Thursday, June 19, 2008

Archbishop Denounces Election of Bishops

Here I go again. It is difficult for me to resist commenting when a hubristic hierarch pops off. He thinks, I think, that he's going to get away with it, as he always does, with imperial impunity. Guess I just want to let him know that some of us people called lay can pop off, too. More better, more kinder, because we are common folk. Numbers tell the story about our clergy and us the people. In America, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – USCCB – the statistics are at:

Cardinals: active as heads of large dioceses. 20 in all.
Archbishops: 25 active. 16 retired
Bishops: 193 Diocesan. 74 Auxiliary. 141 retired
Priests: 42,307
Common Folk: 67,515,016

224 active hierarchs and 67 ½ million people. Archbishop Curtiss, apparently, speaks for the hierarchs. Who speaks for the people? Nobody actually. There are spokespeople here and there, but only for the groups to which they belong. A person speaking without a group is a loner.

Several times in the last six years, one of the ideas put up was the creation of a United States Conference of Catholic People – USCCP. Just like the USCCB in Washington, DC. We'll pay for it. We already pay for the USCCB. At the present time, there is no spokesperson for all the people.

Still, the Church proclaims that the Magisterium includes a Sensus Fidelium – The Sense of the Faithful. How? Where? Who speaks or writes? The myriad groups with acronymic names are an alphabet soup of the people: ARCC, CTA, TBOC, and so many others. They have produced scholars, whether theological, legal, logical, or cultural. Professors have wandered out of academe. A leader here, another there, have begun to stand and speak truth to power. These people are like ourselves, we who write and others who read. We are the largest group in the Church, almost 70,000,000 in America, over 1,200,000,000 in the world. Within that enormous population is a Sensus Fidelium.

May I offer some thoughts, then, random, dormant for a lifetime, now surging to be heard, pricked by a slow reading line by line, on Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss of Omaha, Nebraska. He wrote a letter to Commonweal protesting the proposal of Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, that bishops be elected by the people in the diocese.

Archbishop Curtiss may be one of the 25 active archbishops in America, but this letter is my first contact with his pronouncements. It is not fair to criticize a person on such a small, singular publication, but his letter must not go unchallenged. Following his distinctive manner of using all three of his names, I am Layman Emanuel Paul Kelly. We don't have any arch-lay people, so there is no other title to give me some status. I am aware of the hubris in and out of me, for it is not a quality of bishops and cardinals alone. There are, then, some similarities between the hierarch and the layman.

For credentials, a bother, a needless bother: husband, father, grandfather, retired litigator, was a Jesuit scholastic briefly in my youth 60 years ago, unknown, lay as in laity, sort of a people-people person who thinks authority figures are more to be challenged than admired. So, I am a composite Catholic, sometime in the clergy, though not ordained, and the rest as a lay person, though not acclaimed.

Curtiss, a singularity, is a typical archbishop, I guess, the kind Rome requires to keep Rome as Rome and us as Romans, if not necessarily as Catholics. I am American, more or less a typical lay person, pretty fed up with Rome and its tiny covey of high priests. And I am Catholic, a singularity, too, among universality.

Here's the Archbishop's letter to Commonweal. Wonder whether he was aware that he exposed himself . . Perhaps the title for this piece should have been: "The Lord Archbishop Has No Clothes."

June 6, 2008 / Volume CXXXV, Number 11  




In his April 25 article, "Reforming the Vatican," Thomas J. Reese, SJ, claims it would help the governance of the church if bishops were "elected by the local clergy, accepted by the people of his diocese, and consecrated by the bishops of his province."

As a bishop for thirty-two years, I have become increasingly convinced that it would be a disaster for the church if bishops were elected by local clergy, either in a bishop's diocese of origin or the diocese where he will serve. I suspect that the most popular priests, those who would offer the people of a diocese emotional support but little governance, would often be the ones elected bishop. They would add to the dismantling of episcopal authority and the diminishment of papal oversight and accountability.

Local election of bishops would move the church toward a congregationalist model of governance that would undermine the international unity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It is a great blessing for a diocese when a bishop is appointed from elsewhere on the basis of his real pastoral gifts and not on his previous popularity as a hail-fellow. It is a primary duty of a bishop to help keep his diocese in union with the universal church under the leadership of the successor of St. Peter who, with the other apostles, was not elected by his peers.

I can assure your readers that the collective wisdom of the church, with two thousand years of experience, will not let her return to the selection of bishops by the local clergy and laity. Bishops are expected to govern with authority that comes not from clergy or people but from the Lord himself.

Whatever the weaknesses of the present system for appointing bishops, we are much better served by the work of the papal nuncio and the Congregation of Bishops working directly with the Holy Father than we would be by local diocesan political processes.


Omaha, Neb.



1 – Disaster

Archbishop: "As a bishop for thirty-two years, I have become increasingly convinced that it would be a disaster for the church if bishops were elected by local clergy . . . "

Comment: What a terrible thing to say about his own priests. What a terrible way to indict as disastrous, the honor that equals offer to another priest and cloak him with popularity, their way of showing respect, admiration. For the archbishop popularity in and of itself is a contagious disease, like AIDS, leprosy. I don't know him, so can't say he is totally inadequate as a human being, but this opening sentence surely takes off his costumes and leaves him naked as one of the top elite American clergymen worthy enough to run a diocese.

What this horrible sentence says is that this archbishop doesn't trust his own people, dislikes intensely his own priests, and is comfortable only with other Ordinaries. There are 193 dioceses in America. Archbishop Curtiss is the sole Ordinary of one of them, and the other 192 are the only people in the American Church whom he respects. That's awful. It is also sad. Of that 192, only 25 are Archbishops.

He emphasizes his 32 years as a bishop. I had merely eight years as a Jesuit scholastic but 45 years as a practicing lawyer. Neither number brings me any closer to his augustness. There was a great uncle on my mother's side, though, who was an archbishop, too, and for 36 years, in Winnipeg, Ontario. Only met him once. Never got to know him, outside the legends my mother and aunts created about him. I'm afraid , too, that he was popular and that is a defect of character for the archbishop of Omaha.

Question: Why did Archbishop Curtiss turn against his own priests and demean them as unfit to run a diocese, if elected by fellow clergy? And yet, he is OK with himself selecting potential bishops from out the clergy pool? Why does he castigate the election of bishops by clergy alone, excluding lay people completely from the procedure? Does he feel that lay people are worthy of no consideration at all? If he doesn't like priests, why would he like lay people? Is he a Catholic? Strange one, if he is. He doesn't like Catholics, whether lay or clergy, just hierarchs.


2- Popularity Not Governance

Archbishop: "I suspect that the most popular priests, those who would offer the people of a diocese emotional support but little governance, would often be the ones elected bishop."

Comment: He says, I think, that when a person is elected, it is only because of "popularity", which may offer "emotional support" but not "governance." Often. But, when bishops write three names as bishopibile– the Terna – and send it to the Apostolic Nuncio, and he forwards their thoughts to Rome, the Pope, or a subordinate, chooses one. Popular priests never land on a Terna, at least not in Omaha.

That, of course, is not "popularity" but infallible wisdom for and only for "governance." Really? Popes, like Presidents, select their own to pack the College of Bishops with their ilk. Lessens controversy in the dictatorship style of governance favored by the one doing the packing.

Omaha's bishop goes over the top in dismissing elections as based on "popularity" not "governance." His letter, a slur on democracy, manifests a keen tyrannical mindset that the people have no power, are not wise, nor are they free as God intended they be free. This archbishop absolutely believes that he and his confreres are particularly outstanding human beings, chosen by God and his Vicar, with prompting from those given the scarlet and the purple, to select not elect bishops who know how to march in the lockstep of salvation. And nobody, but nobody, is going to tweak that mindset. That is hubris in the highest.

Question: Why do we put up with this autocratic conduct from a "king of the hill?"


2. Dismantling, Diminishing

Archbishop: "They would add to the dismantling of episcopal authority and the diminishment of papal oversight and accountability."


  1. Dismantling of episcopal authority? Of course. Except it is not authority. It is tyranny that is about to be dismantled. There is a difference. All authority is a gift from God. Tyranny is an abuse of that gift. Ever hear of Lay Authority? We have a lot of it, you know. Early on, we gave some of it to our Elders, who later took on the name of Episcopus, Overseer, Bishop. I wrote a paper for the MA years ago, "The Origin of Authority in a Direct Democracy." Never thought it would come back out of my remembery, the place where memories are stored in slumber, to be awakened from time to time. The conclusion to that paper was: The People from God. All power, all authority is given by God to the people. There is no Divine Right of Kings, as bishops like to think and act. That was just a burp in the history of civilization. Didn't last long.


  2. Diminishment of papal oversight? Hardly. There is none. Neither Pope John Paul II nor Benedict XVI exercised oversight. They held absolute power and crushed anyone who opposed it, questioned it, gave it a curious glance. That is not oversight. It is the hallmark of the brutal overseer of slaves chained in a work gang, All black. The overseer is white. The Latin "episcopus" means "overseer ---- "epi" - over, "scopus" – seer." Clergy are white. Laity are black. In the RCC. Extraordinary Ordinaries are the Overseers.



  3. And accountability? I don't want to laugh here, not out loud, nor snicker as some kind of superior being to archbishops, but once again, I see myself on the elementary school playground at recess, watching a bishop as "king of the hill." I ponder how he got there. By ambition alone? A fierce ambition, driving, consuming, to be on a ladder with rungs to climb? By being noticed by one higher up a rung or two? By playing his cards tightly, always pleasing superiors, eschewing mere childish popularity?

Tell me, what accountability was ever required of John Paul II? Benedict XVI? None, right? I hear Pope Pius IX, was it he, the pusher of the doctrine of infallibility, when criticized by his own select colleagues for trying to ram that doctrine through Vatican I –wasn't there before for over one thousand, eight hundred years, you know – and losing it. He roared in anger, screamed, 'I AM THE POPE!!!!!" Then, cannily, transferred the locale of the Council to a distant city, upped the schedule to make it faster, ignored bishops who simply couldn't change their own schedules to get there, and clapped his hands when his supporters voted Infallibility in as one of the unchanging doctrines of the official teachings of the RCC.

I may have embellished the political maneuverings a bit, you know. At any rate, Infallibility has been a dogma since 1869. Before that date, Popes were able to make mistakes. Since that time, the pure gold of never being wrong. Cardinals Wojtyla and Ratzinger lusted after that, for they regarded themselves as infallible when they were teenagers in Poland and Germany. Their self-assessments were confirmed by being elected popes in 1978 and 2005. wonder how Archbishop Curtiss distinguishes their elections by clergy from the paltry "popularity" of "hail-fellows" the usual spawn of such elections . . . The Archbishop is inconsistent, methinks.

Question: Not "Why do we put up with this oligarchic proclamation from a "king of the hill?" But, "Why do I go apoplectic, when hierarchs justify their conduct with such preposterous statements?" Do they really, truly, actually believe that we the laity are that stupid? That could be the greatest gulf. Perhaps. We have allowed them and this Church of ours to be so. We rarely stood to speak truth to power. It just was not done.

The hierarchs of the RCC do so believe. God help them. Not us, though, for Vatican II called us to serve this Church of ours. Our response must be free, relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit and the promise of Jesus – "Where two or more are gathered together in my name . . . " We do not need an overseer's permission to be, to act, to stand, to speak. We could use a servant of the servants of God or two. And so, we pray that the Holy Spirit will see to it that we get them.

Deeply, I do not think there has ever been a time in the recorded history of the RCC, that such abuse of power, such insufferable hubris emanating from so many hierarchs, was made manifest in the epiphanies going on now, out of so many chanceries around the world. It is not Ordinary, though that is the sacred office to which hierarchs are ordained, after having been so carefully selected not elected. The missing "S", which is the single most important letter in the alphabet of RCCism. Rome Selects. Rome will never Elect.

You do not accept this? Go, read that sentence of Archbishop Curtiss one more time. Slowly. If we elect bishops, he said, we will automatically, "dismantle episcopal authority, diminish papal oversight and accountability." That is one helluva charge by an archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church. That's like saying, "If you vote for X as President of the United States, you will automatically dismantle governmental authority, diminish presidential oversight and accountability. You will be committing treason."Just by our selecting our own Elders, as the first Christians did. Exactly as they did, for hundreds of years. This Archbishop from Omaha wouldn't dare let lay people make such a choice. And he sure isn't going to let his clergy have the vote either. Nor will Rome. Only he and his friends have, in their own judgment, the skill, integrity and wisdom to lead. All others must follow. They are Overseers. We are but slaves. Ipse dixit. Solus.


3. Move And Undermine

Archbishop: "Local election of bishops would move the church toward a congregationalist model of governance that would undermine the international unity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church."


International unity? There is none. The RCC is a-splintering, busting up all over. Thousands, thousands have left, fed up with childishness, able to see behind the curtain, now that it has been rent by the scandal of all time, the sexual abuse of children by men in black – and purple – and scarlet – and white. No hierarch is beyond the weight of great millstones.

The three Ds – Dogma, Doctrine, Discipline – are now but one D – Discipline – as hierarchs come down strong and quick and mean and nasty, to whip their slaves into line: Cardinal Mahony and his nine obedient bishops dropped all pretense of love and fellowship and basic Christian hospitality by banning and barring Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Sydney, Australia, from speaking, writing, even stepping foot into his diocese, while a guest in our country.

Unity of what? Why, "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," of course.

  • It is not "one" now. Just look within your own dioceses and its closing and clustering of parishes. Look around the world, especially South America, Africa, Southeast Asia. Rome yells the charade, "One." The rest of the world yells the actuality, "Many."
  • It is truly "holy," though, for no church can suffer the onslaughts of ours and still survive, without holiness. Just look at Jesus' crucifixion. The Church right now is being crucified. By its own. The high priests. The Church, our Church, is so holy that not even its high priests can stain it out of existence. The Roman Church will decline and fall like its namesake, mostly because it is man-made.
  • It is not "catholic", for it is not universal, nor is it the only church, the sole religion. Even though it insists that it is. Try this, without laughing. "Believe me, EPaul, who writes this. I know. I am wise and graced and aged. Heed me. Do what I order you to do. Or I will not let you go to Communion. Tick me off and I'll toss you out. Now, kneel and I'll give you my blessing." Anyone yield yet to my wield of power? Not one? C'mon . . . I want to be a bishop, never wrong, always right, and I'm heavy on the power, as heavy as on the covet when I was younger and eagerer.
  • It is not even "apostolic." The RCC is based on two men, Saints Peter and Paul. Peter is just one of the original twelve. Paul was no original, a sort of a Johnny-come-lately, who used to persecute, got knocked off his horse, and changed his mind. Might better call the Church Petric or Paulic, rather than Catholic. Leave the "Roman" qualifier attached, until it falls off from its own weighty bloat.

How many of us know the names of the other eleven – plus the add-on to replace the one who kissed? Please do not scorn me for being smarty here, but we don't actually know accurately who they were. Before you read what follows, write down all the names of Apostles you can remember. If really smart, jot down the places where they founded Churches. Any with the name of "Roman?" Were those Churches "Apostolic?" Where are they now?

Wikipedia – good for quick research – says:

The four Gospels give varying names of the twelve. According to the list occurring in each of the three Synoptic Gospels (Mark 3:13-19, Matthew 10:1-4, Luke 6:12-16), the Twelve chosen by Jesus near the beginning of his ministry, those whom also He named Apostles, were, according to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew:

Peter: Renamed by Jesus, his original name was Simon (Mark 3:16); was a fisherman from the Bethsaida "of Galilee" (John 1:44, cf. John 12:21). Also known as Simon bar Jonah, Simon bar Jochanan (Aram.), Cephas (Aram.), and Simon Peter.

James, son of Zebedee: The brother of John.

John: The brother of James. Jesus named both of them Bo-aner'ges, which means "sons of thunder".(Mark 3:17)

Andrew: The brother of Simon/Peter, a Bethsaida fisherman, and a former disciple of John the Baptist.

Philip: From the Bethsaida of Galilee (John 1:44, John 12:21)

Bartholomew, son of Talemai: It has been suggested that he is the same person as Nathanael, who is mentioned in John 1:45-51.

Matthew: The tax collector.

Thomas: Also known as Judas Thomas Didymus - Aramaic T'oma' = twin, and Greek Didymous = twin.

James, son of Alphaeus: Generally identified with "James the Less", and also identified by Roman Catholics with "James the Just". [9]

Thaddeus: In some manuscripts of Matthew, the name "Lebbaeus" occurs in this place. Thaddeus is traditionally identified with Jude; see below.

Simon the Zealot: Some have identified him with Simeon of Jerusalem. [10]

Judas Iscariot: The disciple who later betrayed Jesus. (Mark 3:19) The name Iscariot may refer to the Judaean towns of Kerioth or to the sicarii (Jewish nationalist insurrectionists), or to Issachar. Also referred to as "Judas, the son of Simon" (John 6:71 and John 13:26). He was replaced as an apostle shortly after Jesus' resurrection by Matthias.

The Gospel of Luke differs slightly, listing a "Judas, son of James" and not listing a "Thaddeus." In order to harmonize the accounts, some traditions have said that Luke's "Judas, son of James" refers to the same person as Mark and Matthew's "Thaddeus," though it is not clear whether this has a good basis in the text or the use of the names historically. Luke has "Simon the Zealot" in place of "Simon the Cananean". It is unclear whether these two Simons refer to the same person.

The Gospel of John, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, does not offer a formal list of apostles, though it does refer to the Twelve in 6:67, 6:70, and 6:71. The following ten apostles are identified by name:


Andrew (identified as Peter's brother)

the sons of Zebedee (plural form implies at least two apostles)



Thomas (also called Didymus (11:16, 20:24, 21:2))

Judas Iscariot

Judas (not Iscariot) (14:22)

The individual that the Gospel of John names as Nathanael has traditionally been identified as the same person that the other Gospels call Bartholomew. The other three Gospels, however, contain a complete list of the twelve and contain no reference to a "Nathanael." Thus, the four Gospel accounts do not agree as to the names of the twelve. The sons of Zebedee presumably refers to James and John, while Judas (not Iscariot) probably refers to the same Jude, son of James, as the Gospel of Luke's list, traditionally identified with Thaddeus. Missing from the Gospel of John are James, son of Alphaeus, Matthew, and Simon the Canaanite/Zealot. In any case, the author certainly does not bring up any explicit denial of those two apostles, and never actually lists the twelve.

By the second century, the presence of two individuals named Simon (Peter and Simon the Zealot) in the list of the Synoptic Gospels allowed a case to be made for Simon Magus being the other Simon, and hence one of the twelve apostles. The second Simon may also have been Simeon of Jerusalem, the second leader of the Jerusalem church.

The similarity between Matthew 9:9-10, Mark 2:14-15 and Luke 5:27-29 may indicate that Matthew was also known as Levi.

I know that "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," is in our Creeds, but isn't it more better, more OK, truthful, accurate to say that those four qualities are sort of wishful rather than actual? Is not our Church, the Catholic Church, without an adjective from an ancient and great city like Rome. Wonder where we'd be, had Antioch or Corinth or Lyons or Alexandria become the Primus inter pares – First among equals -- in those early centuries? Hippo? Dublin? Tokyo?

Question: Why can't we just look at our Church – and love it? Seeing it, without the propaganda, for what it does for people, rather than by these credal statements composed by hierarchs down the labyrinthine years of church history? It is a good Church. It is for "the many, holy, for all people, and a Petrine church?" Better than "one, holy, catholic and apostolic." Which simply is not true, though must be believed, as Rome says.


4. Hail-Fellows

Archbishop: "It is a great blessing for a diocese when a bishop is appointed from elsewhere on the basis of his real pastoral gifts and not on his previous popularity as a hail-fellow."

Comment: Well, this one is too tempting to treat seriously. "Hail-fellow" and "Bishop" are not compatible. What strips this bishop naked and unclothes his inhuman self-love, a sickening adoring of self and selves like him, is that he and they have "real pastoral gifts." I agree that he and they are devoid, totally devoid of any "popularity as a hail-fellow." They aren't even nice. They being himself and those who think and glint and speak and hiss, and write and destruct as does he. Calling that wield of absolute power "real pastoral gifts" is blasphemy. It is hubris, though, impure and complex.

Question: Why is that we laity kind of dream a little, hope a little, pray a lot that a real bishop, with real pastoral gifts would come and be one of us, with all of us as an Elder, with wisdom, age and grace among us men and women. That would be pure and simple, wouldn't it? Humble, even, a quality our current Selected, not elected, Hierarchs, don't seem to possess, or even know. Each of us knows such priests, and some bishops, a pope or two – remember John XXIII? – last century. What was it called? Vatican 2. Right?


5. The Primary Duty of a Bishop

Archbishop: "It is a primary duty of a bishop to help keep his diocese in union with the universal church under the leadership of the successor of St. Peter who, with the other apostles, was not elected by his peers."

Comment: Oh! No, that is not the primary duty of a bishop. Archbishop Curtiss made that one up. And it is erroneous historically. Jesus called the apostles, one by one. He didn't go to a Town Meeting and ask for nominations and an election. That came later, after he went home to his Father. When Judas hanged himself, the remaining eleven elected Matthias. First time they had the power of the vote. Went to it right away, without hesitation. Curtiss doesn't know his church history, or, if he does, he falsifies it. Ideologues do that frequently. It's how they operate to keep the power of control.

The primary duty of a bishop is to serve the people of God and help them enter the Kingdom. Curtiss speaks of a "union with the universal church." There is no such union, no such universal church, just a tiny city-state of the Vatican. And the Vatican is not Rome. We use "Rome" and "Roman" out of millennia of habit, without realizing how wrong it is. The actual name for the Archbishop's Church is The Vatican Church, and the religion is not Catholicism but Vaticanism. Accuracy helps us know what city or town and which religion is clamoring for our obeisance.

As far as those "other apostles . . . not elected by his peers," are concerned, I bet the Bishop of Omaha could not name them all, perhaps not even four. Oh!, and Jesus was not elected by his peers either. Be they the other two persons of the Trinity, or his apostles, disciples, or women friends. Jesus invites, calls. While here, he never, not even once, demanded of any man or woman, "Come, follow me." Jesus asks. He does not command. Nor does he excommunicate. Nor does he crucify those who won't come and follow him.

Saint Peter, by the way, was never ordained a priest. He was not a bishop. Never thought of himself as a pope. He was a fisherman, married, a stony one. Saint Paul, too, was no priest, bishop or pope. Not even an original Apostle out of the twelve. Jesus, before and after his crucifixion and resurrection, was, perhaps, a rabbi. He was not a high priest. He didn't like high priests, or those who lord it over others, but allowed others to call him, "Lord, Lord . . . " Wonder what Bishop Curtiss really thinks of Jesus and Peter and Paul . . .

I wonder whether this Archbishop who is so terrified of elections and of popularity, i.e. of people, that he never had the chance to find out who Jesus is in his own episcopal life. I wonder whether he ever talks to or listens to the Lord. Or the cardinal in a nearby diocese. Perhaps, just the Pope? He's heavy on that union stuff with Rome as the sole, solitary, primary duty of a bishop, isn't he? Sad. This poor guy is so fouled up. He doesn't know who Jesus is. He has no idea of what a bishop is supposed to do. And he writes letters to Commonweal!

Question: Does Archbishop Curtiss know anything in the New Testament, or about the first few years of the Church, say from 29 AD, the crucifixion and resurrection, up to 100, AD, another 71 years? Wikipedia tell us at:

The Bishop of Rome is the bishop of the Holy See, more often referred to in the Catholic tradition as the Pope. The first Bishop of Rome to bear the title of "Pope" was Boniface III in 607, the first to assume the title of "Universal Bishop" by decree of Emperor Phocas. (602-610) Earlier Bishops of Rome are customarily extended the title Pope as a courtesy, except in strict historical discourse. The title "Bishop of Rome" is also used in preference to Pope by some members of Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant denominations, to reflect their rejection of papal authority over the Christian Church.

The word Pope – Papa in Latin and Greek – was used by many bishops around the Mediterranean in the first few centuries of the Church. A century is one hundred years. I'm not being cute. I'm asking readers to think of how long a hundred years is, longer than a lifetime, and five centuries is five hundred years. Think on that span of time, from 29, when Jesus died and rose from the dead, to 607 when Boniface III became the first man ever to claim the title of "Pope" rather than just Bishop of Rome. That was 578 years after Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.

To put it in focus, 578 years ago was 1430. Columbus had not yet discovered America. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen, on May 30, 1431. She was 19. The 15th century was the beginning of the Age of Exploration. There was a world outside of Europe. Magellan and Vasco da Gama and Columbus. Aztecs and Incas. Imagine, no Popes as such for about 550 years. What is all this stuff "the official teachings of the Roman Church" claims as the historical record from St. Peter the Apostle, a fisherman was neither pope nor bishop nor priest but a fisherman?

The first pope to pop up was Boniface III in 607. Historians have granted the courtesy of being pope to his predecessors, all the way back to St. Peter. But the first pope qua pope didn't arrive until the seventh century. Wikipedia says at:

In the early centuries of Christianity the bishop of Rome (like other bishops) was chosen by the consensus of the clergy and people of Rome. The body of electors was more precisely defined when, in 1059, the College of Cardinals was designated the sole body of electors. . . And At the Lateran Synod of 13 April
1059 Nicholas II decreed (In nomine Domini) that the pope is to be elected by the six cardinal bishops.

Sorry, Archbishop Curtiss, those are the facts. That's church history. Popes elected by Cardinals didn't come around until the eleventh century, a thousand years after Jesus walked the earth and the waters in Palestine. During all those centuries, Bishops were elected by the clergy and by the people. Archbishop Curtiss' condemnation of elections of bishops is silly, contrary to the facts of history. To put it rather bluntly, he doesn't even know his own Church and its traditions over the two thousand years since Jesus became incarnate.


6. Two Thousand Years of Experience

Archbishop: "I can assure your readers that the collective wisdom of the church, with two thousand years of experience, will not let her return to the selection of bishops by the local clergy and laity. Bishops are expected to govern with authority that comes not from clergy or people but from the Lord himself."

Comment: This confused archbishop can 'assure" Commonweal's readers all he wants, but his assurances melt in the hot sun of the historical fact over a thousand years of Church History that bishops were elected by a consensus of both clergy and the people. Archbishop Curtiss had a slip of the tongue, not Freudian, but revealing, when he wrote above that the "wisdom of the church . . . will not let her return to the selection of bishops by the local clergy and laity." He knew well that bishops were elected for one thousand years of the church's history, even as he was trying to pull the wool over our eyes that election of bishops was so monstrous a concept that it had never-ever-ever happened in the church before. I can't say that this bishop lied. I can say that he made an egregious mistake and doesn't know what he is writing about.

He can expostulate, too, all he wants about the gift of authority from God. Authority is given to the people, not to hierarchs solely. God does not bypass his people for the favored few oligarchs locked in the costumes and mindsets of the Middle Ages. God gives gifts to his people, and the gift of authority is, just as this bishop asserts, "from the Lord himself." It comes from the Lord to the people and the clergy, just as it did for the first thousand years, and then it comes from the clergy and the people to the bishops. Bishop Curtiss is confused and in serious error. He thinks he and his colleagues are separate and apart from the people in a tiny cubicle of the Vatican, which they think is the church. Just them.

The "collective wisdom of the church," of which this bishop is assured does not reside in bishops alone. It is the hallmark, the lodestar, the essence of church. And the church is the people of God: we who are called laity, and priests on various rungs of the ladder, who are called clergy. Neither one alone is church. Together, we are church. I write this to show that I am not anticlerical. I am simply anti-absolute power as wielded by some, too many for comfort, high up on the rungs of the church's ladder of power.

Question: When a hierarch like Elden Francis Curtiss of Omaha, Nebraska, speaks out so erroneously and austerely and autocratically, riddled with errors and falsehoods, and yet from on high about the election of bishops, we are more deeply inspired to Take Back Our Church. CTA, in its current membership drive, is asking us to ponder, "I've had enough…." Of what? Of 1- Intolerance and 2- Injustice and 3- Lack of Accountability. By whom? By Bishops and Cardinals and Popes, who have forgotten who they are: servants of the servants of God. When? Now.

Does anyone reading this think that Archbishop Curtiss will retract his terrible letter? At least correct the obvious historical errors? Or will he excommunicate me for challenging him to face the reality of our church. It is not his. Or mine. It is ours. Ours. As a gift from the Lord himself.

Join CTA. I did. A few weeks ago, realizing that I can write and write and write and achieve nothing alone. With membership in a group like CTA, I can work with others to Take Back Our Church before unskilled, uneducated, untrained, and worst of all, unqualified bishops like Curtiss of Omaha destroys it.

If we cannot join CTA now, let us reconsider later, please, when we can quietly say,

"We've had enough of intolerance, injustice and lack of accountability. We've had enough of hierarchical pomposity and disregard of historical fact. The Lord himself gave us our church. We should honor it, love it, protect it from those who do it harm."


USCCP -- United States Conference of Catholic People

Bottom of Form

In the fall of 2002, when I was jumping in to write about the  Church, I got upset at the alphabet soup of lay people activity. There were so many groups: ARCC, CTA, VOTF, et al. But, there was no spokes-group or -person for the laity. In a frustrated mood, I wrote a piece later on March 25, 2005, about starting up a United States Conference of Catholic People – USCCP. It was to be fashioned on the USCCB. I even wanted USCCP to have its offices in the same building with USCCB in Washington. We the people would pay for it, because we were already paying for the USCCB.  And we the people would have a central office, in which all the alphabits could find a home and start talking to each other and working together. It would be one powerful organization, the USCCP would. For, then, the Sensus Fidelium would have its own platform from which to vitalize and make real The Magisterium itself, of which it is an essential partner.  The piece written then went on and on, as is usual for me.

That article was in a former blog, Paul of Pine Point, and I am re-postging here in this blog, because VOTF had just called for a National Peoples Synod, and that has awakened that old dream. We the people need to come together in a central place under a central umbrella, to shelter our national spokespersons and feature writers. I think the USCCB would sit up and say "Welcome, People, we were hoping you would come join us. We need you so much." A dream? Perhaps. But so was Christianity when Jesus spoke in parables. The People's Synod looks exciting, the perfect vehicle in which we can all fit to travel together and rebuild our Church. It may or may not evolve into a USCCP, but it will surely bring us together. And even the USCCB will listen up. And then we become a genuine Church, people and clergy, clerical and lay. We might even succeed in abrogating the adjective "Roman" before "Catholic," so that we have an authentic Catholic Church.

First, then, the VOTF announcement received today:

People's Synod

By Susan Vogt

Periodically, Popes call Vatican Councils and Bishops call Diocesan Synods. Sometimes the voices of lay people are heard through these forums but too often it is a gathering of church professionals and clerics with a tightly orchestrated agenda and predetermined outcomes. It is a breath of fresh air when this doesn't happen (like Vatican Council II) but that was over 40 years ago. The time has come for a different kind of council – a people's synod. This is consistent with VOTF's philosophy of being a vehicle for the voices of the faithful and working toward common ground together.

A national gathering of Catholics has also been on the minds of many Catholic organizations  for awhile and VOTF has taken the role of midwife. Thus, a National People's Synod
potentially transformative project for the Church in the U.S. – is ready to launch. Although we are walking into an unknown future, one thing we do know is that a synod will happen best if it is not solely a VOTF project but rather a collaborative partnership with the support of a wide spectrum of Catholic leaders and organizations.

We are, therefore, now at the point of transitioning from a VOTF planning committee to forming the Synod Planning Partnership (SPP). VOTF will be the convener, but it is time for us to join our energy with that of other national groups. Don't get too attached to these initials, however, since we've also played around with calling it a National People's Council (a la Vatican II). The newly formed Planning Partnership will make the final call on the name and all accompanying logistical decisions.

So who will make up the Synod Planning Partnership? It will be 25 prominent Catholics and/or their organizations who are willing to put time into making this dream a reality. The date and location of the Synod are tentative although we are aiming for 2010-2011 in a large Midwestern city with proximity to an international airport and facilities large enough to accommodate the numbers we are looking to attend.

Guiding principles of the synod are:

  • In the spirit of Vatican II we want to renew the Church through adding many voices to the decision making process.
  • VOTF will act as a catalyst to convene other groups which, together with VOTF, will prompt those who care about the future of our Church to plan and participate in this history making movement within the Church.
  • It will afford time and opportunity for the Spirit, to define our role in renewal.
  • The foundation of such a gathering will be respect, including assenting and dissenting voices, in the belief that truth emerges when all sides of an issue are explored and different perspectives are represented.
  • An atmosphere of co-ownership and responsibility.

A challenge and a goal of the synod will be to bring together a broad spectrum of Catholics and to really listen to their concerns and ideas for reinvigorating the Church we love. Given this listening, we trust that strategies and actions will evolve to move us closer to the church Jesus inspired. Over 25 Planning Partners have been invited and we are in the process of finalizing the Partnership. Stay tuned for ongoing progress.


And now the article on USCCP

Paul of Pine Point

To engage the future of the Church in the 21st Century.

Friday, March 25, 2005


The Roundtable and Other Groups

On March 14, The National Leadership Roundtable On Church Management released its Final Report as the launching of a new group of lay persons, religious, clergy and hierarchy, to render assistance to the church.
The web site for the NLRCM is
The 88 page report is available at:
For the last three years, many groups of Catholics have been hard at work to help those harmed by the sexual abuse of minors by some deviant Catholic priests, aided and abetted by some covering-up bishops, and to make sure that such crimes against humanity never happen again.
These groups are many. ARCC, CTA, Survivors First, Future Church, VOTF, SNAP, BishopAccountability, CORPUS, CITI, and so many, many others. Many of them are banned and barred from church property. Some CTA people have been formally excommunicated. The most accurate term for depicting the relationship of those groups to those bishops is Polarization. A few have called it The Roman Church Civil War.

A Stalemate of Silence
The bishops of those dioceses have decreed A Stalemate of Silence to the repeated request from those groups for dialogue in this time of perhaps the most serious crisis in the history of the Roman church.
The bishops will not talk, despite the exhortations of a dying Pope to his priests and bishops throughout Christendom. Here are a few words from the spokesman, Cardinal Hummes. Why do American bishops ignore these words in their hostile treatment of their own people?

Dialogue Seen as a Tool of Church's Service
Cardinal Hummes Addresses Congress on "Gaudium et Spes"

The Church must constantly exercise dialogue in its commitment to serve people and protect their fundamental rights, says Cardinal Claudio Hummes. . . .

The prelate spoke of the Church's role in relation to the world, expressed in "a dialogue with courage -- open, frank, sensible and humble. A dialogue with contemporary man, with human reason, the sciences, the progress in biotechnology, with philosophies and cultures, with politics and economics, with everything that refers to social justice, human rights, solidarity with the poor. A dialogue with the whole of society and its segments." . . .

"The Church supports and favors all the present efforts to seek the full development of the personality of every human being and to promote his fundamental rights, dignity and freedom," said Cardinal Hummes.

Our bishops gave no heed to these words, but they seek relief in the courts, against the charges being made for their mismanagement of church affairs. It is as if they and their institution were corporations and citizens of the states and country, where they have long reigned as entities above the law. They refuse to release information about who and where the predator priests are, even today. Our children, thousands upon thousands, over 100,000 in some estimates, were and still are at risk. The bishops seem not to care.

Bishops and Knights of the Roundtable
There is only one thing about which the bishops of America do care, and with ferocity: The Roman Church, the institutional church. Each one of the bishops has taken an oath never to break secrecy lest scandal or harm come to the church. Truly, Omerta! The institution is more important than the people, be they little children or any of the non-ordained.
And yet and yet, it now appears that bishops have talked and will continue to talk to a high-powered group of 225 leaders from investment banking, the corporate world, professions, and other successful business persons in America. It is The Roundtable—NLRCM. The banned and barred lay groups are wondering where they got the clout and why the bishops chose to dialogue with them.
A friend wrote on reading info from John Moynihan of the VOTF National Representative Council

". . . it seems that this group is accomplishing in a very short period of time all that we have been working towards . . . [T]his self described group of "influential" people has caught the attention of even the most reluctant bishop. Where do we go from here? Is the Roundtable group now taking the lead?"

Questions worth asking and deserving an answer, not only from the NLRCM but also from the USCCB. These prompted more:

• What's the big secret?
• What's happening?
• Who is taking our church somewhere?
• Why are we being told two years after the bankers and the bishops started their private dialogue?
• Will the USCCB grant formal recognition of the NLRCM at the June meeting this year?
• Are any members of the NLRCM also members of a lay group which is currently banned and barred and standing?
• How come the bishops are talking with you?
• Is the NLRCM aware that we People are standing still in A Stalemate of Silence, yet trying to realize that we may have to Toss the Gantlet that we will go it alone as the People of God sanctioned by Vatican II?

Can Grown-Ups Make A Tree Out Of Splinters?
For two and a half years now, suggestions have been urged, that lay organizations should think about bringing all their groups together, so as to speak with one voice.
The Roundtable, nicer sounding than the forbidding acronym of NLRCM, pronounced reverently as Enn-el-er-see-um, made its announcement just two weeks ago. It was obvious that those people got together, and with the clout they have, got bishops interested. While nobody has said yet that they have episcopal approval, it looks as if their group is going to be considered at the June meeting of the USCCB.
The program they offer is astounding. Were any of us to make a similar announcement, we would be instantly dismissed as wallowing in dissidence and usurping authority. The Knights of the Roundtable seem to have avoided that. Perhaps we should have named ourselves something with a Camelot in the title. Instead we came out as VOTF, SNAP, ARCC, CORPUS, CTA, pronounced, in snarls, as Vote-uff, Sh-nap, Arc or Arch, Core-poose, and See-tee- yeah!
Each one out loud is better than USCCB – Us-ku-ka-bub. Surely better than the one I will shortly propose: USCCP – Us-ku-ka-pee.

Roundtable and Us -- Dialogue or Silence?
Leaders of our groups ought to be asked, whether we should get in touch with Roundtable, or they with us. They might prefer to stay self-contained, like the Jesuits, especially when they started up in 1540, almost as a personal prelature of Pope Paul III, or Opus Dei, actually a personal prelature of Pope John Paul II.
The Roundtable is intent on solidifying their relationship with the USCCB in June, and from the looks of their 88 page report, will go it alone. Not sure yet, if they will be puppets of the bishops, or friends, advisors, perhaps even equals in every respect. Unlike the National Lay Review Board, selected by the USCCB, it looks as if the Roundtable selected the USCCB.
Common sense suggests that there were a few bishops as pretty good client/investors, or moles within investment banking, With the number of people disclosed so far in Roundtable, the quality of their reputations in business, schools, professions, their obvious success and know how, it's easy to see how they have come so far in such a short time. They know how to operate in marble halls and the corridors of power.
The Knights are successful people, as America judges success: Their demeanor and vestments manifest wealth and power. They could be called, pardon the pun, Lay Bishops. They are definitely not from our common herd. You might see them after Mass on Sunday; they're the ones shaking hands with a beaming celebrant, deeply pleased they waited to say, "Nice homily, Father." Perhaps, they usually attend a bishop's Mass, in the Cathedral or private chapels.
One account did say that a bishop was pretty noncommittal about them, his reserve indicating that they may not be granted favored treatment by the USCCB, on the age old shibboleth of absolute power, which is absolutely never to be delegated to any inferior.
Almost every bishop is prickly about his authority, except when the Pope or a Curial Cardinal treats him like the altar boy he actually is, notwithstanding his grey hair and the paunch, accompanying him as time wends into eternity. Wonder whether any bishop ever thinks of that Judgment Day prior to eternity. Common folk do, and they call it Conscience.

Dialogue -- Dialogue -- Dialogue
More information from Roundtable is needed. We should always be leery of contempt without examination. Intuition, though, may whisper: Why not go straight to the Roundtable leaders and ask them, "What's up? Are you people going to go it alone. Do you have any interest in rounding up all the lay groups and bringing them into one tent? Would you prefer that we stay out of your way?"
We might, I suppose, ask the bishops, but that would probably engender more disdain, contempt, silence. Simon and Garfunkel could have written their immortal The Sounds of Silence, with us and the bishops in mind.

Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping, Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain,
Still remains, within the sound of silence.

In restless dreams I walked alone, Narrow streets of cobblestone,
'neath the halo of a street lamp, I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night, and touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw, Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening,
People writing songs, that voices never share.
And no one dared, Disturb the sound of silence.

"Fools" said I, "You do not know, Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you, Take my arms that I might reach you."
But my words like silent raindrops fell,
And echoed, In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed, To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning, In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls." and whisper'd in the sounds of silence

That haunting song should be our hymn in The Stalemate of Silence, as we back off a bit from our relentless daily work, think, then pray, for a while, gather our collective breath, find a way to come together as one group for one People.
What would ever happen in and to the Catholic Church in America, were we to announce the formation of a new organization: The United States Conference of Catholic People?
The USCCP. With an office in trendy Washington, DC, an executive director or President, an educated and qualified staff. Funding is no problem. Just change the name of The Bishop's Appeal to The People's Appeal. There are 67 million of us, at $0.10 per person, for a total of $6,700,00. That's a start with clout. The kind that should awaken our American bishops to become aware of the simple reality that the days of absolute power are over.
For those concerned about underwriting the USCCP, ask just one question. Who underwrites the USCCB? The church does not earn money. It collects it. From us. Most Sundays now we have a series of Collections -- First, Second, Third. We support each of the 195 dioceses and each agency and parish and ministry within them. We do, in fact, pay for the entire Roman church in the United States, including the USCCB. When the money gets low, we are asked to donate more in Special Appeals. When that is gone, as it is now in three dioceses so far, they file for bankruptcy protection. It is exquisitely sad to hear the accusations that the blame for poor financial conditions is, believe it or not, due to the claims of the Survivors, the victims of ecclesiastical crimes. Jesus himself has promised to lay the blame on those who harmed the children, with a punishment far worse than a great millstone.
It's crazy that money talks, and bishops won't. And it seems like going down on their low level of silent disdain, when we threaten to withhold funds needed for the ministries of our church, particularly to the marginalized. We must never forget that our church does much good, truly helps those unable to help themselves, is based on and does live in the three great theological virtues: Faith, Hope, Love. How much better it would be to let the bishops become aware that that we will continue to support the church, provided funds are allocated to the establishment and maintenance of the USCCP.
If they refuse, or if the silence continues, then with the advice and consent of enough of the People to assure us we are on the correct way, we establish a National Trust Fund for a USCCP and donate our $0.10 per person there, while continuing to meet our obligations to the church, which is, of course, the People of God.
With the One Voice of the USCCP being heard, the dialogue can begin. Soon, the tyranny will end. No more brutality from: absolute power and its twin, absolute corruption; the feudal remnants of thralls in thralldom; authoritarian control of our lives and our minds and our hearts and our souls. Gone. All gone. It will be over. It will be all over. Inalienable rights and dignities will be honored not squelched. Together, we are the People of God and we are Church.

A Spiritual Guide On Splinters
Long ago in law school, we used to spend many afternoons with Father Tobin, officially the Spiritual Father for us students, actually a Jesuit elder allowed to relax a bit in pasture, well earned after years of managing the Science Department at B.C. and placing thousands of graduates in medical schools or doctorate programs in the sciences. As fledgling lawyers-to-be, we were blessed to have as our guide a humble Jesuit priest, who was also a genius and a saint.
One day we talked about Israel surrounded by Arab countries, with millions of men and boys ready to kill the heathen. We felt Israel was outnumbered and would be obliterated in the next all-out war. Fr. Tobin told us not to worry, explaining that the Israelites knew well that the hostile countries were little splinter groups, each one powerful and zealous, but so splintered there was no way they could ever come together and defeat Israel. That was 1957. It's 2005 now, and Israel is still here. It might even have a neighbor soon, a democracy exported mightily into the splinters.
The last few years have demonstrated that American bishops, as wise as Israelis, think the same way about us. We are so splintered. As the People, we do have a few standouts like Tom Doyle and friends; old-timers such as ARCC and CTA; a couple of strong, new groups in VOTF and SNAP; many skilled and moving writers in the new books coming out. But like the Arabs, we're splintered splinters. I don't even think we talk with each other, let alone with the bishops. We can, through a USCCP.

No Splinters When United In A Conference
The United States Conference of Catholic People -- USCCP -- will not only end the splintered weaknesses inherent in scattered groups, but it will also afford the People their proper place in the church as members. The USCCP will be equal to the USCCB, and People will be side by side with Priests and Hierarchy, without petty banning or barring, free from The Stalemate of Silence, all polarization abolished. We will all be living and breathing and walking and working together to engage the future of the American Catholic Church in the 21st century.
The groups -- ARCC, CORPUS, VOTF, just to name three -- will remain and grow in wisdom and grace, more easily dedicated to their precise missions. Those groups are like the numerous Orders and Congregations of Religious and Clergy -- Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans -- again a symbolic three, each with their unique missions.
The USCCP, as a counterpart to the USCCB, will speak for all of the 67,000,000 People. They now speak in a cacophony of splintered voices. They should have the timbre and clarity and resonance of One Voice. They have received the Faith That Dares To Speak. With the USCCP, they will find and claim the courage and humility to stand and speak. And be heard.
When that One Voice speaks, no bishop will dare to pout in A Stalemate of Silence. When that One Voice speaks, the process for accountability will begin for those bishops responsible for the cover-upping and criminal negligence and malfeasance in their overseeing duties. They will have to lay down their crooked Croziers and doff their two-faced Mitres. They will be called for an accounting. And they will be held accountable. When that One Voice speaks, the confessions will come, the amends will be made, and we will be the American Catholic Church.
Survivors and their families, friends and supporters will have hope that Justice will be rendered in this life, and their healing may continue in peace. Whether People or Bishop, we know well that another accounting is coming, the one reserved for each and every one of us, and in particular the one about the Great Millstones for those who have harmed a child. We cannot pass into the transition from this life to eternal life without standing for our personal Final Judgment. In that accounting, may we be judged with mercy. May we remember that mercy now, as we are judging others around us, particularly in their response to the Church's need for reformation and renewal in this 21st century.
In time, the USCCB and the USCCP will merge into the USCPG -- The United States Conference of the People of God. And we will be one, apostolic and holy.
May we imagine the Holy Spirit telling us,

"It could be done, you know, if you come together as equals, not as favored groups or prelatures. If you really become a Catholic Church. If you are the People of God."

Friday, June 13, 2008

You Can Go Home Again

Some readers know that Jean and I are going home tomorrow, despite Tom Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again." He also wrote, "Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died." And that one's not true, either. We lived in Manchester, NH, for almost forty years, raised our family of four sons there, and spent a good part of each year at Jean's family home, which her parents had bought in 1940. The Brown House on Sea Rose Lane, in Pine Point, Maine, where our front yard was Grand Beach, seven miles long.

We left New Hampshire in 1997 for our discovery of the West, settled in Fort Collins, Colorado, and worked for a company based at Lake Tahoe, California. It had offices in San Diego and Dover, NH, back where our roots were. We toured all the western states and criss-crossed America, from the Pacific to the Atlantic twelve times during the next four years. Indeed, our Great Adventure.

Retirement came in 2001. Our home in NH had been long sold. The one in Maine beckoned us full-time, and we stayed in sort of a gentile retirement, until taxes and our own wander-wonder-lust moved us on and out and back to – you guessed it, Colorado, that unique among states with three geologies. On the east, the High Plains, at 5,000 feet, nestled up against the foothills to the Rocky Mountains, known to Coloradans as The Front Range. This time we chose Longmont, about twenty miles south of Fort Collins where we had lived before. Longs Peak, 14,255 feet, is framed by our bedroom window. It is one of the 14-ers, those Rocky Mountains which exceed 14,000 feet. The Rockies are the second of the geologies, surging down through the middle of the state. The third is the Great Plateau, all the way west to the Sierras, through Utah and Nevada into California.

Easterners, particularly New Englanders, who do live in another of America's treasure lands, can never know the grandeur of the West, until they spend several years living here. It is magnificent. It is awesome. And it is hard to leave, even when going home.

In a blog recently, I wrote:

All the above sounds good, reads well. But, it is a close one. Like 9 - 7, in the bottom of the ninth, with two men on, two outs, and the slugger of the team at bat. The pitcher is tired. Or, it's 4th and 1 in the Super Bowl, the losing team on its own 45, 24 - 21, a few more yards for a field goal try, 30 seconds on the clock. But it could be what the ultras jeer it is: just pie in the sky, or Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

That eases the pain of leaving Colorado to be with our youngest grandchildren in Manchester, NH, ages 5 and 3, because the sports references show that we are going home to the sports capitol of the world. The Celtics came back last night from 20 points down to beat the Lakers 97 – 91. My home town of Boston hosts the Bruins and the Red Sox. All of New England claims the Patriots.

You Can Go Home Again.

As a farewell to one of the greatest of our 50, we spent a week with our oldest son in Dillon, smack square in the middle of Summit County in the heart of the Rockies. From there we went to the places which had taken our hearts: the Front Range, from Cheyenne, Wyoming, all the way down to Taos, New Mexico, and back up through the Sangre di Cristo mountains valley; a long awaited adventurous drive in our RAV4 on Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the USA, around 12,000 feet – like Lake Tahoe, where we spent many working visits at the highest mountain lake in the USA, making our high points the highest on land and on water; to Leadville, an old mining town that looks like it used to be, though a bit touristy, not too much, at 10,150 feet; and the trip of trips yesterday due west out of Dillon and Frisco and Copper Mountain, west on I-70, to Glenwood Springs. The last part of that trip is through Glenwood Canyon, rivaling Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, as the most beautiful, inspiring places in this country of ours. When we get off the plane tomorrow, in Manchester,NH, at 4:22,pm, home after eleven years away, and back in the Merrimack Valley, we will always have our Great Adventure in the West deep in our remembery.

Imperial Impunity

It would seem in post-Nazism and post-coldwarism that a giant of democracy and a foremost proponent of the Rule of Law would show leadership to the world by how it protects and preserves humanity and decency and the fine art of jurisprudence, particularly in the way in which it deals with those accused and waiting for their day in court. The common folk call it "Due Process." Some in the legal profession, be they lawyer or judge, used to do so, too, but not now. No sham can be honored with the word "Due" in front of the word "Process."

Many of us who grew up as children in WWII, too young to be patriotic all the way and march in parades, sing songs of war and go off to Europe or Asia to defeat the enemy, as our older teenage brothers did, often heard stories of that enemy, hoping that their capture would be effected by American troops. Americans were kind, gave chocolate bars to kids, bartered cigarettes for silk stockings, laughed a lot, even though dirty, scummed with the mud of battle, weary, yet deadly in a firefight, awesome with power of machine and weapon that simply could not be beaten.

And, my God, they were brave, brave beyond the calculated assessment of the hardened, professional, battle-proven, best and bravest of Japan and Germany. They thought American kids off the streets and the farms were amateurs. And yet, and yet, as the war grew on and on, it became evident, even to us youngsters and our parents, awash as we were in daily propaganda Dr. Goebbels would have given his eye-teeth, both arms and eyes for, we poured out our instinctive respect and love for our troops.

I learned this after the war, in a scholastics' rec room in Tokyo, listening to Bob Arrowsmith tell stories of his paratrooper days in the Pacific theatre, and Franz Schaffenberger talk of Mass for the troops by a German Jesuit prior to the Battle of the Bulge. I sat there, 25 years old, staring at two men just a few years older than I, who had been there, done that, in the bloodiest war of history. I was touching courage and decency and honor in each of them. I knew, in the early years of my own adulthood, schooling done, that I would never understand "war."

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not glorifying war. War is hell. Period. But, down on the ground, up in the air, on the seas, it was not always fought by inhuman monsters. Nor were wars won by torture of captured enemies. Even in the slaughter of the innocents, as in modern warfare, with pattern bombing, submarine sinkings, Coventry, Nanking, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, there is something called human decency which forbids the torture and killing of those who fought against our troops and were captured when their side lost. I'm pretty sure it is accurate to say that America did not have Abu Ghraib prisons in WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Panama, Granada, the great wars in which we onlookers were no long kids too young to serve, but grown-ups, still swallowing the patent obfuscations of reality that our government sent out daily as the "gospel truth" about what is going on over there.

Today, our observations are those of the title in one of Thomas Merton's masterpieces – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. In our battle to squash Iraq, for a presidential emotive justification, or worse, a neoconical reason, and in those other skirmishes where we hope to wipe out the fanatics of Al Qaeda, we have "become accustomed to her face," the face of degrading, humiliating water boarding and plain, old-fashioned executions. Not by them. By us. And we Americans are demeaned. Democracy is but a buzz word. The Rule of Law was abrogated. We never noticed their passing.

All the above sounds good, reads well. But, it is a close one. Like 9 - 7, in the bottom of the ninth, with two men on, two outs, and the slugger of the team at bat. The pitcher is tired. Or, it's 4th and 1 in the Super Bowl, the losing team on its own 45, 24 - 21, a few more yards for a field goal try, 30 seconds on the clock. But it could be what the ultras jeer it is: just pie in the sky, or Lucy in the sky with diamonds. Because the United States Supreme Court's decision about the denial of Habeas Corpus to Guantanamo detainees was 5 – 4. The New York Times lead editorial on June 13, 2008 was "Justice 5, Brutality 4." That editorial is so insightful, that I copy it here below. The "Brutal Four" are Chief Justice Roberts, and his first team members, Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito.

If you are concerned with my language, because you know I am a retired lawyer, know that I spoke this way when active in the practice of law. I do not like and fear Neocons, even if they wear judicial robes. Particularly, if they wear those robes in a court of last resort, which is the source of their Imperial Impunity. And I will so speak and write until I die, not even huffing that my opponents can then wrench the keyboard from my cold, dead hands, because I give it to one of my friends, who picks it up to go join the thousands of others whose keyboards tingle in tune together. We are being heard. We are being read. Time we should have been, but that's our own procrastination and apathy, isn't it? On which, they used to count and rely with Imperial Impunity.

May God preserve us from brutality, doing it rather than receiving it, for Jesus didn't duck the crucifixion at the high hands of Imperial Impunity and high priests who knew not what they were doing.

Also, and finally, a new phrase, you may have notice, has emerged to describe our country and its current administration: Imperial Impunity. That is why it's the title of this piece, thanks to its creator Tom Engelhardt, of TomDispatch at Truthout. The article in which it appeared is " 'E' for Expeditionary: One Man's Online Journey Through Bush's Alphabet Soup." At:

I think this acknowledgment is very important, because it is also a two-word description of the politics of the Vatican, its pope, its curia, and its cardinals, the top guns who are not accountable to anyone but God, so they say. We hope that is so, with great millstones biblically, but want basic responsibility from our leaders, based on tolerance, justice and accountability, now. Collegiality is no panacea, because the two Colleges – of Cardinals and of Bishops – have been selectively packed with look-alikes, walk-alikes, talk-alikes, one by one, since 1978, by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

That makes Bishop Geoffrey Robinson such a rarity that his own brothers must try to hush him up. So far, cardinalitial croziers and episcopal feet, dancing choreographically, are pounding sand.

Imperial Impunity is no Church.


June 13, 2008


Justice 5, Brutality 4

For years, with the help of compliant Republicans and frightened Democrats in Congress, President Bush has denied the protections of justice, democracy and plain human decency to the hundreds of men that he decided to label "unlawful enemy combatants" and throw into never-ending detention.

Twice the Supreme Court swatted back his imperial overreaching, and twice Congress helped Mr. Bush try to open a gaping loophole in the Constitution. On Thursday, the court turned back the most recent effort to subvert justice with a stirring defense of habeas corpus, the right of anyone being held by the government to challenge his confinement before a judge.

The court ruled that the detainees being held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have that cherished right, and that the process for them to challenge their confinement is inadequate. It was a very good day for people who value freedom and abhor Mr. Bush's attempts to turn Guantánamo Bay into a constitutional-rights-free zone.

The right of habeas corpus is so central to the American legal system that it has its own clause in the Constitution: it cannot be suspended except "when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."

Despite this, the Bush administration repeatedly tried to strip away habeas rights. First, it herded prisoners who were seized in Afghanistan, and in other foreign countries, into the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay and claimed that since the base is on foreign territory, the detainees' habeas cases could not be heard in the federal courts. In 2004, the court rejected that argument, ruling that Guantánamo, which is under American control, is effectively part of the United States.

In 2006, the court handed the administration another defeat, ruling that it had relied improperly on the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 to hold the detainees on Guantánamo without giving them habeas rights. Since then, Congress passed another law, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that tried — and failed horribly — to fix the problems with the Detainee Treatment Act.

Now, by a 5-to-4 vote, the court has affirmed the detainees' habeas rights. The majority, in an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, ruled that the Military Commissions Act violates the Suspension Clause, by eliminating habeas corpus although the requirements of the Constitution — invasion or rebellion — do not exist.

The court ruled that the military tribunals that are hearing the detainees' cases — the administration's weak alternative to habeas proceedings in a federal court — are not an adequate substitute. The hearings cut back on basic due process protections, like the right to counsel and the right to present evidence of innocence.

It was disturbing that four justices dissented from this eminently reasonable decision. The lead dissent, by Chief Justice John Roberts, dismisses habeas as "most fundamentally a procedural right." Chief Justice Roberts thinks the detainees receive such "generous" protections at their hearings that the majority should not have worried about whether they had habeas rights.

There is an enormous gulf between the substance and tone of the majority opinion, with its rich appreciation of the liberties that the founders wrote into the Constitution, and the what-is-all-the-fuss-about dissent. It is sobering to think that habeas hangs by a single vote in the Supreme Court of the United States — a reminder that the composition of the court could depend on the outcome of this year's presidential election. The ruling is a major victory for civil liberties — but a timely reminder of how fragile they are.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Critical Issues To Save The Catholic Church Are Political Not Doctrinal

It has to be obvious that I am whelmed by the horror of the hierarch. It is obvious that I do not speak in the measured, detached tones of the appellate lawyer before the five justices of our New Hampshire Supreme Court, as was done so many times over 40 years of immersion in the river of jurisprudence. Professionals rarely emote. Jurisprudence itself is a discipline that cannot feel, but knows and finds clarity out of obfuscation.

Not too long ago, though, jurisprudence began to feel, when it stared at the crime of sexual abuse in which the perpetrator was a 30 year old man wearing a Roman collar and the female victim was  a six year old child, wearing nothing, her First Communion dress crumpled by her side. I knew emotion then, racking, raging, enormous, whelming. Our only granddaughter, Alayna, was 12. During the ensuing six years, my knowledge grew as did my emotions. Alayna  is 18, saved,  perhaps, because her father became an Evangelical Christian. Our new grandchildren are Seanna,  5 ½ years old, and her brother Ryan, 3.  As modern Catholic parents, since January 2002, their vigilance is constant, steady – well what better word? -- vigilant.

Keith, their father, is still a parishioner at St. Catherine Church, Manchester, NH, where he was baptized in 1962. He does not approve of my being whelmed and would rather see his father as the detached, professional litigator he used to be.  But, he has never once said, "Look, Pop, I'm their father. You're just a grandfather." Others have. And wished they hadn't. One pastor in Maine said to me, "Why so angry? It's not just priests, not just clergymen from other religions. It's pedophilia and is widespread. You are way over the top. Stop beating up on the Church. Looks like you've lost the Faith and are trying to cover up your own fault." I wrestled with that one for a long time. Cannot agree with him. It's impossible to deny my traditions, without which I am nothing.

In January of 2002, the secrecy of sexual abuse of minors was rent like the curtain of the temple when Jesus was crucified. Those of us who knew about it for decades – I was abused by a parish priest in my mid-teens, fended off advances made by a theol during villa – came to realize in the glare of salacious publicity that the secret was now out and in the open. Stunned into a roaring, raging silence, men like me, celibate for years as a seminarian, married for far more years with four children as emblems of our love, saw with a clarity that could rival private revelation that the issue was not sex. It was power. And we rose to take on the leaders of our Church.

The issues we raised were not  biology, ephebophilia, pedophilia, a hankering for boys rather than girls, the curse of celibacy overwhelming its blessings,  the "official teachings of the Church" on sex,  not even the natural law and sexual morality. We saw, as the excrement of absolute power, three issues:

  1. Intolerance  
  2. Injustice 
  3. Absence of accountability

We spoke out. We were for the most part ignored by Cardinals and Bishops, who were themselves vowed as it were in sacred silence and quite content to hang onto the absolutism of their power. A few clobbered back: banning, barring, locking parish hall doors, denouncing from the pulpit, thundering with judgmental judgments of mortal sins of  disobedience,  lack of respect, dissidence, heresy, and the worst of them all, refusal to bow down before their authority. Some were aghast. Most were terrified. And still are. Make no mistake. They are not incompetent opponents, nor are they weak, frightened men. They are afraid, yes, but for the horror of losing their power and perks, and not for loss of the Church.

Roman Catholic Hierarchs, approximately 4,850 total,  do not really care whether they rule absolutely over 1,200,000,000 people of God all over the world. They do care that those they rule over are absolutely subservient silently unto them, even if there are only a couple of hundred thousand Roman Catholics, and could probably be satisfied with a few ten thousand or so.  I don't know the average size of a diocese, but Portland ME, our last diocese is listed at 198,296
The Boston Archdiocese lists its population as of 2004, at 2,079,730.  Denver, in which I sit at this moment, is 407,500, while the good, old USA ranges from 67,515,016 to 76,900,000.

I think there are 195 dioceses with either a cardinal, archbishop or bishop as the Ordinary. There are a lot  more retired, yes, but all they do is hang around. They have absolute power, but are powerless. It is safe to say that 193 Ordinaries claim absolute power over approximately 77,000,000 Catholic human beings in America.  It is the power that feeds the lust, not the numbers of people who bow down. As a college football fan – a son coaches – the numbers amaze me. There are only 193 hierarchs to confront in the good, old U.S. of A. A mere handful. If 50 of us oldtimers yelled "BOO!!" they'd scatter in a second. For a chancery or a basilica. Then again, maybe they wouldn't. They do seem impervious to insults, and Tom Engelhardt who prompted this piece uses a marvelous phrase for politicians,  which we could easily borrow for our own leaders, filled with an "unbounded sense of imperial impunity."

That "imperial impunity" was haughtily clear in the excommunications of late, that ancient relic  of a battle axe, which usually brought  entire empires to their knees rather quickly.  A few of us, who had been through the formation of the holiest of men – so they told us – as celibate seminarians, were waiting with eager anticipation for an Interdict,  a much wielded weapon of papal primacy, not as terminable as excommunication, but  as vicious and effective. And then we were ready for the Great Guffaw in honor of the finest laical triumph in ecclesiology. We imagined whole dioceses snubbing Rome with, "So what. Go away."

[Aside: my sainted mother – three Rosaries per day, Stations every Friday -- would have been aghast: "Could this monster be my son?" Her supreme joy: the day I left for the Jesuits. Her deepest tragedy: the day I left the Jesuits.]

Relations between those martinet Ordinaries and what had been a placable people looked like  the playground squabbles of elementary school years when the game was King of the Hill. A cardinal and a couple of bishops were pushed off the top  of the hill by us kids. After being toppled, some fled to the safety and sanctuary of Roman Basilicas, where they have an allowance for keeping the floors clean and conducting grand tours for tourists, who like them, believe the Church isn't now what it used to be then. Supreme.  Just a relic of the glory of the past. A museum of sorts. Architecture monstrous. Paintings magnificent. Sculpture statuesque. Gore, lots of it, heretics obliterated, crusades endless. Power is awesome. Absolute Power is the ultimate in corruption. 

Recently, a Cardinal turned on a Bishop. Roger Mahony of Los Angeles ordered Geoffrey Robinson of Sidney, Australia, not to set foot on his cardinalatial fiefdom, to shut up, stop writing books, go home and enter a monastic order, maybe, do  penance for life, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Some sycophant Bishops follow the Cardinal slavishly and issued similar orders of Coventry-like banishment, lamenting the sorry state of public affairs in this 21st century,  where they are denied the dungeon and the rack, the stake and the fire, not to mention disembowelment,  or the ultimate entertainment for the masses of a dissident  being drawn and quartered. 

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a quiet, humble, learned man, a servant of the servants of God, is not cowed. No authentic man of God can be cowed by a dandy of a hierarch, particularly when he is a hierarch himself, without the dandy. His tour of America is quite successful. He speaks. People of God listen and say, "Yes." We feel sorry for the Mahonys and the Browns and the Chaputs and all the other little martinets who must have been bullies back in the first grade, too. More to be pitied after censured, as a new saying might go.

And yet. And yet. I speak and write, taking my inspiration from commentators of our political scene, be they left, right or in the middle, avoiding the extremes of neocons and fascists.  One of them,  just one, there are others, is Tom Engelhardt, who appears in Truthout, a daily website of observations of our world: . His piece today is the best I've read over the years, because it is a history of what he has been about and what  his new book will be about. He writes sentences I wish I could imitate but know I cannot. For example:

In these last years, the Bush administration's unbounded sense of imperial impunity, and an older American belief that this country possesses a moral code exceptional among nations, have proven a lethal geopolitical cocktail. This curious perspective has led our administration to commit acts of horror in our name, while absolving us from thinking about how others might look on those acts -- and by extension, how they think about us.

Listen up  now. Go  back to that quote and

  1. Substitute "the Vatican administration" for "the Bush Administration."
  2. Turn "an older American belief" into "an older Roman Catholic  belief." 

And you will see as clearly as do I, that the issues some of us old men are raising to the Roman Church are political not dogmatic, disciplinary not doctrinal. We, and I, believe that there is indeed a Catholic Church. We, and I, do not believe that it is a Roman Catholic Church. No need for qualifying adjectives of limitation, when the word "Catholic" means "Universal." The Roman Catholic Church is limited, narrow, reserved for hierarchs and their toadies, and can never ever be Catholic, unless it changes, or we change, its governmental structure.

And that, as far and as clearly as I can see, is politics, pure and simple, though brutal and possibly lethal,  as far and as clearly as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI – include, please, George W. Bush -- have demonstrated. Such men are followed obediently, without question, by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Bishop Todd Brown and eight others who demand that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson shut up and go home to Australia.

He won't. Neither will we. Why do we persist against such absolutely powerful odds? Go to Tom Engelhardt again, where he wrote:

 Because, for years, so little on these, and similar, subjects made it into print or onto the TV news, there has been a special need and place for online political websites. We started - and maintained - discussions that only slowly seeped into the mainstream, even as readers from that world increasingly fled on-line. At the height of the Bush administration's power and narcissism, what TomDispatch and other sites like it represented was perhaps a simple urge not to let them set an agenda for all of America, and for the planet. This, it turns out, they were incapable of doing - and for that, perhaps, we should be modestly thankful. When the first histories of our desperate times are finally written, historians will have to turn to the record created by the world of the Internet, or their histories will be as incomplete, the dots as unconnected as they were in the mainstream in these sorry years.

Intuition tells me that you readers are ahead of me, but being a doubting Thomas most of my life – he's my favorite Apostle – I have to make sure.

  1. Change "the Bush administration's power and narcissism" to – you know what – "the Vatican administration's power and narcissism."
  2. Change the black font  to red for "We started – and maintained – discussions that only slowly seeped into the mainstream ,. . . "
  3. Do the same for "it represented was perhaps a simple urge not to let them set an agenda for all of Catholicism, and for the planet."

Bullets have a way of making the point.  These are ours, not lethal, but filled with faith and hope and love.

  • We do what we do now, to stop the tyranny.
  • We seek tolerance, justice, accountability.
  • If we do not succeed now, those who come after us will, simply and only because we began this opposition to absolute power.
  • We will never go away.
  • Nor will we fall back into the servitude that the Roman Catholic Church demands.
  • We are the Catholic Church. 
  • We are taking back our Church.


 The entire article, which prompted this piece is a long one, entitled: " 'E' for Expeditionary: One Man's Online Journey Through Bush's Alphabet Soup." Written by: Tom Engelhardt,, on Tuesday 10 June 2008. This article should be read by those whose eyes are open, ears are open,  and minds are, therefore, just as open, to see the similarity between institutions, which lust for absolute power, with "an unbounded sense of imperial impunity." And which cause such irremediable harm. 

Go to it now at:

Please note the editor's explanation at the end of the article:

  Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site, has just been published. Focusing on what the mainstream media didn't cover, it is functionally an alternative history of the mad Bush years. This essay is adapted from that book's introduction. A brief video in which Engelhardt discusses the book and the American mega-bases in Iraq can be viewed by clicking here.

If clicking here didn't work from here, it would  have been: