In Formation

Saturday, July 27


Bloggin' Holiday

My summer program learning about ministry in African-American Churches in Chicago is now finished. By the way, it's been wonderful. (I'll blog about it in the future.) Tomorrow I'll be traveling to Iowa to visit some good friends, then I'll make my way back to my home in Michigan.

Just thought I'd let you know that while I'm traveling for the next week or so, I won't be blogging much, if at all.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/27/2002 |

A challenge to all (St.) Bloggers

That's what Maureen Mullarkey has offered in one of her comments on this post by Amy Welborn. She criticized St. Bloggers for criticizing VOTF without offering anything more than pious platitudes.

[I am dismayed] at the tendency of so many parishioners of St. Blog's to disdain VOTF without offering an alternative. Pious calls to a return to Christ--always needed in every situation--accomplish nothing in themselves. We can't pray our way to putting food on the table. Just so, we can't pray our way to cleansing a corrupt power structure. Steps have to be taken. If St. Bloggers were more forthcoming with real-life suggestions, it would be a good. Instead, the congregation prefers to pose as superior to their brothers and sisters in VOTF who, despite confused aims and a precarious agenda, are willing to put their time and efforts on the line for the Church that they love. They could use some help and direction from the choir loft at St. Blog's.

Now, Amy has offered a nice response to Maureen's challenge. As a fellow-St. Blogger, I thought I'd add a note or two in our defense.

First of all, it seems important to note that "real-life suggestions" don't accomplish anything more in themselves than "pious calls to return to Christ." So this is really about what sort of suggestions persons are offering, and what sort of suggestions one values. Maureen privileges "action plans" while many St. Bloggers privilege moral exhortation and prayer. As Amy has said, it is not nothing to call the faithful (including the bishops) to conversion. Neither strategy precludes the other, so the question becomes one of emphasis and motivation.

Because most (all?) St. Bloggers have a love for the Church, complete with respect for the hierarchy (as structure), their criticism is "friendly." That means their words are from within the Church and out of concern for the Church, even when their criticism is harsh. St. Bloggers challenge fellow Catholics and those they consider their proper religious authorities by appealing to the Tradition. Like Catherine of Siena, they love and are known to love the Church. St. Bloggers' words, even when they hurt, are intended to heal rather than harm.

On the other hand, some of those who have attached themselves to VOTF have nothing but disdain for the hierarchy. They hated it before the crisis, and would be agitating for the destruction of the hierarchy even if there had never been a scandal. For this reason, many who are offering "real-life suggestions" are simply opportunists. They have hitched their anti-hierarchy wagon to the VOTF train. They came with suggestions--demands, really--at the ready. And, because they consider the hierarchy (and, often, the Tradition itself) the enemy, they have little concern that their suggestions respect Tradition.

So, even though I will agree with Maureen that it is important for St. Bloggers to offer constructive suggestions for change, and to work constructively for change (which many of us are doing), we must not give up warning of the possible dangers of VOTF to prove we are not just a choir of complainers.

In the big scheme of things, the larger danger is not that bishops will continue to fail in their duties, but that some of the more radical members of VOTF will ultimately hive off and start their own church. A schism of that sort would be worse and ultimately more destructive than the scandal we've been enduring.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/27/2002 |

Other views of Theological College

This time from former students who disagree with the portrait Rosin paints.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/27/2002 |

Friday, July 26


Fresh air from Michael Novak

While the VOTF storm rages in Boston and many "progressive" commentators have increased their calls for a more democratic Church, Michael Novak continues his defense of the faith. Today, he offered some wonderful reflections on recent Church history and the role the Holy Father has played in leading our Church into the future.

The "progressives" will not forgive John Paul II because what they call sexual liberation the pope, in a quite well-founded, traditional way, regards as the tyranny of the libido, a form of slavery. Whereas they want eagerly to accept the norms of secular society on divorce, homosexual acts, premarital sex, and other pelvic desires, the pope stands with "the democracy of the dead," the voice of the faithful of the past, so many martyrs, so many lovers of chastity. That stand is an outrage to those who regard "Vatican II" as their own playpen, within which to do what they feel like doing. In their minds, "Vatican II" overturned everything unpleasant and challenging in the teaching of the Church. It liberated their desires. It made them feel liberated and modern.

Among the most powerful and deepest of the pope's intellectual initiatives is the new, phenomenological foundation he has given "the theology of the body." "Progressives" avoid arguments at that depth. But it is exactly the unity that the pope sees between soul and body, the unity arising from our persons being thoroughly embodied, and our bodies being thoroughly pervaded by our personhood, that makes the pope's vision seem so "together." He looks at young people whole. He calls them to their wholeness.

That is what young people are responding to.


posted by Fr. Steve | 7/26/2002 |

There's something about that man

The youth in Toronto get it, even if commentators don't.

The pontiff spoke in English, French and a smattering of other languages, and then � playfully and with a sweet smile � he said in his native Polish, so it rhymed: "Long live the Pope, long live youth."

They loved it. They loved him.

John Paul said he loved them dearly, too, and it was clear by the way he looked at them. "Even without having met you, I commended you one by one in my prayers to the Lord," he told the pilgrims.

The Pope was tender with the young � caressing their heads, holding their hands and letting them pour out their hearts as they fell at his feet at the end of the two-hour welcome on the stage at Exhibition Place.

Peter Richards, from Halifax, broke down in tears when the Popemobile passed a few metres in front of him.

"I'm just so overcome with the power of his presence," he explained.

A group from Louisiana travelled three days in a bus for this moment. They were about a half kilometre from the stage.

Was the trip worth it?

"Yes, ma'am. I'd do it again in a heartbeat," said Marcus Harper, 17.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/26/2002 |

More whiz-dom from Gary Wills

In an interview yesterday with the Boston Globe, Gary Wills offers another glimpse of his version of Catholicism. Emily Stimpson provides a feisty rebuttal to some of his silly conclusions about what teachings the faithful are willing to believe.

The general problem is that Wills privileges the subjective sense of community over the objective sense of Catholic communion, and embraces a self-defining Catholicism rather than one that defers to the Tradition.

In his Catholicism, everything is acceptable except clear teachings on what is good, right, and true. Instead, he wants the transcendentals to be socially-constructed, era by era, culture by culture, person by person.

Wills has severed himself from the moorings of the Magisterium, and is adrift in the wild waters of spiritual danger. Most regrettably, he has plenty of company.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/26/2002 |

Thursday, July 25


A Cardinal's candor

In a session with Illinois youth gathered for the World Youth Day in Toronto, Cardinal George spoke with candor about the culture, the Church, and the challenge (and value) of living holy lives.

. . . the first question a youth posed to George was about the ongoing sex scandal that has preoccupied U.S. bishops.

"The bishops are certainly aware of what they have to do and sorry that in the past they haven't done it," George told the group. "But I think it will work itself out. Behind policies and procedures there's a life of holiness.

"If this whole scandal teaches us anything," he said, "it's that there are consequences to very private, very shameful, very sinful acts. All sin has social consequences. The world is changed when we sin."

He urged them not to accept all reports of abuse at face value and to avoid sin.
"Ask for the strength to live chastely," he said. Jesus Christ "can make you free even from the inclinations that lead you to sin" . . .

Life is meant to be full of pleasure, George told them, but youth is a time to become heroes who know the meaning of generosity and preserving relationships--relationships that should not be consummated until after marriage. "You have to change the sexual promiscuity that's in the air we breathe now," he said. "It destroys relationships. You're just using someone else. That's a very sad thing to see."

The audience of youths gave George a standing ovation. Talking with young people replenishes his spirit, George said after the teaching session at the Church of Our Lady of the Airways, which is near Toronto's main airport. "I really enjoy this," he said.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/25/2002 |

Problems with Netscape?

A thoughtful reader told me that he was having problems reading my blog using Netscape. Evidently, reading my blog causes his browser to crash, which is, obviously enough, not what I intended.

If you are having problems reading my blog, please send a note with information about what browser you're using. I'll try to get it fixed as soon as possible. Thanks.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/25/2002 |

The Vicar of Christ in Canada

Rod Dreher has an interesting essay on the politics and practicalities of the Holy Father's journey to North America for World Youth Day (in case you haven't already seen it).

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/25/2002 |

Debates about Theological College

Fr. Rob Johansen has roundly condemned the recent Washington Post article about homosexuality in seminaries I referenced, arguing that it tells us less about TC than it does about the two men who are featured and the reporter herself. In the process, he also criticizes other bloggers for giving it what he considers a positive review.

Fr. Rob critiques the piece by dissecting quotes given by the two men who left the seminary and by challenging the objectivity of the reporter. Both of those are valid approaches in critique. And, in fact, the article may be a bad piece of journalism.

However, I don't think we can disregard the impressions of the men who spoke to the reporter. It would seem that there are a few problems at TC, even if they don't approach the levels implied by the article. Even if the report is overblown, it provides an occasion for formation faculties to reconsider the way they address homosexuality in their formation programs. And that's what I hope will happen, at TC as well as all the other seminaries and houses of formation in our land.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/25/2002 |

Wednesday, July 24


Touchstone Blog

On July 3, Amy Welborn posted some comments by Leon Podles, of Touchstone Magazine. It touched off a firestorm of controversy, igniting everything from loose liturgies to the feminization of the Church. In the fury, I weighed in with some criticisms of my own.

Now Dr. Podles is blogging at Touchstone Blog. It's definitely worth a regular read, even if you disagree with him.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/24/2002 |

The Muted Gospel

In a post yesterday, Amy Welborn asked some very good questions about the relevance and power of our faith and our attempts to evangelize the world. Be sure to read the many comments her readers have made in response to her invitation for feedback. In a follow-up post, she asks How do you evangelize a culture that doesn't think it needs evangelizing? Here are my musings on that question:

The work of evangelism has always begun at home, in the Church. I think that's been our failure. The people in the pews are not hearing the life-transforming, sacrifice-demanding, happiness-yielding message of the Cross and Resurrection.

Because Christians are, for the most part, living American more than Christian lives, their message (if they proclaim it at all) is but one more option among many. Surely part of our reluctance to proclaim the Catholic distinctive can be blamed on a misapplication of ecumenism, but the problem is hardly a theological one. True, we have given up the missionary mandate, but that is not ultimately the consequence of Vatican II teachings on ecumenism. Instead, we have not been captured by the truth that sets us free. Many of us are living Americanized lives because we're "hedging" our bets. What if it's not true? What if the American dream is the human dream, after all?

Simply put, most Christians are not living the faith they profess. This is often true of preachers, as well. So, when we make our weak attempts to share our meager life with others, people properly reject it as the worst of both worlds. It neither gives pleasure in this life nor the consolations of the Spirit. It is not attractive because it's insipid; it's too easy, not radical enough. In sum, it is little surprise that a comfortable gospel yields few conversions in a land of comfort.

The Catholic Church's entire vision for human life is radical, but we are not living (or proclaiming) that message. And that's a problem of the will more than the mind. When someone (or many someones) dare(s) to live a life totally guided by the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, then we will be sure to suffer. And then our message will be heard by those who, by grace, are being drawn to the Gospel that has been incarnated in our lives.

The world needs the message we proclaim. But until we are living that message, why should anyone believe that we have the truth that can set them free? In short, we need to be living the message in truth before the Good News will rise above the din of American whateverism. Because so many Christians live mediocre Christian lives, evangelism needs to begin at home.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/24/2002 |

Tuesday, July 23


What a pity

World Youth Day means another opportunity to talk about the Pope's frailty and whether he's really in charge. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter says he is. And he seems disappointed. He (along with those who share his agenda) are biding their time until this old man has gone the way of all flesh.

The man I pity is not the Holy Father, but John Allen. Poor man, he doesn't get it. Neither does Rev. Richard McBrien, who is always chomping at the bit to speak out in favor of a different sort of Church.

[NCR's John] Allen, who has written a book assessing candidates to replace John Paul II when he dies, argues that the pope is in better shape than he looks and that much of the expectation of his death comes from people who don't like John Paul's policies.

''On a wide range of issues, there is a sense that this pontificate has given its answers, and for people who don't like those answers, the wait is on for a change in regime,'' Allen says. ''For people who think the church has got to take another look at the role of women, or the birth control question, or how power is exercized, John Paul has said what John Paul is going to say. If you think more has to be said, then there is a waiting game, not because there's a leadership vacuum, but because there's a desire for new leadership.''

Some Vatican observers are skeptical about whether the pope is really in charge.

''Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear can tell how debilitated he is. I don't think the pope could possibly be in meaningful day-to-day charge of the administration of the Catholic Church,'' said Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame. ''He is not the same man he was a few years ago and he doesn't have the same kind of drawing power.''

The problem, of course, is that Allen and McBrien are the ones who lack the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Oh, they can see his physical frailty, but evidently they can't see to the depths of the man and his ministry. They both look forward to his passing, hoping for a different, better Church after he's gone.

How sad that two men who are evidently very concerned about the Church have so little attentiveness to the Spirit who guides Her, so little appreciation for the Holy Father's faithful service to Her, and are so oblivious to how his suffering is helping build up the Church they are seeking so desperately to dismantle.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/23/2002 |

What's this about?

Now Father Doyle is going to testify in cases against the Church in New Hampshire. I won't say he doesn't have the right to do so, but it's at least worth asking what message he's trying to send, and what visions and values guide his choices.

I hope and pray he's not driven by bitterness. But I can't help wondering. Each article about him I've read has recounted the sad history of his 1985 report being buried, how he was ignored by the bishops, then spurned by the Vatican. There is no doubt he was mistreated. But I don't think Father Doyle's demands for a radically remade Church are the only option (or the best option) available.

For that reason, I can't help wondering whether his pain at having been spurned is driving him to turn on the Church he swore to serve.

Father Doyle, what's going on?

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/23/2002 |

Monday, July 22


More on the World Youth Day "alternative"

Here's the agenda for the Challenge the Church alternative I mentioned previously.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/22/2002 |

Homosexuality as a formation issue

This rather disturbing, must-read, Washington Post article adds weight to the argument that seminary formation programs need to deal proactively with the issue of homosexuality among seminarians.

It was the skittishness surrounding the whole issue of homosexuality at the seminary. Gay or not seemed to define social cliques, political camps and many a classmate's wrenching personal struggles. Yet being gay was never mentioned by the faculty except as an abstract possibility.

Though formators need to avoid scapegoating homosexual seminarians, they cannot ignore the question. Because, if they do, seminarians will work things out on their own. And, without the guidance of the Church, they may do a rather poor job of it.

If formators are unwilling to address the question, they must explain themselves to the bishops. The priesthood and the Church they are being formed to serve are too important for formators to allow men to form themselves on matters about which they are (sometimes) profoundly conflicted.

For another take on the article, plus some smart reflections on formation, in general, check out what David Morrison is saying at Sed Contra.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/22/2002 |

Some first-fruits of . . . the Faithful

Margery Eagan, of the Boston Herald, gives us a glimpse of the tone and temper of the conference in her column yesterday.

. . . the more revolutionary the remark yesterday, the louder the applause. The tougher the speaker on church leaders' conniving maneuvers, the greater the likelihood of an ovation 4,000 strong.

And the key-note speaker, the "star" was Rev. Thomas Doyle.

Yesterday, the charismatic priest in suit jacket and tie, no collar, please, moved beyond the sickness of sex abuse itself to the sickness plaguing church leaders: their ``unbridled addiction to power,'' prestige, trappings; their complete lack of accountability, except to Rome; their unwillingness to take the hands of the outcasts, of the victims of their brother priests' unholy acts.

Doyle talked about a need for ``radical egalitarianism'' in the church and quoted Christ from Scripture: ``You know that in the world the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of authority. This is not the way with you; among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be the willing slave of all.''

I am grateful to Father Doyle for his prophetic work, but his passion for the victims and his anger at the abuse of power, as proper as those emotions are, seem to have skewed his reading of the scriptures. The scripture he quoted does not recommend "radical egalitarianism," but speaks of the Christ-like, self-sacrificing service of those who would be shepherds like him.

He picked a good scripture text, but his application seems wide of the mark. No doubt, his "collarless" address was just what members of the VOTF had hoped for. But it may have been the last thing they needed to hear. For, of course, it simply confirms them in thinking that the problem is with shepherding, not with (some of) the shepherds.

Though bishops made unacceptable choices to protect the Church, the priests, themselves and their fellow-bishops, the answer is not taking the power away from them and giving it to ourselves. Whatever the problem, whatever the scandal, the answer in the Church is never getting rid of shepherds. It wasn't the answer in 1517, and it isn't the answer today. Instead, we must use the tools of the Spirit, the tools Christ taught us. We must all pray, live the gospel well, and bid our bishops obey the voice of the Good Shepherd who called them to feed His flock.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/22/2002 |

Sunday, July 21


Fruits of the . . . Faithful

If the bishops hoped their meeting in Dallas could quell concerns of lay Catholics, the Voice of the Faithful gathering yesterday in Boston proved otherwise.

"At present, we have a surprisingly clear idea of what is needed," Dr. Jim Muller, a leader of the 5-month-old group, told the crowd. "A partnership of hierarchy and empowered laity. We must commit to sustained work to turn it into reality" . . .

[They] stuck to three goals: supporting survivors of abuse, supporting priests who "serve with integrity" and reforming church structures so that not all the decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of the hierarchy . . .

"Most of us are here because we are embarrassed and angry by the leadership in our church," said John Burnes, 39, a lifelong Catholic who sings in the choir at his suburban Los Angeles church. "We all want to do something, and Voice of the Faithful has given us a constructive way to help the church we dearly love" . . .

"I think they sound liberal and resentful," said Janelle Dewitt, 30, a student at nearby Tufts University who came as an observer. "It sounds like they want to overthrow papal authority."

But Marie Sheehan, 76, of Stoughton, Mass., who wore a religious stole that read "ordain women," complained that the group was too conservative. "I understand they want to be centrist, and it disappointments me. But I try not to let it interfere with my involvement."

Surely a good number of VOTF members are acting in good faith, with a genuine desire to serve the Church they love. Others, though, want to change the Church, to make it something else, something more American, democratic, something less Catholic and Magisterial. And that makes me wonder just what Muller's "partnership of hierarchy and empowered laity" might look like if it were turned "into reality."

Though one could read Muller's remarks as merely expressing a desire to enact Vatican II, it is harder to force Marie Sheehan's comments or the reports of Janelle Dewitt into the Vatican II mold. Clearly some VOTF members have ambitious plans, plans to democratize the Church, which might mean lay control of everything from finances to the teachings of the faith.

So it will be interesting to see whether this movement grows and what sorts of changes VOTF will eventually demand of bishops. (And, by the way, demand will probably be the right verb, though time will tell.) Whatever happens, VOTF, like all things Christian, will be known by its fruits. So, for now, I suggest we all keep praying and paying attention, watching to see what fruits it brings.

While we wait to see its fruits, there is a surer way, an approach that is bound to bear good fruit. And that, of course, is for each of us to live the Gospel, to keep the faith. So, by grace, let's get to it.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/21/2002 |

Clarifying comments

In comments on two posts here and in a post on his own blog, Deacon Todd Reitmeyer says that the remarks he made about his experience in seminary were not intended to refer to his time at the North American College.

I returned to controversy about some comments I made on another blog. Unfortunately they were taken out of context and misunderstood. I am certain that it wasn't malicious but at the same time the understanding someone commented on was not the one I had when I wrote it and now it is snowballing. I am sure we will get it straightend out.

There was nothing malicious in my post. I linked to Fr. Sibley's post and included Todd's comments in their entirety, so I am unsure why Todd says I took his post out of context.

What is clear is that he didn't mean what I took him to be saying. I am sorry for the misunderstanding.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/21/2002 |