Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Progress Beyond A Sacrosanct Christmas Tradition--And Survive It

My infamous Christmas Coffee Mug which got a lot of use yesterday.

I hope everyone had a safe and fulfilling Christmas.  I know I did, at least the safe and 'filling' part.  I actually had to work Christmas and part of that work was cooking Christmas dinner for ten.  This then will be partly a cooking column and partly a column about Christmas with Pope Francis' 'sheep', but first a little background.  I manage an eight bed facillity for severely disabled mentally ill adults.  In theory it's supposed to be a transitional facility in that clients stabilize and then move out back on their own.  In practice we've begun to accept clients for whom the State Hospital or crisis facilities can't find any other placement.  Which means we have a very diverse group of people representing African Americans, Native Americans, young adults, an 82 year old, three Developmentally Disabled mentally ill, two who are brain injured and two who might actually transition to independent living.  What most of them have in common is that they have little or no family connections.  Holidays can be really trying for clients and staff.  Only one of the eight actually spent any time over the holidays with family.  So staff walk a fine line between creating a holiday atmosphere and not triggering a lot of depression about not being an actual family with actual Holiday traditions.

I get to work at 7:30 in the morning and am met at the door by a sweet heart of woman who greets me with a hug and forces me to get to the Christmas tree and watch her open her gifts. One of which came from my daughter who knew this woman as a neighbor before JW was overcome by the vicissitudes of living life in an adult world not designed for a Black American orphan with a less than average IQ.  She's laughing her heart out because I'm drinking coffee from my Christmas mug.  It's completely black and reads "Bah Humbug".  "You, so funny", she says and gives me another hug and a hug for my daughter and then takes her loot to her room from whence it will never be found.

Most of the rest trickle in for meds and breakfast and exchange some gifts at their leisure.  One of them got the movie Fast and Furious 6 which we had to watch right then.  Lots of talk about death on Christmas and lots of comments from me about how Vin Diesel really can't hit the broadside of a barn with a shotgun.  By the time the movie is over I decide it's time to get going on the turkey.

First off I discover we have no stuffing mix which will force me to make stuffing from scratch.  I assign one client to toast an entire industrial size loaf of bread and another to saute the celery and onions until they are clear.  "How much margarine should I use?", he asks.  I give him very explicit directions, "A whole bunch".  He puts in the correct amount of margarine, pours a cup of coffee and wanders to his room completely forgetting he's supposed to be sauteing the onions and celery 'until clear'.  In the meantime I am trying to thaw out some sausage patties to add to the dressing and finally just cut them up frozen, add them to the vegetables, and saute the whole thing until vegetables are clear and sausage thawed.  I wound up seasoning  with garlic salt and Italian seasoning because I discover we had no other traditional spices. Spices like sage. The Italian seasoning did have some sage. I used a whole bunch.  Thank God my other helper had stayed on task and the bread was toasted to a fine crispness.  We got the dressing done and the turkey stuffed.  By now there are at least six clients in the kitchen including our 82 year old and all loitering in my work space.

One of them had watched a cooking show in which the TV chef stated the key to cooking a turkey is to bake it with breast down. I am appalled at this suggestion.  How totally untraditional.  Secretly I'm thinking about why that might actually work and while I'm voicing my concerns about destroying generations of turkey cooking tradition have decided I will let them think they have a say in this meal and suddenly flip the turkey over on it's breast.  Our 82 year old gasps. "NO NO NO NO, that's not how you cook a turkey!!!!" I have a flashback to my own mother, she too would have been appalled.  My co staff is skeptical. "You do know", he says, "that the breast will be cross hatched from the drip rack and be ugly." "You do know", I respond, "that no one is going to notice that after the turkey is sliced."  "Good point. I sure hope this works."

"It did on TV", says the client who brought this up in the first place. To which another client responds, "and on TV Vin Deisel can't hit the broadside of a barn with a shotgun."  Everyone cracks up, except the 82 year old who stomps off to her room with many mutterings about how I'm insisting on ruining Christmas dinner.  She is so sure about this she returns to the kitchen three hours later and makes herself a huge breakfast of eggs and bacon.

About the time that grandma is cooking herself a breakfast for a lumber jack, we pull the turkey to do a little basting.  Except there aren't enough drippings with which to baste.  "Why isn't there any drippings?" gasps my co staff.  "I TOLD YOU YOU WOULD RUIN DINNER" snaps grandma.  I ignore her.  "Maybe because they are all in the breast meat and they will magically appear when we flip the turkey and brown the ugly cross hatched breast side for the last forty minutes." I tell him, but in truth I did not anticipate this phenomenon. 

We flip the turkey and crank up the temp.  I begin to pray very seriously. Grandma finishes her breakfast and stomps back off to her room.

I loudly suggest people quit loitering in my kitchen and go watch Vin Deisel again.  Nobody pays the least bit of attention. That happens a lot and besides it's not my kitchen.  We begin to make deviled eggs and discover we have no relish, only really big full sized dill pickles and an onion.  We add a ton of Miracle Whip, a little mustard and call it good---and they were.  In the meantime three clients decide they want a summer sausage and cheese plate, which we all make and they finish off in five minutes and I wonder if anyone is even going to be hungry enough to eat my potentially butchered Christmas dinner.

Finally the turkey is done and my patience with it.  We pull it out and by the Grace of God, the drippings are right where the should be.  We will have gravy.  I start slicing and the breast meat just flows off like butter, the dark meat too inviting not to try.  So we all did.  It was to die for. Seriously.  It was hands down the best turkey I have ever made, and I have made a lot.  Of course I got no credit for it, the TV chef and the client who watched the show got all the credit.....which I suppose is only fair.  All I did was to agree to break a generations long tradition and evolve as cooker of turkeys.  It's how this whole faith journey sometimes works.  Sometimes the gifts come when one is open enough to listening to even the most seemingly heretical of ideas. Like baking a turkey breast side down.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bill Donohue Deputizes The Catholic League To Act As A Vigilante Posse On Behalf On AB Neinstedt

And now Bill wants to insure they have no right to privacy and that he has the right to investigate their allegations.

I made a promise to myself that I would refrain from making any more comments on Bill Donohue, president/well paid CEO/self styled mouth piece for Cardinal Dolan/ head of the right wing Catholic League.  However, after his latest press release I gave myself permission to break that promise.  Here is the pertinent part of the press release having to do with the abuse allegation against Minneapolis' embattled Archbishop Neinstedt:

"Archbishop Nienstedt has been the subject of a non-stop crusade orchestrated by ex-Catholics, and Catholics in rebellion against the Church, simply because he stands for everything they are not: he is a loyal son of the Catholic Church.

Now—out of the blue—comes an unidentified male who claims he was touched on his buttocks in 2009 by the archbishop while posing for a group photo. Nienstedt denies the charge, adding that he has never inappropriately touched anyone. Moreover, he has not been told the identity of his accuser.

The Catholic League is asking those who were there to share with us any information they have. Specifically, we are interested in obtaining a tape recording, or set of photos, of any Confirmation ceremony in 2009 where Archbishop Nienstedt was present; presumably, the alleged victim was standing next to the archbishop. Also, we are asking anyone who knows anything about the accuser (someone knows who he is) to come forward."

I wonder if the members of the Catholic League really want to go after an anonymous kid who did not make this allegation on his own initiative.  It was given to the police by a mandated reporter after the mandated reporter was told by the Archdiocese to do so.  I hope this is Bill using 'we' language without consulting the 'we' he represents.  It beggars the imagination that conservative Catholics actually think they have some mandated mission to interfere with an official police investigation in order to 'save' a culture warrior bishop from a 'crusade orchestrated by ex-Catholics, and Catholics in rebellion against the Church....'  In reality it's called bullying a potential abuse victim just because Donohue has the access and the influence and the money to do so.  This is no longer about ranting the party line, this has crossed the ranting line and moved to personal intimidation and abuse.  Bill might be a parody for some of us, but this kind of thing is all too real for the poor kid who may not even have wanted the issue reported.

Or...this is what conspiracy theorists call a false flag operation designed to create the "embattled Archbishop is victim" scenario described in Bill's press release.  In the end the alleged victim will not be found or the police will not have gotten his cooperation and the whole thing will be dropped.  I personally am starting to think this is exactly what this allegation is really all about. For those who remember, Donohue started a vilification campaign against media outlets in Kansas City on behalf of Bishop Finn during the Ratigan investigation.  Given that Ratigan is serving a federal sentence for the manufacture and distribution of child pornography and Finn was convicted of failure to report child abuse, Donohue's victim scenario for Finn was a total failure.  Bill doesn't strike me as the type of personality to accept a second such embarrassing defeat which is why I think this one is set up in such a way that he won't take another such defeat.  After all the mandated reporter only did so after the Archdiocese gave the green light.  I guess only time will tell.

I will not be shocked at all if the allegations prove unprovable---in spite of Bill's national call for evidence. The vigilantes won't find anything because there is nothing for the vigilantes to find.  In any event, no matter how it turns out,  it's another ugly stain on American Catholicism.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Blast From The Past----The Sins Of The Genders

Eve goes for some pride, while Adam is overcome by lust.

One of the things I've been enjoying about the 'feedjit' gizmo on the sidebar is it shows which posts people are clicking on.  Since I've written close to 1300 posts I don't remember 99% of them, so feedjit has been a ticket to a trip down memory lane.  I caught the following link this morning and just had to go read it.  It's worth reposting under the Pope Francis regime since confession is a bigger deal to Francis than it was to Benedict--at least in terms of how often Francis mentions confession and the fact he's making it mandatory all curial staff take a turn at hearing confessions.

One other thing that made for memories with this post, is I wrote it at the same time NCR took down the old NCRcafe which was the whole inspiration for me starting this blog.  It was written on February 18, 2009.  An amazing factoid for me personally, is that by New Years this blog will have had 1 million page views from 125 countries.  That's just mind blowing to me.  I'll probably have to be confessing a little sinful indulgence in pride or something.

Women are prouder than men, but men are more lustful, according to a Vatican report which states that the two sexes sin differently.

A Catholic survey found that the most common sin for women was pride, while for men, the urge for food was only surpassed by the urge for sex.

The report was based on a study of confessions carried out by Fr Roberto Busa, a 95-year-old Jesuit scholar.

The Pope's personal theologian backed up the report in the Vatican newspaper.

"Men and women sin in different ways," Msgr Wojciech Giertych, theologian to the papal household, wrote in L'Osservatore Romano.

"When you look at vices from the point of view of the difficulties they create you find that men experiment in a different way from women."

Msgr Giertych said the most difficult sin for men to face was lust, followed by gluttony, sloth, anger, pride, envy and greed.

For women, the most dangerous sins were pride, envy, anger, lust, and sloth, he added.

Catholics are supposed to confess their sins to a priest at least once a year. The priest absolves them in God's name.

Men --1. Lust; 2. Gluttony; 3. Sloth; 4. Anger; 5. Pride; 6. Envy; 7. Greed
Women --1. Pride; 2. Envy; 3. Anger; 4. Lust; 5. Gluttony; 6. Avarice; 7. Sloth

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell".

Traditionally, the seven deadly sins were considered: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.

The Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Vatican's most secretive departments, which fixes the punishments and indulgences handed down to sinners, last year updated its list of deadly sins to include more modern ones.

The revised list included seven modern sins it said were becoming prevalent during an era of "unstoppable globalisation".

These included: genetic modification, experiments on the person, environmental pollution, taking or selling illegal drugs, social injustice, causing poverty and financial greed.

The report came amid Vatican concerns about the declining rate of confessions.
A recent survey of Catholics found nearly a third no longer considered confession necessary, while one in 10 considered the process an obstacle to their dialogue with God.

Pope Benedict, who reportedly confesses his sins once a week, last year issued his own voice of disquiet on the subject.
"We are losing the notion of sin," he said. "If people do not confess regularly, they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm."


This difference between the sexes is kind of fascinating. Is this nature, gender conditioning, or a product of both. The lists are almost reversed with neither side claiming too much greed--probably why the Vatican's new list seems to concentrate on various consequences of greed.

They conjure up images of beer bellied, lusty, male slobs, and shrew jealous Stepford wives. I've often wondered if priests hear in confession the same stuff I've heard in therapy sessions. My experience with men and women is quite a bit different than this. In therapy a lot of men work on esteem issues, communication difficulties, and relationship problems. Women will work on esteem issues, communication difficulties, and relationship problems. It's also true that these difficulties will lead to engaging in lust, gluttony, envy, sloth, and a bogus pride which covers a lot of humiliation and some defense strategies do tend to be favored on the basis of gender.

There were plenty of times in sessions when I wished I could have given absolution because I knew it would make a real difference. Suggesting clients go to confession too frequently fell on deaf ears. Clients wanted a real relationship with a real person rather than a rote form confession to a mostly complete stranger. When your self esteem is in a hole, I guess this makes some sense.

I had a Catholic psychiatrist in grad school who maintained confession is for the stronger in self esteem and counseling is for those without much self esteem. Both could achieve the same ends but the starting points were different. Needless to say he also felt childhood confession was an exercise in abuse. Children didn't have enough of a concept of self to be put through that particular exercise. I can remember sitting in class and having flash backs about my own first confession. It was not one of my better Catholic experiences. I have a sneaking suspicion the lack of confessions from adults has a lot to do with that early formation.

I disagree with Benedict about the usefulness of confession. If he's talking about maintaining a spiritual rhythm that's one thing, but if the issue is maturing in a relationship with God and understanding the motivations behind the sin, that's another issue entirely. Frequent confession does not always lead to legitimate insight. As a priest friend of mine once said, frequent confession too frequently leads to repeating the same confession. I'm sure he's not the only priest who would say that same thing.

Sin, hell, and confession are areas in which left and right do not meet. The right sees things in terms of sinful acts to be confessed and the left tends to see things in attitudes which need to be adjusted. What we need is a theology of sin which relates the acts to the underlying more global attitudes. I doubt we'll see that under this Pope. In the meantime I'm off to work on pride or whatever it was I used to confess before I tuned up my attitudes.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Enough Of The Rhetoric. Where's The Change I Can Believe In?

 I haven't written anything in a while and it's not because there wasn't anything to write about.  There was a lot to write about.  I spent part of the time reading Pope Francis' Evangelii Gaudium and certainly did have more than a few thoughts about this lengthy piece.  I just didn't feel like writing them.  Call it malaise or maybe even indifference, but my bigger question was why a pope that was generating such enthusiasm in others had induced malaise and indifference in me---and has been for months. I finally came to the conclusion that Francis is not prepared to really act to make definitive changes in the Church culture.  He is in point of fact, reinforcing some of the worst aspects of Church culture by using a lot of 'up is down' rhetoric, about some insidious Church teaching, but more on that later.

The following is an excerpt of an article by Boston Globe's Kevin Cullen.  It's about Rhode Island's Bishop Tom Tobin.  Tobin, like Springfield's Paprocki is a culture warrior of impeccable credentials.  Unfortunately he is a man for whom Pope Francis is not only not an inspiration, Francis is apparently such a light weight leader he can't  even get Tobin to even consider toning down the rhetoric. For what ever reason, Bishop Tom Tobin continues his career as one of America's prominent GOP Bishops no matter that Francis is on record as being dead set against this kind of preaching.  I think the reason Tobin feels free to ignore Francis is answered at the end of this excerpt.  There is more money in extending forgiveness and mercy to the rich than there is in extending mercy and forgiveness to the poor: 

The infallible Tom Tobin

 Kevin Cullen - Boston Globe - 12/13/13
.....While the pope has been busy selling his soul to all us heathens, Tobin used Nelson Mandela’s death as an opportunity to denounce Mandela’s “shameful promotion of abortion” in South Africa.

I was hoping Tobin would throw in Mandela’s “shameful promotion of condoms” for good measure. You know, the condoms that helped shrink the spread of AIDS in South Africa. Tobin is, in keeping with church teaching, opposed to contraception, even if there is incontrovertible evidence that condoms save lives, even if there’s incontrovertible evidence those condoms reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions. (To this point, Pope Francis holds to the same teachings, no matter the real cost to real lives in the developing world.)

It’s that kind of Dark Ages reasoning that allows bishops like Tobin to believe that in cases of a life-threatening pregnancy, women should die rather than have an abortion. (Pope Francis follows the same reasoning.)

A few years ago, Tobin proclaimed that Patrick Kennedy, then a Rhode Island congressman, should be denied Communion because Kennedy supported abortion rights. The reactionaries in the pews cheered, and Tobin was so busy congratulating himself for standing up for the sanctity of life that he never got around to denying Communion to all those pols who support the death penalty and unnecessary wars fought by other people’s kids.

At the same time Tobin was casting Kennedy out of his church, he was turning over the op-ed page of his diocesan newspaper to Bishop John McCormack, one of the worst enablers of child abuse. At the same time Tobin was denying a sacrament to a politician whose political views he doesn’t share, he was denying diocesan records to men and women who were raped as children by priests. (Pope Francis also has denied access to Archdiocesan records and just last week denied the UN access to Vatican records.)

Tobin’s obsession with judging people narrowly, almost exclusively on whom they fall in love with and whether they support abortion rights, is exactly what the pope has been trying to get away from. The pope hasn’t and won’t change Catholic teaching on these matters, even the risible claim that gay people are “disordered.” He merely wants bishops to stop obsessing about abortion and homosexuality and divorce and contraception because so many who do come across like a bunch of mean-spirited, self-righteous jerks. The pope knows his church is a lot bigger than a couple of hot-button issues, that compassion goes a lot farther than condemnation. (Merely wanting bishops to stop obsessing about these issues means nothing if there is no change in teaching.  Francis can not use his pastoral approach to hide from the implications of the actual teachings.)

To be fair, Bishop Tobin is a merciful guy. Just the other day, he wrote a letter asking a judge to go easy on one of his church’s biggest benefactors, a guy named Joe Caramadre.
Prosecutors want Caramadre sent to prison for 10 years after he was convicted in a $46 million investment fraud that preyed on the terminally ill. So what if Joe Caramadre was using unsuspecting dying people to make a buck? It’s not like he’s gay or in favor of abortion.
Did I mention Caramadre used to advertise his services in the diocesan newspaper?......


Call me a radical, but I don't see why it isn't possible for Pope Francis to send a pointedly worded email or drop a cold call on Cardinal O'Malley and insist the USCCB give some 'fraternal' correction to bishops like Tobin and Paprocki.  It's how leadership changes a culture.  It is virtually impossible to change a culture from the bottom up.  It is virtually impossible to change a culture from the top down if the top isn't willing to exercise their authority in a meaningful way.  Say what you want about Pope Benedict, but he created the culture he wanted in his subordinates.  Just ask William Morris of Toowoomba AU.  One rolled head sent quite the message to every other bishop who might have been entertaining expressing thoughts not acceptable to Benedict.

The thing is, Pope Francis has been dropping hints left and right about what is acceptable to express and what is not.  He has drawn his lines in the proverbial sand and those lines all point to no real change in anything Catholic.  It's as if Francis is using bishops like Tobin to remind us of that while he is free to utter all his pastoral rhetoric, giving the Church a kinder gentler public face.  I don't personally care how wonderful his rhetoric is, if he does not act he will not change the culture he upbraids in many of his writings and talks, and unfortunately too many of his acts indicate the exact opposite of his rhetoric.  And yet, he has the whole world eating out of his hand. 

Even the latest Moneyval report on the IOR, which is not all that flattering, treats the Vatican's failure to implement it's over-site committees with kid gloves.  "No real transparency yet, but we're sure it will come."  Of course the fact it's been over two years,  and nine months of that has been on Francis' watch, doesn't seem to matter. Yes, there has been some change, and yes, there have been accounting firms hired to check for illicit activity, but the permanent structures are still sitting, idling in neutral. In the meantime the indictments of individuals continue and the Italian financial investigations grind on.

When it comes to child abuse the message is exactly the same as it always has been.  No cooperation with outside entities unless forced to in a given secular jurisdiction.  The UN asks for information on the global situation, the Vatican says 'no' and then has Cardinal O'Malley announce an in house committee on child abuse.  Of course there were no pertinent details about this committee.  Just that it would deal with pastoral issues associated with victims and strategies to protect children. Notice how accountability issues were left out?  I can only assume accountability issues will reside where they have always resided, in the hands of the Vatican.  That's change we can believe in. LOL  

And that in a nut shell is where my malaise has come from.  So far Pope Francis has implemented no change in anything meaningful and his rhetoric doesn't cut it for me. I want to see some action that directly points to change I can believe in. Haven't seen it so far and have serious doubts I will any time soon.