Friday, February 27, 2009

"We Are Facing a Structural Problem . . ."

Theologian Hans Küng reflects upon Pope Benedict XVI
and the state of the Roman Catholic Church.

NOTE: The following quotes by Hans Küng (pictured at right) are taken from two European newspapers (Le Monde, February 24, 2009, and La Stampa, February 25, 2009). They were first published in the format below by Joseph O’Leary on his weblog (and under the heading “Church or Sect?”).


Benedict XVI has always lived in an ecclesiastical ambience. He has traveled very little. He has always remained shut up in the Vatican – which is rather similar to the Kremlin of one time - where he is sheltered from criticisms. . . . The Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, who could be a counter-weight, was a subordinate of his at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; he is a man of doctrine, completely submissive to Benedict XVI. We are facing a structural problem. There is no democratic element in this system, no corrective. The Pope was elected by the conservatives and today it is he who nominates the conservatives. . . .

He is faithful to the Council, in his way. Like John Paul II, he always insists on continuity with “tradition.” For him, this tradition goes back to the medieval and hellenistic periods. Above all he does not want to admit that Vatican II has brought about a rupture, for example as regards the recognition of religious freedom, opposed by all the Popes before the Council. . . . Basically Benedict XVI has an ambiguous position on the texts of the Council, because he is not at ease with modernity and reform. . . .

I think that he defends the idea of the “little flock.” It is a little along the line of the integrists, who think that even if the Church loses a lot of its members, there will remain in the end an elitist Church, made up of “real” Catholics. It is an illusion to think that one can go on like this, without priests or vocations. This evolution is clearly a restoration, which is manifested in the liturgy, but also in acts and gestures, such as telling the Protestants that the Catholic Church is the only true Church. . . . The Church risks becoming a sect. Many Catholics no longer expect anything of this Pope.

When he received me in 2005, it was a courageous act and I really believed he would find the path to reform, even if slowly. But in four years he has proved the contrary. Today I wonder if he is capable of doing anything courageous. For a start he would have to recognize that the Catholic Church is traversing a deep crisis.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Hans Küng’s Papal Criticism Draws Vatican Ire - John Thavis (National Catholic Reporter, February 26, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“The Real Battle”
Benedict’s Understanding of Church
Clearing Away the Debris
Here Comes Everybody! - Robert McClory Discusses Putting Democracy and Catholicism Together, As It Was In the Beginning
An Intriguing Thought
Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
Beyond Papalism
Hans Küng: Still Speaking from the Heart of the Church
Genuine Authority
A Declaration of Reform and Renewal

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Homophobia? It's So Gay

Johann Hari has an intriguing article over at Huffington Post in which he not only explores the prevalence of homophobia in hip-hop culture but what it is that may fuel homophobia in general.

At one point, Hari interviews former MTV producer Terence Dean, author of the book, Hiding in Hip-Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry – From Music to Hollywood.

Says Dean: “When the rappers rap about the hatred they have of homosexuals, I know it’s because many of them are struggling with their own sexuality. They hate what they are and in turn they spew their hatred toward men who are reflections of themselves.”

Reading Dean’s words I can’t help but think of the homophobic and/or homo-negative words of so many of the men in positions of authority within the Roman Catholic Church, and, of course, the teaching on homosexuality that such men promulgate and that groups like Courage promote. There seems to be so much self-loathing, fear and denial permeating and fueling such teaching and those who support them. I’d happily walk away from it all except that such homo-negativity on the part of the Church has such a damaging impact on gay people. It must be confronted and, if possible, transformed into something that reflects truth and is thus life-affirming and life-giving.

Well, enough of my rabble-rousing. Following are excerpts from Hari’s article.


I have always been slightly bemused by homophobia. Why would two adults (or ten) having consensual sex upset you? What’s it to you? A new expose of one of the West’s most rancidly anti-gay subcultures – hip-hop – offers the beginnings of an answer.

Hip-hop has long been the ultimate in fag-bashing, gay-trashing hate music. Listen to any album and a list of homophobic howls will hit you: Eminem squeaking “Hate fags? The answer's yes!”, or Masse saying “I be wastin’ em. That’s what you faggots get!” The music’s mood was summarized in a 1992 Ice Cube hit: “True niggaz ain’t gay.”

This boom-boom-boom of homo-cidal hate has a crushing effect on gay kids. It sends out the message: you are so repulsive you should be killed. It’s one of several reasons why gay teenagers are still – after all the amazing progress we have made – six times more likely to commit suicide than their straight siblings.

Why do they do it? Why do hip-hop artists – often the victims of bigotry themselves – incite this hatred?

For ten years, Terrence Dean was at the heart of the hip-hop scene as a producer at MTV and Warner Brothers. . . . I recently interviewed Dean for Attitude, Britain’s best-selling gay magazine. He told me about a man -- I don’t believe in outing, so I won’t give his name – who “has been named in the past as one of the biggest rappers of all time by MTV. He’s always trashing gay men in his lyrics. But he is surrounded by a posse of transvestites,” who he has sex with. Dean then runs through a list of hip-hop gays, each more famous and closeted than the last.

He explains: “When the rappers rap about the hatred they have of homosexuals, I know it’s because many of them are struggling with their own sexuality. They hate what they are and in turn they spew their hatred toward men who are reflections of themselves.”

Terence tried to live their life. He explains: “They had to see me with women. I talked the talk – cars, sports, women. One misstep would have been the end of my career. Hell, it would have been the end of my life.” But it was a miserable, bitter existence, based on violent emotional repression. These homie-sexuals even convinced themselves they could have sex with men without being “gay” – a term they see as synonymous with being weak and womanly.

. . . There is some scientific evidence suggesting Dean is right – and that his arguments apply much more widely, to homophobes in politics, religion and the wider world. Professor Henry Adams at the University of Georgia conducted a major study in the 1990s, where he took several groups of men who identified as heterosexual and expressed hostility to gays, and wired them up so the blood flow to their penises could be monitored. He then showed them gay porn – and some 80 percent became aroused. He concluded that since “most homophobes demonstrate significant sexual arousal to homosexual erotic stimuli,” anti-gay hatred is probably “a form of latent homosexuality.”

Of course, not all of these hate-mongers are secretly gay. But we know from decades of sexual research that almost everyone – especially as a teenager – has a period when they have omnivorous sexual urges, with attraction to the ‘wrong’ gender cropping up for a while. (Like most gay boys, I had a burst of heterosexual experiences when I was 15 and 16.) The question is: how do you deal with them? If you see this as an interesting, natural part of human experience, they will soon fade from your mind. If you see them as shameful or immoral, they will fester – and you will subconsciously project them outwards, onto the demonic, disgusting fags, who should be punished for tempting you.

How do we break through this? It has to start with honesty. Homosexuality is not some unnatural intrusion, wrought by demonic perverts, as the pre-modern religious texts so absurdly assert. It is an inevitable part of nature – birds do it, bees do it – and it is, fleetingly, part of the sexual development of most teenagers. If you are full of hate for homosexuals, the evidence suggests you have a psychological problem, based on denying part of yourself.

In short: homophobia? It’s so gay.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Humorous Look at Internalized Homophobia
What Is It That Ails You?
The Pope’s “Scandalous” Stance on Homosexuality
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday Reflections

Following are some words of wisdom that have come my way on this Ash Wednesday of 2009.

These words convey spiritual insights that particularly resonate with me - especially today as I join with Christians from around the world in embarking on the journey of Lent.

A day when people humiliate themselves,
hanging their heads like a reed,
lying down on sackcloth and ashes
– that is not the sort of fast that pleases me.

Is that what you call fasting,
a day acceptable to Yahweh?

On the contrary!
This is the sort of fast that pleases me:
Remove the chains of injustice!
Undo the ropes of the yoke!
Let those who are oppressed go free,
and break every yoke you encounter!
Share your bread with those who are hungry,
and shelter homeless poor people.
Clothe those who are naked,
and don’t hide from the needs
of your own flesh and blood.

Do this and your light will shine like the dawn
– and your healing will break forth like lightning!
Your integrity will go before you,
and the glory of Yahweh will be your rearguard.

- Isaiah 58:5-8

We are each a reflection of God, made in God’s image. We each play an instrument in the symphony of God’s creation. If we do not let that reflection shine in the world, if we do not play our instrument for others to hear, a part of God will be hidden forever.

- Frances Dutil, CSJ
(Excerpted from Springtime of the Soul: Lent 2009,
Congregation of St. Joseph.)

We offer you our failures,
we offer you attempts,
the gifts not fully given,
the dreams not fully dreamt.

Give our stumblings direction,
give our visions wider view.

An offering of ashes,
an offering to you.

- Excerpted from “Ashes”
by Tom Conry

* The traditions of Lent come from the season’s origins as a time when the church prepared candidates, or “catechumens,” for their baptism into the Body of Christ. It eventually became a season of preparation not only for catechumens but also for the whole congregation. Examination of conscience, study, prayer, and works of love are disciplines historically associated with Lent. Conversion - literally the “turning around” or reorientation of our lives towards God - is the theme of Lent. Both as individuals and as a community, we look inward and reflect on our readiness to follow Jesus in his journey towards the cross. The forty days of Lent correspond to the forty-day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and the forty-year journey of Israel from slavery to a new community.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Lenten Journey
“Here I Am!” – the Lenten Response
The Onward Call

Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens

The Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed,
which, sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;
yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of shrubs,
and puts fort large branches, so that the birds of the air
can make nests in its shade. (Mark 4:30-32)

Intense discussions about what it means to be Catholic - discussions once limited to internal and tightly controlled Church forums - have recently been very much in the public arena. And that’s a good thing.

I’ve noted previously that in the area of human sexuality, a clear case can be made that throughout its history the institutional component of the Roman Catholic Church has demonstrated a lack of wisdom and compassion, has discouraged people from thinking and raising informed questions, and has dismissed and maligned courageous acts of truth telling.

As a Catholic, I lament this sad and sorry state of affairs. Yet I remain dedicated to working with others so as to bring about reform, renewal, change, and transformation – convinced, as I am, that such work is inspired and led by God’s spirit within and among us.

Accordingly, the more we force the hierarchy of the Church to publicly articulate (and attempt to defend) its intellectually dishonest and dysfunctional ideology of sexuality, the more obvious and untenable this dishonesty and dysfunction will become to “regular” Catholics. It’s happening already. And, yes, that’s a good thing.

Spirit-led developments at the periphery

Commentators both within and outside the Church are noting how the hierarchy is increasingly retreating into a cultic and fundamentalist mindset. Recently, Dennis, over at the (now defunct) NCR Cafe, perceptively observed that the function of this mindset is to:

Protect the faith, retreat to the basics (interpreted as dogma or as biblical literalism, simply and rigidly held and enforced); ostracize and demean the intellectual independents; exclude the seekers and the searchers; sanctify compliance; resurrect and idolize the symbols and trappings of the age of obeisance; redefine dialogue as negotiation; redefine terms of convenience like natural “law” to absolute; reintroduce fear as a teaching instrument (excommunication/dismemberment or “left behind”) for high and low; reward medievalism (plenary indulgences “advertised” for the year of St. Paul). These are the tactics, the politics, the strategies of fear, of dislike, of desperation - retreat behind the walls that are crumbling in the deception of strength and in the vain hope that the cavalry will come.

Pathetic, isn’t it? And if this was all that Roman Catholicism had to offer in these early years of the 21st century then the game would really and truly be up.

But wait! The center may be in a state of stasis and decay, but at the periphery of our living tradition we can observe sprouting and flourishing like mustard seeds, pesky* yet invigorating ways of being Catholic that are truer to the life and message of Jesus, and thus the true mission of the Church. Two recent examples are St. Mary’s in South Brisbane, Australia, and the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community in Minneapolis, USA. (The latter is my spiritual home.)

I resonate with Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s perspective on these developments (ones that I call “mustard seed” developments) that we’re witnessing throughout Roman Catholicism. They are, I am convinced, Spirit-led developments that are leading the Church beyond the cultic, fundamentalist, and, yes, for many, safe and uncomplicated mindset of the hierarchy. Not surprisingly, these developments are being experienced as both crisis and opportunity (depending, I guess, on whether one identifies with the wild and “dangerous” mustard seeds or with walled gardens of exclusivity and extreme control!)

Writes Kochivar-Baker:

The real split in the Church today is occurring in it’s educated laity who are no longer the ‘simple peasants’ of yor. For the most part this split is not organizational, it’s an exodus. People give up and leave.

However, what’s happening in St. Mary’s Brisbane and with St. Stephen’s in South Minneapolis is far more dangerous to Benedict’s notion of Church. These are two congregations which are living a different kind of Catholicism. It’s a Catholicism which directly threatens the . . . established clerical structure. These are not parishes of ‘simple faithful,’ they are parishes of dangerous ‘intellectuals’ practicing a social justice Catholicism which directly contradicts official church teachings about divorced couples, reception of the Eucharist, the place of gays, and ecumenism. These parishes also take lay involvement seriously. Their liturgies reflect a very different Catholicism from the one espoused by Benedict.

In the case of Saint Stephens, there the biggest majority of the congregation pulled up stakes and left. They have formed their own parish using different property. In the case of St. Mary’s it remains to be seen what will happen. I’m sure the Vatican would prefer they all leave before it has to resort to excommunication. But in either case the result is the same, a preference for an empty church building rather than a vibrant left-leaning parish.

A pesky “mustard seed” Catholic speaks

In an op ed by Juliette Hughes in The Age of Melbourne, one of these emerging ways of being Catholic identified by Kochivar-Baker is explored - as is the hierarchy's response to it. Hughes’ piece focuses on the situation at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in South Brisbane, a situation that I reported on last month (see the previous Wild Reed post,
A “Catholic Moment” in Brisbane).

In her op ed (reprinted below) Hughes raises some important questions and exposes the untenable nature of the fundamentalist theology that, sadly, has always been part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. “The deity [fundamentalists] believe in,” Hughes writes, “is one whose morals are like any sociopathic despot’s: toe its line, obey, don’t commit a thought-crime or it will chuck you into a lake of fire for all eternity. Do these worshippers ever think how they would judge a human who was such a sadistic tyrant as this nightmarish torturer-god?” Hughes, a Catholic herself, then describes the God that she “can believe in.”

Juliett Hughes is what you might call a “regular” Catholic, and yet she’s voicing loudly and clearly (and in one of Australia's leading newspapers!) certain views on the state of the Church that I hear all the time from fellow “regular” Catholics - both in the U.S. and Australia. These Catholics clearly see themselves as active agents (pesky mustard seeds?) within a living tradition - and not as the uncritical yes men of a stagnant institution that believes it has all possible answers, here and now.

And, yes, that such “regular” Catholics are finally finding their voice and speaking out is a very good thing.


Catholic Church Must Rediscover a Tolerant God
Juliette Hughes
The Age
February 21, 2009

The banner outside St Mary’s Catholic Church, South Brisbane, reads: “Everyone has a place in the church. Every person without exception should be able to feel at home and never rejected.” These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI himself. But it seems they don’t apply to the community of St Mary’s.

God is good. Organised religion is often not. To some in the Catholic hierarchy, it doesn’t matter how much godly good you do if you don’t toe the line. The past 40 years have seen a determined fundamentalist backlash against the openness and reforms of the Second Vatican Council that began so hopefully in the 1960s.

Now an entire parish of decent, spiritual people can be threatened with expulsion from the faith because some bigot has protested to Rome that they are, horror of horrors, too tolerant and accepting of diversity. Most parishes are burdened with a tiny minority of fundamentalist obsessives who dob in priests for supposed breaches of tradition. They are successful way beyond their numerical strength; indeed, the Vatican is notoriously deaf to anyone else in the laity, ignoring the concerns of the vast majority of those who call themselves Catholic. Accordingly, in August last year, the Archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, wrote a letter to Peter Kennedy, St Mary’s parish priest. In it he objected to the kind of prayers said at the parish’s liturgies and to the style of clothing worn by Father Kennedy at Mass (Kennedy wears ordinary clothes much of the time).

It wasn’t only about clothes. The parish was adapting some prayers, allowing divorced and gay people to receive the Eucharist and letting groups such as a Buddhist group and a gay choir use the church when it wasn’t in use for Catholic celebrations. According to the letter, this was enough to put them outside the Catholic Church.

“The question for me,” the archbishop wrote, “is not so much whether St Mary’s should be closed down, but whether St Mary’s will close itself down by practices that separate it from communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”

Now Kennedy has been sacked and yesterday a new, Vatican-approved parish priest was shoehorned into the place. Kennedy has said that he intends to offer the 9am Mass today, and many are expected to attend.

In the meantime, the Pope is battling on another front: the public relations disaster he incurred when he rescinded the excommunication of four dissident hyper-conservative bishops. These chaps, so much more acceptable to the Vatican than the gentle people of St Mary’s, belong to the Society of St Pius X. The SSPX adheres to a form of liturgy that was rejected by the Second Vatican Council as anti-Semitic: it includes a disgraceful Good Friday prayer for the conversion of “the perfidious Jews.”

Unfortunately, Richard Williamson, one of the four bishops, went further, stating on Swedish television that no more than 300,000 Jews perished under the Nazis, and that he did not believe there were gas chambers in Auschwitz.

It is baffling that the Vatican machinery that can sniff out a recalcitrant liberal in Queensland did not pick this up. For those who adhere to notions of papal infallibility, it wasn’t a good look: either the Pope didn’t know and blundered into this, or he knew and didn’t care until the international fuss. In damage control, the Pope stated that Holocaust denial was “intolerable.”. And then he had to go and threaten to excommunicate Williamson again.

Now that puts the excommunicated Kennedy and the St Mary’s folk in some unpleasant company. But we have to realise that to the mindset of fundamentalists, all deviation from the party line is intolerable, so Holocaust denial is only as bad to them as some other things that wouldn’t bother you or me.

Let’s see: allowing women to preside at the Eucharist and preach homilies; that’ll get you into heaps of strife. Bless the loving union of gay or divorced couples? Ouch. Wear ordinary clothes to celebrate Mass? That's it, you’ve done it now: the vestment police are at your door.

Fundamentalists are so afraid of freedom. The deity they believe in is one whose morals are like any sociopathic despot’s: toe its line, obey, don’t commit a thought-crime or it will chuck you into a lake of fire for all eternity. Do these worshippers ever think how they would judge a human who was such a sadistic tyrant as this nightmarish torturer-god?

But for the majority of Catholics (only 13 per cent of us even bother to go to church these days), their God does not sit there devising horrible punishments and scourging the unbeliever, but is infinitely, unconditionally loving and kind. That’s the God I can believe in. The one who understands failure, suffering and frailty. I hope the hierarchy of my church can rediscover the God of all creation, with the gentle son of a humble Jewish woman as our guide.

Juliette Hughes is a Melbourne writer.

* In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan offers the following insights on the parable of the mustard seed:

The mustard plant is dangerous even when domesticated in the garden, and is deadly when growing wild in the grain fields. And those nesting birds, which may strike us as charming, represented to ancient farmers a permanent danger to the seed and the grain. The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three, four, or even more feet in height. It is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas, where they are nor particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like. Like a pungent shrub with dangerous take-over properties. Something you would want only in small and carefully controlled doses - if you could control it. It is a startling metaphor, but it would be interpreted quite differently by those, on the one hand, concerned about their fields, their crops, and their harvests, and by those, on the other, for whom fields, crops, and harvest were always the property of others. (Pp. 65-66)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to Be Catholic
A “Catholic Moment” in Brisbane
A Catholic Crisis and Opportunity in South Minneapolis
Dispatches from the Periphery
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Benedict’s Understanding of Church
“The Real Battle”
An Enlightened Exploration of Integrity and Obedience
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Genuine Authority
A Declaration of Reform and Renewal

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Observations

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had some friends over last night to watch the broadcast of the 81st Annual Academy Awards.

It was a fun night. We all filled out ballots before the show and had a prize for the person who predicted/guessed the most number of winners. (It went to my friend Rick, a true movie buff, who successfully picked 13 of the winners).

Anyway, here’s a few “Oscar observations” from last night’s show:

As disappointed as I was with Milk’s portrayal of Dan White (discussed here), I was nevertheless quite moved by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s impassioned speech after winning for Best Original Screenplay.

If Harvey [Milk] had not been taken from us thirty years ago, I think he would want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than – by the churches, by the government, by their families – that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours.

Later in the show, Sean Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In accepting his award for playing slain gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk, Penn condemned not only the anti-gay protesters who were demonstrating outside the Academy Awards’ venue, but those who recently campaigned and voted against civil marriage rights for gay people in California.

For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think it’s a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect on their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.

Apart from Milk, the only other Best Picture nominated film I’ve seen is The Reader, in which Kate Winslet certainly displays her acting chops. I had a hard time, however, getting too excited about her Best Actress in a Leading Role win as I never bought into the central premise of the film. Accordingly, Winslet’s character, Hanna, and Hanna’s motivations never really gelled for me. I think critic Ron Rosenbaum sums it up best when he writes:

So much is made of the deep, deep exculpatory shame of illiteracy . . . that some worshipful accounts of the novel (by those who buy into its ludicrous premise) . . . actually seem to affirm that illiteracy is something more to be ashamed of than participating in mass murder. . . . Lack of reading skills is more disgraceful than listening in bovine silence to the screams of 300 people as they are burned to death behind the locked doors of a church you’re guarding to prevent them from escaping the flames. Which is what Hanna did.

On to a more cheery topic . . . host Hugh Jackman was actually the highlight of the 81st Annual Academy Awards for me – and, no, not just because he’s a fellow Aussie and incredibly handsome!

The guy has a natural wit and charm that puts many Hollywood celebrities to shame. His opening song-and-dance set a standard that, sadly, was not matched throughout the rest of the broadcast – mainly because Jackman was so under-utilized as host! What was that all about?

Here’s the Associated Press’ take on Jackman’ performance as host of last night’s Oscars:

. . . The sorry state of the economy inspired Jackman’s opening performance.

“Due to cutbacks, the Academy said they didn’t have enough money for an opening number,” Jackman declared. “I’m going to do one anyway.”

And he did, with a musical tribute to the nominated films cleverly staged with tatty, bargain-basement props (and help from Anne Hathaway, summoned from her seat).

After last year’s Oscars delivered their worst TV ratings ever, producers this time aimed to liven up the show with some surprises and new ways of presenting awards. Rather than hiring a comedian such as past hosts Jon Stewart or Chris Rock, the producers went with actor and song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman, who has been host of Broadway’s Tony Awards.

Instead of the usual standup routine, Jackman did an engaging musical number to open the show, saluting nominated films with a clever tribute.

Offering a nod to Slumdog Millionaire, Jackman crooned, “Just a humble slumdog, sitting in a chair, of a millionaire ...” He hauled best-actress nominee Anne Hathaway on-stage to stand in as Richard Nixon in a gag tune about fellow best-picture nominee Frost/Nixon and asked the question in song – why don’t comic-book movies get nominated? – a dig at Oscar voters’ best-picture snub of The Dark Knight.

It was something of an inside joke, since Jackman himself has starred in the X-Men comic-book adaptations and this summer’s Wolverine spinoff.

Jackman later did a medley staged by his Australia director Baz Luhrmann with such performers as Beyonce Knowles and High School Musical stars Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron.

Above (from left): My friends Daniel, Joey, Kathleen, Rick,
and Kay
- Oscar Night, February 22, 2009.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Behind the Times: The Nominees for the 81st Annual Academy Awards - Hiram Lee and David Walsh (World Socialist Web Site, January 23, 2009).
Milque-Toasting Milk - OoMick (February 23, 2009).
“New” Oscars Gets Better Ratings - Joal Ryan (Yahoo News, February 24, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Where Milk Gets It Wrong
Five Oscar Highlights (2008)

Winter Garden

I have to be honest with you, my friends: there’s something just not right about an Australian shoveling snow!

Not surprising, given that snow (and its shoveling) is simply not part of most Aussies’ experience (unless they live in a place like Thredbo, that is).

Yet with the recent snowfall here in St. Paul, and with friends arriving at my home later in the day to watch the Oscars, shoveling snow was exactly what I had to do yesterday afternoon.

Truth be told, I find that once I get started into almost any kind of physical exercise, I actually quite enjoy it.

Okay, enjoy might be a bit too strong a word. But I can definitely appreciate the benefits of a good workout – be it lifting weights, doing push-ups, or shoveling the sidewalk. It’s getting started on any and all of these things that I have a hard time with.

But as you can see, start – and finish – shoveling I did.

And while outside, I took the opportunity to photograph the unique beauty of the winter garden.

Hard to believe that just over a month ago I was doing this!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Rainy October Afternoon
Summer Blooms
“Jubilation is My Name” - Spring in Minnesota
A Snowy December
Down By the River

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Classic Dusty III

Something very special this evening at The Wild Reed – the legendary Dusty Springfield singing the traditional ballad, “The Water is Wide.”

It’s actually a segment from her second BBC television series, Dusty (1967), and is simply beautiful. Enjoy!

The water is wide,
I cannot cross over.
And neither have I wings to fly.
Give me a boat that can carry two,
and we both shall row,
my love and I.

A ship there is,
and it sails the sea.
It’s loaded deep as deep can be.
But not so deep as the love I’m in.
And I know not
if I sink or swim . . .

Paul Howes in the liner notes of the 2007 DVD, Dusty Springfield: Live at the BBC:

Each programme [of Dusty’s 1966 BBC series] followed the same format - five or six songs with a guest spot in the middle. Simply called Dusty, the series was described as “the musical world of Dusty Springfield,” succinctly acknowledging the fact that Dusty was more than just a one-dimensional pop singer. Her taste in music was eclectic and there was almost nothing she couldn’t sing. By the end of the series, she had run the gamut of musical styles from pop to standards, soul to swing, show tunes to folk songs. Each song had been performed with deceptively consummate ease. Just as in the recording studio, Dusty was a perfectionist and demanded a great deal from her musicians. But they gave her what she wanted and the high standards she set herself she achieved.

The shows attracted healthy audience figures and were sufficiently popular for the BBC to invite Dusty back for a second series in 1967 . . .

For more of Dusty at The Wild Reed, see:
Remembering a Great Soul Singer
Classic Dusty
Classic Dusty II
Shelby Lynn Celebrates Dusty Springfield
Time and the River
Soul Deep

Recommended Off-site Link:
Woman of Repute - My website dedicated to the life and artistry of Dusty Springfield.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where Milk Gets It Wrong

Above: Josh Brolin as Dan White and Sean Penn as Harvey Milk
in Gus Van Sant’s film, Milk.

Last weekend I finally saw Gus Van Sant’s film, Milk, which focuses on the final eight, politically charged years in the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to high public office in the U.S.

Without doubt, Milk is a well crafted and, in many ways, inspiring film. It features standout performances by Sean Penn (as Milk) and Josh Brolin (as Milk’s fellow San Francisco city supervisor and eventual assassin, Dan White). It’s understandable that Milk has been nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. Does it deserve to win? Well, not having seen the other contenders (with the exception of The Reader) I can’t really say. Still, I definitely recommend it.

I was particularly moved by Milk’s capturing of the spirit of the times – from the opening (real) footage of gay bar patrons in the 1960s being arrested and bundled into police vans, to the film’s recreation of the wild hairstyles and fashions of the ‘70s, and its reenactments of the various events that ensured both exciting progress and frustrating setbacks for the fledgling gay rights movement.

The film’s presentation of the Proposition 6 (Briggs Initiative) debate in California was revelatory for me. And with recent events in California around Proposition 8, it really does feel, in some ways, like history repeating. The struggle for full civil rights for lesbian and gay people certainly continues. And Milk powerfully and artfully reminds us of this fact.

I was also quite moved by Josh Brolin’s portrayal of Dan White. It could have been so easy to present White as a garden variety homophobic right-wing zealot who goes over the edge. Yet as portrayed by Brolin, White is a conflicted, tortured individual; someone with whom you feel a certain empathy and concern. Well, at least I did.

And the cause of Dan White’s torment? Well, that’s where things get problematic for Milk. Van Sant and Milk co-writer Dustin Lance Black have Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk vocalize the belief that White is “one of us,” i.e., gay. Yet as a “good Catholic family man,” White is obviously closeted – perhaps even in large measure to himself. Accordingly, the film depicts Milk expressing sympathy with White for living “the daily lie.”

The only time we get a sense of White’s repressed sexuality is during a scene when he drunkenly confronts Milk. Just for a moment White’s heterosexual façade begins ever-so-slightly to slip. It’s an incredible performance by Brolin, ensuring that White comes across as heartbreakingly lost, conflicted, and . . . well . . . crying out for help. You just want to give him a big hug and tell him that it’s going to be alright. But, of course, it won’t be. We already know how this story ends.

And according to Van Sant and Black, it ends the way it does because Dan White is an uptight, closeted gay man who, in large part, kills Harvey Milk in a fit of (internalized) homophobic rage.

Yet the question has to be asked: How accurate is this portrayal of Dan White?

Well, in a December 2008 San Francisco Weekly article by John Geluardi, White’s former campaign manager Ray Sloan, takes issue with the idea that homophobia motivated White’s murderous actions. The most fascinating aspect of all of this is that Sloan is himself gay (although whether or not he was out – to himself or to others, including White – at the time of the events depicted in Milk is not clear).

Above: Ray Sloan (left) with Dan White (right),
White’s wife, and an identified Roman Catholic priest.

Here’s an excerpt from Geluardi’s article, “White Lies”:

[W]hen the filmmakers were doing research for the Milk script, they never spoke to Sloan. That may be because his existence creates a problem for the film’s premise, because Sloan is gay. That’s right, Dan White’s top confidante is gay.

Sloan says that over the past 30 years, White has been falsely portrayed as a murderous homophobe in order to enhance Milk’s legendary status as the most important gay rights leader in American history. But Sloan says White was not at all homophobic. He was just an unstable man who became homicidal when Milk and [Mayor] Moscone betrayed him politically.

Many historical facts about White were conveniently left out of the movie. After watching the film, you would never know that Dan White supported nearly all of Milk’s gay-friendly resolutions, he willingly contributed money to fight the Briggs Initiative, and he used his influence with Board of Supervisors President Dianne Feinstein to get Milk appointed to two important committees. At the time, Milk’s legislative aide Dick Pabich told a gay newspaper that White “supported us on every position and he goes out of his way to find what gay people think about things.”

Above: Harvey Milk and Dan White.
Compare this photo of the two men conversing at
San Francisco City Hall to this post’s opening image
taken from Van Sant’s film.

“The film reflected a Dan White that I didn’t know,” Sloan said after the movie at Harvey’s Restaurant and Bar (named after the slain supervisor). “I am most appalled at the scene where Dan was supposed to be drunk. He was a teetotaler.”

But Sloan acknowledged the movie was powerful and that most of the events and characters were spot on, particularly actor Brandon Bryce’s portrayal of Milk’s political consultant, Jim Rivaldo, who was a close friend of Sloan’s.

In a previous article on White, Geluardi acknowledges that “while it’s possible that White was confused about his sexuality or was secretly homosexual . . . there is no evidence of either.”

So there you have it. I must admit I’m disappointed that both director Van Sant and writer Black chose to get it so wrong when it came to their film’s depiction of Dan White. It would seem that both director and writer are typical of that type of gay person who can’t help projecting their own orientation onto others. I know the type well, and they can be both annoying and tiresome.

Interestingly, the straight Josh Brolin doesn’t seem to share Van Sant’s and Black’s distorted perspective on White. In an interview it’s noted that:

During his research, Brolin never focused on whether White was a homophobe. “Personally, I think who cares because I don’t think that was his motive. I think if you look at the relationship, especially in the beginning, between [Harvey Milk] and Dan White, they come from . . . I mean, they’re polar opposites. Dan White was put in there, put in that situation by the Fire Department and by the Police Department to really bring back San Francisco to what it was founded on, this kind of white, super-white, Catholic mentality. It’s an impossibility. You just can’t do it. I don’t care what kind of politician you are. You can’t do it. And the gay and lesbian movement had taken its own life, and the hippie movement and all that. So, you know, he was given an impossible task. Also, he didn’t have the foresight; he didn’t have the wherewithal and the political skills to realize, ‘Hey, this is happening right now. It’s going to hit a peak. It will start to bleed into the mainstream, and then I’ll have my time,’ and to look for those opportunities. He just got more frustrated and more frustrated.”

“He was the big fish in the small pond in his district, then he was suddenly the very small fish in a huge sea of City Hall and he got more frustrated, but I think he tried to do the right thing,” explained Brolin. “That’s when I started seeing the human. He tried to. He was frustrated because he wanted more money and $9,600 a year, that’s nothing. He had the kids and the wife and all that and then at Pier 39, he started a little chip stand where he was trying to make more money. And then he tried to resign and then they [the Fire Department and the Police Department] wouldn’t let him resign. They were saying, ‘Get back in there. You have to do this for us. You are the great white hope.’ And then Mayor Moscone wouldn’t take him back in. So, I understand on a very human, basic level when all your power is taken away, and you’re sitting there and your legacy is just nothing, it’s dirt, with your family, with your friends, with your community, everything, and you think the only tangible thing I can do, the only garnering of power that I have left is to grab a gun, load the gun, point the gun, shoot the gun, kill the person, cause and effect. That’s the only tangible thing I can imagine at that moment. I don’t excuse it obviously, but I understand that desperation.”

Yes, and it’s a very different kind of desperation than the one that Van Sant and Black project upon White.

Look, no one doubts that homophobic closet cases exist and that they do untold damage to themselves and others. And unquestionably the “homophobic closeted gay man” angle elicited a powerful and moving performance by Josh Brolin - even if he himself doesn’t fully buy into it. It’s a performance that’s worthy of his Best Supporting Actor nomination at this year’s Oscars. But it’s a performance constructed on a deliberate mischaracterization of a real person - a mischaracterization crafted by two gay men (who really should know better).

Knowing all of this, I must admit I have a hard time hoping Brolin wins, and an even harder time taking seriously writer Dustin Lance Black’s assertion in
Milk: The Shooting Script, that “historical accuracy was always a top priority.” Mmm, I think Dan White’s family and friends - including at least one gay friend, would disagree.

So come Sunday night and the Oscars, I’ve decided to root for a Best Supporting Actor win for fellow Aussie Heath Ledger!

Recommended Off-site Links:
Dan White’s Motive More About Betrayal Than Homophobia - John Geluardi (San Francisco Weekly, January 29, 2008).
White Lies - John Geluardi (San Francisco Weekly, December 2, 2008).
Milk – A Review by Roger Ebert
Milk, Identity Politics, and Gus Van Sant’s Art - Joanne Laurier (World Socialist Web Site, December 9, 2008).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on "Spiritual Paternity"

Over at the Progressive Catholic Voice, a third reflection has been posted on Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski’s October 2008 comments accompanying the promulgation of the Vatican’s “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.” This latest reflection is by theologian James Moudry.

Following is an excerpt:

This reflection deals with the reason why, according to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, priesthood is not open to women and to the issue of disqualification of homosexual men from priesthood.

. . . The assumptive starting point of the Cardinal’s descriptive imagery of the priesthood is that the subject in question is male. He speaks of spiritual paternity. With that in mind, there is applied quite appropriately a series of biblical and theological symbols and metaphors to describe this male person. They are powerful and enrich our understanding of the person in question who is male.

However, if the assumptive starting point were a female subject, a different set of biblical and theological symbols and metaphors could be mustered to describe her person.

But in point of fact neither paternity nor maleness or femaleness are the biblical or theological starting points for the priest. Rather it is ministry, the priest as minister of the Gospel for the sake of the community. And the Scriptures list descriptive symbols and metaphors to describe the ministry of that person which are or can be gender neutral. It is not clear why “paternity” should govern a discussion of the question.

To read James Moudry’s reflection in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
“Spiritual Paternity”: Why Homosexual Men Cannot Be Ordained Catholic Priests
- Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 13, 2009).
Homosexual Priests and Spiritual Paternity
- Ed Kohler (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 26, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
The Pope’s “Scandalous” Stance on Homosexuality
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal & Reform
“We Are All the Rock” - An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest Judith McKloskey

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

Something for Our “Mental Hygiene” as Gay Catholics

Catholic theologian James Alison (pictured at right at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN, in July 2008) has recently posted on his website an article entitled “The Pain and the Endgame: Reflections on a Whimper.” As with all of Alison’s writings, it’s a very thoughtful and erudite reflection on gay people and the Roman Catholic Church.

In reviewing “The Pain and the End Game,” Terence, over at Queering the Church, notes that:

The overriding message of this article . . . appears to be a simple one: [Pope] Benedict has recognized, or is coming to recognize, that past hostility to ‘homosexuals’ has been misplaced, and is leading the hierarchy through a process of downplaying past condemnations, which will lead in turn to an increasing recognition of the need for a new theology of homosexuality. This is a development, says Alison, that he has long anticipated, but it is occurring sooner, and more subtly, than he had expected.

As intriguing as this contention may be, the part of “The Pain and the Endgame” that I found most interesting was the section (reprinted below) in which Alison reminds us of the need to distinguish between “the figure of Peter and the particular personal and cultural opinions” of the current pope.


It is easy enough for any of us to enter into a sort of personal mimetic rivalry with the Pope, such that he becomes far too important to us, and we are far too easily inclined to imagine that we know what he actually thinks about any given thing, and usually far too quick to “read” some reported remark as hostile to us, and so to interpret him in a relentlessly negative way. If we are all only political animals, and the Church merely yet another player in the field of human culture wars, then this appears to be a perfectly reasonable attitude to take: the Pope can be assimilated into our particular political and cultural struggle, and be adopted as a useful cultural marker against which we can react when what he says appears to be, or genuinely is, against us, or occasionally he can be used as a positive banner when he happens to stand up for something with which we agree.

However, for our mental hygiene as gay Catholics, it is worth remembering that this is not how either Jozef Ratzinger, or the Church, sees the Pope. Jozef Ratzinger may be a somewhat culturally conservative Bavarian theologian of a certain age and generation. He may have many of the social and political richnesses of view, and prejudices, proper to those of his time and place. He may or may not have ignorant or well-informed views about matters gay. He may or may not be a self-hating gay man who has a blind spot in this area as a certain press suggests. We can’t know, and I don’t suppose we ever will: the papal “persona” makes of its occupant’s biography too much of an interpretative minefield during his life and for too long after his death for us really to “know” the man. And in the sphere of matters gay, he long ago gave up the possibility of expressing his personal opinions in any sort of public forum. But what he certainly is, and knows he is, is called to act as Peter, whose role and function is one of strong, mistaken, and penitent service to us as the Body of Christ. Someone in fact, whose mistaken-ness and penitence make him the only sort of leader with whom we can’t really be tied into a mimetic rivalry.

Here it seems to me that we need to spend more time thinking about this figure if we are not to be scandalized by the office holder. What I would expect of Peter is someone who had strong views in a matter of religious rightness and sanctity. When faced with the mounting evidence that in matters gay the teaching of the Church has been based on a taboo, that is, a sacred idol, a series of violent lies which seemed to be holy but were not, I expect Peter at first to hold firm. Then, as it becomes clearer that what seemed to be from God was not from God, and that God is revealing something new and fresh about God’s creation, God’s impartial love for all of creation and how no human is profane or unclean (Cf Acts 10), I expect him gradually to get it, to recognize that what had seemed “outside” has been brought in by a power not his own, for God’s holiness is shown in Creation made fully alive.

I then expect him to help this change of heart concerning what is to percolate through the Church by removing such obstacles to it as he can, while doing his very best not to scandalize those of weak faith who feel lost and threatened by the change of world which is coming upon us, but nevertheless, ultimately ratifying the change. I would expect him to be very keen to be trying to formulate other ways of making clear God’s holiness and power given the collapse in vision which seemed to accompany the realization that what seemed holy was not. I expect this to take place over time, over several pontificates, and to be a thoroughly messy business, an endgame full of flailing around in which the Gospel truth only emerges slowly, but does emerge surely.

To read James Alison’s “The Pain and the Endgame: Reflections on a Whimper” in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Link:
James Alison. Theology

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: Complex and Nuanced
How Times Have Changed
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality
Hypcrisy, Ignorance, Promiscuity, and the Love that is the Center of Catholic Christianity
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride

Image: Michael Bayly.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Catholic “Crisis and Opportunity” in South Minneapolis

While some see the situation at the parish of St. Stephen’s in South Minneapolis as a crisis, others see it as an opportunity to embody the reform and renewal so desperately needed in the Church. It’s an opportunity that many members of the parish have seized upon in their decision to leave and establish the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community.

The faith community that I worship with every Sunday, the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community, was mentioned today in a rather choppily written piece by Jon Tevlin in the Star Tribune.

Tevlin writes about growing up opposite the parish of St. Stephen’s in South Minneapolis, and the current crisis and opportunity that the parish is facing given last year’s mass exodus of parishioners in response to the chancery’s order that the parish conform its various liturgies to the rubrics of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

As I note in a previous Wild Reed post, I’m sure that for many Catholic parishes, the rubrics of GIRM serve well to express and reflect their faith and community life. Yet over the course of 40 years, St. Stephen’s had developed its liturgy in ways that reflected the presence of the Spirit as discerned in the unique gifts and needs of its members and in their shared life together.

This development was a very intentional and faith-filled embodiment of the Second Vatican Council’s call for “full and active participation” of the laity in “liturgical celebrations” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963). Yet many now feel that, in one fell swoop, this embodiment – along with the Spirit that nurtured and inspired it – was discounted by the chancery’s demand that it be abandoned for the rubrics of GIRM.

Those who left St. Stephen’s, myself included, have formed the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community. We gather every Sunday morning at Park House (which, ironically, is owned by the archdiocese) to “share and break open the Word” and to celebrate the Eucharist. Attendance on any given Sunday is always around 200. Partly for this reason, we’re currently in negotiations to move to a larger space.

It was during the time of the chancery’s directive to the parish and the subsequent exodus of parishioners, that a new pastor, Rev. Joseph Williams, was appointed to St. Stephen’s. Tevlin’s commentary, in large part, focuses on how the 34-year-old Williams is dealing with the situation at St. Stephen’s. In doing so, Tevlin misses a great opportunity to explore and discuss the bigger, underlying issues at play here:

How is church understood by the various players?

Can conflicting models of church be discerned in all of this?

How do these differing models understand the mission of the church?

In determining this mission, what should be our inspiration and guide?

From my perspective, this “inspiration and guide” should be the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a life and ministry that was all about two interrelated and quite revolutionary things: 1) God’s loving presence in our lives, here and now; and 2) liberation from oppressive forces and limiting mindsets that prevent us from recognizing and embodying this presence, and living lives of consciousness and compassion, i.e., that “abundant life” that Jesus invites all to participate in. (And, of course, intrinsic to all of this is the radical hospitality of Jesus that is reflective of God’s
extravagant welcome to all.)

The question now becomes: which model of church – the chancery’s or the Spirit of St. Stephen’s – best embodies Jesus’ life and ministry?

Is it possible that aspects of both models can have a role to play in this embodiment?

How best can we come together to dialogue and discern these aspects and roles?

Exploring these types of questions would make for a compelling article, don’t you think?

Anyway, below is Tevlin’s column in its entirety (accompanied by a few of my own observations and thoughts), followed by some further reflections of mine on this situation.


“We’re Taking on Water,”
and New Priest Knows He Can’t Walk on It

By Jon Tevlin
Star Tribune
February 15, 2009

Father Joseph Williams came “from the farm to the hood” less than a year ago, to a congregation in a spiritual crisis and a neighborhood riddled with poverty and crime. He is only 34, but as he sits in a low-ceilinged office in the basement of St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, it seems like the weight of the 110-year-old structure, and the centuries-old institution itself, sit squarely on his shoulders.

When Williams arrived in April, there were 350 families at the church, maybe more. On a recent Sunday, during the only remaining mass in English, coughs echoed off the empty pews as a couple of dozen people mumbled through the service.

That’s it, he said.

The rest have fled, or just given up.

Williams, under the direction of a new pope and new archbishop, has steered one of the country’s most liberal churches in a more orthodox direction. No more services in the “egalitarian” school gym. No more laity saying mass or celebrating the eucharist. No more prayers to “our father and mother in heaven.”

The collection plate is down 90 percent. This spring, the priest who not long ago led a congregation in an idyllic small town, will tell the charter school known for a peace-and-justice curriculum that it must go because the church needs more rent.

Williams – smart, witty and likable – talks about providence, his faith that God is directing this drama. But when asked if the congregation could continue if it did not grow, he frowns.

“No,” he said. “We’re taking on water.”

Former St. Stephen’s priest Ed Flahavan says that two tsunamis have hit the church, which towers over the Whittier and Phillips neighborhood a half-mile from downtown Minneapolis. The first was in 1968, bringing with it the flotsam of the era.

I lived across the street, was an altar boy and graduated from the Catholic grade school. My first job was cleaning up the basement, where homeless people crashed on floor mats. I saw the first guitar mass, the start of the American Indian Movement and gay rights. We sang Bob Dylan songs instead of hymns. Except the answer, my friend, was living in all men.

In protest, the traditionalists handed out fliers, Defenders’ Trumpet, saying things had gone crazy. I sometimes had to squeeze through picket lines to serve mass, as barriers to worship came down, or went up, depending on your view.

Eventually, the church stopped being the center of the neighborhood, which crumbled. A man was killed in my back yard. The fourplex where I grew up became a crack house after my parents fled to Staples, seeking a different kind of sanctuary.

The second tsunami hit last winter, exactly 40 years later. Henry Bromelkamp was in the forefront of the new exodus, starting an offshoot called “The Spirit of St. Stephens” when the parish turned back to tradition.

Bromelkamp personally likes Williams, “but I think he thought what St. Stephen’s did for the poor was charity,” he said. “It’s a demand for justice, not just for the poor, but for all of us. Hierarchy acts like the route to God is only through its hierarchy. That doesn’t make us believe it.”

The new priest thought there was “no opposition between a shared liturgy and a radical passion for social services. Maybe I was naively optimistic to that end,” Williams said. “I began to realize the anger with the institution was deeper than I thought. They didn’t see that people were hurt by the liberties taken with the liturgy.” What people? The cranks who came and secretly took photos during liturgies so as to run to the chancery and report “abuses”?

“Some people said I was hand-picked by the bishops to dismantle the church,” he continued. “If I was, they didn’t tell me about it.” Whose ever decision it was to send the young Williams to St. Stephen’s, it was an irresponsible and misguided one. Look, I’ve met Williams and he is, as Tevlin notes, a “smart, witty, and likable” guy, but the situation at St. Stephen’s needed a more experienced individual. Then again, given the determination of Archbishop Nienstedt to “reign in” the parish, it would have taken quite a wise and courageous individual to attempt to argue the case that the liturgy that had developed at St. Stephen’s was the work of the Spirit, and that Catholicism should be broad enough and strong enough to handle diversity of this kind.

Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is firm on that question: “Absolutely not.”

While McGrath has seen lots of rifts inside churches, “I can’t think of another situation like this. It’s not a conservative or liberal issue, though that’s part of it, it’s a question of the veracity of the church.” Actually, I think it’s all about differing understandings of church and what it means to be Catholic. Does being a Catholic mean unquestioning obedience to rubrics and to every utterance of the hierarchy? Or is it about viewing and engaging the world in a profoundly loving and sacramental way – a way that seeks and discerns God in ever new and unexpected places? Is the church a static entity, with revelation over and done with? Or is it possible to hold onto certain foundational traditions while still being open to God’s ongoing revelation in the lives and relationships of all? These are the crucial questions at the heart of what's going on at St. Stephen’s and in parishes across the globe.

“We knew we were drifting across the line,” Flahavan said. “Some who left kept going. They left Rome.”

I left the church, in both senses of the word, years ago. [Okay, just so you know,this is the author talking now, not Flahavan. The first time I read it, I thought this paragraph was a continuation of Flahaven’s remarks in the preceding paragraph.] I followed the prophets that seemed to speak to me at the time, whether it was Sartre, Rand or Hunter S. Thompson. My own Church of One. Unlike those who recently left, however, I never expected the church to come with me.

“This is more than I bargained for,” admits Williams, who again mentions providence.

He sees promise in the new influx of immigrants (Williams is fluent in Spanish) who can rejuvenate St. Stephen’s as the Irish did decades ago: “Lovely people.”

“While there is a sense of loss, there is also great hope for renewal,” Williams said. “Our doors are open.” From my perspective, the “great hope for renewal” that Williams refers to is being realized at the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community.

– Jon Tevlin
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
February 15, 2009


Friends, here are a few more of my thoughts on this situation: As I said in my October 5, 2008 homily at the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community, I’m convinced that if there’s any hope for the Catholic Church to be a sacrament of God’s unconditional love for all, it’s to be found within the myriad of “intentional faith” communities springing up throughout Catholicism – Spirit of St. Stephen’s in Minneapolis, St. Mary’s in Brisbane, Australia, Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester, New York, etc. – and within the various Catholic organizations and coalitions calling for renewal and reform.

What do these communities and organizations all have in common? They have moved, in a sense, to the periphery of the tradition and thus to a place where their members can be open to the Spirit beyond the life-denying clericalism and doctrinal fundamentalism that dominate and control the center.

I take great courage and hope in what theologian Leonardo Boff has to say about the periphery. He writes that: “It is on the periphery where life flourishes in all its exuberance and as a challenge, [it’s on the periphery] where those who hope and live at the margin of all organization, find the necessary soil for the creativity and emergence of what is new and not yet taught.” (1)

Using St. Francis of Assisi as an example, Boff observes that “the periphery is where the great prophets arise, where the reforming movements are born, and where the Spirit flourishes. The periphery possesses a theological privilege, because it is there that the Son of God was born.” (2)

I believe Christ continues to be born in the lives, relationships, and faith communities that find themselves, either by choice or by force, on the periphery. In this current time of crisis and opportunity within the Church, it’s no longer only women and gay people living and prophesizing from this holy place, but anyone and everyone who recognizes that the hallmark of our Catholic faith is not rigid adherence to church doctrine but the seeking and embodying of compassion and justice within the context of a pilgrim church still very much growing into truth.

1-2. Boff, Leonardo. Francis of Assisi: A Model for Human Liberation (Orbis Books, 2006), p. 101.

Following are a sample of the comments that have been left on the Star Tribune website in response to Joe Tevlin’s column.

Sagewoman writes: For many people since the 1960’s, St. Stephen’s was the “Church of Last Resort,” a Catholic Church that kept all the vitality of Vatican II and inspired its members to act for justice, within the Church and outside it. Unquestionably its liturgies “crossed the line” of liturgical rules; unquestionably, those liturgies grew out of forty years of community prayer and seeking God’s will. Unquestionably, Archbishops Roach and Flynn knew exactly how liturgies were performed at St. Stephen’s, and apparently weren’t sufficiently worried about our souls or our creating scandal to do anything about it. I believe that Father Joseph is a good and sincere man, doing what he thinks is right. I think he and others in the hierarchy “have gotten it wrong,” but I can still have compassion for him and respect him and pray for him. I feel the same energy from Father Joseph. He cares about us and respects our doing what we feel is right, while being very clear that he thinks we “have gotten it wrong” and I am sure he prays for us. I only wish that those Catholic “conservatives” who are so sure they have the Truth that they can condemn others in letters to the editor and blogs could have some respect and compassion for those who believe they are following their God’s will and consider that we may be acting on our consciences.

Bill writes: The Catholic Church holds that the Pope is STILL infallible when he speaks on matters of core doctrine. But he is not infallible in day-to-day life; that is, he is not impeccable. As for the Church changing, I find that the Church is returning to its roots after its disastrous 40-year romance with modernity, and I say, not a moment too soon. Most of the younger priests I’ve seen in the past ten years are far more conservative than the flower-child, anything-goes hippie priests who were ordained in the 1960s and 1970s (no, not every priest ordained in the 1960s or 70s was like that). They will soon be gone and the Church will be better for it. As far as social justice is concerned, the Church is in favor if it; they just mean something different by it than radicals such as [those] mentioned in [this] story. As for inclusion/exclusion, the church includes everyone but those who are defiant of its teachings in a public way, and these people are always welcome back if they repent. It does this so that its followers develop an understanding that a person cannot behave however he wishes and still get to Heaven. (For those who don’t believe Jesus ever spoke about sinners ending up in Hell, please read one of the Gospels. It takes less time than you think.)

A Spirit of St. Stephen’s member writes: St. Stephen’s new driving force, the hierarchy, is driving a once vibrant parish, one of many I believe that truly took the gospel of justice in action seriously (which is why I gravitated to it 20 years ago), right into the ground. All this for the sake of not God’s truth but for an idea of that truth held to veraciously by a bunch of men in Rome who are no longer listening to God speaking through God’s people. It is the typical path of any institution that grows large – the rules that it needs to operate well become an end unto themselves and everyone forgets what it was all for in the first place. Eventually it either finds a way to evolve or it dies. And one can easily see this one is dying. Funny you didn’t even mention that the Spirit of St. Stephen’s community that marched out on that cold day last Winter is a 300+ member strong and vibrant community only a few blocks away. And we have come to learn that there are many communities just like us around the nation that have been forced to declare their independence. You say, fine, don’t let the door hit you on the way out because you’re not truly catholic, but your words are starting to bounce against the walls of an empty sanctuary. When will you decide that your rules might be the problem and you should start listening again to what God might be telling you in all this?

Joe writes: I believe that this had to happen. Things had gone way off course. I certainly believe the causes and feelings for the most part were Catholic. But you can’t just decide your going to make up your own rules and expect the Church to be able to bend to that extent. It is very sad, a failure that hurts all. But, it is never to late to rally back and be one with Jesus again.

Denis writes: My sense is that [Father Joseph Williams] wants to be a good pastor and that ideology is not his focus. Unfortunately the Church is judged by the very public actions of the hierarchy. Rewarding Bernard Law with a plush assignment in Rome when he disgraced himself and scandalized the world is bad enough. But for the Pope to take a week to recognize that welcoming a Holocaust denier back to the Church (and then only after a Lutheran, Chancellor Merkel, forced his hand) establishes beyond any reasonable debate that the institutional church has abandoned all moral sense in favor of an institutional ideology. The tens of thousands of good priests have their work undone by the hierarchy’s disposition to ignore the needs of the flock in favor of the needs of the shepherd’s association. “Jesus wept.”

Modesta26 writes: Fr. Willaims and Deacon Ruby, Thank you for your dedication to the Church. Thank you for providing the Sacraments to us. Thank you for your courage, may the Good Lord grant you perseverance and reward you greatly for your dedication to Him. Keep up the good work. God Bless you.

Tom writes: I don’t want to argue with Fr. Joseph when he says, “They didn’t see that people were hurt by the liberties taken with the liturgy.” But I will say that the actions taken by the archdiocese ignored the tremendous amount of healing that I saw at St. Stephen’s in the 26 years I attended mass there. People found healing in our liturgies and these people, working for social justice as demanded by the gospel, worked to bring healing to the neighborhood and our city. The Catholic Church managed just fine during the 40 years our liturgy evolved at St. Stephen’s. The new archbishop took a different path from his two predecessors, and reacted with power instead of healing. His actions have hurt both the parish and the greater Church.

And finally, in a letter-to-the-editor published on February 18, Richard Cousins writes: In his Feb. 15 column about St. Stephen’s Parish, Jon Tevlin wrote compassionately about the demise of the parish under the leadership of the Rev. Joseph Williams. As a former parishioner, I was glad that the greater community could learn a bit about what had happened at St. Stephen’s. Williams was quoted in the article: “They [former St. Stephen’s parishioners] didn’t see that people were hurt by the liberties taken with the liturgy.” What Williams fails to admit, however, is that he did not come to minister to the congregation of St. Stephens but to end these “liberties” and bring St. Stephen’s in line with the more regressive inclinations of the current hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Williams was an agent of change in the dismantling of a vibrant faith community, regardless of his age or admitted naivety.


See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Dispatches from the Periphery
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
The “Underground Church”
A “Catholic Moment” in Brisbane
What It Means to Be Catholic
“The Real Battle”
Choosing to Stay
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
The Holarchical Church: Not a Pyramid But a Web of Relationships
Benedict’s Understanding of Church
Clearing Away the Debris

Images: Michael Bayly (with the exception of the photograph of Joseph Williams at St. Stephen’s, which is by Star Tribune photographer Carlos Gonzalez).

“We Are the Church” Banner: Anne C. Brink.