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FINALLY, SOMEONE HITS THE NAIL ON THE HEAD (Joan Chittister ALWAYS hits the nail on the head) on this tragic crisis of sexual abuse – Clericalism, the false “ontology” of priestly ordination – Required reading


For real change, we must get at four roots deeper than church structures

Sep 20, 2018

by Joan Chittister


(Unsplash/Sean Ang)

In the midst of the angst that has accompanied the revelation of unparalleled amounts of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, the cry for reform gets louder by the day.

For some, it’s a call for the elimination of celibacy as an unnatural and therefore impossible way of life. For others, it’s about barring homosexuals from the priesthood, as if homosexuality was in essence a model of immorality rather than simply another state of nature — just like heterosexuality with its own immoral aberrations. For many, it’s about a lack of psychosocial development in seminaries; for others, it’s about the liberalization of the church since the Second Vatican Council, no matter that the bulk of assaults happened, apparently, before the end of the council.

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Indeed, there are as many explanations for this crisis in morals, spirituality, church and trust as there are people, dioceses, parents, priests, lawyers, whomever. But there is one element on which everyone seems to agree: There must be repentance. There must be accountability. There must be reform.

Good. And that looks like what?

Most of the cries for reform also call for reform of structures. The great consensus seems to cluster around issues of how and to whom victims may register complaints. The questions are endless: Who will create the sex abuse committees? Who will appoint the commissions? Who will be on these boards, in these official offices, as official officers? Lay people as well as clerical? And how much of the work of these committees will be shared with the public? Most of all, who will hold the final authority to judge these cases: the chairperson of the group, the bishop of the diocese, a Curia in Rome, a papal tribunal, the pope — as Pope Benedict XVI declared that he himself would do — or a jury of peers?

Well, whatever the answer to those legal technicalities, I agree that some reform of structure is essential. The damage done by the pontifical secret and its notion that ecclesiastical scandals should be kept hidden rather than exposed is now embarrassingly clear. A change of structures is obviously imperative.

At the same time, I do not agree that a change of structures alone will really change anything much at all. Not in a church whose theology of exclusive papal authority comes from Pope Gelasius in the fifth century. On the contrary: We are going to need a great deal more than structures. As Pope Francis himself said to the Chilean bishops’ conference in May: “It would be a serious omission on our part, not to delve into the roots … the dynamics that made it possible for such attitudes and evils to occur.”

The fact is that structures validate process. But process guarantees nothing but adherence to the values, the ideals and — in a church — whatever theology underpins them. It’s the theology that counts.

Structures have been used to validate evil forever. As in the present. Nothing that canonical courts dealt with would deal adequately with the evil of child abuse while it was bishops themselves, in concert with Rome, who provided the secrecy that would maintain the problem. In the name of holy secrecy, bishops and their lawyers could intimidate the complainers with confidentiality agreements, label the children themselves liars and so embed the guilt in the wrong place, and keep the church free from scandal for, of course, “the good of the faithful.”

Indeed, we must “delve into the roots” of it. Of which, I think, there are at least four.

Francis is painfully clear about one such root of it — the scourge of clericalism that creates a caste system in Catholic Christianity.


Clerics make up less than 1 percent of the church. But clericalism makes its clerics superior to the rest of the church in power, the presumption of holiness, absolute parochial authority and as the keepers of accountability. It moves clerics light years away from the Jesus who “did not see being equal to God a thing to be clung to.” It moves the rest of us to talk about being “the people of God” — as if we knew we were — but then fail to call the clerical church to public discussion of great theological “truths.”

What Francis’ statement fails to unmask, however, is the second issue that must be addressed: The fact is that clericalism touched more than the clergy. It was Catholic police, lawyers, staff, even parents who shielded pedophiles by refusing to make complaints, listen to children, or rip away the secrecy that shielded them. It says that the theology of the church itself must be retaught. It says that the rest of the church itself must grow up to be equal to the Christianization of the church itself.

A third dimension of the problem is certainly the theology of obedience that derives, of course, from our definition of church and the role of the clergy but affects the personal lives of Catholics in a particularly insidious way. It turns obedience in the church — a commitment to “listening to the Spirit” — into blind obedience, a kind of military code attached to a series of clerical commanding officers.

As a result, 100 percent of the decisions, the discernment and the moral perspectives of the laity are simply ignored. National conferences of bishops, dioceses and parish priests — the clerical 1 percent of the church — all stumble along laying down laws developed by few but heralded by the clergy alone.

Pope Paul VI toyed with the notion of clergy/lay consultation on the birth control question — certainly a question for the sacrament of marriage if ever I saw one. But then, at the end, under pressure from Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who would later himself become Pope John Paul II, Paul VI rejected the advice of some of the strongest Catholic lay couples on the globe and declared birth control legislation binding. And we know where that got them.

And finally, under it all, the fourth necessary element of reform lies in the theology of priesthood that insists that the ontology of the human being is changed by priestly ordination. Translation: a priest is not like other human beings. Ordination gives them a special mark, an eternal one. Then, out of that reasoning, they connect their special character, their special place in the church, their special authority, their special holiness.

To be honest with you, I have never met anybody who wasn’t special in a special way. To reserve that for priesthood obviously distorts the character of the rest of the church. As it has.

From where I stand, it seems to me that what we wind up with is a sin against adult conscience and the infantilization of the laity. What we finally wind up with are questions of church, clericalism, obedience and human ontology unanswered and unaddressed.

What we wind up with is a church still living in the last century while pretending to have answers to the questions of this one. But that’s just what they did in the 16th century when Martin Luther wanted to talk about celibacy, the sale of relics, and publishing the Bible in the vernacular so that everybody, not just the clergy, could read it.

The truth is that real reform depends on the teachings of the church. Not simply on a change of structures.

As the song says, “When will they ever learn?”

[Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister of Erie, Pennsylvania.]

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Speaking Openly
By Allison Loecke

I received my first letter from a pen pal in my mid 30’s.

As a kid, I remember being equally bewildered and thrilled by the idea of a pen pal. It seemed so exciting to have an across-the-ocean friend I would never meet, but we would be each other’s special, almost secret confidants.  Surely their life was much more exotic than mine: “You get an hour for lunch!? I only get 20 minutes! AMAZING!”

Years later, my pen pal, Juan Castillo, shared his story from his cell on death row in Texas. Convicted of a fatal armed robbery in 2003, Juan had been on death row for about 9 years when I was paired with him through the Death Row Support Projectthrough Church of the Brethren. It wasn’t exactly the idyllic scenario I had imagined as a child, but I found myself asking him questions I probably would have asked my pen pal as a kid: What do you eat for lunch? What are your friends like? What are your hobbies? He asked me similar questions about my family, friends, work, and what I thought the Bears’ chances looked like for the season. I learned a lot about him and a lot about incarceration during our correspondence. I learned he had grown to hate the pancakes shoved under his door at 3 am for breakfast and savored the raw vegetables that made an appearance on his dinner tray only on holidays. He was a father and a secret fan of the Twilight series books. I told him about the fiddle lessons I was taking and what was happening in Chicago. He gave me relationship advice and patiently supported me through deep heartbreak. Juan maintained his innocence until his execution by the state of Texas just after 6 pm on May 16, 2018.

Today’s readings reminded me of Juan, especially when the Psalmist talks about the cords of death and pleads, “O Lord save my life!” It was a humbling experience to walk with someone toward his inevitable death. It was a death unlike any other because we, in fact, knew the precise time, place, and manner in which it would happen. What was I to say to him in my final letter? Should I offer the hope of another stay in the final hour or share my anger at the injustice of it all? Should I encourage him to maintain his innocence until the end or offer the hope of resurrection, even in the face of such an evil act?

In the Gospel, Jesus tells his followers about rejection, suffering, and death, and Peter, of course, wasn’t having it. Who would want to embrace a suffering Christ? Months after Juan’s death I have found no silver lining—capital punishment is and always will be morally reprehensible. I have, however, continued to share Juan’s story—our story. The Gospel tells us that Jesus “spoke openly” about his inevitable suffering. As witnesses to suffering, perhaps speaking openly, passionately, and with urgency is one of our greatest tasks.

Share your thoughts








Hear the Cries 
By Teresa Marie Cariño

Lately a privilege I have exploited has been to escape into movies and TV shows. I turn off the news alerts on my phone and binge-watch a season of a show in a weekend. At the end, I know how it turns out. The story has already been written.

My heart is frightened and anguished. I am struggling to make sense of the sex abuse crisis and the constant onslaught of terrible news. The church is in crisis. The nation is in crisis. I want to know how all this will end.

This week’s readings spoke directly to my fears and my urge to escape. To lose myself in an epic Netflix binge is to attend to the man with gold rings and fine clothes. As a result, I put the poor, the marginalized, the victimized in a corner, choosing to pay attention to them only when it is convenient for me to face reality.

Yet the readings also give me a glimpse of the end, of the Reign of God that has begun here on Earth. We hear that “The Lord gives sight to the blind; the Lord raises up those who were bowed down. The Lord loves the just; the Lord protects strangers” (Ps 146:8-9). In the Gospel, Jesus fulfills the prophecies and heals the deaf man. His healing then becomes a communal act. The people cannot keep it to themselves.

The message I hear today: “Be opened!” (Mk 7:34). The Gospel asks me to remove the headphones from my ears, to turn off the screen.  I do not need to be afraid or to escape from this world because God is here and I have glimpsed the Reign of God. The invitation for me now is to participate in this communal healing: to hear the cries, to attend to the poor.




We Refugees”

In the first place, we don’t like to be called “refugees.” We ourselves call each other “newcomers” or “immigrants.” Our newspapers are papers for “Americans of German language”; and, as far as I know, there is not and never was any club founded by Hitler-persecuted people whose name indicated that its members were refugees.

A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term “refugee” has changed. Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by Refugee Committees.

Before this war broke out we were even more sensitive about being called refugees. We did our best to prove to other people that we were just ordinary immigrants. We declared that we had departed of our own free will to countries of our choice, and we denied that our situation had anything to do with “so-called Jewish problems.” Yes, we were “immigrants” or “newcomers” who had left our country because, one fine day, it no longer suited us to stay, or for purely economic reasons. We wanted to rebuild our lives, that was all. In order to rebuild one’s life one has to be strong and an optimist. So we are very optimistic.

Our optimism, indeed, is admirable, even if we say so ourselves. The story of our struggle has finally become known. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.

Nevertheless, as soon as we were saved—and most of us had to be saved several times—we started our new lives and tried to follow as closely as possible all the good advice our saviors passed on to us. We were told to forget; and we forgot quicker than anybody ever could imagine. In a friendly way we were reminded that the new country would become a new home; and after four weeks in France or six weeks in America, we pretended to be Frenchmen or Americans. The most optimistic among us would even add that their whole former life had been passed in a kind of unconscious exile and only their new country now taught them what a home really looks like. It is true we sometimes raise objections when we are told to forget about our former work; and our former ideals are usually hard to throw over if our social standard is at stake. With the language, however, we find no difficulties: after a single year optimists are convinced they speak English as well as their mother tongue; and after two years they swear solemnly that they speak English better than any other language—their German is a language they hardly remember.

In order to forget more efficiently we rather avoid any allusion to concentration or internment camps we experienced in nearly all European countries—it might be interpreted as pessimism or lack of confidence in the new homeland. Besides, how often have we been told that nobody likes to listen to all that; hell is no longer a religious belief or a fantasy, but something as real as houses and stones and trees. Apparently nobody wants to know that contemporary history has created a new kind of human beings—the kind that are put in concentration camps by their foes and in internment camps by their friends.

Even among ourselves we don’t speak about this past. Instead, we have found our own way of mastering an uncertain future. Since everybody plans and wishes and hopes, so do we. Apart from the general human attitudes, however, we try to clear up the future more scientifically. After so much bad luck we want a course as sure as a gun. Therefore, we leave the earth with all its uncertainties behind and we cast our eyes up to the sky. The stars tell us—rather than the newspapers—when Hitler will be defeated and when we shall become American citizens. We think the stars more reliable advisers than all our friends; we learn from the stars when we should have lunch with our benefactors and on what day we have the best chances of filling out one of these countless questionnaires which accompany our present lives. Sometimes we don’t rely even on the stars but rather on the lines of our hand or the signs of our handwriting. Thus we learn less about political events but more about our own dear selves, even though somehow psychoanalysis has gone out of fashion. Those happier times are past when bored ladies and gentlemen of high society conversed about the genial misdemeanors of their early childhood. They don’t want ghost-stories any more; it is real experiences that make their flesh creep. There is no longer any need of bewitching the past; it is spellbound enough in reality. Thus, in spite of our outspoken optimism, we use all sorts of magical tricks to conjure up the spirits of the future.

I don’t know which memories and which thoughts nightly dwell in our dreams. I dare not ask for information, since I, too, had rather be an optimist. But sometimes I imagine that at least nightly we think of our dead or we remember the poems we once loved. I could even understand how our friends of the West coast, during the curfew, should have had such curious notions as to believe that we are not only “prospective citizens” but present “enemy aliens.” In daylight, of course, we become only “technically” enemy aliens—all refugees know this. But when technical reasons prevented you from leaving your home during the dark house, it certainly was not easy to avoid some dark speculations about the relation between technicality and reality.

No, there is something wrong with our optimism. There are those odd optimists among us who, having made a lot of optimistic speeches, go home and turn on the gas or make use of a skyscraper in quite an unexpected way. They seem to prove that our proclaimed cheerfulness is based on a dangerous readiness for death. Brought up in the conviction that life is the highest good and death the greatest dismay, we became witnesses and victims of worse terrors than death—without having been able to discover a higher ideal than life. Thus, although death lost its horror for us, we became neither willing nor capable to risk our lives for a cause. Instead of fighting—or thinking about how to become able to fight back—refugees have got used to wishing death to friends or relatives; if somebody dies, we cheerfully imagine all the trouble he has been saved. Finally many of us end by wishing that we, too, could be saved some trouble, and act accordingly.

Since 1938—since Hitler’s invasion of Austria—we have seen how quickly eloquent optimism could change to speechless pessimism. As time went on, we got worse—even more optimistic and even more inclined to suicide. Austrian Jews under Schuschnigg were such a cheerful people—all impartial observers admired them. It was quite wonderful how deeply convinced they were that nothing could happen to them. But when German troops invaded the country and Gentile neighbours started riots at Jewish homes, Austrian Jews began to commit suicide.

Unlike other suicides, our friends leave no explanation of their deed, no indictment, no charge against a world that had forced a desperate man to talk and to behave cheerfully to his very last day. Letters left by them are conventional, meaningless documents. Thus, funeral orations we make at their open graves are brief, embarrassed and very hopeful. Nobody cares about motives, they seem to be clear to all of us.

I speak of unpopular facts; and it makes things worse that in order to prove my point I do not even dispose of the sole arguments which impress modern people—figures. Even those Jews who furiously deny the existence of the Jewish people give us a fair chance of survival as far as figures are concerned—how else could they prove that only a few Jews are criminals and that many Jews are being killed as good patriots in wartime? Through their effort to save the statistical life of the Jewish people we know that Jews had the lowest suicide rate among all civilized nations. I am quite sure those figures are no longer correct, but I cannot prove it with new figures, though I can certainly with new experiences. This might be sufficient for those skeptical souls who never were quite convinced that the measure of one’s skull gives the exact idea of its content, or that statistics of crime show the exact level of national ethics. Anyhow, wherever European Jews are living today, they no longer behave according to statistical laws. Suicides occur not only among the panic-stricken people in Berlin and Vienna, in Bucharest or Paris, but in New York and Los Angeles, in Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

On the other hand, there has been little reported about suicides in the ghettoes and concentration camps themselves. True, we had very few reports at all from Poland, but we have been fairly well informed about German and French concentration camps.

At the camp of Gurs, for instance, where I had the opportunity of spending some time, I heard only once about suicide, and that was the suggestion of a collective action, apparently a kind of protest in order to vex the French. When some of us remarked that we had been shipped there “pour crever” in any case, the general mood turned suddenly into a violent courage of life. The general opinion held that one had to be abnormally asocial and unconcerned about general events if one was still able to interpret the whole accident as personal and individual bad luck and, accordingly, ended one’s life personally and individually. But the same people, as soon as they returned to their own individual lives, being faced with seemingly individual problems, changed once more to this insane optimism which is next door to despair.

We are the first non-religious Jews persecuted—and we are the first ones who, not only in extremis, answer with suicide. Perhaps the philosophers are right who teach that suicide is the last and supreme guarantee of human freedom; not being free to create our lives or the world in which we live, we nevertheless are free to throw life away and to leave the world. Pious Jews, certainly, cannot realize this negative liberty: they perceive murder in suicide, that is, destruction of what man never is able to make, interference with the rights of the Creator. Adonai nathan veadonai lakach (“The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken away”); and they would add: baruch shem adonai (“blessed be the name of the Lord”). For them suicide, like murder, means a blasphemous attack on creation as a whole. The man who kills himself asserts that life is not worth living and the world not worth sheltering him.

Yet our suicides are no mad rebels who hurl defiance at life and the world, who try to kill in themselves the whole universe. Theirs is a quiet and modest way of vanishing; they seem to apologize for the violent solution they have found for their personal problems. In their opinion, generally, political events had nothing to do with their individual fate; in good or bad times they would believe solely in their personality. Now they find some mysterious shortcomings in themselves which prevent them from getting along. Having felt entitled from their earliest childhood to a certain social standard, they are failures in their own eyes if this standard cannot be kept any longer. Their optimism is the vain attempt to keep head above water. Behind this front of cheerfulness, they constantly struggle with despair of themselves. Finally, they die of a kind of selfishness.

If we are saved we feel humiliated, and if we are helped we feel degraded. We fight like madmen for private existences with individual destinies, since we are afraid of becoming part of that miserable lot of schnorrers whom we, many of us former philanthropists, remember only too well. Just as once we failed to understand that the so-called schnorrer was a symbol of Jewish destiny and not a shlemihl, so today we don’t feel entitled to Jewish solidarity; we cannot realize that we by ourselves are not so much concerned as the whole Jewish people. Sometimes this lack of comprehension has been strongly supported by our protectors. Thus, I remember a director of a great charity concern in Paris who, whenever he received the card of a German-Jewish intellectual with the inevitable “Dr.” on it, used to exclaim at the top of his voice, “Herr Doktor, Herr Doktor, Herr Schnorrer, Herr Schnorrer!”

The conclusion we drew from such unpleasant experiences was simple enough. To be a doctor of philosophy no longer satisfied us; and we learnt that in order to build a new life, one has first to improve on the old one. A nice little fairy-tale has been invented to describe our behaviour; a forlorn émigré dachshund, in his grief, begins to speak: “Once, when I was a St. Bernard …”

Our new friends, rather overwhelmed by so many stars and famous men, hardly understand that at the basis of all our descriptions of past splendors lies one human truth: once we were somebodies about whom people cared, we were loved by friends, and even known by landlords as paying our rent regularly. Once we could buy our food and ride in the subway without being told we were undesirable. We have become a little hysterical since newspapermen started detecting us and telling us publicly to stop being disagreeable when shopping for milk and bread. We wonder how it can be done; we already are so damnably careful in every moment of our daily lives to avoid anybody guessing who we are, what kind of passport we have, where our birth certificates were filled out—and that Hitler didn’t like us. We try the best we can to fit into a world where you have to be sort of politically minded when you buy your food.

Under such circumstances, St. Bernard grows bigger and bigger. I never can forget that young man who, when expected to accept a certain kind of work, sighed out, “You don’t know to whom you speak; I was Section-manager in Karstadt’s [A great department store in Berlin].” But there is also the deep despair of that middle-aged man who, going through countless shifts of different committees in order to be saved, finally exclaimed, “And nobody here knows who I am!” Since nobody would treat him as a dignified human being, he began sending cables to great personalities and his big relations. He learnt quickly that in this mad world it is much easier to be accepted as a “great man” than as a human being.

The less we are free to decide who we are or to live as we like, the more we try to put up a front, to hide the facts, and to play roles. We were expelled from Germany because we were Jews. But having hardly crossed the French borderline, we were changed into “boches.” We were even told that we had to accept this designation if we really were against Hitler’s racial theories. During seven years we played the ridiculous role of trying to be Frenchmen—at least, prospective citizens; but at the beginning of the war we were interned as “boches” all the same. In the meantime, however, most of us had indeed become such loyal Frenchmen that we could not even criticise a French governmental order; thus we declared it as all right to be interned. We were the first “prisonniers volontaires” history has ever seen. After the Germans invaded the country, the French Government had only to change the name of the firm; having been jailed because we were Germans, we were not freed because we were Jews.

It is the same story all over the world, repeated again and again. In Europe the Nazis confiscated our property; but in Brazil we have to pay 30% of our wealth, like the most loyal member of the Bund der Auslandsdeutschen. In Paris we could not leave our homes after eight o’clock because we were Jews; but in Los Angeles we are restricted because we are “enemy aliens.” Our identity is changed so frequently that nobody can find out who we actually are.

Unfortunately, things don’t look any better when we meet with Jews. French Jewry was absolutely convinced that all Jews coming from beyond the Rhine were what they called Polaks—what German Jewry called Ostjuden. But those Jews who really came from eastern Europe could not agree with their French brethren and called us Jaeckes. The sons of these Jaecke-haters—the second generation born in France and already duly assimilated—shared the opinion of the French Jewish upper class. Thus, in the very same family, you could be called a Jaecke by the father and a Polak by the son.

Since the outbreak of the war and the catastrophe that has befallen European Jewry, the mere fact of being a refugee has prevented our mingling with native Jewish society, some exceptions only proving the rule. These unwritten social laws, though never publicly admitted, have the great force of public opinion. And such a silent opinion and practice is more important for our daily lives than all official proclamations of hospitality and good will.

Man is a social animal and life is not easy for him when social ties are cut off. Moral standards are much easier kept in the texture of a society. Very few individuals have the strength to conserve their own integrity if their social, political and legal status is completely confused. Lacking the courage to fight for a change of our social and legal status, we have decided instead, so many of us, to try a change of identity. And this curious behavior makes matters much worse. The confusion in which we live is partly our own work.

Some day somebody will write the true story of this Jewish emigration from Germany; and he will have to start with a description of that Mr. Cohn from Berlin who had always been a 150% German, a German super-patriot. In 1933 that Mr. Cohn found refuge in Prague and very quickly became a convinced Czech patriot—as true and loyal a Czech patriot as he had been a German one. Time went on and about 1937 the Czech Government, already under some Nazi pressure, began to expel its Jewish refugees, disregarding the fact that they felt so strongly as prospective Czech citizens. Our Mr. Cohn then went to Vienna; to adjust oneself there a definite Austrian patriotism was required. The German invasion forced Mr. Cohn out of that country. He arrived in Paris at a bad moment and he never did receive a regular residence-permit. Having already acquired a great skill in wishful thinking, he refused to take mere administrative measures seriously, convinced that he would spend his future life in France. Therefore, he prepared his adjustment to the French nation by identifying himself with “our” ancestor Vercingetorix. I think I had better not dilate on the further adventures of Mr. Cohn. As long as Mr. Cohn can’t make up his mind to be what he actually is, a Jew, nobody can foretell all the mad changes he will have to go through.

A man who wants to lose his self discovers, indeed, the possibilities of human existence, which are infinite, as infinite as is creation. But the recovering of a new personality is as difficult—and as hopeless—as a new creation fo the world. Whatever we do, whatever we pretend to be, we reveal nothing but our insane desire to be changed, not to be Jews. All our activities are directed to attain this aim: we don’t want to be refugees, since we don’t want to be Jews; we pretend to be English-speaking people, since German-speaking immigrants of recent years are marked as Jews; we don’t call ourselves stateless, since the majority of stateless people in the world are Jews; we are willing to become loyal Hottentots, only to hide the fact that we are Jews. We don’t succeed and we can’t succeed; under the cover of our “optimism” you can easily detect the hopeless sadness of assimilationists.

With us from Germany the word assimilation received a “deep” philosophical meaning. You can hardly realize how serious we were about it. Assimilation did not mean the necessary adjustment to the country where we happened to be born and to the people whose language we happened to speak. We adjust in principle to everything and everybody. This attitude became quite clear to me once by the words of one of my compatriots who, apparently, knew how to express his feelings. Having just arrived in France, he founded one of these societies of adjustment in which German Jews asserted to each other that they were already Frenchmen. In his first speech he said: “We have been good Germans in Germany and therefore we shall be good Frenchmen in France.” The public applauded enthusiastically and nobody laughed; we were happy to have learnt how to prove our loyalty.

If patriotism were a matter of routine or practice, we should be the most patriotic people in the world. Let us go back to our Mr. Cohn; he certainly has beaten all records. He is that ideal immigrant who always, and in every country into which a terrible fate has driven him, promptly sees and loves the native mountains. But since patriotism is not yet believed to be a matter of practice, it is hard to convince people of the sincerity of our repeated transformations. This struggle makes our own society so intolerant; we demand full affirmation without our own group because we are not in the position to obtain it from the natives. The natives, confronted with such strange beings as we are, become suspicious; from their point of view, as a rule, only a loyalty to our old countries is understandable. That makes life very bitter for us. We might overcome this suspicion if we could explain that, being Jews, our patriotism in our original countries had rather a peculiar aspect. Though it was indeed sincere and deep-rooted. We wrote big volumes to prove it; paid an entire bureaucracy to explore its antiquity and to explain it statistically. We had scholars write philosophical dissertations on the predestined harmony between Jews and Frenchmen, Jews and Germans, Jews and Hungarians, Jews and … Our so frequently suspected loyalty of today has a long history. It is the history of a hundred and fifty years of assimilated Jewry who performed an unprecedented feat: though proving all the time their non-Jewishness, they succeeded in remaining Jews all the same.

The desperate confusion of these Ulysses-wanderers who, unlike their great prototype, don’t know who they are is easily explained by their perfect mania for refusing to keep their identity. This mania is much older than the last ten years which revealed the profound absurdity of our existence. We are like people with a fixed idea who can’t help trying continually to disguise an imaginary stigma. Thus we are enthusiastically fond of every new possibility which, being new, seems able to work miracles. We are fascinated by every new nationality in the same way as a woman of tidy size is delighted with every new dress which promises to give her the desired waistline. But she likes the new dress only as long as she believes in its miraculous qualities, and she discovers that it does not change her stature—or, for that matter, her status.

One may be surprised that the apparent uselessness of all our odd disguises has not yet been able to discourage us. If it is true that men seldom learn from history, it is also true that they may learn from personal experiences which, as in our case, are repeated time and again. But before you cast the first stone at us, remember that being a Jew does not give any legal status in the world. If we should start telling the truth that we are nothing but Jews, it would mean that we expose ourselves to the fate of human beings who, unprotected by any specific law or political convention, are nothing but human beings. I can hardly imagine an attitude more dangerous, since we actually live in a world in which human beings as such have ceased to exist for quite a while, since society has discovered discrimination as the great social weapon by which one may kill men without any bloodshed; since passports or birth certificates, and sometimes even income tax receipts, are no longer formal papers but matters of social distinction. It is true that most of us depend entirely upon social standards, we lose confidence in ourselves if society does not approve us; we are—and always were—ready to pay any price in order to be accepted by society. But it is equally true that the very few among us who have tried to get along without all these tricks and jokes of adjustment and assimilation have paid a much higher price than they could afford: they jeopardized the few chances even our laws are given in a topsy-turvy world.

The attitude of these few whom, following Bernard Lazare, one may call “conscious pariahs,” can as little be explained by recent events alone as the attitude of our Mr. Cohn who tried by every means to become an upstart. Both are sons of the nineteenth century which, not knowing legal or political outlaws, knew only too well social pariahs and their counterpart, social parvenus. Modern Jewish history, having started with court Jews and continuing with Jewish millionaires and philanthropists, is apt to forget about this other trend of Jewish tradition—the tradition of Heine, Rahel Varnhagen, Sholom Aleichemn, of Bernard Lazare, Franz Kafka or even Charlie Chaplin. It is the tradition of a minority of Jews who have not wanted to become upstarts, who preferred the status of “conscious paria.” All vaunted Jewish qualities—the “Jewish heart,” humanity, humor, disinterested intelligence—are pariah qualities. All Jewish shortcomings—tactlessness, political stupidity, inferiority complexes and money-grubbing—are characteristic of upstarts. There have always been Jews who did not think it worth while to change their humane attitude and their natural insight into reality for the narrowness of castle spirit or the essential unreality of financial transactions.

History has forced the status of outlaws upon both, upon pariahs and parvenus alike. The latter have not yet accepted the great wisdom of Balzac’s “On ne parvient pas deux fois”; thus they don’t understand the wild dreams of the former and feel humiliated in sharing their fate. Those few refugees who insist upon telling the truth, even to the point of “indecency,” get in exchange for their unpopularity one priceless advantage: history is no longer a closed book to them and politics is no longer the privilege of Gentiles. They know that the outlawing of the Jewish people in Europe has been followed closely by the outlawing of most European nations. Refugees driven from country to country represent the vanguard of their peoples—if they keep their identity. For the first time Jewish history is not separate but tied up with that of all other nations. The comity of European peoples went to pieces when, and because, it allowed its weakest member to be excluded and persecuted.


Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees,” Menorah Journal 31, no. 1 (January 1943): pp 69-77. 


Are we not tired, fatigued, worn out by so much anti-immigration hatred flowing out of the highest offices in the land, the betrayal of Church leaders, their cover-ups, their shameless flaunting of the trappings of ecclesiastical power, their desperate efforts to engage in quick-fix laundering of the Church’s image in the face of disclosures of their abuses, the total evisceration of justice, mercy and compassion that seems to define contemporary social dynamics . . . ? I know that I am . . . 
Yet Jesus requieres us, on the one hand, to acknowledge our limitations, but on the other, to cling tooth and nail to hope, the hope that only the Spirit can breathe in us, the hope that can empower us to keep trying to witness to the Gospel of justice, compassion and mercy.
I embrace – and commend to you – Dorothy Day’s suggestion – Let us not seek leadership from bishops, priests and lay leaders – it’s a waste of time – Rather, let us be guided by the luminous splendor of the truth, love, and compassion of saints, mystics and martyrs – they are the ONLY trustworthy lights deserving of discipleship – Quite obviously, there have been – and there are – bishops, lay leaders and priests among those saints, mystics and martyrs, but then, we do not follow them BECAUSE they are bishops and priests – it’s time to rid ourselves of ALL forms of clericalism – but because they are saints, mystics and martyrs 
Here, Mary, the mother of Jesus, she who did not say “I will do what your word says,” but rather, “Let it be done unto me according to your word,” as the most crucial, the riskiest, most vulnerable option of faith that has been made in human history, standing there at the crossroads of Salvation History – she can be our primary teacher, to ALL OF US, Catholics, Protestants, Jews (she was, as we all know, a good Jew), Muslims, all women and men yearning for the truth – She’s an ecumenical light in the darkness – In recent years, she has made the cover story of Time Magazine (March 21, 2005: “Hail Mary,” read the cover title) and The National Geographic Magazine (December, 2015: “Mary: The Most Powerful Woman in the World”) – Martin Luther’s favorite liturgical feast was the Visitation of Mary, which he celebrated until the end of her life / As the great Anglican theologian John McQuarrie (the founder of the Anglican Mariological Society) and the Lutheran Robert Jenson have said, she is, for all of us, Christians, Jews, Muslims (who revere her as Myriam, the virgin mother of Jesus), for people seeking the truth, a paradigm of trusting faith, anonymous, suffering faith, standing strong (“Stabat Mater”) – 
Mary, Dorothy Day, and all the saints, mystics and martyrs, share the light of your Spirit-filled, prophetic souls with us – sustain our hope in the midst of seeming hopelessness – teach us to witness to the truth, justice, mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ – teach us to be faithful in the midst of seemingly overwhelming infidelity, to be merciful in the face of sweeping mercilessness, to witness to a love stronger than death, before the tsunami of hatred that threatens to drown us – Teach us the truth of Karl Barth’s principle: the Word of God never falls into a void, is never rendered powerless!


Rise Up | Renew Us, and the Face of the Earth
Ignatian Solidarity Network <> Today at 6:00 AM
Message body
An Ignatian Solidarity Network Series
Sunday’s Readings
Renew Us, and the Face of the Earth
By Alex Mikulich
I find today’s readings deeply painful in light of the new revelations of the Catholic hierarchy covering up child abuse for decades and of faith leaders who heap praise upon a President who not only abuses widows and orphans arriving on our southern border, but even worse, breaks up families thereby traumatizing children and increasing the numbers of widows and orphans. These profound evils scandalize, horrify, and traumatize us all. I empathize with brothers and sisters who feel compelled to leave an indefensible institutional Church.
The readings call us to the love at the core of the Gospel. The Letter of Saint James leaves no ambiguity: If we are going to be doers of the word and not only hearers, our faith in God is demonstrated by how we “care for widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” I can’t conceive of how we can keep ourselves unstained by the grotesque cover up of abuse of minors by the hierarchy. However, the Ignatian Solidarity Network rightly focuses our prayer and action on how together we can “care for widows and orphans”—a symbol of the most vulnerable in our midst. Contemplative attention on that prayer and work purifies us as it gives hope to the afflicted.
Mark’s Gospel rings as fresh to me today as it must have when Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of religious and political elites in his own day. The very licentiousness Jesus condemns is sickeningly evident in the Church and government. Yet Christ still empowers us to feel compassion with and for the afflicted and to think, feel, and act in that compassion with every fiber of our being. I believe that is how God renews us and the face of the earth.
As we struggle to make sense of our immigration crisis, we are invited to see immigrants as they are—people seeking that same bread of life we long for.



I traveled to Rome in 2010 – my visit to the City of Martyrs was part pilgrimage, part research endeavors – It was, in some ways, a life-transforming event – I arrived on January 31, left on March 2, and in between those two points in time, I walked – literally, never took a bus or taxi – through the city, praying at the major basilicas, at smaller and half-hidden churches, walked through the corridors of classical times at the Colosseum, the Forum,  and the Palatine, the hill where Rome was born . . .

On my very first day, after 10  hours or so of an uncomfortable flight aboard Alitalia (I hasten to add, the food was good!) , where one attempt at sleep after another failed miserably, I had my first moment of decision:  Do I take a nap at the pilgrim’s pensione where I was scheduled to stay, at the Piazza Farnese, or do I head to San Pietro? The lure of the great basilica was too much, and I set out walking along the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, crossed the Ponte by the same name, in glorious view of the Castel Sant’ Angelo, turned left at the Via della Conciliazione, and headed for St. Peter’s Square.

Through the security check point I went, and I entered, for the first time ever, inside that immense, colossal vault where centuries of liturgical and artistic geniuses have found their privileged space – and immediately began looking for HER . . .  I knew, from readings and guide books, that SHE was at the left of the entrance, behind security glass panels . . . and then I saw HER

The PIETA! Somehow I managed to slither and elbow my way through a throng of Japanese tourists whose camera flashes blinded me, and stood before HER . . . There she was, her languid, sad face, looking down tremulously on the broken and wounded body of her Son, just as Michelangelo’s mystical genius had crafted her in 1498 . . .

I have often recalled that moment, and the many things she shared with me that day – and on the 5 subsequent visits that I made to St. Peter’s, mostly to speak to her . . . That look on her face, gazing at the lifeless and tortured body lain on her lap . . . THEN AND NOW! – For, she still holds the Body, the full Body, of her Broken Son in her lap!!! – a Body broken in so many ways:

-BROKEN by the unmentionable aberrations of sin that bishops and priests, for the most part, have visited upon countless children whose innocence they have abused, whose lives they have irremediably hurt, wounded, traumatized forever . . .

– BROKEN by the sheer hypocrisy, the abominable denial and prestige-laundering that many  parish priests and their bishops have engaged in, to somehow soften the destruction of faith and trust these crimes have brought upon the Church – their knee-jerk reactions: “You should not leave the Church – Yes, these things are bad, but we, the Catholic Church, still possess the ‘fullness of the truth, we have the Real Presence, sacramental life, Catholic schools (perhaps some of them felt like adding: ‘nice parish picnics’)”

– BROKEN by the same litany of disavowals and hypocritical breast-beating from those who regard their pectoral crosses not as symbols of paschal service, but as bludgeons to be used to achieve their status:  “We are so saddened by these recent disclosures . . . ” – HYPOCRITES!!!

– BROKEN, in a very special way, by the omission of the pain and clamor of the victims as these hypocritical half-hearted mitigations are repeated at Mass, time and over again . . .

Yes, indeed, as she has often done through the centuries, Mary is called once again to do what she did on that bleak, gray afternoon, on a barren mount outside the walls of Jerusalem: to hold the broken body of her Son, and wait . . . wait for the Spirit to elicit Resurrection by calling forth the ONLY people worth believing in the Church of her Son: the SAINTS and MARTYRS – and, quite obviously, I include here the saints and martyrs next door, those who labor, anonymously, silently, to somehow bring Paschal healing to all the victims, to all the abused down the centuries . . .

PIETA!! Mary, Mother of the suffering, of the humiliated, of the poor, of the abused, of those despised by the trappings and structures of social and ecclesiastical power, set your gaze upon so many broken bodies, intercede before your Son, tell Him to lavish his Paschal balm of consolation and healing upon all of us – upon your sinful Church!!