Category Archives: Church Commentary

Further Reflections on Clerical Dress for Deacons

Once and a while, you get lucky. So when a former key staffer for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops takes the time to comment on your blog, a simple thank you isn’t enough. Deacon William Ditewig, Ph.D. was kind enough to share these thoughts on my posts, Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar, and Forbidden to Wear the Roman Collar. Deacon Dietwig has authored ten books on the diaconate and lay ministry, and served as the head of the Bishops’ Secretariat for the Diaconate. His thought’s follow:

Lots of great thoughts here. If I may add my own two-cents’ worth?

This question is, first of all, not a new one. All the way back to 1968 when the US bishops first sought permission to renew the diaconate here in the United States, this was discussed. Remember that back then, the medieval “cursus honorum” was still in place with tonsure admitted a man to the clerical state, then the four minor orders, then the major order of subdeacon, and then the diaconate. Our first permanent deacons in this country went through all of that, since it didn’t go away until 1972! So in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, for example, we have some wonderful pictures of our first permanent deacons (ordained in 1971) wearing cassocks, collars and all the assorted vestments associated with the time. The collar, however, remained a sticking point, even from the beginning.

Baltimore's First Deacons
Baltimore’s First Deacons

The first negative experiences back then WERE based on confusion. The original permanent deacons in the early 1970s were actually considerably younger than many of our current ordinands: the age at ordination has been rising steadily over the decades. So, you had transitional deacons AND permanent deacons, both of whom could look quite young, out and about doing ministry. There WERE times when both sets of deacons would have to explain that they were not priests and couldn’t hear someone’s confession, and so forth.

But there’s something more significant at play here. I served for a number of years on the USCCB Staff, and one thing that I learned very clearly was that the bishops of a country — ANY country — do not like to generate particular national law whenever they can avoid it. The like to keep as much autonomy as they can so they can adapt things to the specific and very concrete needs of their diocese. This approach applies to ANYTHING, not just “deacons in collars.” Now, suppose there was a national policy that required deacons to wear collars. OK, fine. Got it. Now, imagine you’re a deacon in a remote diocese in the State of ________. There, the diocesan practice for the priests is that when they gather for anything outside of Mass, they are NOT in clericals. Then, here comes the deacon, following national law, and he’s the only cleric around who is. Who will be confused now? See, there’s no national law or practice on what PRIESTS are to wear either! The practice of wearing collars didn’t really catch on till the 20th century. Clerical attire is simply supposed to be “distinctive” attire, and it’s really only custom that has led to what we now have. So, bishops reasonably ask, “Why, when we don’t have a national law or policy on what our priests are supposed to wear, should we have one for deacons?”

Casual Priest Retreat
Casual Priest Retreat

During the preparation of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, one bishop recommended that the questions of “what deacons wear” should be determined by the bishops of each of the 15 episcopal regions (there are 14 geographical regions, plus one “region” for the Eastern Catholic Churchs). This got hooted off the floor very quickly. As one bishop told me later in the hallway, “We can’t decide by regions on what day to celebrate the Ascension? How would we ever decide what kind of shirt our deacons are wearing?”

The wearing of the grey clerical shirt (what we used to refer to for many years as “the St. Louis model,” because it seemed to originate there many, many years ago) is one way to go, but since many priests and other ministers of other faiths also wear multi-colored clericals, they don’t, ultimately, help all that much. Over the years, many designs have emerged. I would say that in my six years or so at the Conference, a new one would arrive about once a month. One was even a kind of clerical “dickie” that had a vertical stripe in the middle of the collar. Another was a collar without a notch; this was quickly vetoed by the bishops, however, because of complaints by many religious brothers who wear that kind of collar with their habits.

Colorful Collars

Seriously, after twenty-three years as a deacon, I’ve encountered every reason there is to wear a collar, and every reason why not to. Yes, I believe deacons should be readily identifiable as deacons of the Church in service to others. I also don’t like the fact that non-ordained seminarians wear clericals without question. That’s why I’ve always liked the policy that we have in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and which I’ve recommended to many bishops around the country: “If in the professional judgment of the deacon, the wearing of clerical attire will enhance his ministry, he may do so.”

All I can say is, “Hang in there; there are more important things to worry about!”

God bless,

Deacon Bill Ditewig

Reverend Know-It-All

Oh Wow. I just read the best article on religious education that I have read in a long, long time. I’m not usually one to shamelessly plug someone else’s articles, but you seriously need to check this out now. Here is a short excerpt to wet your appetite.

“In order to commit a mortal sin, a sin that severs one’s relationship to God, one must have sufficient knowledge that what they are doing is mortally sinful. Our kids come to Catholic schools and religious education where, presumably, they learn that it is a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass without a serious reason, such as illness or inability to travel. That means that by allowing children to come to religious education or to enroll in Catholic schools when their parents don’t come to Mass, we are enabling them to commit a mortal sin by giving them the sufficient knowledge to damn their eternal souls.That’s a plan.”

Right on Father Simon. The system we are using is flat out broken, it is doing nothing for our young faithful, in fact it puts them at great risk, and it needs to be fixed pronto.

Read the entire article on Reverend Know-It-All, “We Are Starting Over”

(HT Creative Minority Report)

23 Churches, 1 Scandal

So I was taking a look at a friend’s blog, Fear Not Little Flock, when I came upon a disturbing article.

The main issue is in reference to some comments made to the Eastern Catholic Bishops during their ad limina visit to Rome.

Now these comments did not come from our Holy Father, but they did come from Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Let me boil it down fast, so I can get to the meat. Basically, Sandri told them they should not be ordaining married men in the US.

What the heck? This has really rippled through the Eastern Church in America, and has just made everyone really uncomfortable. This is so out of form that I am actually shocked.

I suppose some background is important here so that you know what is going on. First, just in case you are unaware, the Roman Catholic Church is one of many Catholic Churches, all under our Holy Father. The other Churches are usually called Eastern Churches, and are as Catholic as Easter. You can go to their Divine Liturgy if you like, and you are with your Catholic brothers and sisters. In fact, I have never missed an opportunity to do so, and when I converted to the faith, I must admit I was very disappointed that I could not become either a Byzantine or Ukrainian Catholic, as the only Catholic Church in my area is Roman. (Just so you know, everybody sings at Divine Liturgy, it’s unbelievable) Of the many differences in the way we celebrate, one always seems to come up first. They can have married priests. They have had married priests since the apostles first preached the Gospel to them 2000 years ago. It is what they have always done, and nobody has a problem with that.

Now historically, what Church you belonged to really depended on where you lived. (FYI, it’s easy to confuse Rite, and Church. Churches aren’t Rites, they practice a Rite, or a variation thereof. For example, the Roman Church practices the Latin Rite) During the great immigration to America though, things got real confused, because here were these different ethic groups all getting together, and these Catholics really saw each others as foreign instead of brothers. So some wise guy thought up the idea that the Eastern Church folks should only have celibate priests in America to keep down the confusion. This was a bad, bad call. That’s like saying that Roman folks should stop saying the rosary because it might make Eastern Catholics uncomfortable. What a load of bull. In fact, many parishes made Eastern Catholics become Roman to go to parish schools. It was a real bad deal, stifling the growth and expression of our truest brothers and sisters.

Now fast forward to the present, and you see this nonsense repeating itself now. Here we are, trying to be ecumenical, creating dialogue with the Orthodox Church in hope to bring about unity. If I were the Orthodox Church, I would be watching this with baited breath. So this is what unity will feel like huh? Hmm.

Now I’m not making any comments here about the married priesthood. Romans don’t do it, Easterns do, end of story. Wait! That’s not the end of story! Rome does it too! Here we are creating this entire ordinariate for the Anglicans to come over, married priests and all, and they will be part of the Roman Church. So it’s cool for the new guys, but not for our brothers and sisters of 2000 years. Let’s be frank, I would put down money there are more married Roman Catholic priests in the US than Eastern ones.

The heart of the issue is respect. The 22 Eastern Churches have a right to the expression of the faith given to them by the apostles. This is not an issue of them denying the Trinity or the Immaculate Conception, this is an issue of them having the right to celebrate the same way they have for thousands of years. They are autonomous, and should be treated as such.

Check out the entire article here: That They May Be One

As for me: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

The Catholic Church Hates Women? (Ordination of Women)

Yesterday I spoke about how some people view the Church as being anti-women, and I focused on their charge that the Church’s ban on birth control was somehow aimed at the oppression of women. In other words, this is a two part article, so if you want to read the first, Click Here.

Moving on, the second great issue for those who hold this view, is that since the Church “refuses” to ordain women to the priesthood, it is clearly sexist, chauvinistic, and morally corrupt.

At first blush, I can see their point. It does strike one as odd doesn’t it, that the Church would decide somehow that women are not fit to the task? I think a dang good answer as to why this is the Church’s teaching is in order, and it better be a really, really good answer. Anything less would seem to prove their point entirely. In fact, I almost wonder if there IS an answer good enough to do this accusation justice. Those opposed to the Church have raised a truly dangerous issue, and we had better not shirk it if we are to keep our dignity not only as religious, but as egalitarian, freedom loving human beings.

Let me spell out their position as I see it, and I must admit, it is not an unfair assessment. It is not just about women having the ability to preside at Sacraments, although that is certainly part of it. It is really about authority. How can the Church completely deny women leadership in the Church? Look at Vatican II, and what you see is a room full of men. Sure, they might have had a few prominent women in the background as advisers, but let’s face it, Vatican II and every council before it has been dominated by men. Every diocese is headed by a man, every parish by a man. Sure you may have women here and there in leadership roles, but they all answer directly to a man.

A couple of hundred years ago, this might have seemed entirely natural, but in the modern world, the Church is the most patriarchal institution in existence. Sure, I know there have been women who have really shaken things up, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Joan of Arc and Therese of Lisieux come to mind, but in honesty, these women were flashes of femininity in a masculine world. They are by no means the norm.

Holy Spirit guide me, as I am walking on shaky ground.

I cannot pretend to have all the answers here. I cannot even promise that I will give good answers. All I can do is share what I have found to be true, and hope that it all makes sense when put together. I see three main issues with the ordination of women; complementarity, sociology, and divine mandate.

What the heck is complementarity? Is that even a word? Well, let me try to say what I mean. Men and women are different. Well, not just that, I also mean we are the same. That makes no sense, I know, but bear with me. Men and women are equal in dignity, but different in nature or kind. We are totally equal, men are not better then women, and women (excluding my wife) are not better than men. We are completely equal. All of our traits have value that the world cannot live without. We are not however, the same. (surprise, right?)

Let me explain. When my first daughter was born, I was downright jealous. The whole pregnancy I just felt uninvolved. Yes, I helped pick the crib, and painted the nursury till the odd hours of the morning. Yes, I would sit there while my wife was sleeping and feel my baby kick inside her, and would sing her my favorite jazz standards in hopes that she would know my voice. In the end though, it was all her. I had no hormones to help me along, I just felt isolated. I am glad to be a man, but I would have loved to have had that closeness to my child.

It got no better when she was born. My wife loved her immediately, like she knew her. All I could see was a slimy blueish purple thing. I cooed and tickled and held my child all night, but it was never the same as when my wife would hold my child to her breast and feed her. I wanted that, but that’s just not what I am. I’m not a mother. I can’t be, I have other roles I must fill.

I have little doubt that my wife feels the same when I throw my kids in the air, and tickle them till they can’t stand it. When I pick them up and throw them in the pool, she knows that’s just not who she is. That’s my job. I know my wife knows the difference, as she often tells my children, “You just wait till your father gets home!”

We are different, and this difference carries on throughout our lives. We have natural roles we fill, and while they are not the same, they complement each other. Yes, they overlap. I can be nurturing, and she can be firm. I can wash dishes, and she can bring home the bacon. But the biology is ever present.

That brings me to sociology. Most women don’t want to be the leader, it’s not really all that feminine. I can feel you getting your rotten eggs and tomatoes ready to throw at me, but hear me out, I swear it’s true. I’m not saying that women aren’t leaders, they often are in many areas of their lives, but in the end, a woman feels safest and most secure with a man who values her person and opinion in charge.

Again, my marriage. My wife is extremely capable. She doesn’t need me any more than she needs her computer. Sure, it’s nice to have around, but it isn’t necessary. A little extra cash is hardly worth the trouble of putting up with a stinky, hairy man. She can hold a job, take care of the kids, cross stitch a masterpiece and cook dinner all at the same time. A man like me must seem like a useless appendage. Except I’m not. Not only that, but she defers to me. Don’t get me wrong, she makes most of the day to day decisions, but when the going gets tough, she wants me to listen, be the one to make the choice, and take the responsibility. It’s just more comfortable for her.

This is natural femininity. I’m sorry, but you just don’t see this kind of femininity present in female CEOs or world leaders. I’m not saying they are not competent, I’m just saying they are not a fair representation of what the normal, feminine woman is. In fact, you will often see these women dehumanized in the media for this very reason, their femininity is outside normal levels. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t vote for them, I have, and if they are the best candidate, I will again. All I’m saying is that is not the norm. If you need proof, walk into any non-Catholic church, and you will probably see a man as pastor, because that is just comfortable socially. I can think of very few female pastored churches with a sizable congregation, it just isn’t as comfortable for the normal human being.

Let me repeat, I am not saying that women are incompetent, or should stay at home barefoot and pregnant. I am simply saying that natural femininity is fundamentally giving and nurturing, and that is by nature most important in a more private sphere, within a community and most importantly, a family. This is a great thing. We have this really nasty tendency as humans to think that the guy up front is the most important, the one who has the greatest impact on the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. The values instilled one on one are always greater than a speech given to many. Men are designed to affect many people in a small way, women are design to affect a few people in a way so massive, that it reaches down through the generations. Femininity may be more behind the scenes, but it’s also way more powerful.

I am getting long winded, forgive me, but I want to do this justice.

Lastly, and most important, we have a divine mandate. We often think that the Church just made up this idea that we should not have women priests, and that is that. We couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Church is stuck with what it is given. Some belief systems can change with the times, the Mormons for example decided that they can no longer have polygamous marriages, so voila, now it is so, and multiple wives are out of the question. For Catholics, we received what we call a “deposit of faith” from the apostles, and those things cannot be changed. Now not all of our practices are part of the deposit of faith, a celibate priesthood is not, for example. The core teachings of Jesus that he taught the apostles are to be held dear though, and at all costs. We can never back down from this wellspring that is our faith. To back down on one singular teaching is to back down on them all, and means complete separation from our roots. Trees without roots are dead, and praise the Lord, we are still alive.

One of these teachings, albeit minor in comparison to something like the Trinity, is the reality of a male priesthood. Jesus was revolutionary towards women. He treated them differently then any man before Him. He treated them with honor and respect at all times, even if the woman He was speaking to was a prostitute or a Samaritan. Christ brought along the first feminist revolution, and it rocked the world. In fact, many of the early churches were houses, funded, and primarily occupied with women. Many of Jesus’ closest and dearest friends were women. His own ministry was entirely funded by woman, and you better believe feeding twelve grown men for three years wasn’t cheap. Heck, the most important woman ever to grace the planet was His own mother. He knew her as no other did, walked by her side, and knew she would not only outlive Him, but would personally mother the entire Church as it grew.

But he did not make any one of them apostles, even His most perfect mother. It was simply not something He decided to do. I don’t know why, I’m not Jesus. I would guess all the reasons I have written above, but I’m not really sure. Maybe he felt women were too holy to be bishops? After all, in His kingdom, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Maybe He was elevating them in some way, I have no idea.

That is however, what He did, and we can’t change that just because times have changed. If He who had the ultimate foresight chose not to do so, then neither can we. All of our reasons pale in comparison to this basic fact.

If Jesus didn’t do it, then we can’t argue.

So we are left with a challenge. In this male run Church Christ gave us, how can we ever bring the feminine perspective to the fore? How can we make sure that the feminine, nurturing, holistic values of women are ever present in our faith and its teaching? Well, I have to openly admit that many leaders in the Church through the centuries have not always met this task well, there is little doubt that the Church is an imperfect, human institution. I will also say that through the grace of the Holy Spirit, it has continued to  make these feminine values a core part of its teaching despite its male structure.

There is a reason that it is called Mother Church!

I have one last thought. There is one woman who can model all of this in a way that is absolutely perfect. The Blessed Virgin was not boastful, never got on a soapbox, never tried to change the world. She did just what she was made for, and that was to teach her Son, to love him, and to support Him throughout His life with her love and her fidelity. All of her life she lived to do one thing, and that was point to her Son. Because of this perfection, she is Mary most Holy, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the one true and perfect thing that God ever made. It is she who is the Queen of Heaven, and Mother of the Church. No one can teach mankind how to love better than a woman, and there is nothing more important to learn. It is not taught best from a pulpit, it is taught best in the loving itself.

Femininity is very powerful indeed.

The Catholic Church Hates Women? (Understanding Birth Control)

I have the pleasure of spending time with many college age men and women. I have always enjoyed this age group more than any other. I love their inquisitiveness and their idealism. I love that they look so deeply into the meaning of things, searching for lessons they can take forward into their lives.

So when last week, one of these friends of mine came to me to share some dialogue he had been having with a friend of his, I was more than happy to hop in and take a look. His friend seemed to think that the Church was anti-woman. He had responded very well, and I was very proud of him for not backing down against such ignorance. He stood up and did his best to defend himself and the Church we hold dear. May God fill our parishes with such bravery.

There is however the issue of the Church being “anti-woman”, and I thought it might be worth talking about.

After much browsing the internet, that be all end all of information, it seems that for those making this argument, it comes to two main points.

First, there is the issue of birth control. It’s amazing how often this rears it ugly head. Somehow, because the Church thinks pumping a woman’s body full of chemicals so that it will not function naturally is a bad idea, it must be against women. If I said we should pump Chesapeake bay full of chemicals so it couldn’t function naturally, there would be a riot. (I am often amazed at hypocrisy, but never surprised. It is so often the same people who want to save the earth and eat organic that want to keep killing babies and pumping women full of chemicals, messing with their natural feminine hormones. Go figure.)

But let’s get back to topic. Those who hold this position say that birth control liberates women, and the Church by its position against birth control is therefore stifling them. Birth control liberates women? How? Now they can rock it like porn stars? Sleep with every guy on the block? Doesn’t sound all that liberating to me.

Have you ever noticed that it always comes back to sex? We must be able to have sex, and dangit, we need to have as much as we want. Now I’ll be the first to say that sex is a very good thing, but what they call liberating, I call slavery. I can’t believe that I live in what is probably the first generation in history to be surprised that you can have a baby from sex.

Let me draw a parallel. I love food. Put a dab of blue cheese on a steak and I’m in heaven. I also am very fond of watermelon. I can eat a whole one in one sitting, seeds and all. But if you were to say that I could eat a pill that would allow me to eat steak and watermelon all day long, and never gain a pound, I would say you have missed the point. First, chemicals are not the proper response to gluttony. More importantly, why the heck would I want to? It’s way out of the ordinary to want to do nothing but eat all day.

C.S. Lewis put it even better, allow me to paraphrase. Imagine you walked into a town and there was a big show. The whole theater was packed to the brim. So naturally you want to go in to see what all the fuss is about. There on the stage you see a man standing next to a table with a drape over it. Now imagine that he slowly pulls back the cloth to reveal a steaming plate of mashed potatoes. The crowd goes wild! Men are hooting and hollering, women are drooling, this really has everyone’s attention. There are only two conclusions you could draw from this. Either 1) There is a severe famine in town, or 2) these folks have a serious food disorder.

That is exactly what we do. We pull back the curtain to show sexuality, and everyone hoots and hollers, but there is no famine here. In fact, there is more sex going on than ever before. This is just disordered. Sex is great, but it’s not so great as to take over the rest of who and what we are. Yet we use sex to sell everything from tires to soap, and it works.

This is supposed to be liberating women? Thanks to this national disorder, we have more porn than ever before, girls are uploading nude pics online from the comfort of their bathrooms, and women are left emotionally alone as the curtain closes on yet another one night stand. Teen pregnancy is ever on the rise, the single mother is a cultural norm, and children are killed by the millions through abortion. (Birth control didn’t help much there did it?) There is nothing wholesome or good going on here.

In fact, I find it insulting. How this group of people get by, saying they are helping women when they are really dragging them through the mud, is criminal at best.

If you are really looking for quality birth control, I have one time tested method that has only failed once. (and it works for men AND women!)

Abstinence.

The other issue these folks who feel the Church is anti-women get into, and this is the really hot one for them, is the Church’s inability to ordain women to the priesthood. That post can be found here.