View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fr. John Dear - causing scandal?

A while back, I got word that Father John Dear, SJ, the noted author and peace activist – and Catholic priest – was scheduled to speak at Spiritus Christi Church – formerly part of Corpus Christ Church. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of that community’s break from the Catholic Church.

I decided to write to Father Dear to give him a heads up about the nature of the community, and the possible scandal he might cause speaking there.

I sent the following e-mail to several different addresses I found for him back on October 22:

I see that you are scheduled to speak November 11 at Spiritus Christi Church as part of its 10th anniversary celebration.

Perhaps you are not aware that that 10th anniversary is of its schismatic break with the Catholic Church. That break damaged the Diocese of Rochester and hurt many in the local Catholic community - damage and hurt that linger to this day. The church continues to maintain that it is "Catholic," even as it has two women priests, and engages in a number of practices that violate Church teachings.

Given Father Bourgeois' recent problems, and the nature of this particular church, you might want to contact the Diocese of Rochester and speak to your superiors before going to Spiritus Christi and risking the potential of causing public scandal to the Church.

Pax et bonum - Lee Strong, former Associate Editor, Catholic Courier (Rochester's diocesan newspaper)

Because some of those messages bounced back, I sent a second one on October 23.

I have tried to contact you to give you a heads up about Spiritus Christi Church, where you are scheduled to speak Nov. 11.

Perhaps you are not aware that it is a schismatic church, and they are touting your visit as being part of their 10 anniversary celebration - the anniversary of their break from the Catholic Church. That break hurt the Diocese of Rochester and splintered the community.

Please check with your superiors first.


Pax et bonum - Lee

On October 23, that second e-mail got a response.

Thanks so much, God bless you,

That was it. I wasn’t sure what he was saying. Was he thanking me for warning him and would he consequently refrain from lending some credibility to the schismatic Spiritus Christi by cancelling his talk there? Perhaps.

Or was he politely trying to get rid of me?

I don’t know.

So, being a former reporter and a pesky sort, I e-mailed him back on October 28.

Thank you for getting back to me. Does this mean you will reconsider speaking at that Spiritus Christi now that you are aware it is schismatic? Or do you still plan to speak?

Pax et bonum - Lee

No response. I sent a second one on November 2.

I sent you this response a couple of days ago, but had not heard back. Perhaps you are on the road. People here are awaiting news:

Thank you for getting back to me. Does this mean you will reconsider speaking at that Spiritus Christi now that you are aware it is schismatic? Or do you still plan to speak?

Pax et bonum – Lee

Still no response, so I sent this one on November 6.

I see you are still on the Spiritus Christi Calendar for next Tuesday. Did they not yet take you off, or are you still planning to go there?

Pax et bonum - Lee

No word. But in the latest Spiritus Christi bulletin, I see the following:

“Here’s something else that is exciting: We have a chance to hear one of our country’s greatest modern-day prophets on Tuesday, November 11. John Dear will speak at our church. John is a good friend of Spiritus Christi, dedicated pastor, and outstanding Jesuit priest. He has been arrested more than seventy-five times and spent more than a year of his life in jail because of his efforts to bring peace, stop war, and dismantle all nuclear weapons. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has nominated him for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. He will be signing his new book, and autobiography, called A Persistent Peace, available to purchase for $20. I just finished reading it and found it extremely inspiring. John is the final speaker in the 2008 series to celebrate Spiritus Christi’s Tenth Anniversary. Please join us in the sanctuary on Tuesday night, November 11, at 7:00 PM. (He will have a private meeting over pizza with our youth group at 5:30.)

Having received no further word from him, and this bulletin being dated November 4, it’s entirely possible that he will indeed be there – and if so, giving scandal to the Catholic Church and his own order by helping a schismatic church in celebrating its break from the Church.

I hope he does cancel.

If not, I think further action might be in order by his order.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:47 PM  
Anonymous Clare said...

He is indeed still speaking tomorrow. Mom emailed me about it earlier to let me know.

Would you similarly object if he was speaking at a Baptist church (for instance)?

And for the record, Spiritus does not claim to be Roman Catholic, but rather simply Catholic.


6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clare brings up a good point. Is his appearance a "scandal" because it's not at a Roman Catholic church? If so, that would be a consistent position.

But we've seen high-level Vatican bureaucrats talking with schismatics on the Right. I suppose some people are "scandalized" by that.

I think we should be clear that when we mean "scandal," we don't mean something embarrassing.

I have a copy of his book on my bed stand; I'm looking forward to reading it.


8:37 PM  
Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

Scandal is "any action or its omission, not necessarily sinful in itself, that is likely to induce another to do something morally wrong." Fr. Dear is a priest in good standing with the Church. He confers a certain legitimacy to this schismatic group by visiting it. The Vatican's engagement with Lefebvrists and others is part of an ongoing attempt to restore unity in the Church. There isn't even the pretense of that in the present circumstances; Dear is visiting the community to pitch his new book.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Interstate Catholic said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:17 AM  
Blogger Interstate Catholic said...

I really don't have a problem with Fr. Dear giving a talk at Spiritus Christi as long as he doesn't concelebrate mass while he is there.

2:29 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

One thing that sets this apart from a talk at another church - such as a Baptist Church - is that this talk is part of the celebration of the break with the Catholic Church.

He is thus helping to celebrate that break. That is clearly wrong.

As for saying Mass, I don't know if he will or not.

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It isn't so much a celebration of the break with the church, as the creation of the new community. I think most people at Spiritus who were around at the time think of the "crisis" (as it is usually called) as a very painful time. This is a celebration of the rebirth of the community in a new incarnation. At this point, many of the members weren't even around for that time and have joined since the formation of the new community. So this really isn't some "yay! we were excommunicated!" celebration.


7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He is thus helping to celebrate that break. That is clearly wrong."

But is it immoral? It sounds as if his detractors on this appearance are more dismayed than tempted to do something immoral.

In addition to selling books, Dear might also be going to communicate a pacifist message. That was not what I would call part of the Corpus Christi core values when I was a member in the 80's, though some lip service was given to it.

No doubt, some videographer will attend and the whole thing will be pasted on YouTube if Dear steps out of line.

Stay tuned, I guess.


12:39 PM  
Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

It sounds as if his detractors on this appearance are more dismayed than tempted to do something immoral.

Is it safe to conclude you've run out of arguments, Todd?

4:57 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

"It sounds as if his detractors on this appearance are more dismayed than tempted to do something immoral."

I'm probably dense, but I'm not sure what you mean, Todd. Why would I be tempted to do something immoral in connection with this visit?

I won't be there with a video camera, by the way! I'm home waiting for my dinner to finish cooking, then off to grade more papers. Ah, the life of a teacher - even on a "day off".

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original question: does this cause scandal. As Rich wrote, scandal must, by definition, potentially induce somebody to do something morally wrong. I suppose one might interpret his internet stalking as morally wrong, so maybe Lee has a point.

But the question is a valid one: does John Dear's appearance cross the line to a moral problem, or does it just give succor to the "enemy," as it were? It's a tough question for you, Rich, but take the last shot at it: moral danger for you or just ticked off?


11:39 PM  
Blogger Interstate Catholic said...

I would respectfully disagree with Clare. The vast majority of Spiritus Christi parishioners are the same people that left Corpus Christi Church 10 years ago.

The majority of their parishioners who are catholic still consider themselves Roman Catholic.

To the Roman Catholics there, I can only encourage them to come home!

1:59 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Rich, Todd, please don't use this as a place to throw barbs at each other (unless that internet stalking comment was aimed at me!).

Stick to the topic at hand: Fr. Dear's talking at Spiritus.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

One danger in his talking is that he is giving the impression to the people there that what they are doing is right.

I think some of the people really don't understand the implications of belonging to Spiritus.

Hey, if a Catholic prest feels free to help us celebrate, then there must be nothing wrong.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interstate Catholic,
That's why I said many, not most. I don't know actual numbers of old vs. new parishioners, I just know that when I attend mass I see more new faces than familiar. (I was away at college and then living in Buffalo for a total of 7 years, so I missed a good chunk of time at Spiritus. I was, however, there for the crisis and formation of Spiritus.)

I really doubt that most people think we're Roman Catholic. I don't know if you've ever attended a Spiritus mass, but there are quite a few glaring differences between our mass and a traditional Roman Catholic mass. Church leaders do not claim that we are Roman Catholic, and while I haven't done a comprehensive poll, I know that everyone I know there definitely does not consider themselves Roman Catholic.

Before anyone tries, I am not interested in returning to the Roman Catholic Church, but thanks for your concern.


PS: I emailed Mom to see if she attended last night (I did not) and to see if Fr. Dear did say mass. I'll let you know what she says.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, I heard back from mom. He did not say mass, just gave a talk about pacifism.


12:27 PM  
Blogger Interstate Catholic said...

I will take your word on the parishioners, since you attend that church.
Denise Donato and Mary Rammerman were ordained by Bishop Hickman of the Old Catholic Church, so they can no longer be considered Roman Catholic.
I wonder about Jim Callan though.

2:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He visited a church near me on November 9th as well.

This church is nationally known for this sort of thing, it's a disgrace to faithful Catholics everywhere.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Ritaclare said...

It's hard to believe that there was such controversy about a Roman Catholic priest coming to speak at a Catholic church about his book, "A Persistent Peace". And this was immoral???

Let's ask ourselves what is more immoral? Working for peace in this world or worrying that non-Roman Catholics will pollute Roman Catholics? I'll work for peace. I doubt that God will ask me what religion I belonged to when I die.

I attended Fr. John Dear's talk at Spiritus Christi Church last Nov. As a matter of fact I worked on the Peace Committee of this church to bring him in to talk with us. He's a great teacher.

As a lay Franciscan, you might benefit from reading "Christ in Evolution" by Ilia Delio, OSF. The bottom line is that relationships are the way to know God. If you don't have a deep, deep relationship with God, all the dogma in the world won't help much. This deep relationship with God allows you to open up to others of different religious/value backgrounds, to develop relationships with them, to listen to their truths, and to return to your religious background stronger for the new knowledge. Because you see, the Christ resides in everything and everyone of the, there's a thought! Diversity of knowledge doesn't divide; it unites.

As a long time member of Spiritus Christi and Corpus Christi I am personally offended by lay Franciscan Lee Strong's words. I am sure he won't be apologizing anytime soon, but just maybe he'll read the book:)

3:55 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I have no problem with Fr. Dear speaking at a Catholic Church. I've also read some of his books - I even own one.

But Spiritus Christi is not a Catholic Church - it is a schismatic one that caused great scandal and much pain. That it the problem here.

4:27 PM  

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