Archive for bishops

The Church and ‘Historical Amnesia’

Posted in Vatican II with tags , , , , , on August 21, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

120213112905-moses-bishops-politics-story-top1This morning I woke up to find an article posted on the Commonweal magazine website titled, “Historical Amnesia: When Catholic Leaders Misread the Past,” by Nicholas Clifford, the emeritus historian from Middlebury College. In my opinion, it is a very interesting and well-written piece that creatively highlights a number of ways that church leaders have — and continue to — misread history. The key example he uses is the rather infamous “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign of the USCCB and an orchestration of Archbishop Lori of Baltimore. Rather than take the exercise in political-religious demonstration to task, Clifford examines the justification and rhetoric used in the promotion and campaigning that went along with the movement. In raising questions about the reading of history, Clifford highlights some of the really problematic tendencies present in various efforts of church leaders to make claims about particular teachings in a given era.

The whole conversation about the role of history, especially its reading (or misreading) by some church leaders, today is indeed timely. It strikes me as particularly relevant given that last night I gave and again this morning (10a in the community center at St. Francis church in Brant Beach, NJ) I will give a lecture titled, “Vatican II as History.” The subject matter of the talk was requested by the parochial staff on Long Beach Island that organized a summer lecture series about Vatican II. My contribution has been from the perspective of a young theologian who was born after the close of the Council and for whom, quite literally, Vatican II has been history.

But history is never dead nor static. Such is the case with the church, which remains — as the great Jesuit historian John O’Malley, SJ, has said of Vatican II — both the same church that existed before the Ecumenical Council yet one that now has a radically different self-understanding afterward. Or, as Clifford puts it, citing Pope Francis’s first encyclical, “times change and teachings change, so that (in the words of Lumen fidei in 2013) “everything in the patrimony of faith comes to be more deeply understood,” or, as we might say, historicized.” Theology and history are deeply intertwined so that we can say through a richer appreciation of our history we might aid the theological quest to seek better understanding of our faith.

As with the church’s history of promulgated teachings on “religious liberty” that are contradictory and, at times, confusing within the span of one century alone (not to mention going back over the course of some two millennia), the church’s history of doctrinal, moral, and social teaching in the final documents of the Second Vatican Council remains not only egregiously misread at times, but also not fully enacted and far-too-often ignored.

Case in point: Can one really square certain diocesan policies regarding the ministerial involvement of the laity in the liturgy with the teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium, especially nos. 7 and 14? I do not know how one can without simply “forgetting” the conciliar texts (Clifford’s “historical amnesia”) or terribly misreading the Council.

I could go on, but won’t. Instead I’ll leave you with the closing quote Clifford offers and encourage you to read the whole essay for yourself.

“Like it or not, we are creatures of history, and must face up to the difficulties of our heritage—at least if we expect our pronouncements to be taken seriously.”

To read the whole piece visit Commonweal’s website.

Photo: AFP/Getty

Signs of the Time: The ‘Francis Effect?’

Posted in Pope Francis with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

pope_francis.jpg.size_.xxlarge.promo_In a CNS article titled, “Archbishop says people returning to confession because of pope,” we read of the anecdotal evidence for some changes in the Italian pastoral landscape marked, in part, by a rise in sacramental confession and an increase in the attendance of visitors at public papal audiences. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, “said during an early May visit to southern Italy and in conversations with priests from northern Italy where he grew up, he repeatedly heard reports that ‘a lot of people have been going to confession and many have said that while they hadn’t gone in a long time, they felt touched by the words of Pope Francis.'”

I’m not entirely sure, from a social-science perspective, how much weight to give such a claim. However, I am positively disposed to the gesture; namely, that Pope Francis’s public presence, well-known simplicity in lifestyle, casual and approachable demeanor, humility in liturgical celebrations, and accessible and heart-felt preaching has garnered a lot of understandable attention that might very well contribute to broader shifts in public opinion about the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and its role in the world today.

While Archbishop Fisichella does not prefer the term “Francis Effect,” I’m less put off by the phrase. When I hear that term, I first think of St. Francis of Assisi and call to mind the world-changing effect he had in his own time that has so rippled through history to reach our own day. I think of how this one man from the Medieval Umbrian town of Assisi could draw so many people to him and his memory that he would, 800-years later, remain the most popular saint (after Mary) in the church. I think of how there is really something to the name that Pope Francis adopted after his election as bishop of Rome and, in large and small ways, lives out in the same spirit.

The CNS article reports the secretary of the council’s surmising about what is happening:

“People want to be present, listen to his voice and see him, touch him, because he makes a connection (with people) that is very moving,” the archbishop said, adding that the pope’s popularity reflects the “importance of the faith, the importance of being Christian, and the importance of the pope at this moment in the history of the church.”

There is a danger, of course, that this is only a superficial interest that people have — something more akin to the pontificate of John Paul II, the so-called “rock-star pope.” Yet, while JPII was a world traveler and charismatic figure, and his energy seemed to arise from his personality rather than actions, Pope Francis’s appeal seems less focused on himself (although this is no doubt a factor here) and more on the striking, at-times iconoclasm that he has unleashed on the peripheral aggrandizing dimensions of the pontifical office. His eschewing of ostentatious formalities and vesture, his casual preaching tone and presence (especially from the ambo and not ex cathedra), his willingness to create a new international advisory committee — these things are not insignificant signals of some change, of some kind of “Francis Effect.”

Granted, it is still far too early to begin forecasting long-term “effects” of Pope Francis. However, it is my hope that these signs — mixed as they are with more ambiguous and complicated negotiations with contentious inherited items like the LCWR investigation — might signal a truly powerful shift in time. I still believe that, for example, the LCWR investigation was wrong-headed, something confirmed by the public-relations melee from within the curia in recent weeks, but I’m not sure I entirely understand Pope Francis’s current relationship to it and, in the meantime, I’m hoping for the best. This also goes for the unfolding political drama in Puerto Rico, where my confrere Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez, OFM, the archbishop of San Juan, has been caught in the middle of some as-of-yet still unclear political battle with one of the Vatican dicasteries and local political nationalistic movements. It remains to be seen how these sorts of matters play out and what leadership role — either directly or through episcopal appointments — Pope Francis plays in them.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful and continue to sit back and see what happens. If the “Francis Effect” does, in reality, lead to greater participation in the sacraments — not just sacramental confession, which is one of the most misunderstood of the seven — then it is a good effect indeed. If the “Francis Effect” does mean real change in antiquated structures of partisan cronyism in curial offices, then I think it is a good effect indeed. If the “Francis Effect” does draw women and men closer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to live lives in the footprints of the Lord, then it is a good effect indeed.

We will have to wait and see.

Photo: File

Reconsidering Our Ecclesiastical Priorities: Penance and Social Justice

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 14, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Reports out of the Fall USCCB assembly have been mixed, to say the least. News outlets and social-media sources have effectively reported on some of the more controversial statements, discussions, proposed texts, and documents to be the subject of consideration in Baltimore in recent days. To be fair, not everything has been negative. Take, for example, the USCCB’s interest in social media and internet presence of the church. On Sunday the USCCB hosted a gathering of significant Catholic bloggers that allowed for the bishops and those who were providing online content in a variety of forms to interact. The event included a panel discussion with clergy and laity who are actively engaged with social media today. The reports about this event from colleagues has been generally positive (by way of full disclosure, I was invited by the secretary for communications to participate in this event, but had to decline due to pastoral ministry obligations).

However positive the initial steps to explore social media and internet presence as modes of evangelization might have been, the news chatter has been preoccupied with some more disconcerting reports. The first was related to Cardinal Dolan’s presidential address in which he called for a more concrete sense of penance. Citing Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dolan asserted that the Second Vatican Council’s call for penance has, rather than being taken up wholeheartedly, seems to have diminished from sight. He said:

What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.

He rightfully challenges us as members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, to be aware of the need for consistent penance and, as we recall at the start of every Eucharistic liturgy, to be mindful of “what we have done and what we have failed to do.” He continued:

And so it turns to us, my brothers. How will we make the Year of Faith a time to renew the Sacrament of Penance, in our own loves and in the lives of our beloved people whom we serve? Once again, we will later this week approach the Sacrament of Penance.

And we’ll have the opportunity during this meeting to approve a simple pastoral invitation to all our faithful to join us in renewing our appreciation for and use of the Sacrament. We will “Keep the Light On”during the upcoming Advent Season!
The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent. Our pastoral plan offers numerous resources for catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance, and the manifold graces that come to us from the frequent use of confession. Next June we will gather in a special assembly as brother bishops to pray and reflect on the mission entrusted to us by the Church, including our witness to personal conversion in Jesus Christ, and so to the New Evangelization.

For the most part, this is a welcomed attempt to draw our attention the perennial need we have to be aware of our own individual sinfulness. Yet, what is more absent than present is the admittance and call for continual awareness of our collective sinfulness.

Contrary to Francis of Assisi’s powerful expression that human beings are to be reconcilers and peacemakers (see Canticle of the Creatures) — and Francis is of course the paradigmatic model of Christian penitence — this exhortation for the faithful to abstain from meat on Fridays throughout the year seems to miss the mark.

What the Cardinal does not seem to consider is the individualistic quality of such an act, one in which unity might be seen as ghettoized superficiality rather than an expression of genuine solidarity. My understanding of the lifting of the mandatory abstinence from meat throughout the year in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC) is rooted in this very fact. Instead of something as trivial as dietary abstinence, the faithful was simultaneously challenged and empowered to engage in more constructive, solidarity-building, and meaningful forms of good deeds and penance.

It’s hard to see how the reinstatement of meatless Fridays will effect the spirit of penance Dolan genuinely and legitimately sees as part of the spirit of Vatican II.

Furthermore, what makes this suggestion controversial is that, some have argued, it is not the “people in the pews” who are in most need of renewed emphasis on penance in their Christian lives — God knows (literally) how difficult it is to live authentic Christian discipleship today in light of the various pressures from all sides and conflicting narratives that both come from within and without the Church — BUT, there is a need for our ecclesiastical leaders, especially the bishops, to demonstrate their embrace of penance.

There are manifold ways in which we could offer a litany of the things our bishops have “done and have failed to do” in the last decades and in recent years. The model of the Archbishop of Dublin and our own Cardinal Séan O’Malley in the penitential act seeking forgiveness for the abuse cover-ups in Ireland some years back is a good start. Yet, the US bishops have failed to do something similar.

Then there is the controversial text that, thank God, was not approved this week (despite it still garnering a plurality of bishop support). The proposed statement, “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times: A pastoral message on work, poverty and the economy,” was a pathetic shadow of the true depth, richness, and challenge of Catholic Social Teaching. This was made most clear by the retired Archbishop (and former USCCB President) Joseph Fiorenza. According to an NCR article, Fiorenza publicly decried the draft text and noted that it “did not have a single reference, even in a footnote, to the bishops’ landmark 1986 pastoral letter, ‘Economic Justice for All,; which the bishops developed after years of consultation with economists and other experts. The letter addressed a full range of applications of Catholic social teaching to economic policy and practice in the United States.” The article continued:

“I am very disappointed, and I fear that this draft, if not changed in a major way,” will harm the U.S. bishops’ record on Catholic social teaching, he said.

“The title of this document is about work, and it seems you only gave one sentence to our social teaching … on the right of workers to unionize,” he said.

“One sentence,” he added. “It’s almost like it was an afterthought. But when you look at the compendium of the social teachings of the church, there are three long paragraphs on the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike.”

Those kinds of rights are “at the heart of our social teaching” on the rights and dignity of workers, he said.

Indeed this is most troubling. That the bishops would even consider a text containing such an oversight bespeaks some serious problems. On the one hand, it might be symbolic of the shift in the US episcopacy toward a political engagement with so-called “conservative” views that have been extraordinarily hostile to organized labor and the rights of workers in recent years. On the other hand, it might be symbolic of the general ignorance of the USCCB’s textual history and Catholic Social Teaching more broadly on the part of recently appointed bishops in recent years and decades.

That 134 bishops would still vote to pass such a text is halting. (The text failed to gain the necessary votes even with 134 yes; 84 no, and 9 abstentions).

The NCR piece continued:

“Why don’t we address [in the proposed statement] the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, beginning with Paul VI in Populorum Progressio [his 1967 encyclical letter, “On the Progress of Peoples“] and John Paul II, Benedict XVI: They speak about the growing gap between the haves and have-nots and the right to a redistribution — redistribution has become a dirty word, yet the [recent popes] have said that this must take place,” he said.

“There’s not a word about this” in the proposed new statement on the economy, he said.

“I fear that this will not be an effective instrument” for the bishops to address the current woes in the U.S. economy or the people suffering from those problems, Fiorenza said.

What is striking, and fearsome at the same time, is that the most vocal critics of this new direction are the retired bishops. Where are the current bishops who should know better? When the retired auxiliary bishop of Hartford, Peter Rosazza, asked the chair of the drafting committee whether an economist had been consulted — the disturbing answer was that none had! How did these bishops responsible for drafting a document on the economy propose to do so without consultation of economists, ethicists, and theologians?

These two issues to come out of the Fall USCCB meeting are indeed troubling, but we must not get too carried away with concern just yet. What this signals to me is the need for the Church in the United States to collectively and genuinely reconsider its priorities. What is important? What are the signs of the time? and How do we read these signs in light of the Gospel?

Photo: CNS/Pool

Leadership, Embarrassment and the ‘New Evangelization’

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

“Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council revolutionized life inside the Roman Catholic Church, hundreds of bishops from around the world are gathered in Rome to confront an external threat: a mounting tide of secularization,” begins a recent Religion News Service piece from Rome that details the upcoming Synod on the “New Evangelization.” Since Pope Benedict XVI’s now-famous declaration of concern for the so-called “dictatorship of relativism,” in 2005, Church leaders have ramped up their anti-secular and anti-releativism rhetoric in various ways.

Such, I presume, is the case with the Synod on the “New Evangelization.” On the one hand, there is something rather innocuous and even laudable about a campaign to (a) reinvigorate people’s faith lives in terms of religious affectivity, personal and communal practices, and liturgical engagement; and (b) use new technology to express and discuss the faith in our contemporary age. These, it would seem, are the presenting themes of this “movement.” The USCCB’s website introduces the “New Evangelization” this way:

The New Evangelization calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on ‘re-proposing’ the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.Pope Benedict XVI called for the re-proposing of the Gospel “to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.” The New Evangelization invites each Catholic to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.

Yet, on the other hand, the way that bishops like Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl have been talking about the Synod lately suggests something a little less optimistic and a lot more adversarial. The RNS article continues:

In a wide-ranging speech aimed at setting the tone for the bishops’ discussion, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl called on Christians to “overcome the syndrome of embarrassment” about their faith with a more assertive offense against the “tsunami of secular influence” that is sweeping away “marriage, family, the concept of the common good and objective right and wrong.”

“Overcome the syndrome of embarrassment’ about their faith”? I don’t think so.

As a faithful member of the Church — as a member of a religious order and a priest, to boot — I can say that there is no sense of embarrassment about our faith on my end. The doctrine of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the true sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in the world, and all of our Creedal and doctrinal claims — concerning these, I, for one, am not embarrassed by any aspect of our faith!

My sense of the matter is that most Catholics (and Christians more broadly) are not embarrassed by their faith. But instead, I and so many others might be embarrassed about other aspects of our faith community, particularly the actions and priorities of many of the faith community’s leaders. Another point of embarrassment might be the perceived atrophy of certain leaders’ notion of “faith” to such an extent that, at least in some places in the United States, “faith” is equated with “sexual moral issues;” For, far too often, these are the only subjects about which many leaders will speak in the public square.

It will be difficult, I suspect, to find a self-identified Catholic who is embarrassed by Christianity’s claim that Jesus Christ is homousious (one-in-being, or “consubstantial”) with God the Father. But it doesn’t take much imagination to think about a self-identified Catholic who is embarrassed by bishops in various States campaigning against the rights of some US Citizens, engaging in the most divisive partisan politics, and ostensibly criticizing women religious for their care for the poor, marginalized, and forgotten in our society.

If this Synod on the “New Evangelization” is indeed an opportunity for the Church’s leaders to learn more about how to “speak the language” of today in terms of technology and culture in order to live up to the Second Vatican Council’s call to be open to the world in the spirit of Gaudium et Spes, then awesome!

But, if this is yet another attempt to “batten down the hatches” and put up walls against “the world,” in rather clear opposition to the teachings of the great Council whose anniversary of opening we are soon celebrating, then I think we have a serious problem on our hands.

What leads me to be cautious about the “New Evangelization” as its being discussed in Rome this week that lead to news reports which, in part, read:

Catholic leaders in the U.S. and Europe are also worried about a perceived rise of “aggressive” secularism, which they say wants to curtail the church’s role in the public sphere and reduce faith to a private exercise.

Qualifications like “aggressive” suggests an adversarial disposition, which threatens to re-inscribe the divisive “us-vs.-them” mentality of the pre-Vatican II church.

I am cautiously looking forward to what will come out of this Synod by way of statements, documents, and proposed actions. Will this be a chance for Church leaders to redirect a rather poor understanding and engagement with the broader human family and international cultures toward a stance of openness and encounter? Or will this be a rally to support Catholic isolationism, ecclesial partisan division, and ‘tests’ of who is and who is not “authentically Catholic?”

It will be interesting to see what happens.

UPDATE: The XIII Ordinary Session of the Synod of Bishops will be held in Rome October 7-28 on the theme, “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”  The Emerging Theologians Network, in partnership with the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs (ICMICA-Pax Romana), is collecting blog posts on the synod’s theme here.  

Photo: File

Political Splinters and Religious Planks

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

I Will Also Not Leave the Church

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

An Advent Reflection from the Past

Posted in Advent, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

What follows below comes from a series of Advent reflections the future pope and then theology professor gave to the Catholic Student Chaplaincy of the university in Münster, Germany on December 13-15 1964.

The passage I want to share comes from a homily given that first day, the theme of which centered on the meaning of Christianity “today.” The title of this sermon, curiously enough, is “Are We Saved? or, Job Talks with God.” Here the young Joseph Ratzinger, in his thirties, talks about Christianity as an ongoing experience of lived Advent. Hope in times of darkness is a theme that comes through strongly, which is why Ratzinger uses Job: “That is why daring to talk to God out of the trial of our darkness, as Job did, is a part of Christian life… observing Advent simply means talking with God the way Job did.”

Later in his sermon, Ratzinger offers a lengthier reflection on what he views as the pressing challenge of Christianity in the contemporary world. It was true fifty years ago and, it seems to me at least, it is true today. Some insightful, yet striking thoughts from Fr. Ratzinger on the Church, something that almost resembles an examination of corporate conscience.

From “Are We Saved? or, Job Talks with God”

I believe the real temptation for someone who is a Christian, as we experience it today, does not just consist in the theoretical question of whether God exists; or even the question of whether he is three or one; or even the question of whether Christ is God and man in one person. What really torments us today, what bothers us more is the inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our own lives, too, we inevitably experience time and again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us…

Christian theology, which was very soon confronted by this discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment, in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this moral life; the well-being of men and women became a salvation of souls, which again comes to pass beyond this life, after death. But theology did not thereby provide and answer. For what is sublime in this message is precisely that the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about [the souls of men and women], but was addressing the body, the whole person, in his or her embodied form, with his or her involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom of God to the man or woman who lives bodily with others in this history. As marvelous as knowledge is that has been opened up for us by biblical scholarship in our century (that is, that Christ was not just looking forward to another life, but was talking about real people), it can also disappoint and unsettle us when we look at real history, which is in truth no kingdom of God…

We might think, in such a reflection, of how Christ talked about the Old Testament dignitaries and about his own disciples; how he asked that no one be given any title anymore, so that all should be like brothers and sisters because they have life from one Father (Mt 23:1-12). How often, in our thoughts, have we compared such words to the reality  as we find it in the Church, all the various ranks and gradations that have been thought up, all the courtly ceremony! Yet there are things that go deeper than questions of outward form, which we should not dismiss yet also not overrate. Has not the New Testament ministry, we have to ask, fallen short of its true self, even in its essential nature? Did not Augustine have to say to his faithful that even for bishops in the Church, quite often the severe saying is true that the Lord uttered concerning the servants of the Old Covenant,” the scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on other’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Mt 23:2-4).

Originally published on on December 16, 2010

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