Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith

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Put your Catholic Guilt to Good Use: Pledge a gift to WESU!

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Mark Silk, director of Trinity College’s Center for Religion in Public Life:

“The last time we talked, I said if you tell me how the Catholics voted, I’ll tell you who was elected president.”

Was he right?

Prof. Silver returns to Reasonably Catholic to analyze the election results.

Prof. Mark Silk, director of the Leonard Greenberg Center for Religion and Public Life at Trinity College

Let’s show WESU-FM some love! What other radio station would say yes to putting a progressive Catholic show on the radio — during drive time!? WESU’s driving mission has always been to give air time to views not heard anywhere else! Please be as generous as you can during the station’s winter/holiday pledge drive. Call 860-685-7700 or download a pledge form at

For a pledge of $25, we’ll send you any of these three premiums. Special thanks to the Holy Family Passionist Community, Today’s American Catholic, and Rosemary Radford Ruether for generously donating them to the cause!

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Passionist Community music CDs

Passionist Community music CDs

Three issues of Today's American Catholic

Three issues of Today’s American Catholic

Books by pioneering Catholic feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether

Books by pioneering Catholic feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether

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Public Service and “Pink Smoke” – U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and film producer Jules Hart

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On the Nov. 20th episode of Reasonably Catholic, we hear from U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro and Jules Hart, producer of the film, Pink Smoke Over the Vatican.

U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro

U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro

Jules Hart

Jules Hart

Watch the Pink Smoke over the Vatican trailer:

Visit the Pink Smoke Over the Vatican website.

* * *

Hurricane Sandy update:

Staten Island, NY, continues to struggle to recover from the storm. Rev. Gabriella Velardi Ward, a resident of the borough and pastor of St. Praxedis Parish in Manhattan, invites anyone who is able to help to go to

Gabriella writes:
“There are still people living in high rise buildings who are still without power. So they cannot get out. The disabled and the elderly who cannot get out are running out of medication in addition to many other things. Some people ran out of their homes during the hurricane and are without their medication. So, there are still many needs that one might not realize at first.

“One of the Occupy groups set up a Marriage Registry at for tools and rebuilding equipment.

“There are currently 200 to 300 houses in S.I. that have been condemned and will be demolished. Insurance companies and FEMA is arguing about that. There was a homeless problem here in NYC  before the hurricane struck. Now with the newly homeless the shelters are overburdened. And I don’t know if there are plans for long term housing.

“And people are beginning to get sick from a toxic environment, air, land and water.”

* * *

Coming soon!

The next episode, on Dec. 4, will feature a special pledge-drive-week interview with pioneering feminist Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether. Donate to WESU during the drive and receive an autographed book of Ruether’s. Other pledge gifts: music CDs from Holy Family Passionist Retreat House in West Hartford and a three-issue subscription to the progressive newspaper Today’s American Catholic. Help support the station that brings you programming you’ll hear nowhere else.

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Election day episode

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On the Nov. 6 Election Day episode of Reasonably Catholic, we hear from two experts—John Finn, Wesleyan professor of government, and Mark Silk, director of Trinity College’s Center for Religion in Public Life—about the Catholic bishops’ objections to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act.

“The bishops are on the wrong side of the argument here”

John Finn, professor of government at Wesleyan University—“Every time there’s a new election…I become more and more disaffected, to be honest.”

Listen to more from my interview with Prof. Finn about the undecided voter:

Excerpts from the interview with Prof. Finn:

• On Catholic voting trends:
“It’s my sense that, over the years, and progressively so with each election, Catholics vote less and less distinctly as a bloc. Now maybe there’s something about the mandate, and the bishops’ fortnight that will galvanize Catholics to vote more as a single demographic unit, but I’m inclined to think not. I would be very surprised if we see any real substantial change in how Catholics have voted in past elections.”

• On freedom of religion:
“There are a lot of basic misconceptions and myths going on about what freedom of religion means, about what the First Amendment means, about who has the power to define it, and while I think the bishops are ultimately mistaken as a matter of constitutional law, the position they hold, that the mandate directly interferes with their free exercise rights, is not a crazy one. I think t’s mistaken but it’s far from crazy. And in any event, it may be the one that some future court ends up adopting.”

• On the U.S. bishops’ challenge to the Affordable Health Care Act:
“For the last 10 or 20 years or so, it seems reasonably clear as a matter of constitutional law, distinct from constitutional principle, that the bishops are on the wrong side of the argument here. There’s not a whole lot of support in the case law for a position that says that an otherwise valid, neutral law which doesn’t have the intent or purpose of picking on religion in particular should nevertheless not be applied because it offends your religious faith. … The rule is clear that there isn’t much room for an exemption for the Catholic Church just because they think it violates their faith….This would make every religion a law unto itself.”

• On whether compromise on the mandate is possible:
“There have already been several articles in Commonweal , for example, and other places, to suggest there are perfectly reasonable accommodations the Church could make within its own theology that would allow it to live with some form of the mandate. “

• On the bishops “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign:
“I’m wondering why we had the fortnight on the mandate but we haven’t had, in my life, anyway, that I can recall, a fortnight dedicated to the Church’s larger proposition that health care is a fundamental right for everyone, or that we ought to have a fortnight against poverty.

“Most Americans don’t buy this as a threat to freedom of religion”

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.”

Listen to Prof. Silk on polling:

Excerpts from the interview with Prof. Silk:

• On the bishops’ giving Catholics more reason to leave the Church:
“To what extent are they prepared or even eager for a smaller, more obedient church, without all these annoying people running around saying, ‘baloney’?”

• On prospects for an end to the abortion debate:
“I’d even say this about some of the pro-choice folks – this is an issue where a lot of people don’t want to find common ground. There have been efforts to try to go there. There’s a certain amount of industry – industry in the sense of social movement organizations that raise money – that, really, would go out of business if this issue were solved. … so I don’t’ see much likelihood of this disappearing.”

• On why the bishops are so focused on birth control:
“Personally, I think there is a kind of shell-shocked quality to the Church that helps explain a lot of the behavior: as a result of the abuse scandal. [It happened] not just in Boston, not just in New England, not just in the United States, but all over the world and in the Vatican and …I think at some level, the sheer unhappiness and rage of leaders of the greatest religious institution in the history of the universe at having to be regarded as a species of lower order of being, and morally corrupt and so on … I think it really sort of – it kind of drove them nuts.…So in the large scale of things, the turn to the right and the slightly out of control quality of the bishops, I just have to believe it has something to do with the shock of the scandals.”

• On the Catholic vote:
“Catholics are the most representative religious body of any religious group. That is, if you take all the Catholics and you tell me how they vote in a given election, I could tell you who won the election.”

Link to NYT Thomas Friedman column: “Why I am pro-life”

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“I wanted them to look like popes”

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In the Oct. 30th episode of Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith, photojournalist Judith Levitt talks about her photographic portraits of women priests, which ran in the Sept. 30th New York Times Sunday Review section. See the full gallery here.

One of the many interesting aspects of Levitt’s photographs is that, contrary to what you might expect, the women are not shown performing such priestly actions as consecrating the Eucharist at Mass. Rather, the portraits channel the spirit of Renaissance art, with the women seated, holding a book and wearing robes and stoles in front of a deep blue velvet backdrop.

To see the women in such traditional regalia may bring comfort, says Levitt, to those like herself who have fond memories of having grown up Catholic but who find it hard to feel at home in the Church today.

Bishop Patricia Fresen. Photograph by Judith Levitt

Bishop Patricia Fresen. Photograph by Judith Levitt

Bishop Patricia Fresen, formerly of South Africa, now of Germany, was a Dominican nun and university professor—who trained male seminarians how to be priests!—before becoming a Roman Catholic priest herself in 2003, resulting in her being forced to leave her community. In Germany, bishops involved in the women-priests movement asked her to become a bishop and bring the movement to the United States so it could grow. As priest Gabriella Velardi Ward, whom Fresen ordained and who is a subject of an upcoming Reasonably Catholic episode, tells it, the bishops explained, “The women in the United States are well-educated and not easily intimidated by Rome.”

Fresen, photographed in her home in Germany, has since ordained many women priests and is a shepherd of the movement.

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Voice of the Faithful: Ten years of prodding the hierarchy to listen to Its better angels

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The Oct. 16 episode of Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith goes to Boston to attend the 10th anniversary conference of Voice of the Faithful, a lay organization that formed in reaction to revelations of clergy sexual abuse.

We hear from attendees and speakers who look back at VOTF’s beginnings and ahead to its future.  Suffice it to say, VOTF has found its voice.

Those heard in this episode include:

Rev. James Connell, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus and St. Clement Parishes in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a canon lawyer who advocates on behalf of victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

James Connell

James Connell

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, a longtime children’s advocate.

Anne Burke

Anne Burke

David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), the nation’s largest and oldest self-help group for clergy molestation victims.

David Clohessy

David Clohessy

This article I wrote about the conference for Today’s American Catholic will appear in that newspaper’s upcoming issue:

BOSTON – “Why aren’t the bishops here tonight?” a voice in the ballroom called out.

“They were invited,” replied the master of ceremonies with a shrug. “We didn’t get a terribly negative response, but – they’re not here.”

Bishops who are not there – in so many senses of the phrase.  That was a recurring theme of the 10th anniversary Voice of the Faithful conference in September.

With the exception of Blessed Pope John XXIII, to whom the conference was dedicated, and Milan’s recently departed Cardinal Carlo Maria Montini, who was applauded for admitting that the Church is “200 years out of date,” a number one speaker called a gross underestimate, the hierarchy took it on the chin  for everything from their financial opacity and obstructionism to their obsession with “pelvic zone issues” and liturgical rubrics, down to their baroque ceremonial garb.

The event drew about 450 people to the Marriott Boston Copley Place Hotel, barely a dozen miles from where Voice of the Faithful began with listening sessions in a church basement in Wellesley. The organization’s membership now numbers 30,000 worldwide. “I wouldn’t still be a Catholic if it weren’t for Voice of the Faithful,” said one attendee who was sure she spoke for many.

Judging from the sea of gray hair, and by doing a quick bit of math, one was reminded that the conferees had come of age 50 years ago, as Vatican II shook the ground, a formative event that still powerfully reverberates for them, no matter that Rome pretends it didn’t happen.

“I’d like to see the Church change so I don’t have to leave it, that’s all,” said Bud Roche, a retiree from Needham, MA, and Florida during the opening cocktail party. “It’s asinine a woman can’t become a priest. A woman can’t even become a deacon. Take a look at the nuns, what they’re doing to them. I’ll tell you, if someone put together a deal, a Catholic Church of America, I’d run there, and I tell you, half the women I know would run there, and a lot of nuns would run there.”

Roche and his wife Eileen are Republicans, but liberal-minded when it comes to Church reform.  Pope John Paul III “wiped out” Vatican II, “and now they’re making him a saint! Naming parishes after him in Boston! Insane.”

A short documentary film about Voice of the Faithful’s beginnings illustrated how steep the learning curve was for those brave souls challenging their Church for the first time. One interviewee drew chuckles when she recalled having thought, “Oh, wouldn’t Cardinal Law love to know!” that the laity was willing to pitch in and help fix the crisis.

The conference speakers – a roster of progressive Catholic authors and activists – did not so much make presentations as raise battle cries.

“Pride, untruths, protecting the institution at all costs and treating the laity like serfs – have we learned no lessons in a decade?” said Anne Burke, an Illinois Supreme Court justice and former chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board, in an opening address. “We have no interest in returning to the way the Church of our youth was led, the church of cover-up, secrets and hidden crime.”

Another speaker, David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on Catholics to stop giving money to all Catholic institutions, including to their parishes. Such donations, he said, only build the “power, reputations, prestige and war chests of Church officials,” with the cash used to hire defense lawyers, PR firms and lobbyists to fight sexual abuse claims. When people tell him that they don’t want to hurt lay employees, Clohessy says he replies: imagine if, during the civil rights movement, people refused to boycott so as not to deprive bus drivers of jobs.

“Get over that,” he said.

This was just the kind of incendiary challenge which Voice of the Faithful might have cringed at in its early days, as the organization sought to distinguish itself from such church-reform groups as Call to Action.

Pat McSweeney, who was passing out brochures at the Call to Action table in the exhibits room, was an early member of both.  She recalls attending one of the Wellesley meetings – even before Voice of the Faithful had a name – and mentioning Call to Action as a model.

“I could feel people around the table stiffen. Their perception was that it was too radical,” she said, in its advocacy of optional celibacy and the ordination of women.  “And I could tell from some subsequent meetings that Voice of the Faithful people were intent on sympathizing with the victims and with supporting the priests of integrity, but they didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of the bishops or change the Church, particularly.

“Now I’m here ten years later and I could hear from the talks that were given last night that Voice of the Faithful has evolved and they’ve realized it’s up to them, the laity, to make the changes that need to be made, to bring healing and honesty and integrity to the Church.”

Several times over the two days, different speakers said reforms may not happen “in our lifetime.” Nonetheless, attendees say they have evolved so far beyond their previous “pay, pray and obey” approach to Catholicism that they “could never go back.”

Voice of the Faithful now lists shaping structural change among its goals, specifically in the areas of priestly celibacy, women’s ordination, clericalism, and lack of lay input into decisions about, for instance, the selection of bishops.

In answer to a question about why more priests aren’t involved in Church reform, speaker Rev. Donald Cozzens, author of several books calling for Church reform, blamed priests’ immaturity. But “perhaps we are maturing and finding our adult voice,” he said.

“We priests are vassals to our bishop. The vassal’s primary virtue is loyalty and we priests need to talk about what real loyalty is. It should be to the gospel.” Toward the end of the conference, attention turned toward the absence of young people from both Voice of the Faithful and the Church, and what to do about it.

Sarah Politano, of Wisconsin, a student at Harvard Divinity School, said during a break that she practically has to decide anew every day to stay Catholic. “Especially after learning how widespread the coverup was … it’s easy to feel exhausted already, and I’m only 25. I can’t imagine people who’ve spent their lives wrestling with these issues.” That they continue to do so, she said, is “inspiring.”

Several speakers said there’s little older Catholics can do but show by example how essential their faith is to them.

As Jamie Manson, a young columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, put it:  “Name what’s meaningful about being Catholic … what treasures of Catholicism are worth rescuing from the burning building that is the institutional Church.”

Unlike in her grandparents’ day, when religion was woven into other aspects of community life, and people’s lives unalterably prescribed for them (marriage, children, husband working, wife at home), Manson said the lives of today’s young adults follow a more individualistic model.

“Community doesn’t tell young people today what they believe, what their values are, what their morality is. That kind of individuality is really unprecedented,” she said, and its impact on the Church cannot be overstated.

“Today’s young adults experience a Church that was tainted from the very beginning,” she said, and for which they feel “no nostalgia…They’d rather distance themselves from Church authority than spend time and energy trying to change it.”

Sure, whenever the Pope travels, the media focuses on hordes of ecstatic young people, but these are “highly orthodox” believers, for whom the Church is a refuge from such social changes as women’s equality and gay rights– “young folks who are afraid of the world.”

To reach better-adjusted youth, Manson advises speaking to their interest in social justice, on “God working through us sacramentally” to help the “poor and broken.”

“With our without the hierarchy, with or without our priests, with or without our parishes – honor what’s good and true and beautiful about the Catholic tradition.”

As members of Voice of the Faithful, she said, “the risks you took to speak life-saving truth to a religious behemoth has been an important model for young adults to grow up with.” She credited the organization with making possible the sexual-abuse prevention training, background checks and policies and procedures that were eventually implemented.

“On behalf of young adults who have benefited from your work and who will be in a safer, more accountable Church because of you, I say, happy anniversary!”

These photos show the “Lamentation Wall” at the conference, where attendees could post their sentiments.
Voice of the Faithful lamentation wall

Voice of the Faithful lamentation wall


Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith, Sept. 18, 2012, archived show

Fr. John Baptist Pesce brings his enlightened take on current issues affecting—and afflicting!—the Church, including the Vatican crackdown on nuns, the bishops’ crusade against Obamacare, and the need for more involvement by the laity in decision-making at all levels. Quoting Victor Hugo, Fr. John reminds us that there is no resisting “an idea whose time has come”! Do you have one foot out the church door? Father John may persuade you to stay!

Listen to the show


Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith, Sept. 18, 2012, archived show

Fr. John Baptist Pesce brings his enlightened take on current issues affecting—and afflicting!—the Church, including the Vatican crackdown on nuns, the bishops’ crusade against Obamacare, and the need for more involvement by the laity in decision-making at all levels. Quoting Victor Hugo, Fr. John reminds us that there is no resisting “an idea whose time has come”! Do you have one foot out the church door? Father John may persuade you to stay!

Listen now: