Tuesday, February 12, 2013


(A book by Barbara Tuchman comparing the 14th century to the present time.  Note the last Pope to resign was Gregory XII – 1415.)

   History of philosophy scholar Etienne Gilson, in a series of lectures at Harvard in 1937, claimed the collapse of philosophy in the 14th century should be attributed to Franciscan Friar William of Ockham.  Ockham’s epistemology led to skepticism - the end to certain knowledge through causes and therefore philosophy itself.  For Gilson, modern philosophy has the same problem.  David Hume is the modern Ockham for Gilson, and philosophy from Gilson’s 1937 Thomistic perspective, once again had reached a low point.  It is implied by Gilson that with philosophy in such a weak state it would be difficult to respond to the arguments presented by Fascism and its founding author G. Gentile.

   Gilson claimed the when philosophy collapses, the only options are mysticism and moralism.  Of course if philosophers believe that reason must be surrendered when mystics, moralists, and pre-modern analysts are evaluated, then philosophy is indeed lost.  Thus Gilson’s tunnel vision missed the restorative work of Julian of Norwich as well as the immense value to humanity of Ockham’s work for politics and science.
(Gilson, Etienne, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Charles Scribbner’s Sons, New York, 1950, Copyright 1937)

   Might we look into the distant mirror and see ourselves with tunnel vision missing significant work because of the absurd politics of the Roman Catholic Church attempting to impose Church rules on society at large? The 14th century Avignon Catholic Church may have been more corrupt and hypocritical than the Roman Catholic Church of the present age, but we can’t be far behind. 

   For example, the cover-up of pedophile priests is shocking.   One of the most notable and long time cover-up artists, Cardinal Roger Mahony is allowed to continue to function as a priest and as a Cardinal (He can vote for the next Pope).    Yet 92 year old Jesuit Bill Brennan of Milwaukee is immediately censured for concelebrating a Mass with a woman priest.  He is no longer allowed to publically celebrate Mass or appear in public wearing a Roman collar.  Brennan has served as a missionary in Central America, a high school theology professor, a Catholic Worker chaplain and a parish priest.  The attack on the dignity of a 92 year old priest makes it seem fruitless to look for actions promoting compassion and justice in the Church.


   But wherever we go I accompany Joanne to Sunday Mass.  In San Francisco I picked up a copy of the Archdiocesan newspaper in Spanish – “San Francisco Católico,” 1-27-13.  A headline on page seven caught my attention: “Obispo: Mexico ha cambiado pero quizas no para bein.” (Mexico has changed perhaps not for the better)

   The Bishop was Dominican Raul Vera Lopez, O.P. whom I had met in San Cristobal de las Casas in 1998.  Three of us from Milwaukee went to San Cristobal to accompany a delegation from Michigan to join a pilgrimage planned by Bishop Samuel Ruiz to Mexico City and to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The purpose was to inform the nation and the world of the atrocities committed in Chiapas (eg. the massacre at Acteal) against the indigenous people by para-militaries and ignored by the Mexican government.  Forty bus loads of campesinos visited four cities and culminated in a symposium and prayer vigil in Mexico City.  Bishop Ruiz led the pilgrimage, and the Michigan and Milwaukee people lent an international presence.  Auxiliary Bishop Vera Lopez prepared us for the trip.  I remember his comments were inspiring and his humor relieved tension.

   Raul Vera Lopez is now Bishop of Saltillo, Mexico.  Saltillo is 190 kilometers south of the U.S. border. The headline in the San Francisco paper referred to comments he made at a celebration of his 25th anniversary as a Bishop.  The article states that government officials and wealthy business leaders did not attend, but the faithful of the diocese were there.  Also attending was Vera Lopez’ Dominican compatriot, Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P. founder of Liberation Theology.

   Lopez’ comments at his anniversary indicated the rightist government (P.A.N.) was no better than the leftist government that it replaced.  The leftist government (P.R.I.} was in power in ‘98.  The P.R.I. in recent elections returned to power but Don Raul accuses them of buying votes.  Both parties are, “equally rotten, corrupt and inept,” he said.  The Bishop lashed out at the 1994 trade agreement N.A.F.T.A. as a cause of Mexican poverty.  (On New Year’s Day in 1994 the Zapatistas took over several cities in Chiapas in response.) Bishop Vera Lopez stated, “N.A.F.T.A. accelerated income inequality; it made some large business owners wealthy, but it hurt the general population.”

   A companion article notes that Bishop Vera Lopez’ diocese aids people from Central America who are travelling to the U.S.-Mexican border to enter the U.S. illegally.  Most of the travelers are “evangelicos” – Non-Catholic - but Father Pantejo the priest in charge said, “we give them bread freely, the origin of this is love and a social commitment; It is not a debate about faith.”

   A December article in the Huffington Post (HUFFPOST – 12/25/12) states that Bishop Vera Lopez supports a law in his Provence of Coahuila which legitimizes gay unions.  With Don Raul Vera Lopez we have a Bishop who advocates for the basic human rights of people not irrelevant Church law.  Bartolomé de las Casas did the same in the 16 century as he challenged the Church and the Spanish aristocracy. Despite being out of sync with most of the current hierarchy Vera Lopez is part of a strong proud tradition.