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The Ignorance of Some Scientists

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

evolution religionOk, it’s been a while since I’ve been as worked up as I am about a scientist who publicly ridicules religion and dismisses out of hand the possibility that women and men of faith — particularly Christian faith — can hold both their beliefs and solid scientific truths at the same time. The most recent instance of what I am calling “the ignorance of some scientists” appeared in the New York Times this weekend in an article titled, “God, Darwin, and my College Biology Class,” by the University of Washington evolutionary biologist David Barash.

Professor Barash tells the story of his routine introductory lecture given to students early in each new semester. He makes it clear that if one is uncomfortable with the concept of biological evolution on account of religious beliefs, they would do well to suspend those convictions or at least not allow them to get in the way of adequately and accurately learning biology. Up to this point, I am essentially in agreement with Barash. Those who are often loosely grouped into some general category called “fundamentalist” or “biblicist” who believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old or that the universe was created in a literal week are certainly entitled to hold such theologically empty, historically unsound, and biblical unsubstantiated views. However, they will undoubtedly cause problems when those who hold such views attempt to study the natural sciences.

Where I depart from Barash’s view is when he takes a further step to claim that evolution has essentially demolished fundamental religious beliefs. He writes about his talk to his students:

I conclude The Talk by saying that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass my course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines. And while I respect their beliefs, the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines, as Professor Gould and noma have insisted we do.

That reference to Professor Stephen Jay Gould has to do with Gould’s proposal that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria,” which means that one can hold both world views because they deal with totally different material and fields. This is popularly referred to at times as the different foundational questions of “how” and “why,” proponents of Gould’s way of thinking argue that science seeks to address the former and religion the latter.

Barash disagrees — vehemently, by his own admittance — with Gould. Barash does not believe that science and religion are ultimately compatible, but rather present an irreconcilable tension.

I actually agree with Barash in his distaste for the “Non-overlapping magisteria” argument. While I do believe natural sciences and religion are concerned with essentially different questions, they in fact overlap quite a bit.  So we may agree on that point.

The problem, though, in Barash’s easily perceptible theological ignorance. His laboratory pontification exceeds his areas of competence and his ostensible unfamiliarity with the work of those who are both scientists and theologians haunts his own fundamentalist presuppositions.

I would love for him to sit down with Ilia Delio or Alister McGrath or John Polkinghorne or any other scholar who holds doctorates in both scientific fields and theology. Even those who haven’t earned advance degrees in both areas, those like John Haught or Elizabeth Johnson, have gone far out of their ways to not only take the natural sciences seriously, but to engage in complex and rigorous research that correlates the depth of the Christian theological tradition with the scientific discoveries Barash thinks “demolish” religious belief.

Barash argues that there are three critical “strikes” to religious belief that evolution blows. The first is the defeat of “what modern creationists call the argument from complexity.” I actually don’t have any problem with that. Arguments from complexity are not seriously considered by real theologians who study creation or theological anthropology, not at least in terms of the caricature he presents (which is probably more closely connected to the beliefs of the pedestrian biblicist).

The second is what he calls the “illusion of centrality.” Here’s what he says:

Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness. Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.

And this is where I get really worked up!

I agree completely with the contention that human beings are not above and against, nor entirely distinct from the rest of nonhuman creation. As do many other theologians, as does the scriptural tradition. In fact, I’m proposing to write a dissertation that seeks to advance precisely this line of thought, critiquing among other things models of creation and theological anthropology that are typically presented in terms of both dominion and stewardship. Much of my own theological research in recent years has been working in this area and following the leads of theologians — I’m even presenting a research paper directly related to this question in November at the American Academy of Religion annual conference in San Diego. This idea is not entirely new.

While I agree with Barash that evolution has helped us to see many of the problems and pitfalls of anthropocentric theologies, he is very wrong to talk about there being “no literally supernatural trait” to be found in Homo sapiens. Yes, we are perfectly good animals, maybe even the cleverest, but returning to the distinctive foundational questions of both fields — how vs. why — there is, by definition, now way for biology to uncover anything “supernatural!”

It would be like an astronomer claiming that whales do not exist because there has been “literally no whales  ever found in space.” Though natural science and religion are not “non-overlapping magisteria,” they are also not the same thing. This is where the groundbreaking work of people like Karl Rahner (“supernatural existential”) and Teilhard de Chardin (on evolution and theology) is especially instructive.

Likewise, just because one is learned in one field of research and scholarship (biology) does not mean that she or he is qualified to so definitively proclaim apodictic truths in another field (theology). If the theologians I named above, including myself, take seriously the work of biologists like Barash in his field, he should do likewise and take seriously our work. He might actually learn something.

Barash’s last “blow to religion” is with regard to theodicy. He writes that, “The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.” This is hardly worth comment other than to say that this line of reasoning is easily contestable given that it is an interpretation that borders very closely to the land of opinion. One can affirm the veracity of evolution (as I certainly do), but disagree about the moral quality of that process.

To conclude, I want to say that the way Barash comes across is not unlike the scientifically ignorant religious fundamentalists he critiques. Their childish and literal interpretations of complex scriptural narratives are to science what Barash’s absolutist and incontrovertible interpretations of evolution are to theology.

This irony hasn’t been lost on me. And I hope that Barash may also realize this discovery. Maybe then his way of thinking could evolve just as the species have, though I hope it doesn’t take as long.

Photo: Stock

The Memory of 9/11: An Anniversary Reflection and Christian Response

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The following is an excerpt from my essay, “A Franciscan Millennial and the Memory of 9/11,” which appears in the book, Franciscan Voices on 9/11 (Franciscan Media, 2011), and is now available for the Amazon Kindle. The book also includes essays from Richard Rohr OFM, Joe Nangle OFM, Mike Guinan OFM, and others.

Approaching the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we are called to remember, commemorate and mourn. Each of these practices is an engagement with memory. The first (remember) is to “call to mind,” to “bring forward” a concept or experience. This “thing-to-call-to-mind” can be positive or negative, but it remains in the past or in the realm of the imagination. The second (commemorate) is a communal engagement, to remember with others usually in a public way. The third (mourn) is to bring to mind in order to let go or reconcile. But what is this memory that we are asked to engage?

In one sense it is a very subjective reality. So much of my memory is cast, edited, recast, forgotten and so on by “me.” Yet, there remain public or shared factors that inform much of a memory I claim as my own. The constant repetition of “the story of 9/11” in the news, in political-campaign speeches, from sermon pulpits and around the patriotic hearth of American households seems to convey a sense of objective truth that “this story” is “the story.” However, this is not the case.

So much of the shaping of this memory has been done by language that is constricted by the discourse of American nationalism and vengeance. It is a memory of attack and violence that has been crafted to justify the retributive action of the United States across the globe. Two wars, thousands of deaths, trillions of dollars and lost civil liberties later, one must only allude to 9/11 to justify violence, discrimination and abuse. As such, the memory of 9/11 becomes not a token of solemn reflection fit for remembrance, commemoration or mourning, but a pawn in the game of global power.

Recently I was eating lunch with some other Franciscan friars and two employees who work for the friars in Albany. Having just returned from an academic conference in another part of the country, I shared my frustration about the loss of civil liberties exemplified in the highly invasive procedures of airport security. One of the employees said she would rather feel violated (as I had that week) and be open to further restrictions in order to “be safe.” When I and some others at the table explained that studies often show such actions are simply theatrical and reactionary and in fact were not making anybody safer, she admitted that either way she would support the surrender of her rights. Her memory has been so shaped by the popular language of the possible and the collective narratives of violence that she could not see the contradiction inherent in sacrificing one’s rights to “protect” these very same rights.

This memory is highly selective. The images and emotions evoked by the way people discuss 9/11 perpetuates the belief that “justice” means vengeance and “peace” is attainable only by a war on terror. This sort of rhetoric draws on religious symbolism, blatantly contradicting the core of Christian belief, which so many of those who willingly capitulate to this narrative claim as their own. If the memory of 9/11 were not limited to the language of the possible, more people might see that what we passed off as “the memory of 9/11” is really just a tiny sliver of the fuller story. Its use has not been to authentically remember, commemorate or mourn a tragedy, but to perpetuate injustice and violence in our world.

The 13th-century Franciscan saint, theologian and doctor of the church, St. Bonaventure, explains that memory is not only shaped by our own experience and the influences of the community, but it can be informed and shaped “from above” by those things that cannot be perceived through our senses. In other words, our memory also can be affected by the divine light of God, illuminated and made clear through the Spirit. What the selective memory of 9/11 has done is preclude the memory of the tragedy from receiving the light of God. Instead, it remains in the shadow of worldly wisdom. St. Paul reminds us how Christians are to approach the wisdom of the world.

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demanded signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:20-25, NRSV).

A Christian response to worldly wisdom, to the factors of popular, civil and political influence on memory, is to question what at first might seem wise and appropriate in order to allow God to illuminate the true wisdom.

St. Paul and St. Bonaventure challenge the conventional notion of the memory of 9/11 by reminding us to examine what has shaped and informed it. Is this how God sees what happened on 9/11? Is this how Jesus Christ would respond after such an event?

To speak with a Franciscan voice, to remember, commemorate and mourn as one who lives the gospel would, we must be willing to step back and challenge the individual and collective memory of that fateful day ten years ago. We must be willing to ask about what factors have come together to produce the story that is passed along as the memory, challenging the conventional wisdom as Jesus himself had. “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). Though to many a Franciscan voice will sound foolish, it is nevertheless rooted in the wisdom of God.

To read the full text and other essays on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, read Franciscan Voices on 9/11 (Franciscan Media, 2011).

Photo: Stock

The Prophetic Burden

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 31, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

seeking godJeremiah never wanted to be a prophet. That much he makes very clear. From the opening scene in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah onward, this young man does his best — as do the prophets that came before and would come after him — to avoid the responsibility and call that God has placed before him. What we get in this short snippet in today’s first reading (Jer 20:7-9) is just one reminder of the fact that this guy did not ‘sign up’ for the job.

What we encounter at the beginning of the passage is Jeremiah in the middle of a serious lament. He is upset, which might be an understatement, that his preaching has led to personal ridicule, no one will take him seriously, and that those he has been sent to call out — those who abuse power and others, for example — want him gone. He is now fearing for his safety and life, concerned that those who want to silence him will do precisely that. He feels in over his head, lost without direction, upset that his life had to take this turn.

And, in this moment, he blames God.

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Who else should shoulder the blame? It was, after all, God who in the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah, insists that the young would-be prophet doesn’t know better than God and that God has destined him for this mission from before he was born. Jeremiah feels betrayed by his creator.

But what should he expect?

Those who bear the name ‘Christ’ as Christians should be able to relate well to our predecessor Jeremiah. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that to follow him is no easy task. Jesus is not a sadist, nor is he encouraging masochism among his flock. Those who interpret the “denial” and the “taking up of crosses” as signs that Jesus wants nothing more from his followers than abject self-punishment are missing the point.

The denial of oneself here refers to the situation that we, like Jeremiah before us, often face in our lives of faith. When the going gets tough, we’d rather get going back to our own plans with us as number one. We are hesitant or, more likely, completely unwilling to surrender the possibility that the world revolves around us and that I should first take care to be sure I’m secure or comfortable or whatever before bothering to do God’s will or help others. Instead, the denial has to do with our desire to place ourselves first. Placing God first instead shifts our outlook away from our own navels and out toward the rest of the world right in front of us.

In the end, like a good prophet, Jeremiah anticipates Jesus’s message in the Gospel of Matthew. He understandably and rightly offers his cry of lament to God, embracing the suffering, fear, disappointment, and embarrassment that he experiences as a result of his carrying the cross of following God’s will. But his exclamation doesn’t stop there. Jeremiah says:

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

He at first considers a plan of his own devising — yes, he’ll stop doing what God desires, no longer risk preaching and proclaiming the word of God. Instead he will be silent and enjoy the peace and comfort he once had.

Except, he can’t do that. He realizes that he has a burning desire to proclaim God’s word, to announce the dissatisfaction that God has with the ways in which we human beings treat one another and the rest of creation. Though he tries to be silent, tries to enjoy a ‘normal’ life, he grows “weary holding it in” and must continue with the proclamation. And this is what some scripture commentators refer to as the “prophetic burden,” the drive and fervor the prophet has to proclaim the word of God.

May we find ourselves, even in the midst of frustration, embarrassment, discomfort, and doubt, with the word of God burning like a fire in our hearts. May we grow weary of trying to keep that held in and instead, dare to pick up our crosses, deny ourselves, and be the prophets the world so desperately needs. May we all share in the prophetic burden.

Photo: Stock

Endorsements for ‘Postmodernity and Univocity’

Posted in Postmodernity and Univocity, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

FortressBookThough I’m currently on the road recording the audio version of my forthcoming book, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press), which is due out in late September, I have been simultaneously involved in the final stages of the editorial production process for my book, Postmodernity and Univocity: A Critical Account of Radical Orthodoxy and John Duns Scotus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press). Yes, it seems like a lot (and it can feel like a lot), both of these books weigh in heavily at 280+ pp and 220+ pp respectively — nothing makes that so clear as sitting in a recording studio reading one out loud for several days on end.

I don’t have to worry about needing to read this manuscript for there will certainly not be an audio version of Postmodernity and Univoicty. As you might tell from the title itself, this is not one of my books aimed at a more-popular audience, but rather it is an academic monograph that evaluates the Radical Orthodoxy movement’s use of the thought and legacy of the medieval philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus. In short, Radical Orthodoxy thinkers have established a widely embraced narrative that Scotus is responsible for laying the foundation for all that is wrong with modernity. However, their presentation of the subtle doctor‘s work is inaccurate and has subsequently positioned Scotus as the boogeyman and/or scapegoat of theology par excellence. This book offers an alternative reading as a corrective to the Radical Orthodoxy view.

My editors at Fortress Press have recently sent me the endorsements they solicited for the book and I am humbled and honored to have received these. I am delighted to share these with you here and hope that these blurbs may get you as excited about the release of this book in December as I am. I want also to express my gratitude to each of these four scholars for their generosity in reading the manuscript and responding so favorably.

“This book provides a careful and fair-minded rebuttal of the presentation of Duns Scotus’s thought proposed by the theologians of Radical Orthodoxy. Horan meticulously describes Scotus’s own view and in doing so offers a valuable corrective to the misrepresentations found so frequently in recent literature on the subject.”
——Richard Cross, University of Notre Dame

“This is an important book and a long overdue one. Dan Horan has boldly confronted the misreading of Duns Scotus by adherents of Radical Orthodoxy and brilliantly illuminates their metaphysical flaws. At the same time, he shows a correct understanding of univocal being and discusses why Scotus’s metaphysics provides a coherent basis for a postmodern theology. This book can help bridge the relationship between science and religion by providing a correct reading of univocal being, and it can open up new paths of dialogue that have become stifled by theological and philosophical differences.”
—— Ilia Delio, OSF, Georgetown University

“Daniel Horan argues meticulously that Radical Orthodoxy’s ‘Scotus Story’ seriously misunderstands the philosophy of John Duns Scotus. Hence, Scotus cannot be the villain of their story of the rise of secular, idolatrous modernity with its ‘space apart from God.’ By placing Scotus in the context of his actual debates (with Henry of Ghent more than Thomas Aquinas) and concerns (epistemological and semantic as primary, and metaphysical as derivative), Horan not only effectively undermines the keystone of Radical Orthodoxy’s historical narrative but offers a more persuasive portrayal of Scotus’s central achievements.”
—— Terrence W. Tilley, Fordham University

“Daniel Horan has presented a spirited challenge to Radical Orthodoxy’s ‘Scotist illiteracy’ by identifying the rhetorical sleights of hand of its major voices. Horan clearly inhabits the living tradition of a vital Franciscan theology, long overshadowed by a reactionary overdependence on Thomism in much of contemporary antimodern theology. Postmodernity and Univocity is at once a critical and constructive erudite study, but distinguished by exceptional accessibility and clarity in style.”
—— Susan Abraham, Loyola Marymount University 

Congratulations to Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I am taking a short break from my vacation to share this NCR story about Professor Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ’s acceptance speech at this week’s LCWR annual assembly on the occasion of her having received this year’s Outstanding Leadership Award. Her remarks (those made public in new reports, the full text has not yet been made available) are courageous and honest. Not only does Prof. Johnson deserve this recognition in light of her academic work, but her steadfast yet respectful engagement with the USCCB committee on doctrine in the wake of its treatment of her writing remains a model of faithful response. I wish to extend my congratulations to Prof. Johnson and to my sisters in the LCWR here. To read more, see Religion News Service story or the NCR report by Dan Stockman here:

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The Vatican and women religious are caught up in a tension with historical, sociological and ecclesiastical roots, but a solution could be found, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson said.

The Fordham University theologian praised the sisters for their commitment to “meaningful, honest dialogue” and urged them to stay the course.

Johnson was honored Friday with the Outstanding Leadership Award by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest group of women religious leaders in the nation, representing about 80 percent of the 51,600 sisters in the United States.

Both Johnson and LCWR have been criticized by the church, and Johnson told the nearly 800 sisters gathered here for LCWR’s annual assembly that the criticisms of her writing and of LCWR are intertwined.

Johnson is widely admired by LCWR members, and she urged them to hang on despite an ongoing investigation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“I think both of us are caught in a situation not of our own making,” she said.

Johnson, a Sister of St. Joseph from Brentwood, N.Y., is considered one of the architects of feminist theology. She has published nine books and more than 100 essays in scholarly journals, book reviews, book chapters and articles; her work has been translated into 13 languages. She holds a doctorate in theology from The Catholic University of America and is a distinguished professor of theology at Fordham.

Johnson is a former president of both the Catholic Theological Society and the ecumenical American Theological Society, was a consultant to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Women in Society and the Church. She was featured in a Library of Congress calendar called “Women Who Dare.”

She is also controversial. In April, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ordered that after this assembly, speakers at the group’s events must be approved by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who heads the congregation’s five-year reform agenda for LCWR. Müller cited LCWR’s selection of Johnson for the Outstanding Leadership Award as one reason for the mandate, noting that Johnson has been “criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in [her] writings.” Sartain attended each of the public events during the LCWR assembly except for Johnson’s presentation, as he was traveling Friday night.

LCWR communications director Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Annmarie Sanders said the assembly directed the board members to respond to the mandate but would not say what that response would be.

“They told the board to take the next steps,” Sanders said.

A statement on the action to be taken is expected sometime after the board finishes meeting Monday.

In 2011, the doctrinal committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Johnson’s 2007 book, Quest for the Living God, is not in accordance with official Catholic teaching.

Johnson’s selection as a speaker, Müller said in April, “will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment” and further alienates the LCWR from the bishops.

“It was clear from his statement that Cardinal Müller neither read the book or my response, but simply echoed the criticisms of the panel,” Johnson told LCWR members. “But the committee’s assessment of Quest is itself theologically flawed.”

Johnson reiterated her stance that the book does not say the things the panel claims it does and that she does not believe the things they say she wrote.

“It criticizes positions I take that are in accord with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in several instances, it reports the opposite of what the book actually says in order to find fault,” she said. “In my judgment, and this is difficult to say, but I do believe such carelessness with the truth is unworthy of the teaching office of bishop.”

Johnson said the doctrinal congregation’s criticisms of LCWR are similar.

“The investigation’s statements express a vague, overall dissatisfaction and distrust on certain topics, and judgments are rendered in such a way that they cannot be addressed,” she said. “But your willingness to stay at the table and offer meaningful, honest dialogue is a powerful witness.”

Johnson said historically, there has always been tensions between religious communities and the hierarchy because one is based on a radical living of the Gospel and the other is based on administration, which requires order.

The issue is also sociological, she said.

“The church did not start out this way, but as an institution, it has evolved a patriarchal structure where authority is executed in a top-down fashion and obedience and loyalty to the system are the greatest of virtues,” Johnson said.

Finally, she said, the tensions are ecclesiastical because women religious have undergone the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council and the hierarchy has not.

“Certainly, the LCWR and the sisters they lead are far from perfect, but they have got the smell of the sheep on them,” she said to heavy applause. “Post-Vatican II renewal has not taken place at the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith].”

LCWR said Johnson was chosen for her distinguished academic achievements and scholarly contributions and for her consistent focus on those suffering and in need.

“Through her engagement of the most difficult questions of our day and her attention to violations of God’s beloved creation,” the LCWR statement regarding the award said, “she works tirelessly for change in our world that is in accord with Jesus’ vision of the reign of God.”

Franciscan Sr. Nancy Schreck, who delivered this year’s keynote address, said Johnson’s speech was “fabulous.”

“She names things so clearly, but at the same time, her commitment to the faith is unquestionable,” Schreck said.

Loretto Sr. Maureen Fiedler praised Johnson’s assessment of the situation.

“Her analysis of the difficulties between the hierarchy and where religious communities are was right on, and she did it on so many levels,” she said. “What do you do when you’ve gone ahead and implemented Vatican II and they haven’t?”

Following her speech, Johnson received a long standing ovation, and afterward, dozens of sisters waited in line to speak with her while dozens more waited outside the hall to order audio recordings of the speech.

Johnson closed her talk by sharing an Apartheid-era photo of a wall in South Africa where someone had written “Hang Mandela!” Someone else had come and penciled in “on” to make it “Hang on, Mandela!”, completely changing the meaning of what had been a statement against anti-Apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who was still in prison at the time.

That creativity, she said, subverted a slur into an inspiration, a curse into a blessing, and that same creativity can be used to change the present situation.

And so, to LCWR members, she urged, “On!”

Photo: NCR

Pope’s Homily from Mass with Abuse Victims

Posted in Pope Francis, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 8, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

FrancisOver the last twenty-four hours a lot of discussion has unfolded about Pope Francis’s meeting with six victims of clergy sexual abuse and the homily he delivered while celebrating Mass with them. Here is the text of his homily translated by Vatican Radio from the original Spanish.

The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation… Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps… This scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls. I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons. Today, I am very grateful to you for having travelled so far to come here.

For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking and others the same… and they set about to sustain that gaze.

And those few who began to weep have touched our conscience for this crime and grave sin. This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation. It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God’s love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left life long scars.

I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair. Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction. Others have experienced difficulties in significant relationships, with parents, spouses and children. Suffering in families has been especially grave, since the damage provoked by abuse affects these vital family relationships.

Some have even had to deal with the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide. The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole Church. To these families I express my heartfelt love and sorrow. Jesus, tortured and interrogated with passionate hatred, is taken to another place and he looks out. He looks out upon one of his own, the one who denied him, and he makes him weep. Let us implore this grace together with that of making amends.

Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God. Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God. Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness. Surely it is a sign of God’s mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one another’s eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation.

Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness.

I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.

On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.

What Jesus says about those who cause scandal applies to all of us: the millstone and the sea (cf. Mt 18:6).

By the same token we will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation. I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all minors, whatever religion they belong to, they are little flowers which God looks lovingly upon.

I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of God’s family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy. The Lord Jesus, our Savior, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross. To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God. The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing.

You and all those who were abused by clergy are loved by God. I pray that the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed by the embrace of the Child Jesus and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy.

I am grateful for this meeting. And please pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that he look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that he give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, forty days later, we can reply: “You know that I love you”; and hear him say: “go back and feed my sheep” – and I would add – “let no wolf enter the sheepfold”.

Photo: Wire

The Instrumentum Laboris: Too Early To Tell

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 27, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

120213112905-moses-bishops-politics-story-top1Now that the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops has released the Instrumentum Laboris (or “working document”) for the upcoming synod on the family there have been some mixed early reactions. By and large, the preliminary response has appeared to be one of muted disappointment on some fronts, with commentators noting that on disciplinary and doctrinal subjects the document reinstates the current church teaching despite having solicited worldwide consultation from laity and clergy. Yet, there has been enthusiasm by some for the notably pastoral and patient tone that the document seems to express in recognizing the complications of modern family life.

My own view of the text arises from my personal experience of religious life and the manner in which decisions are or are not deliberated and expressed in that context, as well as recalling the possibility for surprise that we have seen in relatively recent history at the Second Vatican Council. I have some contextual suggestions arising from these two points for those interested in reading the text and making sense of it.

    • First, readers should know what the text is and what it is not. It is the equivalent of a glorified agenda. It is a packet of summarized information that highlights the thematic foci of the following discussions, at least as they are currently planned. There are three primary divisions in the Instrumentum Laboris that lend a clue to the matters scheduled to be taken up by the bishops:
      • An examination of the faithful’s “knowledge and acceptance” of church teaching;
      • A study of “various challenges and actual situations” faced by families;
      • Pastoral challenges concerning “openness to life” and raising of children.

      Each of these areas highlight potential discussions and beg responses on the part of the church’s leadership. Hopefully, if the pastoral tone present at various points in the text offer any clues, there will be a constructive and healing response to the challenges seen between the church’s teaching and practice and the lived reality of women and men of faith.

    • Second, while this text outlines the agenda and topics for discussion, it is not an “official document” in the sense that an Apostolic Exhortation, including a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, is. Rather, this text serves as a starting point for the preparatory study and eventual discussion to take place at the synod. Bishops are permitted under the structure to introduce their own “interventions” to respond to, amend, address, or redirect the discussion or focus on particular aspects of the synod theme. That said, under John Paul II’s pontificate, these “interventions” were required to be submitted in advance for review, a practice still on the books.

 

    • Third, while it is possible that the text serves as a bellwether for what will eventually result as the “official text” of the synod, likely in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis, down the road, it might not as well. This is where the lessons of Vatican II come in handy. The curial offices prepared preliminary documents such as this as well as working texts that were essentially thrown out by the participating bishops upon their arrival. It is conceivable, albeit admittedly unlikely, that the bishops of the world (0r a significant portion of those conference representatives that will participate in the first synod) reject the tenor or direction of this text and offer an alternative agenda. As has frequently been the case in the pontificate of Francis to date, anything seems possible.

All this is simply to say that it is far too early for people to get worked up about the Instrumentum Laboris and the forthcoming synod. Until the bishops meet, until reports begin to leak about the discussions, until there’s an official document — we won’t know.

As for those aspects of this text that seem to suggest the unchanging of church teaching on subjects like abortion, same-sex marriage, and the indissolubility of marriage — what did people expect? A preliminary agenda-setting document such as this cannot simply gesture toward radical change of teaching in this way. That is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of the leaders of local churches (bishops) in communion with one another and the bishop of Rome. Again, while unlikely, it is still possible that the bishops read the signs of the time through the lens of the Gospel, as Gaudium et Spes instructs, and conclude that something needs to change. Additionally, the pastoral tone and the sense of urgency about the disillusion and pain so many of the faithful experience in the gap between their lived reality and the church’s practice and teaching offers at least a minimal sign of hope.

Photo: File
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