The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Ebola Prompts Hands-Off Mass in Fort Worth, Texas

The Blood of Christ will not be offered during Mass. The Host will be placed in the hands, not on the tongue. And the faithful should not hold hands while reciting the “Our Father.”

These are but a few of the guidelines the Diocese of Fort Worth — not far from the Dallas hospital where three Ebola cases have been diagnosed — has sent to its parishes to calm fears about the deadly disease and to prevent the spread of flu.

While the diocese is perhaps the first in the U.S. to send around such a memo thanks in part to Ebola, such restrictions are common during flu season in Catholic and other churches that offer Communion.

“It’s the same guidelines we have used in past years,” said Pat Svacina, communications director for the Diocese of Fort Worth. “This is just a normal thing. There is no panic whatsoever.”

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Pope Paul VI Is Almost a Saint: Here Are 4 of His Biggest Legacies

As he wraps up a Vatican meeting marked by sharp debates over sex and morality, Pope Francis on Oct. 19 will honor one of his most controversial predecessors by beatifying Pope Paul VI, who is most famous for reaffirming the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception.

Beatification puts Paul one step shy of formal sainthood. The move might seem out of step with Francis’ pastoral approach given that Paul’s birth control ruling, in the 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” set the stage for the culture wars that overtook Catholicism after Paul died in 1978.

A wide swath of Catholics, especially in the U.S. and Europe, were furious over Paul’s decision. They were convinced that the ban would be lifted and that Paul was shutting down the reforms that had begun a few years earlier with momentous changes adopted by the Second Vatican Council.

Many conservatives, on the other hand, hailed “Humanae Vitae” for reasserting traditional doctrine, and the division foreshadowed the deep splits that have played out even in this month’s high-level synod in Rome — a polarization that Francis says he wants to overcome.

Yet Francis is trying to accomplish that goal by focusing not so much on “Humanae Vitae” but on Paul VI’s many other groundbreaking, though often overlooked, contributions:

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It’s Time for Whites to Accept Responsibility for Racist Systems

I and many other faith leaders came to Ferguson, Missouri, on Sunday and Monday because of Michael Brown—an 18-year-old black teenager who, though unarmed, was shot and killed by a white police officer on August 9. My first thoughts when I heard the news were about my 16-year-old son Luke. I knew how unlikely it would be that this would ever happen to my white son in America.

Coming to Ferguson was about Michael Brown. But Ferguson has also become a parable for our nation. Jesus often told parables. A parable is just a story, but often one with a simple but important point.

The Ferguson parable is simply this: black lives in America are worth less than white lives—especially in our criminal justice system. And the parable of Ferguson rings true around the nation, with the many young black men who were and have been assaulted, shot and killed before and after Michael Brown.

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Seventh-Day Adventists to Decide in 2015 on Women’s Ordination

Seventh-day Adventists opted for a middle-way approach on the divisive issue of women’s ordination on Oct. 14, kicking the question to next year’s worldwide meeting without taking a firm stance either for or against women’s ordination.

Next year’s debate will come nearly 100 years after the death of Adventist matriarch Ellen White and could settle decades of disagreement over whether women should be allowed to be ordained in the 18 million-member church she co-founded.

The church’s Annual Council voted to refer the matter to the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio. Under the proposal, regional church bodies would be able to decide whether to ordain women pastors.

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U.S. Archbishop Urges Both Sides to Cool Down at Vatican

After two days of fighting between happy liberals and angry conservatives, the Vatican on Oct. 15 dispatched a leading moderate from the U.S. church to tell both sides to temper their expectations about impending changes in church doctrine.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stressed that a working document on family issues released on Oct. 13 is simply that — a draft document still subject to amendment by about 200 bishops and lay delegates meeting at Vatican City.

The midpoint report from the two-week Synod on the Family raised expectations that the Catholic Church was poised to revolutionize its teaching on homosexuality, divorce and cohabitation, saying gays and lesbians have “gifts and qualities” to offer the church.

On Oct. 15, Kurtz, flanked by Spanish Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach and Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, urged both sides to take a breath.

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Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill Church

Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who had been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego, resigned from his Seattle church Oct. 15, according to a document obtained by Religion News Service.

The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.

“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.

Driscoll was not asked to resign, according to a letter from the church’s board of overseers. “Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter,” the overseers wrote.

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Let Us Demonstrate to the World How Repentance Works

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” —2 Chronicles 7:14

Confession and repentance are messy and painful, and they don’t come natural to us. Our human heart is in a natural state of denial. Without an external agent, God, we are unable to recognize our prejudices, offenses, and sins.

In the previous text God speaks to God’s people, those whom God claims as God’s own. We belong to the Creator and to each other. That means that regardless of how we perceive others, and regardless of how others perceive us, bonds that can’t be broken tied us up. The relationship we share is held together by the very identity of God. Mother Teresa reminded us “we have forgotten that we belong to each other — that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister.”

It is necessary that we understand that this belonging is mutual. I belong to you and you belong to me. There is no escape; we can’t change this relationship. It is only when I recognize others and welcome them into my life that the fullness of God’s identity in me is revealed. No one is an outsider. No one should be left out at the door of my heart; to do so is to deny my God-given identity.

 
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Houston Subpoenas Pastors’ Sermons in Gay Rights Ordinance Case

Evangelical leaders are angry after city officials in Houston subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose an equal rights ordinance that provides protections to the LGBT community.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who drew headlines for becoming the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, led support for the ordinance. The measure bans anti-gay discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting.

Under one of the hotly contested parts of the ordinance, transgender people barred access to a restroom would be able to file a discrimination complaint.

The ordinance, which exempted religious institutions, was passed in June, though its implementation has been delayed due to legal complaints.

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From Church Triumphant to ‘Least of These’

News articles about turmoil at General Theological Seminary had immediate impact on those of us who attended Episcopal seminaries.

But the news “went viral” far beyond that small coterie and for reasons beyond nostalgia.

For one thing, it’s a juicy soap opera. Faculty playing hardball, then finding themselves unemployed. A dean pushing back, then losing credibility as word about him spread. A board looking confused and high-handed. Students wondering if they, too, should go on strike.

But impact goes beyond the particular event itself. For something fundamental seems to be changing.

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Conscience vs. Authority at Pope Francis’ Synod on the Family

A midpoint report from this month’s Synod of Bishops reveals that Catholic leaders are considering more conciliatory language toward gays and lesbians, divorced and remarried Catholics, and couples who live together before getting married.

Meeting with nearly 200 senior prelates and several dozen lay experts and observers at the Vatican, Pope Francis has deliberately engineered a lively discussion of issues concerning marriage and family life. This assembly, and a follow-up summit in 2015, will help shape the pontiff’s legacy.

Reporters and commentators are producing a flurry of analysis mostly centered on the question of whether the synod portends a change in substance or merely a change in tone. Such is the abiding question of Francis’ papacy.

Yet through these lively debates in Catholic life runs a theme that is as old as the Reformation: the role of individual conscience.

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