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Review of Vatican Waltz

-- a novel by Roland Merullo (New York: Crown Publishers, 2013)

Shannon Hengen, Sudbury | October 24, 2015

The description on this novel’s cover would seem to make it an essential read for any Roman Catholic woman who has ever thought of ordination to the priesthood.  The main character, Cynthia Clare Piantedosi, a quiet young woman studying nursing while living at home with and caring for her widowed father in a Boston suburb, develops a uniquely rich spiritual life.  Entering an almost trancelike state, she feels divine love intensely.  And at the centre of those feelings is what she perceives to be a call to the priesthood.  Merullo’s descriptions of those feelings are among the novel’s strengths.

Members of RCWP and others interested in the ordination of Catholic women priests will want to know that RCWP is actually mentioned in the novel, though not by name. Says one of the sympathetic priests she consults with, “There is a group of women who’ve been ordained or who consider themselves ordained.  I respect them, but they haven’t been acknowledged by the Vatican” (pp. 69-70).   He adds that “Maybe in a hundred years, or three hundred years, we’ll see married priests or female Roman Catholic priests.  Maybe” (p. 69). 

Not written in a poetic style—more journalistic, in fact—Vatican Waltz describes Cynthia’s meetings with Catholic clergy as she discerns her vocation, some meetings discreetly encouraging and others forcefully discouraging.  But the sense that she is somehow chosen and favoured by God seems to be recognized by all she meets.  In her hospital work as a student nurse, she unobtrusively heals patients with a laying on of her hands.

The trances and healings would set Cynthia apart in a way that would make her impossible to relate to, except that she also engages in compelling discussions and disagreements with clergy about the Church’s current and future state that seem convincingly, provocatively real.  In many ways she seems a typical thinking, questioning Catholic woman, and her talks with clergy compel the reader.  She naturally experiences a range of emotions from encouragement to despair; rarely, though, does she experience fear, and in that way she remains distant from the reader.

To lend suspense and intrigue to the novel, Merullo introduces a band of ultra-conservative Catholics, the Lamb of God group, who seriously threaten her and other progressive Catholics throughout.  When Cynthia travels to Rome to bring her petition to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and beyond, she is physically menaced by them but, with the support of her conviction, she carries on.

Italian by heritage, Cynthia falls in love with Rome, and her visits to its many beautiful churches provide lovely lyrical passages.  She also meets cousins who, however, hate the Church, connecting it with Fascist ideology and tactics.  Thematically, the novel rests between extremes of radical change, ordination of women on one hand and harsh repression of any change on the other. Unfortunately, the theme takes a baffling turn at novel’s end.

In a way preparing readers for the ending, the central character undergoes a revelation in one Italian church, Santa Maria in Trastevere, where she ponders a mosaic of Jesus and Mary, the son’s arm around his mother.  Intuiting that this church might be her true destination in Rome, rather than her meetings with cardinals, she muses: “That, I thought, that was my Jesus.  Not the tortured man hanging from nails on a cross . . . but an ordinary-looking, loving man . . . giving his mother an embrace that seemed to say, there is no distinction here, she and I are made of the same stuff” (p. 187).

Jesus accepted women as equals, this intuition declares.  The Church does not. In order for the Jesus of this intuition to return to the centre of the Catholic Church, a shift in current practice must be much greater than the ordination of women.  It must destroy the hierarchy as it is and replace it with what one Cardinal calls, simply, “the interior world” (p. 271) where we are “warm, . . . kind . . ., your heart is open to the full love of Christ without reservation” (p. 268).  In the current Church, he states baldly, when members act in such Christlike ways, “you must always invite hatred” (p. 268). Christ came “to break . . . things apart,” he continues, and “now in our Church we have a time like that also” (p. 269).

Such exciting and promising words from a Cardinal lead to the novel’s final scenes in which, in a clandestine meeting, he prays with Cynthia and requests her blessing.  What follows in the novel’s last pages is—to say the least—confusing, if not preposterous.  The Church may indeed require a Second Coming in order to reform, but readers might understandably hope for less dramatic means.  That the central character is brought to a “larger” (p. 271) purpose than ordination raises serious questions about the novelist’s view of women’s role in the Church.  Despite the novel’s last pages, and the nagging sense of distance that we sometimes feel from the main character, it could be worth the attention of those Catholic women who are discerning ordination.  Simply: beware of the conclusion!

Shannon Hengen, Sudbury

Catholic Women Speak
-- Book takes Pope Francis at his word and speaks with parrhesia

From the Introduction | October 27, 2015

In his opening address to the 2014 Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis reminded his fellow bishops of their “great responsibility: to carry the realities and the problems of the Churches, to help them walk on that path that is the Gospel of the family.” He encouraged them to speak with parrhesia – “to say all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say: without polite deference, without hesitation.”[1] Even though few women were present when he gave his address, the contributors to this book have taken Pope Francis at his word and have spoken with parrhesia.

This anthology is a collaboration among many women who believe that the Church cannot come to a wise and informed understanding of family life without listening to women. Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, in a letter sending his greetings to the contributors, described the book as “a narrative enchiridion of some of the issues – or rather persons – whose voices are an essential part of our community.” He expressed his “commitment to listen to every voice and to have free and serious dialogue, even on delicate and complex questions, with people who believe, with those who do not believe, and with those who believe or think differently.”[2] We hope and pray that other leaders in the Church will be equally open to dialogue, so that this book might be a resource for all who are responsible for the Church’s ministry to families in the modern world, and for those who wish to understand how women’s lives are shaped by their faith in Christ and the teachings of the Church.

Contributors to the book represent a little of the rich diversity and complexity of Catholic women’s lives, not only as wives and mothers but as women who are single, women in religious life, professional women, single mothers, women without children, divorced and remarried women, lesbian women, academic theologians and women in a wide range of pastoral, social and domestic roles. We are Catholic women who practise our faith and seek prayerfully to understand and respect the Church’s teachings. We sometimes have difficulty, however, with the ways in which these teachings are interpreted and implemented through the Church’s hierarchy and institutions, not least because these institutions remain overwhelmingly androcentric.

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Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness (Catholicity in an Evolving Universe Series) Kindle Edition

by Ilia Delio (Author)

A Review by Amazon.com | October 16, 2015

Universe" unveils a new paradigm for being Catholic, a conscious awareness of how everything in the universe forms a whole. Ilia Delio introduces a new word, catholicity, which is destined to become as discussed and familiar in this century as the word Catholic was in the 2nd century. Catholicity is a dynamic, spiritual quality of being Catholic that literally means “becoming whole.” It is an inner principle which first burst forth in the life of Jesus, and has the power to reconnect all the dimensions of life: spirituality, religion, the new sciences, culture, and society.

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Toward a compassionate Catholicism for tomorrow

Gerald Schmitz | August 6, 2015

The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis

A book by Garry Wills (New York, Viking, 2015)

Eminent American historian and Catholic thinker Garry Wills begins his latest book by observing “Pope Francis heartens some Catholics, but frightens others — both of them for the same reason, the prospect of change.” He quotes Francis that: “To be faithful, to be creative, we need to be able to change.” The notion of a perfect church based on institutional and doctrinal “immutability” may be of comfort to conservatives but is an illusion that ignores the actual history of a Catholic church that has changed early and often.

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Christ In Evolution by Sr. ILIA DELIO, O.S.F. addresses three of the most important issues for faith and theology in an age of science

Emil Kutarna | February 26, 2015

Sister Delio is Professor of Spirituality Studies at Washington Theological Union.  In the Forward to her book Christ In Evolution, John Haught, S.J. writes:

“This is indeed a very important book. . .  especially in its timely addressing of  three of the most important issues for faith and theology in an age of science.” (p. ix)

First, Delio provides a fresh evolutionary theology that remains completely faithful to science but without having to face the dead end of naturalism, which says that nature is all there is and the scientific method is the only reliable way to understand it, which suggests an atheistic conclusion about God.

Second, “Christian theology and spirituality have generally presented the figure of Christ in dimensions too diminutive to invite worship . . . Delio’s work provides a much needed alternative to the acosmic theology and spirituality that still shapes the religious life of countless Christians.” (p. x)

Third, Delio’s work prepares the ground for integrating “a scientific understanding of the universe with the idea of an infinite divine love and fidelity that can make sense only if God is at least personal.” (p. x)

Delio herself writes, “My primary concern in this book is not with evolution or intelligent design and their “mechanisms” of action but with the person of Jesus Christ and the meaning of Christ for Christian life today”. (p. 3). She mentions Teilhard de Chardin’s notion that Christ is the inner meaning of the universe and its goal -- the Omega Point.  He writes that the whole evolutionary creation is a Divine Milieu, pregnant with God. (p. 5)

Considering the idea of the universe as creation, Delio follows the thinking of St. Bonaventure who did not consider foremost the incarnation as a remedy for sin but the primacy of love and the completion of creation.  Christ does not save us from creation; rather Christ is the reason for creation.

Delio notes that Raimon Panikkar, a Catholic Hindu scholar, says that “Christ is not only the name of an historical personage, but a reality in our own lives.” He uses the term Christophany to indicate that each person bears the mystery of Christ within. In a similar vein Delio notes that Thomas Merton’s Christology builds on finding one’s identity in God, since to find God is to find oneself, and to find oneself is to find Christ. (p. 11)

Jesus vs Christ

The acosmic theology and spirituality that shapes the religious life of countless Christians is based on the biblical account of creation taken literally and gave rise to the notion of Original Sin and the need for a Redeemer which is Jesus Christ and the crucifixion.

In contrast, Illia Delio writes:

“The evolutionary worldview, however, has opened up for us a whole new meaning of humanity, and, within humanity the emergence of Jesus Christ. John Haught has spoken of evolution as Darwin’s gift to theology, and I think we can say here that evolution is, in particular. Darwin’s gift to Christology. For the whole concept of evolution has liberated Christ from the limits of the man Jesus and enabled us to locate Christ in the heart of creation: the primacy of God’s love, the exemplar of creation, the centrating principle of evolution, and the Omega point of an evolutionary universe. Rather than fixing our attention on a lonely, static figure of Jesus Christ, we can now locate Christ at the heart of the whole evolutionary process from cosmic evolution to biologic evolution to evolution of human consciousness and culture.” (p. 174)

Sister Delio believes that we are entering a second Axial Age – a time that a new concept of creation and its meaning is dawning with the great scientific and theological thinkers of this age.

Emil Kutarna, Regina

The Elephant in

the Church by 

Mary T. Malone: 

Book Review

Gladys Ganiel | December 2, 2014

The Elephant in the Church: A Woman’s Tract for Our Times (Columba 2014), the latest book by Mary T. Malone, is a passionately-argued, historically-grounded plea for women to have equal voices and positions in the Catholic Church.

Malone retired home to Ireland in 1997 after teaching almost 40 years in Canada in Toronto’s St Augustine Seminary, and the University of St Jerome’s, the Catholic College on the campus of the University of Waterloo. She is previously the author of a trilogy on Women and Christianity (2000, 2001, 2003) and Praying with the Women Mystics (2006), all published by Columba.
Malone argues that women, and their exclusion, are the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to discussions of renewal and reform in the Catholic Church.

The male-dominated hierarchy just don’t want to talk about women or listen to their perspectives. Women’s exclusion is an issue that won’t be solved simply by allowing the ordination of women to the priesthood, an office which Malone sees as a ‘male construct’. For her, change must go much deeper than that. As she writes (xii):

‘Women are still the permanently silenced members of the Roman Catholic Church, nothing they think or say is of interest when it comes to formulating teaching, or revising the public prayer of the Church. But the Good News has penetrated the imaginations of people, and the open horizons offered by Jesus continue to inspire people to move beyond the imposed spiritual and theological restrictions.’

Setting herself the task of pushing her readers beyond these restrictions, The Elephant in the Church chronicles, ‘the lives and teaching of women throughout the whole span of Christianity … in the hope that, as women and men Christians, our joint insights, historical and contemporary, may help to renew the church we love’ (p. xiii).

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Truly our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints

by Elizabeth A. Johnson   (Author)

The first-century Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth, mother of Jesus, is the most celebrated female religious figure in the Christian tradition. Elizabeth Johnson offers an interpretation of Mary that is theologically sound, spiritually empowering, ethically challenging, socially liberating, and ecumenically fruitful. In particular, she sees the image of Mary as a blessing rather than a blight for women's lives in both religious and political terms.

"My hope—and warning—is that in rediscovering Mary according to their
own theological tradition, Lutherans do not repeat some of the mistakes that
Catholics are trying to get out from under, especially in terms of gender stereotyping.
This is a book written with the vision of women and men together forming the
church as a discipleship of equals. That is part of its attraction, I think, because
such a state is still a dream in the Catholic church." (Elizabeth Johnson)

Regina woman invites priests to have the courage to obey the voice of their own conscience in response to the Spirit speaking within their hearts (Review of Roy Bourgeois' book, My Journey from Silence to Solidarity)

February, 2014

When Judith Pellerin was asked why she did it, she replied that her main reason was to make the priests and others aware of what she felt was an injustice toward Father Roy Bourgeois.  What she did was purchase and distribute to 24 priests and other spiritual directors a book called, My Journey from Silence to Solidarity by Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest.

“Fr. Bourgeois was dismissed from the priesthood and his religious community for following his conscience which we have always been taught is mandatory for us to do in faithfulness to Jesus”, said Pellerin. Further, she stated that he has been punished as much, and in some cases more, than those who have abused children; he has not spoken against any doctrine or dogma of our faith; he spoke out against and took action against a discipline of the church which is man-made and could be changed; it amounted to a demand by church authority that he go against his conscience and obey this discipline of the church, Pellerin insisted.

Other reasons given by Pellerin for the book distribution project were as follows:
- My own desire to see justice done towards women on all fronts, and especially for our church to show leadership in justice, equality, and inclusivity in the name of Jesus whom we follow;
- Show Church leaders there is support for women’s ordination and hope this encourages them to take a positive stance in the involvement of women in parishes wherever possible.  [We still have priests who refuse to include women in the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, in deference to a legalistic interpretation of liturgical law, although we also have many who have been inclusive in this regard for many years.]
- Prompt priests to reflect prayerfully on where they stand personally on the issue of equality and justice for women in the church, and encourage them to speak out, risky as it will be, when their consciences do not accept the injustice and inequality.

Specifically who received the book? Pellerin listed the following:

- Archbishop Bohan, Archbishop of Regina;
- newly retired Archbishop Weisgerber;
- pastors in Regina and Moose Jaw;
- some spiritual directors and some members of religious communities;
- Pope Francis.

Who distributed the book? The project organizer related the following: Members of the Spirit Seekers, an inclusive circle of men and women who meet monthly to pray, reflect and share faith and personal stories from life and from their relationships with the Divine, enthusiastically helped out. Several members took a few each and delivered them in their area of the city.  “I didn’t want them to arrive at rectories amidst the Christmas stack of cards etc. or when pastors were still tired from the Advent/Christmas busy-ness; so we distributed them during the last week of January.

When asked if there was any response, Pellerin replied that it was too soon for many responses to come in.  “However, one recipient happened to phone and when I answered he thanked me for the book, said he would read it, stated he might not agree with all of it but would discuss it with me when he was done.  I took this as a real positive,” she said.

Further responses will be published on the RCWP Canada web site as they become available.
Two things were included with the book. One was a postcard which Fr. Roy Bourgeois sent along with the books.  A photo shows a young girl of about 8 years of age sitting in a desk in a classroom with her hand raised as if to answer a question.  The caption reads “Who Wants to Be a Priest?”The second item was a note which Pellerin added.  It read, “My wish is that you will take time to read this book in its entirety.  It is only 43 pages and will not take long.  Then I ask that you sit in stillness with the Holy Spirit and listen to your heart.”
A member of a Regina women's circle talked to Fr. Roy Bourgeois at the CTA conference in November, 2013.  It was reported that he is willing to come to Regina by the summer of 2015.

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