Voices Online Edition
Volume XV, No. 2 - Jubilee Year
by Donna Steichen
Fatima: Apocalypse deferred
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, broke the long-standing official silence on the Third Secret of Fatima to explain its contents, on Saturday, May 13, the 83rd anniversary of the first appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to three children at Fatima, Portugal.
The cardinal made the announcement to a congregation of some 600,000, as Pope John Paul II concluded beatification ceremonies for Jacinta and Francisco Marto, the two shepherd children who died soon after witnessing the apparitions. The third visionary, their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, 93, now a cloistered Carmelite nun, was present at the beatification and received communion from the Holy Father.
The Blessed Mother appeared to the children six times and showed them three visions of the future. The first concerned the ending of World War I and the start of World War II; the second foresaw the rise and fall of Soviet communism, followed by a "time of peace". Those two have long been known to the public, but the third, which followers expected to learn in 1960, had never been made public. The delay fueled apocalyptic speculations about its nature. Many believed the third secret foretold the end of the world.
The secret, Cardinal Sodano said, involves a vision of an assassination attempt on a pope, a vision matching the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981. The cardinal said the children spoke of a "bishop clothed in white'' and caught up in a battle against an atheistic system that oppresses the Church. Sister Lucia, the surviving seer, confirmed that the "bishop in white" is the pope, who "falls to the ground, as if dead, after a volley of gunfire." Since surviving the attempt on his life -- which also occurred on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima -- the pope has said he believes the Virgin Mary is responsible for his survival.
Cardinal Sodano explained the third secret in general terms. The complete text of Mary's message will follow shortly, he promised, along with a commentary from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It had not yet been released at press time.
The Holy Father said the fundamental message of the Virgin at Fatima is also the essential message of the Gospels: "an invitation to believers to pray constantly for peace in the world, and to do penance in order to open hearts to conversion." The message, he said, is singularly apt in our time, "which has been particularly tested" by the events of the past century, "that very tormented historical period."
To some Catholics who grew up before the Second Vatican Council, news of the disclosure seemed anticlimactic, more an autopsy report on the dead century than a prophecy for the future. Others saw it as offering hope that the Church's long agony of persecution, heresy and apostasy may be ending in the promised time of peace, and searched for clues in the news of the day.
On the episcopal front
Bishops figured importantly in recent Catholic news, some of it very good, some -- not. First, the bad news:
Canada's bishops are publicly divided over support for a mammoth feminist political demonstration, and that division is the sole high note in an otherwise deplorable scenario.
Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary is the only Canadian bishop on the Executive Committee of the bishops' official social justice agency, the semi-independent Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. It was through CCODP that the Canadian Bishops Conference recently donated $110,000 to the pro-abortion, pro-homosexual World March of Women 2000.
Bishop Henry attracted further media attention on May 6, when he told the Alberta Pro-Life Alliance that pro-life activists are "the rudest people I have to deal with." He castigated them for ignoring "broader life issues" like occupational safety, AIDS, and capital punishment, yet criticizing the CCCB donation to the feminist march which promotes many "just causes."
On May 9, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto wrote to priests of the Archdiocese, condemning "the association of (CCODP) with this group (International March of Women)."
"We need to make a clear and definite statement to disassociate our Archdiocese with this movement through (CCODP)," Cardinal Ambrozic wrote, so the fundraising arm of the Toronto Archdiocese, ShareLife, was reducing funding to CCODP by $110,000, the amount the group gave to the feminist march.
ShareLife explained in a letter to CCODP that it was ending its funding because "while the International March still has at its core many vital issues on which we are all in agreement, it has nonetheless come to carry both a direct, and a pervasive if indirect, message on two issues which are incompatible with our participation: abortion and legitimization of same-sex relationships as marriage."
The CCCB responded with a news release issued in conjunction with the Catholic Women's League (CWL), the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), and the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC). The statement said "As four major national Catholic organizations, we jointly reaffirm our support of the objectives of this year's World March of Women."
"The World Demands contain no reference to abortion," said the CCCB letter. Yet the coordinating committee of the International Women's March declared unanimously that its "reproductive rights" language was indeed a demand for abortion. The CCCB letter dismissed concerns that the march supports homosexual marriage by saying, "support of the general objectives" of the march "does not mean support for each and every one of the specific Canadian demands."
US bishops: "See Change" in Catholics for a Free Choice?
In Washington D.C., by happy contrast, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on May 16 publicly and forcefully condemned the abortion lobby group "Catholics for a Free Choice." (Text of the NCCB statement is on page 19.)
This announcement is one the bishops have made previously, but so tirelessly active is CFFC under its director Frances Kissling that the denunciation must be repeated periodically. The latest confrontation, they said, was needed to respond to CFFC's "See Change" campaign "to end the official presence and silence the moral voice of the Holy See at the United Nations as a Permanent Observer." The US Bishops noted that CFFC is a mere lobbying front for the international abortion industry, "funded by a number of powerful and wealthy private foundations, mostly American, to promote abortion as a method of population control." CFFC's annual budget is more than $4 million.
Despite its hefty budget, CFFC has recruited fewer than 500 allied groups in more than a year. In only four months, pro-lifers have garnered support from 2000 diverse groups opposed to the CFFC drive. Worried about its floundering campaign, CFFC recently hired Heidenpriem and Mager, a Washington DC public relations firm with Democratic political connections, to run the "See Change" effort and try to defeat resolutions supportive of the Holy See that are being considered in the US Congress.
Cardinal O'Connor, R.I.P.
In New York, Cardinal John O'Connor died on Wednesday, May 3, after 16 years as Archbishop of New York, and eight months after his surgery for a brain tumor.
The dedication of Cardinal O'Connor, a constant champion of the right to life, put his funeral at St Patrick's Cathedral into the national news. Crowded into front pews were the leading contenders in the current political season, most of them pro-abortion, from the Clintons and Vice President Al Gore to Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Governor George Pataki.
From the pulpit, Cardinal Bernard Law praised the late cardinal by saying, "What a great legacy he has left us in his constant reminder that the Church must always be unambiguously pro-life." Spontaneously, the congregation stood and applauded for almost two full minutes.
Visibly uncomfortable, most of the politicians rose slowly and refrained from joining in the applause, explaining later that they did so only out of respect for Cardinal O'Connor, not because their pro-abortion zeal had wavered. Only the George Bushes, father and son, applauded with enthusiasm.
Bishop Egan appointed
Just a week after Cardinal O'Connor's death, Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Edward M. Egan of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to succeed him as head of the Archdiocese of New York.
Archbishop-elect Egan, 68 and a native of Chicago, served in the Roman Rota, the ecclesiastical court, for 22 years, first as a canon lawyer and later as a judge. He was also a principal author of the revised 1983 Code of Canon Law, and in that role worked closely with the Holy Father.
From 1985 to 1988, Bishop Egan served under Cardinal O'Connor, as auxiliary bishop of New York and vicar for education. Subsequently he served 11 years in the Bridgeport see, where he earned a reputation as an outstanding financial administrator by overcoming a multimillion dollar deficit.
A gifted shepherd, he was able to attract many priesthood candidates to his seminary. (His first act as archbishop of New York was to ordain several men to the priesthood.)
He is also a concert-quality pianist, and like his predecessor, noted for warmth, articulate wit, and political judgment.
Record number of vocations in Paraguay
Meanwhile, in the most Providential event of all, Archbishop Felipe Santiago Benitez of Asuncion, Paraguay, said in a May 14 homily that he credits "God and the Holy Father" for the record number of vocations in his South American archdiocese.
"Today, I inform you with great joy that the Archdiocese of Asuncion alone has 180 seminarians, a figure never reached in the country's history," he said. "This year, the Lord has exceptionally called many workers to his vineyard, and all of them are diocesan vocations."
Archbishop Benitez said the extraordinary increase in priestly vocations "comes as a surprise and a blessing, especially after the long vocational drought of the '70s and the '80s." Other Paraguayan dioceses are experiencing the same phenomenon, he said, especially Villarica, the first to register a steep rise in vocations. The archbishop said most of the seminarians he talks to credit "the moving witness" of the pope's image as a critical source in forming their vocations.
The spirit of Sister Madeleva?
To give whatever credit may be due, Sister Sandra Schneiders has always been remarkably frank. In the past, no one could doubt her distaste for the Catholic faith, or her determination to construct a different kind of religion in its place. In her 1991 book, Beyond Patching: Faith and Feminism in the Catholic Church, she explained:
(W)e are not talking about how to organize the institution. We are talking about whether the god of Judeo-Christian revelation is true God or just men-writ-large to legitimate their domination; whether Jesus, an historical male, is or can be messiah and savior for those who are not male; whether what the church has called sacraments are really encounters with Christ or tools of male ritual abuse of women.
Lest anyone miss the message, she reiterated it in her 1997 address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious:
For many the God of Christianity seems too small, too violent, and too male; the focus on Jesus Christ seems narrow and exclusive; the resurrection seems mythological if not incredible and, in any case, irrelevant to a world in anguish; the institutional church seems hopelessly medieval, sexist, and clerical; liturgy is alienating; morality is out of touch with reality; and church ministry is a continual battle with male hostility and power dynamics.
In short, she concluded, life for women religious today is "an attempt to develop a spirituality without religion."
Schneiders was this year's featured lecturer at a retreat held annually since 1985 at St. Mary's College in South Bend, Indiana purportedly to honor the late Sister Madeleva Wolff, president of the college from 1943 to 1961.
In her address, Schneiders repeated her standard indictment of human history as a cruel plot against women, describing feminism as "a comprehensive ideology, rooted in women's experience of sexually based oppression, which engages in a critique of patriarchy as an essentially dysfunctional system, embraces an alternative vision for humanity and the earth and actively seeks to bring this vision to realization."
But then she veered off in a new and unexpected direction. "Gospel feminism," she said, "is inseparable from the gospel of Jesus, whose life and example is now the primary source for the women's movement within the church."
"We need to claim, consciously and publicly, without apology or equivocation, our conviction that the feminist vision is not simply one utopian dream among others, the private cause of some disgruntled women, but a crucial factor in the shaping of the future because it is quintessentially a gospel vision of full humanity for all persons and right relations among all creatures," Schneiders continued.
As professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, Schneiders holds a prestigious post in contemporary Catholic academia.
So do most of the 15 other past Madeleva lecturers who gathered on April 28 to hear her address and join in composing a 300 word feminist manifesto that called for a "Re-imagined" model of the Church. While the exhortation to "re-imagine" the faith evoked memories of the hair-raising 1993 conference sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the rhetoric on the whole was fairly muted, as feminist pronouncements go.
Declaring that the writers represent "gospel feminism," "share in a universal vision that is faithful to our catholic [sic] tradition" and "seek to follow the way of Jesus Christ, who inspires our hope and guides our concerns," the manifesto might lead readers unfamiliar with feminism to suppose, erroneously, that it bears some relationship to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, feminism's identifying characteristic is a refusal to take up any crosses and follow Him.
Time may reveal whether an authentic conversion to Christianity is underway among leaders of religious feminism. Another and more probable explanation is their general recognition that the ecclesiastical revolution is over. Several prominent participants mournfully acknowledged defeat.
Schneiders said of fellow Madeleva lecturers, "Today, women like Joan Chittister, Denise Carmody and Mary Collins, who are trying to open the institutional church and its ministry to the vocations and gifts of women, are pushing a Sisyphean boulder of nearly 1,800 year's weight up the greased hill of a fiercely defended male power structure."
Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose book, She Who Is, demands that God be imagined and addressed as female, said the manifesto offers comfort to feminists who "are hanging on by their fingernails, in deep spiritual distress." She said "we are entering into a particularly dark time, a time to keep hope alive. When morning comes, the banked fire can be flared up again."
Even the ebullient Sister Chittister lamented to the National Catholic Reporter, "these are difficult times for progressive Catholics." Rome seems intent on punishing dissent, she said, and even so progressive a man as Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland predicts "a period of retrenchment in liturgical and pastoral life under an increasingly cautious American episcopacy." Still, she said, she stakes her hopes on "the certainty of Easter Sunday for a battered, broken and rejected Jesus."
Donna Steichen, a long-time WFF member, is best known for her 1991 book, Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism. A new book, Prodigal Daughters: Catholic Women Come Home to the Church, is now available from Ignatius Press. She writes a regular column for Voices.
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