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At National Priests’ Conference… Fr. Richard Rohr Says He Can Make Mistakes — And Does

July 12, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By DEXTER DUGGAN

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An audience member rose with a question for Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, during the latter part of the internationally known priest’s freely expressing his views from the lectern for more than four hours over two days at the seventh annual national conference of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) that met here June 25-28.
The audience member said he’s a member of Democrats for Life and asked, “How do we pull these two poles together spiritually?” Rohr had been speaking of oppositions and contrasts in society.
People all are addicted to their own way of thinking, Rohr said a few moments earlier, both Republicans and Democrats, and this gets nowhere.
The appearance by Rohr seemed eagerly anticipated among members of an organization whose website says it “supports Pope Francis in his efforts to move the Church in the direction pointed by the Spirit through Vatican II.”
The Franciscan priest founded the Center for Action and Contemplation (cac.org) in Albuquerque. Its website says, “Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy — practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.”
Among aspects he addressed at the AUSCP conference, Rohr spoke of the mind, religion, and understanding. He cautioned against “all-or-nothing thinking” that presents such choices as “total amnesty or wall.”
“It isn’t very life-giving. . . . You’ve got to catch yourself doing this labeling,” he told more than 200 conference attendees on June 27, the second day he spoke.
Rohr said he can make mistakes, too, and later jokingly added that he told his staff “I need one humiliation a day, and they said, ‘We’ll be sure you get it’.”
On a table outside this conference’s meeting rooms, one piece of literature calling for nonviolence told of an event last September when members of Feminists Choosing Life of New York, the Cornell Coalition for Life, and a rosary group witnessed “to a Consistent Jesus Life Ethic outside Planned Parenthood offices in Syracuse, N.Y.,” then moved their presence to a drone warfare base.
However, Rohr seemed quick to paste on a label after the Democrats for Life member stood up. Much of the pro-life movement is only “pro-birth,” Rohr said, arguing that its message is, “I can overlook every other Gospel value,” ignore other issues, and vote for a candidate who’s against abortion.
The pro-life movement “has lost the credibility of much of the world,” Rohr said, adding that it may not all be this way, but “that’s how it looks to much of the world.”
Well, what facts have been brought to the attention of “the world”?
On June 26, the very day before Rohr made these remarks, the U.S. Supreme Court was in the news for coming to the defense of numerous California pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers (CPCs) that the government of the Golden State had commanded to inform their clients of state-funded abortion’s availability.
In NIFLA vs Becerra, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who usually has cast his vote for abortion availability, strongly condemned the California law as an attack on the pro-life centers’ free speech.
CPCs long have been on the scene across the nation to assist new mothers in a variety of ways, not only providing free basic material assistance to help mom and infant become a family, but also offering counseling and aid that can include parenting, budgeting, housing guidance, job training and searches, and relationships.
Pro-lifers’ general activism for those with disabilities and against infanticide and euthanasia might also commend itself to Rohr’s attention.
In 2016 Oxford University Press issued the book Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade, by history professor Daniel K. Williams, who noted widespread liberal sympathies among early pro-lifers as well as their programs to aid mothers in crisis pregnancies.
Is Rohr unaware of subsequent successful efforts in the Democratic Party to purge pro-lifers from their ranks? An August 12, 2017, news release from Democrats for Life of America (democrats
forlife.org) noted: “In 1978, Democrats held a 292-seat majority in the U.S. House, with 125 pro-life Democrats. Notice: As pro-life Democrats disappeared from Congress, so, too, did the Democratic Party’s majority.”
Soon moving to another topic, Rohr asked if President Trump and his many Catholic supporters actually think that Mexicans are rapists.
“We have a compulsive liar leading our country who tells pretty much 12 lies a day,” Rohr said. “The whole world is laughing at us.”
The priest once again seemed unacquainted with complexities, even though he apparently hoped his extended remarks would provide clarifications. Although it’s not regular front-page news, border-area rapists long have been one of the scandals in the lawlessness and chaos along the suffering international line. It assuages no fears and solves nothing by trying to brush off this reality as baseless bigotry.
A simple web search brings up border-rape stories by major media. Just last year, the UK Guardian headlined: “The priest helping women get birth control at U.S. border: ‘Lesser of two evils’.”
The Guardian article began: “For undocumented women making the perilous journey to the U.S., sexual violence is one among many threats. As a nun explains: ‘Women are a commodity’.”
A March 31, 2014, PBS NewsHour story was headlined, “Women crossing the U.S. border face sexual assault with little protection.” It began by quoting a pharmacist in northern Mexico that “women often come in with a common question” about medically preventing pregnancy while crossing into Arizona.
A Huffpost article updated in December 2017 was headlined, “80 percent of Central American women, girls are raped crossing into the U.S.” The article said, “The assaults are so common that many women and girls take contraceptives beforehand as preventative measures.”
A DailyMail.com story in 2014 reported, “Six out of every 10 women illegally immigrating into the U.S. are estimated to be victims of sexual violence, and many are reportedly taking birth control to avoid unwanted pregnancies.”
Perhaps Rohr hadn’t heard of borderland “rape trees,” either — where victims’ undergarments are hung as symbols of conquest — even though he lives in a border state. I, a longtime resident of Phoenix, learned of the trees only when I went down to the Arizona line with Sonora.
Rohr’s audience, eager to hear his viewpoints, was ill-served by a friar who came rather unprepared but too ready to make judgments of the kind he criticized. But, he said, he can be corrected.
He began his presentation the evening of June 26 by saying he has had “a wonderful life,” born into a secure existence in Kansas in the middle of World War II — the same era, he added, when many of those seated before him were born.
That acknowledged a problem mentioned occasionally by others during this gathering, a need to bring in younger membership.
People are leaving both Catholic and Protestant churches, he said, “because we overplayed the truth card. . . .
“We have to find what is the way we come to truth, and for me that’s the contemplative mind,” Rohr said.
American Christianity is pretty much a religion of white privilege, not of the poor or immigrants, he said. “I assume I’m preaching to the choir, because most of you know that already.”
This has “created us two horrible alternatives,” conservative/liberal, gay/straight, and so on, he said, amounting to “how much you need to be right, how much you need to be in control.”
The next morning, Rohr said, “The small self can’t know God,” and is irritated by almost everything.
On another topic, he said that in giving priests’ retreats for 48 years, he has met many priests who don’t know how to pray, even if they say Mass every day, or even two or three times a day.
An admirer of Pope Francis, Rohr said he didn’t think such a Pope would emerge, even in one’s wildest imaginings.
An audience member asked Rohr about the “feminization of Church,” with almost all the choir and all the servers being women. How, the member asked, would the liturgy look different in order to be more appealing to males?
The Church has long been all-male, Rohr said, and now it’s seeking some balance. “The whole thing has to be balanced.” Perhaps now is “a well-earned revenge.”
Rohr said, “I’m not interested in throwing out any of the central doctrines of the Church,” but he scorned the image of God as “torturer-in-chief” who would condemn someone to everlasting punishment.
“Jesus is never upset at sinners,” he said. “He’s fiercely upset at people who don’t think they’re sinners. . . . I think that’s why he’s upset at us, the sacred class.”
Media representative Paul Leingang told The Wanderer that carrying on the Vatican II legacy is a major part of AUSCP’s mission.
Information tables lined the hall outside the meeting rooms. Participants included Voice of the Faithful, DignityUSA, New Ways Ministry, FutureChurch, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby Catholic Action Team.
John Wester, the AUSCP’s episcopal moderator and archbishop of Santa Fe, gave a 10-minute greeting as the conference began, saying, “What a wonderful and powerful voice you have, and what a necessary voice you have,” one that appreciates the message of Vatican II.
Wester celebrated the conference’s late-afternoon Mass on June 27 that concluded with a prolonged Native American eagle-feather dance before the Mass’ Final Blessing.
Sr. Katarina Schuth, OSF, spoke the evening of June 25 on prospects for effective evangelization of younger Catholics. Noting the dominantly casual clothing of conference participants in a New Mexico summer, Schuth joked that this was the first time she’d spoken to people among whom she felt overdressed.
The AUSCP conference program described Schuth as an expert on seminary education and a leading figure in pastoral theology and sociology of religion.
She drew laughter when she said young people are open to diversity as long as it doesn’t interfere with their own way of thinking.
“They have a desire to do work for the common good. . . . It’s a question, what would Jesus do,” but they don’t ask this as a trite question, she said.
“To them,” she added later, “the Second Vatican Council is as distant as the Council of Trent.”
Some of these younger people like Pope Francis, while seminarians prefer a previous Pope, Schuth said. Asked later about this observation, Schuth said the seminarians formed their vocations before the Francis papacy, “and what he’s putting forward is pretty challenging.”
Asked what she thinks of requiring some form of mandatory service at age 18, Schuth said, “One thing about young people is that they do not like to be forced to do anything. . . . The sense of ‘I want to do what I want to do’ is stronger at this point.”

Goals And Resolutions

Last week’s Wanderer also had an article about this gathering, on page one, headlined, “San Diego Bishop McElroy Brings Message Of A New Day Under Pope Francis To National Priests’ Conference.”
Media representative Leingang told The Wanderer that all eight resolutions brought to the floor were passed on June 27 with at least the 67 percent required for members’ votes. “The purpose of a resolution is to give direction to the AUSCP leadership team, which in turn will develop a public statement, and to determine how and when the statement will be made public,” he said.
They were on border separation of families, LGBT ministry, Gospel nonviolence and gun control, support of Parkland, Fla., students’ initiative, better translation of texts for Mass and sacraments, continued support for exploration of ordaining married men, just handling of Church pension plans, and importance of dialogue in the life of the Church.
Four goals also passed with more than the required 67 percent, Leingang said: women’s status in the Church, clericalism, seminary formation, and climate change.
“Other goals were announced, without requiring a vote, to engage in a project of biblical literacy, and to support the planning of a trip to Rome for the canonization of Pope Paul VI,” he said. “The association reaffirmed an earlier (2017) goal on priestless parishes in regard to how the faithful are best served, providing a more active role for lay ministers.”

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