-sacrifice that a committed relationship places on you when one’s partner gets sick, gets pregnant, gets dead.)  — once a high school religion teacher, always…

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