Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I got a response to the email I wrote to my Archbishop

My original letter was as follows:

My name is Jocelyn. I was baptized at St. Michael's Catholic Church. I received my First Communion at St. Joseph Catholic Church. I was Confirmed at St. Philip Catholic Church. In short, I am Catholic.

I have not always agreed with the Vatican on every issue, but I have always been proud to be Catholic. I have always been proud of my Church, the work that we do, and the members we claim. I have always believed us to be a strong and good-hearted group of people.

It is for this reason that I am so hurt by what has happened over the last few days in Brazil. As you are undoubtedly aware, a nine-year-old girl became pregnant by her step-father, who admitted that he had been sexually abusing her since she was six years old. Her doctors determined that continuing with the pregnancy would be very dangerous for an 80 pound 9-year-old, and so she got an abortion. The Catholic Church in Brazil then proceeded to raise all hell and excommunicated the girl's mother and the doctors who performed the abortion. As far as I know, the step-father is still a member of the Church.

I want to make it very clear that I believe giving this girl an abortion was absolutely the right thing to do. I believe it is morally reprehensible to ask a child that age to give birth, particularly when her health would be at risk in doing so. I believe the Catholic Church is absolutely wrong to deny membership to these Doctors, who all took an oath vowing to "do no harm." Therefore, I believe it stands to reason that I should be excommunicated as well. If these people are murderers for saving this child's life, then I am a murderer for agreeing with them.

Thank you for your time. God bless you.

Here's the response I got. You'll notice that it is not from the Archbishop:

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, has asked me to respond to your email of Friday, March 20, 2009, sent to him via the Holy Rosary Cathedral.

I would like to begin by saying that I hear and feel the enormous sense of pain that you are experiencing as a result of the tragic story of the nine-year girl in Brazil who underwent an abortion.

As I am not aware of all of the factors that led to the excommunication of the girl's mother, I am not able to offer an opinion from a canonical perspective on this case.

However, I might point out that according to Canon 1318, the censure of excommunication is only to be imposed with the greatest moderation and only for graver delicts. Abortion is considered to be a grave delict. However, the penalty must be tempered or a penance employed in its place if the delict was committed in part due to a number of factors that are outlined in Canon 1324. One of these factors is a person who was coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave.

The fact that you do not agree with the decision about the excommunication of the girl's mother would not be grounds for your excommunication.

I have found that sometimes we are all confronted with situations in which we feel a deep sense of abandonment. Even our Lord prayed on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." Pope Benedict XV1 has written in Deus Caritas, that Jesus was praying in the deepest sense to the Father during this horrific moment. We too sometimes find ourselves in situations in which prayer is the best and only realistic response to the situations we encounter. I would urge you to remain faithful in prayer for the Church, the little girl and her mother, and all who find themselves in moments of anguish. I believe this will help to build up the Body of Christ.

Sincerely in Christ,

Father Bruce McAllister


dafydd said...

What a nice way to say absolutely nothing...

Hannah said...

I'm gonna say that he didn't what you were talking about. It would have nice if he could have dome a cursory Google search instead of just quoting canon law at you. But I'm impressed he responded so quickly!

Hannah said...

...didn't know... arg!

elenchos said...

The contemporary reading assigned in the religion classes I had at Gonzaga were all like this. On and on and on and when you got to the end you had no idea where they really stood. And in the writing lab I'd often have nuns come in for help with their masters theses and they were the same kind of endless cant that never seemed to make a definite point. Like they want to be irrelevant or something.

ESI said...

I would agree, Hannah. Or that he latched on to the most easily refuted part of your email and went with that. OR (and this is my hope) that he totally agrees with you, but can't say so.

Hannah said...

ESI, I kind of got that feeling too - that he agreed and wasn't allowed to say so.

Jocelyn said...

Hannah- he's wrong about the date. I sent the email on the 5th, not the 20th. I had given up on ever getting a response, actually.

Whether or not he agreed with me, however, he displayed one of my biggest pet peeves with Catholics (and Christians in general), which is recommending prayer when what's needed is action. Nobody ever got anything done praying for everything and doing nothing. It's a bullshit way to conduct business, whether you're a priest or just some dude.

Teresa said...

Actually, he did say something. He said that excommunication only happens when there are "grave delicts", of which abortion is one. He's saying that the girl deserved to be excommunicated. He has no position on the mother, because he doesn't know exactly why she was excommunicated (why he doesn't know, I don't know!). And you wouldn't be excommunicated simply for disagreeing with the church. This letter doesn't say "nothing", it actually says three very important and telling things. Whether you agree with it or not is something else (I certainly don't!), but that doesn't mean it's saying nothing.

Also, re: what you said about prayer. To a person of faith, prayer IS action. It's the easiest and most concrete thing you can do.

But also, what were you expecting him to tell you to do if he thinks you're wrong? Did you expect him to tell you how to lead a protest against the church?

Jocelyn said...

Teresa, of course I don't expect him to tell me how to lead a protest against the Church. But it's important for me, and I think for other people, to get the message across that we believe the Church has betrayed this child, those who tried to help her, and, by proxy, all of us who sympathize with her. As far as I can see, excommunicating these people was a huge moral misstep, and the Church either needs to come up with a better explanation than "abortion is definitely wrong always" or try to undo the damage. They are supposed to lead and nurture people of faith, not alienate them for making difficult decisions.

I would be careful making statements that begin with things like "To a person of faith," because there are many different kinds of people, and many different kinds of faith. I believe whole-heartedly in the power of prayer. I do not, however, see prayer as an excuse for inaction. And really, do you? If you were standing in the middle of the road and a car was speeding towards you, would you pray it doesn't hit you or get the fuck out of the way? I feel like one of those options has a higher likelihood of working, and either way you're going to thank God you survived at the end of it.

Christopher said...

Ok Jocelyn - I totally agree with your view of his response, but I gotta say...I'm impressed at what you got. I think that you should continue the dialogue and see what you get. Let him know you aren't totally satisfied. Let him know you don't think prayer is enough. If for no other reason that to make sure he knows tha not everyone is just going to sit down and STFU. :)

Jocelyn said...

Don't worry, Chris. I sent him an email yesterday saying just that.

Teresa said...

I definitely agree that I think it's important for laypeople in the Church to let them know how we feel about this issue. Most definitely. I was just commenting on what you said about how he demonstrated what annoys you about Catholics in proposing prayer instead of action. All I meant was that of course HE'S not going to propose any action other than prayer.

Also, I think you should be careful about how you make your distinctions. All I was saying is that prayer is one of MANY actions one can take, and yet you're still drawing the line between prayer over here - action over there. It's just semantics, but sometimes semantics are important.

And for the record, yes, of course I'd jump out of the way of a moving car. I would have direct control in that situation, and would use the brains and reflexes God gave me to act accordingly. However, if someone I know is sick, I pray for them, because even if they're getting the best hospital care, sometimes there's nothing you can do BUT pray. I think his suggestion of prayer wasn't ENTIRELY "just to shut you up" or whatever, because the higher-ups in the Church are sick, in that they can't see how horrible this decision is, because they're too busy worrying about the letter of the law. Prayer might be the thing to do, because only God would be able to enlighten people that stubborn.

However, I seem to remember a New Testament passage where Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees about sticking too close to the letter of the law and missing God's greater message? :) If I were you, I'd remind this guy of that, too!

Jocelyn said...

Yes, I know which verse you're talking about. I'll have to look it up. Good thinking.

And you're right, really. There's really nothing he could have said other than what he did. What I can do, however, (other than pray) is be a thorn in his side in the hope that he passes my thorny message along to the higher-ups.

friend-of-tofu said...

Wow, I missed this! (I came from The Stranger, by the way, and really like what you're doing with this blog.)

Jocelyn, I also got the feeling he kinds of agrees with you, or at least thinks that the whole situation as handled badly. Specifically this part;

"Abortion is considered to be a grave delict. However, the penalty must be tempered or a penance employed in its place if the delict was committed in part due to a number of factors that are outlined in Canon 1324. One of these factors is a person who was coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave."

What he seems to be saying is that if the mother & doctors were in (relatively) grave fear for the girl's life, they need not have been communicated and, indeed, ought to have had penance instead. To me, this seems like a tacit statement that he thought the response from the Church was too extreme, and that he therefore understand your reaction. In light of this, his exhortation to you to pray and strengthen the Body of Christ could, perhaps, be seen as a way of hinting that you and like-minded people should stay in the church and work together? I don't know, this is speculative, but his response gave me cause for some hope, because it wasn't completely negative & robotic, though it was very frustrating and I'd have been annoyed to receive it.

I think this is quite fascinating, by the way. Would you mind if I posted about this on my own journal? It's your letter, so I don't want to butt in, but you *actually* got a response, which is impressive! I wouldn't, of course, be directing people back to this page and your blog generally, as I like it a lot.

Jocelyn said...

Go for it, friend. Post, link, whatever you want.

I think he likely did agree with me. After all, I live in... somewhere that's not Brazil. But I'm not convinced his recommendation of prayer was a coded call for action. I believe he feels powerless in this situation and therefore can do nothing but inform me that I'm powerless as well. Obviously he hasn't heard about the
Facebook group:

Anonymous said...

"Let's see, hmm... God works in mysterious ways, yes yes... not for us to understand, somethingmumble..."

I think this illustrates beautifully the increasing irrelevance of the Church. In a time of widespread illiteracy and information control, the Church commanded vast power as the mediators between people and their common notion of the divine. That time is long past. People are literate now, and information is widely available. People can do their own research and make up their own minds about what is right, what is wrong, and what their relationships with the divine is.

This letter is particularly interesting because it shows that the Church is a human institution, not a divine institution. You have a blindly doctrinaire excommunication by a group of people whose very narrow definition of "protecting life" required that an innocent girl potentially give hers up to deliver her father's child. You have an uncomfortable and waffling reply from a Vancouver priest who seems not to agree with the excommunication but obviously feels constrained not to say so. You have a strangely silent Church hierarchy headed by a Pope who normally seems to have no hesitation to make shocking statements on any number of controversial topics.

If this doesn't scream "human institution," I don't know what does. Assuming that you believe in God, Heaven, Hell, and (until recently) Purgatory, does it make sense that some humans should have the authority to deny others entry into Heaven? As if God can't figure things out on his own? Isn't it overreaching a little to suggest that God needs the help? Maybe even a little disrespectful? And what's with the Purgatory thing? Does anybody really believe that people can just retroactively eliminate it? It seems to me that rocking the theological boat in this day and age is essentially asking educated skeptical Catholics to cast a very critical eye on the entire (theologically derived, created by man (or, more specifically, men)) Catholic theology. If Purgatory can be retroactively eliminated, then what else? How about Hell, which is a post-biblical theological construct? Why should I believe in any of it, given that it may be wiped out in the future? Why shouldn't I establish my own relationship with the divine, one which frees me from having to defend the insane actions of Holocaust-denying cardinals and little-girl-excommunicating archbishops and pedophile-sheltering bishops? Maybe I work from the bible, if I feel like that's the fundamental document for me. Or maybe I decide that a 3000 year old book of laws, history and prophecies written by a group of nomads is maybe not totally applicable to modern life and start reading selectively from the parts that still ring loudly as banners of a new, pacific, loving religion (and still haven't been widely adopted despite the Church's sometimes stumbling efforts), or the still shockingly radical passages (Mt 19:21, for example).

I'm unimpressed with the response, especially the theologically technical language that it's couched in. It is nearly totally lacking in humanity. What little empathy is in the response is empathy for Jocelyn, not for the people in the situation described. Where is the "Yes, it's an awful situation," or the "This situation presents a difficult condundrum for those pledged to uphold canon law"? Nowhere. But hey, you've got your Canon 1318 and 1324 references, for Pete's sake, so what more could you want?

Cleaving to doctrine instead of the needs of the faithful is a recipe for widespread disillusionment. This kind of ridiculousness is what will end the church. Not in our lifetimes; it's a murder by inches. But without significant reform, the Catholic Church will before many generations have passed become a religion of the uneducated, and not long after that I suspect it will become a religion of the die-hard faithful, at which point it will cease to be relevant to the rest of the world. Nobody will care when the Pope decries condoms as part of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It'll be a sad day for what could've been a glorious modern institution. Unfortunately the trend at the top seems to be moving away from reformers like John XXIII and Paul VI, and toward men like Benedict XVI.

Jocelyn said...

I wish I knew who you were, Anonymous, because I think I am in love with you.

That said, I think we have to wait and see who the next pope is and what he does before we predict the (slow) death of the Catholic Church. It may be that the College of Cardinals will recognize the dire need for more change and act accordingly with their next election. If they don't, however, then I totally agree with everything you said.

Michael said...

Well, I tried commenting as Name/URL with no URL (because I have none - I don't blog), but that failed when I tried to submit the comment, and by the time I got done writing my very long screed, I didn't have much time left to try the other alternatives, so I resorted to Anonymity. Sorry! I'll try to post this with "Google Account" and see how that works.

And I agree that there is a possibility for reform, but the College of Cardinals hasn't proven themselves to be particularly reform-minded. If I'm not mistaken, John XXIII took everybody by surprise when he convened Vatican II, and Paul VI was not expected to continue it or give it the direction it had. I suspect that the cardinals were regretful of their votes in those instances, but I could be wrong; I often am. I hope I am, in this case, because I think strong reform at the top could turn the Catholic Church into a remarkable organization.

Jocelyn said...

I hadn't heard that about John XXIII and Paul VI, but I am no expert (yet). I do think the Church can be remarkable as well. It certainly has been in the past (though not for much of it). We'll just have to wait and see, I think. I'm sure Nazipants will die any minute, if there's any justice in the world. Certainly if the cardinals have any sense of pragmatism, they will try to move things at least a little further to the left.

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