another modern day papal saint….really???

I’ve already shared my thoughts about papal canonizations, especially the increasing desire to crown all recent popes with saintly honours. At the moment of their election, popes automatically become the most prominent and visible Catholic in the world. They are each greatly loved by some, and not so loved by others. When they die, they are memorialized in grand monuments and remembered in history books. Is it really necessary to beatify and canonize them also?

Politics have played too great a role behind these papal canonizations, as ideological groups in the church vie to have their heroes named as official saints. Now, Pope Paul VI is to be beatified by Pope Francis. The timing and location of the beatification has undeniable political overtones. Paul VI, the author of Humane Vitae, is to be beatified at the close of the Synod for the Family in October. Here is an excerpt from my latest Prairie Messenger column,

Pope Paul VI courageously oversaw the completion of the Second Vatican Council, which was no easy task. But, he is perhaps best known for the damning condemnation of all artificial means of birth control in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. The greater truth of the dignity and beauty of human sexuality that was meant to be the core of his teaching was overshadowed by the loud “thou shalt not” that was heard around the world. Women and men of faith were forced to choose between unbending moral teachings and the practical realities of life. Understanding priests tried to lessen fears of eternal damnation by counselling the right use of conscience. Eventually, most Catholics simply ignored the teaching.

Scheduling the beatification of Pope Paul VI at the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, whether intended or not, can be interpreted as once again closing the door on much-needed dialogue around the question of ethical and responsible reproduction. It also shifts the intended focus from families back to the hierarchical leadership. Paul VI was the pope who founded and promoted the modern Synod of Bishops, but the bishops are meant to meet not for their own sake and promotion, but for the service of the greater church. It seems rather disingenuous to speak of the importance of the family, only to cap off the synod with another papal beatification….read more

remaining in love

ImageToday’s Gospel reading includes the simple words, “Remain in my love.” (John 5) Jesus is pointing to the love between him and the Father, a love that knows no bounds. A love that will never end. We are invited into that bond of love, and called to love others the same.

Too often, we are unable to live up to the divine standard of Trinitarian love. Yes, we enjoy the sweet emotions of “falling in love”. Who doesn’t? But, when disillusionment strikes love often loses its sweetness. Is it possible to remain in love when emotions fail us?

And, what does that glorious pint of Guinness have to do with all of this talk about love? Read my latest Prairie Messenger article to find out……!

do not be masters of doctrine

During an ordination ceremony on Sunday, Pope Francis stressed that

…priests are not “masters of doctrine” but must be faithful to it. Francis described the pain he feels when he hears of people that no longer go to confession because they fear being told off; they felt the church was slamming the door in their face. “Please don’t do this,” Francis urged priests, stressing the importance of mercy.

The next day, he spent an hour in a question and answer session with seminarians and young priests in Rome in which he stressed the danger of “academicism”,

“There are four pillars to a priest’s education:” “spiritual education, academic education, community education and apostolic education.” “I would not be able to understand a priest who comes to study for a degree here in Rome but doesn’t lead a community life – this will not do – or who does not look after their spiritual life, taking part in daily mass, daily prayer, the lectio divina and personal prayer with the Lord.” “Academic purism is not good” in this sense. If you only focus on the academic side, there is a danger of slipping into ideology and this is not healthy” because we become “macrocephalus” and “this is bad, it is a sickness.”

I agree wholeheartedly. We need doctrine. We need academics who are willing to do the hard work of studying the faith in order to teach others. What we do not need are doctrinal bullies who use church teachings as a hammer of orthodoxy to force us into unquestioning submission. And, we do not need a narrow, judgmental view of faithfulness that focuses only on doctrinal “purisms” and disregards our personal relationship with God through prayer and our attempts to live this relationship in our works and deeds.

And, yet, the image of church leaders as masters of doctrine continues to not only haunt us but to also make its presence known. Recent headlines have been disheartening to say the least.

The religious women of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) are once again in the lime-light. In a recent meeting with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the women were told in no uncertain terms that they and their work are still under suspicion. (NCR has ongoing coverage of the LCWR story here.)

Theologians continue to be threatened with censure. The latest is Fr. Michael Amaladoss, a Jesuit from India and author of The Asian Jesus. The LCWR was also reprimanded by Cardinal Müller for awarding its 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award to “a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings.” This theologian is the well known and much respected Sr. Elizabeth Johnson.

“Masters of doctrine”, for me, brings with it images of past, inquisitorial times. Inquisitions are used to regain and maintain purity in the church, but at what cost? They encourage an atmosphere of accusations rather than dialogue, secrecy rather than transparency, and cruel emotional and spiritual torture rather than mercy.

Sadly, today’s inquisitions are showing a growing disconnect between the words and actions of Pope Francis. The reform that Francis has called for, the reform that has given so many of us hope, is in danger of morphing into the counter-reformation style of doctrinal purification that was the distinguishing factor of the previous two papacies.

If Pope Francis truly believes in a church of mercy, a church that does not slam its door in the faces of her own, it is time for him to rein in the modern day inquisitors.