Pope Fries the Bigger Fish: The Death Penalty

While we in the United States get our missal translations in order, Pope Benedict XVI decided to try to end the death penalty.

From CBS News:

Pope Benedict XVI voiced support Wednesday for political actions around the world aimed at eliminating the death penalty, reflecting his stance as an opponent of capital punishment.

He made the comments during his weekly public audience to participants at a meeting being promoted by the Catholic Sant’Egidio Community on the theme “No Justice without Life.”

He said he hopes “your deliberations will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty.”

Now that’s what I call leadership. Will those who are all to eager to end abortion be as consistent with this pro-life message? Or will they quickly backpedal as they’ve done in the past to point out that it can be justified in some instances when there is no other possible way to protect the public from an aggressor. By doing so they send forth a message that vengeance is just fine.

A friend who is quite active in lobbying the State Government in his state said he often feels awful because he rallies behind pro-life causes but that his colleagues only focus on abortion. The truth is that they have a much greater opportunity to create change if they even focused half as much of their time on ending the death penalty.

Some credit to a local Bishop here: A few years back I wrote about how Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe (full disclosure: I worked with him some time back at NCYAMA and respect him immensely) brought the then-Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson to visit the Pope. His introduction to His Holiness was: “This is Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, your Holiness and he just ended the death penalty in his state.”

Guess what? Richardson is also pro-choice.

Forging collaboration even with people who don’t agree with us on every issue is necessary for us to do. It enables us to keep the doors open and move more closely together on other issues where we may be divided and perhaps even it may help us to change people’s mind. Perhaps they won’t, but they may at least pay some heed to our feelings about abortion, or the poor, or health care because of our willingness to work together for the public good.

Is the death penalty legal in your state? Today’s a good day to call your local representatives and ask them to begin to rid us of the blight of public executions.

Meanwhile, the only country in Europe where the death penalty is legal is Belarus, and they sentenced 2 men to death today for a subway bombing.


My prediction is that despite the Pope’s statement some will continue to enjoy vengeance and even some staunch Catholics who will scream when politicians vote pro-choice or when rubrics are not followed at mass will ignore the Pope’s words and vote for people who are only half-heartedly pro-life.

The death penalty is wrong, folks. So is abortion. All life is sacred and we do not have the right to end the life of another. Our Catholicism needs to be consistent.

What the Pope Didn’t Say About Condoms

I’ve been away on retreat with the students and had to catch up on work yesterday. So I’m late to the conversation on this one, but I have some observations on Peter Seewald’s new book, Light of the World where he interviews Pope Benedict XVI, a person he had interviewed in an older book (a must read) while he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In particular, the Pope was asked questions on the AIDS crisis and the use of condoms to combat that, especially in Africa.

The media has spun the words of the Pope to appear to sanction condom use, which ISN’T what the Pope said. He has stated an opinion that has been the opinion of many moral theologians for many years. The fact that the Pope shares that opinion, even privately, is indeed a breaking news story worthy of headlines. But it hardly changes church teaching on the matter. We need to remember that responding to a question by a reporter isn’t the same as the Pope making an infallible statement, or even writing a encyclical and functioning in an official teaching capacity.

But more to the point, the head of the Vatican Press Office offers the best clarification I’ve seen so far. The USCCB media blog has his statement in full but this snippet is the one that I think is the money quote

“…the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat to another person’s life. In such a case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered practice of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection can be ‘a first act of responsibility’, ‘a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality’, rather than not using it and exposing the other person to a mortal risk.

In short, it means that the use of a condom by someone who always or often engages in risky sexual behaviors can show that God is working on them a bit to consider a more human way to live sexually than they presently are. This “first act” is better than not taking any precautions at all.

It doesn’t mean that the church says that if you want to have sex outside of marriage (or even inside marriage) that it’s OK if you use a condom. However, if you’re going to have sex anyway (meaning: you’ve already decided to sin) and you don’t want to get HIV or some other disease, then using a condom could be seen as a “first act of responsibility” that shows some responsibility for the human person. It’s still a sinful act, but it at least shows some moral responsibility. The road to conversion is slow and everyone gets their on their own time. This could be that first step on a very long journey towards a more healthy sexuality.

Now there’s a lot that we could say about this. A colleague of mine made an interesting point: “Well, obviously this doesn’t mean that the use of condoms is “intrinsically evil.” Meaning it’s always wrong. I think we can say that’s accurate. Obviously it can lead to some good in certain instances.

The second point is even more interesting I think. The more conservative side of the church has railed against this kind of argument for years. Now that the Pope has opined this, the spin doctors are fighting for control of the story and offering the same opinion on the subject that moral theologians have been offering for years on this topic. You can’t have it both ways.

I’d also add that in the past when John Paul II said things in private interviews that there were many who would jump on his words and claim that he was speaking infallibly. Many would point out that he wasn’t only to be smacked down and told that they were splitting hairs. But as soon as the Pope offers an opinion that doesn’t meet with their right-wing agenda, then suddenly he’s not teaching anymore, but just offering a private opinion.

In many ways it’s good to discern the difference. In this case I would offer that he’s not changing church teaching but rather offering the position of moral theologians as something for us to consider as church.

I haven’t even gotten to what he said about heath care–which is sure to annoy the most staunchest republican Catholic. We’ll take that up later in the day.

This Should Have Happened a Month Ago in Ireland

After visiting abuse victims in Malta Pope Benedict made an rare public statement–which the NY Times reports

Pope Benedict XVI pledged Wednesday that the Catholic Church would take action to deal with the widening scandal over sexual abuse by priests, making a rare, direct public comment on the crisis.

During his weekly audience here, Benedict told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square that he had met with abuse victims during a recent trip to Malta and had “assured them of church action.”

“I shared their suffering and emotionally prayed with them,” the pope said, describing his visit on Sunday with eight Maltese men who claim to have been molested by priests as youths.

After that meeting, the Vatican issued a statement saying that the pope had told the men that the church would investigate the allegations and bring to justice those responsible for the abuse. It would also “implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future,” the statement said.

The pope’s words on Wednesday offered his most forceful promise that the church would confront accusations that it covered up abuse and failed to take criminal action to punish pedophile priests.

Now while this is way too late in the game, suffice it to say that the Vatican Press Corps is getting wiser. Or perhaps the Pope himself went out on a limb and did this on his own–which is what I suspect actually. The Vatican press corps is content with press releases that confine themselves to antiseptic statements, while the Pope himself seemed visibly moved as he spoke of the event in Malta.

We’ll see what his next move is, but methinks the Pope isn’t allowing himself to be “handled” anymore.

The Pope’s Unanswered Questions

While Pope Benedict’s trip to Malta was widely considered a good one and he should get much praise for meeting with people who had been abused, the Vatican once again showed their inability to use media to their advantage.

Most importantly, four very provocative questions were given to the Pope from young people struggling with their faith but also pointing out the need for the church to listen. The National Catholic Register
published all of these questions on their blog –I can’t find any video on this anywhere. But instead of having the Pope respond directly to the questions, he simply read from a prepared statement.

Talk about missing the point…

Here’s question #1:

I wish to speak on behalf of those young people who, like me feel they are on the outskirts of the Church. We are the ones who do not fit comfortably into stereo-typed roles. This is due to various factors among them: either because we have experienced substance abuse; or because we are experiencing the misfortune of broken or dysfunctional families; or because we are of a different sexual orientation; among us are also our immigrant brothers and sisters, all of us in some way or another have encountered experiences that have estranged us from the Church. Other Catholics put us all in one basket. For them we are those “who claim to believe yet do not live up to the commitment of faith.” To us, faith is a confusing reality and this causes us great suffering. We feel that not even the Church herself recognizes our worth. One of our deepest wounds stems from the fact that although the political forces are prepared to realize our desire for integration, the Church community still considers us to be a problem. It seems almost as if we are less readily accepted and treated with dignity by the Christian community than we are by all other members of society. We understand that our way of life puts the Church in an ambiguous position, yet we feel that we should be treated with more compassion – without being judged and with more love.

We are made to feel that we are living in error. This lack of comprehension on the part of other Christians causes us to entertain grave doubts, not only with regards to community life, but also regarding our personal relationship with God. How can we believe that God accepts us unconditionally when his own people reject us?

Your Holiness, we wish to tell you that on a personal level – and some of us, even in our respective communities – are persevering to find ways in which we may remain united in Jesus, who we consider to be our salvation.

However, it is not that easy for us to proclaim God as our Father, a God who responds to all those who love him without prejudice. It is a contradiction in terms when we bless God’s Holy Name, whilst those around us make us feel that we are worth nothing to him.
We feel emarginated, almost as if we had not been invited to the banquet. God has called to him all those who are in the squares and in the towns, those who are on the wayside and in the country side, however we feel he has bypassed our streets. Your Holiness, please tell us what exactly is Jesus’ call for us. We wish you to show to us and the rest of the Church just how valid is our faith, and whether our prayers are also heard. We too wish to give our contribution to the Catholic community.

Wouldn’t you have just loved to hear the Pope speak pastorally to this person in front of his entire country and directly address his concerns?

Read the rest of the questions here. They come from a seeker (above), a committed Catholic, an engaged couple and a young man studying for priesthood.

If the Vatican is smart they post the Pope’s direct responses to these on their website.

Benedict Deserves Better

The NY Times Ross Douthat really understands what I’ve been trying to say about Pope Benedict’s record on the sexual abuse scandal.

The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.

So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.

Has Benedict done enough to clean house and show contrition? Alas, no. Has his Vatican responded to the latest swirl of scandal with retrenchment, resentment, and an un-Christian dose of self-pity? Absolutely. Can this pontiff regain the kind of trust and admiration, for himself and for his office, that John Paul II enjoyed? Not a chance.

But as unlikely as it seems today, Benedict may yet deserve to be remembered as the better pope.

Any thoughts?

Papal Preacher is No Fr. James Martin, SJ

Fr. Jim Martin, SJ had words that everyone should have read yesterday:

Good Friday, though, reminds us that Jesus went to his crucifixion freely and surrendered his life for something greater, which came on Easter Sunday. This profound image may help the Catholic Church meditate on what it is invited to do. But that means that something has to die.

What needs to die is a clerical culture that fostered power, privilege and secrecy. An attitude that placed a priest’s reputation above a child’s welfare. A mindset in which investigations of dissident theologians and American Catholic sisters were more swiftly prosecuted than investigations of abusive priests. What needs to die is a certain pride. All this needs to be surrendered freely.

I think Fr. Jim should be promoted to “papal preacher” especially when we heard this from the actual papal preacher yesterday. (From the London Telegraph)

The “coincidence” that Passover falls in the same week as Easter celebrations, said Rev Cantalamessa, a Franciscan, who offers reflections at Vatican Easter and Advent services, prompted him to think about Jews.

“They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” the preacher said.

Quoting from the letter from the friend, who was not identified, the preacher said that he was following “‘with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful of the whole world.”‘

“The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism,”‘ Cantalamessa said his friend wrote him.

Better start vetting the homilies now. Talk about a stupid statement! Let me not pile on here except to say that death and extermination does not and never will equal character assassination. While the Pope has come under attack for his own role in allowing the abuse of children and perhaps has been treated unfairly by some in the media, this should not ever be compared to the Holocaust.

Apologies from me today to our Jewish brothers and sisters, especially my sister and brother in law and their children.

And a note to the papal preacher. Get a clue and think about what you’re really saying when you try to equate two tragedies.

Can Somebody Put the Pope on the Next Flight to Ireland?

From Pope Benedict XVI’s pastoral letter to the people of Ireland:

For my part, considering the gravity of these offences, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral Letter to express my closeness to you and to propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation.

It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the problem of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church. Nevertheless, the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse that has occurred within the Irish Catholic community, and to do so with courage and determination. No one imagines that this painful situation will be resolved swiftly. Real progress has been made, yet much more remains to be done. Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the healing power of God’s grace.

Now I’m a fan of this Pope, let me just say that up front…

But in reading this letter I find three things to be seriously wanting. First of all, I don’t think that in this instance a mere letter suffices as a response. A trip to Ireland to sit and listen to those who were abused and to work feverishly together to draft some kind of response and for the Pope and those who worked on this to emerge TOGETHER and publicize their response for healing would have been quite a symbol.

Seriously, somebody make me the Vatican PR director.

The second thing is that the Pope has the audacity to “propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation” when honestly, trust hasn’t been established again. How is anyone in Ireland supposed to take that plan seriously?

Lastly, the Pope writes that “the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse that has occurred within the Irish Catholic community.”

Um, one article needs to be changed in that paragraph and that is namely that this is “a task WE as church need to face (the problem of abuse within the Irish Catholic community). This totally reads like “Hey it’s an Irish problem, you deal with it.” The Pope needs to realize that nobody trusts the Catholic community in Ireland and if left to their own devices here nothing is going to be settled without a huge mess. It should be the Pope’s job right now to mediate this divide with the people who are responsible and with those that are abused and then get THEM to agree on reparations and forgiveness.

It’s not his fault this happened but it’s the price of being Pope. We need a Captain on the deck of this ship and not one writing a letter from his office. The Pope means well, to be sure and I believe his intentions are good but I think in this case, he needs to go a bit farther.

Pope Attack Video

American Papist has this exclusive:

Papist goes on to say:

“[The pope] was down for about 30 seconds total, and he appeared to be just fine when he got up. A guy yelled “Viva il Papa!” and everybody started cheering and clapping, and the Holy Father continued up to the altar and proceeded with Mass. Some of the people near us seemed a little shaken, but the Pope sure didn’t.”

A terrible incident to be sure and how the woman gets so close is beyond me especially when she made a similar attempt in the past. We should pray not only for the Pope but for this woman who suffers dreadfully with mental illness.

I hope that security gets tighter for our Pontiff but not to the point where he seems distant from his flock.

Christmas Makes Bethlehem a “City-Symbol of Peace”

To all those praying for peace in the world but especially in the Middle East, the Pope’s words today have rich meaning.

From Zenit:

Noting the prophecies regarding the town of Judea in the Book of Micah, which foretell a “mysterious birth,” the Holy Father spoke of the “divine plan that includes and explains the times and places of the coming of the Son of God into the world.”

“It is a plan of peace,” the Pontiff noted, adding that it makes Bethlehem a “city-symbol of peace in the Holy Land and in the whole world.”

“Unfortunately,” he explained, “Bethlehem does not represent an achieved and stable peace, but rather a peace that is laboriously sought and awaited.

“God, however, never resigns himself to this state of affairs. So, once again this year in Bethlehem and in the entire world, he will renew in the Church the mystery of Christmas, the prophecy of peace for all mankind.”

“Christmas is not a fairytale for children,” Benedict XVI continued, “but rather God’s answer to the drama of humanity in search of peace.”

“We are expected to throw open the doors to welcome him,” the Pope said, referring to the Messiah. “Let us put ourselves at the service of God’s plan with faith.

“Even if we do not fully understand it, let us entrust ourselves to his wisdom and goodness. Let us first seek the Kingdom of God and Providence will help us.”

The Green Pope

“How can one remain indifferent in the face of problems such as climate change, desertification, the degradation and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase in extreme weather, and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical areas?” he asked.

“How can one overlook the growing phenomenon of so-called ‘environmental refugees,’ meaning persons who, because of environmental degradation, have to leave – often together with their belongings – in a kind of forced movement, in order to escape the risks and the unknown? How can we not react to the conflicts already underway, as well as potential new ones, linked to access to natural resources?”

“These are all questions,” Benedict XVI said, “that have a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the rights to life, to food, to health and to development.”

– Pope Benedict XVI on the environment in his World Peace Day message.

’nuff said.