My World of Religion, Politics, Entertainment and Social Issues

If you are visiting my blog, expecting to see 'Toward a Progressive Catholic Church,' I have changed my title to reflect my wide assortment of interests. Having retired from my secular job, I hope to devote the rest of my life to my hobbies, ministries and perhaps a part-time job that makes good use of my communications skills. This blog will be designed to address my multi-faceted interests.

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Location: Rochester, New York, United States

I have an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divinity) from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. I am currently a media consultant and promoter of classical music. I am also certified as an officiant by the Federation of Christian Ministries for baptisms, weddings and funerals and minister independently of the Rochester Diocese. My life has encompassed many interesting paths: broadcasting, free-lance writing, video-production, music, ministry and a secular job in government. In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube site at www.youtube.com/priestray and I have a Facebook page.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Fortunate to be in Rochester

There are many days that I contemplate leaving Rochester in favor of a warmer climate. This may indeed a possibility for me as I move closer to my retirement years. Yet, I must say, from a Roman Catholic perspective, that I am fortunate to be in the Rochester Diocese, due in large part to the 'pastoral' leadership of Bishop Matthew Clark. Being in another diocese with an ultra-conservative bishop would be problematic at best. (One only has to read daily newspapers to gain a sense of how much turmoil and discontent there are in many dioceses throughout the United States and beyond.)

If you have read some of my web articles, you are aware of the fact that I am an advocate for inclusivity in the Roman Catholic priesthood. In many dioceses, priests who have entered into marriage are allowed to do no more than sit in pews on any given Sunday. They are not allowed to be eucharistic ministers, lectors, serve on committees or teach. Furthermore, many were forced to move out of their originating communities, so as not to cause scandal for the faithful (a rationale often cited by bishops). Part of my recent decision to pull out of my parish liturgical ministries (at least temporarily) is due to my desire to be in solidarity with those who are excluded from the table because of flawed church policies.

In many dioceses, there are still no altar girls. Furthermore, women are not allowed to touch sacred vessels, and in some dioceses, women lectors are rare. (I wonder what Jesus would think about this!) To add insult to injury, even when women are occasionally granted permission to preach by their bishops (unfortunately rare), enterprising conservatives in the pews write hateful letters to the Vatican.

In many dioceses, priests, deacons, women religious and parish employees are not allowed to speak out when their bishops act inappropriately, under penalty of what is often referred to as 'canonical punishments.' Furthermore, diocesan newspapers are not allowed to print alternate views to existing church policies. (When reformers such as myself are shut out of diocesan newspapers, we have no choice but to take our writings to mainstream media outlets.)

A well-known theologian recently stated the following to me: "You are very fortunate to have Matthew Clark in Rochester. He is a saint amongst bishops." I must agree with this assessment. Sadly, the days of pastoral bishops are coming to an end, especially considering our current pontiff was the former head of the notorious Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the office of the Inquisition).

Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Ratzinger) has stated that he would rather have a smaller church if necessary. He just might have his wish come true when members of the faithful who seek more inclusivity take the exit door. (I still have hope that the Holy Spirit will give Benedict XVI some much-needed advice.)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Notes on Papal Funeral/MSNBC Inquiry

I watched the funeral of John Paul II this morning and was admittedly very moved. It served as a reminder that as much as I loved the man for the world peace he worked tirelessy for, it is simply a shame that he wasn't more open to the roles of women, married men and gays in the church.

As the pontiff's casket was brought before the throngs of people gathered for this morning's Mass, there was thunderous applause (applause well-deserved). When the funeral was over, commentators puzzled over a daunting question: who could possibly step into his shoes?

If the election had been yesterday, the likely successor would have been Cardinal Ratzinger or Cardinal Arinze (both ultra-conservative). However, the momentum for an italian pope continues to build, which means that it could be entirely possible that the conclave will be inspired to elect Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan. Christoph Schoenborn of Austria is being mentioned with increased frequency as well. (My hope still rests in Cardinal Danneels of Brussels. However, I would be O.K. with either Cardinal Terramanzi or Cardinal Schoenborn, for all three of these men are on record for supporting talks on optional celibacy.)

A reporter from MSNBC e-mailed me this morning. She noticed in an article I wrote that I would be opposed to the election of Cardinal Arinze. She wanted to know if I would support any candidate from the third world. My response was that I would be delighted to have a third world pope, as long as he was open to the possibilities of reform. Tragically, Cardinal Arinze made headlines two years ago when he announced he was convinced that condoms were not effective in preventing AIDS. (In the meantime, 25 million Africans are dying of the disease. My position is that Arinze's plea for abstinence is not having noticeable results.) Arinze has also publicly stated that he is not open to discussions on optional celibacy or the ordination of women.

As much as I loved John Paul II for his efforts toward world peace, there are lingering issues that need addressing. One of the little-known facts of Vatican II is that Pope John XXIII was open to discussion on the issue of optional celibacy. However, following his death, his successor (Paul VI) had a spokesman announce over the public address system that celibacy would not be discussed in the concluding sessions of the council. Tragically, John Paul II stifled the discussion as well.

While I continue to mourn the loss of John Paul II, I also pray that the next pontiff will take a close look at the current ministry needs of the church. As the number of Catholics continues to increase, the number of clergy is steadily decreasing. This is why I have been working tirelessly on the celibacy issue.

I will be patient and see what transpires during the conclave that convenes on April 18.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Pontificate of John Paul II

THE PONTIFICATE OF JOHN PAUL II
by Ray Grosswith, M.A., M.Div

I share in the world's sorrow as we mourn the loss of John Paul II. Because of my extensive writing during his papacy, I have naturally been asked by reporters to analyze the past 26 years.

Regretably, I never had an opportunity to sit down and chat with the late pontiff. If I had the honor, I have no doubt I would have found him to to be personable. Yet, at the same time, I am sure he would not have been pleased with my activities in the reform movement. Nevertheless, I wish the opportunity had presented itself for me to explain to him that the work I do is based upon the inclusive ministries modeled by Jesus. Sadly, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, under the pontificate of John Paul II, overturned many of the reform initiatives of Vatican II.

During this period of mourning, I wish with all my heart that I could give John Paul II a glowing review of his past 26 years as pope. However, if I am to give an honest assessment, I must list both the positives and negatives as follows:

There are areas where John Paul II has done extraordinarily well, and there are areas where he unfortunately turned the clock back to an earlier period.

A. THE POSITIVES

John Paul II has consistently been a champion of the cause for world peace. When all is said and done, historians will give him much credit for improved Jewish-Catholic relations and for his role in the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Although I have been critical of many of the pontiff's administrative policies, it has been difficult for me to become angry with him, for my Judeo-Christian roots serve as a reminder of the role he played as a young priest in the Polish underground during the period of Nazi occupation. (Many Jews today can attribute their lives to the heroic actions of John Paul II in World War II Poland.)

THE NEGATIVES

Sadly, John Paul II turned the clock back in terms of his treatment of women in the Church. Although he stopped short of declaring infallibly that women cannot be ordained, he nevertheless stated that this is a closed issue and that Catholics are not to discuss it. He would simply not listen to reason on this issue, even when history and theology were used as tools for discussion.

I am personally very upset that John Paul II would not discuss the issue of optional celibacy. Although married priests were a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church through the year 1139, John Paul II felt it was necessary to keep the policy of mandatory celibacy in place. This has placed the Eucharist in jeopardy, because there are simply not enough celibate clergy available to celebrate Mass for the increasing multitudes of Roman Catholics. (The current ratio is one priest per 3,500 Catholics throughout the world. Optional celibacy would solve this problem.)In conjunction with the celibacy issue, John Paul II was ruthless in his treatment of priests who entered into marriage. Not only were they stripped of their canonical ministries, but they were not allowed to participate in any parish lay ministries as well. Sadly, many married priests were also stripped of their pensions and were asked to move out of their dioceses. Consequently, our pontiff has made married priests feel as though they are common criminals, when in fact was all they did was follow their call to God-given relationships with their wives.

It was very disturbing for me to have John Paul II treat gays and lesbians as outcasts during his pontificate. Rather than exploring the sexual abuse crisis in an honest way, he chose to put the blame on homosexuality. Sadly, many in the gay and lesbian communities now feel ostracized by the Roman Catholic Church.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Although John Paul II was a champion of human rights throughout his pontificate, this justice unfortunately did not translate to increased roles for Catholic women, the acceptance of gay and lesbians, or discussion of the issue of optional celibacy for priests. The next pope will need to address these issues and work toward a church that is more inclusive.

MY REPORT CARD FOR JOHN PAUL II

1.) He gets an 'A' for his work toward world peace.

2.) He gets an 'A' for his work on Jewish-Catholic relations.

3.) He gets a 'B' for his relationship with cardinals and bishops.

4.) He gets a 'B' for his work on ecumenism.

5.) He gets a 'B-' for his relationship with the clergy (priests, deacons).

6.) He gets a 'B-' for his encyclicals.

7.) He gets a 'C' for his approach to liturgy.

8.) He gets a 'D' for his treatment/understanding of women.

9.) He gets a 'D' for his approachh to the modern world.

10.) He gets a 'D' for his work toward inclusivity in the church.

11.) He gets an 'E' for his treatment of gays and lesbians.

12.) He gets an 'E' for his treatment of priests who entered into marriage.

13.) He gets an 'E' for his understanding, or lack thereof, of the current ministry needs of the church.

By my calculations, the above makes John Paul II an average ('C') pope.

By all accounts, John Paul II was a very good man. I therefore have no doubt that the angels in heaven welcomed him with open arms. I simply pray that the next pontiff will return to the reform initiatives that were carefully crafted during the many sessions of Vatican II.