The triumvirate of hatred; There are bishops who still need to be convinced; I’ve got nothin’; Top down doesn’t work

The Triumvirate of hatred

If there is one thing my Mom passed on to me, it was her passion for justice for those at the margins.  My chosen name sake, Rose was scrappy and often described herself as “small but mighty”.  She was short, barely reaching 4’11”, but you didn’t want to mess with her. In our small town, she served as the human resource person in the business that she and my Dad helped build.  Most everyone in town was employed there.

And it was my mom, not the local priest, who people wanted to talk to when they were struggling.

In an age where LGBT people were quickly labelled as perverse, those who still lived in town and secretly identified as LGBT told me that she was the one person in town with whom they could share their fears and suffering.  They loved her.

Mom died in 1994, and as I look back, I realize that for many, she was the face of Christ for the marginalized in our small world.  And she embodied what has been repeated over and over again here at the synod – the need for a “preferential option for the youth.”

As I read the story of a former colleague of mine, I wondered “What would Rose do?”.  Aaron Bianco, a Catholic employee in the diocese of San Diego has been under attack.  Over the past year, he has been harassed and threatened.  His “crime”?  He is gay, happily married, and serving as an employee of the diocese under Bishop Robert McElroy (a Francis bishop who has supported him 100%).

And while the harassment was painful and frightening, it rose to new heights with the release of the Pennsylvania clergy sex abuse report, a expose of sins and crimes that extremists have been exploiting in order to ramp up their anti-gay rhetoric and super charge their intimidation campaign.  All in the name of their god, of course.

This week, someone broke into the church where Aaron works and painted “No fags” on an interior wall.  Beyond, the break in, which is being investigated by the FBI as a hate crime, three fundamentalist websites, Lepanto Institute, Lifesite news, and Church Militant, have been publishing unChristian and vile descriptions of Aaron.  And clearly crossing an ethical line, they also published his personal information, family photos, including one with his deceased mother, and his home address.

In fear for the safety of his family, he resigned.

I wept.  And so did others when they heard of the hatred and threats raining down on him and his family.

Because these groups spew hatred, and because they have crossed an important line by publishing Aaron’s address and personal photos, James Martin, S.J., who has also been a victim, urges Catholics to write their bishops.  In his facebook post he writes

More  [referring to the National Catholic Rep9orter article] on the terrible story of the hatred, harassment, homophobia, targeting and physical violence directed against Aaron Bianco, a pastoral associate who is a gay man. Catholic leaders, bishops and the USCCB must stand against this kind of homophobia.

Martin also suggests other actions.

What can be done about groups like Church Militant, LifeSite News, the Lepanto Institute and Tradition, Family and Property, who traffic in the personal vilification that led to the kind of violence that plagued Aaron Bianco and caused him to fear for his own and his family’s safety? Report them to Twitter and Facebook when you see evidence of hatred, homophobia, and targeting. Then write to your bishop and to the USCCB.

So, as I report from the Synod in Rome, here are my questions.

  1. Thank God for James Martin and Bishop McElroy.  But why have they been the only ones to speak out?I am thinking of powerful words by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who said, “Always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
  2. Why do so many bishops continue to succumb to an underdeveloped theology of the body that simply can no longer be defended?While bishops in greater and greater numbers state that everyone should be welcomed into the church, they undermine those words at every turn because they still do not have the courage to seriously review teachings that have long been rejected by a majority of Catholics — teachings that ultimately scapegoat and call into question that which God Herself created – a holy, beloved, and beautiful people in all their human and Catholic dimensions and expressions of love.
  3. Why are there no openly self-identified LGBT people here at the synod sitting and talking with the bishops and cardinals and helping them  to listen and to understand the beauty of their lives as well as the pain and sorrow of a Church leadership that still crushes their Holy Spirit?
  4. Given the ethical codes media organizations agree to follow in the Vatican Press room, why is an organization like LifeSite not held accountable by Prefect Paolo Ruffini when they willfully cross ethical lines, moving beyond what is acceptable (passionate disagreement with other Catholics) to willfully engaging in intimidation tactics that set the stage for violent acts against innocent people?  Do the ethical standards apply only when writing about those in the hierarchy, or do they apply for all the People of God?
  5. Where are the voices of other respected media outlets at the synod who do live by the ethical code? At what point do they band together to ensure that ethical norms and standards are honored at the synod while calling out any group that resorts to tactics that put people, like Aaron Bianco and his family, directly at risk?

October 19 briefing

Ms. Yadira Vieyra, an auditor from the Chicago diocese, Superior general Fr Valdir Joe De Castro of the Society of St. Paul,  Archbishop Emmanuel Kofi Fianu of Ghana, and Archbishop Joseph Naffah of the Marionite Church of Lebanon sat on the panel to brief us about the events of the synod on Friday, October 19th.

There are bishops who still need to be convinced

Often, the state of clericalism in our Church is reflected in the speaking order of the panelists. Cardinals are often given the highest deference.  But today, I was pleasantly surprised when Yadira Vieyra, an auditor from the Chicago diocese spoke first.

Yadira helps refugees deal with the trauma that occurs as they flee war, violence and oppression in their countries and come to a country that does not welcome them.

She said that one of the main reasons she wanted to come to the synod was to help church leaders to take seriously the mental health of those fleeing and the suffering of families and youth who are in detention centers.

“Some children are reaching milestones in detention centers and it is inhumane,” Yadira explained.

When asked about why the church speaks more about “welcoming the stranger” than “protecting our borders”, Yadira was strong.

I think it is important to address what is going on in the countries these families are fleeing and how the Church can advocate on their behalf and speak to the leaders of those countries.

Yes, it is important to have a secure border but that doesn’t mean that suddenly violence or terrorism in other countries is going to stop.  

Yadira stressed the importance of church leaders speaking to the leaders of other countries, both secular and religious, addressing the war, violence, terrorism, and poverty — those inhumane conditions that cause people to flee.

We need to invest in people who are fleeing poverty, but also [address] the role of women.  

Many women from Mexico are fleeing because of violence.  

These families are not coming to the United States because they want to go on vacation.  They are risking their lives.  A lot of them only have the clothes they have on their back.  

And then to receive the treatment they receive in the United States is very inhumane.  We forget that these families are valuable. They are risking everything, even taking their own young children knowing that crossing the border is a massive risk and a lot of people die trying to cross the border.

Besides her important advocacy for refugees, Yadira has also been advocating for youth to take up more leadership in the Church.

She said that youth are involved in social activism and should be recognized in the Church.  This is especially true of those who may no longer be connected to parishes, but who are working for social justice.

Yadira wants church leaders to recognize that youth are protagonists in the story of salvation, not just a group of people to be ministered to.

While stating that she has had a positive experience at the synod with many bishops who seem to genuinely listen, she also said there are bishops “who still need to be convinced that our youth matter.”

I had the opportunity to ask Yadira if she felt the topics of women’s roles in the church, gender and sexuality, and LGBT inclusion were be addressed properly at the synod.

I asked, “In an interview with Luke Hansen, SJ that was published in America Magazine, you said that ‘the role of women is sometimes overlooked, and that is discouraging.’  You also said, ‘the issues of gender and sexuality were being discussed extensively, and that the discussions were controversial and heated.’  And finally, you said you were very passionate about what has been going on with our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Can you say more about those conversations in the synod?”

In relation to the role of women, it is unfortunate that our religious sisters are not able to vote.  

Tuesday night I was able to read part of a report (English smalll group B first week report) with Bishop Edwards, and to me that was a big step in terms of giving women a voice within the synod.  

They [the sisters] can provide interventions, but it is important to consider seriously giving them the opportunity to vote as they also invest in the spiritual development and formation of church members.

 It very important to give them credit for the amazing work they do with the poor and vulnerable.  

So for me that was a big moment and just looking at the bishops, it was a wonderful view, especially as I was able to make eye contact with several of them while sharing the report. I thought to myself, ‘I wish more women had the opportunity to have the view I have right now, and feel so close to the Pope in sharing such an important report on what the youth need in the church, how ministry could be improved.  

Just the opportunity to stand before [the assembly] and have that voice was a big deal for me and for the church.

In terms of the LGBT community, we have been talking about how to better minister to this group of people who feel attacked, that feel displaced, and that the church doesn’t want them.  It’s not true.  Any Catholic knows it is not true.  Our doctrine isn’t going to change, but we need to find a way to make them feel that Jesus loves them.  We hold them to the same standard that we hold any heterosexual person who is having extra marital relations.  It is important that we communicate that.  The church is here for them.  But’s tricky ministering to a group that already feels attacked.

Digitizing love

There was quite a long discussion by some of the ordained members of the panel about the place of digital communications in the Catholic Church and finding ways to expand the capacity of the Church to educate and build strong relationships among Catholics.  One archbishop suggested that they could incorporate other organizational websites that produce Catholic content.

Of course, the topic of who would get the nihil obstat for their web content surfaced.  Sigh…

The Church should develop criteria, of course.  But, it is also true that the impulse to put a doctrinal stranglehold on every fresh idea  is part of the problem.

Most understand that the role social media/digital content can play in the development of authentic relationships is quite limited.  But sometimes as a prelate waxes poetic about the possibilities, I wonder if it isn’t cover for what is lacking.  Seinfeld’s George Constanza pops into mind as he declares to Jerry. “I’ve got nothin’.”

People like Brother Alois and Sr. Norma Pimentel offer the medicine for what ails us and what all Catholics, including our youth hunger for.  They show us how risk love with its joy, but also its inevitable pain, vulnerability, sacrifice, and rejection.  The church won’t be enlivened by writing code.  Brother Alois said it best this week.  It is only when we walk humbly with each other — recognizing and seeking the Spirit of God that is already present and alive within each other — that we learn how to love.

Top down mentality undercuts accompaniment

Australian Sebastian Duhau, an auditor and youth minister for the Brothers of the Christians Schools in Australia wants to reach young people who are disconnected from the Church which he attributes to a church that, “talks at young people”, and “teaches about the Church”, rather than “introducing them to the person of Jesus Christ”.

He is among the young auditors at the Synod who recognize that there has been a kind of rigidity and top down mentality in some bishops that undercuts the meaning of accompaniment.

“From the birth of the Church, when Jesus was walking the earth, the Church has always been about accompaniment, and actually walking with people, building relationships with people, having conversations and loving each other.”

And he believes that in order to attract youth, we need a Church that is, “authentic, transparent, relational, loving, communal Church for all people.”

In his intervention, he spoke about the need to church create spaces, “where young people can voice their opinions, their hopes, their needs and their struggles, without being judged. The Church, like I had to, must learn to use its ears, to listen to the world around it, to listen to what is required of it, and most importantly, to listen to the voices of young people, because we have something offer.”

As an aside, Duhau’s bishop is the widely respected Vincent Long, O.F.M.  Long posted a very funny article about his discoveries of the “secrets” of the Swiss Guards while in Rome.  They have their own cookbook!

Do whatever it takes to move the Council forward

This week, La Civilta Cattolica published a dialogue Pope Francis had with Jesuits in the Baltic region.  What is important about this interview is the fact that Pope Francis was so explicit and passionate about his desire to advance Vatican II.

In the Q & A, the Pope made his desire for a Vatican II church  explicit saying he wants the Jesuits “to do whatever it takes to move the Council forward.”

I believe the Lord wants a change in the Church. I have said many times that a perversion of the Church today is clericalism. But 50 years ago the Second Vatican Council said this clearly: the Church is the People of God.  Read number 12 of Lumen Gentium.

I know that the Lord wants the Council to make headway in the Church. Historians tell us that it takes 100 years for a Council to be applied. We are halfway there. So, if you want to help me, do whatever it takes to move the Council forward in the Church. And help me with your prayer. I need so many prayers.

Please support this work in whatever way you can

Today, I feel especially grateful  for the chance to work alongside so many talented and dedicated people.  Associate director Russ Petrus and office manager Craig Hoffman, along with our creative consultant Ann Marie Nocella have helped us take our programming and offerings to new heights.  Our courageous co-founder Chris Schenk continues to support our Save Our Parish Community work and leads pilgrimages and book studies.  And the FutureChurch board is absolutely the finest board I have ever worked with.   Led by Jocelyn Collen, Todd Ray, Barbara Guerin and Mary Lou Hartman, the board takes an active part in steering the organization in its mission.  Along with so many other fine members, we have welcomed Bishop Thomas Gumbleton to our board.  What a blessing!

I believe that what was started 28 years ago by the handful of visionary Catholics continues to make a real difference in the life of the Church today.  In order to ensure truly innovative initiatives such as Catholic Women Preach, Emerging Models of Parish and Community Life, the Future of Priestly Ministry, Women and the Word, Catholic Women Deacons, Listening to Women, Catholic Too, etc. continue and expand, we need your help.  We have a $12,000 matching grant during the Synod.  Please help us reach our goal by donating today.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome