Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Blessed are the poor":The Synod on the Family Should Listen to the Voices of Catholic Africa

Cardinal emeritus Walter Kasper raised a ruckus a few days ago when he said in an interview that African Catholics should not tell the Vatican's synod on the family what to do and admitted that African Catholics are not being listened to at the synod. Basically, Cardinal Kasper implied, the Africans are just a bunch of dummkopfs when it comes to doctrinal matters.

Cardinal Walter Kasper discounts the voices of the African bishops.
The Cardinal denied his dismissive remarks about African Catholics, which some commentators interpreted as being arrogant and xenophobic. But Edward Pentin, the reporter who interviewed the Cardinal for Zenit, stuck by his story; and the interview was recorded.

What's this about? Some cardinals at the synod on the family want to liberalize Church doctrine on family issues and sexual morality, but the African Catholics are far more conservative than the Europeans and North Americans--especially on the issue of sexuality.  And Cardinal Kasper basically said the synod wasn't listening to the African Catholic point of view.

I am not an expert on African Catholicism, but I have visited East Africa on five occasions over the last decade. I have attended Mass at the cathedrals in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi and a downtown Catholic church in Kampala. And I have shared communion in Catholic churches in the Tanzanian highlands that were nothing more than mud-brick huts.  I will never forget seeing stations of the cross made from construction paper and pinned to a a mud-brick church wall of a little chapel in the Mbeya Diocese near the Zambian border.

I am not worthy to comment on Catholic doctrine, but I have seen the power of Catholicism in one of the most impoverished regions of the earth. In East Africa, the Catholic population is exploding and there is an abundance of priests and nuns. People who survive on little more than corn mush find their strength and joy in the Eucharist, often walking many miles to participate in the Mass.  And they have remained true to their faith even though it is sometimes dangerous to do so, especially in Africa's Muslim areas, where Catholic priests have been attacked.

"Blessed are the poor," Christ reminded us; and the Catholic Church has always been the church of the poor. So surely it is fitting that the Catholic Church is strong and vibrant in Africa while it shrivels away in the most prosperous and cynical districts of postmodern Europe and North America.

God has blessed the poor and exploited Africans with an abundance of faith. Surely we should listen to the African Catholic voice as the Catholic Church gropes its way forward in a hostile world. Cardinal Kasper apparently wants harmony at the synod--harmony on his terms. But Cardinal Kasper may be leading the Church astray. If the African cardinals, who minister to the poorest Catholics on earth, bring disharmony to the synod, then perhaps disharmony is needed.

We know God is listening to the debates at the Vatican's synod on the family. Whose voices will be most pleasing to the ears of God--the voices of the rich, who often want nothing more than an easy life, or the voices of the poor? We know the answer to that question. So let us listen to the voices of the poor.  Let us listen to the voices of African Catholics at the Vatican's synod on the family.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Frank Bruni's got a good gig: The New York Times pays him a nice wage to spew anti-Catholic prejudice

In 1922, a gang of Ku Klux Klansmen kidnapped a Catholic priest in the rural Texas Hill Country, intending to whip, beat and terrorize him. Fortunately, the priest's servant slipped away undetected while the abduction was taking place and sounded the alarm.

Catholic farmers, mostly Germans, got in their cars and gave chase.  As I heard the story, the cavalcade of rescuers got longer and longer as more Catholic farmers joined in the pursuit, chasing the cowardly Klan in their 1920s jalopies.  Eventually, the Klansmen became so frightened that they pushed the priest out of a moving car and made their escape.

I love this story, which is true, because it is a reminder to all Catholics that we have an obligation to fight back when our faith is attacked. That is why I try to respond in this blog ever time a New York Times writer vilifies the Catholic Church.

Times op ed essayist Frank Bruni is the worst offender. Month after month, Bruni spews his anti-Catholic prejudice in the Times.  In fact, he has attacked the Catholic Church so often that his columns have become repetitive and boring.

Indeed, most of Bruni's venomous essays against Catholicism follow a template that contains these elements:

1) First, Bruni attacks some element of Catholic doctrine--usually a Catholic teaching on sexual morality.

2) Second, Bruni usually contains some flattering remarks about Pope Francis. Apparently, Bruni thinks he can persuade the Pope to change Catholic doctrine by buttering him up.

3) Third, Bruni's essays often hints that the Church's stance on sexual morality is driving lay Catholics out of the Church.
4)Fourth,  Bruni often rounds up a cranky Catholic dissident to provide a quote  that buttresses Bruni's criticisms of our Church.

I envision a large rolodex on Bruni's desk that contains the names and phone numbers of dissident Catholics who apparently stand by, ever ready to provide just the right barb to support Bruni's blather. Bruni's most recent column has a quote from James Martin, an alleged Jesuit, and Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theology professor at Boston College, reputedly a Catholic institution. 

Catholics have been the victims of bigotry since the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, but we have always fought back. After the Philadelphia Bible Riots, for example, when anti-Catholic Nativists burned several Philadelphia Catholic churches,  Bishop Hughes of New York told the New York City officials that Irish Catholics would basically destroy the city if even one Catholic church was damaged.

And during the early twentieth century, the Knights of Columbus prosecuted anti-Catholic bigots for criminal libel.  As late as the 1950s, a South Texas Protestant preacher was arrested for defaming the Knights of Columbus.  Those were the days!

So let us protest and respond every time someone attacks our Church in the press.  It is wearisome to rebut Bruni's op ed attacks in the Times, but we cannot let the Times writers assault our faith month after month and year after year without registering some protest.

Over the centuries, the most frightening reigns of terror began with mild criticism that eventually swelled into violence. It is deeply disturbing that the Times has allowed Frank Bruni to attack the Catholic faith on a regular basis over a period of years. Shame on the Times and shame on the postmodern culture that nurtures such a deep hostility to the Roman Catholic Church.


Bruni, Frank. The Church's Gay Obsession. New York Times, October 5, 2014, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.