Letter to the Editor: Crux, May 17 2016

Consider writing your own letter to the editor of Crux about their failure to respect transgender people and fairly cover issues about gender identity. You can access their contact form: http://www.cruxnow.com/contact/ or tweet @CruxNow

Dear Editor:

I write regarding Crux’s publication of a column by Pia de Solenni titled “Beware of ‘trans movement’ as patriarchy in disguise” (May 16 2016).

I greatly appreciated Crux’s coverage a few months back of two transgender Catholics sharing their stories at LA Congress , and the general balanced coverage of LGBT Catholic issues you have offered. Sadly, today’s piece differs from those previously high standards. I disagree with the column’s content, but that is not why I write. A diversity of viewpoints should certainly be welcomed in the church and in civil society.

What I take issue with is the column’s repeated misgendering of Caitlyn Jenner, an ad hominem attack that should have never been published. It was not only the author’s misgendering either, but in the accompanying caption which I assume was composed by a Crux staffer. I am unclear why style guide Crux employs, but both AP and The New York Times suggest transgender persons be referred to by their self-identified name and pronouns. As Catholics, referring to someone by their chosen name seems to be the respectful course even if differences exist about gender and sex.

Moving forward, I would ask Crux to counterbalance this column with a column from a Catholic who supports transgender non-discrimination protections. If you would like, I’d be happy to suggest trans Catholics and allies who could furnish such a column.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this message.

Bob Shine
Coordinator, Social Media and Young Adult Outreach
New Ways Ministry

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In Evaluating Justice Scalia, Where is an Option for the Poor?

Scalia talks with Archbishop of Washington Wuerl at conclusion of annual Red Mass held at Cathedral of St. Matthew Apostle in Washington

Justice Scalia with Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl

There are, already, too many Catholics eulogizing Justice Antonin Scalia and analyzing the impact his absence on the U.S. Supreme Court may have. But I am compelled to write one more because even with post after post being published since Saturday evening, something in these evaluations is missing: an option for the poor.

Let me pause to state first that, in what follows, I am not evaluating Justice Scalia’s moral character nor speculating about where he is now (though, as someone enamored by universal salvation, I prefer to think he resides in God’s loving embrace). What I am evaluating is how we evaluate, as the faithful, Catholics in public life who hold power and influence.

I have read a dozen or more commentaries on Justice Scalia, ranging ideological, political, and ecclesiastical spectra. I know more sit untouched (if someone has brought up similar points to mine, please add links in the comments below). Having attended a conservative Catholic college, the praise being heaped upon Scalia from my friends on Facebook was expected. What prompted me to write this post was a piece in Crux from Christopher Hale, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which is a moderately liberal Catholic advocacy group.

Hale compares Scalia to Pope Francis and, despite political differences Hale hastily excuses, claims there is much common ground. They are Jesuit educated. They believe in the Devil. They are born to Italian immigrants. They care for the sick (if you believe the Acton Institute anecdote about Scalia provided by Hale). If faith is proved by “their deeds rather [sic] their words,” Hale concludes, than both Justice Scalia and Pope Francis “pass with flying colors.” Having evaluated the former justice in this way, Hale concludes that Scalia died “a loyal patriot, a devout Catholic, and a good man.”

This is why a preferential option for the poor is so crucial. And why our church in the U.S., despite Pope Francis’ deepest yearnings for us, is not yet a “poor church for the poor.” If even liberal Catholic voices are extolling Justice Scalia then our hermeneutic is not about what this Catholic in public life has done for those God loves most. It is about something else entirely.

Justice Scalia may have been a good man. By all accounts, he practiced his Catholic faith devoutly, seeking out Mass in the Extraordinary Form and being personally charitable (though he did skip Pope Francis’ address to Congress last fall). He seemed personally kind and even enjoyable company as evidenced by his close friendship with liberal colleague, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. But Vatican II (which the former justice admittedly disliked) zealously reoriented the Catholic Church to being a faith that does justice. We know in a new way the Gospel’s old truth that keeping the laws and being charitable are not enough. And on promoting the common good, Justice Scalia’s record is deeply problematic. Let me highlight a few items.

Justice Scalia was an unapologetic advocate for the death penalty, even as the last three popes have essentially shifted Catholic teaching to bar it in the modern world and evidence mounts that its application punishes people of color and/or less economic means at highly disproportionate rates. He wrote in a majority opinion for Herrera v. Collins that, “Mere factual innocence is no reason to carry out a death sentence properly reached.” Context dulls that comment’s barb slightly, but the Catholic justice basically remained unconcerned with the more than likely reality that we execute innocent people in the U.S. His vote could have saved lives.

Racism is an intrinsic evil in Catholic teaching, but that did not stop Justice Scalia from protecting white supremacy while on the Court. During oral arguments last December in Fisher v. University of Texas, Scalia suggested that black students should attend a “less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well” and that maybe the University of Texas “ought to have fewer” students of color. He called the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement” kept in place because “normal political processes” (i.e., the U.S. Congress which kept renewing the Act’s provisions) did not work and thus a court needed to strike it down as unconstitutional to end it. His votes certainly did not advance racial justice.

On homosexuality, Justice Scalia’s record is acerbic. He defended criminalizing non-heterosexual sexual identities, as with Lawrence v. Texas where he wrote a dissenting opinion that claimed U.S. residents understand such laws as protective of them and their families “from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.” Scalia approved, too, of discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. In a dissenting opinion for Romer v. Evans, he compared same-gender relationships to murder. And Scalia’s views did not shift since the mid-1990s, unlike many other people. Last November while speaking at Georgetown University, he said pederasts and child abusers could be considered “deserving minorities” as well if lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer people could be so considered for the purpose of discrimination protections.

Then there are Scalia’s votes in Citizens United, in Bush v. Gore, and in Wal-Mart v. Dukes to name a few. I could continue illuminating the manifold and pervasive ways in which Justice Scalia’s position on the U.S. Supreme Court hurt marginalized persons and diminished social justice for three decades. Where has this record  and an option for the poor played into the countless evaluations by Catholics, include those from more liberal voices like Hale’s?

The short answer is: it has not. I will leave the “why” of this to readers’ speculation. But even as we pray that Justice Scalia now resides in God’s embrace, an honest evaluation finds him woefully deficient as a model for Catholics in public life. Given so many Catholic evaluations missed the mark, we, as the faithful, must question this Lent if we are really seeing with God’s eyes.


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Enough Prayers.

A small reflection after the 355th mass shooting of 2015 in the U.S….

God hears the cry of the poor. God does not hear the prayers of those endorsing gun rights. Prayers for victims of gun violence are meaningless if they’re not backed by a firm commitment to end these most preventable gun deaths.

Your thoughts and prayers are empty if you don’t call your political representatives tomorrow demanding common sense (yes, restrictive) gun laws.

Your thoughts and prayers are cheap unless you commit to meaningfully contribute in some way to the pro-life movement to end these mass shootings (cash to sustain amazing organizers like Kara​ will suffice).

Your thoughts and prayers are blasphemous if you think the right to gun ownership trumps the right to life. You worship not the God of All but the false idol of Death.

As an African proverb says, “When you pray, move your foot.” 352 mass shootings in 336 days means the time for ‘thoughts and prayers’ ended long ago. Either stop praying or act up.

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 9.01.40 PM.png

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Looking Away: Morning Prayer through Some Photos

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

-William Wilberforce

This photo shows a Syrian mother trying to hold her baby above the water, after the boat they were on sank in the Mediterranean. (via Steve McCallum)

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Letter to the Editor: June 12, 2015

Fr. Matthew — Thank you for a more reasoned response to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and the current conversation around trans* identities than I have seen on many Catholic sites. Your insight that there may be trans* people in our faith communities where we minister, especially youth who are more vulnerable, is nearly absent from non-progressive Catholic spaces.

That said, I have to contest your proposition that gender transitions come from psychological hurt. I work closely with the LGBT Catholic community and have come to understand that these transitions, or simply presenting as one’s authentic gender identity, are holy paths and part of trans* folks road to saintliness. It is one of the processes by which they become their truest self, the person to which God is calling them to become. I recently wrote about this in a blog post and would add my invitation in the post to you if you’d like to learn more about gender identity: https://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/caitlyn-jenner-the-archbishop-fr-barron-and-me/

Caitlyn Jenner and other trans* people have prompted a graced moment for all of us to learn more about gender identity and, for ministers, the particular pastoral care implications that trans* folks provide — and the gifts they offer our faith communities! Let us all pray we may grow in love as we seek greater understanding.


Original Post: http://www.projectym.com/should-we-catholics-call-him-caitlyn/

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Letter to the Editor: June 2, 2015

Dear Lisa,

Thank you for landing on love’s side in your June 2, 2015 response (“I’ve been invited to attend a gay wedding. Should I go?“) to a question about attending same-sex marriages. Your nuanced evaluation of the situation, ending in a conscience decision, is greatly appreciated.

One question is whether it is fair to characterize a vowed religious’ participation, even leadership, in such a ceremony as “defiance of Rome” and as “open rebellion”?

Such religious – sisters and priests – would understand that the hierarchy of truths mean certain teachings trump others and, if they performed such a ceremony, it would likely be because they appeal to a higher doctrine superseding the lower level teaching on what constitutes marriage (which is a not irreformable teaching of the church). These could be the higher teachings about the nature of the sacraments or social justice, as only two examples.

Doctrine and love cannot be pitted against each other and choosing between them is a false choice. In essence, they would be acting in fidelity to the Church’s traditions and to their vows to care for the People of God.

Should not their conscience rights have a place in the example you have proposed?

Should not these religious be free to choose in Christ and through fidelity to the church the path of equality for all people?

Perhaps a clarification added to the post would be helpful. Thank you for your time.



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Morning Prayer: January 15, 2015

I don’t have much time to blog here, as I’m writing regularly on Catholic LGBT issues at Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry. However, I’m starting a ‘Morning Prayer’ series of excerpts, articles, stories, images, etc. which inspire prayer through my engagement with them. These will be the moments where I’m praying with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other as Karl Barth is rumored to have said. As these are spontaneous, the series will be occasional and act primarily as an archive. I may not comment at all, but where I do it will be limited. I share with the hope others may pray through these items with me and our world.

From The Guardian’s series of pieces on the Guantánamo Diary…may God have mercy on these victims of US torture and abuse, on those who tortured who are themselves victims of US militarism, and on our nation for all this to happen and continue.

Guantánamo Diary: ‘The torture squad was so well trained that they were performing almost perfect crimes’

I started to recite the Koran quietly, for prayer was forbidden. Once ________ said, “Why don’t you pray? Go ahead and pray!” I was like, How friendly! But as soon as I started to pray, ____ started to make fun of my religion, and so I settled for praying in my heart so I didn’t give ____ the opportunity to commit blasphemy. Making fun of somebody else’s religion is one of the most barbaric acts. President Bush described his holy war against the so-called terrorism as a war between the civilized and barbaric world. But his government committed more barbaric acts than the terrorists themselves. I can name tons of war crimes that Bush’s government is involved in.

This particular day was one of the roughest days in my inter- rogation before the day around the end of August that was my “Birthday Party” as _______ called it. _______ brought someone who was apparently a Marine; he wore a ________.

_______ offered me a metal chair. “I told you, I’m gonna bring some people to help me interrogate you,” _______ said, sitting inches away in front of me. The guest sat almost sticking on my knee. _______ started to ask me some questions I don’t remember.

“Yes or no?” the guest shouted, loud beyond belief, in a show to scare me, and maybe to impress _______, who knows? I found his method very childish and silly.

I looked at him, smiled, and said, “Neither!” The guest threw the chair from beneath me violently. I fell on the chains. Oh, it hurt.

“Stand up, motherfucker,” they both shouted, almost synchronous. Then a session of torture and humiliation started. They started to ask me the questions again after they made me stand up, but it was too late, because I told them a million times, “Whenever you start to torture me, I’m not gonna say a single word.” And that was always accurate; for the rest of the day, they exclusively talked.

_______ turned the air conditioner all the way down to bring me to freezing. This method had been practiced in the camp at least since August 2002. I had seen people who were exposed to the frozen room day after day; by then, the list was long. The consequences of the cold room are devastating, such as ______tism, but they show up only at a later age because it takes time until they work their way through the bones. The torture squad was so well trained that they were performing almost perfect crimes, avoiding leaving any obvious evidence. Nothing was left to chance. They hit in predefined places. They practiced horrible methods, the aftermath of which would only manifest later. The interrogators turned the A/C all the way down trying to reach 0°, but obviously air conditioners are not designed to kill, so in the well insulated room the A/C fought its way to 49°F, which, if you are interested in math like me, is 9.4°C—in other words, very, very cold, especially for some- body who had to stay in it more than twelve hours, had no underwear and just a very thin uniform, and who comes from a hot country. Somebody from Saudi Arabia cannot take as much cold as somebody from Sweden; and vice versa, when it comes to hot weather. Interrogators took these factors in con- sideration and used them effectively.

You may ask, Where were the interrogators after installing the detainee in the frozen room? Actually, it’s a good question. First, the interrogators didn’t stay in the room; they would just come for the humiliation, degradation, discouragement, or other factor of torture, and after that they left the room and went to the monitoring room next door. Second, interrogators were adequately dressed; for instance ______ was dressed like somebody entering a meat locker. In spite of that, they didn’t stay long with the detainee. Third, there’s a big psychological difference when you are exposed to a cold place for purpose of torture, and when you just go there for fun and a challenge. And lastly, the interrogators kept moving in the room, which meant blood circulation, which meant keeping themselves warm while the detainee was _________ the whole time to the floor, standing for the most part. All I could do was move my feet and rub my hands. But the Marine guy stopped me from rubbing my hands by ordering a special chain that shackled my hands on my opposite hips. When I get nervous I always start to rub my hands together and write on my body, and that drove my interrogators crazy.

“What are you writing?” ___________ shouted. “Either you tell me or you stop the fuck doing that.” But I couldn’t stop; it was unintentional. The Marine guy started to throw chairs around, hit me with his forehead, and describe me with all kinds of adjectives I didn’t deserve, for no reason.

“You joined the wrong team, boy. You fought for a lost cause,” he said, alongside a bunch of trash talk degrading my family, my religion, and myself, not to mention all kinds of threats against my family to pay for “my crimes,” which goes against any common sense.

I knew that he had no power, butI knew that he was speaking on behalf of the most powerful country in the world, and obviously enjoyed the full support of his government. However, I would rather save you, Dear Reader, from quoting his garbage. The guy was nuts. He asked me about things I have no clue about, and names I never heard.

“I have been in __________,” he said, “and do you know who was our host? The President! We had a good time in the palace.” The Marine guy asked questions and answered them himself.*Larry Siems: how the manuscript became a book

When the man failed to impress me with all the talk and humiliation, and with the threat to arrest my family since the ______________ was an obedient servant of the U.S., he started to hurt me more. He brought ice-cold water and soaked me all over my body, with my clothes still on me. It was so awful; I kept shaking like a Parkinson’s patient. Technically I wasn’t able to talk anymore. The guy was stupid: he was literally executing me but in a slow way. _______ gestured to him to stop pouring water on me. Another detainee had told me a “good” interrogator suggested he eat in order to reduce the pain, but I refused to eat anything; I couldn’t open my mouth anyway.

The guy was very hot when _______ stopped him because ____ was afraid of the paperwork that would result in case of my death. So he found another technique, namely he brought a CD player with a booster and started to play some rap music. I didn’t really mind the music because it made me forget my pain. Actually, the music was a blessing in disguise; I was trying to make sense of the words. All I understood was that the music was about love. Can you believe it? Love! All I had experienced lately was hatred, or the consequences thereof.

“Listen to that, Motherfucker!” said the guest, while closing the door violently behind him. “You’re gonna get the same shit day after day, and guess what? It’s getting worse. What you’re seeing is only the beginning,” said _______. I kept praying and ignoring what they were doing.

“Oh, ALLAH help me…..Oh Allah have mercy on me” ____ kept mimicking my prayers, “ALLAH, ALLAH…. There is no Allah. He let you down!” I smiled at how ignorant ____ was, talking about the Lord like that. But the Lord is very patient, and doesn’t need to rush to punishment, because there is no escaping him.

Redactions marked in the text were made by the US government when Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary was cleared for public release

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Punishing Women or Planting Seeds? A Defense of Cardinal O’Malley

Cardinal Sean O’Malley with Norah O’Donnell

UPDATE (11/30/14): O’Malley writes in The Pilot about his interview. His comment, in full:

“A topic also of significant concern in the Church that was addressed during the interview is the discussion concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood. This is particularly painful to many Catholic women who feel that the teaching on women’s ordination is a rejection and unfair.

“Throughout history, many wonderful Catholic women have wished to be priests, among them St. Therese, the Little Flower. In my comments I was trying to communicate that women are often holier, smarter and more hard-working than men, and that the most important member of the Church is a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church is called to be faithful to Christ’s will, and that is not always easy or popular. Understanding the Church’s teaching is always a process that begins with faith.”

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley spoke with 60 Minutes over the weekend, making headlines for several remarks. Many applauded his criticism of convicted felon and bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Robert Finn, while O’Malley’s comments on women’s ordination received harsh criticism. He told Norah O’Donnell:

“If I were founding a church, you know, I’d love to have women priests. But Christ founded it and it — what he has given us is — is something different.”

I don’t have the time to adequately explore his comments, but I want to offer two initial thoughts for why the cardinal’s remarks might not be as negative as it has been portrayed.

First, for a cardinal to say he would “love to have women priests” on this most controversial and closed of issues is noteworthy. Where else in recent years has a member of the hierarchy (and close papal confidant) spoken so positively about the concept of ordained women? What about women’s place in ecclesiastical structures at all? O’Malley readily affirmed in the interview that it is women who are, indeed, leading the church’s efforts in education, pastoral, and social justice.

I’m not the first to point out that even Pope Francis who is doing good work in reforming the church elsewhere has a most notable blind spot when it comes to gender justice — and he is hardly alone. Under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, advocating for women’s equality was among the worst crimes (quite literally in canon law when ordination was compared to the abuse of a child). Every time a woman is ordained, she is excommunicated we’re told and many in the church have suffered, like Roy Bourgeois, for speaking truth to power on this specific issue.

In that context, is it not actually quite radical for one of the most powerful Catholic leaders in the world to say he would “love women priests,” even if it is not possible?

Second, O’Malley needs to revisit his church history. Any claims that Jesus instituted the church or gave the community specific structure are quite problematic. Jesus did not ordain women because he did not ordain anyone. Ordination and the hierarchical structuring of ministry we know today (never mind that ontological change bit, which is another post…essay…book) only developed in the third and fourth centuries. To suggest Jesus gave the church anything institutional without conceding the cultural-social-political realities which formed Christian ministry is not quite honest, as powerful as the narrative may be.

O’Malley is an intelligent and educated prelate. Is his own blind spot church history? Or is he intending something else with what is, in my reading, a fairly weak and understated defense of the hierarchy’s exclusion of women from their rightful place at the altar?

Because what Jesus did give us is the Gospel message, and in this message is all we need to know about women’s place in the church: that women repeatedly understand the Reign of God far better than the men, that a Samaritan woman is the proto-disciple and first witness to Jesus as the Christ, that Jesus’ prohibition of divorce was a critique of patriarchy, that Mary Magdalene first announces the Resurrection, that justice and equality for all is a mandate for our world, and that in Christ gender is irrelevant for all are one.

O’Malley, like most in the church’s hierarchy, is constrained by institutional strictures that curtail (and really, silence) prophecy. I’m not defending what is, in many ways, a lack of courage to preach the Gospel in its fullness. But O’Malley is doing more good than most bishops. He has rehabilitated the Catholic Church in Massachusetts amid the sexual abuse crisis, adding his voice to statewide efforts raising the minimum wage and opposing casino expansions recently. Nationally, he successfully calls attention to the immigration crisis in the US and told me in a conversation the firing of LGBT church workers “needs to be rectified.” Repeatedly at the USCCB, he has championed a more expansive view for anti-abortion advocacy and now appears to be unafraid to call out a fellow bishop who deeply failed the people of Kansas City. Perhaps most importantly, he is the American voice that Pope Francis apparently hears most.

None of this justifies the exclusion of women from all the church’s ministries, as his comments suggest at first glance. But what if O’Malley is playing a longer game? What if he is beginning to plant seeds for us to cultivate and nurture that will eventually lead to women’s ordination?

For better or worse, development in the church is a slow process — and I think advocates for women’s equality have at least a non-enemy, if not an ally in Sean O’Malley.

For a report on the interview, check out Joshua McElwee’s piece at NCR.

-Bob Shine

UPDATE: Other commentaries on O’Malley’s remarks….

Ken Briggs at NCR: O’Malley and Muzzled Candor

Thomas Fox at NCR: “The Good Cardinal’s Revealing Interview

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Pope Francis: End Sexism in the Church & Ordain Women

To mark the World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination today, I’ve posted this letter to Pope Francis. I’ve written it over the last few weeks to submit as part of the May 22 actions on the twentieth anniversary of Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter denying women equality in the Church. I encourage all to submit their own letters of support using the information provided by Women’s Ordination Worldwide

Dear Pope Francis,

From an early age, I’ve known of my call. My parents tell me that attending Mass calmed me as a young child, when I wasn’t running to the altar to participate that is. I became an altar server at 10 and served through my college years as frequently as possible. By high school I was coordinating liturgies, large and small, at my local parish and engaged in several other ministries, sometimes as the youngest person by decades. The church was a second home and a safe space, able to calm me through my hardest moments of adolescence. In a word, being around the parish and being among the people was ‘natural.’

At 13, a priest asked me if priesthood was a life that might interest me given my involvement in the life of our parish, and the life of the People of God. I’ve seriously discerned this question, is God calling me to ordination, for more than a decade. Over time, my yearning to lead people in our liturgies or be present to them in life’s most profound, daily moments of suffering and celebration grew. Throughout college, each moment of reflection, each liturgy, each protest for justice, and each tender encounter with another person was a coal added to this fire burning within me. I received a degree with honors in theology from The Catholic University of America as a first step to making my desire to minister a reality.

I wanted to answer God’s call. I wanted to say ‘yes’ to being a priest. I wanted, more than anything, to try and explain to those on the margins the immense love of God that I have long known. I wanted to do all this as a priest.

And yet, I could never say ‘yes.’ The more secure this call became, the more I sensed I could never answer it. It is the most painful struggle I’ve known, for while being in ministerial leadership is natural to me and noted by many, I cannot enter the priesthood. I could not discover the obstacle to my entering seminary at first, for I had both the right equipment and was attracted to the right gender according to institutional guidelines.

Now, the obstacle is clear: the Catholic Church institutionally refuses to recognize in full the dignity of every person, especially women.

For the last few years, I have ministered on the Church’s margins among the gay and transgender community and spent many hours speaking with people about the necessary renewal our Church needs. At one such conference, I found myself at a table with seven women discussing how the Church can uproot the current power dynamics structured against women. Three of the seven shared their experiences of feeling called to ordained ministry and priesthood. In their stories, I saw my own journey of discernment and it became clear that I could not, in good conscience, become ordained while so many were denied access to serve in ministry due to their gender or sexual orientation.

As it was well known I was considering priesthood, I’ve spent a good deal of time at vocation events and speaking with vocation directors. The key point always stressed was the increasing shortage of priests our Church is facing. Relatedly, a wise friend of mine, an older woman as so many of my mentors and spiritual companions have been, once told me that the Church must die before it can rise to new life. Pope Francis, I believe the Church’s current priesthood is dying by the persistent failure of our leaders to welcome more fully all those God is calling to ordained ministry and spiritual leadership. Help raise it into new, renewed life and open up priestly ministry to all God’s people!

Yet, the priest shortage is not the main reason to ordain women. As the Body of Christ, we need each person’s contributions to most fully incarnate God’s kingdom. Denying women their divinely ordained place in our churches harms the Church’s much needed voice against the many injustices which disproportionately harm women, and to which women are often the most capable agents for social change. There are so many people who know they are called by God to lead our Church in renewal and into its finest age as a mediator of God’s love and grace for all.  Without all and by denying some, we as the Church, in so many ways, severely wounded in our consistent defense of life and dignity.

Lastly, in perpetuating an exclusionary vision of ministry, the Church commits a sin of its own making by denying women their full dignity. The Church perpetuates the sin of sexism that it has condemned in many other contexts. This sin’s structural occupation of our community causes the personal corruption of too many Catholics’ understandings about God, Christian anthropology, ecclesiology, etc. Ordaining women and restoring them to rightful positions of leadership, for they were the ones who remained at the Cross while Jesus lay dying and the men fled, is a necessary action by which the Church can begin to truly undermine sexism in our religious community and in our world.

Pope Francis: I implore you to end the prohibitions against women’s ministry, ordained and otherwise, in our Church. Until that moment when all are welcomed to the Church as the person God created them to be and able to minister in the manner in which God calls them, I refuse to leave the Church’s margins for ordination.

In Christ’s peace,

Bob Shine

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Jesus Wanders Wall Street

DSC_0191I’ve recently begun the book Jesus: A Historical Approximation by Spanish priest Jose Pagola. In it, Pagola examines Jesus’ life through different lenses, starting with “A Galilean Jew.” This first chapter lays out the Galilean context in which Jesus grew up and ministered. When read in light of my contemporary world, there are striking comparisons to be drawn between 1st century Galilee and 21st century America.

In 1st century Galilee, nearly 90% of people were peasants farming the incredibly fertile lands or fishing in the Sea nearby. Land ownership in such an agrarian society is the central question, and in Galilee most belonged to wealthy landowners. Pagola describes further:

“These large landerowners usually lived in the cities, rented out their lands to peasants in the area, and supervised them through administrators acting in their name. The leases were almost always very burdensome for the peasants. The owner demanded half or a significant portion of their production, which varied according to the results of the harvest…There are signs that in Jesus’ time, these large landowners were expanding their hldings with new lands from debt-ridden families, and coming to control a good part of Lower Galilee.”

Those farmers who owned their land desperately defended it. Indigent day laborers wandering for work became common. The producing majority provided for the ruling minority, with less and less in return to meet their own family’s needs. Through tributes, taxes, fees, and corruption hefty portions of any harvest disappeared to Rome, Jerusalem, and regional capitals — between a third and half of a given family’s production.

Debt loomed large as an inevitable result of even the most aggressive defenses against such collections, including a turn to monoculture for the most profitable crops. Pagola writes that “The Galilee Jesus knew was trapped in debt.” Losing one’s land meant losing a means of income, and many people turned to itinerancy, slavery, begging, and prostitution, or crime, which all rose in Jesus’ time.

The hallmark of Jesus’ Galilee was this massive (and growing) inequality between the peasants and the urban elite, composed of civil, economic, and religious leaders made rich by a brutal combination of exploiting the poor and violent oppression. Two new cities appeared in Galilee further straining the peasants as elites grew their wealth and prestige by appropriating more and more of the surrounding harvests. Courts ruled for the elites routinely when land foreclosures increased.

Pagola notes of all this that “…this economic organization did not promote the common good of the country, but favored the growing well-being of the elites.”

You can see how Jesus ministered in a Galilean context similar to America today: economic inequality grows due to unjust policies set out by a ruling elite with little regard for the common good.

While not an agrarian society, recent decades have seen an increase in worker productivity for America’s industries not met with a commensurate rise in income. Wages remain stagnant, salaries low, and purchasing power dropping. Predatory lending and unaffordable higher education that is necessary for careers today has led to exorbitant debt for most Americans. Home foreclosures are similar to the land confiscations of Galilee, casting families into itinerancy and instability. Job losses and unemployment from an economy serving profit and not the common good compound all this.

Yet, for the top earners in America there are few problems. They have benefited from the economic system which favors unbelievable profits from risky investment practices while denying mothers the most basic food assistance for their hungry children.

What Pagola wrote of early 1st century Galilee, that”…this economic organization did not promote the common good of the country, but favored the growing well-being of the elites” is similarly true of America today.

This is why Jesus message can be so powerfully proclaimed today: his ministry condemns the same excess and trends, while holding up the same people who have been marginalized and cast out. I find it helpful to quote Pagola at length here:

“Jesus’ activity in the Galilean villages and his message of the reign of God amounted to a strong critique of this state of affairs. His firm defense of the indigent and hungry, his preferential embrace of the least in that society, and his condemnation of the sumptuous life of the urban rich, were a public challenge to the socio-political program of Antipas [the ruler of Galilee]…his calls to have compassion on those who suffer and forgive their debts; and many other sayings can help us understand even today how Jesus shared the suffering of his people and how passionately he sought a new, more just and loving, world in which God would reign as Father of all.”

Having just returned from the Holy Land, the beauty of the Galilee is fresh in my mind. It is a land of unparalleled vegetation where Scriptures words of ‘a land of milk and honey’ comes vividly to life. Yet, when I meditated on all of this after reading Pagola’s chapter what came to mind was Jesus ministering in America. There is the Son of God walking down Wall Street casting out the investment bankers and perusing Congress’ halls  questioning why Republicans cut food stamps. There is Jesus healing the many homeless people I pass by while walking through DC and railing outside the Treasury building against anti-Gospel policies.

Why do we make the message so distant, as if 1st century Galilee and 21st century America are more different than they are similar. Sure, 2,000 years and host of cultural nuances separate my world from Jesus’ world — but the humanity in it all remains a constant thread. The inclination to narcissism and greed, apathy and indifference, fear and isolationism.

Most pointedly in the meditation, there is Jesus sitting across the table from me, staring as he asks why I continue to obfuscate Scripture’s message to justify my own unjust excesses.


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