Archives for category: Catholic

I read a really promising article in the Washington Post here.

In it, Clelia Luro, a friend of the pope when he was Bergoglio, speaks to her hopes that there will be a debate about making celibacy optional for Catholic priests.

Now, a lot of people are hopeful about that subject, and with good reason. This pope has already shown himself to be more open to discussion across the board than his two predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict both forbade anyone to even discuss this issue.

But Mrs. Luro is singularly important in this regard. In the 60s, she married an Argentinian bishop in what was a major scandal. In 2000, when here husband was dying (and they were estranged from the church) Bergoglio personally ministered to them, and spoke to Mrs. Luro every Sunday since. She might have the best perspective for being hopeful about this.

But here is a quote from Bergoglio:

In his book “On Heaven and Earth,” published last year, Bergoglio said: “For the moment I’m in favor of maintaining celibacy, with its pros and cons, because there have been 10 centuries of good experiences rather than failures.” But he also noted that “it’s a question of discipline, not of faith. It could change,” and said the Eastern Rite Catholic church, which makes celibacy optional, has good priests as well.

You’ll note I said that it was a quote from Bergoglio, not Francis. We shall see if he weighs in. I, for one, am sanguine that he will at least allow discussion, unlike the last two popes.

Of course, I’d rather start talking about women serving as priests, but I’ll be happy with advances wherever they come.



Today, Pope Francis (Bergoglio!) named a panel to consult with him to reform the Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the Vatican City and ostensibly, the church worldwide.


The last time the Curia was reformed was by John Paul II in the 80s, but that it was a half effort, largely ignored because of other priorities. This time, Francis is forming a panel made up of Cardinals from every inhabited continent, and one from the Vatican. Francis’ choices reflect the universal nature of the church, and that the majority of its members are now from the Southern hemisphere.

And these are not just hierarchical stooges. Some of these names were on my shortlist of Papabile (prospective Popes) that would’ve made me happy if they were elected.

The ones I know:

  • Cardinal Marx, who has been at the forefront of cleaning up sex scandals in Germany
  • Cardinal O’Malley, a Franciscan Capuchin who has been tireless in cleaning up the scandals in his Archdiocese. Lobbied strongly for reform in the pre-c0nclave meetings. A humble wonder.
  • Cardinal Pell – Australia, very public leader of the reform movement.
  • Cardinal Maradiaga – Honduras. Head of the group. Here’s ABC’s quote about him: He is considered one of the few moderates left in the College of Cardinals and is known for his often blunt talk and off-record criticism of the curia.

I don’t know the rest, but by all accounts, the group is reform minded.

Some of these men have publicly floated the following ideas:

  • Bringing in laity (non-clergy) to help run the Curia.
  • Term limits on Vatican jobs to prevent lifelong bureaucrats.
  • Regular financial reports/audits to un-murk the Vatican’s finances
  • Regular meetings of department heads. Apparently, they don’t meet much now. wow.

This stuff might feel like no-brainer business management 101 stuff to outsiders, but it is difficult to remember just how calcified the church is. Calcified and insular. They really don’t know any better.

I am most excited about the potential to have laity take over Curia positions; imagine the potential expertise JUST in retired Catholics. People who have a lifetime of experience, and would leap at the chance to help the church. Also, with a light heart I contemplate women working in positions of power in the Vatican.

The best comparison I can make is of a local parish. The clergy are there to minister to the flock, with non-clergy picking up the other duties. Maybe a better, slightly ridiculous comparison would be to the Marines. Every Marine is a rifleman and we use sailors for the support stuff.

I can’t seem to communicate the significance of this fully. A move like that could crack the patriarchal stranglehold on power in the church. It would also make the church more efficient and better run, more capable of serving the people around the world, but that one little thing brings me joy.

So no, to my more progressive friends, this isn’t going to bring women priests, married priests, or any number of other radical (to an outsider) changes. But it has the potential to start a process that, in addition to refocusing the church on the mission of helping the poor and restoring humility to the Vatican, will bring the Church into the 20th century.

Every day I thank God for Francis and the work he is doing. A truly amazing man. Like how Socrates proved he was the greatest mind in Greece by insisting on his own ignorance, Francis is showing his greatness by insisting on his own personal humility.


I have written on religion (both my faith, and my frustration with certain elements of organized religion) in this space, but I have never gotten granular and truly spoken about my conversion to faith.

I have a wonderful example in my wife. She has an intuitive appreciation for faith, and frequently tells me the Holy Spirit has spoken with her voice. Most times, it’s to her CCD class. She prepares notes, but comes home with stories of how she has no idea how she came up with half of what she told the kids.

This post is supposed to be about me and my faith, but integral to my faith is the constant example Mary provides. The latest story is very close to my heart. She was teaching class, and as 9 year olds are wont to do do, many tangential discussions ensued. Just before the bathroom break, they were talking about oppression and one little boy said, “My dad says the Germans weren’t all bad, that if they didn’t do Nazi stuff Hitler would stab them in the eye.” “Time for the bathroom break!” Mary said.

Mary walked them down to the head, and as she did, she wondered how she would address this. She is fearless with them, but was stumped. On the walls were taped artwork of the first grade class at St John’s school. It wasn’t her inspiration; rather it was the names of the kids. One of them had signed his “Max” and right next to him was another signed “Kolbe”. No doubt pronounced Colby.

Please take a moment to read about St. Maximillian Kolbe, who was from Poland but of German descent. If you don’t have the time, I’ll sum it up: He was sent to Auschwitz for sheltering Polish Jews (like many Germans did, too). Once there, ten men were selected to starve to death in a pit in retaliation for 3 men escaping. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to die in the place of a married father. Father Kolbe (he was a Franciscan priest) lived so long that the Nazis eventually had to inject him with poison to kill him. He offered them his arm.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized him. The man he saved from the pit was present.

Thus Mary had a way to teach her students. It is because she looks for the help, and recognizes it when it comes.

Now on to my story. I won’t start at the beginning (St Mary’s Franciscan Church in Pompton Lakes). I’ll start at the end.

Tonight, I was looking something up on Google, and I noticed they replaced the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. The button read “I’m feeling Wonderful”. I am, if anything, a perpetual optimist, so I clicked it. It links to locations Google is putting in it’s World Wonders Project. The wonder it sent me to was St Brendan’s Cathedral on the Irish Island of Clonfert.

It is, to my personal faith journey, the holiest place on Earth. I have never been there, but it was built in the 12th Century on the location of St Brendan’s monastery/college. I won’t get into St. Brendan’s achievements, but I encourage you all to read his Wikipedia entry. 

I’d been having a rough work week (work month is more like it) and had turned it around a little this afternoon, but the I felt the world creeping up onto my shoulders lately. It has been wearing me down. I really needed a spark.

Here it was. Like a match, flaming up and burning away the tightness in my head. The World Wonders Project must have hundreds of entries, perhaps thousands. And yet, the random entry was my site.

When I went back later tonight to look at it again, I went to Google, and the “I’m Feeling” button has what seems to be at least a dozen iterations. I’m Feeling Hungry, Stellar, Trendy, etc. So it just got much less likely that the button would return what it did when I needed it.

I know, I must seem fatuous, seeing God in what clearly could just be a random chance. But that is the point. What I learned from my wife is that yes, it can be random chance, but it can still have meaning. What made that teacher hang up Max and Kolbe’s art right where she did? It doesn’t matter. What matters is what it meant to Mary, and what the Cathedral of Clonfert meant to me.

It meant my life. Not too long ago, I was an Atheist. Not unaligned, or agnostic. There was no God. He was a sad impossibility. 1+1=2 and there is no room in that equation for faith. I had become an Atheist when I couldn’t wrap my head around the contradictions inherent in faith in general and Christianity in particular. The evil in the world, the bizarre hatefulness of many of the faithful.

Still, I respected my wife’s faith, and raised my children in the faith. I loved the church, and the message of Christ (Jefferson Bible, anyone?). I wanted my children to have faith, I certainly didn’t want them to have the difficulties inherent in my beliefs. It’s bad enough I’ve raised them as Red Sox fans.

We didn’t talk about it, and I never laid bare how I felt, but Mary one day challenged me to test my belief. I don’t mean she threw down a gauntlet, but rather she engaged me, and I respected her faith enough to listen. She instinctively knew (was guided) in the best way to push me along.

So, much like when I decided to get my life in order via Parris Island, I decided I needed to challenge myself with a task that would push my boundaries out of my comfort zone. I committed to doing perpetual adoration on Wednesday morning from 4 to 5 AM. My church, St John’s, always has a couple of people in the chapel praying. It’s really neat.

I started, and brought along my rosary and my encyclopedia of saints. I am a former historian, so I found the stories of the saints exciting, and their faith inspiring. If I was going to be led to God, one of these men or women would do it.

I read the entire book, alternating with prayer, and then went back and re-read the entries that spoke to me. In the end, the story of Brendan the Navigator most appealed to me.

But it was still in an historical context. I even re-read the book The Brendan Voyage, the story of a modern explorer’s recreation of the Saint’s epic transatlantic journey of the 6th century.

When I finally did find God, it wasn’t in the chapel. It was at home. I was riding our stationary bike before bed, and it was storming outside. We have satellite, so I lost signal on the TV, and grabbed my rosary. Like any meditation, it can be soothing, and so I prayed through the storm in my dark living room.

I was overcome by a vision. I was no longer on my stationary bike, but rather walking down a rocky beach to the shore. There was a boat there (I’m pretty sure if it was a leather curraigh like Brendan used) and in it was a lone man in a robe, facing to sea. I asked him where he was going and he turned just his torso around to  look at me over his shoulder.

He was lean, and had what seemed to be a perpetual smile at the corners of his mouth. His eyes held the same smile, and his face lit up even brighter when our eyes met. He just motioned me aboard and turned back to face the sea. As soon as I came aboard, I was back on my stationary bike in my living room.

In the space of time of my vision, I had ridden a good amount. I can’t recall exactly how far, but I know it was more than two miles.

It would be easy to dismiss it as a delusion or an hallucination. You could easily say that I wanted it so badly that I made myself see this.

Go for it.

But I know I was visited by the holy spirit, and although I can’t bottle that feeling and let you taste it so you’d know for sure, maybe if you know me a little, you’ll draw a little faith from mine. It was no hallucination (I know what those are like) or waking dream (I can never remember my dreams).

There is no mistaking the touch of the Holy Spirit, and that’s what it was. And Brendan was telling me something.

Let it go, Terry. Just trust me. Don’t worry about the scientific impossibility of Heaven, or the contradictions that tied your brain in knots until you disavowed faith. His ways are not your ways.

Just let it go.

So I did.

And tonight he said hi again.

Hi Brendan. Thanks for the ride; it’s been wonderful.

First, here is a copy of a letter I just wrote to editor of the Washington Post:


I recently read a report by an Arlington Wiccan priestess who was denied clergy status by the clerk of the court for the 17th Judicial District (primarily the city of Falls Church, VA).

I am a Roman Catholic, and do not share Ms. Literata Hurley’s faith, however I find the incident disturbing.

Ms. Hurley was denied Clergy status by Paul Ferguson, Clerk of the Court, primarily because her congregation does not have a physical church. They meet at member’s houses and outside. I suspect he may have had other motives (he indicated there were other, unnamed reasons), but that is the only concrete reason he provided.

I immediately thought of Saint Francis, whose order owns nothing worldly. Even the churches and monasteries they use today are not theirs, and I thought, “This man would have denied Saint Francis clergy status.”

I sheepishly admit that it took me a bit to remember that Saint Francis struggled every day to emulate someone else, and in my opinion serves as a the greatest example of walking in Christ’s path.

It is with tears in my eyes that I write to you and point out that in Virginia, perhaps the birthplace of true religious freedom (thank you Mr. Jefferson) a government official denied clergy status to a woman for supplying the same answers to his questions that Jesus might have.

I encourage Mr. Ferguson to reconsider his decision, and I encourage the Post to ask him if he will.

Semper Fi,

 Terry Mahoney


Here is a link to Ms. Hurley’s account of the situation

There are three reasons I can think of for you, dear reader, to be unmoved by Ms. Hurley’s problem.

1) Apathy towards religion in general – I use apathy here, but I might include antipathy. I get it. I have faith, but my path was circuitous to get here, and while I won’t try to convert you, I would point out that this is an issue of basic rights. This one government offiicial is making an arbitrary decision that will impact many people’s lives. I can’t know his thoughts or feelings, but I am disturbed by theprima facieevidence indicating a judgment dismissing the validity of her religion. What if said arbitrary decision impacted you, in the form of a building permit, or some other secular issue?

2) Not particularly inclined to respect Wicca – I do not believe in Wicca. I struggle with the mutually exclusive nature of religions, and have a more nuanced position than my church, but I don’t spend time trying to work Wicca into my life. If there was no Wicca, it wouldn’t negatively impact me that I can tell. But that is beside the point; we are a secular society and we have a law that respects all faiths. Thomas Jefferson probably didn’t have Wicca in mind when he wrote Virginia’s statute on religious freedom, but that is immaterial. Religious freedom is a fundamental right enshrined in our society. I know the 1st Amendment’s wording refers only to Congress making laws impacting religion, but our courts have wisely chosen to infer the implied protection down to all levels of government, and all kinds of religions.

3) You are a wise-ass who likes to respond to passion with sarcasm – Guilty as charged. I welcome your snark. But consider simultaneously emailing the editor of the Post at Letters@WashPost.Com . They are the most influential regional paper and can make a difference. So snark away, but send this:

Dear Editor,

I read about Literata Hurley’s rejection of Clergy Status by the Clerk of the Court in Arlington County. I think it is disturbing and hypocritical that she would be rejected on essentially the same grounds that Jesus would be, particularly in Virginia, the birthplace of religious freedom.

Very Truly Yours,

Snarky McSnark

Amen, Tom

*Note: I try to invest humor into everything I write. That doesn’t mean I think less of the subject.*

The Bishop!

I wish I had a direct line like this.

Every week at mass I am moved in some way or another. This Sunday was no exception.

I face-planted on my crutches going up the curb from the parking lot, so in addition to bringing my crutches with me, I brought grass stains, a bloody knee and helpful advice from my eldest (“Next time use the ramp, Dad”) into church with me. So you could say I was moved to humility before I even walked in the door.

Luckily, there was an open pew near the side door for us, and we managed to get seated without the thunking of my crutches amusing the entire port-side transept of our church. You could say this moved me to gratitude.

Next, the usher came and told me he would have the Eucharistic Minister bring me the host. I agreed without thinking. This moved me to shame. If Jesus could carry his cross to Golgotha, I could carry my lame butt up to get communion.

Then, the readings. First was Acts 3:13-19 and then 1 John 2:1-5a. These are uplifting. Even though we are sinners; even though every day we fail in some small way to live up to our legacy, we have an incredible legal team armed with a sure-fire defense. I was moved to rejoicing.

I had been trying to flag down the usher ever since I had agreed to take the Host in my pew. Before the Gospel reading, one of his compatriots walked by and I had him deliver the message that I wanted to go up for communion. I felt relief.

Next the Gospel. It was Luke 24:35-48, Christ reunited with the Apostles. This is it. This is where we, as Christians, all shout Bingo. The moment. Well at least as far as I’m concerned. I have innate Catholic guilt, amplified by my own close personal relationship with my failings, so I was moved to relief heavily tinged with guilt.

The Homily. The priest, not an eloquent speaker, led off with a layered question which really put me in a good mood.  I will paraphrase.

“What would you say if by listening to my homily you would learn all the cheat codes for your video games?”

Nice! That was the rhetorical high point, as he really has trouble with public speaking (I respect him all the more for getting up there every Sunday!) but it was a good message nonetheless. He reiterated that this week’s reading DEFINED our salvation. Until the last sentence of the sermon, I felt an underlying sense of comfort. Then he ended with this (again I paraphrase):

“On your way out of mass, please sign the Knights of Columbus’ petition to encourage laws to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.”

I felt sadness, anger and disappointment. The pivotal message of our faith. The climax of the event that defines our salvation. Ruined by a call for political action. Whatever happened to render unto Caesar. What do we care about the laws of man in church? If they make our faith illegal, it would be a boon!

I don’t remember anything else until I went up for communion. I wasn’t feeling one with Christ and the church. As I crutched up there, I could only think of that last line of the homily. (I fundamentally disagree with my Church on the issue of secular marriage of gays and lesbians). I thought I had better skip on communion. Then I looked up at the crucifix. If you are a protestant (or other religion) you may just think of a blank cross. We catholics don’t. On our cross is an embodiment of Christ at the height of human suffering. We usually include the spear wound, too, although this is out of place, as Jesus’ human form was past suffering when the legionary stabbed him.

Any pride in limping up to take communion evaporated. As did any feelings of anger, sadness or disappointment. My rules for my religion are simple. I try to live by Rule #1, and when someone, particularly a co-religionist, does something that makes me want to break Rule #1, or does something that seems to be at odds with that Rule, I move onto Rule #2 (essentially “If something contradicts Rule #1, See Rule#1).

So I only felt awe at this point. I was in communion with Christ.

As we left church, I limped past the table the K of C had set up to collect signatures. It was being manned by an usher I knew pretty well. He is a truly kind person, and exceedingly friendly to me, personally. I said hi and smiled. He gave me a genuine smile and waved as I passed.

I felt at peace.

I am reaffirmed in my faith that most people only want to do what they feel is best. Best for whatever reason, but mostly, best in that it will have the best, most moral outcome for everyone involved. This issue of gay marriage is killing me. I won’t always have the direct, physical example of supreme suffering to help me get my heart in the right place, either.

So, like my muse on religion, Tertullian, let me advise the bishops. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Treat the issue of gay marriage like you do that of re-married divorcees who work in your non-church institutions. Give them benefits and respect their civil rights as granted by our secular Constitution and the laws of the land. If entering the secular world to aid your fellow man means having to play by the rules, weigh that and do so. If the law of the land becomes too onerus, either break the law and rejoice in the consequences or retreat from those things that are irreconcilable.

This Marine’s advice to the bishops? Focus on your primary mission of proclaiming the salvation of Christ. That which meddles with Caesar’s laws only serves to obscure the message.


If people ask me my religion, I usually tell them I’m catholic. If it’s another catholic, and we’re engaged in a theological discussion, I tell them I’m a Tertullian Papist, as it sounds cooler.

What did he say? It doesn't matter. It only matters that he said it.

Tertullian was an early (2nd century) Christian theologian, often called the father of Western Theology, the first to write Christian treatises in Latin, and in general, a fairly strong-willed individual. He developed or supported some ideas that were, at the time, thought to be heresy, but now universally embraced by Christians. (used the word Trinity lately? He coined it)

I am NOT a scholar capable of grokking what Tertullian wrote, or it’s place in the theological development of Christianity. I just like that he THOUGHT about what it meant to hold those beliefs, and what it implied. At his time, there were popes, but there weren’t millenia of weight behind them. The church was still settling. Constantine’s conversion was still a century away (called by my amazing deacon father in law, “the worst thing to ever happen to the church”).

So my Tertullianism isn’t based in deep and intricate theological studies, and certainly not in rebellion against the church. Rather, it informs my faith, and helps me take an active part in its development, particularly when challenged by my church with things that seem to run logically counter to my own understanding.

Case in point. Father Tim Clark of Our Lady of the Lake up in Seattle. He took an action that I’m afraid is being held up by progressives as rebelling against his archbishop. I say, “NO!”

He’s not rebelling, he’s just loving in a different direction. I hope people focus on that positive more than on any implied divisiveness.

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