When the United States of America began at the end of the 18th century the right to vote was restricted to white male property owners and, in certain places, voting was difficult for Roman Catholics or Jews. While that was taken for granted for a while, our nation saw a gradual and determined effort to expand the right to vote to all citizens. First of all, some of the property restrictions were dropped. After the Civil War, freed slaves were theoretically given the franchise (they would not really get this until the 1960’s). Then came the long, difficult battle for women’s suffrage which was achieved in the 1920’s. Native Americans were granted this right only in the 1940’s. Some of the logistical problems were eased out only in the last twenty years by permitting early voting and voting by mail. It is a story of slow but steady progress!
So the dream of the young Republic has gradually moved towards complete fulfillment until NOW. Since President Obama’s election in 2008, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have passed laws to make voting more difficult. These laws require government issued ID cards to vote and have approved a number of other restrictions on voter registration. WHAT HAS BEEN GOING ON? Why this sudden explosive surge to protect us from alleged voter fraud which is so miniscule as to be ridiculous? Many of these laws are based on model legislation drafted by the Public Safety and Election Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Group. This is a lobby-funded association of Republican legislators.
What will be the effect of these restrictions? One in ten of the voters in all these states do not have the required photo ID. Among the groups that tend to vote Democratic, higher percentages lack the required voter identification – 25% of African American, 16% of Hispanics and 18% of Americans over 65 years of age.
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Throughout human history, women, living in the various societies of the planet, have held second-rate status as best. That condition haled from the time we were huddled around fires in caves until the early part of the 20th century. There are a number of sociological reasons, one of which was the fact that women were primarily seen as the bearers and nurturers of children. While this fact is true, of course, virtually every society develops structures that would confine women to that area alone.
This situation continued until early modern times when greater resources and greater flexibility in family organizations began to gradually give women freedom to look at other options. Gradually the education of women increased and they began early on to enter into the world of literature and art, and then later into economics and politics. Today, throughout most of the Western world, women are close to being on a par with their male counterparts. I say close but we are a long way from actual equality.
In the nearly 250 years of our country, only one woman was ever a candidate for the presidency. That says a lot. There has been progress, wonderful progress, and it continues apace. While Asia, Africa and South America continue to lag behind Europe and North America, progress can be measured there too.
What about the Church? The subject of women in the Church is very much in the foreground, both in the Catholic world and the secular press. Let’s take a look at it over the next week or so.
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I am sure that Vatican officials strive honestly to do the right thing as they carry out their difficult responsibilities for the Universal Church. They don’t seem to be particularly sensitive about how others might read or interpret their actions. I guess that is as it should be but it certainly does produce a lot of commotion, concern, confusion and anger. A current example of that is the recent very public criticism by the Vatican of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. There is no component of the Church that is held in higher respect, appreciation and love than religious women. They have made such a dramatic difference in the development of the Church in the United States throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
The dioceses of the country (read the bishops) have developed eight or ten colleges while religious women have erected 250 of them. The dioceses have wisely chosen not to move into the health care field because it is complex and costly. Religious women have built hundreds of hospitals. Go down the list of ministries to alleviate the pain and suffering of the poor and the vulnerable and there you will see the religious women of the Catholic Church making a tremendous difference in the lives of millions of people.
It is with that background that the blunt criticism of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious caused such a shock, not just inside the community of faith, but in the larger society as well. Time and again, the late night talk shows have lampooned the Vatican for its criticism of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious which is the umbrella group that ties together the work of most of the Catholic nuns in this country.
During a time when women across the world are forcefully asserting themselves as free and independent human beings, the LCWR has had several bishops given jurisdiction over them. I don’t know the details of the system but I know that it has produced tremendous pain and frustration with the sisters with whom I have spoken.
Shortly after these events, some bishops in the United States have begun to criticize the Girl Scouts of this country. Once again, there may be issues here but so far the way it has been handled is disappointing and frustrating.
Once again, onward through the fog.
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Sr. Ane Monica Nguyen CSC, Sister Joan Marie Steadman CSC and Sister Julie McGuire CSC
Last week, the Vatican issued its long awaited report on the status of religious women in the United States. The study was brought into existence by Vatican concerns about the inner life of religious communities, and what the Holy See considered to be “questionable positions” in a number of areas such as the role of women in the church, including the ordination of women. The study went on for three years, and while the report has been given to the major Superiors of women’s communities, it has not as yet been made public.
Along with the report came some administrative decisions: for example, three bishops have been appointed to oversee the activities of women’s communities, and these bishops have been given jurisdiction over many administrative details as to how they are to function.
The first known and not surprising reaction of the leadership was shock. However, they have displayed real calmness and want to internalize this new situation before taking a more public stance.
To me, this is amazing. Every human organization has problems in structures and in organization (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church). However, the Church leadership is running the risk of further alienating, discouraging and antagonizing one of its greatest assets in building the Church. It won’t take long for us to see how this will work out, but my own respect, awe, and love for the Vowed Religious women in our Church is such that I would like start a series of blog entries to highlight my wonderful experiences with them, and to share their extraordinary accomplishments- often without adequate support. Stay tuned!
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Last week, the Universal Church celebrated Holy Thursday. That day is especially important in the Church because on this day we mark both the institution of the Eucharist and the ordained priesthood. Pope Benedict XVI chose this day to chastise those priests who have called for the ordination of women and the end of priestly celibacy. There is little doubt that his remarks were occasioned by an organized call for disobedience in these areas in a number of countries, especially Austria.
No one should be surprised that the pope would take such a stand in view of the long established Church law regarding these issues and while the pope has ever right and even a duty to maintain long-established traditions in the Church, we still have the problem that somebody has to come up with a solution. The number of priests being ordained has been declining for half a century. In those five decades, we were shored up by short-term pastoral solutions – the diaconate, increased utilization of laity in leadership and pastoral roles, merging the parishes so that one priest could cover two or three parishes, etc., etc.
It seems, however, the tragic priest shortage in Europe and North America is of recent origin and the decline continues. Of more grave consequences was the failure to ever develop an adequate clergy in Latin America. With priests as the kingpin of the Church’s pastoral structure, their absence in adequate numbers leads to a failure of proper development and the lessening of membership. This has certainly been going on for years. A number of countries, such as Guatemala and Brazil, have lost a huge percentage of their Catholic members to Pentecostal and other groups. This is truly tragic.
This may be the largest issue facing the Church in the 21st century. In one way or another, a solution must be found.
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Last week, there was a very painful and embarrassing situation at an urban church in Washington, D.C. The incident was the denial of the Eucharist to a woman standing at the head of the communion procession who was there for purposes of burying her mother. Her mother’s casket was a few feet behind the lady. The celebrant of the Mass learned just before Mass began that the lady involved had a “partner” so when the bereaved lady extended her hand to receive the Eucharist the priest told her, “I can’t give you communion because you live with a woman and in the eyes of the Church that is a sin.”
The incident created a furor in the District of Columbia and beyond. The woman was crushed. Many of her family and friends themselves refused to take the Eucharist, but later both the family and the Archdiocese responded properly. The action of the priest was at odds with the strong stand against the denial of communion to Catholics actually in the communion procession, annunciated by the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Wuerl has said that he did not believe in denying communion because it is impossible to know what is in another’s heart. Annunciating that position, the Cardinal is merely passing on the long established pastoral policy on the Eucharist on the vast majority of cases. The ultimate judge of moral rectitude is each individual’s conscience. The Church has always annunciated and defended that position and has always given the benefit of the doubt to anyone coming forward to receive Communion.
It is a regrettable situation and occurs from time to time when a narrow interpretation of Church law is used to deny someone who is requesting the Body and Blood of the Lord. The Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, is the center of the life of the Church and while its dignity and sacredness need to be protected in every way possible, we must also remember that this gift from Jesus is to help us to be better, not a reward for being good!
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The other day I talked about solving a problem that many of us have about what Christmas gift to buy for whom, and how easily we could all eliminate that minor problem from our lives by simply giving either a financial gift or giving some of our time for a special type of program or ministry that helps people in need. God knows that there are enough needs and thankfully, we do have many wonderful ministries that are trying to lessen the pain that we see all around us.
My favorite is St. Louise House, an extraordinary program put together by a handful of volunteers from St. Austin’s Parish, doing social action work in the parish, especially on the street. These people became consioucs of the presence in our midst of a sizable number of homeless women who are caring fro their own children. HOMELESS WOMEN WITH CHILDREN! These courageous people decided to do something about ten years ago, and today they operate two 24-unit apartment houses, providing apartments for women that they find on the street in desperate straits.
The St. Louise House volunteers do not simply provide a roof. They endeavor to sensititze the mother to the possibilities that are ahead in her own life and what had to be done to improve their children’s chances of success. Upon entering the apartment, these challenged mothers find everything that they need inside of it- from pictures on the wall, to dishes and bed linens. When they eventually are ready to move out, they are able to take all of these belongings with them for their next home.
This magnificent work is an example of what people can acocomplish when they put together vision, generosity and hard work. May God bless all of them!
The director of St. Louise House is Sharon Bieser, and the address and telephone number are:
2026 Guadalupe Street, Austin, TX 78705. (512)302-0027
Can you help her with this extraordinary work?
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A few years back, I was invited to visit a house on a small hilltop in deep East Austin. Many Austinites would be surprised to know that there is a hilltop in that part of the city but there is one and it is a very important place.
Several years ago, Casa Marianelli, which has for 25 years been running a hostel for newly arrived male immigrants, expanded and opened a second house for women on the hill that I am talking about. Posada Esperanza was a place where women and children could come, get their feet on the ground, get settled and gradually be able to take care of themselves. The work was wonderful and soon a second house was added next door making it a “house on the hill.”
Next week, yet a third house will open. It will be called Casa Gloria. These three houses dominate the hill and it is really a beautiful sight. The three of them face each other and form a tiny neighborhood with extraordinarily generous volunteers taking care of women and children who are extremely vulnerable.
All of these houses are run by volunteers united by their faith and generosity. They operate without a strong umbrella organization and that they continue to do so year in and year out is a virtual miracle. May God bless them for it.
Each of these houses has a beautiful story behind it. It shows that God continues to work among us in mysterious ways. Casa Gloria was donated by one lady who is honoring her wonderful mother by naming the house after her. May God continue to bless the donor and may her mother be always remembered.
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November 13th, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time! Well, we are almost through with this segment of the Church year. Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King and that will ease us into the next segment of the ecclesiastical year beginning with the first Sunday in Advent on November 27th.
Today’s Gospel excerpt is stern. It is a parable about a wealthy and powerful man who delegated responsibilities to some of his employees. The way they handled those responsibilities differed one from another, but those who worked hard to utilize the resources received from the employer were richly rewarded. Those who failed to do so, who did not stand up to their responsibilities, lost out.
That is an important message for all of us but I would rather go to the first reading, which is from the Book of Proverbs. This text stresses how wonderful it is for a man to have a faithful and productive wife. I love the text. It is very complimentary and lists many extraordinary virtues of the ideal wife. The interesting thing is that the authors of the Book of Proverbs failed to make a comparable text on the importance of being a good husband! Here the wife is to be faithful, work hard, be economically productive, be generous and reach out to the poor, and take pleasure in the fact that the men sitting at the city gates praise her great virtues. It was written about 2,500 years ago but an element is still present in the life of the Church as mirrored in the life of women in general, but most especially religious women.
Vowed religious women, “sisters”, do extraordinary things to make the Church effective and to carry out its many and varied missions, but in no way do they ever share in true power or authority. Real power and authority in the Church were always tied in with what we call “ordinary” power. The meaning does not come across clearly in English but it is tied in with the Sacrament of Holy Orders and that a person who is ordained receives “ordinary” power, whether it be the diaconate, the priesthood, the episcopacy or the papacy itself. Ordinary, in this context, does not mean routine or run of the mill. It comes from the Latin root for power as in ordinance depot.
There are probably almost a billion women in the Church today and not a single one of them shares in ordinary power. This was not too much of a problem in the past but in the 21st century, it looms large on the horizon for life within the Catholic Church.
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I couldn’t believe my eyes. There it was in print and I was shocked. I am referring to the fact that the rector of the Cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona has changed its policies on altar servers. From now on only boys may serve but girls may apply for jobs as sacristans!
We known for a long time that the Church has had difficulty in recognizing the changing place of women in society and therefore it has held back to a regrettable degree. However, there has been progress since the Second Vatican Council with women responsible for the distribution of the Eucharist, reading of Scriptures, administrative positions, e.g., chancellors, canonists, and so on. Now we see this rather foolish backing up in Phoenix.
What is going on? The rector argued that replacing girls with boys as servers leads to more vocations to the priesthood! I don’t think that is a realistic position at all and it flies in the face of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which states clearly, “a true equality between all with regard to the dignity and activity which is common to all the faithful in building up the Body of Christ.” (Nos. 12, 32)
Poor Arizona. So much bad news from that state!
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