Easter

Easter is the most profoundly religious of Christian holidays. We York girls observed it growing up by going to church on Easter Sunday, although I don’t remember attending the observances of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Holy Saturday.

Tenebrae, anyone? Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

Tenebrae is a religious service of Western Christianity held during the three days preceding Easter, and characterized by gradual extinguishing of candles, and by a “strepitus” or “loud noise” taking place in total darkness near the end of the service.”

I suppose we knew on some level that Easter was a serious religious holiday, although mostly for me it meant a new dress, patent leather shoes and white ankle socks, a straw hat, and a pink topper — a short jacket with wide sleeves and a single button at the neck. We also colored eggs, got Easter baskets, and the Easter bunny left each of us a small present in the oven. No idea where that latter came from. Maybe it was a Halpin family thing — my mother’s side.

No one here at Klainer West is particularly religious, but Ben and Sara and I are coloring eggs with the kids on Saturday while Amy and Matt take care of a business obligation. On Sunday I’m hosting brunch, with an egg hunt outside so my exuberant grandkids don’t tear apart the house. Happily, sun and mild temperatures will prevail. Louise goes to church on Sunday and her daughter will be here, but L. is stopping by mid-afternoon for a glass of wine. Should be a lovely day.

I don’t honestly feel that my life, or a holiday celebration like Easter, is diminished by the absence of a religious context. Aside from medieval Catholic theology rooted in sin, the whole pedophilia scandal, or the Church’s longtime inability to recognize the spiritual gifts of women, Catholicism never really took with me. From a very young age, the whole thing seemed a bit like the Wizard of Oz, and we all know what happened when Toto pulled back the screen.

But I have no wish to diminish the importance or religiosity of the day, and for those of you for whom Easter is a deeply holy experience of renewal and affirmation, I wish you a happy and blessed day.

The Excesses of the Anti-Reproductive Choice Crowd

Zealots of the Evangelical right are trying hard to get bills passed that would require heroic measures for babies born alive who lack the ability to live for more than a short time. To them, this cruelty is an extension of what they see as their “pro-life” stance. To do anything less than heroic measures is “infanticide”.

I read a powerful opinion piece to the contrary by a mother who had lost an infant hours after birth. She and her husband were aware, prior to the birth, that the newborn could not live very long. At birth, he was wrapped in a blanket and given to his parents to hold until death arrived.

I’m out of my usual routine, still in caregiver role, and I neither bookmarked the piece nor am I able to find it again. But here was the gist: turning a doomed newborn over to maximum medical intervention is a cruelty beyond measure at a point when the impending death is about to occur. Wrapping such a child in a blanket and giving him to his parents to hold isn’t infanticide; it’s the kindest path out of a terrible tragedy.

In some cognitive leap that eludes me, rabid anti-choice voters see making a big issue out of allowing a doomed infant to die as furthering the case for overturning Roe v. Wade.

I am repelled by zealots of any kind, especially those who wave the bible in defense of using the power of the state to inflict their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

Religious zealots aren’t the majority in this country, but they are single-issue focused, politically active, and backed by some powerful institutional forces — like Fox News and CPAC and the Republican Party. All have made women’s reproductive choice the hill they want to die on.

The United Methodist Church and Gays

Sounds as if the United Methodist Church may not be so united going forward, as the denomination has chosen to go back in time and make itself unwelcoming to LGBTQ members, clergy, and married couples. The conservative members of the denomination, who won the vote to deny their non-heterosexual brethren full communion with church ritual and practices, are waving the bible at those with more open hearts, claiming to be the more biblically adherent.

I’m not a big reader of the bible, but I did study a fair amount of theology as an undergrad in college — we had to. I don’t pretend to be a biblical scholar and have no desire to go toe to toe with conservative Methodists, but it seems to me that Jesus talked a whole lot more about how we treat the poor and needy and the outcasts among us than he did about who people fall in love with. I suspect Jesus didn’t care much about the latter, and I wonder why conservatives in all denominations make this the hill they want to die on.

The Pope’s Confab on the Pedophilia Crisis

I think people who’ve suffered sexual assault at the hands of Catholic clergy — children who were victims of pedophiles, nuns and lay women who were assaulted, raped, and perhaps impregnated, unrecognized sons and daughters of priests — are in the front lines of assessing whether the Pope’s big confab in Rome made any difference, or was sufficient or even hopeful. Faithful Catholics, those who still slide into the pews for Sunday mass, are the in the next tier. What I think is pretty marginal, but here it is.

I’m perplexed by the statement that the worldwide Church is too diverse to have a single standard for dealing with pedophile priests, or those who rape women. The Church has singular standards for all sorts of things, and claims absolute authority to do so. I can hardly fathom why it should be hard to say that priests who assault children or who rape women and girls should be condemned and turned over to civil authorities for prosecution and obligated to make reparations to those that they’ve harmed — and, if relevant, made to support their children financially.

Anything short of that seems like  nothing more than clerical obfuscation — and a singular lack of integrity and courage. Pope Francis is a likable person, much more so than his flinty predecessor Benedict. But Francis is falling far short here.

Et Tu, McCarrick?

Until recently, 88 year old Theodore McCarrick was a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, an influential and widely known Cardinal who had the ear of the Pope, and who influenced Church policy at the Vatican and before his retirement, in the powerful diocese of Washington D.C.

McCarrick also abused his power by sexually assaulting seminarians and altar boys to whom he had unfettered access. The abuse went on for decades, and was apparently known at highest levels of the Vatican, who continued to promote McCarrick to increasingly more exalted positions.”Uncle Ted”, now an old man, says he doesn’t remember being the quintessential funny uncle at the party that everyone tried to avoid.

Uncle Ted has been defrocked after an investigation, his removal from the priesthood ultimately sanctioned by Pope Francis. Funny Uncle Ted is now simply “Mr. McCarrick”. No more red berettas or pointy cardinal hats for him.

A new book coming out by Frederic Martel called In the Closet of the Vatican claims that 80% of priests who work in the Vatican are gay, although not necessarily sexually active. This volume joins others written over the years on the same topic. Prominent Catholics like the late Cardinal Spellman of New York and theologian Henri Nouwen have long been alleged to be gay. There has been widespread speculation about retired Pope Benedict, who dresses in ruby red slippers and ermine capes and is often seen in the company of his personal secretary Archbishop George “Gorgeous George” Ganswein.

Now things get complicated. Being gay does not equate to being sexually active, and clearly Catholic priests both gay and straight struggle with celibacy and often fall off the wagon. Being sexually active as a priest is arguably not always coercive — arguably, because of the power differential. Being gay or straight and sexually active does not equate to pedophilia, although American Cardinals like Raymond Burke want to cleanse the priesthood of all gay men and therefore “solve” the pedophilia crisis.

Writers who have long studied the issue of gay clergy often suggest that the most vociferous and vindictive Cardinals doth protest too much, and are hiding their sexual orientation themselves. Et tu, Cardinal Burke, he who wears scarlet gloves and jeweled red hats and a 20 foot silk train?

But official Catholic teaching does label homosexuality as “objectively disordered”, so having to live in the closet as a gay priest is a problem of integrity and authenticity. And the pedophilia crisis, along with the now recognized problem of priests and bishops raping and impregnating nuns, roils on. Uncle Ted apparently keeps his pension and his savings, and has the good will of prominent Catholics who are likely to provide him a place to live after he is turfed out of Church supported housing.

At the very least, my take is that the Catholic priesthood attracts seriously sexually immature men who then act out in ways that are deeply damaging to the people who look to them for spiritual guidance, not sex. The inherent power of the priesthood for observant Catholics amplifies the damage, which for many victims is lifelong.

This is a structural problem, solved only by changing the structure of the ordained priesthood. In my view, admitting both married men and ordaining women would go a long way. We’re beyond the point where Church tradition of an all-male clergy can legitimately be sustained.

Enduring Scandal in the Catholic Church

Big global organizations other than the Catholic Church are periodically hit with scandals. There’s a protocol for getting beyond a scandal: get out ahead of the story by offering full disclosure before investigative reporters do, call individuals involved to real accountability, make reparations if called for, and put in place stringent procedures so that the lapse doesn’t happen again. Above all, be transparent, so no one can say you’re hiding things. Cleaning up after a scandal is messy, expensive, and disruptive. But it is possible to have the organization move forward cleanly and regain trust.

The Catholic Church is having no success whatsoever moving beyond the pedophilia scandal. Clearly the cardinals and bishops who are the princes of the Church, along with Pope Francis, haven’t a clue.

Here, on a local level, is a demonstration of why:

The Archdiocese of New York told a California university that a Middletown priest had never been accused of sexual abuse of a minor and was fit to serve as a priest even though it had reopened a 15-year-old investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against him.

Rev. Donald G. Timone, of the Church of St. Joseph on Cottage Street, had been a visiting priest at John Paul the Great University in Escondido, Calif., for several years, celebrating Mass and hearing confessions during the winter and summer quarters. This last summer, he taught a class on Catholic spirituality and was set to teach another this winter.

The university became aware of the archdiocese’s investigation after Lidy Connolly, vice president for administration at the university, read about it in the New York Times just days before Christmas.”

https://www.recordonline.com/news/20190102/calif-college-ny-archdiocese-lied-about-middletown-priests-past

Needless to say, the errant priest will not be welcome on campus to teach his winter course, say Mass, or hear confessions.

Scandal management 101: you can’t lie, conceal, or ignore. And the organization to which you sent the accused offender can’t find out about the problem in the New York Times.

Lots of suggestions have been made about how to deal with the pedophilia crisis, like ordaining women to the priesthood. I actually think ordaining women is a great idea, but it’s too long term a solution to this problem. The Church could actually hire a crisis management firm, but first the Pope and his powerfully political cardinals like Dolan of New York, need to fess up that they are clueless.

In the meantime, they are squandering the trust of faithful Catholics to a degree that is shocking to me.

Trump as King Cyrus

The evangelical right has a very weird thing going on with Donald Trump. The autocratic, patriarchal white pastors dominant in those church circles are exhorting their flocks to see our pussy-grabbing, con man grifter president as a modern day King Cyrus anointed by God to save the faithful.

As Lance Wallnau, an evangelical author and speaker who appears in the film, once said, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

Cyrus, in case you’ve forgotten, was born in the sixth century B.C.E. and became the first emperor of Persia. Isaiah 45 celebrates Cyrus for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon. Cyrus is the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/31/opinion/trump-evangelicals-cyrus-king.html

Far-fetched? To you and me, maybe. But not to the far right. More from the opinion writer:

I have attended dozens of Christian nationalist conferences and events over the past two years. And while I have heard plenty of comments casting doubt on the more questionable aspects of Mr. Trump’s character, the gist of the proceedings almost always comes down to the belief that he is a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord. I have also learned that resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God.

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.

These evangelical pastors are declaring Trump their kind of guy — which makes me wonder what’s going on behind the scenes in evangelical churches. One might argue that in identifying with Trump, these pastors are seeking validation of behaviors that resemble their idol. I don’t know that to be true, but I suspect it might be.

Would love to see some of these guys under the same scrutiny that Trump is going to get once Dems take over the House. What’s that old saying, about being known by the company you keep? Pussy grabbing con man grifters of the world, unite.

 

Panama 2018: A Visit from Minga

MInga visited me in a dream, a very vivid one, and invited me along to her funeral. I took it as her way of sharing that final experience with me, in a way that I could manage — in dream.

She wanted me to know about the depth of her faith. I think I always understood that. In a very elemental way, Minga believed in a God that would never abandon her, and that belief allowed her to see life through. She had a lot of instability after her mother died when she was small, and always crushing poverty.  Late in life, the last ten years when her children  had grown and could help support her, she had the most financially stable period of her life. Her family, very small in number when she was growing up, blossomed: nine grown children, and I can’t count how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, plus the significant others of her sons and daughters. There were  a lot of times along the way when she could have given up, lost hope, and she never did. She knew God was with her.

Minga and I never had a conversation about faith. Questioning God’s existence in her life would have been like questioning the ground under her feet, the air she breathed, the large cast iron pot that sat on her fogon, the one for which she gathered firewood in the early years in order to cook. Her faith in God was solid, dense, all around her, as familiar as the trusted elements of daily life.

She certainly knew I didn’t go to the small village church when I was there, not even the year that I stayed for three months. She never asked why. Was it because my unbelief would have been inconceivable to her? Or, was she giving me room? I have no idea.

I liked the visit from her, in dream. I already had the images of her funeral, from the pictures and videos Lily sent. Now I had Minga, making sense of it all for me, guiding me through her transition from earthly life to an afterlife in which she unquestioningly believed.

I take it as a Christmas message, one of joy and hope.

Catholic Clergy and Suicide

One of the many ripple effects of the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church is that the best and brightest young men are no longer flocking to the priesthood. To be sure, there are many reasons why a calling to ordained ministry seems less attractive than it once did. But the shortage of priests and the unintended consequence of having less competent men heading up parishes falls most heavily on the faithful, the people still trying to make membership in a parish work.

A young college student in Michigan committed suicide, and his devout grieving family arranged for a funeral mass in their home parish. There, the priest drew from old Catholic teaching around suicide to raise doubts, during the homily at mass, about whether God would forgive the young man for the grave sin of taking his life and grant him access to heaven. The boy’s father actually got up during the homily, walked to the pulpit and asked the priest to stop speaking — which he did not. At the end of the mass, the family told the priest he was not welcome at the graveside burial.

The family has asked that the priest be removed from his position, which the Diocese declines to do — although the priest will receive counseling and supervision, and an apology was offered. I feel quite sure, given the paucity of ordained men, that the Diocese has no one to put in this person’s place.

Losing a beloved child has to be one of the most difficult of life’s tragedies. Devout people in that situation turn to their clergy person for comfort and assurance, not judgmental medieval nonsense.

There aren’t a lot of positive stories coming out of Catholic Church membership these days, although I’m sure there are parishes where faith is nurtured and supported by competent and empathetic clergy. If this family feels a connection to their parish they will probably try to stay, although I can’t imagine sitting in the pews and listening to this moron opine from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2018/12/15/father-please-stop-parents-horrified-after-priest-used-teens-funeral-condemn-suicide/?utm_term=.f4915eced636&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Evangelicals and Trump

There are three things, apparently, that Evangelicals want and are getting from Trump that leads them to excuse any level of corruption and criminality coming from the Oval Office: conservative judges, a concerted attack on women’s reproductive freedom, and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Rural white Evangelicals with limited education also like Trump’s harsh immigration policies. “Make America White Again” sounds just fine to them.

We’ve all struggled with having to work with people whose personal and professional traits we find challenging. Sometimes we go ahead, and sometimes we demur, saying that the compromises required are simply too much. My problem with the Evangelical community is that Trump doesn’t seem to present any struggle for them.

Makes me wonder what version of the Bible they are reading.