It was my first Passover Seder. Our host, Karen Kahn said it would be a celebration of liberation, not of religious orthodoxy. She and her wife, Patricia Gozemba have been warriors for many causes, from LGBT rights to clean air, education, home care worker protections and more. They also stand in solidarity with those who continue to fight for Native Hawaiian sovereignty. So, tilting towards freedom over orthodoxy was no surprise.
Gathered round their table were people in whom diverse streams of history and cultural traditions met. Jewish, but also Irish Catholic, Native Hawaiian and Chinese, Indian Catholic from largely Muslim Malaysia, Anglo-German Quaker and Episcopalian. Gay and straight. Old and young. We took turns reading from what was billed as “A Humanist Modern Version Haggadah for Passover.”
As Holy Week ends with the alleluia of Easter, I wonder: where is our modern Catholic humanist promise enshrined?
Certainly not in the wearying repetition of bigoted orthodoxies. The kind spouted by Cardinal Dolan yet again this week. Gay people are entitled to no more than “friendship,” he says. “Marriage is for one man and one woman to bring about new life.” He still believes that people will find the disconnect between Jesus and church less “unsettling” if only the church could somehow figure out a way to package timeless truths in a more attractive way. Not sure how exactly, but he’s working on it.
In late February, the Cardinal had spent hours in a legal deposition concerning his handling of hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of children in Milwaukee. Neither that nor his participation in the papal conclave appear to have moved this bureaucrat to some measure of humility. He, like the others, quickly got comfortable departing from tradition with a newly created “Pope Emeritus.” But women’s ordination? Full communion for LGBT Catholics? Not a chance. Catholics are leaving in droves even as the search goes on to find new packaging for tired thinking. Maybe even tweet about it.
What then does Pope Francis portend for the church? Dare we hope for some real newness? For an end to the very long, dark night of clerical hyprocisy? For an end to the hubris of Catholic exceptionalism?
To welcome new life in this week of liberation and resurrection, we need to let go. To empty ourselves of doctrines and rules that have weighed so heavily on us that it has become harder to breathe, let alone share the breath of life that has been given to us.
Dare we look to Pope Francis for some real life-affirming newness? The anecdotes about the winning ways of Pope Francis are heart-warming, to be sure. The distancing from pomp. The ability to connect to ordinary people. The willingness to compromise. Armenian friends sharing in our Easter celebration today offered their congratulations. “Your Pope– he is a good Pope,” they said.
If he is indeed “my” Pope, my hope is he will be “everyone’s” Pope. He can do what Pope Benedict XVI refused to do: repudiate the shameful Doctrine of Discovery. Thanks to two 15th century Papal Bulls that spawned this doctrine, the brutal colonization of non-Christian nations, the seizure of lands and the enslavement of native peoples by Europeans, and later Americans, became God-inspired endeavors. As recently as 2005, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in ruling against the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, cited this odious authority:
“Under the ‘doctrine of discovery,’ fee title to the lands occupied by the Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign—first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.”
Who better than a Pope from one of the Americas, laid waste by conquering Christian armies and their embedded missionaries, to repudiate this doctrine?
After all, in doing so, Pope Francis will only be catching up with the Episcopal Church who led the way, and others who followed: the Unitarian Universalist and Quaker faiths, and more recently, the World Council of Churches.
To borrow from the Haggadah for Passover, “only when we have made a world where nation shall not lift up sword against nation, where justice is universal, and where each person is free, will the age-old dream of peace be real.”
Then might we truly say “Alleluia!”