Thursday, December 19, 2013


   'Tis the season of wonderful myths.  Our steering committee of Voces’ New Sanctuary Movement was invited to the St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Burlington, Wisconsin to do a dramatization of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

   We discussed myths as we traveled to Burlington; it took over an hour.  What were we doing, out on a cold, snowy, and dark evening?  The discussion went as follows: Christmas time puts us in touch with myths from all faiths.  Such myths are comforting, but they also could propel us to create new political structures for the common good.  We decided that you cannot say a myth is false in the sense that it is not historical or scientific.  Scientific or historical truth is not the purpose of a myth.  Its purpose is to give understanding to something that is very difficult or impossible to explain.  There were still questions by the time we got to Burlington.

Cast of the Play in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe

      The reception at the parish was warm and friendly.  Most of the people were Latinos but not all.  We celebrated Mass which included Aztec dancing; we prayed the Rosary and we did our play.  The singing of our committee member, Maria Guadalupe, was a moving religious experience for me.  Her song petitioned the beloved and pregnant, dark skinned Mother of the Savior for the gift of Justice and Peace.  The liturgy was a loving act of resistance in a repressive foreign culture.

   But what about the Gospel Christmas myths of Matthew and Luke; are they still viable?  Let’s look at another example that says yes to myths.

   The gospel of Luke has the birth of Jesus announced to shepherds, working people, by angels, messengers from heaven.  The Savior is a Jewish peasant child born in a stable in occupied Israel. What does this mean?  The angels caroled, “Good news of great joy”… “Peace on earth to those of good will.” (Luke C. 2, vs. 10 - 14)  The revelation goes directly against the Roman good news myth of, Pax Romana, – peace through aristocratic military might.

   Let us remember, fifty years ago the world was on the cusp of nuclear destruction.  John XXIII responded with his encyclical, Pacem in Terris. (Peace on Earth)

   The Cuban missile crisis of October, 1962 had been resolved by negotiation.  John XXIII had pleaded, “We implore all rulers not to remain deaf to the cry of humanity for peace … to resume negotiations … to set in motion, to encourage and accept discussions at all levels and at any time a maximum of wisdom and prudence.” (Douglass, James, JFK and the Unspeakable, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2008 p. 339)  Vatican Council II had opened a few days before the world was aware of the threat of nuclear destruction.  The Council’s opening message from the Church Fathers stressed peace and social justice.   

   By April of 1963 talks on a nuclear testing treaty seemed to have broken down.  John XXIII presented his encyclical, Pacem in Terris, on April 11th.  Khrushchev had seen a copy.  Kennedy, of course, could not refer to any influence by the Pope.  The Encyclical proposed mutual trust as opposed to mutual nuclear escalation for complete annihilation as the road to peace. The path to a disarmament treaty looked dark, but on June 10th Kennedy gave his greatest and most radical speech at the American University commencement program.  James Douglass wrote, “The American University address owed much to Pacem in Terris.” (Ibid. p. 347) Kennedy announced a unilateral suspension of nuclear tests in the atmosphere to promote “our primary long range interest, general and complete disarmament.” (Ibid. p. xxvi).

   Benevolent dictator Pope Francis has indicated that the ‘Peace thru Justice’ theme of Vatican II and Pacem in Terris is not completely dormant in the Roman Catholic Church but surely needs to be revived.  In the Francis papacy, Roman Catholic theologians may be given the freedom to explain faith and myths in terms of peace and justice.  The spark for revival is there; I’ve heard many people say, “because of Pope Francis, I’m proud to be a Catholic.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


   The headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shouts, “Hierarchy asks Catholics for opinions.”  The article states, “[Pope] Francis in October called on bishops around the world to survey the faithful in advance of a special synod on evangelization and the family scheduled for next fall.” (M.J.S. 11-18-12)  Such a survey is in line with the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium that names the faithful the ‘People of God’ who receive the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (L.G. C.1,4. C.4,9.0)

   Is this simply a bait and switch con game?  Francis has said that the bishops overemphasize abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, but the survey focuses on these issues.  Lumen Gentium also states that the Church hierarchy in conformity with the pope is the ultimate and final authority. (L.G. C.III,18=21)  Infallible decisions have been made on the issues to be discussed at the Synod.  Rush Limbaugh and Sara Palin have been critical of the Pope.  This is an indication that Francis is on the right path, but did Rush and Palin push the panic button too soon?  Church doctrine will not be changed because of a survey.

    However, the pastoral response of the hierarchy may change as a result of the survey.  Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, emphasized the ‘pastoral slant’ of the Synod:  “It is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions, but rather … how to effectively proclaim the Gospel of family in the times we are living, characterized by a clear and spiritual crisis.” (National Catholic Reporter, 11, 22, & 12, 5, 2013, p.8)  Does this mean that as ‘Benevolent Dictator’ Francis will bend a bit on the hot issues of politically right wing bishops such as Cardinal Dolan of New York?  Pope Francis could maintain the dogma and cite exceptions depending on circumstances and reference to the right of freedom of conscience.   He may also dust off the opinion of Thomas Aquinas and say that we should follow the natural law and do what is reasonable. (Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIa, q. 19, a. 4; cf. a. 9)  It remains to be seen, but Dolan may have hitched his carriage to the wrong horse. Will the position of the U.S. Bishops on Obamacare change? (See – “Behind the scenes bishops seek exit strategy,” National Catholic Reporter, 12, 6-19, 2013, p. 5)

   Nothing has been said about making the economic survival of families a concern for the Synod.  Church liberals and conservatives ignore the simple survival of families in a world of increasing income inequality and poverty, but the Pope has raised these issues and received press coverage from every vantage point.

   Let us remember, the first social encyclical expressed that the core of society, the family, was entitled to life – a living wage, and health care. (Rerum Novarum 34)   The living wage principle continues to the present.  Key to achieving a living wage and health care is the political support of a strong labor movement.  Leo XIII shocked the world by stating in 1891 that workers have the right to organize. (R.N. 36)  Pope John Paul II was ignored when he said in Laborem Exercens that labor unions are indispensible. (L.E. C. 4, 20) 

    In Centesimus Annus, John Paul II states that the social encyclicals are the ‘new evangelization.’ (C.A. Intro. & C. I, 4)  But for the Roman Catholic hierarchy and their liberal critics, doctrine on internal church rules on sex trump food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education as prior.   

Oscar – The Advisor - Rodriguez (The Politics of a Benevolent Dictatorship part 3)

   Pope Francis has appointed eight Cardinals as his most trusted advisors.  One of them is Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras.  NCR reports that the Honduran Cardinal serves as coordinator of the group. (National Catholic Reporter, 12, 6-19, 2013. p.12)  The direction of Church ‘reform’ will be greatly influenced by this Central American Cardinal.

    I interviewed Rodriquez for the Spanish Journal in October of 2006.  The Cardinal received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Lutheran affiliated Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rodriguez was clear that he favored ‘Liberation Theology’ and was also clear that he opposed trade agreements that exploited workers.  The Archbishop of Milwaukee, and future New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, attended the event.

   But questions about Rodriguez Maradiaga’s involvement in the 2009 military coup in Honduras are troubling.  Did Rodriguez support the coup?  Did he support the coup because the democratically elected president Zelaya had discussions with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela?  Questions about anti-semitism and a rigid position on church rules concerning sexuality have also surfaced. 

   The politics of Francis’ benevolent dictatorship may allow the Central American Cardinal Rodriguez to position himself on the side of the poor.  Rodriguez is from a poor and violent country, but he has lived a privileged life.  Still the question remains, what takes priority for the papacy and Church of Pope Francis?  The fact that there is a change in Church politics is a hopeful sign.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


 (Part 1 of 2)

Remembering J.F.K. and the beneficence of a former benevolent dictator in the Vatican...

   Is Pope Francis a Benevolent Dictator?  How about John XXIII was he in the same mold?

   The question was, could a Roman Catholic be President of the U.S. and not be subject to the Pope in Rome?  John Kennedy in a 1960 Houston speech convinced enough U.S. voters that the pope did not and would not determine his political decisions.   Pope John XXIII saw fit not to remind Kennedy and U.S. voters that as Pope he was infallible in matters of faith and morals, morality including politics.  Kennedy was elected and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis was resolved without massive nuclear destruction.  We moved forward on arms control and civil rights for African Americans with Kennedy providing cogent reasons for moving ahead on these issues.

   Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput stated in 2010 that Kennedy was wrong.  Chaput was later promoted to Archbishop of Philadelphia.

   Kennedy inspired the American people to, “ask what you can do for your country.”  His murder was an American tragedy that resonates to present.

Where were you and how did you react when you knew the President was assassinated?

   Joanne Lange is my partner my friend – my wife of over 40 years.  Our kids went to Milwaukee’s German immersion school.  

   We had a party at our house for school parents, and I noticed this woman was intently staring at Joanne.  She said to Joanne, “did you teach at St. Catherine’s High School in Racine?  “Yes,” said Joanne.  The woman responded, “You were my math teacher; I’ll never forget you.  When they announced that the President was killed – you cried.  I didn’t know that nuns could cry.”   

   Joanne is a retired professor of mathematics at Milwaukee Area Technical College, a volunteer at Voce de la Frontera’s immigrant workers center, and a member of the Comite Timon, the Steering Committee of Voces New Sanctuary Movement.  She is known as ‘Maestra,’ to her former students.

   Josefina Gomez recalled, “I was in Fort Worth, Texas at the time; when it was announced on TV that the President was murdered, I fell to my knees and prayed that God the Father would immediately receive the President in His loving embrace.” 

   Josefina is a mother of four; her son – a father, grandfather and support of a large family - was deported to Mexico and was killed in an automobile accident.  Josefina is a member of the Family Support Group (CĂ­rculo de Apoyo) of Voce’s New Sanctuary Movement.

   Bill Snowden recounted, “I was in the ninth grade at the segregated all African American School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  When the news of the Presidents assassination reached us, I was in class, and I turned to the kid behind me and said – What are we going to do now?”  

    Bill is a Milwaukee Public School teacher, choir member at his Roman Catholic church, father of four, and a strong supporter of President Obama.

   Jim Zelinski remembered that he was a religion teacher and counselor at Bishop Baraga High School in Marquette, Michigan the day of the assassination.  He shared that he was in his office when it was announced that the President had been shot.  “We immediately went to a classroom and said the rosary.”

   Jim, a Capuchin, is a member of the Steering Committee (Comite Timon) of Voce’s New Sanctuary Movement.

   J.F.K. inspired a generation of political activists.  True enough many have passed and some have lapsed, but those that remain don’t need an explanation of “Si se puede,” the mantra of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chaves of the farm workers union.  (Yes, it can be done)