Art • Music • Film • Poetry • Books
John Christman, SSS
I first encountered Sergio Gomez’s art at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Along the main staircase can be found a bold envisioning of Jesus gathered with the apostles entitled The Last Supper. Here the only light is a type of divine illumination radiating from inside Jesus and igniting within his followers. Gomez portrays Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper like a fire that spreads through the hearts of the gathered community. As Saint Peter Julian Eymard once observed, “Read and reread the sermon of the Last Supper in Saint John, and you will find from the beginning to the end a fire burning with love.” Making the connection with John’s Gospel is particularly instructive as the Eucharist is explicitly connected with hospitality, service, and the profound recognition of the dignity of every human being. We see this especially in John’s portrayal of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Gomez’s art appears to be infused with these same values. The human being is central to his artwork, and whether they are images of struggle or liberation the dignity of the human person shines through.
Particularly relevant in this regard are a series of paintings where Gomez creatively explores the interactions between three visual elements: the outline of a human figure, a bird, and barbed wire. The evocative convergence of these three elements stirs numerous interpretations. The outline of the human figure signifies a presence. Whether past (as in a crime scene chalk outline) or present (as an open ended symbol for “Every person”), these outlines give primacy to the human person. Placed as they are behind barbed wire, they convey a sense of confinement. This combined with the “Every person” quality of the images evokes an empathetic response in the viewer. This is further enhanced by the placement of a bird on the barbed wire. The bird, a symbol of freedom, is at liberty to fly where it will, beyond the limits demarcated by the barbed wire. This makes it all the more emphatic by comparison that the person depicted, sadly, is not free.
However, the images are more complex than this. Again, in Gomez’s painting The Other Side (see Front Cover), the figure and background seem to radiate their own warm light, making the bird and barbed wire appear heavy by comparison. Moreover, a deluge of white paint cascades from above, like divine or artistic intervention, severing the wire and setting the captive person free. From a Christian perspective, it is difficult here not to think of Jesus’ reading from Isaiah in Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” (4:18).
Gomez uses some of the same elements in his painting entitled Night Watcher (see Back Cover) to slightly different effect. Here the figure is shrouded in darkness. The bird, however, is illuminated with its own light, placed near the heart of the figure. Here we may recall that a bird is also used in art as a symbol for the soul.1 Seen in this light, though the figure is still restrained by barbed wire, there remains an inner freedom that cannot by dimmed or darkened. In fact, the light from above mingles with the light from the bird as if assuring again that the Lord hears the cry of the oppressed.
It is difficult in today’s politically charged atmosphere to not think of the current reality of migration when looking at Gomez’s figures restrained by barbed wire. Pope Francis has been a strong, vocal proponent of protecting those forced to flee their countries and preserving their inherent dignity throughout the process. In his 2018 message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis reiterated the Church’s values of “welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants and refugees.”2 In paintings like The Other Side and Night Watcher, Sergio Gomez gives us art that harmonizes well with Pope Francis’ message and powerfully visualizes the grandeur of the human spirit in the face of whatever seeks to imprison it.
1 The Book of Symbols. Ed. Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin (Koln, Germany: Taschen, 2010), 238.
2 Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018. January 14, 2018. www.vatican.va (accessed April 13, 2018).
If there were ever a tragic Greek hero in the history of Catholicism in the United States, a strong candidate would be Raymond Hunthausen, the archbishop of Seattle from 1975-1981. His fatal flaw was that his pacifist, antinuclear stance was in direct conflict with the two most powerful men in the world at that time: President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Until that stressful and personally-devastating experience, Hunthausen had served the Church with great fidelity and confidence.
Raymond Hunthausen was born in 1921 in a small, former mining town in Montana. He was the oldest of seven children in a middle-class family. He attended the local Catholic grade school and graduated in a class of 17 from Saint Peter’s High School, both of which he would later close for financial reasons. He then attended the diocesan Carroll College where he excelled in all areas of school life. While a chemistry major, he was encouraged by several priests on the faculty to consider the priesthood.
On their recommendation, he enrolled in Saint Edward Seminary in Seattle and was ordained a priest on June 1, 1946. His first assignment was to the faculty of his alma mater where he taught math and chemistry and served as the football coach. Bishop Joseph Gilmore saw great potential in Hunthausen and soon named him the president of Carroll College, where he made many positive and helpful changes.
Unbeknownst to Hunthausen, in March 1962, Bishop Gilmore sent a letter to the apostolic delegate in Washington, DC, in which he placed “Dutch’s” name in consideration for the episcopacy. Things moved fast for the young college president. Two weeks later, Bishop Gilmore died of a heart attack and on August 31, Hunthausen became the bishop of Helena. In October, he arrived in Rome as the youngest American bishop to participate in the Second Vatican Council.
The newly-ordained bishop came to the council with little theological expertise, as his seminary theology was a traditional Scholastic-textbook variety with little if any exposure to the world beyond America’s Northwest. He did bring with him a strong pastoral sense and for the next four years he was introduced to a whole new theological perspective and a new vision of the Church which included a dynamic concept of the role of the laity. He gained a new appreciation for the concept of sacramentality as it related to the nature and mission of the Church. The liturgy and the Eucharist took on a whole new meaning. He encountered a greater openness to other Christian churches and world religions. The conciliar document on The Church in the Modern World had the greatest and most long-lasting impact on him.
Like most bishops who returned to their dioceses at the conclusion of the council, Hunthausen began to implement some of the new theology and changes in the liturgy. His efforts were met with enthusiasm by many and anger by others. Some of his older priests refused to make the changes he suggested and he was accused of being too liberal. But he brought to each situation the ability to truly listen to the other’s point of view. Slowly, the council was implemented in a pastoral way in his diocese.
As the archbishop of Seattle reached retirement age, Archbishop Jean Jadot, the apostolic delegate, sent three names to Rome for consideration with his stated preference being the bishop of Helena. Pope Paul VI had asked Jadot to seek out men in the United States “who were healers and bridge-builders, modest, unassuming men who modeled Christian virtues” (129). Jadot saw those virtues and a strong pastoral sense in Hunthausen.
In 1975, Hunthausen accepted Pope Paul VI’s invitation to become the archbishop of Seattle. He set about with his own sense of what a bishop was. Instead of his installation being held in the cathedral, which had very limited seating, Hunthausen chose to be installed in the Seattle Center Arena, where everyone could be accommodated. He opened up opportunities for the laity to be involved in all areas of the archdiocese, including the chancery staff. He increased ecumenical involvement. He wrote a pastoral letter in which he called for full inclusion of women in the life of the Church. He invited Dignity, a Catholic organization for homosexuals, to use his cathedral for their national convention Mass in Seattle.
He exhorted his priests to maintain a strong pastoral orientation in their ministry and allowed for greater use of general absolution. Of course, there were laymen and priests who did not appreciate his “liberal tendencies” and sent frequent letters to Rome complaining of Huntausen’s failure to abide by Church teaching.
The Archdiocese of Seattle was located in an area which had one of the largest concentrations of military bases in the country. President Reagan, in his wish to crush the Soviet Union, had begun a massive military build-up which included the Trident nuclear submarine, the first vessel that could deliver a nuclear attack anywhere in the world. Its home base was to be in Seattle. Since this was such a military-oriented area of the country with the Trident due to arrive, Seattle also became the epicenter of antinuclear activities and demonstrations.
Hunthausen had been greatly impacted by the antiwar and antinuclear proliferation discussions at Vatican II in reference to Gaudium et Spes. He was working with other members of the Bishops’ Conference on the peace pastoral, which had taken a strong antinuclear proliferation stance with a call to unilateral disarmament. (Pope John Paul II later deleted much of the letter’s strong antinuclear stance). Hunthausen saw young men and women being arrested and serving prison sentences for acts of civil disobedience. He felt called to take his own stance against the nuclear build-up and decided in 1981 to withhold half of his federal tax “to protest our nation’s involvement in the race to nuclear arms supremacy” (27).
The year 1983 began a sad chapter in Hunthausen’s life. He was informed by the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Pio Laghi, that the archdiocese was to undergo a special investigation. It was designed to look into the many letters being sent to Rome about liturgical, pastoral, and doctrinal issues in conflict with Church teaching and practice. Hunthausen was horrified and did everything he could do to prevent the visitation. He met with Archbishop James Hickey, Rome’s chosen delegate. Hickey showed him a folder of complaints against him. Despite Hunthausen’s wish to keep the investigation a secret, it went public and was a great embarrassment to him.
Hickey made the visitation and mandated a number of changes that Hunthausen was to initiate. But in his final interview with the archbishop, Hickey told him that the real reason for the visitation was his tax-withholding and his strong antinuclear-proliferation stance. Hunthausen had unknowingly entered into an area of global repercussions. President Reagan was intent on destroying or at least limiting the power of the Soviet Union and his close ally was Pope John Paul II, who had personally experienced the repression that the “Evil Empire” exerted on its bloc. Hunthausen was seen by both president and pope as interfering in their geopolitical goals. The investigation and consequent punishment were meant to sideline him.
Archbishop Hickey sent the results of his investigation to Rome, and a few months later, the apostolic delegate informed Hunthausen that the investigation would be closed if he accepted a coadjutor bishop who would have final say in several areas of administration: liturgy, the marriage tribunal, clergy and seminaries, ex-priests, and moral issues related to health care and homosexuals. Hunthausen rejected this and worked vigorously to prevent it, but was eventually told to either accept the plan or resign.
With great reservations, he signed his acceptance in October 1984. Father Donald Wuerl, a Rome-educated priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was named coadjutor bishop of Seattle. When the plan was announced, it was greeted with anger and resentment in Seattle and throughout the country. Wuerl was not well-received in the archdiocese and suffered greatly, but fulfilled his mission. When he and Hunthausen disagreed over the issue of an anti-discrimination law regarding the rights of homosexuals in housing, the situation in Seattle became intolerable.
The situation could not continue. In 1987, Rome asked Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, and Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco to assess the situation in Seattle. Rome would agree to move Wuerl, but wanted another bishop to serve as coadjutor of the archdiocese. Hunthausen was not happy, but he was told that he could suggest the names of bishop-candidates to Rome. In the end, Bishop Thomas Murphy of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings was named and Hunthausen was ostensibly given back full authority, although Murphy retained the same powers as Wuerl. The understanding was that Murphy was to oversee the five areas, but that he and Hunthausen would work collaboratively.
Murphy and Hunthausen were very different people with different theologies and pastoral approaches. There was much stress between them. When Hunthausen reached the age of 70 in August 1991, he submitted his resignation, which was immediately accepted. After Murphy died of a stroke, a succession of men served the Archdiocese of Seattle and most of his initiatives were dropped as the “restoration” continued.
At 92, Hunthausen, who had returned to his home state of Montana, suffered a stroke and lived out his last years in a nursing home. He lived to see the pontificate of Francis, who ended the restoration program of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XV. Hunthausen remarked, “Francis is doing the things I tried to do” (299).
Hunthausen was the last bishop in the United States to have attended the Vatican Council. He learned at that special moment in the history of the Church what the Church could be, and throughout his service as bishop of Helena and archbishop of Seattle he sought to make that vision a reality. That vision subsequently fell out of step with later conceptions of Catholicism. In his last years, his hopes were renewed and enlivened with the pastoral orientation of Pope Francis. Raymond Hunthausen will long be remembered as a man of conviction and courage.
BUILDING A BRIDGE: HOW THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
AND THE LGBT COMMUNITY CAN ENTER INTO A RELATIONSHIP
OF RESPECT, COMPASSION, AND SENSITIVITY
James Martin, SJ
San Francisco, California: HarperOne, 2017
160 pp., $19.99
Jesuit James Martin is a very popular author, whose earlier books, which have been pastoral in nature, have won numerous awards and been widely acclaimed. He serves as editor at large of America and is consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication. In other words, he has earned the credentials to weigh in on pastoral issues.
The subtitle of this, his latest book, clearly defines what he hoped to accomplish in writing it. He wanted to initiate or encourage an openness or a dialogue between the Catholic community and the members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. He believed that on a basic human context such a dialogue or openness could be grounded in a certain level of mutual respect, compassion, and sensitivity.
What prompted Martin to write this book was what he perceived as the “invisibility“ of the gay community in the Church. He noted that when a terrorist slaughtered 49 people in the popular gay Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016 (then the largest mass shooting in U.S. history), there was a great outpouring of rage and sorrow. Among the 250 Catholic bishops, only a handful expressed their concern for and solidarity with the gay or LGBT communities. This bothered Martin who had worked with and ministered to many LGBT persons over the years. The book is meant to make each community — the Catholic Church and the LGBT community — able to recognize and relate to each other positively.
It is a short book with simple suggestions on how the members of these two communities can come to know each other and grow in sensitivity. It is my experience that the issue from the Church perspective exists primarily, although not exclusively, on the hierarchical level. In plebiscites in traditional Catholic countries like Ireland, Spain, and Australia, civil rights for homosexual persons were won, even in the face of pressure from Church hierarchies.
For so many young people and many older people that I know in this country, there is great acceptance of and respect for members of the LGBT community. They see efforts against gay rights and gay marriage as discriminatory.
The key factor here for Martin is “encounter.” Many Catholics have met and developed friendships with LGBT people. They have come to know the person as a person who happens to be gay and not as a “gay person.” Their starting-point is not the person is “objectively disordered,” which creates a barrier from the beginning and hinders the development of mutual respect, compassion, and sensitivity.
Martin’s book bears the endorsement of Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, and Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, as well as Sister Jeannine Gramick, who has long argued for a more pastoral and positive approach by the Church toward the LGBT community.
How has Martin’s book been received? When I asked a priest friend of mine how he reacted to the book, his comment was that the book was a Hallmark card to the gay community. His reaction was positive as were those of many people with whom I have spoken who had read it.
On the other hand, in October, Martin was disinvited to give a talk at the seminary department of the Catholic University of America. This was the direct result of his book. African Cardinal Robert Sarah chose to focus his critique on homosexual acts being gravely sinful, sexual activity being an area which Martin purposely avoided in his book.
While not directly the result of Martin’s book, a further slap in the face of gay Catholics came from the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, which prohibited church funerals for Catholics who entered into same sex marriages. The reasoning was to avoid scandal.
Martin hoped that this book would cause conversation and dialogue and encourage further encounters between straight and gay Catholics. It is in such encounters that hearts speak to hearts and greater understanding, respect, compassion, and sensitivity emerge and grow. From what I have seen, Martin’s book has accomplished that.
Patrick J. Riley, DMin
Book Review Editor, Emmanuel