Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith

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Freud in the void? Marking the 75th anniversary of the famous atheist’s death: a conversation with Wesleyan President and Freud expert Michael S. Roth

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FreudPres Roth

Freud died 75 years ago on Sept. 23rd, an opportunity for us to explore his allergy to faith with Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth, who’s written and taught about Freud and who curated a Library of Congress exhibit and edited an accompanying book of essays, Freud: Conflict and Culture. Today’s episode is the first of two interviews with President Roth. On Sept. 30, he’ll discuss his new book Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, especially where it touches on the interior life.


Several listeners emailed about the latest wonder worked by Pope Francis:

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Battlefield Angels: Civil War wounded on the North and South relied on the Daughters of Charity

Battlefield AngelsJames RadaJames Rada Jr. is the author of Battlefield Angels: The Daughters of Charity Work as Civil War Nurses. Catholic nuns comprised the only professional nurses in America. The Daughters of Charity were held in such high esteem, they were allowed to freely cross the North/South lines of battle.  You can find the book via online booksellers and at . Click here to listen to the interview:">

CalvaryRichard_AllevaAlso in this episode, Commonweal movie critic Richard Alleva reviews Calvary, an Irish film about a sexual abuse victim who threatens to even the scales with the Catholic Church by murdering an innocent priest. Alleva points out, however, that, in a larger sense, the film is about the diminished authority of the church as a result of the crisis.


Hoof it for HaitiThe annual 5-K walk and run steps off from St. Elizabeth Seton Church on Sept. 20. One hundred percent of proceeds from the walk support St. Elizabeth’s twin parish, St. Ann, in St. Ard, Haiti. Go to for details.



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40 years of Episcopal women priests: “It was a justice issue.”

Rev. MollyThe Rev. Dr. Molly Louden, a priest at St. James Episcopal Church in West Hartford, and a psychotherapist who leads the church’s healing ministry, helped plan Connecticut’s celebration of the milestone anniversary.

In our interview, she recounts her spiritual journey, what it took to raise women to full equality in the Episcopal Church, and whether she thinks the same is possible in the Catholic Church.

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Hoof it for Haiti

Take part in this worthwhile 5K walk and run, 100 percent of which benefits Haiti, this year on Sept. 20. Find details at:


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The other pro-life issue: capital punishment — a talk with the CT Network to Abolish the Death Penalty

George and SheilaCNADP President George Kain and Project Director Sheila Degnon tell while, even though their grassroots group succeeded in eliminating the death penalty in Connecticut in 2012, their work goes on. Contact CNADP at


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In the news:

The words in the link say it all:


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Saved by Beauty: the life and work of Dorothy Day, Servant of God

Dorothy Daybro mickeyBrother Mickey O’Neill McGrath of Camden, NJ, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, is the writer and illustrator of Saved by Beauty: A Spiritual Journey with Dorothy Day, about the life and work of the Catholic Worker founder who’s been called one of the most significant figures of modern Catholicism. He gave the keynote address at the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Social Justice Ministry’s recent Bishop Peter Rosazza Social Justice Conference. (She carries the designation Servant of God because the “cause” for her sainthood has been opened.)

Click below to hear Brother Mickey’s talk:

Dorothy and Eugene O'NeillIn this illustration, a young Dorothy Day is seen clubbing in the 1920s with playwright Eugene O’Neill. To see more of Brother Mickey’s work, go to his website


In the news

 Ground Zero cross can remain at 9/11 Museum, court says; atheists’ suit tossed

The Second Circuit Court ruled Monday a cross found in the rubble after the twin towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, can remain in the 9/11 Museum after its inclusion was challenged by a group of atheists.

Monday, July 28, 2014, 4:38 PM
*** BEST PIX *** Mario Tama/Getty Images People walk past the famous cross discovered in the rubble of Ground Zero.

They didn’t stand a prayer!

A federal appeals court has tossed a lawsuit by a group of atheists who challenged the display of the “Cross at Ground Zero” at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

The three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court ruled Monday that the cross recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center was more of a “genuine historical artifact” than a symbol of Christianity.

The judges noted that the cross — comprised of a 17-foot steel column and a crossbeam — became a “symbol of hope and healing for all persons” in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

No one was more pleased with the ruling than Frank Silecchia, 60, the ironworker who discovered the cross in the wreckage of the twin towers two days after the 2001 attacks.

“Faith won over atheism,” the retired Silecchia, who now lives in South Carolina, told the Daily News Monday. “I’m kind of proud because that was my initial goal: to help ease the burden of humanity.

“All I can do is thank God for answering my prayer,” Silecchia added.

The cross as seen inside the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Spencer Platt/Getty Images The cross as seen inside the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

The American Atheists initially sued the Port Authority in Manhattan Supreme Court in July 2011. The case was transferred to Manhattan Federal Court, where Judge Deborah Batts dismissed it on summary judgment.

The group appealed, arguing that displaying the cross at the museum violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and state constitutions of New York and New Jersey.

The atheists contended the display of the cross at the museum “gave the impression of a Latin cross, a symbol associated with Christianity.”

They asserted that displaying the cross was unconstitutional, “particularly without any accompanying plaque or similar item acknowledging that atheists were among those” who died on 9/11 or participated in the rescue efforts.

The appellate judges ruled the atheists’ “challenge fails on the merits.”

The judges concluded that the “stated purpose of displaying The Cross at Ground Zero to tell the story of how some people used faith to cope with the tragedy is genuine, and an objective observer would understand the purpose of the display to be secular.”

‘Faith won over atheism,’  Frank Silecchia, an ironworker who found the cross days after the attacks, said. Anthony DelMundo for New York Daily News ‘Faith won over atheism,’ Frank Silecchia, an ironworker who found the cross days after the attacks, said.

The panel also noted that the Rev. Brian Jordan, a Franciscan priest, welcomed all faiths to a  Mass he held regularly at the cross during the rescue effort. Jordan was one of the defendants named in the suit.

“The Cross at Ground Zero thus came to be viewed not simply as a Christian symbol, but also as a symbol of hope and healing for all persons,” the judges wrote.

Attorney Matthew Dowd, of the Wiley Rein lawfirm in Washington, filed a letter to the appeals court on Jordan’s behalf, slamming the suit as “a frivolous attempt to chill (Jordan’s) freedom to excercise his religion.”

“The outcome is also a victory for Father Jordan,” Dowd said in a statement.

David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, said his group was “disappointed” and is deciding whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The (appellate) court relied on the words of religious persons, ignoring statements to the contrary from atheists, that a Christian cross is comforting to the non-religious population. The opposite is true,” Silverman said in a statement Monday.

“There are no better examples of Christian privilege and prejudice in this country than this decision and the refusal of the museum commission to work with us to honor atheists who died and suffered on 9/11.”

 Episcopal church celebrates 40 years of women in the priesthood

Forty years after the first women were ordained to be priests in the Episcopal church, its presiding bishop is uncertain where her — yes, her — spiritual home would be if the church still refused to ordain females.”I don’t know if I’d still be an Episcopalian,” Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in an interview with NCR. “That’s a good question.”The church at first declared those ordinations — 11 women in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974, and four the next year in Washington, D.C. — to be both “irregular” and “invalid,” but eventually labeled them valid though irregular. In 1976, the church’s national governing body, pressured by wide acceptance of those irregular ordinations, changed the rules and allowed for the ordination of women as priests, not just as deacons. It also “regularized” the Philadelphia and Washington ordinations.

Without that rules change, “I’d be fishing in other seas,” said Jefferts Schori, who holds a master’s degree in oceanography. It’s a good guess that religious sea would not be where she spent the first eight years of her life, in Catholicism with its all-male priesthood.

The 40th anniversary of the ordination of the Philadelphia 11, as the women became known, is turning into an occasion for considerable introspection about how it all came about and what difference it has made for the Episcopal church, for the worldwide Anglican communion, and for the broader church. (Meet the Philadelphia 11.)

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Because of this anniversary, there’s a spirit of festivity in the Episcopal church, which today has just over 2 million members in the U.S. and another 170,000 or so in dioceses abroad. There are plans for a July 26 celebration at Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, where the ordinations took place, and three new books related to those ordinations have been published.

But there’s also a sorrowful recognition that women in the church still experience informal barriers to advancement, as well as occasional outright misogyny. (Indeed, it wasn’t until 2010 that the last Episcopal diocese in the U.S. — Quincy, Ill. — finally ordained its first female priest. That diocese since has merged into the Chicago diocese.)

One of the Philadelphia 11, Carter Heyward, now retired from teaching at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., told NCR that there is “kind of a glass ceiling effect in the church.” That, she said, has to do with a common attitude that, “yes, there can be women priests in the Episcopal church, but how many do we actually want?” Beyond that, she said, some congregations worry that they’ll become known as places who hire only female priests.

Indeed, Heyward said, having a female presiding bishop “misleads people. It’s like having President Obama, quite frankly, and thinking that racism is beyond us.”

As Bishop Barbara C. Harris, a retired suffragan (meaning subordinate to a diocesan bishop), wrote recently, “While I am gratified that we have reached this forty-year milestone, I am not sure we have reached any maturity in the reality of this living witness and phenomenon.”

Today, women make up almost half of those ordained to the priesthood each year in the Episcopal church. Roughly one-third of all Episcopal priests now are female. But males still predominate in the higher echelons of church leadership, although that situation seems not to have led women priests and bishops to protect Jefferts Schori from criticism. As she said, “I have no shortage of people who disagree with me — of both genders and all inclinations. And I think that’s a sign of health.”

Still, some female priests can feel isolated.

“For me personally, the struggle is not over,” said the Rev. Gail Greenwell, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. “As a cathedral dean, I am just one of six or seven women throughout the Episcopal church who hold that office. I have also served as rector of a large … parish, another anomaly for women in the Episcopal church. Women are actually losing ground in the House of Bishops. We few are the ‘irregulars’ of our day.”

When Jefferts Schori heard what Greenwell had said, she acknowledged the problem: “We continue to elect women bishops but they’re almost all suffragan bishops. We are losing ground in terms of diocesan bishops who are women. At the same time, that door is now opening around the Anglican communion. There are now two women bishops in Africa, there are women bishops in Australia and New Zealand and Canada, and there have been two in Cuba. There’s one in Ireland now, and the door is open in Scotland and Wales, and we hope and pray that it will be open in England.” (As Jefferts Schori hoped, the Church of England this month approved the ordination of females as bishops.)

So just as neither the Emancipation Proclamation nor Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech immediately liberated African-Americans and integrated them fully into American life, so those ordinations of women 40 years ago on a steamy summer day in Philadelphia did not do away with barriers to their full inclusion in the Episcopal church.

Still, the changes brought about by 11 brave women deacons and a handful of risk-taking bishops willing to ordain them as priests during that boisterous three-hour service have been remarkable. Perhaps none has been so obvious as the 2006 election of a female presiding bishop. Heyward has written that the election of Jefferts Schori was “unimaginable to any Episcopalian in 1974, a bit like imagining a female pope from where we stand in 2014.”

Another of the Philadelphia 11, Alison Cheek, now in her 80s, told NCR she believes that “women, by and large, as far as I can see, have done a really good job in the church, although some are hard to distinguish from the men.”

Novelist and teacher Darlene O’Dell has captured the struggle for women’s equality in the Episcopal church well in The Story of the Philadelphia Eleven, a 250-page book just published by Seabury Press. Another book published in response to the 40th anniversary is Looking Forward, Looking Backward: Forty Years of Women’s Ordination, edited by Fredrica Harris Thompsett. It includes more than a dozen essays, including one by Jefferts Schori. Finally, there is The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Writings of Suzanne Hiatt, edited by Heyward and Janine Lehane. Heyward calls Hiatt, one of the Philadelphia 11, “the driving force” behind the 1974 ordinations. Hiatt died in 2002.

Although, as O’Dell writes, Heyward considered the ordination the “most extraordinary and finest day” of her life, she and other surviving members of the Philadelphia 11, as well as women ordained later, have not remained frozen in that turbulent time of Watergate just before Richard Nixon’s resignation. Rather, they have continued to respond to changing theological ideas and needs in a church that’s often been near the front of such social movements as equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Christianity necessarily requires continuity and respect for its own history, Heyward told NCR, but it “needs to always be empowering us to do what is just and compassionate and promotes human dignity and the well-being of creation. So one of the places of discontinuity that I believe we have to take seriously and work on today is the domination — the violent domination — of creation by human beings. … This is right now in our face all the time. Another area of discontinuity is the ongoingness of patriarchal assumptions about God and the world.” The idea that men were born to “run the world,” she said, “needs to be challenged nonviolently but very firmly.”

Heyward praises much of the tone and approach Pope Francis has set. But when it comes to women’s issues, she said, “he does not seem to be all that — I don’t know what word to use but I’m going to use the word — aware that there really are significant problems in Christian tradition and especially in Catholic tradition when it comes to the role and place of women.”

This lack of awareness has not been helped by what eventually many of the Philadelphia 11 experienced once Episcopal women’s ordination became a routine event — something of a disinterest in their pioneering work.

For instance, Greenwell, who didn’t enter college until several years after the Philadelphia ordinations, attended a conference about 10 years ago in which organizers brought in as many of the Philadelphia 11 as possible.

“As they shared their stories,” she told NCR, “there was an audible restlessness in the audience. Several of the younger women clergy felt the struggle of women on the panel was not their story, not their struggle and not relevant to their own ministry. They felt men were being demonized as the enemy while their own experience (and mine) was of men who had often been their champions. I sat there realizing I was somehow in the ambivalent middle — grateful for the courage and pioneering spirit of the ‘irregulars,’ but also sympathetic with the idea that it was time to move on from a conversation centered on strife. I was struck by what a generation gap had arisen in just 30 short years.”

Yet it’s intriguing to imagine what the Episcopal church would look like today and how the lives of countless women would be different had ordination of women never taken place.

  • Carter Heyward, for instance, said that even if she hadn’t been ordained, she’d have been a teacher “because that was really at the bottom of my vocation. I was called to a teaching ministry with a kind of priestly edge to it.” So that edge would have been dulled, at the very least.
  • Jefferts Schori likely would have stayed in the sciences.
  • As for Greenwell, she wondered: “Would I be the energetic Episcopal church lady that my mother had been, content with teaching Sunday school and organizing the food pantry? Or would I have left the church altogether? I don’t really know.” What the church does know is that Greenwell has been a persistent advocate for those whose ministry has not been welcomed. As she says, “For 20-some years I’ve fought for the full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in holy orders.”
  • Cheek doesn’t know whether she’d still be an Episcopalian today if it had an all-male priesthood. For one thing, her immediate worry after the 1974 ordinations — and, indeed, what she expected to happen — was that she and the others would be “deposed,” meaning their ordinations as priests and as deacons nullified.

“I think it was the press that saved us,” she said, noting how the media, including the National Catholic Reporter, refused to let the ordinations story drop.

The experiences of these women raise the question of what women have brought to the ministry that is different from what men have brought.

Because the Presbyterian Church (USA), as it is known today, began ordaining women in 1956, I asked that question of the Rev. Margaret E. Towner, now 89, the first Presbyterian woman ordained.

“I think they have brought a perspective of real caring, patience,” said Towner, still active in regional church governing bodies in Florida. “Most of them have an awful lot of patience. I think they have brought a perspective of real openness and understanding of what [the New Testament meant] by visiting the prisoner etc. It’s a different kind of compassion than some of the men have. I do think that lots of times women clergy have good, deeper insights sooner than a lot of the male clergy do. From the women I’ve heard preach, they bring a humanness to the sermons, to the meditations, that lots of times I don’t see men bringing.”

Jefferts Schori said she believes women have brought “collegial ways of exercising ministry and collaborative leadership” that wasn’t as fully developed when the priesthood was exclusively male. “I think women as well have brought a sense of what it’s like to live on the margins, not to be the norm in the larger culture, and that’s a gift in that it opens our eyes to seeing the poor and children, immigrants, people who do not live in the center.”

Heyward credits women with bringing experiences to the priesthood “that have largely been socialized into us in terms of caring, hospitality and the dailyness of what keeps people going. … We have inherited a lot of this from our mothers and grandmothers.”

Like Towner, Cheek said she thinks women have helped to “humanize” the ministry and the church in general. She noted, though, that some female priests have adopted some of the less admirable power-seeking approaches of some male priests.

But it’s the church’s organization, Cheek said, that has made it difficult for women to be all they can be in ministry: “With the structures we have in the church, it’s really hard for women to make a considerable difference.”

Indeed, it’s the even more hierarchical structures of the Catholic church that causes Cheek to wonder whether Catholics will ever allow women priests.

“It has such a different polity from ours,” she said, “that it’s hard to imagine how it could.” The change in Episcopal church law allowing ordination of women as priests was one that “the House of Deputies (half clergy, half laity) and the House of Bishops both voted for.” Catholicism is missing that more democratic structure, she said, and thus it will be harder to make the change.

“But,” she added, “if a pope were elected who was passionate about it, who knows what would happen?”

As Jefferts Schori looks toward the possibility of Catholic female priests, she has concluded, “I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime. The Orthodox may get there before the Romans do.”

There are, of course, women now who say they have been ordained as Catholic priests in connection with such organizations as Roman Catholic Womenpriests, though official church structures have refused to recognize the validity of such ordinations.

For now, it’s likely that the closest thing the world will have to female Catholic priests are women Episcopal priests — and they’re busy celebrating the 40th anniversary of a crucial event that helped get them and their church to this point.

[Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder, writes a Web column, "A small c catholic," for NCR ( His latest book is Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans.]

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Lest we forget: they’re children! Fr. John Baptist Pesce on immigration

Fr-John-on-Xmas-I-for-webIn this summer rerun — with an update on how to deal with the children pouring across the southern border of the U.S. — Reasonably Catholic‘s patron saint Passionist Father John Baptist Pesce reminds us whose side Jesus is on.

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She’s 104 and plays six cards at a time? Bingo!

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OpheliaOphelia Tyler, 104, plays bingo almost every Friday at St. James Catholic Church in Stratford, CT.

Bingo board Bingo balls Bingo card Dabbing Sheri Catholic school Steps into school basement Good luck tchotchkes List of games Cash drawer Bingo caller Brian Bingo winner Pizza Desserts crowd 2 crowdcrowd 2



Prof. Mark Silk, director of the Leonard Greenberg Center for Religion and Public Life at Trinity College, talking about public reaction to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ objections to the Obama administration’s Affordable Health Care Act: “Most Americans don’t buy this as a threat to freedom of religion.”

 Also in this episode, Prof. Mark Silk, director of the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, unpacks the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, which is now exempt from complying with certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act pertaining to coverage of contraception.



The Brake the Cycle of Poverty group, the subject of the previous episode, looks back on the ride in the synopsis below:

bike leg

“The ride this year was long and hard with rides to and from Cornwall Bridge and Stratford. 250 miles. Our audiences were good-sized (25-30 each place) and receptive to our message.

“This year we offered white papers and sample advocacy letters on 5 poverty “sub-issues”: minimum wage, immigration reform, SNAP cutbacks, unemployment insurance and tax reform. People seemed very happy to have these short concrete approaches to the issue; they sought them out at the end of the presentations in the five parishes. Another new element was the presence of state representatives/senators at each presentation; they spoke briefly and on point and personally. We were glad to have them.

“Our visits to soup kitchens/shelters in Middletown, Bristol and Hartford were once again enlightening and inspiring. At the finale, Sr Pat McKeon spoke of the ‘normalcy’ of these institutions in our society … that we are used to them, that it’s good to have them, as signs of a caring community. All true, she said, but we must be careful to not think that is the way it’s supposed to be. People don’t belong in shelters and shouldn’t be eating in soup kitchens … especially in the strongest economy, the richest nation, the richest state … we need to change the system, change the economy to recognize the dignity of each person, the dignity of work … that we are made to contribute productively to society as best we can … to participate in God’s creating of the kingdom as God wants it to be.”




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Donations cheerfully rejected: Brake the Cycle of Poverty prefers you take action

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photo 2Brake logo


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Members of a Brake the Cycle of Poverty planning meeting, in the basement of St. Bridget Church in Manchester, CT. This year’s ride through Connecticut to raise awareness of poverty in the state and nation begins at St Bridget’s  on Saturday, June 21, and concludes on Thursday, June 26, in Hartford. The itinerary includes some bodacious Litchfield hills!

photo 1John RyanCyclist John Ryan receives the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry’s Bishop Peter J. Rosazza Faith and Justice Award at the organization’s annual conference, which is also named for the bishop, on June 14. In accepting the award, which recognizes John’s commitment to social justice, he especially thanked his wife, who he said has practically convinced him that “God loves me very much.”

Brake CycleTeam members applaud their pal.









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Nun on the Bus Sr. Simone Campbell: Vatican censure of LCWR a Godsend

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photo 1photo 3photo 2Sr. Simone Campbell, a founder of Nuns on the Bus, two cross-country trips shining a light on social justice issues, says at a recent fundraiser for the Spiritual Life Center in West Hartford, CT, that the Vatican’s crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was painful, but also evidence of the Spirit at work since it brought attention to the lobby group Network’s efforts. (Although in her talk she asks for prayers for an upcoming meeting she’d be having with US Congressman Paul Ryan, author of a proposed budget that cuts social services, neither Network nor Ryan’s office would provide information about how that “private” conversation went.)

Below: my coverage of Sr. Simone’s talk for the June/July issue of the national progressive Catholic newspaper Today’s American Catholic:

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — The Vatican’s rebuke of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been “painful … hurtful … shocking,” says activist Sister Simone Campbell, who heads the social justice lobby Network and is the public face of the Nuns on the Bus tour. “We’re getting in trouble for doing the very thing Pope Francis is doing.”
And yet, she adds, “I do know that the Holy Spirit is using it for good. Nuns on the Bus would’ve never happened without it.”
An investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Benedict XVI resulted in a censure of the LCWR in 2012, which Pope Francis recently reaffirmed. At issue are what the inquisitors called “serious doctrinal problems,” such as LCWR’s focus on social activism rather than on opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.
Journalists and commentators have followed periodic developments in the dispute, with both sides visibly struggling to maintain a civil tone, but neither side budging. Vatican-watcher John Allen may have put his finger on it when he was quoted in USA Today saying that the conflict between the bishops and the sisters is really about “what it means to be Catholic in the 21st century.”
All of the sturm und drang has drawn welcome public attention to Network, which had labored on Capitol Hill for 40 years but “hadn’t gotten anyplace,” said Sister Simone in her talk. The lobbying group even had proposed a “faithful budget” as an alternative to the ones riddled with social service cuts which Catholic U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan keeps putting forward, only to see it ignored.
Small and broke, lacking even enough money to take out a print ad, Network was batting around “little ideas” about how it might grow itself, said the 68-year-old Sister of Social Service, and that’s when word of the censure came down.
“The Vatican answered our prayer by naming our little organization Network in the censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious as being a bad influence on Catholic sisters in the United States because we promote,” she said as if scandalized, “radical feminist themes!”
“By giving us this light, this moment,” she said, practically blessing the bishops, “we got to lift up the story, and our nation began to talk about poverty again, about the anguish of poverty, about folks working full-time but still living in poverty, about people struggling to find jobs. … The joy of the Gospel is in dealing with the censure in a way to fulfill mission. It’s painful, but it’s gift.”
Sister Simone’s staunch support of the Affordable Care Act (she was at the White House signing ceremony), together with her keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, her two nationwide Nuns-on-the-Bus tours highlighting poverty and immigration issues, plus her dozens of television appearances on everything from 60 Minutes to cable shows with more partisan leanings, both left and right, have turned Sister Simone into the face of liberal Catholicism.
“Oh, so you’re a communist,” she quoted Sean Hannity as saying on his show. On Real Time with Bill Maher, the audience cheered as she verbally smacked a ruler across the knuckles of conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza for claiming that increasing the minimum wage would quash innovation.
“Go Google me on there. It’s worth watching,” she urged the audience at her talk, taking pains to note that it’s the Spirit at work, not herself, she’s promoting.
As her speech on the intersection of faith and politics unfolded, Sister Simone was alternately incredulous (“In the richest nation on earth people die just for losing a job?”); miffed (“They’re not really pro-life, they’re only pro-birth”); and funny (“Have you noticed that [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell does not have lips? That just seems wrong”). At one point, she admitted to having neatly categorized certain people – “Hannity,” for instance, was “not to be seriously engaged with” – but then she realized that “the spiritual life teaches us that we’re all in this together, that we are all a part of God’s plan.”
Relatedly, she recalled a Zen-Christian retreat she’d made, when the director instructed her to pursue “radical acceptance” of her opponents. After first resisting, she decided “if I was at odds with the God in them, I’m at odds with the God in me. Oh, no! The thing that I value most is to be one with God.”
But just when she’d arrived at “that holy place” of acceptance,” she said, the retreat director instructed her to “now add in fighting.”
“Yes, isn’t that what you do in Washington, D.C.?”
What putting the two together brought her to, she said, is an emphasis on fighting for – “To fight for the folks that we meet. To fight for this alternative vision that Pope Francis speaks of. To fight for something better in our society.”
Pulling mementoes from her missal, Sister Simone held up each card and told the stories of people she’d met along her journey: there’s Margaret, who died because when she’d lost her job in the recession ad could no longer afford cancer screenings, despite a worrisome family history of the disease; there’s Robin, who works full-time for a profitable company but still must sleep in a homeless shelter; and there’s Cynthia, whose husband can only afford treatment for stage-three cancer thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
On the bus trip promoting immigration reform, she met Ida, a 17-year-old in Savannah, Georgia, who takes her parents to work every day before school, warning them, ‘“Don’t go off with anybody else, and if you do, call me and tell me who it is.’ … She is terrified that her parents will get deported.”
Then there was Jackie, 19, whose parents have been deported, so, besides working and attending community college, Jackie is raising her younger sisters – “ and every Sunday she’s calling [her parents] to get advice.”
“Our system is broken,” said Sister Simone. “That Jackie would have to raise her siblings, by herself, at 19: ugh, ugh, ugh.”
These people, she said, “have broken my heart. Now the good news is that when your heart is broken open, there’s room for a lot more people. There’s no limit to whom you can bring into your heart. The spiritual becomes: how broken open is your heart, and have you been able to release some hope into this darkness?”
Sister Simone then asked the audience’s prayers, as she was scheduled to meet in a few days with Congressman Ryan. “He’s been doing these hearings on poverty. I want to find out from him what breaks his heart.” (Spokespeople for neither Network nor Ryan’s office would say how the private meeting went.)
Before wrapping up her talk by reading two poems from her recently published book Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (HarperOne), Sister exhorted the audience to forgo meaningless talk and instead do what she called “grocery store missionary work.”
“Say to the person in front of you or behind you, something important, like, ‘Hey, I’m kinda worried about minimum wage’ … or say, ‘Have you thought about immigration reform? I really wish they’d get that done. What do you think?’”
Asked how she keeps from getting overwhelmed by the proliferation of problems in the world, she said, “The reason why we get overwhelmed is if we think we’re in charge, we’re in control. And the fact is, we’re not. I just have to do my part. And part of my part is letting my heart be broken by these folks so I can tell their stories.”
As for how the standoff between the Vatican and the LCWR may end, she recalled the Old Testament story of the burning bush: “As long as we’re faithful to letting God flame up in our lives, we won’t be destroyed, so we just have to be faithful.”
“Sister Simone’s positivity was just inspiring,” said Nina Rusko, of Sandy Hook, CT, a town still healing from the elementary school massacre. “It was just the type of spirit that takes us from the negative to a way of being fruitful in our talking about these very, very difficult questions.”




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An ordinary ordination: Roman Catholic women priests are “nothing new”

Click below to hear the audio:


laying on of hands Rev. Gabriella Velardi Ward, pastor of St. Praxedis Church in New York City, where ordinand Alexandra Venturini Dyer is a parishioner, lays hands on her at an ordination Mass at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village.

vesselsBishop Andrea Johnsonlaying on hands1 prostratevesting2communionrecessionalalex and friendsmaryrose

Top row: familiar accoutrements; Bishop Andrea M. Johnson preaches the homily (fuller version than in episode and her complete interview afterward:Bishop Andrea homily ; Bishop Andrea interview; the bishops’ laying on of hands (members of the congregation will follow suit); prostrating as a sign of self-giving (note that the bishop sits off to the side; the priests’ vow is to God, not the bishop); vesting with chasuble and stole.

Bottom row: communion; the recessional; Alexandra with friends Dail Moses Taylor and Tracy Lynn Krauss; newly ordained Rev. Maryrose Petrizzo

The readings, selected by Alexandra and Maryrose: First reading — Isaiah 42: 1-9; responsorial psalm — the non-canonical Ode 8 of Solomon; Second reading — Romans 12: 9-18; Gospel –Matthew 28: 16-20

Alexandra’s prayer:

“Creator God, Creator Spirit, Creator beyond all imagining, we give You thanks for the gift of reflective awareness that allows us to recognize Your presence in our universe. Everything we have, everything we see, everything we do, everyone we love and everyone who loves us, reveals Your sustaining presence. We thank You that Your presence brings energy to life and all that exists.”

From her bio, printed in the program: She is the CFAO of Comunilife, Inc., a service organization addressing the health and housing needs of underserved communities in NYC, of which she is a native. A product of Catholic elementary and high schools, she earned a BA in philosophy and religion from Barnard College and attended Union Theological Seminary for her M.Div. and then Columbia School of Business for her MBA with a certificate in not-for-profit management. She is working toward a certificate in spiritual direction from General Theological Seminary. She lives in a committed relationship with her partner Nelson Padilla in Queens, NY, with their three cats and a menagerie of birds, raccoons and other creatures who are welcome in her yard.

Maryrose’s prayer:

“Conscious that we live and move and have our being in You, we give thanks for those throughout history who have affirmed Your loving presence and challenged Your people to give witness. They have witnessed to Your presence in lives characterized by love, mercy, compassion, generosity and forgiveness. We thank You for Jesus, who loved so greatly, taught so clearly, and proclaimed so outrageously. He set people free from images, ideas, and religious practices that bound them in fear and a false sense of separation from You. Through Jesus, we learn how our loving is a share in Your life. In Jesus, we see Your Spirit challenging us to make Your presence on earth more visible.”

Her bio: She lives in Wilmington, Delaware, and has 25-plus years in Catholic parish ministry, including as formation director for secular Franciscans. She is a certified spiritual director and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant. She was born in the Bronx and grew up in New Jersey, where she attended the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown. She has been associated with the Roman Catholic Women Priests-led parish of St. Mary Magdalen in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, and is a founding member of the New Jerusalem Community in Wilmington, which she will now serve as its spiritual leader. She works in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. She also has a part-time business officiating at all types of ceremonies, especially same-sex civil unions.

Judson through arch

Judson Memorial Church, seen through the Washington Square Park arch.

From its website :

Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village defines itself as “a church in the Christian tradition” and “a sanctuary for progressive activism and artistic expression.” While affiliated with the American Baptist Churches and United Church of Christ, the congregation draws its 200 members from a variety of religious traditions.

Judson Church occupies a 117-year-old historic building on Washington Square South. Besides Sunday worship and Sunday School, its current programs include work with the New Sanctuary Movement for immigrant rights and a “community ministers” program that trains future clergy on how to involve congregations in social-change activities. Judson also continues its long history of hosting post-modern arts, peace action, women’s reproductive rights, and gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender events.

Senior Minister the Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper describes the church as “a gathering place for people who seek spiritual nurture to build public capacity for social change.”

Judson has a long tradition of being open to all, regardless of faith. When individuals officially join Judson, they affiliate with both our parent denominations – United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches.

Open and Affirming

Who are You?…We are Judson Memorial Church: Spiritual. Open. Artistic. Expressive. Affirming. Come in.

Judson Memorial Church serves as a sanctuary for progressive activism, artistic expression, and spiritual nurture. We welcome persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities (including cisgender, transgender, and genderqueer) to participate fully in the life and ministry of the church. We support each and every quest to construct one’s own identity, affirming any and all who identify as lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, polysexual, asexual, pansexual, omnisexual, and straight.

Questions about what it means to be an “Open and Affirming” (ONA) United Church of Christ (UCC) congregation? Visit to find out more.

Or a “Welcoming and Affirming” (AWAB–Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptist Churches) baptist congregation? Visit to find out more.

You can join one of the Alliance Communities if you have a particular interest in issues related to (ie) Peace and Justice; Racial Justice and Multiculturalism; LGBTQ; Justice in Palestine & Israel; Justice for the Homeless.
The United Church of Christ Connection:

“God is still speaking” UCC people say…

We have experienced God’s presence…

as the community gathers to celebrate life and faith
in the effort to build a truly democratic country
in advocacy for the poor and oppressed
in joining hands with people in every race and place
in support of public access to the media
in search of justice for minorities, immigrants, and those oppressed
because of race, gender, sexual origin, or handicaps.

Judson is part of a religious denomination which has built upon the heritage which began with the Pilgrims in 1620. Valuing freedom and conscience the Congregationalists (one of the founding families) called their worship places
meeting houses: doors opening inward for worship and outward to the
public square to act on behalf of social justice and community.

Three generations ago two denominations formed the United Church of Christ vowing to be a united and uniting force. In addition to the Pilgrims and Puritans of Massachusetts Bay some of their ancestors were German Reformed people who helped settle Pennsylvania and Evangelical Synod people whose Midwest roots began in Missouri. These bodies — Congregational Christians, Evangelical and Reformed– in 1957 joined seeking deeper unity of the Christian family and a unity of the earth’s peoples

Key Passions of the United Church of Christ, Judson’s Partner:
•The local church is autonomous, accountable, competent
•The face of the church is forward and to the world in which people suffer, dream, and hope
•We are a covenant people
•A radical welcome is who we are and what we are about
•“God is Still Speaking” through the Bible, the community, the events in people’s lives, presence of the Holy Spirit
•The unity of all God’s people is our calling


For info about St. Praxedis Roman Catholic community:











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