Tag Archives: Catholic

Catholic hierarchy out of touch

While watching the Republican primary season play out, one exit poll item caught my eye.  Rick Santorum, the self-avowed Roman Catholic traditionalist, repeatedly lost the Catholic vote … to a Mormon!  Similarly, during the flap over contraception coverage in the Affordable Health Care Act that riled up the Catholic Bishops, public polls showed 60% of Roman Catholics supported the provision.  Clearly, there appears to be a disconnect between the hard-line conservatism of the bishops/hierarchy and the folks in the pews.

Recently a gay man who served on the board of Catholic Charities quit in a highly-public rebuke of Cardinal Dolan of the archdiocese of New York.

A day before Easter, the head of New York’s Roman Catholic archdiocese faced a challenge to his stance on gay rights: the resignation of a church charity board member who says he’s “had enough” of the cardinal’s attitude.

Joseph Amodeo told The Associated Press on Saturday that he quit the junior board of the city’s Catholic Charities after Cardinal Timothy Dolan failed to respond to a “call for help” for homeless youths who are not heterosexual.

Today, Amodeo, the gay man, speaks out in a Huff Post blog entitled “The Pulpit vs. the Pews”.  He basically makes the case that there is strong and widespread support for gays within the Catholic laity and the hierarchy is simply out of touch.  His post begins with a personal story from a few years ago; his role as a Christian educator was questioned and resulted in a public hearing in the church.

The priest called a meeting of the parish on a weeknight and asked that anyone who had concerns related to my teaching should speak up publicly. The night of the meeting, I entered a packed Church and slowly made my way to a pew where I sat next to my father. As the meeting began, one-by-one congregants rose and expressed their real concern: why this was even an issue. The reality is that my experience from nearly a decade ago is representative of the vast majority of Roman Catholics. We live in a Church that is called to welcome and affirm people’s humanity and identity without exception.

Amodeo also blames the press for assuming that bishops speak for the people.

It further saddens me to think that the voices of some bishops are seen as representative of all Catholic people when in reality the vast majority of Catholics support their LGBT brothers and sisters, as evidenced by a growing number of studies. A recent study released by GLAAD showed more than 50 percent of Catholic voices presented in the media offer a negative view on LGBT issues when in reality a majority of American Catholics support LGBT equality.

How is it that the Catholic hierarchy has lost touch?  Twenty years ago, I was in the midst of graduate studies with the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey and University School of Theology.  Over lunch or coffee, I heard a recurring lament from the Catholic grad students … that the current pope was appointing reactionary bishops and the progressive spirit of Vatican II was being reversed.  That process has continued under the current pope.  Thus, since 1978, there has been a remaking of the entire episcopate under two conservative popes.

Conservative Lutheran denominations such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Synod (WELS) have stridently anti-Catholic histories.  During her failed campaign, Republican Michelle Bachman resigned from her Wisconsin Synod congregation over the embarrassment that it remained WELS official policy that the papacy was the anti-Christ.  Thus, it is a fascinating sign of the times that a group of Missouri Synod pastors, congregations, the LCMS district superintendent, and a seminary professor will march to the steps of the Fort Wayne Cathedral to show support for the local Catholic bishop and diocese in their opposition to the contraceptive portions of Obamacare.

Right wing politics makes strange bedfellows.

Roman Catholic & Lutheran interaction: “grass roots ecumenism”

LWF President Younan Invites Pope Benedict XVI to Help Plan 500th Anniversary Commemoration

LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, assisted by General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge, presents Pope Benedict XVI with a gift from Bethlehem depicting the Last Supper. Second from left is Vatican employee Francesco Cavaliere.

Leaders of the Lutheran World Federation recently met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.  Before considering the report of this latest meeting, here’s the background:

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF now has 145 member churches in 79 countries all over the world representing over 70 million Christians.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a prominent member of the Federation, and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson recently completed a term as President of the LWF.  No other Lutheran denomination in the US belongs to LWF.  Since the ELCA is often criticized by other Lutherans for its social activism, it is hardly surprising that the ELCA is the only U.S. Lutheran denomination participatory in the LWF.  Perusing the LWF website suggests advocacy roles regarding:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Climate change
  • Illegitimate debt
  • Refugee support
  • Clean water and sanitation in Asian third world countries
    In a November 15th address, current LWF President Dr Munib A. Younan (Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the successor to ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson) stated:

We are called to work to eradicate poverty, to be prophetic against injustice, to be bridge builders between South and North and East and West, to strengthen our sisters and brothers who suffer or find discrimination because of their faith, and to be responsible for the integrity of creation.

In response to the impulse toward ecumenism following Vatican II, Roman Catholics and Lutherans representing the LWF engaged in years of theological discussions that culminated in a joint statement on the doctrine of justification in 1999.  According to Wikipedia,

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a document created by and agreed to by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, as a result of extensive ecumenical dialogue, ostensibly resolving the conflict over the nature of justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation.

The Churches acknowledged that the excommunications relating to the doctrine of justification set forth by the Council of Trent do not apply to the teachings of the Lutheran churches set forth in the text; likewise, the churches acknowledged that the condemnations set forth in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the Catholic teachings on justification set forth in the document. Confessional Lutherans, such as the International Lutheran Council and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, reject the Declaration.

On July 18, 2006, members of the World Methodist Council, meeting in Seoul, South Korea, voted unanimously to adopt this document as well.

Bishop Hanson at LWFLast summer after his term as LWF President had ended, ELCA Presiding Bishop was asked about the status of ecumenical relations with the Vatican:

The president had been asked if he could envisage a day when a Roman Catholic and Lutheran married couple could commune together with the blessing of both churches. It is the lay people of the churches who are driving and sustaining these conversations, he responded, acknowledging the “grassroots ecumenism” that is alive among lay people. While leaders wrestle with difficult theological issues, “lay people of different churches pray together, study together and work together to build just societies. “If Roman Catholics and Lutherans [for example] can feed the hungry together, wouldn’t it be good if they could be fed at the Lord’s Table together?”

Hanson acknowledged that he is unlikely to see all Christian churches communing together in his lifetime, but “if I can contribute to that vision being realized I’ll be very grateful.”

Here is personal, anecdotal evidence of the grass roots ecumenism of which Hanson speaks.

I hail from Upsala, Minnesota, originally a Swedish community that actually had a Ku Klux Klan chapter in the anti-German days of WWI, but the purpose of the chapter was not to repress blacks (there were none) but to keep Catholics out of Upsala.  The local Swedes covenanted with each other that they would not sell real estate to Catholic purchasers.  Didn’t work.

St Mary's in UpsalaSkip ahead to 1954, and the Roman Catholic church building from nearby St. Francis in largely German-Catholic Stearns County was moved slowly on rollers five miles north to a prominent place on main street in Upsala.  A very real and symbolic movement of the German Catholics from the south that corresponded with an influx of Polish Catholics from the east (Bowlus, Sobieski, Little Falls).  Grandma Hilma was sure the end times were near. 

But, by the 70’s, the Lutheran pastor, the Roman Catholic priest, and the pastor from the Covenant church joined together in a singing group that appeared at nursing homes and elsewhere and also jointly organized a senior center in Upsala.   Local clergy continue to work together in an active ministerial association (the only non-participant is the pastor from the small Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregation in town). 

Most recently, in just the last few months, the Roman Catholics replaced that wooden building that had been relocated to Upsala fifty-six years ago, but the new building would be on the same site as the old one.  Where to gather for mass during construction?  My old congregation, perhaps including the descendants of those who once covenanted to keep the Catholics out of town, offered the use of their facilities and insisted that no rent or remuneration would be accepted.

Construction was completed early in December, and the Catholics at St Mary’s are proudly worshiping in their own building once again.  And, the Lutherans from Gethsemane will soon be their guests for a day when the regular Gethsemane Sunday worship service will move to the new Sanctuary of St. Mary’s, to be followed by a brunch hosted by their Catholic friends.  Just as the Catholics celebrated their Eucharist in the Lutheran church building, the Lutherans will now celebrate their Eucharist in the Catholic church building.  I suspect the folks at both St Mary’s and Gethsemane would be just fine taking the final step and actually celebrating the Eucharist together but for official Roman Catholic policy, but the symbolism of the current events is a striking example of grass roots ecumenism.

This brings us back to the beginning, and the recent meeting between LWF leadership and Pope Benedict XVI.  Here’s the report from the LWF website:

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan has invited Pope Benedict XVI to work together with the Lutheran communion in realizing an ecumenically accountable commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

“For us there is joy in the liberating power of the gospel proclaimed afresh by the reformers, and we will celebrate that,” said Younan in a message today, when he led a seven-member delegation in a private audience with the Pope. He underlined the need to recognize both the damaging aspects of the Reformation and ecumenical progress.

“But we cannot achieve this ecumenical accountability on our own, without your help. Thus we invite you to work together with us in preparing this anniversary, so that in 2017 we are closer to sharing in the Bread of Life than we are today.”

Secondly, Bishop Younan expressed similar sentiments to those of Bishop Hanson about the continuing inability of Catholics and Lutherans to celebrate the Eucharist together.

In his statement, Younan reiterated the LWF’s commitment to “moving closer toward one another around this Table of the Lord, which Luther saw as the summa evangelii.” The LWF president pointed out that while it was important to “rejoice in each small step which brings us closer together, we do not want to be content with these steps. We remain strong in hope – both for the full visible unity of Christ’s Church and for the Eucharistic communion which is so crucial a manifestation of that unity.”

I studied with the School of Theology at St John’s Abbey and University in the early ‘90’s.  Once a week, the resident students hosted a meal for the non-residents followed by a mass.  But, a couple of seminarians protested that this was contrary to Catholic doctrine because many of the non-residents were non-Catholics , and the joint mass was discontinued–to the common pain of most of us, Catholic and Protestant alike.  In defense of this exclusive policy, one seminarian suggested that when the rest of us accepted the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, then we would be welcomed.  By that standard, I shouldn’t be celebrating communion with most Lutherans, since I’m sure we don’t all share the same understanding; nor is the understanding of the communing children in our congregation likely to be anywhere close to the understanding of the adults.

At the joint meeting, the Pontiff expressed continuing support for ecumenical dialogue without addressing Catholic exclusivity around the communion rail.

Native Americans and Christianity circa 2010

Without researching actual statistics, I doubt whether the percentage of native Americans within any Lutheran denomination is significant.  Although the ELCA has general goals for minority membership, the reality remains that most of us are descended from northern  European immigrants.  The reasons are primarily historical; when our ancestors arrived to make America their new home, they were not here as missionaries, and their communities remained insular.  My home congregation in Upsala, Minnesota, formed by Swedes in the 1880’s, continued with services in the language of the homeland until the 1920’s.  Even the small pockets of Danes in the neighborhood were largely outsiders.  When my grandfather Julius (the son of Swedish immigrants, and the youngest, rebellious sibling) married grandmother Olga (daughter of Danish immigrants) around the time of WWI, it was a mixed marriage.

Not so with Roman Catholics and Anglicans who came to the midwest first as missionaries to native Americans, and thus there are vestigial pockets of Catholic and Anglican native Americans.  This was especially obvious to me as I attended several Episcopal Diocesan conventions this fall.  In the Minnesota delegation and the northern Wisconsin Diocese of Fond du Lac, the Ojibwe lay and clergy presence was significant.  Two years ago, an Ojibwe priest was a finalist for the office of presiding Bishop for the Minnesota diocese.

Native American dancersTo what extent should native American cultural and religious heritage be reflected in their Christian religious practices?  Earlier this fall, I attended a weekend religious retreat consisting of mostly Lutherans.  A young man, a native American from Minneapolis, who had been raised Lutheran by his adoptive parents, was asked to offer a prayer.  He did so with a native American chant, which I found refreshing and spiritual, but I wondered how others received it.  No one said anything.

Yesterday’s Star Tribune newspaper (the leading Minnesota daily) contained an article about a small Roman Catholic congregation located within the native American community of Minneapolis whose members are nearly all native American.  Seems the local archdiocese is coming down hard on certain of their rituals:

Buffalo hide adorns the altar. Sage is burned to help cleanse the heart, soul and mind. Ojibwe and Lakota languages are used in many of the prayers and songs. Traditional Indian elements like these have been part of the worship service for decades at the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis, the only Twin Cities Catholic parish with a predominantly Indian congregation.

Founded in 1975, Gichitwaa Kateri has added Indian elements to the Catholic ceremony for nearly two decades. A lodge made of willow, structured like a dome-shaped Ojibwe wigwam, contains a bundle that holds sacred things, including the Eucharist. Traditional Ojibwe medicines such as tobacco, cedar, sage and sweet grass are used as regular parts of the Sunday Eucharist. Drums and prayers and songs in Ojibwe and Lakota are also prominent.

The future use of Indian practices, however, is being questioned by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which temporarily suspended mass at the church last month after conflict arose over the use of specialized wine.

The congregation had been using mustum, a grape juice with minimal fermentation, as part of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Not only does mustum have linkages to native American culture, it also is safe for the numerous recovering alcoholics within the congregation.  Not good enough, says the archdiocese, and mass has been suspended at the congregation.

Maureen Headbird, 54, a church trustee, said the nearly 100 members of the tight-knit parish would be greatly saddened and disappointed if their church lost its distinctive elements, because they are an important part of their Indian heritage.

“We want to make sure our community stays the way it is,” said Headbird, who is Indian and was raised Catholic. “When you come to our parish, you really have to have an open mind to see what we do. Sometimes that doesn’t work out for everybody.”