The title for this posting was stolen (like in baseball) from a classic poem I memorized in grammar school, Casey at the Bat [LINK] by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. He in turn stole (like in plagiarism) the line from an essay On Man by Alexander Pope. Just in case you can’t remember the poem, or sadly never heard of Mighty Casey, here is a brief summary. The baseball fans of Mudville, who were watching their team lose that day, were divided into two groups, the “struggling few (who) got up to go leaving there the rest” and the loyal fans who stayed because of their belief in the “hope that springs eternal within the human breast”; and they were counting on Mighty Casey to whack out a homerun and win the day for the Mudville Nine. If you want to know the outcome of the game, click on the link above.
It seems to me that in some ways, many of us are waiting for “a Mighty Casey like” person or movement to fulfill the hope that Vatican II inspired for reforms in the church. If we’re one of those, I think we need to listen to the wise sage Pogo, who said in a 1971 cartoon, “We have met the enemy and it is US!” [LINK] Pogo’s statement has become a universal truth that applies to most organizations, including the church. Like many others, I believe that the laity is the key to change. Having aired our grievances, and recognized that we are part of the problem, we need to keep hope alive. We all need to become change agents and not just “leave it up to George”. This commentary will focus on those who believe that “hope springs eternal…”, and are willing and able to follow Pogo’s challenge to be part of the solution. In my next blog I will focus on sources of hopelessness.
SOURCES of HOPE
“Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope; and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy
I don’t intend to use “hope” in the biblical or theological sense, as in Faith, Hope and Charity, but in a more everyday way, as in “Hope is the belief in what is possible and the expectation of things to come.” Or as St. Augustine of Hippo described it, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” Or if we think of hope as a movement, the Chinese author and Guru Lin Yutang described it as, “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.“
I realize that these “bumper sticker” type quotations might seem Pollyannaish, especially when we apply them to the Vatican. So, I’d first like to suggest a prototype of person who as a cardinal, had all the characteristic and values for providing a hopeful vision for leading the church forward, while at the same time would not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
In my last commentary in Catholica, [LINK]I included several references to Cardinal Carlo Martini’s death in which the articles mentioned examples of his progressive observations and convictions that the cardinal had about what the church needed to do to become relevant in the 21st century. The September 8, issue of The Tablet: The International Catholic Weekly had several post mortem articles under the overall title Cardinal Carlo Martini Remembered. The lead article on page 2, Prophet for Our Times [LINK] acknowledges some of the many contributions Cardinal Martini made to the church, and suggests how different the church might be now if he had succeeded Pope John Paul II.
The article also serves as an introduction to his last interview two weeks before he died, entitled, The Pope and Bishops Should Find 12 Unconventional People to Take on Leadership Roles (notice the title specifies people not clerics).That interview describes “…a papacy that never was, but might have been.” The interview is on pages 8 and 9 on the link immediately above. Additionally, in an article entitled Never Afraid on pages 6 and 7 under the same link, Cardinal Martini is remembered as “…the torch-bearer of liberal Catholicism”. I particularly appreciated the author’s describing Martini’s primary role as bishop being “a pastor of souls” rather than being limited “to that of ecclesiastical authority”. We are getting closer to a conclave to elect a new pope. Hopefully the next pope to sit in the chair of Peter will be someone like Cardinal Martini. If that were to happen, I think the hopes we had for Vatican II, and even beyond, could become a reality not just a dream.
Another source of hope for me was the celebration of the 50ieth Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s opening session. I’ve been encouraged by the many positive reactions to the celebration of that historical event. There have been a number of article that I’ve read in the past several months that I found hopeful,without ignoringwhat remains to be done, nor hesitating to point out how much of what we hoped for and thought would be accomplished had been sabotaged by the Vatican Curia, Pope John Paul II, and his handpicked successor. For me the articles brought back some of the same excitement and hope that I had as a newly ordained priest when I first heard about Pope John XXIII’s plans for the Council. In the words of the renowned philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà-vu all over again”.
One concept that was reinforced by several of the anniversary articles was collegiality, the fact that we are stakeholders in the church.You know that, and I know that, but the people in charge still don’t seem to “get it”. We’re all familiar with the sensus fidelium (the mind of the people). The term stakeholder is perhaps more in touch with current corporate lingo. It wasn’t around when sensus fidelium was first used by the early fathers of the church, but it’sexactly what collegiality is in current corporate lingo. As members of the People of God, we are stakeholders, and this is one of the issues that remain to be resolved in accord with the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November21, 1964.
Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium is where collegiality is spelled out. [LINK] In an article by John Wilkins in Commonweal, p.16 in its October 2012 edition, the author describes the “fierce and protracted” debate between the minority of the conservative bishops, and their progressive opponents had over collegiality. Basically, the conservatives were concerned that if they budged an inch on collegiality, the church’s teaching on infallibility, defined by Vatican I in 1870 would be in jeopardy. The argument was between those who saw collegiality as community and those who saw it as a pyramid, with the “…pope at the apex.” In Roman Law a college (like in the College of Cardinals) is an association of equals, a concept that the traditionalists could not reconcile with a monarchial papacy.”  Although the progressives won in the end, in reality the “community” structure, as envisioned by Lumen Gentium was never operationalized, thanks to the long reigns of John Paul II and the present pope’s obsession with tradition.(See Jeff Mirus’ article Benedict’s Hermeneutic of Continuity).[LINK]I believe that the concept of collegiality is a priority for change and needs to be implemented according to the original promulgation of Vatican II.
As stakeholders there are a number of change organizations that are available for us to join if we want to participate in taking our church back and beyond Vatican II. I suspect that most of you are familiar with the major lay organization in your own countries and around the world, so I’ll put their websites along with additional articles, at the end of this posting, so you can refresh your memories if you think it’s necessary. What all the lay organizations need is more of us stakeholders to join them in their missions.
A NEW GOVERNANCE MODEL
Besides the older lay organizations’ contributions, I see a source of hope in a lay group that was established in 2005, the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Governance (NLRCG). If you check their website [LINK] you’ll see a completely different type of organization with strong ties to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), with a membership that includes key lay leaders from organizations across the country. The “Target membership is approximately 225 individuals who are top leaders and key experts from the worlds of business, civic life, professional associations, foundations, universities, healthcare systems, vibrant parishes, and other organizations.” The board of directors is made up of seven lay women, seven laymen, and three clergymen. The Executive Director is a lay woman. I was very impressed with the credentials the members have and what they’ve accomplished in a short time. If you check their website, their annual reports for the last few years, along with their mission, strategic plans etc. are available.
One of their guiding principles of NLRCG is to provide:
“…an avenue for greater incorporation of the expertise of all the faithful, especially in the areas of church management, finance, and human resource development. By virtue of baptism, lay people have not only the right but also the duty to offer their gifts and talents in service of the church. See: Christifideles Laici – Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on The Vocation and The Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, 1988, 29 and Code of Canon Law, Canon 222.1, 1983.
NLRCG’s goal is to build “… a Church that is stronger in areas of management, finance and human resources and more fully utilizes the talents and skills of the laity.” Their recommendations are presented to the USCCB and, as stated in an article in America, they become a, Blue Print for Change [LINK], “…a roadmap for strengthening the organizational, financial, and managerial structures of the church at three levels: national, diocesan, and parish.”
Given the fact that, “…the Catholic Church in the United States, with its more than one million employees and operating budget of nearly $100 billion, is comparable in size and scope to some of the nation’s largest corporations…” having management experts guide the bishops seems like an excellent idea. Especially, since most bishops do not have any professional credentials or experience in managing what is essentially a position for a CEO of a large “corporation”. At the very least it should promote a new transparency in the church, and strengthens the role of the laity in at least the governance of the church, and give them a foot in the door for being included in decisions on the church’s teachings. I believe that the clergy sexual abuse of children, would never have reached the proportions it did if the “managers”, i.e. bishops, were not able to cover up for the perpetrators. In the words of James Muller, “With lay people involved in the decision making, certainly no priest who had abused a child would have been transferred to another parish…parents would never have permitted it.”
To me, the fact that there is such an organization as NLRCGis encouraging. I often wondered how we could expect men with degrees in theology, canon law orscripture to have the knowledge that’s required to be a “CEO” in a “corporation” as large as a diocese.
SELECTING OUR BISHOPS
Here’s a major issue that NLRCG has already recommended to the bishops, “… improvements in the process by which bishops are selected. While recognizing the primacy of the Holy See, it suggested the process for choosing bishops be supplemented with help of human resource professionals…” The election of bishops is one of the goals that most of the lay groups have been advocating for years. Here’s an interesting paradox: despite the fact that the hierarchy usually invokes tradition and teachings of the fathers of the church as their rationale for their doctrinal positions, yet when it comes to the selection of bishops, the fact that bishops were chosen in the early centuries of the church by the laity, doesn’t register with them.
In his book, Electing Our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Choose It’s Leaders, Joseph F. O’Callaghan, points out that “The terrible moral failure of the American Bishops in handling the crisis of priestly sexual abuse has focused intense attention on the office of the bishop.”  He believes that bishops are often perceived as branch managers or subordinates to the pope in their own dioceses, with administrative responsibilities over subdivisions of multinational corporations with their headquarters in Rome. This goes back to our conversation on collegiality.
I also recommend Robert Mc Clory’s book, As it Was in the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church. As the title suggests, the author goes back to the beginning of the early church, which obviously not like the present church, and shows what needs to reclaimed and rejuvenated. He makes a good case for laypeople: having a sanctioned place at the table, along with the clergy; provides many historical examples of laity playing significant roles in assisting the institutional church in adapting to the 20ieth and 21st centuries. His answer to the question “is anyone listening?“, often asked about the hierarchies’ negative responses to the “…energy expended by all these Catholic reform groups…”, is very positive. He lists a number of achievements that he sees as hopeful signs, and in his final chapter “The Vision Presses on to Fulfillment”, he provides a number of scenarios for the Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church.
WHERE SELDOM IS HEARD A DISCOURAING WORD…
As an octogenarian and card carrying member of several catholic organizations whose foci are on reform in the church, I obviously don’t have the same energy that I had fifty years ago, and my involvements with these groups ain’t what it used to be: no more driving at night to meetings, no more taking leadership positions, no more demonstrations, no more lectures, but thanks to the modern technology I can still actively participate on-line. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a half a dozen petitions to sign, or “change causes” to support. Thankfully, I am still able to take advantage of connecting with the virtual world out there in cyberspace with my computer. To paraphrase Descartes, “Scripto ergo sum” (I write therefore I am). What I’m suggesting is we don’t have to sit on the sidelines if we still have a glimmer of hope.
In my next blog, I will consider the other side of hope, the hopelessness that the hierarchy “will never get it” despite all our efforts to reform the church.
1) Wilkins, J. (2012) “Bishops or Branch Managers?” Commonweal, October 12, p.18.
The Second Vatican Council has Already Made Us FreeArticle by Robert Blair Kaiser, National Catholic Reporter, August 7, 2012.
Opening the Church to the World Op-ed, New York Times, by John W. O’Malley, S.,J., October 10, 2012,
Map for the Journey of Faith From the Editor’s Desk, The Tablet, October 6, 2012.
Catholicism at the Cross RoadsReview of Paul Lakeland’s book, by Frank Dechant, Future Church.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
- American Catholic Council
- Australian Website, Catholica
- Association of the Rights of Catholics in the Church
- Bishop Accountability
- Call to Action
- Commonweal Magazine
- Future Church
- The National Catholic Reporter
- The 21st Century American Catholic
- The Progressive Catholic Voice
- Voice of the Faithful