Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

February 13, 2009


The nation has been enlivened by the stunning election of an African-Amercan as its president. Barack and Michelle Obama and their two charming daughters now call the White House their home. Elected on an enthusiastic wave of emotion, stirred by the keywords "Audacity", "Hope" and "Change you can believe in!", the new president faces an enormous economic crisis and other domestic and foreign policy challenges. He has pledged to address these issues with wide-ranging consultation for new and energy-charged ideas and with a non-partison spirit that would be different from the existing Washingtonian political culture. He has appointed Republicans to posts in his administration, including two members of his cabinet.

We church people were quick to perceive a similarity between the nation's crisis and the crises in our church: vocations, sexual abuse and $2 billion shot for maladministration, financial, gender discrimination, lost confidence in leadership . And we quickly perceive a dissimilarity between presidential leadership and ecclesiastical leadership. George Weigle, had this to say: "The last several weeks of curial chaos, confusion, and incompetence in the wake of the lifting of the excommunications of four Lefebrist bishops have made clear just how dysfunctional the curia remains in terms of both crisis analysis and crisis management." Weigle, a well known papal enthusiast, may have disguised his dismay by charging the curia, rather than the pope. as the problem. Other critics have not let Benedict off so lightly.

The de-excommunication of the Lefebrist four, one of whom has denied the existence of the Holocaust, has triggered outcries from the international Jewish community. Pope Benedict's apology and restatement of Vatican II's document on Catholic-Jewish relations came as a lame effort at damage control. While we Catholics share the distress of Jewish people, many of us are disturbed that it is another sign of Benedict's lack of respect for Vatican II. The Lefebrists broke away precisely because they rejected all of Vatican II, fashioned by the world's bishops under the guidance of John XXIII and with the approval of Paul VI.

Benedict's regime has threatened to excomunicate Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois unless he disavows his belief that women should be ordained. The three women, who participated in an imitation Mass at which Bourgois delivered the homily, were excommunicated. Unlike the Lefebrists, they accepted the hegemony of the pope and Vatican II, but were not invited in for a discussion. Members of the Voice of the Faithful and Call to Action are devout Catholics, pope and parish centered, and regularly receiving the sacraments. Their goal is to build on the reforms of Vatican II. But there has been no outreach to them. They have been banned from church property by many bishops and have been declared excommunicated by Lincoln's (Nebraska) Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz.

Pope Benedict's reaching out to the separatist Lefebrists, while excommunicating practicing Catholics, seems to be part of an effort, together with his return of the Tridentine Mass, indulgences, further centralization of church governance, and diminution of lay particiation in liturgy, to put the machinery of Vatican II in reverse.

President Obama has put forth a vision of hope, a concern for new and productive ideas, for "audacity", and for "change one can believe in". He intends to use widespread consultation and efforts to engage individuals and groups of varying identities to address the crises challenging the nation. How refreshing would be a call from our church leadership to echo those words to take bold and creative steps to continue the work of Vatican II.

Instead we find censure and excomunication and, remarkably, a notice last month that the Vatican's Cardinal Franc Rode will head an apostolic investigation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States to ascertain why their numbers have diminished and what is the present quality of life in their communities. Hello there! Where are you? Hey, Cardinal! It's all over. The stage curtain is down, the house lights have been turned off, the audience has left the theater. We're going to the wake! One of the greatest chapters in our church history has come to an end! The role of our religious sisters in education, health care, ministry with its absurd glass ceiling! The Body of Christ has been left half-paralized! Have we an icon as a symbol for the story? How about Pope John Paul II sitting in stony silence on his 1979 trip to America as Sister Teresa Kane tried to be heard through three feet of plate glass!