Sunday, March 22, 2020

Good Intentions with which the Road to Hell Is Said to Be Paved

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know it all
Essay Seven: Good Intentions with which the Road to Hell Is Said to Be Paved
Many years ago when I was young and even more foolish than I am now, I was invited to be a guest on a radio talk show sponsored by an evangelical organization. They thought they might venture into the heady world of ecumenism that was popular at the time. Being one of the few Catholic priests who, at that time, spoke fluent evangelical-ese, I was to be their first experiment.
At some point a woman who didn’t particularly like Catholics called in with a grocery list of complaints, “How come Catholics added books to the Bible and how come Catholics worship Mary and the pope and how come Catholics call priests Father when the Bible says call no man Father????Huh? Huh???”  
I responded, “Madam, you needn’t call me father, I’ve never even met your mother!!”  
True story. No time delay. Live radio. I think I set ecumenism back twenty years at least.  Still, her last question is not a bad one.  In the gospel of Matthew, (23:19) we read, “You are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called master, for you have one master, the Messiah.”  
Contrast these with St. Paul who called himself the one who fathered the Corinthians and St. Paul writing  ”For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every fatherhood (patria) in heaven and on earth derives its name.(Eph 3:14)  What Jesus is saying is, “Don’t have any gurus.” No one has the absolute right of teacher, leader or father over us save God alone. 
It is curious that every Christian group calls their clergy either Doctor, Reverend or Father, doctor being the Latin word for teacher and reverend essentially meaning leader. If you take the text absolutely literally, what are you going to call that man who married your mother? I guess all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If the Catholic custom is properly practiced, the word “father” is not a title. In the context of the parish, it is a relationship.
It is that very relationship that our current direction is destroying. A priest who lived in his parish until death really did become as if a spiritual father to his parish. He worried about the money, the school, the leaky roof, the health, spiritual and physical, of his parishioners, all the things that fathers do. He took part in their births by baptism. He witnessed their weddings and in turn baptized their children and finally conducted their funerals. He forgave their sins and fed them the Eucharist and listened to their sorrows. They mourned when he died, and they prayed for the repose of his soul. They were the children who loved him and cared for him in his old age. He was their father in the Lord.
That is almost all gone. Now he is temporary help, for at most twelve years. He is paid to love them for a while, then moves on to love another group of people who will pay him the same salary as determined by corporate headquarters.  The parish was a home for believers, Priests were expected to be fathers, nuns were expected to be mothers to the faithful. The parish was the center of our life when I was a child, the place where I met Christ, joined His family and learned the beauty of the faith. True, the pastor could be difficult as could be the nuns who taught me, but it was home. There were certainly horrible exceptions to this rather rosy picture. The parish could be as dysfunctional and even dangerous as any human family, but by in large, it was a system that worked. 
Now it feels like the priest is the manager of a branch office appointed for as long as suits the needs of the head office. The system by which the gospel filled the world prevailed for a thousand years and more. We, the clergy, killed that system one afternoon in Chicago just short of fifty years ago. I am sure we had nothing but good intentions in doing so.
PS I forgot. We can either have someone who cooks for us or get a very generous per diem.  That brings my after-tax salary up to $35,000.  Clearly, I am not starving to death. Also, in addition to paying taxes, I buy my own clothes and pay for my own car. As I have mentioned. I am responsible for my own retirement and pay into social security. That’s the worrisome part.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

3-15-2020 Pastors of Long Ago

When I was a boy, and the wooly mammoth still roamed, there were two kinds of pastors in the Catholic Church. There were irremovable pastors who could only be removed by the pope and there were removable pastors who could only be removed by the pope. If you were a removable pastor you could be removed by the bishop, but you had the right of appeal to Rome and the process took so much time and effort on the part of the bishop, why bother? In effect a pastor had tenure and was expected to leave a parish, carried out feet first. (Dead, for those of you who are humor impaired.)
All this changed one day in Chicago in, I believe, 1972. Those were the heady days of the Age of Aquarius, the post-conciliar era when the changes wrought by the Second Vatican council were going to make everything perfect. The young priests of Chicago realized that the liturgical changes that would be needed to introduce this Golden Age would never happen as long as the old curmudgeon pastors occupied the “plum” parishes.
So, at a meeting of the Priest’s Senate of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the clergy assembled asked Cardinal John Cody to petition Rome for permission to limit the terms of pastors to two terms of six years each. It is said that Cardinal Cody responded, “If that’s your wish, my sons, (he talked that way sometimes) I will petition the Holy Father.” It is also said that his eminence left the hall smiling. He realized that if the pastors lost tenure, they would lose any control over the bishop of a diocese. The old “barons,” as we called them, had a great deal of influence over the bishop. They could disagree with him publicly, and worse they could withhold cooperation in fund raising, and could not be removed for either. A pastor with tenure could only be removed for insanity, immorality, heresy, or an interesting combination of the three and these had to be proved by a canonical trial! If the bishop needed funds, he had to schmooze his pastors. They knew where the money was and how to get it.
All this seems rather cynical, but don’t kid yourself. Religion doesn’t come cheap. There are buildings to maintain, staffs to be paid, schools, charities soup kitchens, orphanages retirement homes, hospitals, etc. etc., etc. to be maintained. And tuck -pointing. Tuck-pointing! The very word sends a chill down the spine of a pastor. Just try tuckpointing a five-story brick building. The cost can run into the high hundreds of thousands if you’re lucky! So, if you want to take the high road and do not want to mix filthy lucre with religion you might as well throw out your Bible. From the Old Testament through the New, there is an honest presentation of the relationship between worship and money, so get off your high horse.
Where was I? Oh yes… pastors. The priests of Chicago threw away their right to tenure and in those exhilarating times after the council, as Chicago went so went the nation. As the nation went, so went the world. Pastors in most places don’t have limited terms of pastorate, but they do have an obligatory retirement. The results of that fateful meeting in 1972 have been wide ranging.
Here is one result. There is something called the cathedraticum. (Cathedra meaning the bishop’s chair which is kept in the cathedral.) The cathedraticum is the money owed the bishop from the Sunday collection. I have no idea what the cathedraticum was in my youth. I have heard that was about 3 percent of the parish revenues, but this cannot be accurate. The cathedraticum in this country seems to have been around 10 percent of a pastor’s income as far as I can tell and is currently 10 percent of the regular parish collections. The whole thing is very confusing. In times past, the collections, funeral stipends and pew rentals seem to have been considered the pastors personal property and from these he owed the bishop a substantial amount. From the rest he maintained the parish and the school, paying the salaries of priests nuns and lay people who maintained the parish. All those income sources were removed from the pastor in the latter half of the twentieth century and the priest was given a salary.
After working for the “company” for 45 years the salary paid me by the parish is around $30,000 after taxes. Yes, I pay taxes. Lots of them. In addition to the salary we have automobile insurance, health insurance until we qualify for Medicare, and housing. That housing is above the store, so in effect we are also night watchmen. In the past priests did not retire. As I have said, it was expected that they died in their rectories. That was the retirement plan. Now it is expected that we must accept retirement the year we turn 70 and we receive the generous pension of $1,200 a month, provided we do not live in a rectory. If we live in rectory or other church facility, I believe that our pension goes down to $600 a month.
At the moment, to the best of my knowledge, the official cathedraticum is still about 10 percent, but to that is added 6% for the Priests’ retirement fund, formerly unnecessary, insurance assessments and a 7% expectation for the annual diocesan fundraising campaign. To this is added the special collections for various diocesan charities. This all seems rather dry and unreligious. But it has a far more important significance. Financial control has effectively been removed from the pastors. It is in the hands of an ever-growing professional bureaucracy that uses a business model.
PS. I am not poor. I have other sources of income than my parish salary. Diocesan priests don’t take a vow of poverty. I have other reasons for discussing finances which I hope will become clear in future essays.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Fun Facts about the Papacy

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know-it-all

Essay Four: Fun Facts about the Papacy

Perhaps you heard me say that the bishop of Rome is the Pope, but the Pope is not the Bishop of Rome. Let me explain. The Bishop of Rome is the heir of both St. Peter and St. Paul. Both were martyred in Rome and their relics rest there. This doesn’t matter that much to us, but it did to the first Christians. I have already mentioned that St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote, around 170 AD:

“For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy.”(Adversus Haereses III, 3.)

The doctrinal preeminence of the Church of Rome rested on its apostolic foundation and the churches of the world could look to the Roman Church and its bishop as to a lighthouse guiding a ship to safe harbor. The bishop of Rome was to fulfill the mandate that the Lord had given to St. Peter to “strengthen the brethren.” (Luke 22:32) This was his assignment because HE WAS THE BISHOP OF ROME, THE HEIR OF ST. PETER. No one was chosen to be pope and, oh by the way, you’re the bishop of Rome too. Nope.

Job one was bishop of Rome. The idea that the pope was elected to be the leader of a vast international organization developed slowly. The Roman emperors became Christians starting with the emperor Constantine in 312 AD following his vision on the eve of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine moved the capital of the empire to Nova Roma, later called Constantinople and now, of course, Istanbul. The expectation was that if the city of Rome moved east, so would the bishop of Rome move east. Not so. The bishop of Rome stayed put in the old crumbling capital with his precious relics and his political independence.

Constantinople grew and Rome shrank to a small town 0f 10 or 20 thousand people. The emperors knew that no matter how small old Rome became, it was still important. The clergy and people of Rome elected their new bishops, but the emperor in faraway Constantinople was not going to let them install anyone he didn’t approve of. This system endured until the papal election of 1903 when the election of Cardinal Mariano Rampolla was vetoed by Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

Yes, you read correctly. 1903!! For 1600 years the election of the pope was interfered with by the political powers of the world. The pope approved the emperor and the emperor approved the pope.

One wonders if this is what Our Lord intended when he said “thou art Peter…” Over the course of 16 centuries of political involvement, the papacy became a whole lot more than the bishop of Rome and the ultimate spiritual authority for the universal church. Instead the pope must endure the endless dreary procession of diplomats having their pictures taken, the embarrassing circus acts performing at papal audiences and papal visits to obscure countries with more photo ops and enthused locals waving papal flags.

Fun fact! For the first eight centuries of the Church’s life, if you were made a bishop of a
particular place, you could never change your diocese. You were considered married to the diocese, hence you wore a ring. To change diocese was considered adultery.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

2-23-2020 On the Canonization of Cato the Elder

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know-it-all
 Essay Three: On the Canonization of Cato the Elder
I would like to suggest that we consider Cato the Elder, an ancient Roman from the times even before Christ, the times of the Roman Republic.  I think he might provide a valuable model for creating vital and viable parishes in our times.
Marcus Porcius Cato; 234–149 BC, also known as Cato the Elder,  was a Roman soldier, senator  and historian known for his practicality and  opposition to Hellenistic fripperies. He is the very image of Roman practicality. He was not a patrician but was a Senator. He was what the Romans called a new man, not from one of the old noble families so he had to try harder. He believed that he was superior to these so-called aristocrats who were men of business. He clung to the practical rural values that made Rome flourish. A noble Roman could make money only from farming. Oddly, the construction business was considered a form of farming because bricks, wood and stone came from the land, so but if a noble Roman wanted to make money he had to espouse the pious old Roman values but had to make his money through dummy manufacturing corporations, secret investments and land acquisitions  all run by agents who knew business and could be discrete. Cato did very well, thank you. He believed in the old Roman ways and that money; especially real estate mattered most. His quotes are most interesting.
“Sell worn-out oxen, blemished cattle, blemished sheep, wool, hides, an old wagon, old tools, an old slave, a sickly slave, and whatever else is superfluous. The master should have the selling habit, not the buying habit.”
This is most certainly the way to run a business. Maximize assets! Dump old stuff and old workers so you don’t have to care for them in old age. Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise. If some fool is willing to buy the stuff dump it like a bad habit, things, animals and people! Why should you have to feed and care for an old slave? That’s no way to run a business.
I hear these days that a parish should be run much more like a business than it is, best practices and all. It only makes sense. After all money is life’s report card is it not? A parish should be judged by a very few criteria: the size of the congregation, the size of its income and the condition of its real estate. We are kidding ourselves if we think the church is a family and not a vast international corporation. Truly an approach Catonian! Does it matter that some old employee or schoolteacher has served the Lord and the parish for thirty or forty years at sub-standard wages? Not in the least. Does it matter that a congregation may be poor and small but very holy and a place of great service to the poor? Not in the least. Such places are just not structurally or financially viable these days. I remember a parish whose congregation was about 300 and whose collections came to about $70,000 a year while its expenses were close to a million. Somehow the bills were always met. They educated poor immigrant children at almost no cost to their families. They fed and clothed thousands every month. The children of the wealthy came and waited on the poor there at the soup kitchen. Above all God was worshipped and Christ was preached. Scores of people were converted to the faith by the example of the volunteers and under paid staff. Some went on to the religious life and the ordained priesthood.
The place is closed now. It continues some operations for a while yet, but it no longer exists as a parish. Such a place was just not viable. Too small, too poor.  The only way we are going to make it is the way the mega churches do, big buildings, big congregations, big collections and big screens with the words to the hymns so they can be seen back in the cheap seats by the espresso bar. Another Cato quote. He uttered it at the end of every senate meeting:Furthermore, I think Carthage must be destroyed.
Eventually it was!  St. Cato the Elder, Guide us!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

2-16-2020 On the Welcoming Spirit of the Early church

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know-it-all
Essay Two: “On the Welcoming Spirit of the Early church” 
Return with me to a simpler, grubbier, smellier time in History:  ancient Rome around 190 AD, a Sunday morning. We visit the Subura, a vermin-infested stinking district in the heart of old Rome. Around you are five, even ten story tenements wedged in so tight that sun rarely hit the narrow stinking streets. They are prone to burn to the ground or just collapse. Meet two residents of the Subura, Gaius Introspecticus and his friend Narcissus Maximus. They are up early, as most Romans were, and Gaius mentions to his friend that there is a relatively new religion in town, a sort of Jewish sect that isn’t mostly Jews. They have a meeting every Sunday morning in the spacious house of Senator Superbus Ebrius Pazzo on the very chic Palatine Hill quite near the palace and the Great Racetrack.  
One hears that all are welcome. A trip to the Palatine across town might be just the thing. At least it would get them out of the stinking rat hole they live in and there was bound to be a decent meal. So, they climb the Palatine, find the house and are welcomed by a rather burly sort of man, a slave, a sort of usher, called a porter or ostiarius. He’s clearly just a slave but is given great deference by those entering as if he were somehow important. it turns out they don’t just hire or buy a porter, they ordain them! On with our story. In comes an older fellow. They all defer to him call him “Papa, or Abba Victor.” They are all treating this Victor as if he were some famous gladiator. The amazing thing is that he doesn’t look very Roman. He is dark skinned! In fact, he comes from Africa and one of his parents was a black-skinned Berber!  
Anyway, the service commences with a short prayer, some readings follow from the Jewish holy book and then some newer stuff written by some missionaries from Judea and Galilee. Then this “Big Daddy" Victor gets up to speak and he is quite interesting. He claims that some Jewish rabbi was executed by the 12th legion in Jerusalem about a hundred and fifty years ago but rose from the dead. There was an old fellow in the congregation, must have been 90 if he were a day. He said that his grandfather had been in Jerusalem when it happened. As a boy, the man’s old grandad had seen the empty tomb and his aunt and uncle had run into this Jesus when they were travelling on the road to the coast! It was all getting very interesting and there were a few loaves of bread and I could smell wine and was getting hungry.
Just when things were getting interesting, this burly usher fellow, a slave, ordained or not, asked me and Narcissus ‒ Roman citizens mind you! ‒ to kindly leave. The rest of the service was private and only baptized believers in good standing were welcome… WELL, I NEVER…THE NERVE OF THESE PEOPLE!!! I know what was going on. There were more women there than men and I smelled wine. They were going to have an orgy. I just know it, and us, not welcome!!! There were a lot of people there who were slaves. They weren’t there because they were rich. I bet they were there for some other reason in that swank neighborhood at some Senator’s house with only a few people rich enough to foot the bill. Next time the city magistrates want to round these people up, I’m going to tell them everything I know. That should fix them! Cut us out of the orgy. Just try! Ha! 
The early church wasn’t as welcoming as you might think they didn’t want to expose the faithful to unnecessary risks. They didn’t need members. They wanted disciples. They weren’t there to entertain people who needed to feel welcome. They wanted to open heaven’s gates to those seeking salvation and those who were willing to be martyrs in the arena. Christianity was noted for its charity and kindness to all, not for its inclusive and welcoming spirit. It attracted followers because of its charity, moral example and bravery, not by good marketing and welcoming services. On the contrary, they were always telling the Romans that if they didn’t repent, they were all going to hell! That’s why they threw them to the lions. Now that’s entertainment!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Catholicism Isn’t as Complicated as You May Think!

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know-it-all

Essay One: “Catholicism Isn’t as Complicated as You May Think!”

Things are in bit of a pickle in the Catholic Church in our times. To make sense of the crisis, one must understand the structure of the Catholic church. The Catholic church is arguably the largest and among the oldest institutions in the world.  It has an unbroken governance of almost two thousand years. Around 170 AD St Irenaeus of Lyon wrote:
“For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy.”(Adversus Haereses III,3.) 
This is authority rests on the belief that Peter was the leader of the apostolic church. Peter was thought to have founded three churches, one in Antioch, one in Alexandria through his assistant St. Mark, and one in Rome, where he was martyred and where he was buried. This counted for a lot in the minds of the first Christians and whether you agree with the concept of Petrine authority or not, it seems certainly to have existed in some sense by the end of the first century. The Church of Rome is a very old institution. And it has become a very large institution. As of this writing it has 1,300,000,000 (one billion three hundred million) members. We constitute more than half of the Christians (2,400,000,000) in the world. Those 1.3 billion Catholics are governed by a rather small bureaucracy of just over 200 cardinals, around 6,000 bishops and perhaps 3,500 Vatican bureaucrats. This is just under 10,000 people. That comes to around one official for one million plus Catholics. The federal government of the U.S. employs around 4 million people in a country of 300 million. That’s more like one out every hundred.  Each diocese has its own chancery office or pastoral center some small, some large, but these are not part of the universal governance of the church, just as state governments are not part of the federal system. 
This church government is a hierarchy.  Most people think of hierarchy as chain of command similar to a military structure. This is not the actual situation. The word “hierarchy“ means sacred leadership. Each diocese has more autonomy than you would think. In fact, the pope has selected local bishops only since 1871. Before that the process was much more complicated and involved much local control both civil and religious. The church does not have a chain of command. A bishop of one diocese may not go to another and order the clergy or faithful around. They have authority only over their immediate diocese unless, like the cardinals, they are otherwise designated by the pope as able to minister without the express permission of the local bishop. The essential unit of the church is the diocese, a bishop assisted in serving the faithful with his presbyters (priests) and deacons. It is really a very simple structure. The pope is simply a bishop ‒ the bishop of Rome. He has no special papal ordination, but he does exercise a universal ministry because of Peter’s mandate to “strengthen the brethren,”  (Luke 22:32) The pope is the protector of the tradition and of doctrine and must assure that good and faithful men are chosen for leadership in the church.
So, where do the cardinals fit in? A cardinal is a pastor or deacon of one of the ancient churches in the city of Rome. These are called “cardinal” in the sense of “primary” or “important.”  Since the middle ages, bishops, priests and even non-ordained laymen have been given the title of “cardinal’ of a church in the diocese of Rome. Because the cardinals are the pastors of Rome, they elect the bishop of Rome, who is, by his office, the pope of the universal church. At home a cardinal may be a bishop, in Rome he is a ranking pastor of an ancient church of the diocese of Rome. In sorting it out it is absolutely essential to remember that the Bishop of Rome is the Pope. The Pope is not the Bishop of Rome.  A man is elected as the pastor of this ancient diocese. That is job one. His task is to maintain the sanctity and fidelity of this ancient heritage to the Gospel and to Christ so that all the other churches of the world can behold its beauty, truth and charity, and so be reassured in their work for the salvation of souls.
During the middle ages, these cardinal pastorates of the diocese of Rome were conferred on men, usually bishops, who were not always Romans, but were important bishops in their own countries. In this way popes could have representation with the crowned heads of Europe and those crowned heads could have their representatives in Rome. Thus, the Roman church became very centrally involved in the politics of Europe and the Roman (Byzantine) empire centered in Constantinople, The papacy struggled to rein in the ambitions of the monarchs of the Christian world, and in the process became a political force themselves.  Dr. Rodney Stark, sociologist of religion at Baylor University speaks of the church of piety and the church of (political) power. If I read him correctly, he contends that from the time of the emperor Constantine until some point in the middle ages, the church of piety and the church of power were at odds They reconciled through the development of the monasteries. I’m not so sure. There is evidence of the church of power earlier than Constantine. Just look up the heretic Bishop Paul of Samosata and his political collaboration with the rebel queen Zenobia of Palmyra (270AD) There have been ambitious sect leaders since the first days of the faith and the church is still inseparably enmeshed in civil politics, e.g. liberation theology and the church tax of Germany. The church of power and the church of piety have always been and will always be at loggerheads, often struggling within the soul of individual Christians.  Despite Jesus having said that his kingdom was not of this world, His more ambitious followers have always differed with Him on this point.