Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Need for Greatness That Many of Us Harbor

When I look on the heroes in my life, what I see is their greatness. We fumble for words to say what it is that lifts them above us: talent, integrity, courage, decency, holiness, a whole bunch of synonyms for being a saint. I think Chip Brown stumbled on it in his article on Tiger Woods in today's New York Times. One word: Greatness.

Check out this week's Play Newsletter:  It says:

When Chip Brown went to Florida for two weeks in March for an up-close look at the Tiger Woods phenomenon, he left knowing that Woods, still just 32, was one of the most written-about athletes of all time, the subject of many millions of words, including some 85 books. He also knew Woods tended to avoid saying anything very revealing.

But Brown had been studying Egyptian gods for an article for "National Geographic," and he saw in Woods the same kind of alloy that, in ancient Egypt, reflected greatness back onto an entire civilization. In his cover story for the current issue of PLAY, "It's Good To Be Immortal," Brown chose to focus on the relationship between Tiger Woods and us, and how his greatness as an athletic performer fulfills a need for greatness that many of us harbor.

Scott McClellan may not have greatness, but he is speaking truth to power, about what he did and hated doing, as Press Secretary for The White House. He went along with it, anyway, and now speaks, only to be doomed. I may not follow, but listen to what he has to say.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has greatness. He is on a speaking tour in the United States for his book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. He, too, speaks truth to power, and is damned. When Catholics hate Catholics, there is no decency, only damnation to hell's fire for eternity.  I listen to the Bishop and I follow him, for he is a Christ before the high priests of his own times. That is the "greatness that many of us harbor."

We can measure the impact of these two spokespersons by the quality of those who pounce, too late to silence them, but in time to  doom – State; or damn -- Church. Quickly, even immediately, they surge forth to pounce, on anyone who dares besmirch their institution. The State. The Church. They are not nice people.  They have no greatness.  They do not even harbor it.  Actually, they are little people, without greatness: the Libbys, the Cheneys, the Wolfowitzes, the Rumsfelds, the Bushes. No such litany is needed for churchmen. "High priests" will do.

Pouncers have few inklings to acknowledge heroes. They may long for greatness – as in a legacy -- but can never see it in others or in themselves, enwrapped as they are in brillo, rather than awe. Which brings the puzzlement: Why disgust? Rather than awe? Lots of disgust lately, but little awe. Scott McClellan and the bush Bush reaction to his disclosure and exposure. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and the burning bush reaction from hierarchs who hate each other.

There is a common fugue in the daily flow and earthquakes of news: be it in print or on cable; from quakelake books flooding the market; instant condemnation uttered by puzzled pundits; spokespersons unmuzzled, lunging off leashes; and those knee-jerk rushers to judgment: Whom shall we doom or damn today?"

Makes little difference whether one claims allegiance to State rather than Church, as one well might, for those who pounce out of Church are the most practiced and best skilled at obliteration by destruction. Theirs leaves no spoor. At least the assassins from Church are consistent by condemning their prey to an eternity of hellfire and damnation with "He's a heretic." We don't hear, "He's not the Bishop Geoffrey we thought we knew."

In State's pursuit of those who done it wrong, the justification is the expansion of power, pretty much the same driving force for Church, but not clothed in vestments of religiosity. And so, the news of the moment is that McClellan is leaving the muzzlement of political spokesman, even as his former colleagues enter puzzlement at his behavior, "He's not the Scott we used to know."

Bishop Robinson, on the other hand, is not as slyly dismissed, you see, and must be destroyed, without trace. After all, he is simply asking questions, as he told ABC News, but he must be damned, with no understanding, no forgiveness, no salvation outside the Church, no puzzlement. Not even puzzlement, that snide reaction of Bush people to criticism of their president.

I often think of the truism: What Peter says about Paul  says far more about Peter than it does about Paul. 

I also often think of Plato and his Republic: Who shall guard the Guardians?  

And yesterday, I thought of two men whose birthday it is. My father, whose greatness was born in 1896. And Walker Percy, the novelist who was born in 1916. Percy wrote,

[We] live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.

Listen then, to Scott McClellan's answers and those who are puzzled by him.

Listen to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's questions and those who forbid him to ask.

Harbor greatness.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and Robert Blair Kaiser

We think of Ian Fleming as the creator of only James Bond. But he is a great writer and great writers see much more when they look out on our world, work on what they see with creativity, and enthrall the world thus seen with more than just one hero for our times. Fleming is such a great writer, not limited by that one genre for James Bond; there is the other one in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Wikipedia tells us that this book is a children's novel written by Fleming for Caspar, his son. At first, the car named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is just a sports car, but as the book progresses, the car surprises the family by beginning to exhibit independent actions. After many intriguing adventures, Chitty and the family fly home to England, although Fleming hints that the car has yet more secrets. For more, read the book. Or, go to

 Our Robert Blair Kaiser is another great writer, who broke free from the chains of just one genre, moving easily, skillfully, in the fields of ecclesiology , biography, fiction (more real than fact!) -- three books in a row:

  • A Church In Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future
  • Cardinal Mahony: A Novel
  • "RFK Must Die!" Chasing the Mystery of the Robert F. Kennedy Assassination

Mahony and Benedict XVI are Church, and Kennedy is State, as in Church and State. Have you heard of Hillary's reference to the assassination of Robert Kennedy? Check out Kaiser's most recent book, an Open Sesame, which unlocks closed doors, so we can see how the inside functions to obfuscate the outside. The way both Church and State can do.

 Kaiser's genius – his friends call him Kaiser -- is also shown in his founding an organization for Catholics to take back our Church from the clutching grip of the hierarchy before it becomes lost in cold, dead hands. He calls it Take Back Our Church. In the acronymic way of designating lay groups dedicated to reform and renewal, it became TBOC. You may pronounce that Tee Be Oh! See, in sort of a marching beat akin to "America the Beautiful"-- or Tee Bock, should you mean business in a no-nonsense sort of way and are tired of waiting for bishops to wake up. Run it altogether for the website at:

 It's kind of tough, if not disheartening, for a layman and his bunch of men and women, known as the Laity – a lousy word for The People of God – to get going and rebuild the glorious Catholic Church, now lying in ruins as the Roman Catholic Church, for the Pope and Curia have more or less stolen it. They kept it locked up in the cellar of the Vatican, by setting up a weird group of guys, all men, all celibate, self-perpetuating by natural selection, the careful kind fostered by all secret societies and cults, as a tight-knit, tiny-tiny bunch of bishops, who control the world. 4,500 or so of them have 1,200,000,000 lay people hopping up and down from full squats to deep kneels to tippy toe longings, by a simple snap of their fingers, the ringed ones holding big sticks that go THUMP! when bashed on the ground. Never stick a foot out when a bishop's going by, and run for cover should it be a cardinal. You can tell the difference by their colored gowns: purple for bishops; scarlet for the birds.

 TBOC could use a little help from a bishop or two, to give it some clout, if not a tad of respectability, which might entice more bishops in a row to toddle on over to the people's side of the Church and make meaningful that old advertising slogan of Church qua Church – Instauratio Omnia in ChristoRestore Everything in Christ. TBOC is about instauration, and a bishop could help.

 One showed up recently. Where? Not in America where most bishops are toadies, nor Europe where they appear to have given up and are holding on till retirement, but, of all places, Australia. And his name is Geoffrey Robinson, Bishop of Sydney, who retired in order to write Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. He is currently on tour in America and is being joined by Robert Blair Kaiser, author of Cardinal Mahony: A Novel in which Roger is a good guy, but that's fiction and the fact is that he isn't. Rodger the Dodger has done the implausible in banning Bishop Robinson from appearing in Los Angeles. Can you believe that? A cardinal swats a bishop in public, before the whole world, as if saying, "This is my town, Buddy. No Aussies need apply. I don't like the way you wear your hat."

Ian Fleming and Robert Blair Kaiser had helped me realize that the stature of a writer stands not in one book, and Church can bear more than one adjectival description. I commune in a corrupt Church and hope for a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Church. Cardinals and Bishops are Ordinaries – possessors of absolute power, equals, immune from onslaughts by a co-equal hierarch. They can ban and bar dumpy, grumpy old men like me who are lay – Gawd! I hate that word, and "non-clerical" is worse – but no hierarch can outhierarch another hierarch. Not even the pope.

 What is going down – definitely not "on" – in the Roman version of the Catholic Church? A dying grasp on power before it slips from cold, dead hands? Hasn't Roger the Dodger read that magnificent book Kaiser wrote about what he could be, the book which turned the fact of his fiction into the kind of cardinal you'd like to have in for dinner, take to a ball game, call up on your cell phone and ask, "Hey Roj, what's up? Wanna go over and listen to Geoff? He's speaking tonight. The guy's got guts, like you in had in Kaiser's book."

Bishop Robinson's book is getting known. America, our favorite Jesuit periodical – used to be, that is, until Tom Reese got booted by a brand new pope who lives on resentments – had this to say, as quoted by

"[T]he importance of Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church lies in the fact that a bishop, an ecclesiastical `insider,' has had the courage to challenge the institution of which he was a part and invite serious conversation regarding a broad range of church issues that have too often been declared off-limits by church leadership. If Robinson's book opens the door to more open and responsible theological conversation by members of church leadership regarding the unique demands facing our church today, it will have fulfilled its purpose."

Wonder whether Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Brown, a sycophantic dreamer who loves scarlet, look on Bishop Robinson as a Funny Food Fighter and themselves as Hefty Hostile Hierarchs . . . Ah! What a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Church we cherish.

 Bishops come and bishops go,

Clucking cardinals row by row,

Go! Tee Bock! to stop the flow,

Of that black line chained in tow.


"Banned In Boston" was one helluva marketing ploy to sell books and get people to go to movies. "Ban a Bishop" may be the best way TBOC, when the bishop banned is a Geoffrey from Owstrayleea. A bishop from Australia could be a Crocodile Dundee from the Outback and would take no crap from a kangaroo. What an image that is! Cardinal Mahony, the black-haired one, as a jumping 'roo. Fancy how his footwork, long practiced, is now an instinctive habit, keeping him safe from the darts and arrows of outrageous fortune in LA. Ah! Yes, but Geoffrey's on the way. Making the news. People are looking up. Maybe, maybe . . .

 Kaiser's the man of the people-people and Robinson's the bishop of the people-people. Mahony's just an ordinary, a typical ordinary Ordinary, a contrary contrarian. And now Kaiser has found the bishop he was hoping for, the first of many to follow. There are a lot of real bishops in our Church. They're just keeping their heads down while riding out the earthquake of John Paul that buried Vatican II and the shocks of the aftermath of Benedict XVI. As those abate, there is a stirring as people come up out of the ruins, looking around for help. Kaiser knows bishops all over our world. There are more than one who, like the Holy Roman Empire in 1519, are waiting for the Martin Luther of our times to fire them up and lead them on out. It won't be easy, but it will be good to restore all things in Christ by unpacking the Church. John Paul II had 28 years to pack it with his kind of bishop, the same way Franklin Delano Roosevelt dreamed of packing the United States Supreme Court. JPII got away with it. FDR got squelched. Bishop Robinson confronts. A few of the old guard try to stop him. But, . . .

 There are more Geoffrey Robinsons out there, waiting to jump in. TBOC! TBOC! TBOC!. If Tee Be Oh! Sea is a bit smarmy, patriotic like politicians like it, then go blunt and simple and Australian with Tee Bock.

 Two men of God: Robinson and Kaiser. Great writers. Read them.

  • Kaiser makes Mahony a hero in fiction truer than fact. Read it, yet?
  • Robinson's got courage in confronting a monolith. Read it, yet?
  • Kaiser's the man out front in TBOC's website. Read it, yet?
  • Kaiser just wrote "RFK Must Die!" Read it, yet?

Tolle, lege!

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Tornado In Colorado

So different looking at a tornado on TV and going out on our deck, here in the northwest corner of Longmont, Colorado, to see one live. It came out of the southwest yesterday, at 50 mph, heading on a path 5 miles away, which spared our apartment complex. It was heading northeast. The black cloud was enormous as it approached. It didn't look like a tornado, but was clearly a menace from edge to edge, wide, huge.

We think tornado as a thin, whirling spout from cloud to ground, reaching down to finger the earth. This monstrous one was a mile to a mile and a half in width, letting us know that we couldn't dodge and weave out of its path, should it come straight at us. And it was just, and always, down on the ground. A hungry, humongous cloud -- no pillar -- it squashed down on earth, until the area it enveloped and smothered was invisible. A big - black - dark cloud.

The immense girth of it was rotating slowly, not in the ferociously fast spinning of a twisting probe for whatever it could touch and obliterate, but a bulk of blob, swallowing, swallowing without a gulp, then spitting out its vomit. It passed on by, implacable, relentless, roaringly sure in its conviction that it could never be stopped, until it chose to stop. Invincible.

A twister on TV is thin in a spin, scooping  clean a dirty floor like a darting broom. Yesterday's tornado was the vacuum cleaner of the sky, its intake as wide as the mouth of a great river. It was as if Mother Weather had laid down her high-powered sniper's rifle of a twister, to wield the mushroom cloud of a nuclear weapon, or the pyroclastic flow of a volcano as big as our county.  We lost the sun.  As we craned our necks around to the northeast –our deck faces south -- the sun returned. The great black cloud was moving on to the north, down low, real low, on Windsor and Fort Collins, heading for Cheyenne.  

Kevin and I knew that its path could have been straight at us, rather than keeping a few miles away and slanting off to the northeast. Still, it was no noonday devil's show to gawk at. This was a tornado as big as the sky, and we were in it, not dead center, but off on a radius toward its outer circumference. We didn't have to flee and could stay there, near the outer edge of doom, while it came, bearhugged the land to our east, moved on quickly, relentlessly, consuming whatever was below. And then it was gone.

We knew we were safe as observers outside on the deck, but felt like guilty bystanders. Jean was deeper in it, though, closer to the center, driving the RAV4 on her way home from  3 miles away. We were stationery on the deck, but she was moving on and inside the great black cloud. Golf-ball hail, same size as ping-pong balls, but not as harmless, splattered the hood and roof of her car, as if thousands of AK-47s on full-automatic were spewing rounds of crackling whack after whack after whack. All she could see and hear was swirling, saturated black storm and other lost cars moaning and weaving and avoiding each other in the instinct to survive. She kept on heading for home, hands so tight on the steering wheel, she thought it would snap off before the hail bashed the car into putty. Hail and rain eased. Black lightened, lifted into an oozing  grey.

She found the entrance to our complex, and, parking below, she saw a neighbor's car passing by, dented severely from hail that must have been the size of of baseballs and just as hard. A new-car-sticker was still stuck in the left rear window, dealer plates of cardboard were ragged and ripped, and the pitiable car looked as if it were on the way to a junkyard to be crushed for scrap. So did its driver, who must have been out there closer to the center of the storm. As Jean came up the stairs, the sun was allowed to beam, and we began to return to the ordinary comfort and extraordinary adventure of another day on the High Plains, at the edge of the Rockies in Colorado.

Storms come and go. Great storms are embedded in remembery and linger on. The difference in the memories of those storms is that a hurricane terrifies and hangs on for hours, days, but a tornado terrifies and is gone before it comes.

17 years ago, on October 30, 1991, I was in a Nor'easter in Maine, made famous by Sebastian Junger in The Perfect Storm and the movie of the same name. When we visit Linda, Jean's friend in Gloucester, MA, we go out to eat in the restaurant, where the crew of the swordfish vessel Andrea Gail had their last meal ashore. Before that storm became so famous, it lodged deep in memory, because I was so scared. Our house was just 75 yards from the furious raging of the Atlantic Ocean. The building wracked, its picture window slammed by winds close to 70
mph, which threatened to smash it into fragments. Hoping to escape with our lives, I forced our family into the car and took off for the Hendrys, our in-laws in Freeport, Maine.

That drive was only 30 miles, but it took a long time to get there. My hands ached from the white-knuckled fear that comes from being the only car on the road fleeing for safety in a monster storm. A haunting image remains: a old man in a yellow slicker with a hood, hunkered on an older bicycle, pedaling his way through rain gushing over him like waves crashing down on a king crab fishing boat in Alaskan waters. The bike would slow down almost to a stop, teeter, wobble, then creep ahead, as the old man gave it all he could, from every muscle and fiber and bone and nerve in his body, all as determined as he to survive.

Yesterday's experience of the tornado was measured in minutes, maybe an hour or so, from seeing it way off in the south and watching it leave way off in the north. While it moved at 50 mph, it took a while to make its way from Boulder, through Niwot and head up to Fort Collins and Wyoming, about 60 miles. The Perfect Storm of 1991 lasted for hours, as if it liked us so much it wanted to stay for a couple of days. And did. 

Over 50 years ago, I was in a major typhoon in Tokyo, which almost crushed the University. That typhoon in 1955 drove Captain Jack to take his tanker out of Tokyo Bay and head for safety out in the Pacific Ocean. We compared memories one night, after a meeting in Portland, Maine in the 1970s, in one of those moods of reminiscence over stormy events in our lives. Then, there were the earthquakes. In class one day, I shivered in terror, while the students sat calmly and waited patiently for the walls to stop vibrating. In time, calmness came to me also. I was getting to be an old hand.

70 years ago, I sat in our dining room rigid with the stark horror that makes a 9 year old boy freeze, go mute, unable to holler, as the giant elm in our back yard fell towards the dining room window and crashed into our roof. Mom and Dad were rigid in shock. Aunt Anne jumped from her chair, screaming, and crashed to the floor as her false leg broke in two from fright of its own. Little brother Kevin had his back to the window and sat there, wondering why the rest of us were so frantic. That was the evening of September 21st, when The Great Hurricane of 1938, "The Long Island Express", hit Boston. That was my first memory of storm and destruction. It took Dad and me a week to cut up the elm and repair the roof. Neighbors gave me 10 cents an hour to clean up busted, broken trees from their yards.

Remembering these storms awakens a much more conscious awareness of the disaster of Katrina and the shameful failure, persisting still, of our government to care for its people there. Remembery opens the mind to help it grasp the realization of the earthquakes in Myanmar and China in our here and now. One person died from yesterday's tornado. Hundreds of thousands were killed by typhoons and earthquakes in the Far East. In this month of May, there has been a near-record number of 47 tornados, which have killed close to a hundred people. Colorado is the most recent state to join the long list of states from the Plains to Eastern Georgia being clobbered by severe weather.

As guilty bystanders, we conjecture the toll of natural disasters, but cannot fathom nature's onslaught against our humankind. Without experiences of our own, deposited and locked in memory, we falter in compassion. Back in freshman English at B.C. in 1945, Father Paul McNulty, SJ, asked us what Newman meant in "The Second Spring" by using "realization" and "understanding" as if they were opposites in meaning. Our class fumbled with answers and opinions. Fr. McNulty ended the rambling discussion with, "I understand the meaning of the word 'death.' I realize it when my mother dies."

I understand the meaning of "storms" -- hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons, tornados. I realize them by being in them in 1938, 1955, 1991, yesterday.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Response to Luke Timothy Johnson’s Review of Garry Wills’ Recent Books

The current issue of Commonweal gives us "What Wills Misunderstood," a review, at:

Luke Timothy Johnson ends this review of Garry Wills' three books on what Jesus, Paul and the Gospels meant with this:

To write simply and truly about complex subjects - and the subjects of all three books are extraordinarily complex - one must know enough to cut through the complexity and isolate what is deepest and most important in the subject. In these three books, Wills simply did not know enough to do the job.

May I respectfully borrow such words?

To write a review simply and truly about Garry Wills' work on complex subjects - and the subjects of his three books are extraordinarily complex - one must know enough to cut through the complexity and isolate what is deepest and most important in the subject. In this review, Johnson simply did not know enough to do the job.

Unable myself to orbit in Johnson's outer space of exegesis, I'm not the first to treat him the way he treats Wills. Christopher West wrote a review of Luke Timothy Johnson's critique of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TB) for the Catholic Education Resource Center, at Eerily, Christopher wrote this about Luke Timothy:

The first thing I recognized in reading Johnson's article is that he simply hasn't penetrated the Pope's project. For anyone familiar with the content of the TB, Johnson's comments are like a slick stone skipping over the surface of a deep lake but never "sinking in."

Luke Timothy Johnson shows at times, a disturbing use of put-downs of others in similar disciplines, with supercilious downgrading of their well-earned reputations for scholarship. In Garry Wills' case, a lifetime of scholarship, which cannot be denigrated. Superciliousness is often tinged with jealousy, I think so. Maybe envy, perhaps?

Reading a Luke Timothy review – or his often peculiar insights into hermeneutics -- evokes a knee-jerk response to review his review in kind, but that would make me a Luke Timothy rather than an Emanuel Paul, a/k/a E. Paul, and I really don't know enough to put a Johnson down. He is a scholar. I'm just an old, retired lawyer, trying to learn how to write instead of spout. It's enough to remember the old saying: What Peter says about Paul says more about Peter than it does about Paul. In the case at hand, a Timothy and a Garry. The review sure does expose Luke Timothy Johnson, doesn't it? Wills comes out unscathed.

Disclosure, to unleash my antipathy, disguised Johnson-like in a "review" of a review. Like Wills, I'm a former Jesuit. Like him, I went on to another specialty, the law, and practiced how to do it for the next 40 years. Like him, I've been put down many times by those who "simply did not know enough to do the job." And I bounced right back up, laughing all the way at the silliness of a professional pouting like the lonely kid on the playground, who burns as a gifted classmate is installed as King of the Hill. The little boy in the fourth grade is father to the scholar, who claims he's good at explaining complex subjects, but the King is not.

I've read almost every book Garry Wills has written and thank him for helping to save my faith, love and hope for being a Catholic. I have read no books by Luke Timothy Johnson, but have seen articles and snippets of his sniping at others, and have no "Thanks" to say. Garry is my kind of gifted writers who simply do know enough to do the job. And with integrity.

One last pejorative and silly shot at Johnson? Unlike him, I don't use all three of my names, just plain, old, simple E. Paul Kelly, which, on reconsideration, does have a tinge of superciliousness to it, after all. We so like to set ourselves apart from the common herd by little touches of individuality.

The above is "What E. Paul Meant." Not much, I grant you, but it's mine. Simple, too. Not complex at all. Luke Timothy ticked me off the way Garry did him.

Monday, May 19, 2008

People of God and Their Friends

Emotions roll deep, rippling in joy, even awe, when a good man or a good woman intersects my daily life of books and a computer, thoughts and impenetrable issues so many friends demand be resolved, and I know that there is a God with the people of God. The other emotions, the terrible defeating ones, roil and fester my reaction, as angry, almost as cruel in kind, as those of the despots, who fill me with fear and disgust, be they potentates of state or hierarchs of church.

Feebly, I try to justify my frenzied retort, with the guise of standing to speak truth to power, and my emotional rants rail at those wielding power. No impression is made. They are so far away and they yell, "Dissident." "Terrorist." "Appeaser." Little, if any heed is given to what I say or do or write. Their scorn and force are withering. And yet, every now and then, a good woman or a good man comes into my life, not in a superior way to help me out of the pits, but with decency and kindness and the humility of wanting to be.

There were so many incidents like that in the last ten days, that I have to write this.

On a visit to Taos, NM, Jean and I were amazed by the artists sprucing up galleries, washing windows with squeegees, so pleased to stop and talk with us two, despite the approaching hour of opening their doors to the throngs. One, Ed Sandoval, kept us for an hour, alone in his brilliant studio, while wrapping a $35 print we just had to buy. I asked him how he intended to wrap the large painting just finished.

Ed replied, "The fellow who commissioned it is sending his Lear jet here next week, to fly the painting and me to Florida. He wants me at the unveiling."

Ed spent most of the hour talking with Jean about her painting. And I sat and watched the two of them, strangers when we walked in off the dirt parking lot outside, and now friends, as close together as their heads and hands and his paintings standing easily against the walls of the room. They were interested in each other and in their common bond.

Back home here a few days later, we were invited to a farewell dinner before we cross the country again in a going home to New Hampshire. Clare, a close friend of Jean, when we first lived here ten years ago, promised that Clyde would be there too. In the late 1990s, we were attracted to both of them, and particularly fascinated with Clyde, a tall, handsome retired professor, with a prestigious academic career, and a retirement made possible by the royalties from the text books he had written, so that others could teach. When we left Colorado then, Clyde enthralled us at another farewell dinner, with his first try at walking the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, enlivened with the stories of the many people he had met along the way.

So, I asked where he had been walking since then. His answer covered most of eastern Europe, China, Burma, Australia, on foot, with just a backpack, and alone. He spoke of the people he stayed with, and with my persistent questions – "How do you do it, Clyde?" -- he answered simply, "It's the people. Only way to see a country is to walk with its people."

Clare told us of the help he has given quietly over the years: building houses for poor couples in Thailand, putting youngsters through college in Sri Lanka, giving, giving, giving time and interest and money, followed up with letters and more gifts and letters, long after he left their country. His travels had to be interrupted with serious illnesses of hip replacements, cancer, and long rehab to regain his strength to follow his heart. Last year, with cancer in remission, he had walked El Camino a second time.

"I missed my people," was his simple explanation.

After I praised him for his charity, Clyde smiled that humble wistful one of his, cocked his head, said, "I have money from my books, don't need much to walk around the world, might as well let it do some good."

I wondered whether he was linked to some charity, and he said, "No. I walk alone. The people I meet are poor. And they're good people."

My curiousity on where he was going next was resolved in his telling us it would be in a Buddhist monastery near the Tibetan border. He'd bumped into a monk a year or so ago and helped him out with food and money for transportation back to that monastery. The monk happened to be the Abbot. He invited Clyde to come and stay for a few months next fall, "It's my turn, now." Good dinner. Good people.

Yesterday, Jean and I drove to Estes Park 20 miles away. We live in the Front Range, on the western edge of the High Plains, up against the foothills of the Rockies. Estes Park is a small, touristy town, an entrance into Rocky Mountain National Park. Elk walk the streets, but leave them that particular weekend to the thousands of people who come for the Jazz Festival and to walk the Art Walk. Tired after an hour of plodding along, smiling and gawking, I sat down on a bench in the warming sun, thrilled to be so near the 14-ers, our mountains at 14,000 feet, ogling the people swarming the sidewalks on both sides of the main street, leaning over to pat the occasional dog who thought I had a treat.

Jean went off to tour the galleries and meet some artists, as she had in Taos. I was wearing my Oregon football cap, with the big green "O" leaping off the white background and had on a green and yellow Oregon jersey. A couple stopped, drawn by the "Os", opening the conversation with "Go, Ducks." Later another couple joined us, to share their connection with the school. There I sat, charmed by strangers, who had found a friend so far from home. We chatted. They were thrilled that a son of ours was coaching there, and I was thrilled that they were from Eugene, OR, followed the team and roared in tune and cadence with the awesome decibels of 60,000 fans in Autzen Stadium.

There we were, so far from that stadium, drawn by the colors and a letter on a shirt and a hat, in a little town in the Rockies, an old man from NH and Maine buzzing awy with one couple from Oregon, the other from Denver. It was a warming half hour on a warming day, for people normally thousands of miles apart. Each of us made the other's day. As they left to walk on, Jean came back, towing a woman artist with whom she had spent her half hour talking about oils. The sharing went on.

We drove home on Rt. 36, by Longs Peak, which is normally framed by this studio's windows where I write now, realizing that next month the elevation will be about ten feet at the bottom of the Merrimac Valley, looking up at the gentle hill we New Hampshiremen call Mount Uncanoonuk. Well, Mt. Washington, our famous one, a 6-er, is up the Interstate about an hour and a half away.

Sunday, we watched as the priest entered the friendly Lutheran Church, which allows us to share space for our fledgling Ecumenical Catholic Community, the Light of Christ Church, and I goggled.

"She's a woman," I whispered. "She's beautiful, Jean."

Her homily was on St. Augustine's insight about the Trinity, when taught by the little boy with the pail at the beach, busily pouring "the ocean back into the hole." After cautioning the child that his task was impossible, Augustine was struck with the realization that it was also impossible to try to pour Infinity into finite minds. Father Kae, and I quickly corrected myself, Mother Kae was the priest missing from our churches for thousands of years. I had to speak with her after Mass to let her know how miraculous and dizzingly serene it was to see a woman resume the role she had in the infant Church.

Her smile widened with my, "I've read about women priests, digested the reasons pro and con, talked about it, hoped for equality in ministry from our celibate males and knew it was hopeless. You are the first woman priest I've ever seen live. It is so different and yet so right." I blurted out in the tingling emotions of the moment, "May I have your blessing?"

With a simple, unadorned "Yes," she put one hand on my head. It was firm, strong. Her arm around my shoulder was loving. It belonged there. I was blessed. There were tears in my eyes, for I was in a miracle, the same one that had made the early Church possible. Women belonged. We had longed for them for such a long time.

On Monday, the mail brought Weston Jesuit's last issue of Light&Life, before closes its doors in Harvard Square after twenty years and becomes part of the Boston College community. The articles and pictures were from out of my own youth, the years which allowed me to say, "Been there. Done that." But what caught my eye were those little one paragraph notices telling what some alumni had been doing in ministry lately. In this final issue, the editor ran story after story of men and women, equally dedicated to service for others. Three full pages. 48 names. Goodness going all over the world, out of the place I had been for studies over 50 years ago. I thought of classmates from way back then and those who followed after, their reach across the world, the hundreds of men, and now women, too, going forth. I thought of people, rather than dogma, doctrine, discipline and all of that endless debate, argument, apologetics.

Some names were familiar, as old classmates. The current president's family spent each summer in their cottage near our home in Pine Point, ME. Our son had dated his niece. Weston's former president, also a friend, had resigned, a serious illness making it impossible for him to share any longer, after he had masterminded the purchase of Cardinal Law's estate and moved Weston College away from Harvard, closer to B. C. The magazine said that one of his friends had donated $400,000, to be matched by other friends, in setting up "The Manning Fund" for scholarships and eventually a chair in Theology. Weston Jesuit is alive and well and is coming home.

Finally, later on Monday, email brought a fitting conclusion to my reveries of people and events over the recent past. It had a notice from the Provincial of the California Province to answer the Call of Christ. People were stirring in the Church. Hostilities were being placed to one side. Church needs to be a church, an assembly, a gathering, not a boot camp. People and news items and email notices allowed emotions, joyous ones, to pour out in floods from way down deep within. And I saw the people who had been crossing my path for longer than half a century, doing good to others, quietly, without publicity, as a matter of daily fact.

To me, that is Church. People in love with people are drowning out the presidents and the bishops, who speak in stridence, harsh, grating, creaking, loud, shrill, threatening, condemning. A Call is going out. Let the institution keep the qualifier "Roman." Our Church in this 21st century needs no such limitation. It is simply "Catholic." Let us be Church. We, the people of God.

It is good to be here. With Ed and Clyde and Clare. Nice to talk with those Oregonians drawn by an "O", a green one. Wonderful to see and hear Mother Kae, a priest at LOC, whose blessing is one of love, the kind no celibate can give, no matter how close a friend out of my past. The news is beckoning, from Weston Jesuit and the California Province and their people, who have gone forth, quietly, steadily making their immense impact over this country and this world.

All of them lift me up, with my little pail on the beach and a great big ocean in front of me. With friends like them, I need not rise to speak truth to power. Just be myself with our people, able and ready and willing to listen for and answer a Call.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rome Is Cracking Down

The Roman Catholic Church has been in the news lately. Four characteristic events:

  • Bishops are commanding governors and senators not to approach for Communion if their votes and public statements are not in synch with the sex stuff demanded by Rome in its "official teachings."
  • A retired bishop in Australia is being condemned by fellow bishops for writing a book criticizing Rome's' abuse of power. Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles has denied him permission to speak in that diocese for his intransigence and disregard of "official Catholic teachings."
  • A Polish pastor is in deep trouble in St. Louis, where the Archbishop wants to discard a contract a predecessor made with the parish. The people and their pastor balk. The Archbishop has disbarred the pastor's canon lawyer and will defrock the pastor.
  • The Pope visited America and said he was ashamed of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy, went home to Rome, where he elevated the St. Louis Archbishop to two important positions in the Curia and reaffirmed Pope Paul VI's disastrous encyclical on birth control, Humanae Vitae, proving "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose -- the more things change, the more they stay the same."

What is happening in the Roman Church today, May 15, 2008? Benedict XVI has been Pope for five years. We had hoped for " la change" but obviously got "la même chose."

Five years ago, Rome was then in the Conclave from which Josef Cardinal Ratzinger of the CDF had emerged as Benedict XVI. At that time, we were worried about skip to main | skip to sidebar the quandary over the transition from an old pope to the election of a new one, and the following piece was written.





An Assembly With The First Catholics

On the Beach, Pine Point, Maine

April 18, 2005.


This being the day long awaited, the 18th of April in 2005, I went to the computer early on, for Rome is seven hours ahead of us, and I wanted to make sure all 115 electors cardinal showed up. Started checking Eastern European newspapers, to get ahead of the time differential, and fell asleep.

Got awakened by a voice at 9:30 am, our time here in the coast of Maine, did a rapid computation and figured it was past noon inside the Sistine Chapel. The voice was not so loud, as it was just simply everywhere, like surround sound, outside the house, throughout the first floor, inside my head, feet and ears, and within my soul, deep, not just scratching the surface.

I heard, "Hey, Paul, come on down."

"Who that? Where are you?"

"It's me, Paul. Peter." Interrupting himself, "My Lord, don't those two names together sound like the old days?. We're on the beach. Come on down."


"You'll find out when you get here. Come alone. Leave the dogs at home, too."

"OK, OK, coming…." and off I went before checking any paper in Europe or even turning on CNN to see if there were Breaking News or a Flash.

Quickly, I reached the bulkhead, a thick wall of concrete yet no bulwark to hold back the Atlantic once global warming warmed and flowed a new coastline far inland near the Allegheny Mountains. Right below the high tide mark, on the soft sand, there was a large crowd of people, rough-hewn people, men and women alike, in those flowing robes Middle Easterners wear to protect themselves from the sun, wearing sandals instead of shoes, talking with their hands and fingers, as they watched their old-fashioned fishing boats bob up and down in the gentle lap of the tide.

It was a gorgeous morning, all sun, halfway to high noon, a cloud or two in dazzling white way up there and moving on towards the east. The sky's blue was the blue of dreams, the kind you know is going to bathe you, come later, much later on, and in another world, too. I clambered down the short flight of wooden steps onto the sand and let my toes curl into the warmth and began the short walk through the high sea grass on the path left from last summer's tourists by the thousands.

Saint Peter left his group of women and headed toward me, beaming, "Took you long enough. Good thing I didn't say this was urgent."

"Saint Peter. Good to see you. Who are all these people. Must be a hundred of them," was my natural question.

His answer wasn't natural, "I want you to meet Jesus' Apostles and Disciples, Paul. Time we talked Church."

And he began introducing me to one small group of people after another, some my age, a lot much younger, a healthy looking bunch, not one fat one in the crowd. And every single one of them looked me directly in my eyes as they spoke my name. Some held both my hands when they did that. Others just gave a little bow, or a nod of the head. But, it was their eyes which I will never forget.

And a flash of a news story came to me that Pope John Paul II never looked anybody in the eye at all, when he spoke with them, a trait, the reporter commented, that was common among Polish priests. I thought it a lame excuse at the time, and remembered it when these simple, common folk took me in, just as if they had known me all their lives. Come to think of it, they probably did.

When Peter took me to a beautiful woman and introduced her as Mary Magdalen, my knees buckled, and she laughed. Embarrassed, my face flushed as scarlet as a cardinal's robes and I tried a chuckle, but it came out a feeble gurgle. Even so, she took my hand and said, "Come with me, I want you to meet the rest of the Apostles."

I looked back towards Saint Peter, who just smiled and nodded his head, "It's OK, she's one of us, she's an Apostle, always was, you know." So, off I went with Mary Magdalen, and it was not reluctantly either. It was great meeting the Apostles. I knew their names, some better than others – still have to go look some of them up from time to time when I can't get to the full count of Twelve minus one – but putting faces to names was like, like – well there is no like, because even I knew this was another great experience in my life.

Jesus really liked to change names when people changed. Ever notice that? Unlike that Paul,who had been a Saul, I've never been knocked down by a lightning bolt. There I stood, as if it were a common occurrence on Pine Point's beach on a sunny day in April, to chat with a group of friends and talk Church.

A big man thrust his hand towards me, "James of Jerusalem, brother of Jesus. You a Gentile?"

When I told him I was, he asked, "How many of you, now?"

"A lot, really, Sir. Almost one billion plus a million or so. Over the whole world."

All he could say was , "Jeeeeze." I took it as a prayer.

And then, I grabbed his hand tightly, looked him right in the eye as he had into my own, and said thanks this way, "I don't think a Gentile has ever had the chance to thank you, for the way you listened to Peter and Paul in that first council of Jerusalem, gave up your own deep, personal views about a Jewish Assembly, and let them go west, even to Rome. So, we thank you, Saint James, we thank you."

He was embarrassed, then winked at me, drew me closer to his great beard and said, "You had better keep a close eye on that gang of cuckoo birds in that so-called secret Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. They're a bunch of loony tunes, they are. Don't your people realize that the German one, Ratsongster his name? is a Docetist? They taught that Jesus was not human, and we knocked that one down real early in the second century. Means the Church isn't human, too, just as the Ratty one is saying now. Be careful of him."

Before I could agree with him, another hand tugged me away, "I'm Phoebe, and we women want a word with you," she pointed to a large group of women arguing loudly with three men, "The men are Peter, Paul and Thomas, in case you were wondering."

"Phoebe? The deacon in Cenchreae?"

"The same. You know your Epistles of Paul, don't you, Paul. Figures."

"Look, M'am… "

"It's Phoebe, fella, P-h-o-e-b-e, Phoebe."

"Look, Phoebe, before I get thrown into a heated discussion, can you tell me why I'm here. I'm a nobody, just an old guy on the beach."

"Well, don't be so modest. That's what's wrong with you so-called 'people of God', you're all so super, super humble, waiting for the bishop or the pastor to tell you what to do. You people are locked into a mindset of humble obedience. Far deeper and far more difficult to overcome, than the one the bishops are stuck in, arrogant superiority and absolute power. Neither one of you can budge. You spout off a lot, both of you, but your ways are frozen solid. We're here to break that ice-jam."

And off we went to the argument. I could hear Peter before we got halfway, "Apphia, stop interrupting Junia, she's an apostle."

The one called Apphia turned to the little guy beside Peter, a bow-legged, tough-looking rooster, and complained, "Paul, when you sent me that letter to Philemon and called me 'Sister', you weren't putting Junia ahead of me, were you? You even went out of your way to show us that we are all equals, men and women alike. When Chloe's people told you about the rivalries in Corinth. Remember?"

Then Saint Paul spoke, "Then why, Apphia, in the name of Christ are you arguing so, now? Did we not all come here to be an example of the earliest days of our church, for these people of Pine Point? We came to show him how to build Church not keep the arguments going forever."

"I'm sorry, Paul, I just get so tired of that Junia lording it over me because she's an apostle and I'm only a sister," Apphia said softly.

She looked so forlorn, I thought wildly that, as a total stranger, maybe, must maybe I could step into the middle of this one, being from away, as they say in Maine, and gave it a try, "Apphia, my name is Paul, too. By the powers invested in me, I hereby consecrate you Apostle of Pine Point. " I thought she grew about a foot and a half before my very eyes.

She beamed, really beamed, then bowed low with a long curving sweep of her right arm, from shoulder to finger tips, just kissing the one lone shell left by the tide, and said, "Thank you, Paul of Pine Point, I will remember you."

Junia, smiling as well, was no retiring feminine, though, "What powers, Paul, may I ask?"

Liking her hands on hips stance and that smile that promised so much understanding, I dared a step further, "Me own, Apostle Junia, me own. I make them up, as I go along. Quicker and easier than trying to get in touch with the bishop."

And, honest to God, she took a quick step closer, gave me a hug, whispering in my ear, "That's exactly what we all did, to get started. Welcome to the club of Catholics."

For once, I was without words. A stupid grin on my face, and a real bright light shining in my eyes, I let myself be seated by Nympha of Laodicea, who had a church in her own house, and Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth in Thyatira, who listened to and was baptized by Saint Paul, then opened up her home to Paul's friends. They held my hands as they talked on and on about keeping it simple, avoiding conflict with authority figures, doing things by themselves, picking out presbyters to make the bread and wine holy in memory of the Last Supper, as Jesus had told them to do.

What struck me as being so simple, yet to us here in Maine, so difficult, was their quiet trust in the Lord, as each of them set out to do what they thought he would have wanted them to do in setting up a church. As I listened, I felt like Nicodemus who had first gone to Jesus in the night, and then, Apphia, reading my mind? said, "Nicodemus is here today. He' like to meet you later on"

As they went on about how they completely ignored the laws and codes and canons and scriptures and speeches of all the authorities around them, high priests of the Jews, temple hangers-on from the Greek cities and towns, Roman soldiers and their pantheon of gods and laws and laws and laws, I thought long and hard about Nicodemus who had been a Pharisee and a sanhedrist.

Then, he came over, waved on by Apphia, "Just to say 'hello' and pick a bone with you."

Baffled by his sense of familiarity, all I could do was repeat his word, "Bone?"

"Yes. But an old bone for you. You played me in a Passion Play in Dorchester's part of Boston back in the 1940s, and you didn't catch my character at all. In fact, you were lousy." he smiled as he got that one off his chest.

"I remember that!" I exclaimed, jumping to my feet. "That was the night the brace broke on the Sanhedrin's Jury Box, and I was trying to hold it upright with my hands and forgot my lines. They made me a stagehand the next year."

"Well," he said, as he turned to leave, "as Junia says, welcome to the club. Good luck in engaging the future. It's no play, you know. It's for real, this time."

I left the group of women priests and drifted in an out of one small group after the other. It was good to stop and listen to Priscilla and her husband Aquila, from Ephesus, who reminded me of how they listened to the eloquent Apollos of Alexandria, and how he spoke to them of Jesus in such learned and scholarly tones -- he was a noted authority on the scriptures – until they took him off to one side and told him to cool it, keep it simple, and to stop looking for a confrontation. Apollos listened well and did much better when he crossed over to Achaia.

In another group, I listened closely as they shared their stories of doubt and anxiety, even fear of the unknown future, and the great gifts of faith that were granted to all of them. The more stories they told, the more I realized how hard the first few years must have been in those home churches.

My namesake came back and walked with me a while, just the two Pauls. He asked a funny question, "Do you know why our assemblies, churches, were in homes?"

"No, I never really thought about it."

"There weren't any Catholic Church buildings around. Kind of simple isn't it? Plenty of synagogues, but they weren't renting space on the Sabbath. Roman Shrines and Greek Temples were off-limits. We were pretty poor, too. We really didn't get buildings until Emperor Constantine made us his state religion. We got church buildings then and promptly began to lose our Church. From where I look and see, not much Catholic faith in any of the huge, monstrous buildings you have all over the earth. Wonderful looking buildings you can't use, almost like paintings you can't take down off the walls and carry around with you wherever you go." He looked so sad, when he said that.

Trying to cheer him up a little, I said, "Well, from where I look and see, you had real churches in those homes, real servants of the servants of God. You didn't need an ecumenical council to tell you that you were the people of God, and your bishops didn't ignore you and lock you out. You were church."

"That's why we're here, Paul," he said, "to show you the way, because it looks to us that you have all lost the way and you're waiting for high priests to bail you out. First thing we did was get as far away from our high priests as we could and we put together the Four Gospels and some Epistles. Later on they made it into the New Testament. We got by with copies on parchment and we just kept passing them on and on from one small group to another. You can do the same thing, you know, but for goodness sake, you've got to keep it simple."

And we were back with the main group of people. Judging from the sun in the sky, it was some time after the noon hour. I was getting hungry, wondering whether these people ever ate.

Now, I know you won't believe this, but all of a sudden a meal was prepared in front of all of us. Yes! Yes! Loaves of bread and lots of fish. Startled, I looked around to see if Jesus himself was there in the small crowd. Moved beyond any religious feeling I ever felt before, I stammered at Peter, "Did, d - d - did you d - do this?"

"Heavens, Paul, no. Nicodemus sent some boys down to the Clambake for a take-out, and picked up the tab for all of us. We always make sure to invite him along on trips like these."

Then, in the quiet, when they all stopped laughing at my blushing scarlet hue, Peter stood and called for silence, "We are here to share with Paul of Pine Point, a solitary man who has been writing pieces about the terrible disaster of this diocese of Portland, Maine, of its kindly yet monkish old bishop now retired who was mentally and physically unable to rock the boat and had but one dream, to get back into his monastic cell the minute he turned 75. His successor is younger, more vigor, but he spends his time in New Orleans teaching catechism a couple of thousand miles away, and when he's here, just can't be bothered to talk at all with his own people, whom he calls 'clusters.'"

The Doubting Thomas roared, "What the hell's a cluster? That's a new one. Can I hold one in my hand? Touch it with a finger?" And he laughed just as loudly and sat plump down.

I was right next to him, so while Peter droned on, I explained to him Bishop Malone's carving up the great state of Maine into 27 clusters, because of the shortage of priests, and that all it meant was we had to drive further to get to church on Sundays.

St. Thomas grunted, "Silly hierarch, he's arranging things for a bigger disaster. Why doesn't he just go and find some priests? Plenty of married ones all over the place. Look around you here. We had as many women presbyters as men. Frankly, Paul, they were much better. How the devil does arranging parishes into clusters make for more priests? Doesn't make any sense at all, does it? " Thomas was more than a doubter in my eyes, he could see through fallacies better than most lawyers I know.

When Peter finished, he asked me if I had any questions. I said, "Just one. Where'd you get the presbyters?"

"From the people, of course."

"Who ordained them?"

"What's 'ordained' mean? In our times? Or do you mean later, when the Sacraments were put together by a bunch of learned people, like theologians and those Johnny come latelies, the bishops?"

"I mean 'ordained' as in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Hey, you're Saint Peter, the Rock, the first Pope, you trying to kid with me?" I was flustered and a bit impatient. Being a Catholic in this diocese has a way of getting to you. Frustrating.

"Yes, dear Paul, yes, I was teasing you, hoping you would see your own blindness and sheeplike nature. We ordained our own presbyters just by picking out the best ones, whether men or women, the ones who were obviously people for others and not just for themselves. Why are you always waiting for a bishop to give you people permission to breath? Act! Be! Do! We did."

"Easy enough to say that. You didn't have any bishops anyway. No popes either. You were never ordained at all, were you?"

"No, I was not. So what? Well, Sir, I was crucified, downwards. That make you feel better?" Peter drove home hard lessons. He was, and is, after all a Stone, another translation for the Greek Cephas."

"Sorry, Peter," I apologized and cooled my Irish temper.

He went on, as the leader of fishermen that he was, "You and your friends are hung up on two thousand years of Church History which was based on Roman Law and Greek Philosophy, both of which are so foreign to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament that most of us here are sorry we went West via Greece and Rome, rather than East through India, South East Asia and the Far East. Those people are more our kind of people than the westerners, especially those Romans, and all the Emperors and Kings and Princes and Dukes that came after them and corrupted our Catholic Church so badly."

"I see that, but what do we do now? We are westerners. And we are waiting for the Cardinals in Conclave to stop their fooling around and get it over with. We need a Pope."

"Do you?" was Thomas' very, very quiet question. "Why? You didn't like the last one very much."

I just stared at him, the doubting one, always I confess, my favorite Apostle. History knocked him around a bit, but he was, and now is, my kind of man. Why, indeed, so much fuss about a single man, a Pope? This Greatest Show on Earth has been going on ever since John Paul II went in for that tracheotomy, and the Conclave has just begun, first ballot up in black smoke. I don't think I'll forget those two lines for a long, long time:

"We need a Pope."

"Do you?"

Then the bandy legged one showed he had to speak, "Paul, I used to write letters, too, but it's personal contact that counts. Why do battle with a bishop day in, day out? You can't win. Neither can he. He's too scared. More scared of Rome than of you. He knows the Roman institution is faltering and may even implode soon. People are leaving the church for other religions. Nobody wants to be a Roman Catholic these days. And all of your bishops are pretty dense human beings, like those Roman jailers who always went by the book, but forgot to lock the window bars, so I escaped in a basket. Escape that bishop. Leave him be. Let the Cardinals put on the gala shows they want. They're just empty processions, meaningless theater."

"It was pretty bad, wasn't it?" I volunteered.

"Bad? It was gross, Paul, a gross insult tossed at the intelligence of this modern world of yours. The Caesars put on better shows in ancient Rome's Coliseum than these birds did in St. Peter's Square. So excessive." He obviously didn't like the obsequies.

"Be your own Catholic," he continued after catching his breath. "Ordain your own priests, if you have to, but tap that pool of married priests and send all those women willing to be for others off to school, then ordain them. By the way, the school for priests shouldn't take more than one year at the most. All that other stuff is the baloney that's been built up over two thousand years of saving everything."

"You know, St. Paul, you never had to put up with a Roman Institutional church. It was easier for you, when you stop and think about it." I was getting bolder.

He ignored me and kept right on going strong. "Build a church. We did. Ignore or laugh at all that cockamamie stuff that comes out of Rome. They're so cocky and so hopeless. About the only thing they're good at is putting on those extravaganzas for the entertainment of the world. You don't need all their disciplines and theologies and writings and speeches. My goodness they're bossier than all the Roman Emperors we used to know put together. Actually, Paul, all you really need is the New Testament. That's all. It's all in there. Take it from one who wrote some of it."

I was dumbfounded. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I, the lawyer, who never let the other lawyer set up the playing field to take my issues away from me, not even once in 40 years, had rolled right over and played humble, obedient, layman to the bishop and spoke to him in his own language with his own words and his own years of theological studies. I bought book after book on ecclesiology, alternate dispute resolution, mediation, negotiation, theology, Christology, screamed at JPII and his Curia, wrote thousands of words, and stood still, locked in my own boots welded in my own past, unable to move.

I prided myself for thinking outside the box and knew now that I had never left the box. I was constantly thinking Rome and Hierarchy and Dogma and Disciplines. I was not thinking Church, Assembly, A Gathering of Two or More in My Name. I was not thinking People of God. And I had to find somebody to blame, so I was blaming my local bishop, abusing and deviant priests, neo-cons, the CDF, the Curia, the Holy See, the Pope, the College of Cardinals, and all the Bishops of the world. Everybody except myself. And they all played me for the utter fool that I am and toyed with me on their custom playing field with their theologies and canons and ecclesial way of doing things.

Then, the Pope died. And I fell into the dream of maybe, maybe, maybe, the next one will be like us, will listen to us, will turn things around, will help us build church in the 21st century, once again putting all my hopes in one solitary man in Rome.

I looked at the hundred or so people, all very quietly looking at me, with smiles of understanding as they saw enlightenment flow from them into me. I took the book of the New Testament from Saint Peter's hands, stood, and joined them in the Our Father. I wanted to, and did, hold hands with St. Thomas and with Apphia. St. Paul grinned and patted me on the back, "Keep writing, friend, somebody's reading the stuff."

St. Peter had to give me his bear hug, before he stepped into the Atlantic and gave his boat a mighty shove, then hopped in. At least he didn't try to show off and walk on water.

Then, I watched the rest of them get back in their boats and head out to open water, where they slowly began to disappear. I prayed that they were heading to the Conclave for a meeting as solid and as hopeful as the one with me, or maybe to another group of people who wanted to be people of God, but were stuck in a soundless duel with a tough bishop.

As I went back up through the high grass, I knew what I wanted to say at the VOTF meeting where I'd been asked to speak, come next Tuesday, on engaging the future of the Catholic Church in the 21st century.

Who knows, we might even have a new Pope by then. Perhaps, that will make a difference, and then again, it may not. Who knows? We are the people of God and we have work to do.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Neural Buddhism, Newcomer to Postmodernism

For those curious about God and us:

Fr. Don Rickard, M.Div., M.A.,our pastor at Light of Christ Ecumenical Catholic Community here in Longmont, Colorado, wrote his thesis on Postmodernism. He shared some of his research in a chitchat not too long ago, gave me a long, scholarly article by one of the prominent scholars, read and reread and saved. Google then led me to more sources for "Postmodernism" as a quietly current way of talking about God and us. I don't know much about it yet, am leery about writing anything theological – no qualifications -- and hesitate to pontificate on and on. If anyone reading this is up on it or knows the way around the labyrinth of today's theological progress, i.e. religion and culture, being fully human, fully alive in 2008, want to share?

Roger Haight's The Future of Christology, his sequel to Jesus Symbol of God – dissed notificatiionally by the usual ripe and ready Ratzinger wrath, mentions it passim, especially at pages 127-130. His Index suggests checking on "globalism." Is that the same as "global warming?" Could be that merely the letters "g-l-o-b-a-l" is what throws discussion into a tizzy, as usual, between Left and Right? A person's politics decides once again what to pursue, in what to believe?

Why would Catholicism's traditionalists so proud of the meaning of "catholic" as "one" and "universal" -- i.e. global? – hunker down in the bunker and holler? About the weather? As vociferously as they do about the biology of sex and the subservience of humanity before lords on high, to say nothing about life itself. I sometimes get the foolish notion that those who refuse to leave the past hate being human so much they want to die and go to heaven right away. I mean – fundamentally -- the Jesus they claim as role model took off after the resurrection and went back to heaven. Incarnation was just a TDY for him, they say. The quicker it's over, the better.

Postmodernism suggests that the best is yet to come. Stick around.

America had an article last September, "What Are Theologians Saying About Christology? Commonweal Blog had,. I guess a post postmodernism one, today, May 13, 2008, at I think it's OK to set it out here:

The Neural Buddhists

May 13, 2008, 11:22 pm

Posted by J. Peter Nixon

David Brooks has a fascinating (but I think ultimately flawed) column in, yes, the New York Times talking about the potential impact of neuroscience on religion.  He argues that neuroscience will prove as challenging to 21st religion as evolutionary biology did to 19th and 20th century religion:

 First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It's going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

 I have not read any of the writers Brooks lists, but my initial response is that these are not new issues for Christian theology. The idea that religious doctrines are symbolic expressions of human religious experience has a very long pedigree.  The German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher
was writing in the early 19th century that religion was rooted in a feeling of "absolute dependence" and this grounding of theology in anthropology later became central to the theological project of liberal Protestantism.

In Catholic theology, this approach was given its most systematic expression by the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner in the second half of the 20th century.  Very simply stated (which is a dangerous thing to do with Rahner), he argued that Christianity was the answer to questions posed by the transcendental dimension of human experience.  Confronted with the essential mystery of our existence—and in particular the mystery of death—we long for an "absolute savior" who we recognize in the person of Jesus Christ. 

This approach to theology is less popular than it once was.  Post-modern thinkers have raised skeptical questions about the universality of "human religious experience," and that skepticism has influenced theology.  There is increased interest in the particularity of religious traditions.  This has manifested itself in a variety of ways, such as the increased popularity of Karl Barth among Protestant theologians and the recognition of the limitations of Rahner's ideas about "anonymous Christianity" in the context of interreligious dialogue.  Christians and Buddhists do not simply symbolically express a similar reality in different ways.  They really do experience reality in different ways because of the particularity of their traditions.  In his 1984 book The Nature of Doctrine, George Lindbeck suggested that theology was poised to move in a "post-liberal" direction.

Brooks' argument suggests that neuroscience will allow us to see religious traditions as simply diverse expressions of the same underlying brain chemistry.  I must say I'm skeptical.  Just because the same portion of the brain lights up when a Buddhist is meditating or a Christian is praying does not mean that the two are having the same experience. Human experience is always mediated through language and culture.  It is always particular.  That some anthropological constants exist I do not doubt, but those constants "underdetermine" human culture.  All known cultures, for example, have incest taboos, but they differ on what degree of kinship constitutes incest.

Thus the question is not primarily whether the religious traditions of the world reflect the brain but what they do with the brain.  What kind of human culture is made possible by particular religious traditions?  To what extent do those cultures fully actualize the potentialities latent in what Christians (and not only Christians) call "creation?"  How does grace build on nature?

That is not a question that neuroscience—or any science—can ultimately answer.  It requires a leap of faith.  It requires a leap of faith to believe that this oddly organized collection of cells and chemicals is a being of incomparable dignity and transcendent destiny.  It requires a leap of faith to believe that the fullest expression of the human is found not in the lives of John Galt or the New Soviet Man but in an obscure Palestinian Jew who gave his life "as a ransom for many."


All the above convinces this poor old mind that we really don't know as much as we think we know. Our fascination with being human and a longing both our faith and our knowledge tells us is more, much, much more, has barely begun. For those of us who realize that there are few answers – and surely a pluralism of paths – we honor the questions. And keep asking them. Not that we're searching, searching qua pilgrims. We're just curious about ourselves and the higher power we christen with so many different names, God being the popular one, whether one, triune, or infinite. We do get curiouser when pushing 80, too.

Dicastery Deans, Like Leopards, Don’t Change Their Spots

By the way, in little bleeps of newscasts daily, have we noticed that our tip-toe-through-the-tulips Papa is regressing to his deanship of a certain dicastery? Actually, he never left the CDF, while trying on the wardrobes in papal closets. Especially of late, though, and oh! so quietly, in his selections of cardinalabile of a righteous persuasion like Raymond Burke of St. Louis, the persecutor of Poles and disbarrer of canon lawyers, the reiteration of Paul VI's advice to the marrieds, personal embarrassment over sexual scandals of a sacerdotal kind from a minority hushed and coddled by hierarchs, but none over costumes of the "best and the brightest" in Christendom, himself. Guess he wouldn't sort of go for postmodernism, would he? I kind of liked that fuzzy white stuff under the Arabian rug red stuff over his shoulders. What do you call them? Shawls? Dainty shoulder pads? Fuzzy wuzzies?

Reminded me of Nan, the pretty girl on the vegetable counter at the Uphams Corner Market in Dorchester, Massachusetts. I worked the fish counter on Fridays, filleting mackerel and forking gurry, meats on Saturdays, chopping pork chops, trimming roasts, and peeking over at vegetables a lot all weekend long. Took me six weeks to get up the nerve to ask her to our high school prom. She wore one of those fuzzy white shoulder things over her gown. Hers shed. All over my rented tux. And I was embarrassed at 16. But, I never yanked her license to be, nor lectured her about contraception, either. No teenagers of our time were banned from receiving Communion, like governors and senators are today, because of biology or sex stuff or hanging out with Moonies and Tibetan monks.

Ah! We were innocent then, an innocence hierarchs know nothing about. In the outer reaches of the atmosphere wherein they all breathe and move and have their oligarchical beings, bedecked with gowns from dark and middle ages of another era, befingered with rings gleaming their immense wealth even in the flickering light of candles, bechested, too, with golden chains and crosses, behatted with funny looking headpieces never doffed, befooted on designer shoes trembling up on tiptoe to add cubits to their littleness, in order to look around and check their own fabricated stature against the status and ranking of other prelates, always alone with just each other hanging in there, they are an embarrassment to earthlings. I really think that they have no concept at all about what a human being is. Or is meant to be. The glitter sets them apart as another species of beings.

Now, while we welcome Neural Buddhism as a newcomer to our postmodernity, we should be cautious and remember to begin with the Sutras. In the Buddha's case, none were written down until a few hundred years after his death, much more prolifically than our own meager scriptures. Easterners are swarming in volumes and volumes of scriptures, compared to our own little New Testament, swelled some if one adds in the Old one. Toss in the Qur'an, too, and Middle Eastern holy writ still lags far behind Far Eastern.

Which brings up another rankling question: How come we have no scriptures being written today and have to spend so much time studying those written down thousands of years ago? After, of course, a hundred years or more of oral tradition handed down from grandparents to parents, mother to daughter, father to son, lover to lover, friend to friend. Scriptures are always written in languages whose nuances we have trouble figuring out, so much so that we're not sure that the people of those times even understood what was being read to them. We kind of get mixed up between exegesis and hermeneutics.

No Buddhas around now? Would God dare try incarnation again? On the grounds that we really missed it the first time around and could benefit from a second try? In one of those postmodern daring and courageous thoughts, could we logically, rationally, faith-fully turn that whole descent from heaven around the other way and explore our life now, in 2008 and the years yet to come, the way Jesus showed us back then in the first century? Suppose we started talking and writing that we are called to Indivination, taking on godness, as God took on humanity in the Incarnation.

Why not? Everyone could try that: Left, Right, Middle, Inside, Outside. St. Paul subtly told us: "I live now, yet not I. Christ truly lives in me. -Iam vivo, sed non ego. Vivit vero in me Christus." And yet, were we to talk like that, write like that, -- God forbid! act like that -- someone is sure to go looking for our heads, if not our licenses to be and to think and to share. That someone is usually a Dean of a Dicastery, a Hierarch, a Pope, or one of their clones. Banned and barred is the excommunication of today, a bit less torturous and tortuous than the stake and fire of holy inquisitions.

Despite the news of papal primacy, still going on strong in its third millennium, some of us think it's OK now to share as well as pay, think as well as pray, dare as well as obey. It is good to be fully human, fully alive, friends with God. Reach out to a hierarch and invite him to come along.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fr. Tom Doyle Reviews a Book On Pope John Paul II

Father Tom Doyle's review of a book on the papacy of Pope John Paul II was rejected by an "independent" Catholic publication, because "it was thought to be 'biased.'" It has been put up on the Internet at:

For those of us working and praying for reform and renewal of our Church, any criticism of ours towards the papacy, hierarchy, and political/governmental structure of the Church is deemed "biased" and, accordingly, dismissed. We use pop phrases occasionally to protest such infantile treatment by the oligarchy, when we let it be known that we are aware of the Curia's fundamental opinion of us as "The Laity , Those Who Pay, Pray and Obey." When they added, "Sit Up! Listen Up! Shut Up!" I replied, "Won't."

Most likely, any characterization of me before The Boston Globe unmasked the scandal which made public the greatest crisis the Roman Catholic Church has ever experienced – Martin Luther's Reformation was just the introduction – would have been, "Him? Oh! he's just one of those lapsed Catholics, whining." I was trying to be "spiritual" and definitely not "religious." Church attendance was sporadic. The news gave me the "excuse" I was looking for to leave the Church, which had, over my lifetime to that point, slowly become opposed to everything my heart was telling me about being "fully human, fully alive."But I couldn't do it.

The voice within kept saying, oh! so quietly, "You're into your 70s now. With your background, you could help a little." I floundered without foundering, looked in on the Alphabet Soup of The People of God: ARCC, CTA, VOTF, SNAP, TBOC. Got banned and barred from parish property, when using one of those acronyms, by an "old-fashioned" Bishop. Tried to go it alone. They were all good, but were not churches. I realized I could do little or nothing on my own, alone, just me, reaching out with a computer. I desperately needed a community in which to love and be loved, an assembly, a church. The RCC wouldn't let me back in, even though I entitled myself as "A Lapsed Agnostic" rather than "A Lapsed Catholic On the Way Back In."

Jean and I found a Church here in Longmont, CO -- gracefully? -- which allowed us to be who we are. And we knew we were home, no longer merely "spiritual" but also "religious." The religion was, and is, Catholicism. The only difference: the politics is different. I am no longer ashamed to answer the question, "Your Religion?" with hesitation, "Um, well, ah, Catholic." To the next, "Practicing Catholic?" I usually stumbled, "Well, um, Huh?" Now, it's, "We go to The Light of Christ Church, an Ecumenical Catholic Community." Interrogators are nonplussed.

The lawyer in me back in 2002 saw that the issue was not sex or abuse of children, not dogma or discipline, not catechism or apologetics, not even theology, but POWER. It was so at the beginning. It has always been so. It was so in 2002. It is so now. The issue is POWER, the absolute kind, which has nothing to do with religion, with spirituality, with Jesus. It is simply and horribly a predominant characteristic of being human – POLITICS. Those in power, of course, whether in State or Church, insist they are there only to serve, because they are the self-appointed elite, the hierarchy of Plato's Philosopher King and His Guardians, the hierarchy of Papal Primacy and Its Curia. It is never just one person. It is always the privileged few. The Oligarchy.

My feelings about John Paul II, from the very day he was elected in 1978, was that he was "on stage" so much of the time that the "real JP" could never be seen. He was a caricature in his own mind, and the papacy was his sandbox. He was not evil as bawdy popes might have been, with children and grandchildren robed as Cardinals. As power-lusting ones were in dividing up the world between Portugal and Spain by drawing a line on a map. As warlike ones who pumped up Crusades or stooped to slaughter those, like me, who asked questions and protested their abuse of power. But, John Paul II had the POWER and he abused it. And the Church is now falling apart from its own self-abuse, resumed by him, continued by Pope Benedict XVI.

Father Tom Doyle, a priest, canon lawyer, man I respect and admire and follow ever since January, 2002, has written a good, solid review of a book criticizing Karol Józef Wojtyla as a man and as a hierarch and as a pope. His review is worth reading with as open a mind as can be mustered up for the encounter. The review is at


The following is the review and comments, from: Voice from the Desert, May 11, 2008,

Top of Form

Tom Doyle Reviews Book on John Paul II and His Papacy

I received the following book review from Tom Doyle today, 5.10.2008, via email.

Tom asked to me to include the following note with the review:

I was asked to review "The Power and the Glory" by David Yallop for a prominent independent Catholic publication. After completing a requested revision and shortening of the review, I heard nothing for weeks. Upon inquiry I was advised that it had been rejected because it was thought to be "biased." The review may well be biased but then most book reviews are. On the other hand this is a review of a book that is critical of the papacy of Pope John Paul II. The review is not critical of the criticism but is a positive assessment of a book that should be an integral part of any history of the Church under the late pope. TPD

* * *


By David Yallop

New York, Carroll and Graf, Publishers, 2007

530 pages

Reviewed by Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D.

"Few papacies have inspired so many myths as the reign of Pope John Paul II." The Power and the Glory, p. 152.

After reading the first chapter of this momentous, and at times shocking book, one is led to the conclusion that not only few papacies, but few popes have been surrounded by as much myth and misconception as Karol Wojtyla, priest, bishop, cardinal, pope, and in the minds and emotions of many, saint. Wojtyla's life and 26 year papacy had already prompted devoted followers to begin calling him John Paul the Great within the first year after his death.

Even John Paul's most ardent supporters, including those clamoring for his fast-track canonization, would have to agree that his life and reign as pope were not without significant controversy. In spite of the massive superhuman aura surrounding him, critical studies of his papacy and his theology have come forth from reputed scholars. Nothing however, comes close to the detailed and critical examination that David Yallop concluded and which resulted in this book. The author's widely acknowledged investigative skills are at their best in his fearless quest to discover the real Karl Wojtyla and the unvarnished truth about the Vatican that he shaped and dominated as Pope John Paul II. Yallop devoted eight years to research, interviewing knowledgeable sources and probing deeply into the reality of the man and the papacy that dominated the Catholic Church for a quarter century.

This book will shock and enrage the ardent supporters of the late pope yet one must honestly ask if the adulation and emotional attachment is actually for the carefully crafted larger than life image as opposed to the man himself. David Yallop's detailed study of just about every aspect of John Paul II's personal and public life leave no other conclusion than that the adoring faithful were really enamored of an image and not reality.

Even those who have been highly critical of the late Pope's reign, characterized by some as "autocratic," and of his apparent efforts to redefine the memory and spirit of Vatican Council II will be uncomfortably surprised at Yallop's well researched and solidly supported de-mythologization of Karol Wojtyla's early years in Poland, first under Nazi and later under Communist occupation. He first flattens the notion, no doubt created by Vatican spin meisters, that young Karol was an active participant in Polish partisan activities to protect Jews from the Nazis. No such thing according to Yallop's research. Instead, the future pope "actively attempted to persuade others to abandon violent resistance and trust in the power of prayer." (P. 239). Even more shocking are the results of the author's interviews with several Jewish authorities who said straight out that there are no records of Wojtyla doing anything to protect or save Jews during World War II.

Although it is widely believed that Pope John Paul II was the single most important force in the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no lack of serious foreign policy experts, historians and political scholars who would dispute such a claim. Yallop's chapter 3, A Very Polish Revolution puts the pope's role in a much dimmer light, portraying him as highly cautious and retreating to reliance on prayer rather than decisive action. If one takes this rendition of the late pope's non-role in the demolition of Communism and mixes it with his tacit approval of military dictatorships in Argentina, Chile and El Salvador as well as his negative reaction to liberation theology, one can only wonder at the veracity of the claims that this man was a world class human rights advocate.

Other reviewers of this book claim that the most "explosive" chapters present the author's exhaustive research into the complex Vatican financial scandals and the papal and Vatican response to the clergy sexual abuse revelations that began in the U.S. and quickly became an international reality. Although the two prominent financial sagas, the so-called Banco Ambrosiano debacle that began in the 70's and featured Roberto Calvi and Archbishop Paul Marcinkas as leading players, and the Martin Frankel insurance fraud of the 90's, are complex and difficult for the average person to follow, Yallop lays both out in clear and logical terms. The theme throughout, which puts the pope in the middle of it all, is that money has a powerful way of blurring the line between integrity and greed for the denizens of the Vatican.

While I admit to being perplexed by some of the complex details of the Vatican's financial wheeling and dealing, the clergy sexual abuse phenomenon is something I am only too well aware of in painful detail. People have reacted to the clergy abuse scandal, now in its third decade, with wonder, anger, rage, shock and disbelief. A constant question has been why has the Pope done nothing to stop it? The question is certainly valid given the harsh reality that Pope John Paul II knew in detail about what was happening in the United States from the outset of the first revelations in 1984 and 1985. For eight years after the first explosion in 1984, the Pope said nothing. Then in 1993 he issued the first of 12 public statements, all of which said about the same thing. His theme was that clergy abuse was evil, the priests who did it were sinners, the poor bishops who had to put up with it were suffering and the victims needed prayer. The papal master spin doctor, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, stated in 1994 that this was primarily an American problem and then parroted the papal line that western secularism, materialism and sensationalism had a lot to do with exaggerating the problem. Within a year the Irish government fell because its leader had been implicated in the obstruction of justice in the notorious Brendan Smyth affair. But much more explosive was the exposure of Hans Hermann Groer, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, as a sexual abuser turned prince of the church, in mid 1995. This man had been appointed from nowhere by John Paul II in 1986, according to some, largely because of his promotion of Marian devotion. The pope not only did nothing when the scandal first broke, but, according to Yallop's research, was outraged at the Austrian bishops for failing to keep the lid on the terrible publicity. In spite of it all the proof was conclusive and Groer was not only forced to resign but ordered not to perform any public functions as a cardinal or bishop.

Yallop's chapter Beyond Belief, is a highly detailed and fact-intense short history of the clerical sex abuse problem and how it was handled during the reign of John Paul II. The stories of clergy abuse and hierarchical cover-up abound so it is not necessary to repeat them here. Suffice it to say that Yallop's rendition of the multi-faceted and totally tragic sex abuse saga is not only factually correct but his reasons as to why the pope remained impotent are on target. He best sums it up with a short sentence on the papal silence: "He brought with him… to the Vatican
practices that he had embraced throughout his life as a priest. They included an intense pathological hatred of any revelation that indicated the Catholic Church was not a perfect institution… All dissent must be kept behind closed doors, whether of church politics, scandalous behavior or criminal activity." (P. 314). The clergy sex abuse scandal contains ample doses of all three and the late pope appears to have sacrificed open advocacy for living children in favor of tacit protection of a non-living structure. He never publicly apologized to the countless victims and he consistently refused to ever meet with them. Perhaps the most egregious of his responses to the scandal was the much-publicized short-circuiting of the canonical process investigating accusations made against the celebrated founder and superior general of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel-Degollado. That disastrous intervention plus the rehabilitation of Bernard Law by making him Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica convinced abuse victims that the pope cared little for them and much for the Church's hierarchical aristocracy. Yallop's description of the facts confirms this conviction.

The Power and the Glory is a book that had to be written, not to support the mythological anti-papal or anti-Catholic forces, but because the Church and contemporary culture sorely need a reality check on the hagiographic forces that have gone out of control and threaten to seriously distort a vitally important chapter of modern-day history. This book had to be written for the good of the Church as well. John Paul II was well on the way to becoming a cult figure….far removed not only from historical reality but from the role of pope as pastoral father and not supreme emperor. His memory and the good he did is much better served if remembered as it actually was and not through the lens of myth. "His obituaries abound with myths, fantasies and dis-information" says Yallop. "The cult of personality which John Paul so reveled in focuses precisely on the man but at great cost to the faith."

This book is about much more than Pope John Paul II. It is about the grave scandals that have been so much a part of the contemporary Church. It is about the thinly veiled political aspect of the Church that has confused earthly power with the propagation of the Word. It is about the actions, inactions and questionable responses of the late pope and the Vatican bureaucracy he created to these scandals and to the socio-cultural forces at work in the modern world. Finally, it is about a model of "Church" that has grown increasingly at odds with the vision of Vatican II or perhaps worse, it is about a model of "Church" that has always been there, yet reduced in recent times to lurking in the shadows, waiting to be once more empowered.

We have seen in the era of John Paul II a dramatic rise in the power, influence and presence of the papacy, a rise described by its followers as a one approaching the peak of perfection of what papacy and Church ought to be. Yet with this rise, propelled by John Paul, there came the need to deny, cover or convert anything that threatened his image of the Church as perfect society. David Yallop may not have helped John Paul II's cause for canonization, whether or not such a step is even relevant in today's world. But he surely has helped the People of God by reminding us that the center and focus can never be on any leader no matter how fascinating, dramatic or colorful. It must always be grounded in the Church as People of God and not as Kingdom of the Few.


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3 Responses to "Tom Doyle Reviews Book on John Paul II and His Papacy"

  1. The Doyle review of David Yallop's new book is a lightsome breakthrough for serious religious people. Finally there is an informed book on John Paul II, and it will help us to place him properly in the history of religion: a man who seriously crippled the Church and misguided millions into superstition, sexism, and a cult of his shallow egocentric personality.

  2. Carolyn Disco Says:
    May 11, 2008 at 2:00 am

    It is more than disappointing that an independent Catholic publication declined to run this review (and we all suspect which one). Tom Doyle as always has written perceptively, and certainly with the expertise to do so.

    I recall a PBS documentary on JPII that also noted the pope did nothing to help the Jews. If memory serves, the film reported the pope indicating that himself.

    And the notion of the church as a perfect society was reflected in JPII's various apologies, conditional in nature: any deficiencies were the fault of certain of the church's sons and daughters, never the church per se.

    David Gibson noted in his book, "The Coming Catholic Church," that such "distancing language can appear so couched and diplomatic that it fuels the very resentments it was designed to assuage." p 117

    There was a fascinating Australian radio broadcast right after JPII died of an interview with Peter Hebblethwaite, noted Vatican expert, before Hebblethwaite himself died in 1994. The interview on The Religion Report was done with the stipulation it not be aired until after JPII's died.

    William Johnson, another historian, was also questioned on the same program. His analysis of the pope's style of governance is incredible reading.
    I highly recommend the full interviews as a corollary to Tom's review, and still available at .


    Stephen Crittenden: You say that there's actually a disconnect between the Pope's collective achievement and what you call a blind spot that this Pope had at a personal level, and you talk about acts of personal cruelty.

    William Johnston: Well I call it a blind spot; I think that's a kind way, it may have been deliberate. The example I was told from an eye witness when the American bishops had one of their joint visits to the Pope in the early '90s, he greeted each of them individually as they stood in a circle.

    Stephen Crittenden: By name?

    William Johnston: By name, he knew their names, their diocese and something about them. He went around the circle and charmed all of them. There was one man he wished to punish and each of the three times he came to that man, he was overheard to lean into him and say, 'And what's your name? What's your diocese?' He did that three times. Now that kind of humiliation among one's peers smacks of Soviet governmental technique, and I think it was obviously deliberate, it's cruel, it's even vindictive and it's now coming to light.

    Another one that I find troubling is there are 4,000 bishops, 3,000 have been appointed by the recent pontiff, and when one thinks that many of those 3,000 appointees involved passing over highly able priests who in the normal run of things would have become bishop. So I like to think that probably 2,500 more than capable potential bishops, who did not get the nod.

    Stephen Crittenden: In other words there's been a kind of cruelty to talented people who've been passed over.

    William Johnston: Exactly. They've been excluded, they're not acknowledged, we don't know who they are, we can just imagine they're there. Their careers have been blighted, if you will, and I regard that as a mistreatment as well as a dreadful personnel policy, it's not the way to run an organisation.

    Stephen Crittenden: And not blighted because of disloyalty, a lot of people have kind of put their heads down and remained silent and put up with it.

    William Johnston: But you see, that again is the Eastern European technique, where, as Peter Hebblethwaite put it, you humiliate a few stars as a warning to the others, and the others then withdraw their dissent and go private. It's a technique of achieving conformity by punishing only a few exemplary figures. It works extremely well, and I would suggest the Pope saw how well it worked in Poland, and he just borrowed the technique and used it in his organisation, because it's an effective technique.
    Peter Hebblethwaite: … But that you see, became one of the great theories that was used to justify the pontificate, which was that Paul VI in his charming simplicity and goodness was altogether too weak, and irresolute, and he didn't knock down his theologians. 'Now we're going to do the job properly and you'll see how it should be done', with the consequences that we know.

    Very early on in the pontificate, somebody said something that was absolutely prophetic, that four theologians would be chosen for the axe, as it were, each in a different field and each representing a different interest. One on Christology, Doctrine of Christ, it was Edward Schillebeeckx , the Flemish Dominican; in Ecclesiology, Doctrine of the Church, it was Hans Küng, in Germany. Liberation theology was Leonardo Boff, a Franciscan from Brazil and then the fourth was Charles Curran as a moral theologian in the United States, who lost his licence to teach. So these were kind of symbolic errors as it were, or even that was the most interesting thing, that errors were not found in these people, or not necessarily found, they were condemned for their opinions, and that was something new in the church, you shouldn't condemn people for their opinions. You can condemn them for their errors if you demonstrate they have perpetrated errors.

    Stephen Crittenden: The late Peter Hebblethwaite.

  3. Edward Hartmann Says:
    May 11, 2008 at 11:27 am

    This church is still in crisis. The last thing we need is another Pope cannonized. So may I suggest the following to the Princes as they sit around after dinner with a glass of scotch at the Vatican. How about searching for a married couple to cannonize, perhaps a couple that actually slept in the same bed and (God forbid) enjoyed God's gift of sexual intimacy. Imagine what an impact this would have on our church. But I forgot that the elephant is still in the room.