Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dear Pope Francis


By now hopefully you've had a night's sleep and have dealt with the Eva Peron jokes. You will remember that she too positioned herself as an advocate of the poor.

Last night on CNN I saw a man of humility on the Vatican balcony. You should be proud of that. It's difficult to appear humble amidst trappings that would have shamed the Borgias (a nasty pope among them). The digital age did not invent religion as theater. The Greek tragedies thousands of years before Christ combined worship with spectacle. What are the pyramids but pretty graveyards built to appease the gods? Yes, spectacle is import as symbols of power. Power you now have.

What will you do with such power? We read that you eschew the Cardinal's mansion in Buenos Aires for a simple apartment. You ride public transport. I'll bet you do take the opportunity to chat up with as many fellow straphangers as you can-be they Catholic or not. I believe too,  that in your heart you are a decent person rooted and sincere in your beliefs.

That said, you know what has to happen to the church in which I was raised, the liturgy of which I still love.

Let's start with women. The question of ordination of women is always greeted with a lecture on the esteem with which the church holds women. Martha, Mary Magdalene and above all the Virgin Mary. Insisting on the perpetual virginity of the mother of Jesus doesn't say much for women, in my opinion. But let's recognize such praise for what it is 2,000 years later. Weak. Admiring mythical women of thousands of years ago at the expense of human rights today is absurd. But that's the line. Cardinal Dolan was trumpeting away on the early a.m. news cycles today. How can you say the church debases woman, the Mother of God...yadda yadda yadda. It's lip service and you know it.

Women are the healers and the nurturers. So are men today-we've come a long way, baby. They belong in front of the congregation, dispensing the sacraments and preaching the gospel. Not ordaining women reinforces the white old man power structure that has brought the church to a new low. No, this won't be solved by acknowledging more men of color (that's not a bad thing) So many people have worked hard for years to insure an equal opportunity world, at least gender based. Get with it. You are dying for lack of clergy. A woman with a good mind and a full heart needn't emulate the Virgin Mary-rather she can insure the future of a dynamic and compassionate church.

But I'm not sure that's what the Curia wants. You'll find that out.

About the sexual scandals. How much more evidence do you need to see that the present recruitment of an all male celibate (HA!) clergy is wrong. The church's hatred of gay people (spare me "hate the sin love the sinner-" a sexual relationship between two consenting adults is not sinful, and even you aren't yet Jerry Falwell please God) is ironic. In my day the seminaries were seen as havens for men who were "a little funny." Better they embrace celibacy and give their lives to God. If you made a pitch to older, married men you'd have the seminaries overflowing. You and I both know why this isn't happening. A man in his forties is not going to buy the line. He's going to ask questions and posit new ideas. See previous note about the Curia.

I live two miles from the lovely campus of the Pontifical College Josephinum.   I needn't tell you this is the only seminary outside of Rome answering directly to the Vatican. To you. I used to go up there to walk the grounds, and occasionally visit St. Tiberius Chapel. Walk around up there and you are greeted by young seminarians out to enjoy the sunshine. What alarms me is how young they are, if not in years than emotionally. What do you expect when you admit 14 year olds to study and impress on them lives of chastity, poverty and obedience? Yes, there may be some especially blessed. You know they are in the right place. I've met a few. But c'mon. Most become sexually fearful and emotionally stunted. They stop maturing in any way at 14. Or 24. The young men I've chatted with were polite, kindly, respectable and in some ways immature. You can be very moved by their sincerity-I was and am-and alarmed by their lack of worldview. These boys need to get drunk, get beaten up a few times and these boys need to get laid.

Show me a priest guilty of child abuse and I'll show you a kid subjected to a life way, way beyond his years. I cry for these young men, because it will be hard to trust them. The church has tolerated too much horror and too much harm has been done. What new clergy there is will live amidst distrust. Their loneliness will be acute. Eager young people with a lot to offer will become cynical power graspers.The cycle towards abuse is guaranteed to continue.

Admit women to full participation. Get rid of celibacy. Encourage older vocations and go after married men. Encourage questions and constructive criticism. Read the gospels thoroughly and interpret them for the 21st century. Keep the beauty and holiness of the sacraments. The church just may have a chance.

Many people are counting on you.

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