Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Working Catholic: Division within the Church by Bill Droel

The internal battles are the hardest. The particulars of an internal dispute quickly seem inconsequential but the long term stakes can be significant. For example, during the four years prior to its 1972 convention, the credentials committee of the Democratic National Committee wrangled over delegate seating. The eventual decisions shifted the focus of electoral politics in this country.

The recent Catholic bishops’ Synod on the Family provides a second example. For nearly three years the Synod process was given to debate on relatively obscure rules regarding divorced Catholics and the Eucharist—as if no other issues were of crucial importance to family life. And yet, the eventual outcome of this internal battle might have significance beyond its particulars.

Which brings us to a second observation about internal battles. They are often not about what they are about. This is always the case in polarized battle. “Polarization is not the same thing” as conflict, writes Holly Taylor Coolman of Providence College. Conflict, if conducted fairly, can be resolved satisfactorily. Polarization, by contrast, means two poles with no third or fourth option; no middle ground. Each pole increasingly turns inward, “demanding even purer and more total commitment,” explains Coolman in her contribution to Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church (Liturgical Press, 2016).

So for example, those who wage a polarized culture war over the serious matter of abortion are not really talking about abortion. For the culture warriors an entire worldview is at stake: the value of individualism, the autonomy of science, indeed the foundations of modernity.  Not everyone who engages the topic of abortion is an ideologue. Some thoughtful people, including those who use an objective moral method, are open to a middle position for the time being. However, someone who proposes the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is on a polarized crusade; no compromise is acceptable.

Which brings us to a third observation about internal battles—one with a twist. Even though a topic is serious, the majority is not invested in either pole on that topic.

The people who are leading the internal battles within U.S. Catholicism are older, Christian Smith of Notre Dame tells us in Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church. By contrast, “the vast majority” of those in their 20s or 30s “do not care that much.” Based on research, Smith says these young people “are not generally hostile to the church, not antagonistic or fundamentally dissenting. It is more a matter of general indifference.” This is something for Catholic leaders to ponder.

Mary Ellen Konieczny, one of three editors of Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church, says the same. “Only between 10 and 20% of the American public hold polar positions around most culture wars issues.” Further, “the culture wars debates are waged largely by elites.” And, to repeat Smith’s point, when it comes to Catholic topics, young adults are not among the 10% to 20% who battle the internal issues.

This twist presents a dilemma for U.S. Catholicism. The polar positions of those who battle over the status of divorced Catholics might represent something bigger. Those Catholic leaders who battle over gender requirements for legal marriages might be upholding valuable worldviews. But are these and other internal polar battles a distraction from the crucial project of attracting and retaining young adults in the faith? Is a both/and approach a fallacy—both attention to culture wars and attention to the young adult topics of work and relationships? Does Catholic polarization itself (on the left and right) cause thoughtful young adults (rightly or wrongly) to further disaffect from the faith?

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Working Catholic: Yankee, Go Home by Bill Droel

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP of Peru is rightly receiving awards these days for his role in developing liberation theology. His 1973 book, A Theology of Liberation, signaled the end within Catholicism of the Western European theological monopoly. It is also now worthwhile to recall Ivan Illich (1926-2002). In early 1964 he gathered several Latin American theologians and church leaders in Brazil. It was there that the methodology and major themes of what would become libration theology took shape. Thus, Illich “played a major role in fostering liberation theology” and subsequently in its propagation, writes Todd Hartch in The Prophet of Cuernavaca (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Illich was born in Austria and was ordained to the priesthood in 1951. Later that year he was sent to Princeton University to do research. He served among Puerto Ricans in a Manhattan parish. Cardinal Francis Spellman (1889-1967) was impressed with Illich and so appointed him a rector to a university in Puerto Rico. Illich, at age 31, was made a monsignor—the youngest ever in the United States.

Today, the required reading list for a college class might include one or another book by Illich. The class will be in education, philosophy or social science. Hartch’s contribution is to put Illich squarely inside Catholicism and inside the priesthood. “He is best understood as a Catholic priest of conscious orthodoxy grappling with the crisis of Western modernity,” says Hartch. Thus, Illich’s later critiques of education, medicine and other institutions are but further examples of his prime example, the church.

The church loses its mission, said Illich, when it adopts a modern business model with its preoccupation with status, obsession with money, a fondness for measurable outcomes, a disposition to bureaucratic processes, an overuse of vacuous language and more. Illich devised an unusual way of reforming the church. He started, Hartch details, “an anti-missionary training center designed to discourage would-be missionaries” at the very moment that the Vatican and the U.S. bishops made a significant commitment to sending missionaries to Latin and South America.

Illich believed that the church’s mission effort had lost its original aspiration. Like many modern institutions, the unintended bad side effects outweighed the good intentions. Programs directed from North America to South America under the banner of development amounted to more colonialism, he said. Illich, to be clear, was not against the church and its essential missionary endeavors. Nor subsequently was he opposed to medicine, education, transportation and the like. He felt, however, that once a threshold of modern bureaucracy had taken hold, the church impedes faith, the schools hamper learning and hospitals discourage wellness.

Hundreds of missionaries attended Illich’s center in Cuernavaca because it offered the best language class, the best cultural analysis and on-and-off again the latest theological insights—all the while telling the missionaries, in effect “to go home.”

Illich, like all prophets, was contradictory. For example, here was a missionary of sorts who came from Europe to New York, then went to Puerto Rico and onto Mexico saying that imported religious education and devotions are types of disabling help. No surprise then that his anti-missionary effort had contradictory results. The number of Western European and North American missionaries to Latin America indeed dropped well below the goals set by bishops. At the same time, members of religious orders and other missionary types went back into their North American and European settings with a passion for opening the whole church to its global mission, particularly its solidarity with the poor.

As for Illich, his influence on many Catholic leaders was significant but his footing within Catholic structures was unfixed. He was for a time in regular conflict with one or another bishop and with the Vatican bureaucracy. “Many have assumed that [Illich] was forced out of the priesthood or even that he renounced Catholicism,” writes Hartch. Not true. Illich knew and believed “that priestly identity was permanent.” During 1967 to 1968 Illich gradually withdrew from active priesthood so that he would not be a source of embarrassment. His precise status defied the usual categories—not exactly a leave of absence, not at all a suspension. Illich was a radical thinker; a person willing to experiment. He was churchman, always “trying to understand the nature of the church and its relationship to his age,” Hartch concludes. 

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Thursday, November 10, 2016


   A Latino mom, the wife of a board member of the Milwaukee Immigrant Worker’s Center, Voces de la Frontera, reported that kids were crying at school in anticipation of being deported.

   Our seven year-old granddaughter Monique was upset election night.  She was convinced Donald Trump was going to bomb San Francisco.  Dori and John, her parents, assuaged her fears and by bed time she was OK.

   Sunday, December 71941 as a six year old I had similar fears.  We were at my grandparents' for Sunday dinner when we became aware of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Everybody gathered around the radio and I knew the news wasn’t good.  My uncle Ed had already been drafted; all were concerned.

   On the drive home I asked my parents if the war would come to our country.  They said no – not to worry, but I could tell they weren’t sure.  

   As for the age of anxiety in the 50’s, my fears of nuclear warfare were suppressed with little conscious awareness. During serving time in the Army I accepted the threat of war as just part of everyday life.

   I don’t remember ever going to bed as a child with a fear like Monique’s of being bombed; I was willing to accept that it just wouldn’t happen.  But what about the kids in Aleppo – it happened – it’s happening – will we welcome them as refugees or have we been so desensitized by constant war that we will say no?

   Monique’s eight year old cousin Sean in London was empathetic. When he overheard the story of Monique’s worries he said, “She can come to London and sleep in my room if she wants.”

   But Monique is doing fine.  Wednesday at supper she offered a toast: “to Hillary, she will run again – she never gives up.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


   Our seven year old granddaughter Monique is as precious to us as life itself, but she’s a handful.  Dori and John trust us to care for her at times and it can be exciting.  She’s quick, she’s a climber, she runs, she zips around on her bike.  Last summer a neighbor cautioned me:  “You should watch her more closely, did you know she is way up in that tree?”  I looked up and was startled. 

   Last winter we spent some time visiting the family in San Francisco.  I was watching a Wolf Blitzer interview with Donald Trump. Monique was dashing around here there and everywhere, but I tried to concentrate on what was being said.  Suddenly Monique was cuddling right next to me.  I tried to focus but Monique had some questions:

“Boppo, does Donald Trump say bad words?”                                       
“Yes! Let’s watch and listen.”                                                   
“Boppo, is he saying bad words now?”                                               
“Why not?”                                                                                                    
“Ahhh – he’s trying to be nice for television?”
"But he’s not nice; he keeps interrupting; does Donald Trump know what nice means?”

   Joanne reports a conversation this summer.  “Grandma if Donald Trump wins we will have to move to another country, but we should all move to the same place.”

   Monique is now playing soccer.  Last week she scored a goal and celebrated running in circles screaming, “I’m Hilary Clinton – I’m Hilary Clinton and I never give up, I never give up.”

   I’m expecting some interesting comments tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2016


  The Cubs won the World Series; it’s only a game but let’s get serious.  The structure of being itself has been altered: nothing is sure anymore, we must live life simply making good guesses.
   And now some guesses:  Two games lost in Chicago; could we see this as a reminder that Chicago-land is historically Native American?  After all, the name Chicago comes from the Potawatomi language.  (Field of garlic) 

   As kids we played baseball and football in pasture land just west of Chicago’s Harlem Avenue.  It was formerly a Native American burial ground, but is now ‘developed.’ Thanks to the Great Spirit, the forest preserve across Thatcher Avenue remains.

   Let’s not forget, in 1917 Fred Toney of the Cincinnati Reds and Hippo Vaughn of the Chicago Cubs pitched a double no-hitter.  In the tenth inning Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete, squeezed in the winning run for the Reds. 

    The game took place at Weeghman Field renamed Wrigley Field in 1925.  William Wrigley, the gum baron, bought the team in 1921.  Before transferring to Weeghman Field (nothing to do with garlic) the Cubs had won two World Series Championships while playing at West Side Park as their home field.  In contrast, the Cubs have gone 2 for 10 in World Series match-ups at the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field.  The 1918, Cubs vs. Boston Series, featuring the pitching of Babe Ruth and Hippo Vaughn, was held at the home of the White Sox - Comiskey Park - because it had a larger seating capacity than Weeghman.  The Red Sox and Babe Ruth won the war time Series.  Had Jim Thorpe already fostered the tradition of Cub tragedy in 1917?

   Perhaps the Cubs would do better in Chicago World Series games if the owners, the very wealthy Ricketts family, built a new stadium and then sent some money to the protesters in North Dakota.

   But Cub fans are definitely among the most admirable.  They mirror the Divine in that they have faced stark nothingness for over one-hundred years - with love, created and maintained the Cub entity of frustration - with hope.  And it happened – well deserved congratulations to the fans and the indomitable Cub ball players.  

Note: For full and complete disclosure – Bill Lang played for the Cubs at West Side Park from 1893 – 1899. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Image result for cubs world seriesRelated image

   I really can’t root for the Cubs.  I was born and raised in Chicago to a family devoted to the White Sox.  Well, most folks in my mother’s family were Cubs fans, but we forgave them for that and for the most part simply ignored their Cubi-ness.  The year I was born (1935) the Cubs won the National League Pennant and, of course, lost in the World Series to the Detroit Tigers.

   In a vain attempt to convert me, my uncle Bud took me to a Cubs game in ’45.  He was not happy when I laughed at Bill – Swish – Nicholson when he struck out.  The Cubs lost in the World Series that year to Hank Greenberg and the Detroit Tigers.

  A neighbor, Steve Austin, was a long time associate of the Cubs.  He knew the players from way back and also was a friend of gum mogul Phil Wrigley the Cubs owner.  Steve took my brother and me to Cubs games.  We went as a duty. Mom said we should be nice to Steve, but my brother John once told Steve that the Cubs were “all gummed up.”  It wasn’t his fault – our Aunt Helen told him to say it.

Johnny Evers 1910 FINAL2sh.jpg

 My claim to fame is that Steve introduced me to Johnny Evers who played in the last World Series won by the Cubs.  Even my Dad was envious.  The double play phrase ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance’ is still used.  I remember also – ‘Miksis to Smalley to Addison’ a border street of Wrigley Field which codified Cub’s shortstop Roy Smalley’s wild throws to first base.  The first black players for the Cubs were hall-of- famer Ernie Banks, shortstop, and Gene Baker, second base.  Double plays were described by Cubs’ announcer Bert Wilson as “Bingo to Bango to first.”  It may be that Bert Wilson is the cause for extending the Cubs’ curse to the present and perhaps the beyond.  
   After the war, (WW II) our aunt Carlotta and uncle Ed lived briefly  with relatives close to Wrigley Field.  Aunt Carlotta took John and me to a game on Ladies’ Day.  A foul ball into the screen behind the plate seemed to be the most exciting event in the ball game.   The crowd sung, and John with them, “whoop boom” as the ball went up and down the screen then to the ground.  I was embarrassed – this is baseball?

   I made friends with the kids in the neighborhood.  We would charge a dollar to watch a parked car during a game to assure it wouldn’t be damaged.  There was more money in this than delivering newspapers or caddying, but then, Carlotta & Ed moved to the far South Side. 

   The Cubs’ opponent in the World Series is the Cleveland Indians.  I think of Lou Boudreau, the manager and star shortstop of the 1948 world champion Indians. Cleveland won the series but lost the first game on a controversial run scored in the eighth inning.  Phil Masi, Boston Braves catcher, was picked off second base by pitcher Bob Feller but was called safe by the umpire.  Photos show shortstop Boudreau tagging Masi out.  A base hit followed and Masi scored the only run of the game.  


   A baseball card show in Milwaukee was attended by Johnny Sain of the old Boston Braves – wining pitcher of the controversial game and Bob Feller of the Indians who, despite pitching a two hitter was the losing pitcher.  Our son Joel asked Sain about the game and to write his comments on an 8 x 12 Johnny Sain photo.  He wrote:

Bill Stewart made a great call when he called Phil Masi safe   John Sain

The next day I accompanied Joel to ask Bob Feller what he thought.  We caught Feller as he entered the hall and he started to apologize for being late.  We showed him the Sain photo and asked for a comment.  Bob Feller was angry and wrote on his photo:

Phil Masi was out by 2 feet in the 1948 WS in Boston World Series we won    Bob Feller

That was the last World Series that Cleveland won.

   Lou Boudreau went on to be a broadcaster for the Cubs then manager – then broadcaster.  Boudreau was from Harvey, a Chicago area town, a University of Illinois basketball player, a great baseball player but not as good as Luke Appling of the White Sox.

   I remember Boudreau being picked off third base by Tony Cuccinello of the White Sox using the ‘hidden ball trick.’  I reminded Boudreau of the incident at a card show, and he said that jogging back to the visitor’s dugout behind first base from third base was very embarrassing.  After all he was the manager, and he considered Chicago as his home town.   
       Will the curse continue?  It is Halloween time, and I wonder what influence the long-gone-but-present-in-spirit Lou Boudreau will have?  Then there’s of course my Aunt Helen and I suspect she may have the most influence in heaven among all the baseball saints. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

School of the Americas Protest 2016

Joanne and I had seen the effects of U.S. imperialism first hand for years in Bolivia so when we returned we naturally took to protesting the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA.  The S.O.A. has trained troops for Latin America since 1946.  It was established in Panama then moved to Fort Benning in 1984.  Protests began in 1980’s by Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois and continue to this day.  The purpose of the protests was to close the “School” but without success.  This year the protest was in the split border city of Nogales:  Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.

   We were more than willing to go this year; the protest at the border directly related to our work at the Milwaukee Immigrant Worker Center Voces de la Frontera and The New Sanctuary Movement.  I will relate our personal experience of this year’s protest which, of course, does not capture the totality of the event.  It’s not a story you will find in the corporate media.  (oops –see N.Y. Times Sunday Review 10-17-16)    
   We flew to Phoenix to meet with family living there, then drove to Tucson to meet with Milwaukee friends who would accompany us.  The many Milwaukee\ans who went on the trip were related to “Voces” and/or St. Benedict the Moor parish.

   We drove with two companions both long time S.O.A. activists.  In Tucson we went to the beautiful campus of the University of Arizona to attend an exhibition of border crossing quilts made from clothing of those who risked death in a desert crossing to escape poverty and violence.  The courtesy and kindness of the students in directing us to our destination on campus was moving.  We talked of bringing the exhibition to Milwaukee.

   We headed north of Tucson to the Eloy Immigrant Detention Center run by Corrections Corporation of America.  It is a “for profit” detention center, isolated in the desert, where prisoners receive minimal medical attention and many die as a result.  We were joined by two Capuchin brothers one from Milwaukee and one from Chicago to witness and challenge – evil without shame.

   The first event in Nogales was a Veterans March.  The veterans were protesting against war and the militarization of the border.  The veterans informed us that many undocumented Mexicans who had served in the U.S. military were deported to Mexico after discharge.

  We joined the march where it split; half going to Mexican side of the border.  We went to the Mexican side with our Voces – Sanctuary banner without a problem at the check point.  For some of us it was our first visual encounter with the wall.  It was intimidating and humiliating; we were out in the open in a desert town, but I had a sense of claustrophobia.     

   After a brief rally Joanne and I attended three of the workshops on the Mexican side of the border: “Migration Crisis; From Europe to the United States and Beyond,” presented by CODEPINK; “Borderland Identity: Expectations and Realities” presented by: Colectivo de Dialogo Transfronerizo; and “The Climate Crisis: Refugees and Martyrs in the Americas,” presented by George Martin and Julie Enslow of Milwaukee.  The presentations were excellent – hope was expressed and tears were shed.  The image of Don Quixote jousting with Maquiladores dominated my consciousness.  Workshops were also available on the U.S. side.


 We went to an evening interfaith prayer session at the border that featured offerings by various faith groups.  It was affirming and an inspiration to action.  I became more aware that Faith is a matter of trust and not simply an ascent to particular doctrinized myths.  A Sufi Muslim leader made the connection between Justice and Mercy.

          AL KORAN- Chapter I  IN THE NAME OF THE MOST MERCIFUL ALLAH – Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all creatures; the most merciful, the king of the day of judgment.

 It reminded me of a passage in Zechariah referenced by our New Sanctuary Coordinator, Nayeli Rondin-Valle:

          This is what the LORD Almighty said: Administer true justice – show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner  or the poor.  Zech. 7: 9-10

   On Sunday there was a demonstration at a Check Point north of Nogales.  We were not able to participate because of our various old-age infirmities.  The action lasted several hours and no one was arrested.

   The S.O.A. Watch rally in Nogales was a valuable experience.  We learned a lot and it was a joy to reunite with old friends and to connect in solidarity with the oppressed all over the world.

  It is a frustrating struggle but there is still Hope.  It looks like Humpty Trumpty will get some help in falling off the wall from Latinos as well as other minorities and allies.