Monday, September 18, 2006

Newsletter of 09/17/06

Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit—September 17, 2006

Alternative History
The phenomenon of “alternative history” has been around a long time (see You know, what if the South won the Civil War or the Nazis won WWII, etc.? Let’s play that game a little bit:

Suppose a pastor, after his first year at a new parish, was uneasy about the religious education program—its curriculum and its structure were unfamiliar to him and a few vocal parishioners were clamoring for a more traditional program. So this new pastor decided to embark on an evaluation of the program, both curriculum materials and structure. Now realizing that evaluating any educational program is a challenge, given the fact that everybody has an opinion whether they have any first-hand experience or expertise, he decided to put in place a process that gathered input and data from students, parents, teachers, professional staff, and even an outside evaluator. He asked a small group of parishioners with experience in education evaluation to help him design the details of the process.

“Let’s examine the rationale for the current program and see if it still makes sense,” Father said to the parish, “and let’s try to measure the impact we are having with the youngsters, let’s survey the parents, teachers and staff to see what they like and what they don’t like, and let’s get somebody from the outside, with a little distance and a different perspective, to help us understand the data and input. Above all, let’s carry out this process openly and dispassionately with everyone with opinions and ideas given a structured way to contribute.”

Instead of portraying this effort as a battle, old pastor vs. new pastor, liberal vs. conservative, etc., the pastor presented this as an important task for the whole parish to help complete. He got things started in January and by the end of the school year in June, the process was complete. Together with his parishioners, the pastor decided… .

We don’t know how it came out—it’s alternative history, after all.

It Bears Repeating
This has become a matter of “truth is what we say it is if we say it persistently and insistently enough.” editorial in the National Catholic Reporter, 9/15/06

This quote from the NCR is referring to the Bush administration’s public pronouncements about the war in Iraq, but it has great relevance for the current state of discourse in our Parish. The Monsignor and others repeat statements that are not true, seemingly under the impression that it is within their power to turn lies into truth by being persistent and insistent, like medieval alchemists thought they could turn lead into gold.

The RCL religious education curriculum is an approved one; CTA members do not want to “kill babies in the womb;” it is not heresy to call for the Church to ordain women; there is no evidence that any catechist taught contrary to Catholic faith and morals; it was written parish policy that being a CTA member was sufficient reason for being banned from some parish ministries; the FRE model of the past 23 years is not some bizarre outlier but is a well-recognized and respected model for religious education that is in place in hundreds of parishes nationwide; the former staff of the Parish did not undermine the work of the Monsignor—it was the Monsignor who undermined their work; etc. The list goes on.

Truth is the bedrock of any human interaction—abandon that and the whole enterprise becomes pointless. For example, the Sunday Bulletin says that the catechists have had training in the Sadlier materials—true as far as it goes, but fundamentally misleading, since only nine potential catechists for the elementary program took part (a program with 500 children registered— for the math challenged , that’s over 55 students per teacher) and several of those indicated they are no longer willing to be part of the program. Truth sets us free, Jesus said that!

$$$$$ Update
According to the Sunday bulletins, since 10/16/05 parishioners have donated $70,867.32 less than the $696,000 the parish budget has called for (this includes an estimate for the weekend of April 2, since no data was ever reported for that date). If the spending patterns of the last fiscal year have continued (13.4% over budget), then this gives a total of $164,095.80 of red ink (versus budget) for the period 10/16/05 to 9/10/06. Stretching that pattern for an entire year, the Parish would fall short by $177,770.45.

An inquiry: why are we still collecting money each month for the Building Fund when it had sufficient funds to pay off the debt at the end of last fiscal year (July 2005)?

Stand Up, Guys
I know I will be the object of ridicule, scorn and anger…if the exercise of my power becomes my burden, then I will bear it.

This quote sounds like it could be from the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah or even a Gospel saying from Jesus Himself. But it is instead a quote from Governor George Ryan of Illinois in January 2003 upon his commutation of the death penalty sentences to life in prison for all 167 prisoners on Illinois’ death row.

Now a disgraced ex-governor, George Ryan is set to begin, in January, a 6 ½ year prison sentence for corruption. Because of ill health, he will probably die in prison. So why is a corrupt, convicted politician worthy of our attention? An excellent documentary, Deadline, is making the cable rounds currently (Sundance Channel) and is available on DVD (e.g., Netflicks). This film dramatically records the background and run up to Governor Ryan’s 2003 decision.

What is striking about the film (and the book Ultimate Punishment, by Scott Turow, who appears in the documentary) is that it makes no appeals to a moral code, to the Gospel, etc.—the arguments presented are entirely secular. So how is it that such a compelling case against the inherent injustice of the death penalty can be made with none of the full weight of the Gospel and the Church’s teachings being brought into play and yet many, if not most, Catholics continue to support the death penalty? Is it that despite statements from the Vatican and strong exhortations of the Conference of Bishops, from the pulpits of our parishes the faithful are not being taught what even unchurched secularists and at least one corrupt politician have determined to be the right position to take on this, the most important issue in our criminal justice system?

The Diocese of Brownsville has approximately 110 priests, most of them in parish ministry and they are the primary face and voice of the Church for the Catholics of the Valley. What are they showing to us by their example and saying to us in their words about the morality of the State of Texas killing people in our names? Not much, apparently. And why is that? Surely they must know that good preaching that explains not only the flaws of the current system from a criminal justice perspective, but makes the clear Gospel case against capital punishment would have an impact. Surely they must know that putting themselves in the public eye, standing with those who vigil at the courthouses before each execution, making comments in the press, helping to organize the public to put pressure on the political system would all have an impact on the thinking of their parishioners.

So, why is there less than a handful of priests of this diocese standing up? Why is it that their exercising the authority of their pulpit and of their public lives is a burden that they are unwilling to bear? Is it the potential “ridicule, scorn and anger”?

Stand up, guys, do the right thing. Even sleazy old George Ryan could figure it out, why can’t you?

Prepared by RGV Parishioners for Progress and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on to fellow parishioners, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues about the parish or have any other comments, please contact us at

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Anonymous said...

Stand Up Guys!

The same goes for the war in Iraq, and all other wars; the pedophilia scandal; the institutional discrimination against women; the destruction of parishes like Holy Spirit and the grave injustices against their workers and parishioners, etc.
If the power of one man, called bishop is such that hundreds of men are afraid to stand up against injustice, stand up against abuse of power, stand up against the lies, stand up for truth and for the teachings of Christ, then something in this enterprise called Catholic Church is terribly wrong. IT IS TIME FOR ALL TO STAND UP TO REFORM IT AND SAVE IT !

Anonymous said...

Re: Alternative History
Wouldn't it have been a wonderful thing for our parish if one of our "Secret Parish Council Members" had been smart enough to suggest that kind of evaluation program be done on our existing religious education program before anyone decided to change it?