Catholic bishops

Jail a new church-state option for bishops?

No one is surprised that the man who will soon lead the Archdiocese of Glascow opposes Scotland's plans to legalize same-sex marriage. Still, Archbishop-designate Philip Tartaglia raised eyebrows with his prediction of dire consequences if he kept defending church teachings on marriage and sex after the legislation went into effect.

"I could see myself going to jail possibly at some point over the next 15 years, if God spares me, if I speak out," the 61-year-old bishop told STV News.

The key, Tartaglia said later, is that the government could crack down on believers who try to publicly defend, or even follow, traditional religious doctrines that clash with doctrines approved by state authorities. "I am deeply concerned that today, defending the traditional meaning of marriage is almost considered 'hate speech' and branded intolerant," he told the Catholic News Agency.

Religious traditionalists in America will soon face similar issues on another issue, depending on what happens in courts. August 1 was the start date for the Health and Human Services mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer health-insurance plans that cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved forms of contraception, including the so-called "morning-after pills." Some religious organizations qualify for a one-year grace period before they must follow the policy or pay steep fines.

The key is that the HHS mandate only recognizes the conscience rights of an employer if it's a nonprofit that has the "inculcation of religious values as its purpose," primarily employs "persons who share its religious tenets" and primarily "serves persons who share its religious tenets." Critics say this means the government is protecting mere "freedom of worship," not the "free exercise of religion" found in the First Amendment.

"Consider Blessed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity reaching out to the poorest of the poor without regard for their religious affiliation," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lorio this June, during the American bishops' Fortnight For Freedom campaign. "The church seeks to affirm the dignity of those we serve not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic. The faith we profess, including its moral teachings, impels us to reach out -- just as Jesus did -- to those in need and to help build a more just and peaceful society."

Meanwhile, the American bishops and other religious leaders will have to weigh their options, seeking ways to live out their faith convictions to as high a degree as possible while the HHS regulations are enforced. That was the subject addressed in the conservative Catholic journal "Voices" by Julianne Loesch Wiley, a veteran Catholic activist who has worked with a wide variety of causes, including Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, Pax (Peace) Center and "Prolifers for Survival," which opposed abortion and the nuclear arms race. The options include:

* Obey the mandate, while continuing to fight it. Wiley quipped: "I doubt that the American Cancer Society would pay to subsidize monthly cartons of Marlboros for their employees, EVEN UNDER PROTEST."

* Stop offering insurance and pay the resulting fines. This would require ministries to be scaled back or eliminated, while the government gained funds to provide the very services the church considers immoral. This is, she said, another name for "collaboration and submission."

* Avoid the conflict by shutting down, selling off or secularizing church-related hospitals, schools and charities that the government does not consider "religious employers" and, thus, worthy of exemptions. This amounts to "preemptive surrender" and gives the government "effective control of all human services, caring professions and charities."

* Refuse to cooperate, refuse to pay the fines and await "overt, forcible political repression." In other words, prepare for some bishops and their supporters to go to jail. Wiley argued that this is the only "tactically sound," "logically sound" and "morally sound" response. If this results in jail time, then that is a consequence believers in other eras have willing faced, she concluded. "Rejoice and be glad. Historically, prison has always been an excellent pulpit and a school of saints."

It's hard to imagine this standoff reaching such a dramatic conclusion, said Wiley, when asked to look ahead. If deprived of protection by the U.S. courts, it's likely some Catholic institutions will be willing to compromise and, thus, will cut church ties. Others will lose their licenses to operate or will be "broken on the wheel" of financial penalties and further regulations.

But no matter what happens, she said, history shows that something "faithfully Catholic" will survive.

"The smallest living thing," she said, "is more powerful than the most powerful dying thing."

Gagging the military chaplains 2.0

Every now and then, bishops write letters for their priests to read to the faithful during Mass. In 1996 the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services sent a letter to its chaplains instructing them to urge their flocks to back the "Project Life Postcard Campaign" in support of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

Father Vincent Rigdon wanted to follow this order in rites at Andrews Air Force Base. But there was a problem. Pentagon officials had issued a gag order against chaplains preaching sermons that mentioned this anti-abortion effort.

The standoff ended up in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which in 1997 backed Rigdon and an Orthodox Jewish chaplain.

"What we have here," concluded Judge Stanley Sporkin, "is the government's attempt to override the Constitution and the laws of the land by a directive that clearly interferes with military chaplains' free exercise and free speech rights, as well as those of their congregants. On its face, this is a drastic act. ...

"The chaplains in this case seek to preach only what they would tell their non-military congregants. There is no need for heavy-handed censorship."

That settled that, for a decade or so.

However, debates about military chaplains have a way of living on -- in part because chaplains work in a church-state minefield that requires them to answer to the government, as well as to God.

Thus, the Pentagon powers that be flinched again when the current leader of the military services archdiocese sent a pastoral letter to his chaplains to be read -- from pulpits -- during Masses on Jan. 29.

In it, Archbishop Timothy Broglio joined with most of America's Catholic bishops in blasting new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rules that will require the vast majority of religious institutions to include free coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives in their health-insurance plans. This would include sterilizations and the abortifacient drugs known as "morning-after pills."

This Obama administration move, he argued, "strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be 'of, by, and for the people,' has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people -- the Catholic population -- and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful. It is a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle."

However, it was another passage that seems to have triggered alarms at the Army office of the Chief of Chaplains.

"We cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law," stressed Broglio. "People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens. ... In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same."

Soon after this letter was distributed, the Army chaplaincy office emailed senior chaplains asking them not to read it during Mass. Instead of obeying their archbishop, priests were told they could briefly mention the letter and place copies at chapel exits. Only Army leaders objected to Broglio's message.

The archbishop then talked with Secretary of the Army John McHugh, who -- according to the military services archdiocese -- backed away from the gag order. In turn, Broglio agreed that the "we cannot -- we will not -- comply" reference, with its hint at civil disobedience, would be removed from the text if and when it was read by Army chaplains. The line remained in printed copies.

The controversy simmered all week, with leaders on both sides backing away from further conflict.

By Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was hinting that the Obama administration might be willing to work with religious groups to see "if the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns."

Also, Carney said he didn't know if President Obama had prayed about the HHS rules controversy, but "he did consult with some religious leaders about it. ... When you seek to find the appropriate balance ... you have to weigh all of these factors, including the need to provide services to women and, obviously, the issue of religious belief."

And with your spirit, once again

There is nothing new about church leaders arguing about worship, including whether the rites have become too casual or superficial. Take St. John Chrysostom, for example, who complained about the irreverence he saw in the churches of Constantinople. Back in the old days, he said, people knew what it meant to solemnly observe the holy mysteries. Alas, some believers seemed to be going through the motions -- in the 4th century.

The archbishop urged his flock: "When I say, 'Peace be unto you,' and you say, 'And with your spirit,' say it not with the voice only, but also with the mind; not in mouth only, but in understanding also."

Some of those words will sound familiar for Catholics who have tuned into the fierce debates surrounding the historic changes that arrive in their sanctuaries on Sunday, Nov. 27, the first day of Advent. This is when, after eight years of work by a global commission of bishops, American Catholics will begin using a new English translation of the Novus Ordo Mass that, four decades ago, was approved by the Second Vatican Council.

Critics say this new translation is too rigid and predict mass confusion in the pews. Supporters insist that its complex and poetic cadences more accurately reflect the Latin source text and will bring American Catholics into harmony with Catholics worldwide who use similar translations in their own languages.

No one disputes the sweeping nature of the changes, said Anthony Esolen, who teaches English at Providence College. So far, he has written 90,000 words of commentary on the Latin text and this new translation for the Magnificat Roman Missal Companion.

The bottom line: Rome ordered a new English translation of "every prayer said at every Mass for every day of the year and every purpose for which a Mass may be said," he said. Worshipers should prepare for many phrases that will sound both new and old.

"These prayers are theological and scriptural poems," he explained. "Everything in the Latin is built on scriptural language and images. ... Once you see all of these verbatim words of scripture, the argument of how to do the translation is essentially over. All of these clear references to scripture needed to be in the new translation. You don't have much of a choice."

Once of the most obvious changes comes at the beginning, when the priest faces his congregation and says, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all." In shorter versions of this invocation, the priest will either say, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" or "The Lord be with you."

After 40 years of responding with "And also with you," American Catholics will now reply using the ancient phrase, "And with your spirit" -- which is "et cum spiritu tuo" in Latin.

This new translation goes downhill from there, according to Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., former chair of the U.S. bishops' liturgy commission.

"When the bishops at the Second Vatican Council made the historic decision that the liturgy of the church should be in the vernacular, there was no mention of sacred language or vocabulary," he argued, in a much-quoted analysis for the progressive magazine U.S. Catholic.

"The council's intent was pastoral -- to have the liturgy of the church prayed in living languages. Translated liturgical texts should be reverent, noble, inspiring and uplifting, but that does not mean archaic, remote or incomprehensible. While the translated texts of the new Missal must be accurate and faithful to the Latin original, they must also be intelligible, proclaimable and grammatically correct. Regrettably the new translation fails in this regard."

The Vatican's instructions to the translators, said Esolen, did stress that "pompous and superfluous language must be avoided." However, this doesn't mean that the poetic touches found in the Latin -- such as "venerable hands of the Lord," "immaculate victim," "consubstantial," "it is truly right and just," "the Powers of heaven" and many others -- will repel modern worshipers.

Pious language, he added, can have a holy purpose. After all, it's possible that if Catholics are never asked to turn to God and "use words like 'beg,' 'implore' or even 'pray,' there's a good chance they will forget how to 'beg,' 'implore' and even to 'pray.' "

Bishops change course on religious liberty

When it comes to changing course, ecclesiastical bureaucracies are like giant oceangoing vessels that struggle to turn quickly when obstacles appear in their paths. It took time, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made a sea change in how it works on religious freedom issues.

Faced with what they see as dangerous trends in the Obama administration, the bishops recently announced the creation of their own Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. The goal is to address church-state trends that in recent decades have primarily been attacked by Protestant conservatives.

Anyone seeking the source of this development in American religion -- including recent blasts at the White House by the archbishops of New York and Los Angeles -- needs to study a 2009 Georgetown University speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It received relatively little attention at that time.

"Our human rights agenda for the 21st century is to make human rights a human reality and the first step is to see human rights in a broad context," she said, speaking on a campus known for its leadership on the Catholic left. "To fulfill their potential, people must be free to choose laws and leaders; to share and access information, to speak, criticize and debate. They must be free to worship, associate and to love in the way that they choose."

Conservatives cried foul, noting that the secretary of state had raised gay rights -- the right for all to "love in the way that they choose" -- to the same level as freedoms explicitly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They also noticed that she mentioned a narrow right "to worship" instead of using more expansive terms such as religious "freedom" or "liberty."

"Religious freedom, rightly understood, cannot be reduced to freedom of worship," argued George Weigel, a Catholic conservative best known for his authorized biography of the late Pope John Paul II.

"Religious freedom includes the right to preach and evangelize, to make religiously informed moral arguments in the public square and to conduct the affairs of one's religious community without undue interference from the state. If religious freedom only involves the freedom to worship, then ... there is 'religious freedom' in Saudi Arabia, where Bibles and evangelism are forbidden but expatriate Filipino laborers can attend Mass in the U.S. embassy compound in Riyadh."

Nearly two years later, this list of concerns looms over a blunt letter (.pdf) from New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to President Barack Obama, one inspired by Obama administration attempts to overturn the national Defense of Marriage Act.

America's bishops "cannot be silent ... when federal steps harmful to marriage, the laws defending it, and religious freedom continue apace," claimed Dolan, who now leads the USCCB. It is especially unfair, he added, to "equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing."

Dolan was even more frank in a letter (.pdf) to the U.S. bishops, claiming that the Justice Department is undercutting "our ancient Catholic belief, rooted in the teachings of Jesus and also the Jewish Scriptures." If this doctrine continues to be "labeled as a form of bigotry," he argued, this will surely "lead to new challenges to our liberties."

In addition to clashes on same-sex marriage, Dolan listed other concerns, including Health and Human Services regulations requiring all private health insurance to cover birth control and so-called "morning-after pills." Critics claim that the religious exception would protect few religious institutions, including colleges, and would leave insurers or individuals with moral objections completely vulnerable. The Justice Department, in recent Supreme Court proceedings, also questioned the need for the "ministerial exception" that allows religious groups to hire, and fire, ministers and staff members without government interference.

According to Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, "We are slowly losing our sense of religious liberty" in modern America.

"There is much evidence to suggest that our society no longer values the public role of religion or recognizes the importance of religious freedom as a basic right," he argued, in an essay for the journal First Things. Instead, "our courts and government agencies increasingly treat the right to hold and express religious beliefs as only one of many private lifestyle options. And, they observe, this right is often 'trumped' in the face of challenges from competing rights or interests deemed to be more important."

American exorcist, 2009

It was clear from the man's testimony that all hell was breaking loose in his life and he needed help. However, since this man was a scientist, Father Gary Thomas wasn't surprised that he was a skeptic when it came to supernatural evil. That was fine, since one of the first things the priest learned in Rome while training to be an exorcist was to remain as skeptical as possible, as long as possible. Still, there were troubling facts in the man's story -- such as an episode when a counselor urged him to channel spirits.

Finally, the priest turned to "De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam (Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications)," the Vatican document released in 1998 that contains a modernized exorcism rite. He has been fighting this man's demons ever since.

"When we started, he told me, 'Wait! Can't you just take this thing right out of me?' But that's rarely how things work," said Thomas, the official exorcist in the Diocese of San Jose in northern California. "It's hard to get people to understand that no two exorcisms are the same. Reality isn't like the movies."

The subject of demonic possession remains controversial, as illustrated by the media storm that greeted the revised exorcism rite, which was required by a Vatican II mandate three decades earlier. Later, the Vatican announced that Pope John Paul II had personally performed three exorcisms during his pontificate.

While the new rite warned exorcists not to confuse diabolic possession with mental illness, it also affirmed ancient teachings about the reality of spiritual warfare, as illustrated by biblical accounts of Jesus performing exorcisms.

Truth is, stressed Thomas, the events of Holy Week -- especially Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter -- make no sense without real demons, real temptations and a real hell. But many Catholics disagree.

"There are plenty of bishops and priests who simply do not believe in Satan and demons and they have told me so," he said. "That makes a difference. What most people do not realize is that bishops are like independent contractors and they can do whatever they damn well want to do. ... That's why we don't have many exorcists in America."

At the request of his own bishop, Thomas took a Vatican-approved approved course on demonic possession while living at the North American College in Rome in late 2005 and early 2006. As part of his studies, the second-career priest -- who worked in a mortuary before seeking ordination -- participated in more than 80 exorcisms with a senior Italian exorcist. These experiences form the heart of "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist," a new book written by American journalist Matt Baglio.

For the past three years, the 55-year-old priest has quietly been using the techniques he learned in Rome. He said that his teachers, from the beginning, emphasized that an exorcist must strive to remain the "ultimate skeptic," pursuing every pastoral option before turning to the exorcism rite as a last resort.

Modern exorcists are urged to work with psychiatrists, psychologists and physicians while evaluating those who are suffering. They also test to see if spiritual health can be restored through confession, healing rites and frequent participation in Mass. However, Thomas noted that these contacts with "holy things" occasionally trigger open displays of demonic powers.

It's one thing to hear the voice of a demon on a recording or to read pages of blasphemies in transcripts. Face-to-face encounters are another matter.

The classic signs of possession have been established for ages. The possessed may exhibit superhuman strength, describe private events in the life of an exorcist or possess the ability to speak languages -- such as Latin -- they have never studied. They often suffer bizarre physical reactions to contact with holy water, crosses or icons.

Most people seeking exorcisms are simply physically sick, mentally ill or emotionally distressed. Some may try to fake "Hollywood-esque symptoms" in order to draw sympathy or attention.

"You may see case after case in which there are other explanations for what these people are suffering," stressed Thomas. "But then, every now and then, you see things that let you know that you are dealing with the real thing. That's when you know that sin is real, hell is real and Satan is real. That's when you learn what the cross and the resurrection are all about."

Not a Catholic 'Mass factory'

Catholics who treasure ancient liturgies smirk and call them "Mass factories."

These churches are visions of horizontal utilitarianism, their flat, plain walls broken by patches of metal and glass while rows of chairs face ultramodern altars. The faithful are more likely to see balloons drift to the rafters than clouds of incense veil images of Jesus, Mary and the saints.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Dallas is certainly not a "Mass factory," as both critics and fans of this poor but lively parish in a battered barrio would agree. Its Italian windows have been lovingly restored, Romanesque walls repaired and statuary augmented by treasures abandoned by others. Roses are popular, often in waves of 700 or more.

"Beauty is terribly important, especially for people who have so little beauty in their lives," said Father Paul Weinberger, 44, a beefy, energetic Anglo who arrived 10 years ago after a Spanish-language immersion program.

"People need something that lifts them up, that lets them glimpse something higher. So I want worship here to be extravagant. I want their church to be like a garden in this workaday world. ... I can't guarantee that they'll listen to me, but if their eyes wander around this church they're going to drawn to things that point them toward the mysteries of the faith."

But it was a change in the 1999 midnight Mass that helped create a buzz in Dallas and on the Internet.

Weinberger estimates that 70 percent of his flock speaks Spanish and the rest English. The challenge was to find a way for worshippers to gather in the same pews, at the same time, sharing a common language.

The priest's solution raised eyebrows. He embraced the modern Catholic rite -- the Novus Ordo -- but elected to use the Vatican's Latin text, accompanied by preaching in Spanish and English. This rite then filled the 10:45 a.m. slot in the parish's Sunday schedule, mixed in with two Spanish Masses and three in English.

Now Weinberger is being transferred -- against his will -- and supporters believe his love of Latin is one reason for the decision. They fear sweeping changes in this revived parish.

This is nonsense, said Deacon Bronson Havard, spokesperson for Bishop Charles V. Grahmann. It's perfectly normal for a priest to be rotated to another parish after 10 years and the next pastor will make the decision about Latin at Blessed Sacrament.

However, Havard stressed that the Dallas diocese does require priests to seek permission to use Latin rites -- ancient or modern. This is an issue of loyalty. Only a directive from Rome can override the local bishop's authority on matters such as this, he said.

As for Weinberger's conviction that a Latin Mass is a symbol of unity, Havard said: "Using the Latin may mean something to him, but it means nothing to the people in the pews -- especially not to the Mexican immigrants who come into this area. We've had many complaints about that."

This is news to Weinberger. Diocesan policy requires that pastors receive copies of all complaints, he noted, and none have reached his desk.

This whole Dallas dispute sounds sadly familiar, said Helen Hull Hitchcock, editor of Adoremus, a conservative journal about liturgy.

"We hear reports from Catholics across the nation who are accused of doing all kinds of horrible things, like kneeling at places in the Mass where people have been kneeling for centuries," she said. "Then people tell them that if they clash with their bishop ... they're being disloyal to the pope.

"It's all very annoying. Some people are mad that these priests and parishes still exist."

This is precisely what worries Weinberger.

The days of the Advent season are passing as he prepares for a final midnight Christmas Mass at Blessed Sacrament. Poinsettias, stacked 15 to 20 feet high, will frame the altar. Pews will be packed for the Latin Mass.

"What father does not want to see his whole family gathered around the same table? That has always been my goal," he said. "I want to see our whole parish there, from the first-generation immigrants who only speak Spanish to the native Dallasites who only speak English.

"I don't want the language to divide us. I want it to unite us."