Church of Displaced Persons

Eight years ago I wrote a short article about why our Church needs victim-centered reform, a reform that first listens to the victims of abuse and then takes appropriate action, without defensiveness or denial. I argued that Christ is most present to us in those victims of abuse who have long suffered in silence.

In those eight years, I’ve been perpetually disheartened by the inability or unwillingness of our Church to create mechanisms of accountability and transparency that apply to our bishops—or more importantly, our unwillingness to take stock of how power is too often acquired and exercised in a most unchristian way by those in our Catholic Christian Church.

I have felt—as have many Catholics—like a displaced person, a refugee from my own religion.

And so I turn to literature.

In Flannery O’Connor’s The Displaced Person, the brilliant Catholic writer illustrates how God is perpetually pushing us out of our comfort zones. The short story begins with the arrival of Polish refugees fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust. Their arrival, facilitated by an aged and senile priest, intrudes upon a delicate social balance on a farm in the American south. The displaced Guizacs are reluctantly welcomed by the landowner, Ms. McIntyre, but the tenant farmer family, the Shortleys, are immediately suspicious. The Guizacs, however, quickly prove to be more efficient workers than the Shortleys, and the Shortleys are fired, becoming displaced persons themselves.

During their indignant exit from the farm, Mrs. Shortley has an apocalyptic vision as she suffers a fatal stroke:

There was a peculiar lack of light in her icy blue eyes. All the vision in them might have been turned around, looking inside her…  her huge body rolled back still against the seat and her eyes like blue-painted glass, seemed to be contemplating for the first time the tremendous frontiers of her true country.

In the end, Mrs. Shortley’s vision turns inwards as her sense of this world dissolves. Even as tenant farmers, she and her family had enjoyed certain privileges, their race and religion affording a certain psychological comfort, but the Guizacs’ presence, and her impending death, utterly shatters those illusions.

The hope we have in a God who will somehow spare us the tenuous journey towards divine intimacy, who will stay forever, to quote Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, “a ragged figure… moving from tree to tree in the back of our mind,” is quite simply, impossible, given who God is and how God chooses to break into our comfortable realities.

I think many of us Catholics are feeling like Mrs. Shortley or Ms. McIntyre, like our entire world has been turned upside down with the continuing revelations of abuse, conspiracy, and the forces of division who hope to use this crisis to fight their side of the culture war. I imagine, with many dioceses choosing to open their records to their local attorney general, that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

As much new pain and trauma as this will cause, it is an absolutely necessary step in repenting and helping us begin to see again the “tremendous frontiers of [our] true country.” Namely, it will point our Church towards the utterly humble and self-emptying cry of the One who calls us to sincere repentance and new life.  But that call can easily be ignored.

Ever present throughout O’Connor’s The Displaced Person are peacocks, who freely roam Ms. McIntyre’s farm (as they did O’Connor’s own). Ever a cynic and realist, she simply calls them “another mouth to feed,” and explains to the priest responsible for bringing the refugees that she’s let twenty or thirty of them starve, as she “didn’t like to hear them scream in the middle of the night.” But the priest remains ever transfixed by their presence:

The peacock stopped suddenly and curving his neck backwards, he raised his tail and spread it with a shimmering timbrous noise. Tiers of small pregnant suns floated in a green-gold haze over his head. The priest stood transfixed, his jaw slack. Mrs. McIntyre wondered where she had ever seen such an idiotic old man. “Christ will come like that!” he said in a loud gay voice and wiped his hand over his mouth and stood there, gaping.

Mrs. McIntyre tries to get him back to the subject at hand, namely, the refugees and the trouble they have caused her: “It is not my responsibility that Mr. Guizac has nowhere to go… I don’t find myself responsible for all the extra people in the world.”

Finally, exhausted by the complications that the displaced have brought into her life, she exclaims: “He didn’t have to come in the first place.”

The priest replies: “He came to redeem us.”

In listening to the victims and their terrible stories of injustice, perhaps we too can be redeemed and can come to realize that our picture of the world, however comfortable and coherent, was incomplete. More importantly, the degree to which we have been deaf to the cries of the victims is the degree to which we have been deaf to the call of Christ.

If there’s any hope, it is that this time, our reform may be real, radical, and utterly transformative.

Michael Sanem has a theology degree from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and writes at incarnationiseverywhere.com. He has written for US Catholic, God In All Things, and the Leaven, among other publications.


Confronting the Malady of Populist Nationalism

Claire Giangravè writes:

“Populism is an ancient malady. Even Christians have been faced with its force,” said Father Rocco D’ambrosio, a diocesan priest and professor of Political Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University, in an interview with Crux Jan. 10….

D’ambrosio spoke at a conference titled “Power and populisms” along with Vincenzo Buonomo, dean of the Gregorian, as part of a cycle of lectures commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights….

Today’s populist leaders, or “new Caesars,” said D’Ambrosio, “are immature, corrupt, with monolithic institutions at their back and are weary of measures of control.”…

“I think it’s a Christian cultural deficit,” said D’ambrosio of the Catholic adherence to populist politics, calling out the United States as a ground zero of what he defined as the “great marriage between the political right and right-wing Catholics.”

According to the scholar and author of the book “Will Pope Francis Pull it Off?” the pontiff’s social push for the poor is often misunderstood in the United States, leading to a general refusal of his vision.

“Take a young person, a 20 or 30-year-old in the United States. He grew up with most priests and bishops telling him that being a faithful Christian means fighting for certain principles such as bioethics, sexual morality and family morality – which are important, no doubt – but setting aside all the others such as peace, justice, commitment toward immigrants, solidarity, fighting poverty and corruption etc,” he explained….

Many Catholics, he said, “take a part of the Christian teaching, exclude another and, on a practical level, tie themselves to those who have a populist vision of politics.”…

In a 2017 interview with the German weekly Die Zeitrendeva, Francis said that “Populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century proved,” a message echoed by the speakers at the conference in Rome, who at the same time urged people not to lose hope….

He recalled that in the Italy of 1926, in the wake of a global war and during the rise to power of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini – strengthened by the populist writings of the French writer Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon – the priest and politician Father Luigi Sturzo urged his countrymen to be the seed that grows under the snow.

“Let’s hope that the DNA has the strength to beat the malady, that the malady is not chronic but transitory,” he said. “Under the snow, the seed.”


Where the Gospel is, There is Revolution

Via Rome Reports:

He explained that Christ gave the disciples this prayer, along with the Beatitudes, as teachings that represent an authentic revolution.

POPE FRANCIS
“This is the revolution of the Gospel. Where the Gospel is, there is revolution. It is as if Jesus said, ‘Continue on, you who carry in your heart the mystery of a God, who has revealed His omnipotence in love and in forgiveness!'”

The pope said that love thus becomes an unlimited love for all, also for sinners. Therefore, Francis invited people to pray to God as if they were talking to a father, instead of praying like “parrots.”

POPE FRANCIS
“The pagans think that by speaking, speaking, speaking and speaking they are praying. I also think of many Christians who pray, forgive me, speaking to God as if they were a parrot. No, praying is done from the heart, from within.”

God precisely gave the Our Father and the Beatitudes to the simplest, not to the arrogant who pray for people to see them. That is why the pope began this reflection.

POPE FRANCIS
“How many times do we see the scandal of those people who go to church, and are there all day or go every day, and then they live hating others or talking badly about people. This is a scandal. It is better not to go to Church if you live like that, like an atheist. But if you go to Church, live like a child, like a sibling, and give a true testimony, not a false testimony.”


Cardinal Tobin Rips Trump’s Dishonest, Dehumanizing Anti-Immigrant Speech

Cardinal Joseph Tobin released the following statement on President Trump’s speech on Tuesday night:

I listened with deep disappointment to the dehumanizing words used to describe our immigrant sisters and brothers. These men, women and children are neither numbers, nor criminal statistics, but flesh and blood people with their own stories and histories. Most are fleeing human misery and brutal violence that threatens their lives. False and fear-filled caricatures seek to provoke a sort of amnesia that would have this great nation deny our roots in immigrants and refugees.

Last June, Pope Francis said in an address at a conference on international migration: “We must move from considering others as threats to our comfort to valuing them as persons whose life experience and values can contribute greatly to the enrichment of our society.” Those coming to our borders seeking asylum or escaping crushing poverty are not pawns in a political debate, but rather the strangers and aliens our Scriptures constantly instruct us to welcome. As a Shepherd to God’s people in Northern New Jersey, I beg all our legislative leaders to come together for the common good. Work through your differences for the good of all. Lives literally depend upon it.

 


Why a Pro-life Democrat Should Run in 2020

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Jacob Lupfer writes:

No candidate who favors ending abortion in the U.S. can win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Party leaders are more stridently supportive of unrestricted abortion rights than they have ever been.

Abortion-rights activists exert unprecedented power over the party, and as a result even abortion-skeptical Democrats have been decimated over the past generation. Fewer than a handful of anti-abortion Democrats remain in Congress, and the party signals its disdain for candidates like them at every turn, forcing any Democrat who dares present a nuanced position to repudiate the heresy….

But the best argument for a Democrat pro-lifer is rather a statistical one: About a quarter of Democrats believe abortion should be generally illegal, according to Gallup. Nonwhite Democrats, a group that is already rumbling about being taken for granted, are more opposed to legal abortion than white Democrats. The presence of a pro-life Democrat in the 2020 race would give voice to these 21 million disaffected Democrats…

Not to be overlooked, however, is Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. A Catholic Southerner…Edwards ran an ad in his 2016 campaign about his family’s decision not to abort after their daughter was diagnosed with spina bifida in the womb…

Edwards, or former Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, another pro-life Democrat from a conservative state, could capitalize on the disgust — evident in the election of our current outsider president — that Americans feel toward both parties, not least the stale abortion politics that benefits only party bosses and politicians….

A pro-life Democratic candidate would instead unify religious people, overwhelming Democrats who affirm abortion on demand as an article of faith and churchgoing Republicans who want to criminalize abortion but are apparently untroubled by policies that demonize and harm vulnerable people throughout American society. Faith leaders on both sides squander their credibility and integrity at election time as they contort their holy texts and social teachings to line up with 100 percent of their party’s platform….

Indeed, a broad theological consensus exists, articulated most thoughtfully in Catholic social teaching but present in most streams of religious thought, that politics should uphold the dignity of all people, affirm the sanctity of life and prioritize concern for the most vulnerable people.

The party that offers a coherent ethic reflecting these values would capture a majority and do right by all Americans — born and unborn.


Some Trump Apologists Have Traded Christianity for a Church of Trump

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Millennial Catholic Christine Emba writes:

According to Falwell’s creative theology, Christ “went out of his way to say that’s the earthly kingdom, I’m about the heavenly kingdom,” and loving your neighbor as yourself only applies to the latter.

The man whose institutional mission includes being “a voice for the voiceless” then meditated on the uselessness of the poor — “A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.” He then suggested that it might be immoral for Christians not to support Trump….

Falwell’s flawed exegesis is comically absurd, but its implications are profoundly unfunny. While the Liberty University president purports to be an evangelical leader, his statements are in total contradiction to Christian truth. This isn’t just benign confusion: This is heresy.

And, like many heretics, Falwell and his fellow evangelical Trump apologists are on their way to founding a new religion, one in direct conflict with the old. This new religion doesn’t have much to do with Christ at all. Instead, it centers Trump as savior above any other god.

Michael Gerson writes:

Headed into a possible impeachment battle, the most ethically challenged president of modern times — prone to cruelty, bigotry, vanity, adultery and serial deception — is depending on religiously conservative voters for his political survival. And, so far, it is not a bad bet…..

He is the enemy of their enemies. He is willing to use the hardball tactics of the secular world to defend their sacred interests. In their battle with the Philistines, evangelicals have essentially hired their own Goliath — brutal, pagan, but on their side.


Pope Warns against Rising Nationalism, Defends Universal Human Rights and Migrants

via Vatican News:

It is clear, though, that relationships within the international community, and the multilateral system as a whole, are experiencing a period of difficulty, with the resurgence of nationalistic tendencies at odds with the vocation of the international Organizations to be a setting for dialogue and encounter for all countries.  This is partly due to a certain inability of the multilateral system to offer effective solutions to a number of long unresolved situations, like certain protracted conflicts, or to confront present challenges in a way satisfactory to all.  It is also in part the result of the development of national policies determined more by the search for a quick partisan consensus than by the patient pursuit of the common good by providing long-term answers.  It is likewise partially the outcome of the growing influence within the international Organizations of powers and interest groups that impose their own visions and ideas, sparking new forms of ideological colonization, often in disregard for the identity, dignity and sensitivities of peoples.  In part too, it is a consequence of the reaction in some parts of the world to a globalization that has in some respects developed in too rapid and disorderly a manner, resulting in a tension between globalization and local realities….

Some of these attitudes go back to the period between the two World Wars, when populist and nationalist demands proved more forceful than the activity of the League of Nations.  The reappearance of these impulses today is progressively weakening the multilateral system, resulting in a general lack of trust, a crisis of credibility in international political life, and a gradual marginalization of the most vulnerable members of the family of nations….

Peace is never a partial good, but one that embraces the entire human race.  Hence an essential aspect of good politics is the pursuit of the common good of all, insofar as it is “the good of all people and of the whole person”[4] and a condition of society that enables all individuals and the community as a whole to achieve their proper material and spiritual well-being….

Respect for the dignity of each human being is thus the indispensable premise for all truly peaceful coexistence, and law becomes the essential instrument for achieving social justice and nurturing fraternal bonds between peoples.  In this context, a fundamental role is played by the human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose seventieth anniversary we recently celebrated.  The universal objective and rational nature of those rights ought rightly to be reaffirmed, lest there prevail partial and subjective visions of humanity that risk leading to new forms of inequality, injustice, discrimination and, in extreme cases, also new forms of violence and oppression….

Among the vulnerable of our time that the international community is called to defend are not only refugees but also migrants.  Once again, I appeal to governments to provide assistance to all those forced to emigrate on account of the scourge of poverty and various forms of violence and persecution, as well as natural catastrophes and climatic disturbances, and to facilitate measures aimed at permitting their social integration in the receiving countries….

Concern for those who are most vulnerable impels us also to reflect on another serious problem of our time, namely the condition of workers.  Unless adequately protected, work ceases to be a means of human self-realization and becomes a modern form of slavery.  A hundred years ago saw the establishment of the International Labour Organization, which has sought to promote suitable working conditions and to increase the dignity of workers themselves.  Faced with the challenges of our own time, first of all increased technological growth, which eliminates jobs, and the weakening of economic and social guarantees for workers, I express my hope that the International Labour Organization will continue to be, beyond partisan interests, an example of dialogue and concerted effort to achieve its lofty objectives….

Rethinking our common destiny in the present context also involves rethinking our relationship with our planet. This year too, immense distress and suffering caused by heavy rains, flooding, fires, earthquakes and drought have struck the inhabitants of different regions of the Americas and Southeast Asia.  Hence, among the issues urgently calling for an agreement within the international community are care for the environment and climate change.  In this regard, also in the light of the consensus reached at the recent international Conference on Climate Change (COP24) held in Katowice, I express my hope for a more decisive commitment on the part of states to strengthening cooperation for urgently combating the worrisome phenomenon of global warming.  The earth belongs to everyone, and the consequences of its exploitation affect all the peoples of the world, even if certain regions feel those consequences more dramatically….

On 9 November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell.  Within a few months, an end would come to the last legacy of the Second World War: the painful division of Europe decided at Yalta and the Cold War.  The countries east of the Iron Curtain recovered freedom after decades of oppression, and many of them set out on the path that would lead to membership in the European Union.  In the present climate, marked by new centrifugal tendencies and the temptation to erect new curtains, may Europe not lose its awareness of the benefits – the first of which is peace – ushered in by the journey of friendship and rapprochement between peoples begun in the postwar period.