Saturday, December 20, 2008

From whence shrines come

The La Crosse Tribune's coverage of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine church dedication included this interesting bit:
Corinne Dempsey, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, said that for a church leader like Burke to initiate the building of a shrine is backwards.

Shrines come from the people, she said, not authorities.

“Pilgrimage sites do not start from the top down, but from the bottom up,” said Dempsey, who has taught a course on popular Catholicism and studied pilgrimages.

Other sites of pilgrimage, like the site where Our Lady of Fatima is said to have appeared in Portugal, grew from a groundswell of popular interest, and the official church later becomes aware of it, Dempsey said.

“Pilgrimage shrines historically have been places that began based on miracles that happen to people, not to popes,” she said. “I don’t know how well central Wisconsin is set up for that kind of thing either. These kinds of pilgrimage sites are not typically a mainstream American phenomenon.”
I beg to differ. Notwithstanding Bob Moynihan's excellent rejoinder that people like Dempsey “represent the pointy-headed intellectuals who have lost contact with the base,” there's a lot more to be considered.

First, there are the opposing statements about 'the people' and those in authority. “Pilgrimage shrines historically have been places that began based on miracles that happen to people, not to popes.” Funny, I thought popes were people, too. And miracles have happened to popes just as much as 'to people.' Consider, for instance, the miracle of the August snow which brought about the building of St. Mary Major. But Dempsey's thinking is typically Marxist -- those in authority aren't real people. In their minds, those who have power will necessarily abuse it, therefore, they aren't 'real' people because 'real' people would never abuse power.

Second, the shrines at Fatima, Lourdes, Tepayac, La Sallette, Knock and so many other places of Marian devotion, actually did begin from the top down. They came because the Mother of God herself requested them. If that isn't authority, I don't know what is.

Third, she's wrong about the relationship between those who have the visions and Church officials. These are private revelations subject to the authority of the local bishop. It is he who must give approval for any devotion at the alleged apparition site and the approval for any church that might be built there, as with any church built within his diocese. Indeed, in the Diocese of La Crosse itself there is a "shrine" in Necedah that has been in the process of building since the 1950's. The reason it's taking so long -- it has never had the approval of the local bishop because they were false apparitions. In fact, one of the reasons Archbishop Burke started the Shrine in La Crosse was to provide an authentic place of pilgrimage within the Diocese.

Fourth, she's wrong about all pilgrimage shrines starting with apparitions. While Marian shrines have started with them, there are plenty of other shrines that didn't. For instance, the second most important pilgrimage site in the world after the Holy Land itself is Santiago Compestela. That was founded by a bishop who had obtained the bones of St. James. There is a Shrine to the Divine Savior in Las Vegas. That was begun by the bishop of Sin City in order to help tourists, travelers and the immigrant population of the area.

Too bad for the readers of the La Crosse Tribune who were subjected to such glib and false analysis. All Dempsey did was to give more ammunition to those who already hold this false 'people/leader' dichotomy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hispanics against themselves

Eduardo Verástegui, the star of Bella, has a video on YouTube called Hard Reality. In it, he asks a pointed question and makes a pointed statement: "Most abortion centers are found in Hispanic neighborhoods -- why?" and "Abortion is not only a lucrative industry, it is also used by people who are racists as a means to eliminate our people since they consider us to be a threat to democracy in this country."

Unfortunately, Eduardo may also have to look to some of his own people for that threat. From 1999-2003, as part of my position as editor of the Catholic Times in the Diocese of La Crosse, I was a member of the Catholic Press Association. I went to three annual CPA conventions - Chicago, Dallas and St. Paul.

Unfortunately, I don't recall some significant details of the Dallas convention -- the year or who the speakers were. However, I do remember that there was a demographer of Hispanic origin who gave a talk on Latino demographics in the U.S. In fact, it was one of the main talks and was heavily attended because writers and editors wanted to find out what was happening with the Latino population around the country so we could try to address it and help bring the Good News to them.

However, it was clear that the speaker had no faith; he was simply a man of statistics. This became more evident during the question and answer session. He had earlier given a comparison of the birth rate for white women vs. Latino women. I don't recall the specifics, but I do know that whites were below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman of child-bearing age (still are), and Latinos were well above that level (still are as well, though that rate is slowing down. In Mexico, it's down to about 2.4).

That statistic got me to thinking, so during the Q&A I asked him something along the lines of, "Given the fact that Hispanics have such a high birth rate and given the fact that Planned Parenthood targets minorities for abortion, are you at all concerned that they are going to be putting clinics into more Hispanic neighborhoods and targeting the Latino population for abortion?"

I will never forget the first part of his reply: "They already are, and they should." After that, I blanked out. The rest of the audience was somewhat stunned as well. I was in total amazement that this man could say that his own people should be marked for death. I don' remember the reasons he gave at all. It could have been a global population thing, maybe even global warming -- who knows. All I know was that here was this well-off man, middle- to upper-middle-class, saying that his own people -- the majority of whom are in gut-wrenching poverty -- should be gotten rid of.

So Eduardo, while you're right about the racist intentions of many people in the abortion industry, unfortunately there are Latinos who are just as intent on getting rid of themselves as non-Latinos are.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The soon-to-be Cardinal Raymond Burke

There are loads of stories out in cyberspace about Archbishop Raymond Burke being named as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and all kinds of reactions. I'm late to the game, but it was a little difficult sorting out what I was going to say.

First, it was not unexpected, at least by me, that he was going to Rome. My last post on this blog was about his appointments to the Pontifical Council on Legislative Texts and the Congregation for the Clergy. He had already been appointed as a judge at the Signatura last year. He was the only American non-cardinal archbishop with three assignments in Rome. In fact, he may have been the only non-cardinal archbishop with any assignments in Rome since those are usually reserved for cardinals.

Second, he didn't want the appointment and wasn't looking for it. The comments sections in the La Crosse Tribune and St. Louis Post-Dispatch have been filled with venom with many people accusing him of seeking this appointment. That is an outright lie. He was in La Crosse last month for the annual May Crowning at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I semi-congratulated him on his appointments, but told him that while I know the Holy Father appreciates his abilities, I hope the Pope won't tax them too much. He turned his head down and looked away as though he was worried and gave me this very brief reply -- "I hope so, too." It's obvious that he was hearing the rumors that Cardinal Ruini was going to retire and that Cardinal Vallini would take his place, which would leave the Signatura post vacant. He told Jennifer Brinker at the St. LouisReview that the two previous curial appointments "...made me a bit concerned. I was honored by the trust, but I was becoming concerned that it might be an indication of (the Vatican) wanting me more full time." This is an understatement. His manner of speaking with me betrayed much more than concern.

He teared up today in his press conference in St. Louis. He did the same when he left La Crosse. These were not Hillary tears. These were the tears of a man who dearly loves those people for whom he cares, even if he was in conflict with some of them.

Third, this is a loss for the Church in the United States. For all his lack of media savvy, Archbishop Burke forced a conversation that has been needed in this country and the wider Church for a while and is still needed -- the need for absolute fidelity to the teachings and discipline of the Catholic Church. Besides Bishop Leo Maher, late of San Diego, denying Communion to a pro-abortion pol back in 1989, no one had pushed this as hard as Archbishop Burke did. His slap-in-the-face statement about Kerry (which unfortunately became the defining statement of him in the American imagination) woke people up to the reality that Holy Communion in the Catholic Church isn't a 1968 love fest to which everyone is invited. There are rules around It, rules that come, not from old celibate men sitting in ivory towers in Rome, but from the very nature of the Eucharist. Cardinal (oops!) Burke has the courage, but more importantly, the clear-mindedness to see that those rules must be enforced, otherwise they are mere sentimental statements. Let's hope that some of his actions have rubbed off on his brethren.

How he will effect the rest of the Church in this new position remains to be seen. Assuredly, whatever influence he has will be behind-the-scenes. Starting in late August, we'll most likely not be seeing anymore headlines about Burke and Catholic politicians. I'm sure he'll be glad of that. That omnipresent Jesuit voice in the media (can they never find anyone else to comment?), Father Tom Reese told AP, "Every pro-choice Catholic Democrat politician should be very nervous. He made his name in the U.S. by denying Communion to pro-choice politicians. If he gets that view articulated strongly in Rome, he could become the voice for having that position for the universal church." Well, Father Tom, then that means more than Catholic Democrats need to be nervous. So do Catholic Republicans and Labour and Social Democrats and every other politician of whatever political stripe who might support abortion. And that would be a very good thing.

It's funny. With all the hoopla surrounding his appointment, the press missed something big in St. Louis. His last major act as archbishop there was issuing a decree of interdict against a Sister of Charity for participation last November in the pretend ordination of a woman in a synagogue. Why they didn't leap at this chance to get one last dig in on his pastoral style is beyond me.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Archbishop Burke's new appointments

Archbishop Burke has been appointed by the Holy Father to two important dicasteries at the Vatican: the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and the Congregation for Clergy. The former is clearly a recognition of his great talent in canon law. Note that this comes after his brilliant exegesis of Canon 915 in Canonica, as well as his two decrees of excommunication for the women who play-acted at becoming priests and the two members of St. Stanislaus Corporation who joined the board of that former parish, and after his decree banning canon lawyer Father Thomas Doyle, O.P., from his archdiocese because Father Doyle was incompetent in his duties towards his clients, who happened to be members of St. Stanislaus Corporation.

The latter appointment, however, may seem a little less obvious. The Congregation for Clergy, as the news sources have pointed out, oversees the seminaries and other priestly formation. It's also the congregation that hears complaints about priestly behavior. But it's also the congregation that is concerned with catechesis (its origin lies in bringing a correct interpretation of the norms of the Council of Trent). And this is probably where Archbishop Burke fits in.

As is probably not very well-known, he is the National Director of the Marian Catechists, the group founded by the late Father John Hardon, SJ. Father Hardon basically anointed then-Bishop Burke to take over the group after his death. And what isn't known at all outside of people in La Crosse who took his class, is that when then-Father Burke was teaching at Aquinas High School in La Crosse, he was developing his own text on moral theology. It actually went over very well with his students. (In fact, it was going so well that when Bishop Frederick Freking of La Crosse called Father Burke to tell him that he was sending him to Rome to study canon law, Father Burke, then only ordained three years, replied by saying that he was doing really well at Aquinas and he would like to continue doing that work. There was, then-Bishop Burke related to me, a long pause on the other end of the phone and then Bishop Freking said, "I didn't think I was asking you.")

Yet, I pity the poor man. It's not like he doesn't have enough to do already. Still, I will make a prediction -- a red hat at the next consistory.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why are saints considered luxurious?

I've often wondered this: why do we associate saints' names with luxury? I was just looking at an advertisement in the NY Times for the St. Regis Hotel and they are offering timeshare opportunities. The place, of course, is extraordinarily luxurious. Along with the timeshare, you get your own butler and all the service money can buy.

But who was St. Regis? Actually, the closest I came to finding a St. Regis was St. John Francis Regis, a French Jesuit of the 17th century. He was a zealous priest who especially went in search of women of the night. He was, of course, not looking for his own pleasure, but working to bring them back to the Lord. He successfully converted many of them (oftentimes at his own peril as jealous johns and pernicious pimps threatened his life on more than one occasion) and even established centers where they could have honest employment.

He was zealous in his own mortification. He always slept on the bare floor and his consistent supper was a bowl of milk and some fruit. That certainly doesn't go along with my idea of luxury.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the most luxurious hotel is The St. Paul. While it's not quite the St. Regis, it would certainly pass as a high-class place.

But who was St. Paul? Well, we know him as one zealous for the Gospel, one who was beaten, whipped, run out of town on more than one occasion, shipwrecked, spending a day and a night adrift on the open sea, left for dead, constantly on the move until he was imprisoned, etc. Being that the City of St. Paul was at one time named Pig's Eye, it's easy to see why a hotel would prefer a saint's name over the porker moniker.

But I ask my question again -- why do we associate saints with luxury? Besides the royal saints, no saint that I know of was a person of luxury. And even the royals did penance on a regular basis and provided for the poor out of their own means. For instance, after St. Elizabeth of Hungary's husband died, she donned the simple garments of a Franciscan tertiary and gave away her own money to care for the poor in hospitals and to give them food.

In other words, being a saint doesn't entail luxury. "The birds have nests, the foxes have lairs, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head," Jesus told someone who wanted to follow Him. He also said, "Take up your cross and follow in My footsteps." The last I checked, the cross wasn't exactly a place of sumptuous recreation.

It's hard to see the St. Regis offering their customers bare wooden floors with barely heated rooms as an option. And I don't think they or The St. Paul will open their doors to the poor and homeless who, no doubt, wander the streets just outside their doors. In fact, The St. Paul is across the street from Rice Park, where many homeless congregate during the day and night. It would require a direct intervention from God for the owner to even think about opening its doors to one of them.

I wonder if this is a Catholic doing? Could it be that since our great cathedrals are named after saints and the world considers them to be places of luxury, that they then feel free to name luxury hotels after them? Or perhaps it comes from innkeepers in old Catholic countries naming inns after saints?

Whatever the way it happened, in my mind it makes for a confusing situation. Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I want to sue Al Gore

One Dr. David Suzuki, apparently a well-known scientist in Canada, has proposed twice now that politicians who do not work on legislation to curb global warming should be arrested and jailed for "an intergenerational crime in the face of all the knowledge and science from over 20 years."

His spokesman claims it was a joke, a statement of frustration, but it's the second time he's made it, according to the National Post.

As a joke, I want to sue Al Gore and his ilk, including Dr. Suzuki. You see, they keep promising global warming. But I live in Minnesota, and so far, I haven't seen a whole lot of evidence for global warming, especially this winter. We've had a whole lot of snow and a whole lot of cold. I've never seen as much hoarfrost as I have this winter. We're about to get another blast of Arctic air that is going to plunge temperatures down below zero again. After all, we've been enjoying the relative balm of the 20's this last week-and-a-half after the blizzard we got at the end of January.

But I say once again, Gore and Suzuki have been promising global warming. Well, where is it? If the earth is supposed to be warming up, why aren't there palm trees in my front yard?! I want palm trees! I want to plant my garden in February, not April or May!I want a winter when I don't have to worry about how much propane is in my tank, or if I can get my car out of the driveway or if the car is going to slide off the side of a hill because of ice!

But that's not happening, so can I sue them?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why I will never vote for a Mormon as president

I know that very soon after I post this, those who have "Mormon" for a Google search term will find this posting and try to start in on me. But I'm blocking comments on this posting. I don't have the time to deal with replies, but I have been wanting to say this for some time now. However, what I say is not said with any personal animosity toward anyone at all (except, perhaps, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young), least of all Mitt Romney whom I have never met and have only the most remote connections to.

That said, if I can help it, I will never vote for a Mormon as president. Now there are probably Catholics out there who will pounce on me and tell me that the Constitution says we can't have a religious test for anyone who holds public office. Amen to that. But that's a governmental regulation for those who hold official posts. It isn't meant for individuals like myself who are using their best judgments to choose the best candidate possible.

So without further ado, here are some reasons why I will not vote for a Mormon:

1) Mormon theology is (to be blunt) screwy.

The reason this is important is because how a person believes guides how a person behaves. Now I know that many people will throw the "Catholic" politicians like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry at me. And still I say, yes, as a person believes, so a person behaves. Kennedy, Kerry, et al, do not believe that what the Catholic Church teaches really binds their consciences, so they are free to do as they wish. And they do as they wish.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is by all accounts a faithful Mormon. That is, of course, better than being one who claims to be Mormon but does not live the faith or who claims to be Catholic but says the Pope can go to hell. But that he is a faithful Mormon should give us pause because Mormonism's doctrines are strange.

  • They believe that God the Father - who is the god of this planet, not the God who created the universe and who has no beginning and no end, as Christianity has always taught - had sexual intercourse with Mary in order to beget Jesus.
  • They believe that men who are faithful Mormons will, after death, get to have their own planets over which they are gods and that they will each have a bunch of spirit wives with whom they will generate spirit children, and then the created people on that planet will be expected to have sex in order to incarnate those spirit children as happens here on Earth.
  • They believe that "as we are now, God once was. As God is now, so we will become."
  • When a couple are married in a temple ritual, the woman is given a secret name. After death, the only way that she can make it into the highest heavens, the highest happiness, is if her husband calls her by this secret name.

I could go further, but this should demonstrate perfectly well that Mormonism not only isn't a Christian belief, but the strangeness of their beliefs can lead to some strange behaviors.

I for one don't want a president in office who believes that a woman's highest happiness depends entirely on her getting married and her husband calling on her secret name after death.

Or who believes that he will someday be the god of his own planet.

2) Mormonism is part business, part religion

Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were Americans through and through. The religion which they developed is an American religion. Their connections are all American.

That may seem obvious and pointless, but consider this: the Mormon church owns many huge businesses and it has many faithful members who either own or are chairmen/CEO's of huge businesses. To name a few: Ryder, La Quinta, Franklin/Covey, Iomega, American Express, SkyWest, Tropical Sportswear, Sports Capital Partners, Cadence Design, Five Star Quality Care (based in Newton, Mass., of which state Mr. Romney was once governor), Headwaters, Central Pacific Bank, Black and Decker. Others hold influential positions like CFO or are presidents of key operations of major corporations. Oh, and did I mention Marriott and JetBlue?

This doesn't include the rather lengthy list of businesses owned directly by the church itself, businesses like Beneficial Life, Bonneville Broadcasting, and just about everything with the name "Deseret" in it. The Mormon church actually owns the largest ranch in the country, which isn't in the mountain West somewhere, but outside of Orlando. Their agribusiness companies are huge. In fact, TIME magazine said that if Mormonism would be considered a business, it would fall in the middle of the Fortune 500, somewhere between Nike and Union Carbide.

Along with this, one must take into consideration that all faithful Mormons are required by their religion to tithe 10 percent of their incomes to the church. If they don't do that, they find themselves on the outs with their local leaders. So all these corporate leaders who are making loads of money are giving 10 percent of their personal income to the church. And who's to say they're not doing that with their corporations' money as well?

In other words, Mormonism isn't like other religions. It's part business, part religion. When the church itself owns at least 23 major companies, one must seriously question what the primary purpose of its existence is.

3) Influence doesn't only come from Salt Lake

When JFK ran for president, we all know what happened and what the accusation was. Many were expecting that he would be taking orders from Rome and from the bishops in the U.S. Of course his speech Houston cleared that up -- he wasn't going to take orders from anyone except himself.

Some people say that Romney's recent speech did the same thing. But there's a huge difference between Catholicism and Mormonism. (Well, there are actually dozens of huge differences between the two, but we'll stick to discussing politics right now.) With Catholicism, you have a very clearly defined hierarchy that is separated from the laity. The clergy are celibate, and they are supported by donations from the faithful, donations which are voluntarily given.

With Mormonism, however, there is no separate hierarchy. All "bishops" and "elders" are laypeople. They may work for the church itself, but most work at regular jobs. That means that the president of Franklin/Covey, for instance, could just as easily be the president of his local stake or the bishop of his ward. In fact, he could even be on the highest levels of the church, acting as counselor to the president, Gordon B. Hinkley, who is the so-called prophet, seer and revelator.

In other words, it is not inconceivable that a President Romney or one of his staff would consult with a so-called apostle of the Mormon church, for whatever reason.

In fact, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on 30 December that former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is now the U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services, held meetings with his staff to figure out how they could get Mormon doctrines implemented into Utah state policy. (Personally, I'm not sure why that was needed. The state legislature is around 97 percent Mormon and they vote on their beliefs.) Leavitt says he hasn't done that on the federal level, but there's really nothing to prevent him from doing so.

Nor is there anything to prevent a Mormon president from doing the same thing.

This story from AP also shows that Mormon business owner can have an influence over Mr. Romney. (Let's not forget that he is the one who saved the Salt Lake Olympics when they were under the cloud of a corruption scandal.) These business owners live Mormon theology daily and they themselves work to see their faith grow in influence. And since these guys have the money and the connections, their influence is very strong. That it would extend to the president of the United States is a scary thought.

4) Race

Jason Riley at the Wall Street Journal wrote a superb column about the problem of race in the Mormon church. It is well-known that in their scriptures (i.e., The Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price), Mormons look upon dark-skinned people as inferior to whites. This is written in their documents as well and was enforced until a lawsuit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 suddenly prompted a "revelation" that blacks could be part of the church hierarchy.

That racism persists to this day, Riley says, and I wouldn't doubt it a bit. For just as Mormons still cling to polygamy (just try to criticize that practice in front of someone who descends from a polygamous line) as the pure way to go despite the ban that was placed on it so that Utah could enter the Union, so racism is not easily eradicated after being told for more than a century that whites are the superior race and non-whites are cursed by God Himself.

5) The Mormon church is not 100 percent pro-life.

Despite the image to the contrary, Mormons are not pro-life people. I got a lesson in this back in 1997 when I went to the Roe v Wade rally at the Utah state capitol on January 22. I was expecting the nearly 5,000 people that I see annually at the Minnesota state capitol and was stunned when I got there and there was no one around. I went inside and all I saw was, at most, a couple hundred people gathered under the rotunda, most of them Catholic. Someone explained to me that Mormon theology actually does allow for abortions. In fact, I found out that at that time, Utah had the highest rate of abortions among married women in the country (I don't know if that still holds true.) The reasons for the abortion have to be serious, but they still do allow for the taking of innocent human life.

These are but a few of my reasons for not voting for a Mormon as president. If I had to choose between two Mormons for a legislative race, I wouldn't have too much difficulty with that because legislators aren't executives who have things like executive privilege within their grasp; they can be held in check by fellow legislators. But because of his executive powers, a president is a different story and requires far more consideration than legislators.

Is Romney better than Hillary? Certainly. And in that kind of contest, I'm not sure what I would do. But while we're in the primary season, I am not going to give any kind of consideration to Mitt Romney at all.