As a priest trained and ordained in Rome, Dec. 18, 1963, I am quite cognizant of Catholic structures at their Roman center and of the betrayal by them of the impoverished multitudes dependent on Catholic leadership in dealing with injustice. I know now—in this small way regarding homosexuality— what futility means. But the real basis for my call to repudiate so-called “revealed” doctrines of Roman Catholics is the entire gamut of rigid infallibility to quiet fallibility. Not just the early church but the Galileo and then Reformation/Counter Reformation perpetration of atrocities later to be retracted. And on to the present.
Nothing in my priestly training had prepared me for what was real in the world of the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, CIA aiding terrorists in Latin America.(1) I can only imagine the state of soul of these victims of racism, religious intolerance, doctrinal dissenters… In 1970 after a lifetime (32 years) including faithful adherence to the rules, total dedication to serve the Catholic Church--I asserted my conscience for the first time and married. Permission was out of the question as well as discussion. I did this, not because I was sex-crazed or abandoning my calling, but precisely because living a real life as servant to real people squashed by racism and segregation in inner-city Boston required such personal experience and personal identification. I, along with thousands of others, was immediately excommunicated and tossed into the ecclesial trash bin. Now 43 years later having watched the Catholic Church welcome married “priests” as converts to conservative Catholicism, I have been all the more emboldened to deal with the challenge of the Catholic Church’s fallibility and political game playing.
GALILEO RECONCILIATION COMMISSION - GRC
I tried pleading since 2000 with active Catholics--fellow-priests, readers of the National Catholic Reporter, pew mates-- reportedly over 60% approving of the goodness of homosexuality to call for the establishment of the “Galileo Reconciliation Commission” (GRC). The GRC would have been an intentional calling of a truce between religious dissenters, between believing and loving Catholics in the 21st century, to put an end to the another, by positive acts of loving embrace, reparations, and ongoing doctrinal development. My call for the GRC has received ZERO response. Of course I have no standing whatsoever, but the thought of a GRC seems like something that should have been constructed long before now.
When I was a devout seminarian in Rome during the Vatican Council II (1960-64) brother Augustin Bea (yes another Jesuit and cardinal) and brother Angelo Roncalli (John XXIII) began calling all Christians to join in the struggle for Christian Unity in such an unheard of way with the basic principle of all groups looking for how to do “the least harm” to one another because of their teachings. Brother Angelo even took out of the Good Friday liturgy the description of Jews as “perfidious”. Alas, only because of our tiny minority (LGBTQ) status and because of dogma, it would seem, we cannot count on anything but the slow, inevitable change of dogma through time and closeted, silent suffering.
KRISTOF DILEMMA: CHURCH OF THE GOOD AND THE WICKED
Which brings me to the “Kristof” dilemma. Nickolas Kristof wrote an editorial in the NYT, “A Church Mary Could Love” (4.17.10). He spells out at length his conflicting observations of the Catholic Church.
“In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches…one is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized…another is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for.”
This observation in itself could be sufficient foundation for my call. Clearly for all the good done by/with/through the Catholic Church, it is patently unable to avoid being human and fallible—completely, viciously fallible. Yes, of the dedication of life unto death to the ideals of Jesus carried out throughout the world by humble, Catholic women and men living/working with the most abject, there is no doubt. But when the whole “economy of salvation” is based on myths that demand submission under pain of spiritual death—in the old days, physical death—when convinced of a dissenting position, what real value is there in such a system? Reformation-Counter Reformation grizzly tales belie a system that bears no resemblance to the Jesus in whose name these atrocities took place.
When slavery can be taught as allowed by the “Scriptures” and then Pope Nicholas V can decree,
"We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] …, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...] and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.” Dum Diversas” (18 June 1452)
And then to the contrary when Pope John Paul II condemns slavery as evil and Pope Francis says, “slave labor”--“goes against God”, when referring to the workers in Bangladesh—how can such a turnabout be from an infallible source?
PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR-LIBERATION THEOLOGY
In my own time as a priest of Vat II but excommunicated because of marriage I had been inspired to promote the “preferential option for the poor” and "liberation" theology. I have personally worked on the ground beginning in 1982 in Nicaragua, Guatemala and since 2004 in Haiti <hurah.org>, only to see more “status quo” (conservative) domination of church leadership resulting in the racist annihilation by the most fiendish methods—ripping babies out of wombs, slicing off genitals, decapitation, torture beyond imagination—that once again has brought violent death to hundreds of thousands of innocent people, women, children, elderly and men.
When devoted non-violent leaders such as Father Rutilio Grande, S.J., one of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s (El Salvador) priests, is murdered (1977) for helping peasants organize food cooperatives, and when Archbishop Romero, after pleading with Pres. Carter, as well as Pope John Paul II, to stop the violence, is also refused and murdered at Mass (1980), then it is only crystal clear again that the Catholic Church is simply human and prone to political maneuvers based on political power plays favoring the “haves” as champions against “communism” rather than spiritual power plays that should have enabled the “non-violent“ poor to win some of their due.
In Feb. 1980 just a month before his assassination Brother Romero couldn’t get an audience with Pope John Paul II (Brother Wojtala) and so he had to get in line at St. Peter’s Square with the thousands of others waiting to see the Pope. Brother Josef Ratzinger--yet to become Pope Benedict XVI--was the chief doctrinal authority at the time. These two Europeans having had their young lives impressed with Polish and German politics took the “conservative” line regarding communism, “…"You must reach an understanding with the government! A good Christian does not look for trouble with the authorities! The church wants peace and harmony!” - Pope John Paul II (“Mirrors:Stories of Almost Everyone” by Eduardo Galeano) So much for Vat II, Latin American Bishops, “liberation theology”, attacked from within the church as communism/socialism. Where did these people learn their theology?
The new Pope, Francis I, Brother Bergoglio of Argentina, followed the conservative line of Brothers Ratzinger and Wojtala regarding organizing the poor for social justice back in Archbishop Romero’s day. With regard to specific charges of committing crimes against his people, there is no clear-cut case. But it was the total and uncompromising condemnation of "liberation theology" that allowed a church leader like him to stay in the background of the merciless killings while the U.S. sent $1.5 million in aid every day for 12 years to the right wingers. Jimmy Carter never answered Brother Romero's plea for help. But Brother Bergoglio has put Brother Oscar’s sainthood on fast track. Eugene Robinson in his editorial of Dec. 26, "Edward Snowden clearly should be person of the year" (Oakland Tribune, Bay Area News Group), says specific to my point concerning the murderous ruling junta in Argentina, "… Francis' history is that he did not collaborate with ….the junta…but ….he did not openly confront them…" as Brother Romero did. If only the truth about non-violence, liberation theology, could have been practiced by all these leaders.
I rest my case.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not calling just for reform of the Catholic Church on such issues screaming for doctrinal and ecclesial reform like all of sexuality which is behind the celibate priest law, only male priest law, fascist patriarchy. I’m for a Catholic Church humbled into sheer human size working as God created all human beings for holiness in creating justice in the world here and now. This is what I am convinced is true of all so-called “revealed” religions no matter how ancient or hallowed. Disabused of its unique divine connections I’m sure that the church “Mary could be proud of…” will continue on.
What I am calling for is a renunciation by all religions of their claim to a special connection with God, above all in the realm of peace/justice. No more wars in God’s name. No more persecution of “dissenters”. For this work I am deeply indebted to the World Union of Deists (WUD) – “God Gave Us Reason, Not Religion”--founded by Bob Johnson in 1998 for my discovering Deism—in spite of all my theological training or even high school civics class for that matter—so eloquently enunciated by Thomas Paine, “The Age of Reason”, by my fellow Vermonter, Ethan Allen, by many of the founding fathers, and by eminent thinkers like Albert Einstein. Reason alone can come to posit the existence of a loving, just God, like Thomas Aquinas found. But reason also has to reject what Einstein called, “…the most childish superstitions…” referring to so-called God inspired scriptures. For him, “…religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds.” For an understanding of the fullness of the God of Deism you can get a great start at the "Deist" website. (2)
The challenge to us Deists is not so much figuring out what to do with our “revealed” religious baggage, much of which I’ve personally discarded already. I know that there are many who will stay in the Catholic Church who long ago let go of the RC’s indefensible teachings/beliefs but who feel “Mary’s” church is worth supporting. My plea to them is to move forward boldly along with the many “Catholic” reform groups—Call To Action, Dignity, New Ways Ministries, American Catholic Council etc---pushing for the big reforms and ridding their church of its injustices. I’m not worried about anyone I encourage to join me putting humankind’s morals in jeopardy if God no longer speaks to us through the Catholic Church or any church for that matter. The God of Reason continues speaking inexorably and with infinite truth and beauty, pressing us to love one another through justice non-violently. No more political games, just spiritual power plays (3). I will support other religious groups that have rejected infallible God-ties such as Unitarians-Universalists. My priority will be reparations to LGBTQ folks. Last, but not least, I will support the many justice advocacy groups like American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, Courage to Resist, Private Manning Support Network--- working for justice.
The real struggle is to counteract the scandalous, dangerous ranting, money-grubbing “biblical” preaching that is still raging out there against the poor, all over the world, funded by US money promoting Armageddon and the final days in favor of certain “believer” groups. We have to join forces with the WUD in dealing with all these “revealed” religions.
I’m still going to listen and dance to inspired Gospel (without all the mythology), as well as to Widor’s organ Toccata F Minor <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8vz1D_L_OE>( written within triumphant Catholicism). I can enrich my spirit this way because God gives us these magnificent creations to celebrate my truths, my victories. I’m as driven as I was playing priest as a 4 year old, but I know who my God is now.
I wish I could do more for you Eric Lembembe!
Please join me.
“THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH: HUMAN, FALLIBLE, GUILTY OF HATE-FILLED PERSECUTION… BUT, WELCOME TO THE HUMAN RACE, IF YOU REPUDIATE YOUR MYTHS AND STILL TRY TO SEEK JUSTICE FOR THE IMPOVERISHED” by Tom Luce
November 18, 2013, Day of Remembrance, Christian European Slavery Ends In Haiti, Nov. 18, 1803, God of Dessalines, “Bondye”, forbids slavery
1 See: “1963:The Year of Hope & Hostility” by Byron Williams (c, 2013 Byronspeaks)
2 Note: I’m painfully aware of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris having been rededicated to the worship of “Reason” in 1793 amidst the internecine craziness of the French revolutionaries, the same year Thomas Paine was imprisoned by them.)
3 Here is an example of the sheer political plays prominent in the U.S. since the “traditionalists” have taken over. www.catholic.org/politics/story.php?id=53346 “Obama orders closure of Vatican Embassy.
My call is documented thoroughly in “The Age of Reason” by Thomas Paine, available from the World Union of Deists. <http://www.deism.com/the_age_of_reason_paine.htm>