Monday, 19 May 2014

If the church were Christian . . . .

“While many denominations claim to be growing, the largest group in American religious life is the disillusioned – people who have been involved in the church yet see few similarities between the church’s life and the person of Jesus.  In the midst of elaborate programming, professional worship teams, and political  crusades, they ask, “Is this really what Jesus called us to do?”  - Philip Gulley 

Building on my previous blog ‘Into the Spiritual Wilderness’, so begins the flyleaf to Philip Gulley’s book “If the Church Were Christian – Rediscovering the Values of Jesus’, (2010). Diana Butler Bass, author of 'Christianity for the Rest of Us’ endorses the author’s effort as she declares “In an age of shouting, Gulley gently points out the flaws in the church while opening ways to practise Christian spirituality with greater integrity.  If the church were, as Philip Gulley envisions here, people would be knocking down our doors to experience God’s love.”

In this blog I have deliberately ‘borrowed’ Mr. Gulley’s ten chapter subheadings each beginning with “If the Church Were Christian . . . . . and  inserted my own or personal observations which you can read here.  While it was not my intent to usurp Mr. Gulley’s writings, which are much more elaborate and definitive, but simply to express my own thoughts and ideas in answer to each of these ten headings.   In that way I would ask each reader here to consider how they in-turn might answer each item according to their own and particular understanding.  In so doing Philip Gulley’s book can become an inter-active exercise toward building Jesus’ greater inclusive Kingdom here on earth.  

If the church were Christian, Jesus would be a model for living, not an object of worship.

The Gospels (see esp. Luke 9:1-6) are quite clear as to how we are to preach the Good News. Note that Jesus reminded his disciples to take nothing with them but only preach about the Kingdom of God and heal the sick. Nowhere do we read in the scriptures that this task should demand an exclusive membership to a particular religion or more precisely to adopt his Jewish religion. Jesus does not demand that we must follow and accept any fixed dogma or doctrine. Instead the role of a true disciple is merely to invite others to follow or imitate the life of Jesus.  We worship (praise or adore) whenever we imitate Christ.      

If the church were Christian, affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness.
Again and again the gospels remind us that God is more interested in our potential than our sins. There are no sins from which we cannot be forgiven whenever we are willing to ask. Jesus came to heal our brokenness and said that he came to save the sinner not the self-righteous.      

If the church were Christian, reconciliation would be valued over judgment.
Many of us were taught that we are somehow separate from God. Yet, we would not be here if God the Creator of all things and matter were not present in ALL people. Jesus came so that ALL - not some - may be reconciled with the Father. God’s judgment has everything to do with restoration and being filled with God’s unconditional love, not with punishment.

If the church were Christian, gracious behavior would be more important than right belief.
God reads hearts not minds.  As Kingdom people we must learn to accept people where they are not where we would have them be.  Right actions will lead us to right beliefs. All life is about change - nothing in our expanding universe remains static.

If the church were Christian, inviting questions would be more important than supplying answers.
Faith is a gift from God – not from a religious institution. “Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” – Brené Brown.  Faith is not a mystery to be defined but rather a mystery to be experienced  and addressed to our own unique and personal needs and questions.

If the church were Christian, encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity.
"We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race." – Kofi Annan
“Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” -  Albert Einstein

If the church were Christian, meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions.
Then Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.  Mark 2:27

 If the church were Christian, peace would be more important than power.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” - John 14:27

If the church were Christian, it would care more about love and less about sex.
Jesus said “I came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it”. The question Christians should ask is, “fulfil it with what?”  And they would know that we need to interpret the law with our hearts, not our heads.  
If the church were Christian, this life would be more important than the afterlife.

Many Christians may have been mistakenly taught that they had to earn their way into heaven. If that were so, then none of us would make it.  However, God so loves the world that he cannot share his heavenly realm without every one of his Creations for even a minute. When we come to realize God’s unconditional love in this context we can truly begin to live our life in the present without fear of the future.

In addition to Mr. Gulley's insights into all of these ten observations, his book includes a special chapter dedicated to 'Discussion Questions' to help readers explore and evaluate each chapter.  You can visit Philip Gulley's website here

Sunday, 11 May 2014


If  you are among the many people caught in a 'spiritual wilderness' you might just want to listen to  what pastor Troy Watson of Quest Christian Community recently had to say about  the possible direction religion may take us in the 21st. Century.

The following article by Pastor Watson first appeared in the St. Catharines, Ontario Standard on April 5th. this year and is hereby reproduced in full on-line with his kind permission.    

Into the spiritual wilderness

Special to The Standard – Saturday, April 5, 2014

Over the past few years, I've been inundated with stories, statistics, articles, books and documentaries chronicling the mass migration of people leaving the Church.
          The response of "church loyalists" to this phenomenon of church abandonment has been all over the map. Some are angry while others are afraid. Some are in denial while others are grieving. Some blame contemporary culture, secular universities, the media, postmodernism or anything else under the sun (except themselves) while others desperately try to adapt and attract people to their church by incorporating more technology, pop culture and socially "relevant" issues and causes into their gatherings and programming.
          Some churches are asking tough questions about the evolving role of the church in our new world and have begun experimenting with new ways of being church. Others are convinced the solution is found in getting back to the old "tried and true" ways of the past.
          It seems the only common ground in virtually all churchgoing folk's response to the decline in Canadian church attendance, is that we need to — get people back to church. But this assumption might be causing us to miss the bigger picture. What is most important and most interesting in this unsettling season for Christianity, is discerning where God's Spirit is during this mass exodus.
          In the Exodus story in the Bible, God calls Moses to liberate the Hebrew people enslaved and oppressed in Egypt so that they may worship God in the wilderness. I can't help but wonder if there are correlations here.
Are the millions of Christians who are leaving the Church abandoning God? Or is something else going on? Are these people rebelling against their Creator or embarking on a journey into the unknown and the unfamiliar in attempts to reconnect with Divine Spirit and renew their faith and spiritual life? Could it be that the Church has become Pharaoh and the oppressive ancient Egyptian regime for some people and the Holy Spirit, like Moses, is beckoning them into the wilderness to worship their true God? What a sobering thought. That God's Spirit might be saying to the Church,. "Let my people go, so that they may worship Me in the wilderness." (Exodus 7:16).
          For many ex-churchgoers, the Divine Spirit has literally called them into the wilderness, into the healing beauty of nature, to be still and know God. Away from all the noise, consumerism and busyness of work, life and church. I empathize with this. As I get older, spending time in solitude, surrounded by nature, has become essential to my own spiritual wellbeing and sanity. Of course, equally important to my faith and spiritual growth is being part of a community, experiencing togetherness, spiritual friendship and serving others. But do we need "church" for this? I suppose that depends on how we define church.
So what makes a community a church? Do people have to sing together? Do they have to gather on Sundays? Does everyone have to the same doctrine?
I believe many of our current versions of church will become extinct over the 21st century. As a pastor who makes his living through the current church paradigm, I may very well belong to one of these extinct versions of church. On some levels this concerns me but I hope my faith In God will give me the courage to let go of my desire for certainty, security and familiarity and kindle in me a willingness to follow wherever the Holy Spirit is moving. Even if that is away from Church as I know it.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Narcissists and Pope Francis

Just days before Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope, he criticized the Vatican culture as one of narcissism. Speaking to reporters of the popular Italian press La Repubblica Pope Francis emphasized that "Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”[1] 
This staggering accusation by the future Pope Francis seems to suggest that he and the Vatican might finally be prepared to address the endemic and systemic issues which until now have remained hidden behind the sexual abuse and financial scandals of the Vatican Bank (Istituto per le Opere di Religione - IOR).

For many years experts, such as Richard A.W. Sipe, have stated that the sexual abuse and cover-up is central to clerical culture and its inherent narcissism. Is it possible that Pope Francis read the article by Sipe published in March of 2013 under the heading Spirituality andthe Culture of Narcissism'.[2]  Judge for yourself.  .
At an unprecedented summit convened in Rome at the behest of Pope Francis earlier this month, a Vatican official warned the treasurers of 500 Catholic orders from around the world that their financial wealth, sometimes used for secular, commercial purposes such as running hotels and restaurants, was contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church and imperils their religious mission. This new move by Francis, just one part of what many Catholics hope are wide-ranging financial reforms within the church, is driven by the pope’s concern that by engaging in modern economic activity, religious institutions “run the risk of losing their true identity.”  Watch the on-line documentary ‘Holy Money[3] presented by CBC’s ‘The Passionate Eye’ as they investigate the financial scandals rocking the Catholic Church & the efforts of Pope Francis to clean up the Vatican’s multi-billion-dollar business dealings amid accusations of money laundering, corruption, and misuse of donations here.

A year has gone by since Pope Francis took over leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.  His growing popularity and humble manner has been unmistakable.  Hardly a week goes by when 'Il Papa' does not provide the world with some example of what is means to live a simple Christian life despite the fact that he operates out of an extra-ordinary religious institution which can hardly be called simple.   
Many are now asking is this Pope is finally going to bring about the necessary changes that would restore trust in a much tainted institution?  Is this the Pope who will finally tackle the church’s most challenging issues such as contraception, divorce, women in the church, abortion, celibacy, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage?  Is this the Pope who will finally address and listen to the People of God?  Or, is this a Pope who will ultimately be forced to defer to his immediate advisers?   The latter seems more likely according to his German critics.   
The German weekly tabloid Der Spiegel in an article ‘The Pope’s Sex Problem‘’ [4] takes issue with the Synod of Bishops’ questionnaire ‘Catholic Family Values Survey’.  This hurried document, blessed by Pope Francis, which hardly saw the light of day in most parishes, will be dealt with almost exclusively by an all male and celibate jury in October of this year.  Disappointed Catholics will ultimately see this as a return to the conservative style of Pope Benedict.    
Critics derisively refer to Pope Francis's approach as "Papastroika, as if he were opening the Church like Mikhail Gorbachev opened the Soviet Union. That, as we now know, ended in chaos. But it should be noted that, unlike Gorbachev, Francis has yet to modify or eliminate a single relevant rule or regulation in his realm.
Those who have put their hopes in Pope Francis will need to realize that he is faced with some enormous challenges not the least of which have all been shrouded in centuries of secrecy and intrigue inside an established patriarchal hierarchy such as the Roman Curia that unfortunately sees itself as far above and beyond the $ 1.2 billion followers it is called to serve.  It will probably take more than just one man to make the necessary changes and before it can return the institution to the trusted place it once held. It will probably take more than one man to remove the narcissist from the papal court.              

Monday, 17 March 2014

Human Suffering & God

RELIGION often puts the cart before the horse, GRACE puts the horse back in front. – Richard Rohr, on Radical Grace     

It was unfortunate that Origen was declared anathema in 553 CE since it was he who was among the first to recognize our Divine Indwelling when he said “Who among those who have read the Gospels does not know that Christ makes human suffering his own?” Had Origen’s understanding of God’s divine indwelling been accepted from the beginning others might have viewed this world in a completely different context or light. No doubt this would have allowed all of us, to quote Richard Rohr, “to connect the dots better when considering human suffering.”

God’s Divine Indwelling clearly implies that “this life is not about us but about God experiencing Himself or Herself through all of us individually and indeed within and throughout all of Creation”.  That profoundly illustrates that any pain, suffering, or joy we experience – God also experiences that with us.  The knowledge that God is within the soul of each human being should provide us with the comfort of knowing that we are not alone; and journeys with us every part of the way from the Alpha to the Omega.  Accepting that God is present within and throughout all of Creation may be the first step necessary for understanding the significance of our True and False (ego) self.  Only God’s unconditional love incorporates and accepts both positive and negative aspects of our human nature.  To try and understand this radical definition of God’s unconditional love is almost maddening.  But Julian of Norwich expressed this best as follows: 
“Humans see some deeds as good and others as evil, but our Lord doesn’t see things like this; for everything is given its nature by God and so all that is done is done by God.  It is easy to understand that the best of deeds is well done, but the least of deeds is as well done as the best, for all things happen in the way and order that our Lord has ordained for them from beginningless time; for there is no doer but Him.”
This same radical understanding of God’s unconditional Love was recently wonderfully expressed by Mirabai Starr[1] in these words:
 “When we make mistakes and create suffering, we humble ourselves and God loves us all the more.  For those of us non-Christian and post-modern types, try substituting the word sin for shame, or blame, or even karma.  In other words, we screw up, but that only opens the tender heart of the cosmos where we can find refuge and come back into wholeness.”    
Now our suffering, such as from addictions, can be approached in terms of God’s desire to bring us to wholeness through his healing love.  This unconditional love not only brings us forgiveness and the awareness of the ability to forgive, but also allows us to transform the addiction into a blessing to freely love God, others and myself.  Rohr reminds me such a transformation can only be truly achieved by turning verbal orthodoxy into orthopraxy.

It has taken me at least ten years or more to understand the full significance behind the True Self/False Self as it was first explained by Fr. Rohr at a two day conference in Cleveland, OH. sometime around 2004?  What a blessing his insights that help us Breathe Under Water- Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (2011) have proven to be for all those burdened with addictions and other trials. 

In the face of so much continuing pain and suffering in the world and because we still ask “why does God not do something about it?”  We only need to accept that God does do something about it every day – he created you and me.  We only need to activate the God within -  the True self, or higher self if you prefer.  Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) understood this perfectly well; almost 500 years ago when she said:      

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. 

Finally below you will find Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, coincidentally for today, which may help to explain why the False self with a dualistic mind is unable to process such things as human suffering, etc.,  

Dualistic Thinking – The Egoic Operating System
Dualistic thinking, or the egoic operating system, as Cynthia Bourgeault calls it, is our way of reading reality from the position of my private ego. “What’s in it for me?” “How will I look if I do this?” This is our preferred way of seeing reality. It has become the “hardware” of almost all Western people, even those who think of themselves as Christians, because the language of institutional religion is largely dualistic itself. It is a way of teaching that has totally taken over in the last five hundred years. It has confused information with enlightenment, mind with soul, and thinking with experiencing. But they are two very different paths.
The dualistic mind is essentially binary. It is either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, by opposition, by differentiation. It uses descriptive words like good/evil, pretty/ugly, intelligent/stupid, not realizing there may be 55 or 155 degrees between the two ends of each spectrum. It works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or even honest experience.
Actually, you need your dualistic mind to function in everyday life: to do your job as a teacher, a doctor, or an engineer. It is great stuff as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, death, or love. When it comes to unconditional love, the dualistic mind can’t even begin to understand it. It pulls everything down into some kind of tit-for-tat system of worthiness and achievement, which is largely what “fast food religion” teaches, usually without even knowing it.

[1] Mirabai Starr, All Will be Well:  The Radical Optimism of Julian Norwich,

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


When I first started hearing about the sexual abuse scandal within Roman Catholic community I hoped  that it might present a perfect opportunity for the religious institution to address this secretive and universal issue out of the dark into God’s healing light’.  What a disappointed it has turned out to be and unfortunately still is. 

So what are the obstacles that the Church still needs to overcome?  Only an independent expert who understands the workings of the Roman Catholic institution could answer that question.  Such an expert is A.W. Sipe a much respected &  recognized Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor who earlier spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest. He was trained specifically to deal with the mental health problems of Roman Catholic Priests. 

Richard Sipe’s treatise  ‘Sex & Abuse by Catholic Clergy - Past, Present & future offers a window of hope for the Church and its victims that must not be ignored. 
Should Pope Francis adopt its insight, recommendations and vision the church may finally begin the long process of restoring a broken trust. 
I am greatly indebted and blessed to receive Richard Sipe’s permission to reproduce the above mentioned article, in full as follows: 



Plenary Session July 27, 2013

by A.W. SIPE

PAST: Putting sexual abuse in perspective.

 Sexual abuse of minors is not a recent phenomenon; the reality of clergy sexual activity has existed, as long as there have been priests and bishops.

  Church documents from the earliest centuries record the ideal of religious celibacy and its violations. (Cf. Doyle, Sipe & Wall 2006)
There is an element of basic asceticism in the practice of religious celibacy—the imitation of Jesus in having nothing: not a place “to lay his head”; poverty by choice; and forsaking all-family relationships in order to be like Jesus. Treating others as Jesus did was the object of the discipline. This ideal was found especially in the earliest monks of the desert.
But the other side of the coin is the corruption of the ideal. In our time, publicity about abuse has refocused our knowledge of the frequency of sexual violations by clergy and the horrendous and long lasting damage done to victims.

Purity was thought to be the source of clerical power.

Sexual abuse of minors does not stand alone within clerical culture. It is a symptom—and always has been—of a corrupt system of  double lives and duplicity that reaches from local parishes to the Vatican; it destroys the myth of clerical purity. The whole idea that clergy practice celibacy has imploded.

Celibate practice of clerics (even the appearance of it) gave early Christians considerable power. The early institution attempted to “bottle” this element of power as early as the 4th  Century. (Cf. Council of Elvira 309 C.E.) That earliest council record dealt explicitly with many sexual aberrations of the clergy. By the way, records of the Desert Fathers also include accounts of their sexual struggles including some accounts of violations of minors by “holy” men.

The institution wrestled for centuries to control its clergy and its property. This process of consolidating power—political, religious and temporal—was furthered by three medieval church manoeuvres:

1.) In 1049 C.E. St. Peter Damian wrote to Pope Leo IX and decried the prevalence of sexual abuse by clergy that he called “criminal vice” and said it was epidemic. (Letter 31) Even then he encouraged the pope to have zero tolerance and have offending priests reduced to the lay state. The pope was more tolerant and thought that was too stringent and said steps should be taken only if the behavior was persistent.

2.) Mandating in 1139 C.E. (1074) that all men ordained to the Roman priesthood had to make a prior promise of “perfect and perpetual chastity that involved celibacy, (non marriage). The rule was never very successful. Deprived of a chance to marry a majority of the clergy continued to have sexual companions.  [Even in the 1960s Jesuit sociologist Joseph Fichter estimated that 30% of priests in Germany were living intimately with women.] Although statistics are hard to come by sophisticated estimates from scholars around the world do not support a vigorous practice of celibacy, from cardinals to parish priests.

3.) In 1215 C.E. The IV Lateran Council proclaimed that everyone had to confess his/her mortal sins to a priest in the private and personal sacrament of penance at least once a year. Every sexual thought word desire and action constituted a mortal sin according to church teaching. We were all taught this in grade school.

Control by guilt and shame forms powerful and destructive shackles for priests and people. The chasm between the law imposed by Vatican decree and the practice of the clergy renders the teaching unbelievable. Essentially the priest is touted as another Christ (Cf. statement from IV Lateran) ... 

”Confession is the only ordinary way to receive the forgiveness of God for serious (mortal) sins, which if unforgiven, condemn a person to Hell. The Church teaches that Catholic priests have been given the authority by God to exercise the forgiveness of sins here on earth and it is in God's name by which the person confessing is forgiven. In theological terms, the priest acts in persona Christi and receives from the Church the power of jurisdiction over the penitent.”

The reason I point out these dates is to show how the church tried to expand its control over human sexuality in priests and people, at the same time it countenanced corruption and constructed structures that were dangerous under the guise of pastoral care.

Personal confession was and is a precarious site for domination and potential sexual abuse of the vulnerable. I wish that I had kept a record of the number of cases in which confession was the occasion for a violating cleric to target his victim.

PRESENT: Abuse knows no social, economic, ethnic or religious boundaries. You are one important voice among many suffering to be heard and healed; crying not only for your own torturous experiences but to support and protect children and the vulnerable to prevent them from the trauma you know only too well.

 The work that abuse survivors, their supporters, lawyers, and press do is tremendously valuable beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.

Your witness is now taken seriously. The clergy victim/survivors movement contributes to the understanding of the dynamics of minor abuse in every other cultural system from the family to colleges to the military and beyond the U.S. This makes you valuable.

You are real. You are telling the forbidden truth. Sexual abuse and cover-up is central to clerical culture and its inherent narcissism. The future cannot sustain a culture that effectively: hates women, imposes impossible and irrational sexual standards extols itself as unerring.
Sex is the core problematic issue for religion in our time. The sexual agenda that trips up the church was defined by Wm. Shea already in 1986: "family life, divorce & remarriage, premarital & Sex is the core problematic issue for religion in our time. The sexual agenda that trips up the church was defined by Wm. Shea already in 1986: "family life, divorce & remarriage, premarital & extra marital sex, birth control, abortion, , homosexuality (same-sex marriage), masturbation, women in ministry  (& their ordination to the priesthood) & the male monopoly on power."

This morass requires not a simple tweak, but a Copernican shift to address it. The basis on which the institution of the church builds its sexual is false. We must be part of the solution.

FUTURE. What is a vision for the future? Pope Francis has already said that "Ecclesiastical Narcissism" is one of the fundamental sources of the current corruption in the church.

He said that four days before his election as pope in an address to the cardinals. He is correct in identifying it as the Church’s fundamental illness. Certainly narcissism—self-interest—is at the root of abuse of the vulnerable and the pattern and practice of covering up violations to preserve image and money.

Certainly ecclesiastical agencies and power have not been proactive but strongly resistant to coming to grips with the crisis of clerical abuse. Every action they have taken has been reactive and largely continues in every possible way.
We can divorce ourselves from the institutional church all we want, but we cannot shake our own narcissism so easily. We need to support honest and reform anywhere we find it.

 AU Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s voice is worth hearing and his call for a Council is brave and prophetic. Rare in the hierarchy.

The Capuchins of Milwaukee have been unique and bold in their efforts to review the records of all their personnel.

Our own integrity is our primary concern and responsibility. But integrity does exist even in the midst of corruption. Seek, find, and support the reformation of an institution that is sexually and financially distorted. Truth will out.

 The long-term adverse effects of early trauma are physical/medical, psychological and spiritual. (cf. ACE Study-adverse childhood events) As you know those effects can be dire.

Sexual trauma or betrayal by a clergy person often leaves deep scars that sometimes necessarily involve the rejection of the structure of any church and hierarchy. (23.9 % of Americans raised as Roman Catholic no longer claim this as their faith. One in five Americans claim “none” as their religious preference. Cf Pew Forum on Religion.)

No one can fault anyone for rejecting Catholicism.  Co-lateral victims—family, friends, advocates and many Roman Catholic lawyers—have testified: “I can no longer believe in the Catholic Church.” 

The moral credibility of the institution has been so deeply compromised that it is empty. An institution that cannot tell the truth about itself has nothing to say.

Individuals of integrity exist (they are not generally the hierarchy of the Church).
But the need for non-clerical spirituality continues and can be found.

We can exist without a church, without rules and without dogmas.

We cannot exist without spirituality. One of the great leaders of the 20th  Century said: “We must find some spiritual basis for living, else we die.” (Bill W)

This discussion will explore ways of healing and fulfilment that go beyond institutions and clerical control.


  •    We need powers beyond ourselves. Awareness that we are not spiritually self-sufficient is essential to a spiritual life. 
  •     It takes daily attention in mindfulness or meditation.    
  •     Honesty is necessary for any spirituality.        
  •     Empathy, gratitude and forgiveness are also required. 
  •    A system or group of like-minded people may be helpful. The 12 steps demonstrated by AA is one of the most profound spiritual programs ever devised.         
  •    Spirituality is beyond rules and dogmas. It is an internal process that will demonstrate itself to others on the outside. St. Augustine in his confessions articulates the core of his personal spirituality: It is an internal relationship that is not institutionally confined: 

     Late have I loved you, Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things that you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace. (St. Augustine, Confessions)
 Richard Sipe's complete professional profile and his many insightful articles can be found on-line here or at

Monday, 3 March 2014

Pope Francis on Divorce & Remarriage

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis offered the pastors of the Catholic Church guidance on how to interpret traditional teaching concerning marriage and family life. One principle was that “the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives”. 
The Catholic News Service on Feb. 27 quoted retired Cardinal Walter Kasper  addressing the world's cardinals “ The Catholic Church needs to find a way to offer healing, strength and salvation to Catholics whose marriages have failed, who are committed to making a new union work and who long to do so within the church and with the grace of Communion.”  He went on to say “Jesus' teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage is clear, the retired German cardinal said, and it would harm individuals and the church to pretend otherwise, and one cannot propose a solution different from or contrary to the words of Jesus".

  Now perhaps we can understand why the Catholic News mentioned that the Vatican did not want to publish the Cardinal’s text but they somehow mysteriously obtained a copy.

Kasper’s biblical interpretation on the question of ‘divorce’ had already been challenged previously by many others.  For example Catholic theologian Hans Kűng last year (November 2013) challenged the biblical quote used by Kasper by reflecting on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium as follows: 
  The Christians of the New Testament did not understand Jesus’ words on divorce as a law but as an ethical directive. The failure of a marriage obviously did not correspond to what men and women were created for. Only dogmatic rigidity, however, cannot take seriously that already in the days of the Apostles, Jesus’ words on divorce were applied with a certain flexibility, namely in cases of “porneia/unchastity” (cf. Matthew 5:32; 19:9) and when a Christian and a nonbeliever separated (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15). Already in the Early Church, one was obviously aware that there were situations when a further life together was unacceptable. However, to assume that remarried divorcees in general just casually and light-heartedly gave up their first marriages for trivial reasons is malicious. There is no more bitter experience than the failure of a love relationship on which one has set the hopes of a lifetime. In view of the millions of Catholics the world over nowadays who, although they are members of the Church, cannot take part in its sacramental life, it is of little help to keep quoting one Vatican document after the other without convincingly answering the decisive question as to why there should be no forgiveness just for this particular failure. Hasn’t the Magisterium already failed miserably as far as contraception is concerned and thus been unable to assert itself in the Church? A similar failure in the question of divorce should be avoided at all costs.

While the contradiction is strikingly obvious but the reasons behind it are not.  An editorial from the ‘The Tablet’ a U.K. Catholic weekly suggest that the conservative views held be Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller the Prefect to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) may still carry considerable influence among his supporters within the Vatican.   The Tablet goes on to say “worried observers are already asking whether Pope Emeritus Ratzinger is in fact operating as a kind of “shadow Pope” behind the scenes through Archbishop Müller and perhaps Francis confirmed him in office quite to soon.”

And Pope Francis?  Hans Kűng thinks the troubling issue rests with the Pope as he wrestles with a church that for too long has resisted change because:
  •    For many the situation is self-contradictory – on the one side, church reform and on the other, remarried divorcees.
  •      The Pope wants to move forward – the CDF prefect puts on the brakes.
  •    The Pope has actual people in mind – the prefect above all has traditional Catholic doctrine in mind.
  •    The Pope wants to practise mercy – the prefect appeals to God’s holiness and justice.

While the issue of divorce is stoking a spirited debate between Catholic cardinals and revealing the challenges and expectations for Pope Francis after his promises to put the Church more in touch with modern life.  The expectations for many Catholic divorced and remarried couples may have to put on hold for just a little bit longer.

Friday, 28 February 2014


Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: "Let my people go ... Exodus 9:1
Since it first appeared, this blog carried the banner ‘Religion fails whenever it sees itself as a necessary intermediary to God.’ Although it was originally aimed specifically at the dangers of ‘institutionalizing religion’ I also realized that we have a personal responsibility to ensure that God’s gift of faith is constantly fed and nurtured within the greenhouse of our being. St. Paul calls that our spiritual temple (1 Cor. 6:19). It cannot simply continue to grow if we limit or compare our spiritual growth to others.  Each one of us is a unique individual, with a unique role to play when we pray for the bringing forth of Thy kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.’

For some time now it occurred to me that God’s gift of faith can be easily thwarted if we do not challenge our understanding of God’s unconditional love.  How do I limit that gift if I surrender my obligation to an  intermediate? Or should I surrender my obligation directly through the Creator who lives within the depth of each human soul?  Before the ‘institution’ was ever built Jesus simply said “follow me, I am the way”!   Accordingly, the role of the institution, as I see it, is to lead us to Jesus, and then let us go to be part of  an all inclusive community. 

Is it possible that the institution would collapse without our support?  If so, what will it be replaced with?  The familiar aphorism “Nature abhors a vacuum” will no doubt apply in such a scenario.  Who and what would fill that void?  One thing is for certain God will not suspend his grace upon the world.  Does Christian scripture not remind us “that we are ALL children of our Father in heaven?  That He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.? It is our personal response to God's grace and sharing that gift with others that really matters. 
The basic problem with institutional religion is that it seems to be pre-occupied with competing with other religions.  Just consider the various Christian denominations.   It is estimated that there are more than 41,000[1] Christian denominations in the world today.  If these communities cannot agree upon which group holds the exclusive rights to ‘Truth’ then how do we ever hope to understand another 42,000 [2]denominations of various non-Christian religions and spiritual beliefs?  Is this a problem for God, or is it simply a problem that ignores the unique understanding of each human being? 

One of Pope Francis’ first homilies, to his flock in May of 2013, warned that “some Christians establish the eighth sacrament “of pastoral customs” when they insist on protocol instead of seeking to meet spiritual needs [3].  He concluded his homily by asking everyone to think about “the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus and we think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door they close the door of goodwill ... So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open, open to meet this love of Jesus. We ask this grace.”  Surely this God given grace must apply to all people and all of the world’s religious institutions?
There is little question that  competing religious institutions continue to divide people and communities.  And, to the extent that it continues to bring much misery and suffering among humankind.   Is it simply because religious institutions seem to demand a common and fixed understanding rather than a shared diversity?   Should religious institutions remain as expressions of an exclusive and competing faith institution rather than that of a universal community reflecting the unconditional love of a Creator who accepts All people were they are – not where others would have them be?  I know its probably a silly dream.  But a dream we will ALL come to realize sooner or later.
In the meantime perhaps it is time for all of the world’s religious institutions to introduce a brand new vision of what it means to love God, our neighbour and especially our self, in the form of a Sacrament that allows people to discover their unique God given diversity rather than any false conformity – so that ALL may become as One!  I would call that, in Roman Catholic terms  the 'eighth sacrament'
To Let my people go, and let thy Kingdom come,often seems like a bit of wishful thinking  but let us together consider the alternative.