from elsewhere

Vatican

Lay woman takes key job

When talk turns to ‘women in the church,’ the normal association in the public mind is with debates over the ordination of women to the priesthood. Because there’s been no movement on that front, the tendency is often to assume the ‘women’s question’ is frozen in place. In reality, however, the last few decades have seen a broad trend towards appointing women to positions of ecclesiastical leadership that don’t require sacramental ordination.

In the United States, for example, 48.4% of all administrative positions in dioceses today are held by women. At the most senior levels, 26.8% of executive positions are held by women.

On Thursday, another crack in the glass ceiling appeared in the Vatican itself: for only the second time, a lay woman was appointed to one of the three key leadership positions inside a dicastery, or department, of the Roman Curia. On 21 January, Pope Benedict XVI named Italian lay woman Flaminia Giovanelli, 61, a long-time official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as the new under-secretary of that council.

Within each dicastery of the Roman Curia, there are generally three top positions: the prefect or president, who is generally a cardinal or an archbishop; the secretary, generally an archbishop or bishop; and the under-secretary, usually a monsignor or other cleric. Collectively, these three figures are known as i superiori, or ‘the superiors,’ inside the office.

Giovanelli now joins Salesian Sr Enrica Rosanna, also an Italian, as the only two women to hood a ‘superior’-level position in the Vatican. Rosanna was appointed in 2004 as under-secretary in the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. (That was generally held to be a slightly more significant move, since a congregation has greater authority in the Vatican than a council.)

Giovanelli is the second woman who is not a member of a religious order to hood such a job. The first was Australian lay woman Rosemary Goodie, who served as under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 1966 to 1976.

Giovanelli was born in Rome on 24 March 1948. She hoods a degree in Political Science from Rome’s Sapienza University (a secular institution) as well as degrees in Religious Science from the Pontifical Gregorian University and in Library Science from the Vatican Library. She has worked in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace since 1974.

John L. Allen Jr

 

U.S.A. 1

The other view

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori came to Dallas this month to spend a weekend at St Michael and All Angels, where I am a member. During her three years as presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church of America, she has ridden a whirlwind of acrimony with a steady, determined drive to bring calm to chaos and to dispatch those who would rather be elsewhere anyway, or so they say.

This includes Jack Iker, the former bishop of Fort Worth. By elsewhere, he and the others mean a religious body that does not elect gay bishops, as Episcopalians did in New Hampshire six years ago or again, in early December, in Los Angeles, when they chose Mary Glasspool, a double-affront since some of the dissidents are not so high on women as priests either, much less as bishops.

Bishop Katharine, as she is called, has written a stream of letters to those who threaten her church, among them Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. She urged him to stay out of Virginia and refrain from installing a breakaway bishop of that state as head of a breakaway group called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. He came nonetheless. He may also think he saw and conquered, but I’m not convinced of that.

Another intruder in the United States was Bishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone, based in Buenos Aires. Despite entreaties from Bishop Katharine not to meddle in affairs not his own, he came to Fort Worth even so, and lured Bishop Jack Iker and his diocese to renounce The Episcopal Church of America and instead join the group in Argentina. Bishop Katharine took it to mean that Jack Iker also had renounced his orders, and that was that. As she put it to me, ‘He is no longer a bishop in the Episcopal Church.’

Now Fort Worth has a recreated diocese with a new bishop, Wallis Ohl, who quickly ordained two women priests, something Jack Iker never would have countenanced. Currently Bishop Iker, whose dissident congregations are under the aegis of Argentina after all, is loath to give up his buildings in Fort Worth, which the newly reconstituted diocese claims as its own, historically and legally. All that will be settled in court, but however it goes, I suspect that those who take on Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will discover at some point that they have misread her qualities.

At St Michael’s she showed herself to be reserved and modest, but also impressively strong and imperturbable, willing to withstand whatever comes, without flinching. While she seeks conciliation, if that proves impossible she does not hesitate to say goodbye. Moreover, she has a powerful presence and firm convictions. Here in Dallas she made the most compelling case for social justice I have ever heard. That’s because she gave it a fresh context: joy. If anybody can save The Episcopal Church of America, it is Katharine Jefferts Schori, the improbable bishop who now is indispensable.

Lee Cullum hosts the monthly program, C.E.O., on KERA Television

 

USA 2

Different books, common word

aptist–Muslim engagement may be the most unanticipated and under-reported religion story of 2009 with the far-reaching potential to advance the common good. Time will soon determine whether it is a fool’s errand or a fullness-of-time movement.

It began in January 2009 with a three-day meeting in Boston between 40 Baptist leaders and 40 Muslim leaders. Papers were presented. Prayers were said. Meals were shared. Business cards were exchanged. Promises for follow-up steps were made.

Also in January, the Baptist World Alliance, the largest global Baptist body, released its offcial response to the Islamic letter known as A‘ Common Word Between Us and You.’

Two months later, the BWA dedicated a baptismal centre on the Jordan River where John the Baptist is thought to have baptized Jesus. The land was a gift from the Jordanian government, facilitated by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad, who is the chief architect of the Common Word initiative. On the July 4th weekend in Washington, D.C., well-known Baptist preacher Rick Warren spoke at the annual meeting of the Islamic Society of North America.

Off the public radar was another development. The Baptist Center for Ethics, better known for its website, EthicsDaily.com, was invited to produce an hour-long documentary that will begin airing on ABC-TV stations in January 2010. The documentary is titled ‘Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims.’

At the heart of the documentary is the recognition that Baptists and Muslims have different sacred books but a common word – love thy neighbour. The documentary tells five stories about Muslims and Baptists who pursue neighbour love through interfaith dialogue and interfaith action, stories that will surprise viewers.

These stories run counter to the dominant attitude among Baptist clergy toward Muslims. Too many Baptist preachers in America demonize the Prophet Muhammad and smear Muslims as terrorists, fearing Islam as a dangerous religion. Other fearful clerics avoid hate talk. Instead, they talk about the need to win Muslims to Jesus as the only way to relate to them.

Robert Parham

 

USA 3

Bishop blesses a priest and her partner

The Episcopal Church’s Bishop of New Hampshire wasted no time in commemorating same-sex marriages in his state, which became legal on 1 January. The Rt Revd Gene Robinson presided at a celebration and blessing of the civil marriage of the Revd Eleanor ‘Ellie’ McLaughlin and her partner, Elizabeth ‘Besty’ Hess, on 2 January.

The ceremony took place at St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Berlin, New Hampshire, where Ms McLaughlin served as rector from 2001 to 2008. Ms Hess, who holds a PhD in clinical psychology and maintains a private practice in Berlin, is a member of the Diocese of New Hampshire’s standing committee.

A civil marriage ceremony preceded the blessing, and Bishop Robinson would like to see that order become more common in Episcopal congregations. ‘I think it would be very helpful to disentangle church and state around the issue of marriage,’ he told n e Living Church. Once civil officials extend what the government offers – civil recognition of a marriage – a priest then provides ‘the blessings of God, the church and the community’ on the couple, the bishop said.

In his homily, Bishop Robinson referred to the account in Genesis of God creating Adam and then providing him with a soul mate. One account of the ceremony described Bishop Robinson as pronouncing Adam ‘with a long ‘A’ as in ‘dame.’ ‘The bishop said he was striving for a faithful Hebrew pronunciation of Adam and not for the words ‘a dame.’ The bishop said he readily agreed to preside at the ceremony, as he has known both Ms Hess and Ms McLaughlin for decades.

The order of service used by Ms Hess and Ms McLaughlin recognizes the state as having jurisdiction over marriage, the bishop said. Divorcing couples recognize this jurisdiction, he said, by approaching the state, not the church, to dissolve their bonds. Drawing on his own experience, Bishop Robinson also believes the church has a pastoral role to play by helping couples grieve if their marriage fails.

‘I would love to see us do some serious liturgical thinking about how we can be helpful to couples,’ he said. Such a rite would not celebrate divorce but would emphasize God’s continuing presence. ‘I think the great message of Scripture is that God promises to be with us to the end of the age,’ he said, even amid failure.

The bishop recalled how he and his former wife returned their wedding rings to each other when they were divorced. He said he had not realized what a healing experience that would be. ‘It’s coming up on 24 years ago,’ he said, ‘and I still remember it like it was yesterday.’

 

In Egypt, seven Coptic Christians were murdered yesterday by a Muslim gunman as they filed out of a midnight mass in the southern town of Nag Hamadi. In Pakistan, more than a hundred Christian homes were ransacked by a Muslim mob last July in the village of Bahmaniwala. In Iraq that same month, seven Christian churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul in the space of three days.

Such atrocities – and there are scores of other examples – are grim reminders that when it comes to persecution, few groups have suffered as grievously as Christians in Muslim lands. Fewer still have suffered with such little attention paid. Now a new report from the nonThprofit ministry, Open Doors USA, shines a light on the scale of oppression.

In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors ranks eight Muslim countries among the ten worst persecutors of Christians. The other two, North Korea (which tops the list) and Laos, are communist states. Of the 50 countries on the list, 35 are majority Muslim. Open Doors reports that in 2009 the Islamic Republic arrested 85 Christians, many of whom were also mistreated in prison. In 2008, some 50 Christians were arrested and one Christian couple was beaten to death by security officials. At least part of the reason for the mistreatment appears to be the result of Muslim conversions to Christianity: apostasy carries a mandatory death sentence in Iran.

In Saudi Arabia (number 3), all non-Muslim public worship is forbidden. The state forbids the building of any type of non-Muslim house of worship, and Christian expatriates in the kingdom must practice their faith in private. The same goes in the Maldives, where the report notes that all citizens must be Muslim; ‘the handful of indigenous Christians are forced to believe in complete secrecy.’ Similarly in Mauritania, conversion to Christianity or any other religions is formally punishable by death.

Little wonder, then, that once-thriving Christian communities in the Muslim world have now largely voted with their feet by fleeing to safer havens, often in Europe or the United States. That’s true even in religiously important communities such as Bethlehem, where the Christian majority has largely fled since the arrival in the 1990s of Yasser Arafat’s repressive government and the ascendancy of Islamist groups such as Hamas. By contrast, Christians practise their religion freely and openly in Israel, just a few miles distant.

It might seem natural that at least some attention would be paid in the West to the plight of these Christians. Instead, attention seems endlessly focused on ‘Islamophobia’, not least at the UN’s misnamed Human Rights Council. In November, much of Europe went berserk over the Swiss referendum to ban the construction of minarets (though not of mosques). But the West’s tolerance for its large Muslim populations stands in sharp contrast to the Muslim world’s bigotry and persecution of its own religious minorities. -That’s a fact that ought to be borne in mind the next time Westerners berate themselves about their own supposed ‘intolerance’.

<www.opendoorsusa.org>

USA 4

‘Out of tune with its members’

The official stance of the Episcopal Church on immigration is not representative of the belief of the people in its pews, a survey conducted on behalf of the non-partisan Washington think-tank, the Center for Immigrations Studies [CIS] reports.

While religious leaders have pressed the government to relax the country’s immigration laws, an overwhelming majority of American religious voters believe the current level of immigration is too high and favour stricter enforcement of current laws.

One out of eight US residents, or 38 million people, are immigrants, while over the past decade 1.5 million legal and illegal immigrants have settled in the US each year.

At its July 2009 General Convention, The Episcopal Church called for the removal of sanctions against illegal immigrants. Resolution B006 called for the ‘millions of undocumented immigrants who have established roots in the United States’ to have ‘a pathway to legalization.’ The resolution argued that immigrants fill jobs that American workers will not do, and are often better workers than native-born Americans as ‘workers who are US citizens often quit after only a few days of work’.

The Episcopal Church’s stance is shared by the United Methodists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, and is closely aligned to the views of the US Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops.

In a poll conducted for CIS in November, voters were asked to identify their religious beliefs and to respond to eight questions on immigration policies. In contrast to many religious leaders, most members think immigration is too high. Among Roman Catholics: 69% said immigration is too high, 4% said too low; for Mainline Protestants including Episcopalians the figures were 72% to 2%; evangelical Protestants were 78% to 3%.

Pluralities of religious voters believe that stricter enforcement of current laws is the proper way forward. Asked to choose between stricter enforcement to encourage illegal immigrants to return home, versus allowing them to find pathways towards legalization in the US, overwhelming majorities favoured sending illegal aliens home: Roman Catholics 64 to 23%; mainline Protestants 64 to 24%; and evangelicals 76 to 12%.

Camarota said that while the findings were ‘stark’ they were ‘not so surprising.’ ‘Voters have always been sceptical of high levels of immigration and opposition to legalization is long-standing, as the debates over comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2007 made clear.’

Church leaders often ‘identify strongly with the plight of illegal immigrants and people in other countries who wish to come here’ and ‘make it plain that they believe that legalization is the only moral option,’ yet they ‘do not themselves face foreign job competition,’ Camarota said.

George Conger ND

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Home Page