Tuesday, June 12, 2012

They Be Rollin', They Hatin', Patrollin' Tryin' to Catch Me Writin' Heresy

(…Okay, I ran out of syllables towards the end, but I decided I’d rather have the title rhyme with the original lyric.)

Dear Bishops and Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church,


I love a lot of the work you guys have done over the years. You’ve elected some amazing popes recently, from John XXIII to John Paul II. Your ecumenical and nonviolence work has been the equivalent of a quantum leap forward for the world.

And this is to say nothing of the ministry I’ve benefited from via your rank-and-file clergy. One of my college chaplains is a Franciscan sister. One of my most formative seminary Bible professors is a Dominican priest.

So I’m a fan. A big fan, even.

Hopefully my emotional and academic attachment to the Catholic Church lends me just enough credibility to openly ask this on the day that the Vatican is now meeting with leaders from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious...

What the @#$%&!* happened?

I’m not even talking about the pedophilia scandal at the moment—my feelings on it are fairly well-formed.

But what happened to you men of power not feeling threatened by the theologies of articulate, compassionate, intelligent women religious here in the States?

Maybe it is because my childhood pastor is female, or that I was taught religion by women in both college and seminary, or that I belong to a denomination headed by a female pastor, or that I simply have to conclude the Apostle Paul was full of it when he wrote in 1 Corinthians that women should stay silent in churches after effusively praising the deaconess Phoebe in Romans 16 but…

What could it possibly be that has alarmed you so about a highly-regarded woman religious theologian saying that possibly some  aspects of human sexuality aren’t quite as black-and-white as they first appear?

What could it possibly be that has worried you so much about the LCWR that you’re putting cleaning your own house on the back burner so that my fellow Washington native Archbishop Peter Sartain can give them the third degree instead?

What could it possibly be that you take such a consistent pro-life approach in ethical debates, but are balking at covering contraception for women when contraception demonstrably reduces the number of abortions in countries with consistent birth rates?

Are you fearful of your actions stifling academic and theological creativity here in the States?

Are you concerned about how your church looks when you give Bernard Cardinal Law, architect of the Boston pedophile priest cover-up, an enviable position in Rome, but tolerate no doctrinal variance from the people who are actually on the streets, doing ministry day-in and day-out?

I’m genuinely wondering here, because I remember what the German Catholic theologian Hans Kung said about Pope Benedict XVI in 2009—that Benedict is enclosed in the Vatican and so sees only the Vatican world. And I feel like I’m beginning to understand what Professor Kung is saying.

I mean, here in the non-Vatican world, I give thanks every day that I belong to a church where I do not have to fear the possibility of my regional minister (my equivalent of a bishop) paying me a visit to tell me that I have committed heresy and that I need to be reined in by a bunch of randos who call themselves the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Besides, what would we call such a body in the Disciples? The Congregation for the No Creed but Christ? That’s a gas.

Yet even in that reality, I was still, in my gut, fearful of giving the sermon I just gave this past Sunday because of how much I’ve been pushing the envelope here regarding same-sex equality and the possible ballot referendum in November.

For parish pastors to be able to preach truth in love, and truth to power, necessitates our ecclesiastical superiors trusting in us, their rank-and-file clergy, that we will preach and teach Biblically-inspired messages of divine love.

When you do not trust us, we cannot do our jobs—the jobs you ordain us to do. And when we cannot do our jobs, the church, and Christianity itself, suffers mightily. 

Why can’t you see that?

Yours in Christ,
A Protestant pastor who loves your church and desperately wants to believe in you


  1. Awesome commentary. Eloquent words of support for the Catholic sisters and all those who seek to preach and teach free of doctrinal overseers.

  2. Thanks. It feels right to stand up for David when Goliath is a rather cranky group of superiors who take themselves way too seriously. =)

  3. Also, for what it's worth, the National Catholic Reporter published an interview with Archbishop Sartain today, and towards the end is a fairly important quote:

    "Q: In those discussions, is it possible that a different, maybe even better, way to achieve the end of the process than the specific steps on paper right now might emerge?

    A: I think that's quite possible. I don't know yet, but I'm open to that. I think that's within the purview of what I've been asked to do."

    I want to be optimistic and say this is a good sign.