Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pope Francis’s China Problem

In the news, Tutu urges Pope to rethink decision not to meet Dalai Lama ...

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu Monday appealed to the Pope to reconsider his decision not to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Rome. "I am deeply saddened and distressed that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, should give in to these pressures and decline to meet the Dalai Lama," Tutu said in a statement. The Dalai Lama arrived in the Italian capital Friday for a summit of Nobel peace laureates ...

Why won't the Pope meet with the Dalai Lama? It's about who controsl what is set to become the largest Catholic community in the world. As another article mentions ...

The context of the failure of Pope Francis to meet with the Dalai Lama is the growth of the Roman Catholic Church in China and the Vatican's desire to restore more harmonious relations with the authorities there. At issue are two irreconcilable claims to authority. The Chinese government insists on controlling the Church through the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). An underground Roman Catholic Church refuses to compromise with the state and is loyal only to the Pope. The Vatican does not accept the validity of episcopal consecrations by the CPCA, though some progress has been made in mutual recognition.

A more in-depth article on this - Pope Francis’s China Problem - in the New York Review of Books

I'm proud of President Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama despite China's protests, and I'm disappointed with the Pope's choice not to meet him. John Allen opines that Francis is worried about the effect his acts or words might have on the treatment of Catholics imprisoned in China, but I don't know if that's the whole story ... can't help thinking it's about control, who gets to pick bishops, where the money ends up going ... and it bothers me that Francis, who so often castigates countries/governments for their unethical political, financial, military, and social practices, would grant a pass to China, a place where human rights are trampled, the environment is ravaged, religious freedom is a joke, and animals are treated cruelly.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


I read online somewhere that straw made warm bedding for stray cats when it's cold, so I sent away for some. I don't know exactly how to use it, but Thor seems to like it - he's taken possession of the box it has come in :) ...

Australia, celibacy, and sex abuse: Anthony Fisher, Patrick Parkinson, and Geoffrey Robinson

In response to the Australian Catholic church report linking child sex abuse to celibacy, Anthony Fisher, recently appointed Archbishop of Sydney by Pope Francis to take Pell's place, has said that Families, not celibacy, are to blame for child abuse ...

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said that celibacy could not be to blame for abuse, which occurred in every church, regardless of whether it was celibate.

“The thing about child abuse is most of it happens in families,’’ Archbishop Fisher told The Weekend Australian yesterday.

“It’s an awful thing, we hate to even touch on it, but it can’t be about celibacy … because you look around society at the ­moment, it’s in every church, celibacy or not. It’s in many families and they’re not celibate, generally speaking.’’

And elsewhere he has opined that A vow of celibacy does not create a sex offender.

I'd like to comment on what Fisher has said because he's being disingenuous in his assertions that sex abuse in Australia happens at a higher rate in families and that all Christian denominations have the same rate of abuse. Here's part of a 2013 article at ABC Religion & Ethics by Patrick Parkinson on sex abuse and churches in Australia ....

[...] The most comprehensive account of child sexual abuse in the American Catholic Church has come from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It found that 4% of all priests who had served in the United States from 1950 to 2002 had allegations of child sexual abuse made against them .... Some evidence in Australia appears to indicate a higher level of offending than this. Des Cahill identified 378 priests who graduated from a particular seminary in Melbourne and who were ordained between 1940 and 1966. Of these, 14 (3.7%) were convicted of sex offences against children and, after their deaths, another four were acknowledged to have abused children. That is, 18 priests or 4.8% of the total who were ordained between those years, sexually abused children. Taking a later cohort of seminarians, the 74 priests who were ordained between 1968 and 1971 from that seminary, 4 (5.4%) had been convicted of sex offences against children. Another 20 had resigned the priesthood, and so as a proportion of those priests ordained in that period who had long-term careers in the priesthood, the percentage is rather higher.

Is this level of offending higher than for men in the general population? There is no reliable baseline data on levels of offending in the general population in Australia. Peter Marshall's study in England found some indication of population-wide conviction rates. One in 150 men over the age of 20 had a conviction for sexual offence against a minor. Lifetime propensity figures will of course be higher than those derived from a snapshot of the adult male population at a given moment in time. Based on his data of various cohorts of these men, Marshall estimates that between 1% and 2% of the male population would be expected to be convicted for some form of sexual offence over their lifetime (including sex offences against adults). If those figures are similar for Australia, then Cahill's research would indicate that the rate of convictions for Catholic priests who studied at the seminary in Melbourne is much higher than in the general population (3.7% of those ordained between 1940 and 1966 and 5.4% of those ordained between 1968 and 1971).

[...snip ...]

[R]ates of reported child sexual abuse by priests and religious in the Catholic Church are many times higher than for clergy and paid pastoral staff such as youth workers, in other denominations .... The figure for the number of victims in the Catholic Church was exactly 10 times that in the Anglican Church .... A further indication is given by a comparison between the reported number of allegations revealed by the Anglican and Catholic Archdioceses of Melbourne respectively. The Catholic Church has recorded complaints of abuse against 331 children since 1996, dealt with under its complaints procedures against priests and religious. 310 complaints were substantiated. In the Anglican study, we recorded complaints of abuse against 44 children in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne since 1990 that fell within the scope of the research ...

And I believe he's also being disingenuous in his assertion that "a vow of celibacy does not create a sex offender". Of course no one thinks that taking a vow of celibacy turns people o pedophiles and stating the issue that way creates an easily destroyable straw man. It is possible, though, that there is a valid connection between mandatory celibacy and sex abuse. Here's a bit from a 2013 article at ABC Religion & Ethics by Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson on this ...

[...] 5. A Culture of Celibacy

The predominant culture [in the Catholic Church] has not just been male, but celibate male, for all power has been in the hands of celibate males. In the atmosphere created by this fact, celibacy was the ideal, and the only concession made was that, in the words of Paul, "it is better to marry than to burn" (1 Corinthians 7:9), so that marriage was seen to involve an element of failure to strive for perfection.

I am not suggesting that the preference for celibacy is the sole or even predominant cause of abuse, but I believe it has made a significant contribution, both directly and indirectly. It has certainly been a major contributor to the other massive problem the church has not yet begun to face: the sexual abuse of adult females.

Actually, celibacy itself is not the problem, but obligatory celibacy. A celibacy that is freely embraced out of a passionate love for God and people is not unhealthy. But a celibacy that, sometime after ordination or final profession, becomes unwanted, unaccepted and unassimilated, is both unhealthy and dangerous, for it is a celibacy without love. It then contributes to unhealthy psychology (such as depression), unhealthy ideas (like misogyny) and unhealthy living environment (like loneliness).

The preparation for a life of celibacy in the seminaries and novitiates was negative ("Don't do this, avoid that"), and there was little assistance in building healthy friendships, especially with women. The only answer given to the problems this creates was that God would provide all the love and friendship one might need. And yet it is not enough for authorities to say that priests and religious freely took on the obligation of celibacy, that divine love is abundant and that all that is needed is that they pray harder. This undervaluing of the importance of human love and friendship contains serious dangers.

Given sufficient motivation, some young persons might be prepared to embrace a life without genital sex, but no young persons in their right mind should ever embrace a life without love. Sadly, many priests and religious are living their lives without a minimal sense of loving and being loved. This can lead, not only to one or other form of abuse, but also to such things as alcoholism, misogyny and the seeking of power.

Properly understood, celibacy is a gift, and it must be seriously questioned whether it is possible to institutionalise a free gift of God in the way the Catholic Church has by the law of celibacy. If obligatory celibacy is to continue, it is essential that authorities should know far more about the lived reality of celibacy in the lives of priests and religious. Concerning the response to abuse, it seems obvious that celibate males will not respond to the abuse of children with the instinctive fierceness and passion of people who have their own children, so celibacy has also contributed to the poor response.

I'm not surprised that Fisher would promote the church's line on sex abuse and celibacy. As I mentioned about him in an earlier post, he has conservative views on marriage (he's from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family), and the comments he made about two sex abuse victims, one of whom committed suicide, were strange at best ...

THE Pope's expected apology to victims of sexual abuse by priests has been sabotaged by a senior Australian bishop, who criticised people for "dwelling crankily on old wounds".

The bishop organising World Youth Day, Anthony Fisher, made the remarks in response to questions about two Melbourne women who were repeatedly raped by priest Kevin O'Donnell when they were pupils at Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh from 1988 to 1993.

The case was detailed on ABC's Lateline on Tuesday, but Bishop Fisher told the World Youth Day daily media briefing that he had not seen the program. "Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying, delighting in, the beauty and goodness of these young people … rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds," he said ...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Clouds in the Grand Canyon

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What I read about today

It's stormy and raining outside so I'm spending time trawling the internet. Here's some of what I found ...

- Behold! Ewan McGregor as Jesus in Last Days in the Desert. That should be interesting. My favorite movie with him in it is The Island - wrote about it here.

- Celibacy may be linked to sexual abuse, Catholic Church concedes . I do think an institution that promises its members it will mandate their life-long celibacy might tend to attract a higher than average percentage of people with sexual problems.

- Why James Cameron’s Aliens is the best movie about technology. There are not many films on any topic that pull off the trifecta of big ideas, great moviemaking, and deep human resonance, let alone manage to be about technology. For my purposes, there are three that matter: Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Aliens. :) Aliens was once of my favorites - wrote about it here.

- Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy. Heh - an article in The New Yorker about mishearing song lyrics :) Speaking of Jimi Hendrix, there's a movie out about him the year he was in London - here's something from NPR ... From Sideman To Star: A New Film Captures Jimi Hendrix's Pivotal Year ...

More on Pope Francis and women

In the news today, Pope Francis says ... women have a "feminine genius" that helps them discern "unexplored aspects of the unfathomable mystery of Christ." ... Women are "are the strawberry on the cake”.

David Gibson writes on this subject today too - Seven reasons some women wince when Pope Francis starts talking

I think most Catholics don't take this issue very seriously and as David Gibson writes, most see the pope as well intentioned about women and his condescending remarks as just jokes. But insulting people with jokes is merely a way to deflect responsibility for the pain caused .... no one would stand for this if the people he was characterizing in this way were of a racial or ethnic minority. What he's doing is wrong.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pope Francis' woman problem

UPDATE: more on this in my latest post, with a link to David Gibson's NCR article, Seven reasons some women wince when Pope Francis starts talking

An op ed in The Los Angeles Times by Notre Dame NT scholar (and Catholic) Candida Moss on Pope Francis and women ... Pope Francis' woman problem. It begins like this ...

At first, it was easy to overlook. With all of his statements about caring for the poor, the disabled and immigrants, and all the fanfare surrounding his famous “Who am I to judge?” proclamation, Pope Francis seemed like a breath of fresh air for a church stuck resolutely in the past. The fact that he never commented on the long-standing marginalization of women in the Catholic Church, and asserted quite plainly that there would be no ordination of women, did nothing to dampen progressive enthusiasm for the new pope. There has been a hopeful sense that he would get around to it eventually.

He hasn't, however, and there is reason to question whether he ever will. Instead of a more compassionate and understanding take on the standing of women in the church, Francis has repeatedly embraced the traditional Catholic view that a woman's role is in the home ...

She, and what she has written, have been attacked here, but I believe she is right and I had a past post that noted the reasons why.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


- The rape culture that everyone ignores. Prison ... we file the poor souls of this system under the heading: deserving victims. We joke in ways that suggest that if these rape victims did not want it, they should never have put on a prison uniform. In this manner, rape is treated as a feature of our justice system when it happens to prisoners, rather than what it is: another grave crime.

- Smoking gun? Pope Francis’ critics cite new book in questioning his papacy. David Gibson comments on this subject that was first brought up by Damian Thompson.

- 9 things I wish people understood about anxiety

- You Are Built to Be Kind. Especially true if you are less well off financially (link thanks to Rob Marsh SJ) ...

Monday, December 08, 2014

Where's the sun?

Cloudy today, with a big storm on the way ...

The cat looks depressed by the weather forecast ...

And the orange tree has only made one lone orange. Less to fall off in the wind, I guess ...

I need some coffee ;)

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

- The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Today's the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the celebration of the idea that Jesus' mother, Mary, was conceived by her parents without original sin. I find this doctrine not only unbelievable, but depressing in what seems like its underlying assumption: that God didn't think an unadulterated human was worthy of being Jesus' mother.

Last year Philip Endean SJ wrote an article for Thinking - Theology and Candles: Original Sin and Immaculate Conception. Here's a bit from the beginning of it ...

[...] When we speak of Mary as conceived without original sin, we are using a theological idea—original sin—to name a reality of faith more naturally expressed by lighting a candle. And the theology does not quite work.

Look at Pius IX’s 1854 Apostolic Constitution, declaring that this long-established devotion was ‘a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful’. Pius begins by evoking ‘the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would have resulted from the sin of Adam’. Then he tells the gospel story of Christ becoming human, a member of that race.

Pius’s rhetorical skills—in ways that do not come through in the standard English translation—enable him to dodge talking directly about Jesus’s humanity, and indeed about Mary’s. What God prepares is referred to, not as a female of the human species, but as a ‘Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate … ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect’. Carefully, Pius and his officials are steering round what in plain language could only appear a contradiction: All humans are caught up in Adam’s sin; Mary is human; but Mary is not caught up in sin ....

Sunday, December 07, 2014

British royalty and Once Upon a Time

I see in the news that British Royals are set to visit New York, and this TIME magazine article articulates my own queasy feeling about monarchy ...

Prince William and Kate Will Cross the Atlantic but They Can’t Bridge the U.S.-U.K. Divide

[...] These divisions [between the US and the UK] are set to be highlighted in the coming days as “Princess Kate” a.k.a. the Duchess of Cambridge and her husband, the Duke (also correctly known as Prince William), arrive Stateside on Dec. 7 for a three-day trip to New York City .... the strange reality of British life that still sees “subjects,” not citizens, bending the knee to a monarch. Britain and the U.S. have in common the lowest social mobility in the Western world, but the American Dream, though mostly exactly that, a dream, has created a nation of optimists.

By contrast, the notion that some people are born superior to others is hardwired into the British system, sparking the resentment that often animates the British media and the wider population. British people are uncomfortable at being seen to celebrate the royal family, the premier symbols of inequality, despite the polls that show a majority of Britons harbor a soft spot for them. Add to that another facet of Britishness that the Windsors perfectly embody — an impulse to reticence that stands in sharp contrast to the American facility for delighted gush — and you begin to understand the scale of the chasm that separates the two cultures.

A pivotal moment of divergence took place in New York in 1783. The Cambridges are set to arrive in the city 231 years after British troops finally abandoned their foothold there. It had taken a long and bloody war before the Westminster Parliament — and Britain’s then monarch, “mad” King George III — acknowledged the loss of their former colony. The intervening centuries of American independence from the Crown have redrawn American attitudes to many things, including to the Crown itself ...

I've heard that many in the US are even more besotted by British royalty than the Brits, but as the article points out, it's more complicated than that. I think it boils down to this: while we in the US might have a certain nostalgia for the idea of royalty ... look at the popularity of medieval and fairy tale themes in fiction ... at the end of the day, the idea that some people are born superior to others is just repugnant to us. Apparently, not so much in the UK, though ...

Here's a bit from an attack on equality by John Milbank and Philip Blond ... where opportunity displaces outcome, the accident of birth is treated as if it was entirely analogous to the accident of race or gender. But it is not. Society and government can refuse race or gender prejudice simply by not being prejudicial. But class is not so easy: one can never entirely extract people from their ancestry and upbringing.

And this from a 2010 Guardian article ... research painted a picture of a highly stratified society in Britain where background determines a person's success to a far higher degree than in almost any other rich country. "Education is not as important for social mobility in Britain as for other countries. Class, to be honest, is the most likely explanation," said Romain Duval, head of division in the Paris-based OECD's economics department .... Britain was still a stratified society, in which different classes are brought up to follow different rules about how to think, talk and behave.

What does all this have to do with Once Upon a Time? I think the show is an example of the US attitude about royalty .... the most heroic royal figure on the series, Prince Charming, began his life as a shepherd :).

Saturday, December 06, 2014


- Why Poor People Stay Poor. This möbius strip is all too familiar to me.

- Survey reveals Irish priests split over celibacy. Most Irish priests don't see any value in celibacy.

- Schwarzenegger is back in ‘Terminator: Genisys’ trailer. Forget the Star Wars trailer, this looks more fun (I'm a fan of the series). Here's the trailer for the movie, which also stars the 11th Doctor Who ...

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The devil's mirror

An evil troll (called the "devil") has made a magic mirror that distorts the appearance of everything it reflects. It fails to reflect the good and beautiful aspects of people and things, while magnifying their bad and ugly aspects. The devil, who teaches a "devil school," took the mirror and his pupils throughout the world, delighting in using it to distort everyone and everything; the mirror made the loveliest landscapes look like "boiled spinach." They tried to carry the mirror into Heaven with the idea of making fools of the angels and God, but the higher they lifted it, the more the mirror grinned and shook with delight, and it slipped from their grasp and fell back to earth, shattering into millions of pieces. These splinters — some no larger than a grain of sand — were blown around and got into people's hearts and eyes, freezing their hearts like blocks of ice and making their eyes like the troll-mirror itself, seeing only the bad and ugly in people and things.
- from The Snow Queen

I've been watching an episode of Once Upon a Time in which the evil Snow Queen has cast the Spell of Shattered Sight on the people of Storybrooke, causing tiny pieces of a broken enchanted mirror to get into their eyes and make them see only the worst in everyone else, even those they love :( ...

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Trafficking: the Pope and Steve Chalke

I saw in the news that Pope Francis is joining other religious leaders in signing a declaration against human trafficking. This reminded me of British Evangelical Steve Chalke who has been working against trafficking for years ....

Chalke is the founder and chair of Stop the Traffik, a global coalition of over 1600 charities in 97 countries, which works to raise awareness of human trafficking in all countries and communities and to stop the buying and selling of people. He was appointed Special Advisor on Community Action to the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), following the coalition's delivery of 1.5 million signatures in support of a global declaration against human trafficking at a UN conference in Vienna in February 2008.

Monday, December 01, 2014

A new fridge?

My refrigerator is very old and not working very efficiently, so today a man from the utility company came to inspect it to see if I might qualify for a new one. When he opened the fridge door and looked inside he was aghast .... so, like this isn't normal? ;) ...

Sunday, November 30, 2014


- The Science of Suffering

- Neil Gaiman: Why Disney's Sleeping Beauty doesn't work

- Heed the Warnings: Why We’re on the Brink of Mass Extinction

- OK, I guess I have to at least acknowledge the new Star Wars movie trailer ;) ...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

CS Lewis

At Oxford University's Practical Ethics blog ... C. S. Lewis as a moral philosopher. I'm not sure what to think of Lewis ... on the one hand, I liked his fiction books, I liked that he was friends with guys like Bede Griffiths, I liked his views about animals, and I liked the movie about him, but I don't like most of his theology, including his views on hell: "I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the gates of hell are locked on the inside." But anyway, here's the beginning of the Practical Ethics post ...

Tomorrow it is C.S. Lewis’s birthday. He’d have been 116. He died 51 years ago, his death pushed out of the headlines by the deaths of JFK and Aldous Huxley. He’s had far more influence than either.

He’s remembered mainly as a children’s writer (the most dogmatic atheists, terrified or disgusted by the roar of Aslan, nonetheless bring their children to stroke the lion’s mane), and as a Christian apologist. He, irony upon irony, a beer-quaffing, chain-smoking, divorcee-marrying intellectual, living and breathing high pagan culture along with his pipe-smoke, is the darling of American evangelicals. And that’s why he’s neglected by serious philosophers. It’s understandable. We tend to judge people by the company they keep. But in the case of Lewis it’s unfair .....

Friday, November 28, 2014


- I've been renting the first season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it's pretty fun. In the last episode I saw, Bill Paxton made an appearance. I can't think of him without thinking of his memorable role in Aliens :) ...

- I came upon this past article by John Dear ... The facts are in: Nonviolent resistance works

- And this article as well ... William Gibson: how I wrote Neuromancer

- The Pope visits Turkey. So, wondering what a Catholic churche in Turkey looks like? ... Church of St. Anthony of Padua ...