Wednesday, December 31, 2008

CPCSM's Year in Review

Following are excerpts from the Christmas letter of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the 28-year-old organization that I’ve had the honor of serving as executive coordinator since the spring of 2003.

Many of the events mentioned in this letter have been highlighted, in one way or another, at The Wild Reed. Accordingly, many of the links within the following version of the letter will take you to previous Wild Reed posts.


Dear Members and Friends of CPCSM and Catholic Rainbow Parents,

First, we extend to you our heartfelt thanks for your generous support of our “special appeal” in August. Because of your generosity we continue to stay afloat financially and are able to pay Michael Bayly to oversee and coordinate our various outreach and educational initiatives.

Yet, as we’re all aware, times are tough and will only get tougher – and not just in financial terms. Sadly, we’re witnessing a sustained backlash within the church against any type of theological discourse and/or pastoral practice that is sensitive to and informed by the experiences of LGBT persons and their loved ones.

We strongly believe that before the church can be a teaching church it must first be a listening one. The failure to listen to women and LGBT people cannot be separated from the fact that the hierarchy of the church – both locally and internationally – remains in a state of either stasis or backward retreat. Despite this we remain hopeful and dedicated to being the change we long to see in the church. Accordingly, we remain committed to coalition building and the taking of proactive measures so as to counter the reactionary and regressive efforts within our local Catholic community. In doing this, we believe we’re contributing to a global movement that’s bringing about renewal and reform – and thus hope and justice – to the Catholic Church.

Following are images and descriptions of some of the coalition-building and proactive measures we’ve engaged in during the past year.

Left: John C. Gonsiorek, PhD, a fellow of American Psychological Association Division 9 (also called the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues) and Division 12 (the Society of Clinical Psychology), at CPCSM’s educational program, “The Myth of ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH” – January 29, 2008. This program, which also featured licensed psychologist and psychotherapist Jeffrey Ford, was initiated, in part, by the Archdiocese’s promotion of the pseudo-scientific organization known as the National Association of Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH).

Above: Members of The Progressive Catholic Voice editorial team with special guests theologian William Hunt and Call to Action MN representative Connie Aligada. Back row from left: Paula Ruddy, Bill Hunt, and Rick Notch. Front row: Mary Beckfeld, Mary Lynn Murphy, Connie Aligada, and David McCaffrey.

Because of the growing success of CPCSM’s
Progressive Catholic Voice online publication, and in an effort to reduce costs, it was decided in May that CPCSM’s print publication, The Rainbow Spirit, would be discontinued. We thanks you for your support of this publication over the last ten years, and hope you find The Progressive Catholic Voice a worthwhile and helpful resource.

Right: Catholic scholar and author Robert McClory, keynote speaker at CPCSM’s Second Annual Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice. Over 125 people gathered at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley on Saturday, May 3, 2008, to hear McClory share his thoughts (in a presentation aptly titled “Here Comes Everyone”) on faithful dissent and the democratizing of Catholicism.

Above: Transgender author and advocate Vanessa Sheridan (front row, right) was the keynote speaker at CPCSM’s Annual Community Meeting on June 23, 2008.

CPCSM’s Father Henry F. LeMay Pastoral Ministry Award went this year to Mary Beckfeld (pictured above at right) for her “outstanding example as a role model promoting inclusive family values for struggling parents of LGBT children” and her many years of “prophetic and compassionate service” with the Women’s Commission and the Diaconate Program of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

CPCSM’s Bishop Thomas Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award went this year to Art Stoeberl for his many years of tireless service and leadership (often behind the scenes) within the LGBT community - in particular with Dignity Twin Cities and the Quatrefoil Library. The award also acknowledges Art’s life-long commitment to justice-making with and for the marginalized of our society, in particular the immigrant community.

Above: CPCSM’s Pride Prayer Service - June 25, 2008.

For many years the parish of St. Joan of Arc in South Minneapolis hosted a Pride Prayer Service during the week leading up to the Twin Cities LGBT Pride Festival. Yet just days before the church’s 2008 Pride Prayer Service was scheduled to take place, the chancery issued a directive that “people who fully adapt to the GLBT lifestyle are not permitted to be the subject of a prayer service that endorses that lifestyle.” The parish complied, canceled its LGBT Pride Prayer Service and, in its place, hosted a “peace service.”

In response to these events, CPCSM decided to continue the tradition of a Catholic LGBT Pride Prayer Service. Furthermore, so as to acknowledge and honor the good work that the community of St. Joan’s has done in relation to initiating and hosting such a prayer service for many years, we chose to hold our inaugural Pride Prayer Service, which drew approximately 250 people and garnered positive media coverage, at the entrance of the parish, half an hour before the community’s replacement “peace service.”

Above: Mary Lynn Murphy, co-founder of Catholic Rainbow Parents, chats with visitors to the CPCSM booth during the Gay Pride Festival in Loring Park on Saturday, June 28, 2008.

A number of people expressed support for the efforts of CPCSM, Catholic Rainbow Parents, and The Progressive Catholic Voice to help the church develop a more informed, compassionate, and inclusive theology of human sexuality.

“You’re doing a wonderful service of witness to a church leadership that has lost its way,” one transgender individual told us. Another passerby paused, looked at our “Inclusive Catholics” banner and beamed: “It just makes me happy to see those two words together! Thank you for being here.”

Above: CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly with (from left) Beryl Wolney, Julie Koegl, and Theresa Mueller, three of the inspiring elders of St. Stephen’s - October 5, 2008. Michael had delivered the Solidarity Sunday homily that day at St. Stephen’s.

Beryl and Julie feature in The Progressive Catholic Voice documentary, The Spirit of St. Stephen’s: Celebrating the Past and Envisioning the Future of a Catholic Community in Transition. To date, two installments of this video documentary have been posted on The Progressive Catholic Voice website at

Behind the scenes

In addition to the more public initiatives and events outlined above, CPCSM has also been involved in some important “behind the scenes” work. For instance, in July we wrote to every deacon in the state of Minnesota, calling their attention to a serious moral and pastoral care issue presented by the July 18-20 Region 8 Deacon Conference at the University of St Thomas, St. Paul. Specifically, we expressed concern that the only person scheduled to speak on the issues of homosexuality and ministry with homosexual persons and their families was Fr. Paul Check, the Chief Executive Officer of the Courage apostolate.

We noted that, like the vast majority of LGBT Catholics, their parents, loved ones, and allies, we have serious concerns about the ideology and message of the Courage movement. We then shared some of these concerns (along with alternative ways of thinking about and ministering to LGBT persons than those advocated by Courage) in a position paper comprised of a number of “talking points” that not only addressed Courage’s mission and philosophy, and its connection to the pseudo scientific organization of NARTH, but offered alternative Catholic perspectives on homosexuality - perspectives that acknowledge and affirm the lives and relationships of LGBT persons. We encouraged the deacons to draw on these talking points to respectfully question and challenge the limited theological presuppositions and pastoral recommendations of Courage. [To read CPCSM’s position paper to the deacons of Region 8, click here.]

More recently, we wrote to every priest in the archdiocese ahead of Archbishop Nienstedt’s second Marriage Study Day (December 4), the focus of which was announced as “Natural Law Moral Theory.” We were aware that at the previous Marriage Study Day of August 28 the focus was not on the sacrament of marriage but on solidifying opposition to same-gender partnership rights and marriage in civil society. We were therefore concerned that the presentations on natural law scheduled to take place at the second meeting on December 4 would have a similar focus and thus would further discount and malign the lives and relationships of LGBT persons. And even with a focus on heterosexual marriage, we expressed our concern that the lived experience of married couples, on which “natural” law is based, would be ignored. We wrote that in our view Catholic teaching based on a narrow understanding of natural law is one reason so many ethical Catholics, straight and gay, leave the Church.

Accordingly, we shared with the priests of the archdiocese a selection of reflections that offered contemporary interpretations of natural law theory and its application to human sexuality – including the issues of homosexuality and contraception. These reflections came from a number of highly respected Catholic scholars – including Jean Porter; Herbert McCabe, OP; Daniel Helminiak; Judith Web Kay; and Garry Wills. We encouraged the priests to draw on these reflections and to question the theological perspectives on natural law presented on December 4 if they failed to acknowledge or encompass the experiences, insights, and relationships of married men and women, both heterosexual and homosexual. [To read the compilation of perspectives on natural law that CPCSM sent to the priests of the archdiocese, click here.]

The chancery’s statement on the “status” of CPCSM

We believe that it has been our communications with the deacons and the priests of the archdiocese that compelled the chancery to issue a statement in which it declared that it “does not support, endorse, or recognize” CPCSM as a Catholic organization.

Of course, the opinions expressed by the chancery are at odds with the appreciation and support that CPCSM has received throughout its 28-year history from the wider church – including all of the good folks reading this letter! Archbishop Nienstedt and others within the chancery may not recognize or support CPCSM, but many other Catholics within the archdiocese clearly do. And for this we’re truly grateful. In our view the chancery’s statement displays not only ignorance of the history of CPCSM in relation to the archdiocese, but also ignorance of the role and place of faithful dissent and the primacy of conscience in the Roman Catholic tradition.

Our ministry continues . . . thanks to you!

Friends, as you can see it’s been a very eventful year for all of us – a year that’s been both challenging and rewarding. We are happy and proud to continue our role as one of a very few prominent LGBT-affirming progressive Catholic voices in both our church and the wider society.

Rest assured, we plan on hosting a range of proactive events in 2009* – events that will enrich and empower the local Catholic community to participate in the evolving life of the Church.

None of this, of course, could be accomplished without the support of each of you, our dear and valued friends.

As 2008 ebbs, CPCSM needs your help to stay financially afloat. We continue to institute various cost-saving measures and to participate as a member group in the Community Shares Minnesota fund. We also continue to maintain a very modest budget. As always, we greatly appreciate the many members of CPCSM who support us with their prayers, donations, and volunteer hours. Your financial and moral support as ministry partners remains a critical lifeline for us.

Given the current times and the chancery’s recent statement on the “status” of CPCSM, there has been a marked chilling effect within many parishes that previously had supported us. Foundations are also experiencing difficult times as the number of organizations requesting funding increases. The specific focus of our ministry also limits the funding opportunities that are available to us.

Needless to say, our ministry is completely independent of the archdiocese and we receive no financial support from it. All of our operating support comes from small grants and individual donations. It may be helpful to recall that the Minnesota Tax Code now provides a 50% income deduction for charitable contributions over $500.

Friends, we are incredibly grateful for your past support, and hope that we can continue to rely on your generosity and kindness as we continue to live out our ministry under difficult financial conditions and an increasingly reactionary climate within the church. We thus ask you again for your support as together we work for justice and compassion for GLBT people within our church and society.

Peace and every blessing of Christmas
to you and your loved ones,
from all of us at CPCSM
and Catholic Rainbow Parents.

* CPCSM has some exciting ideas and plans for 2009.

First, we are working to bring theologian Jean Porter to the Twin Cities to facilitate conversation on natural law theory and its application to human sexuality – including homosexuality.

Second, we’re planning a four-part series that will explore what it means to be LGBT and Catholic in today’s Church.

Tentatively titled “Catholic and Gay,” this series aims to explore with the local Catholic community the following:

- The most current scientific information and insights concerning gender and sexual orientation.

- The ethical considerations regarding “reparative therapy” and the sexual theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

- The Catholic hierarchy’s use of pseudo-science to bolster the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

- The LGBT Catholic experience, with special emphasis on the needs, gifts, and challenges that LGBT persons and families face in society and the Church.

- What the Bible does and doesn’t say about homosexuality.

Friends, now, more than ever, there’s a need within our archdiocese for this type of education and story-sharing. Your generous contribution will help make it possible! Thank you.

NOTE: For dates and venues for these events, check the CPCSM website ( at the end of January 2009. They will also be posted on The Progressive Catholic Voice.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2007)
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2006)

Return to Ellenborough Falls

Yesterday morning, Jeremiah and I made our way from Port Macquarie to Ellenborough Falls, situated in the beautiful and lush hinterlands that surround the townships of Comboyne and Eland.

Although it was a “return” to Ellenborough Falls for me (I first went there with members of my family almost two years ago to the day), it was Jeremiah’s first visit to this truly beautiful and impressive place.

Descending 160 metres, Ellenborough Falls is Australia’s tallest “single-drop” water fall, and the second tallest in the southern hemisphere.

When visiting the site, one arrives at the top of the falls, where there’s a parking lot, public amenities, and a little kiosk. A viewing platform affords a breathtaking view of the falls and the river gorge below.

After taking in this view we began our descent to the base of the falls via a wooden walkway containing something like 600+ steps!

Because of the lush subtropical vegetation, leeches were a bit of a problem! Undeterred, we made our way to the boulder-strewn base of the falls where we where treated to yet another spectacular view of Ellenborough Falls.

Doing my best impersonation of Michelangelo’s “David”! Well, at least the best one can do with clothes on!

Above: Jeremiah: Doing his best David Copperfield impersonation?

Above and below: Back in Port Macquarie, we enjoyed a refreshing swim at Town Beach (and, later, a wonder-filled exploration of nearby rock pools teeming with starfish), before taking in more panoramic sights from the roof of my parents’ apartment.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
North Brother Mountain
“Harbour City" Sights”
Port Macquarie

See also the 2006 Wild Reed posts:
Ellenborough Falls
Boorgana (Part 1)
Boorgana (Part 2)
A Summer Afternoon


Here are some more images of the starfish that Jeremiah and I observed yesterday afternoon at the south end of Town Beach, Port Macquarie.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Return to Ellenborough Falls

. . . and the 2006 posts:
A Summer Afternoon
Rocky Beach
Flynns Beach
Alva Beach
Coastal Views
Pacific Skies
A Solitary Ramble

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Celebrating the Presence of God Within All Families

“Madonna, Lover, and Son” by Becki Jayne Harrelson
(Oil on canvas, 80 x 68 inches, 1996)

I’ve been told that back in Minnesota, Archbishop Nienstedt recently instructed the priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis to read a statement on the Feast of the Holy Family (December 28) that he had written about the “true” nature and meaning of family.

Being currently in Australia, I didn’t have the opportunity to hear the archbishop’s exact take on what, I’m assuming, he understands to be the “objective reality” of the family and family life. I have, however, had the good fortune to read the homily that my friend Rev. Marty Shanahan of Spirit of Hope Catholic Community shared on the Feast of the Holy Family.

Marty’s homily is reprinted in its entirety below.


We celebrate today the “Feast of the Holy Family”

What is your image of the “Holy Family”?

Is it a somewhat an “Ozzie & Harriet” 1950’s paradigm put onto the Gospel?

Is it a family that never argues, never has a misunderstanding, never has a disagreement?

Is it a “perfect” family, if there really ever was or is such a thing?

One of the greatest heresies of the Church’s history is the heresy of thinking and believing that God became one with us in Jesus only somewhat, or only at the surface level.

But what we read in the Gospel today doesn’t say that at all.

The last line said: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.”

If you remember from Christmas Eve, God’s favor, doesn’t mean being protected from the pain, ecstasy, joys, and sorrows of human life. It actually means quite the opposite. To find favor, or be in God’s favor means to be so fully immersed in human life that within that experience we see God.

To think that Jesus never hit his finger with a hammer and wanted to verbally express his angst, would be to strip him of the incarnation.

To think that Jesus never had a meal he didn’t like or that he wasn’t told to pick up his room or make his bed, would be to strip him of his humanity.

To think that Jesus didn’t really think that his parents were old fashioned, or that they didn’t understand him, would be to deny the reality of the incarnation.

To think that Mary and Joseph never had to discipline Jesus, to think that he never got grounded or corrected in his behavior would be to deny the humanity which he came to redeem.

Today no doubt many will be confronted with the contemporary argument of and for marriage and family from pulpits across our nation.

Many a preacher will no doubt use this feast and these readings to preach the paradigm of one man, one woman, and children to be the image of the “perfect family.”

I am of the opinion that to use the Scriptures in such a fashion is to do a grave injustice to both Sacred Scripture and the contemporary family.

I will admit one thing, and that is that I am at a loss as to how changing the paradigm, or the words with which that paradigm is expressed, would in any way possible undermine it’s meaning, value, or purpose.

I know families and parents of nearly every sexual orientation known, and every one of those families brings their own gifts, talents and contributions.

I am most certain that Joseph and Mary and Jesus also brought their own gifts, talents and contributions to the family unit as well.

The overriding message it seems to me of this Gospel is that holiness is something we all grow into. Holiness isn’t a magical state of being, it is a learned, prayed and practiced life that all of us are called to participate in.

Family may be one, it may be two, it may be three or more. Family may be straight, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Family may be single, divorced, separated or widowed.

Family may be extremely functional or extremely dysfunctional.

Family may be safe or it may be unsafe.

But our search as Christians is a search for the God who dwells with us! Our search is like that of the shepherd’s the search for Emmanuel. It is not a search to proclaim where God is not!

Maybe this week we can spend our time, energies, and efforts, modeling Simeon and Anna, pointing out, with grateful hearts, where God is present in our lives, the lives of others, and in our world?

I wonder if in doing that we might all grow in wisdom, and find favor with God?

Rev. Marty Shanahan

Image: “Madonna, Lover, and Son” by Becki Jayne Harrelson.

Recommended Off-site Link:
A Tribute on the Feast of the Holy Family - Colleen Kochiver-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, December 28, 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Making Sure All Families Matter
A Story of Searching and Discovery
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve" - A Suggested Trajectory
The Same People
The Real Sodomites
Same-Sex Marriage: Still Very Much on the Archbishop’s Mind
Perspectives on Natural Law

The Pope's "Scandalous" Stance on Homosexuality

The following comment was recently left by biblical scholar Vincent M. Smiles on the website of Commonweal magazine.(Thanks to Fr. Joseph S. O’Leary for bringing it to my attention via his post, “Yet Another Vatican Gay Furore.”)


I find the Pope’s stance on homosexuality (and the same has to be said of numerous Vatican statements going back to Persona Humana – 1975) scandalous in the full theological sense of the term (“stumbling block” to faith).

Gaudium Et Spes (1965 - #62) requires that “in pastoral care, sufficient use must be made not only of theological principles, but also of the findings of the secular sciences, especially of psychology and sociology,” but this principle is utterly ignored in Vatican pronouncements regarding GLBT people; there is not even an attempt to engage the evidence or to show some hesitation or humility in face of its challenges. This doctrine against GLBT people is offered as though there were nothing in Catholic tradition that might give us pause on this crucial matter, and yet, for instance, the Vatican’s use of the Bible is embarrassingly simplistic and fundamentalist.

We need to recover the resources of our tradition that enable an alternative view to that of Benedict XVI. We might, for instance, resurrect the care-full response of the CTSA to Persona Humana, which was published in 1979, titled Human Sexuality. It warns against “citing verses from the Bible outside of their historical context and then blithely applying them to homosexuals today.” Such (ab)use of the Bible “does grave injustice both to Scripture and to people who have already suffered a great deal from the travesty of Biblical interpretation.” It counsels pastors to leave in peace homosexuals who are in stable, loving relationships, and it even goes on to say that “prayer, even communal prayer, for two [homosexual] people … incarnating the values of fidelity, truth, and love, is not beyond the pastoral possibilities of a Church whose ritual tradition includes a rich variety of blessings.” The study is sadly aware, however, that “social repercussions” might make such “blessings” inadvisable.

The scandal of Benedict’s stance is that he speaks as though faith provided a certainty that is simply not available, and in doing so his pronouncements are cruelly misleading and unjust.

To read Vincent Smiles’ November 2005 commentary on the Bible and homosexuality, click here.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
How Times Have Changed
And a Merry Christmas to You Too, Papa
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Making Love, Giving Life
Listen Up, Papa!
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men

North Brother Mountain

My friends Jeremiah and Kristy are currently enroute to Townsville from Sydney – where Kristy recently celebrated her birthday in Newtown.

For the past couple of days they’ve been in Port Macquarie, taking a break from their journey northward. Late yesterday afternoon I took them to the little coastal town of Laurieton, 42 km south of Port Macquarie. Here we shared a meal and went to the movies. We saw The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Yet before either the meal or the movie, we drove the 5 km of winding road that is Laurieton's Captain Cook Bicentenary Road, to the summit of North Brother Mountain, almost 500 metres above sea level.

It was quite foggy when we reached the summit yet, almost on cue, once we stepped out of the car the clouds moved off the rainforest-covered mountain and we were treated to a spectacular view of the coastline, the town of Laurieton, and the lakes and mouth of the Camden Haven River.

It’s reputedly one of Australia’s most impressive coastal panoramas – and, hey, you’ll get no argument from me!

Klaatu, are you out there?

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia about Laurieton: A Catalina seaplane carrying entertainer Bob Hope was forced to make an emergency landing on the Camden Haven River adjacent to Laurieton on August 14, 1944. Hope was returning to Sydney after entertaining troops in Guam. The local postmaster lent him money for his hotel bills after the luggage was jettisoned. An impromptu party was held, and the next day Hope and his entourage travelled by road to Newcastle and flew from there to Sydney. Bob Hope maintained contact with the residents of Laurieton for decades afterwards.

For more images of North Brother Mountain, see the 2006 Wild Reed post:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Time to Go?

. . . Or Time to Acknowledge a Maturing Catholic Faith?

Although I don’t resonate or agree with everything in Rose Murphy’s reflection, “With Age, My Catholicism Holds More Uncertainty,” I nevertheless sense she powerfully articulates what many Roman Catholics are questioning and experiencing.

For me, Murphy’s reflection brings to mind certain questions I’ve been living with for some time now. And in the spirit of honesty that infuses Murphy’s article, I share these questions on The Wild Reed . . .

First, is a mature faith, one that allows questioning, faithful dissent, and the potential for evolution in our understanding of truth, possible in the Roman Catholic Church? Or has the church become a ghetto for those afraid to grow - both spiritually and psycho-sexually? Is it worth my time and energy working to reform such a ghettoized church? Maybe a place will always be needed for such people and maybe the Roman Catholic Church serves as this place? Who am I to deny those unable and/or unwilling to evolve a place to feel safe, a place to call “church”? Is it fair to expect this particular church to evolve with me and others when: 1) God’s welcoming and encouraging presence can be readily discerned and experienced by spiritual pilgrims such as ourselves elsewhere, in other churches, and 2) when the Catholic Church is obviously bigger than the “Roman Catholic” church (a term which, after all, is an oxymoron)?

Of course, I experience God’s welcoming and encouraging presence in the Catholic communities to which I belong, but, at the same time, these communities are increasingly being maligned, condemned, and threatened by the hierarchical Roman Catholic Church that is fearful of such communities very presence undermining its limited and static understanding of church. How best, how most Christlike, does one respond to such fear-based intimidation and oppression?

Do questions such as these signify that it is time to go or simply time to acknowledge and embrace a maturing faith?
All of which brings us back to the first question: can such a faith be honored and nurtured within Roman Catholicism?

These are some of the questions that Rose Murphy’s reflection, “With Age, My Catholicism Holds More Uncertainty,” raises for me.

Although it’s reprinted in its entirety below, I recommended you also view Murphy’s article
online at the website of The National Catholic Reporter, so as to read the many and varied responses it has elicited. Some of them are truly horrendous. Take, for instance, this response by “Augustine” to Murphy’s honest and heartfelt reflection:

You’ve long since stopped being a Catholic. The heresies in this one essay alone are legion - and quite old. Stale. “I would like to think I am still welcome at the communion table,” [you say.] You might like to think this, but no, you are not welcome. Get out.

Others are more empathetic, such as “Serenity” who writes:

Thank you, Rose, for articulating so clearly what I knew in my own heart but could not express. No offense to the younger posters here, but it seems that it takes a certain amount of age and life experience to evolve spiritually on one's life path. As this happens, our relationship with God becomes more personal, and transcends church dogma and doctrine. We come to realize and accept that there are many paths to God, and we don’t condemn other religions or people for not believing according to our own personal path or according to the doctrines of the Catholic church. We let go of our need to judge others. We choose to live and let live, and we find peace in that. We allow ourselves to ask the questions, and we trust and become more comfortable as we wait for God to reveal the answers. The spiritual path is a journey and if we have the courage, we will trust God to lead us.


With Age, My Catholicism Holds More Uncertainty
By Rose Murphy
National Catholic Reporter
December 26, 2008

My current, critical reading about religion and my growing disenchantment with the Catholic Church do not proceed without some pronounced unease. I feel driven to question beliefs I once held with assured confidence. But am I needlessly cutting off a strong spiritual lifeline by going so rarely to my local church? Am I wallowing in intellectual smugness and neglecting an insistent Catholic tie that goes beyond logic?

It is difficult to stay loyal to a church whose members once unleashed cruel forms of the Inquisition on presumably evil non-believers and whose clergy so recently and secretly protected pedophilic priests. But I am more disillusioned by dogmatic bans on birth control that afflict poor women in developing countries and that too often obscure the core message of Christ’s call for compassion.

Impossible now to recapture that ardent, unquestioning faith I had as a child, and into adulthood: that Christ was physically present in communion, that I had a special guardian angel, that certain prayers chipped away at Purgatory time. Even after outgrowing those fantasies, I continued to keep a core faith in the larger Church tenets: that Jesus was the Son of God, that he died for my sins, that I was preparing for an afterlife where I would see God and presumably my parents and all those who had gone before me. Today all of that doctrine is hazy to me, not so much rejected as irrelevant. I know now that humans can never penetrate the idea of God; certainty is – and has always been -- an illusion.

Intellectually, I can reject much of the Catholic Church, but emotionally it reels me in whenever I wander from it. I am still nourished by certain Mass rituals: the Prayers of the Faithful (with touching reminders of so much pain among my neighbors), the Sign of Peace and the communal grasp of another hand, the preparations for Eucharist, and the walk up the aisle to receive communion. Just what am I receiving? I know the act of communion matters to me, feeling the host on my tongue is significant, but I don’t know why.

But slowly, I am becoming more comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. And I find that meeting the challenge of practicing compassion in this troubled world is much more difficult than showing up for Sunday Mass. More and more, I see Christ as a rebel, an advocate for the poor, an agitator, an outsider who spoke truth to power and paid the ultimate price for it.

His message focused on loving one another, without reservation, not on explaining the Trinity. And whether or not he is the Son of God seems a pointless discussion.

Such realizations still do not alleviate feelings of restlessness and guilt when I choose a bike ride and coffee on Sunday morning instead of Mass. But on those Sundays when I do slip into church, I hear a foreign language all around me, especially when it comes to the Apostles Creed. I cannot dutifully mumble it any longer. I cannot relate to ecstatic utterances about a “personal relationship” with God, because for me such a relationship is impossible. It smacks too much of a cozy, privileged connection with a physical being who sits among the fluffy clouds and notes all the details of my daily life. I can imagine a spiritual force at work in the universe, something that connects all life, humanity and nature, but I cannot personify it or give it the familial name of “Father” or “Son.”

But rather than reject a lifetime spiritual path, perhaps I need to get more comfortable with the idea of metaphor in Catholic doctrine and look beyond the literal pronouncements; then it becomes easier to see Christ as a symbolic son of God, as a presence that helps me find the divine spark (God) within myself, and more importantly serves as a model for truly compassionate living.

Receiving the spiritual nourishment of communion then becomes a reminder of so many people who lack food or the means to acquire it.

So can I continue to call myself a Catholic? A friend once framed the dilemma in whimsical language: “I can no more stop being a Catholic than a Navajo could stop being a Navajo.” Ultimately, I think this struggle will always be with me, and that I will come to accept, and perhaps even embrace, a natural state of discomfort. Despite all the ambiguity, I would like to think I am still welcome at the communion table.

Rose Murphy is a writer based in Sonoma, California, who explores current events and also focuses on Irish culture and history.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to Be Catholic
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Dispatches from the Periphery
Beyond Papalism
Conflicting Understandings of Church and Revelation Underlie Situation in Madison and Beyond
The “Underground Church”
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs
The Holarchical Church: Not a Pyramid But a Web of Relationships
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
Comprehending the “Fullness of Truth”
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
A Smaller, Purer Vision of Church – and Why It Won’t Work

Images: Michael Bayly.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


After my week in Sydney (see here and here), I traveled by train to the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, approximately 100 km south west of the “Harbour City.” Here I visited my friend Kerry who lives in the village of Exeter.

For six years before my relocation to the United States in 1994, I lived and taught in the nearby rural city of Goulburn. Although I didn’t manage to visit my former home during my recent time down south, I nevertheless enjoyed reconnecting with Kerry and spending time in the beautiful part of Australia she happily calls home.

One of the many beautiful features of the Southern Highlands is the spectacular (and extensive) gorge system that cuts dramatically across the landscape and takes in Moreton National Park; numerous State Forests; and, further south toward Goulburn, Bungonia State Recreation Area.

It’s just a short distance from Kerry’s house to one of the State Forests that borders this system of gorges and escarpments. We visited this area on December 20, 2008, and, as you’ll see, it’s a place that makes for some stunning photographs.

Above and below: A pathway made by wallabies through a fence in the corner of a paddock.

Above: Kerry with one of her two cats - December 22, 2008.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“Harbour City” Sights
Port Macquarie

. . . and the 2006/07 posts:
Southern Highlands
Goulburn Revisted
Goulburn Landmarks
Remnants of a Past Life (Part 1)
Remnants of a Past Life (Part 2)
Goulburn Reunion

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Perspectives on Natural Law

Part 4: Garry Wills

Following is a fourth perspective on the concept of natural law from the compilation of perspectives that the leadership of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) recently sent to Archbishop John Nienstedt and the priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. (For why we shared these perspectives, click here.)

This particular perspective is from Catholic scholar and author Garry Wills. It focuses on contraception and is excerpted from Wills’ book Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit.


When we look to the patristic era and its legacy, we find a variety of campaigns against contraception limited to particular contexts. And the great issues in those battles was usually not contraception in itself but some larger struggle – over the goodness or the evil of the body, or the apocalyptic expectations of history, or the sacrifice of marriage to virginity. The whole attitude toward sex in late antiquity – pagan and Jewish as well as Christian – was marred by misogynism, fear of the body, and the lure of false spiritualisms. It is not the place to look for sanity on these matters. . . . Strange notions of what was “natural” in sex would persist for a long time in Christianity. Even in the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas would still be saying that natural law makes it a sin for sex to take place in any position but with the man on top, or that contraception is a worse sin than incest.

. . . One particularly disturbing aspect of modern papal claims is the assertion that contraception violates natural law. If it is a matter of moral right or wrong perceptible to natural reason, the ancient pagans should have been bound to see its immorality. Yet the classical Greeks and Romans, who originated Western moral theory (including the theory of natural law), had no inkling of the evil of contraception – and not because there were no contraceptive devices available to them. . . . Even more disturbing for Catholics, who believe in the inspiration of Jewish scripture, is the fact that Jews had no prohibition of contraception in their extensive and detailed laws (though Pius tried to wrest one from a false interpretation of the Onan story in Genesis). . . . As a final blow to natural law claims, some of the theologians who helped craft Humane Vitae for Paul VI agreed with the ban on contraception but not with the natural law justification for that ban.

The history of the theology on contraception, then, had this anomaly as it entered the modern world: It claimed to be basing its views on a philosophy of natural law derived from classical antiquity (which had no ban on contraception) but was taking its supposedly empirical views on sex from late antiquity and the Middle Ages (which were full of superstitions). These problems called for sorting out by the nineteenth century, when science, the industrial revolution, the study of demography, and scientific psychology changed family patterns. . . . Instead of taking this opportunity to reassess the mixed heritage of views on contraception (and on sex itself), the papacy during Pius IX’s long reign (1846-78) saw the whole of modernity as an assault on religion. It put up a stout resistance to science as a Faustian desire to remake nature.

- Excerpted from Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, Doubleday, New York, 2000, pages 76-77.

NEXT: Part 5: Gregory Baum

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Perspectives on Natural Law: Part 1 - Herbert McCabe, OP
Perspectives on Natural Law: Part 2 - Judith Web Kay
Perspectives on Natural Law: Part 3 - Daniel Helminiak

For more of Garry Wills at The Wild Reed, see the previous posts:
Garry Wills: All “Poped Out”
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”
The Loyal Catholic in Changing Times