Tag: Faith

The Hope Which Springs Eternal Within the Human Breast

The title for this posting was stolen (like in baseball) from a classic poem I memorized in grammar school, 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 , 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 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 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 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, 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 s 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 ,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.” [1] 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 s (), 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 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 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 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 s: How the Should Choose It’s Leaders, Joseph F. O’Callaghan, points out that “The terrible moral failure of the American s in handling the crisis of priestly sexual abuse has focused intense attention on the office of the bishop.” [2] 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 . 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 signs, and in his final chapter “The Vision Presses on to Fulfillment”, he provides a number of scenarios for the Coming Democratization of the .

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.

END NOTES

1) Wilkins, J. (2012) “s or Branch Managers?” Commonweal, October 12, p.18.

2) O’Callaghan, J.F., (2007). Electing our s: How the Should Choose Its Leaders. New York: Sheedp. 3.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

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,

The Promise of Vatican II to the People of God National Catholic Reporter, Editorial, October 11, 2012

The Bigest Meeting in History Feature Article on Vatican II, The Tablet, October 6, 2012, by Hilmar Pabel.

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

The Hierarchy and the Lowerarchy

In Obedience to Authority and Loyal Dissent I indicated that in my next posting, I would share my viewpoint on how the governing structure of the Church has been dysfunctional and how that affects the People of God.  Briefly, my fundamental belief is that the majority of the problems the Church has experienced both pre and post, Vatican II, are rooted in its ancient and absolute monarchial governance.  As a first step, the very least the hierarchy needs to consider is a bona fide agreement  to acknowledge and operationalize the sensus fidelium’s (the sense or mind of the faithful) lawful right to participate in decisions on faith and morals. This needs to be a sine qua non, otherwise there will be little chance for reform or renewal, accept as the sensus fidelium is defined by the Vatican.

In this commentary I will provide background information on the legitimacy of the sensus fidelium;  and of how the hierarchy has consistently ignored the mind of the people; and how an egalitarian dialogue is an essential component for change. I will also provide information on a promising document approved by the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, which supports the role of the faithful; plus statements by high ranking members of the hierarchy who don’t go along with the party line.

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Long before the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements were launched, faithful layfolks had established a number of reform organizations whose purposes were to assist in changing controversial and divisive positions of the church. Their efforts have been met with varying degrees of success, which I will expand on later. But for the most part, although these reform groups have clear goals and appropriate plans of action, they have been stonewalled by the hierarchy when it comes to the Church even considering a change in its structure of governance; or even seriously accepting the input of the lowerarchy.

Over the years there have been various interpretations of sensus fidelium.. They range from the degrading declaration that Pius X made in his encyclical Vehementer Nos in 1906, in which he stated “The duty of the laity is to allow themselves to be led, and like a docile flock to follow their pastors.” (Every time I read that quotation, I think, and he was infallible?) Contrast Pius X’s prose with the more magnanimous message of Saint John Henry Newman in his article On Consulting the ful in Matters of Doctrine:

“Consulting the people is not to be regarded as just a friendly gesture on the part of the pope or bishops. Consultation is something the laity has a right to expect. Their view may serve at times as a needed witness of the truth of a revealed doctrine.”

More recently,  Lumen Gentium, Chapter II, On the People of God one of Vatican II’s most important affirmative documents, declared that the charisma, of the Holy Spirit are available to all the faithful “of every rank”.  To put this in economic language, “the hierarchy doesn’t have the corner on the market on doctrine.” Referring to Jesus, , sections 40, 41 states:

“He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith [sensus fidei] and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family .”

An even more contemporary study is one approved  by the Vatican’s International Theological Commission and was reviewed in America Magazine’s April 2, 2012 issue entitled Commission Text Holds Surprises on the Role of the Faithful. The title of the Commission’s study is : Perspective, Principles, and Criteria. America describes the study as, representing “…a forward looking consensus view, in this case it’s about the role of theology in the of the Church.”

The study declares, “Attention to the sensus fidelium is a criterion for theology. Theology should strive to discover and articulate accurately what the faithful actually believe.” The sense of the faithful is a conviction “…deeply rooted in the people of God, who receive, understand, and live the Word of God in the Church.” The study goes on to describe how the body of the faithful, especially the laity and lay theologians are part of “…the interface between the Gospel and everyday and have a role to play in the church’s interpretation of the signs of the times.”  For those who are interested in learning more about the report, here is a complete copy of Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria  approved by the whole Commission on November 2011 and released with the approval of Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the .

I believe the Commission has chartered a vision of the Church of the 3rd Millennium.  Whether it will be embraced is questionable. As the America article points out, despite the fact, that Benedict XVI strongly emphasizes the eternalness of the Apostolic Tradition, “…the affirmation (in ) of historicity is a daring move.” It goes on to assert that the Commission boldly asserts, “The council’s uses of the expression ‘signs of the times’ shows that it fully recognizes not only the historicity of the world but also of the Church.”

At the risk of over-dramatizing the Commission’s position, I believe it echoes President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which I would like to paraphrase:

…and that this Church, under God, shall have a new birth of freedomand that governance of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Perhaps I seem a little too optimistic about the power of the Commission’s report! But I do have my doubts. Even as I was writing this section, I began to wonder if the rest of the Vatican and the bishops had even read , and if they had read it, did they just file it in their “circular file”? What made me wonder are some of the recent responses to the faithful,  by the bishops. They still seemed dismissive of the sensus fidelium.

The bishops’ responses to suggestions for an adult dialogue, is not a new position. It seems their mind-set remains, “Let us sit down and discuss this issue together, but in the end, we’ll do it our way.” Even though the old “my way or the highway” approach, doesn’t work, they refuse to change their tune. It’s analogous to the definition of insanity that’s attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”    It’s their position of tradition!  They remind me of Tevye and Golde, in the musical Fiddler on the Roof,singing the opening song “Tradition”, when they bemoan the reality that their daughters aren’t going to submit to the age old tradition of husbands being chosen by a Matchmaker. Like Tevye and Golde, the bishops are living in a world that no longer exists; a world where almost everyone thought that the earth was the center of the universe and, was created in six days. They don’t seem to have the same vision of the sensus fidelium that the Commission expressed. Underlying the mind-set of the bishops is their belief that they, and they alone as successors to the apostles make the rules and everyone else should sheepishly follow their shepherds.  Or, as I’ve heard repeatedly in reference to the hierarchy, especially in the case of the sexual abuse of children by priests, “They just don’t get it!”

The most blatant example of the difference between the ’s document and the hierarchy, was Paul VI’s so called contraception encyclical Humanae Vitae, when the pope trumped the decision of his Commission, and banned “artificial”  contraception. For details see my commentary in a,Humanae Vitae: The Turning Point for the Catholic Church, which traces the history of birth control and raises the question of whether the encyclical was about, sex and contraception, or Papal authority and the inability of the hierarchy to admit the teaching in Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubiion Christian Marriage, needed to be revised. The decision that was made definitely doesn’t fit with the Commission in Today’s Theology’s”signs of the times”. Nor does it agree with the sensus fidelium.  As we know, thousands of people left the church or if they remained, they continued to practice some type of artificial contraception. But Paul VI was the decider!  Ipse dixit!  Literal translation “he himself has said it” or, the definition from Webster-Merriam, “something alleged: something asserted dogmatically and without proof”.

Here’s a voice with much more authority than I have, who disagrees with Paul VI’s decision.  It’s an article entitled Cardinal Martini’s Jesus Would Never Have Written  “Humanae Vitae” by Sandro Magister that speaks for itself. I also think that Cardinal Martini’s assessment is in harmony with .

There are many other examples since then that illustrate the difference between the spirit of Today’s Theology and how the hierarchy responds to the faithful when they try to exercise their legitimate role as part of the sensus fidelium, but I’ll mention just one recent example.

THE NUNS AND the HIERARHY, DIALOGUE WITH THE DEAD?

One of the most publicized examples is the current conflict between the Nuns and the hierarchy over the rights of the “lowerarchy” to a bona fide dialogue as faithful members of the People of God. Many of the Nuns’ backers believe that the focus is the manner in which the Vatican and the bishops are mismanaging the current conflict with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  Here are several situations that I believe are typical of the way that the bishops’ idea of dialogue does not conform with the sense of “signs of the times” as expressed in the Vatican’s own document, .

To give the hierarchy the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the problem is that both sides have different understanding or misunderstanding of the word dialogue.  To me dialogue and compromise suggest that both parties are on an equal level. One definition of an egalitarian dialogue is one “… in which contributions are considered according to the validity of their reasoning, instead of according to the status or position of power of those who make them.”  As I read John L. Allen Jr’s interview with Cardinal Levada on his view of the LCWR, it became crystal clear to me that his Eminence’s view of dialogue was not the same as the Nuns’ or mine.  I guess if you’re His Eminence, it’s not possible to imagine the Sisters to be at your same echelon. It certainly didn’t sound that way in the interview. The Cardinal’s responses made me think of Martin Buber’s classic book, I and Thou.  Buber basically contrasted I and Thou with I and It. His Eminence does not believe that the Nuns are worth of an I and Thou relationship because that “…is a relationship of mutuality and reciprocity.” The Nuns only merit an I and It relationship because it is “… a relationship of separateness and detachment.” Here is a YouTube Presentation of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou. So much for the benefit of the doubt! Nevertheless, it might be helpful for all of us to keep Buber’s words in mind if we expect to have productive dialogues with one another.

Jamie Manson’s article LCWR’s Annual Meeting: Some Reflections and a Little Back Stop in the National Reporter,points out that many of the reform groups that have tried to transform the church’s  structures, can’t dialogue or negotiate with the hierarchy because “… the climate has become so uncompromising…”.  She quotes Sister Pat Farrell, when she was president of LCWR as saying, what the Nuns want at some point in the process is to “…be recognized and understood as equals in the church, that our form of religious can be respected and affirmed…it might sound like just asking for dialogue is vague, but I think ultimately, one of our deepest goals is to create that kind of climate in the churchnot just for ourselves, but for the church throughout the world.”

In an article by Joshua J. Mc Elwee, Overseeing Bishop: LCWR ‘Not in Accordance with Church he makes it clear what Sister Pat Farrell was reacting to in Leonard Blair interview on the radio program, Fresh Air.  Blair is the of the diocese of Toledo, Ohio, one of three bishops appointed by the Vatican to oversee the LCWR.  Farrell asked the question on the same program a week earlier, “Can you be and have a questioning mind?” When the bishop was asked whether he or the other two bishops who are involved with the LCWR’s revision were open to dialogue, Blair replied, “…that would depend on the sisters’ definition of dialogue.”  He went on with his definition of dialogue that was not close to being an I and Thou dialogue as described by Martin Buber. It was a very legalistic response that would suggest that if your idea of dialogue is not the same as his, there’s no point in having a dialogue. You can read his response in the title of the article at the beginning of this paragraph and decide for yourself.

ADDENDUM, REQUIESCAT IN PACE

This is an article from ROME (Reuters), September 2, 2012 In Final Interview, Liberal Cardinal Says Church is 200 Years Out of Date. It reports the death of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan. He was 85. As you’ll recall I quoted him above from an earlier article where Cardinal Martini questioned Paul VI’s decision on Humanae Vitae. This current article quotes him from and interview two weeks before his death, as saying, “The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change.”  Wow! I’ll drink to that! What adds weight to his opinion is the fact that he was papal candidate, once favored by Vatican progressives to succeed Blessed John Paul II of happy memory.  Here are two other quotes by the Cardinal that give his vision of the future of the church.

“Our culture is aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and cassocks are pompous. “

The Cardinal’s final message to Benedict before he died was “…to begin a shake-up of the church without delay.”

For me, Cardinal Martini offers hope for change in the church. Like John XXIII, they were both harbingers of the future. Even though they were part of the hierarchy, they understood and took into consideration the hopes of the people of God, and were willing to take a stand outside of the rigid box of tradition. They were willing to acknowledge the need for urgent change. My hope is that there are many more members of the hierarchy who are willing to take courageous positions as they did. Their spirit gives new meaning to the prayer I haven’t thought of in years:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

I will continue, in my next commentary to provide more specifics for how we, the People of God, can become part of the efforts to “renew the face of the earth and the church.”

My Church Right or Wrong?

In paraphrasing the patriotic slogan, “My country right or wrong” and substituting for country, I think it portrays what many of us learned in from our Catholic , and followed for years. It’s another way of saying, “you gotta go along with the , even if you don’t agree with it, if you want to be a loyal citizen.” It also reminds me of G.K. Chesterton response to the quote, “…it’s like saying my mother drunk  or sober.” I think what Chesterton meant was, that however much we love our country or , it’s necessary to temper that love and loyalty with a good dose of reality. I believe many of us have struggled with that dose of reality. Some conscience say, you need to take a stand, but for others, after years of submitting to authority say I have hope that the authorities will shape up and get it right; in the meantime, I’ll wait and see. Others answer, not in my time, I’m out of here!

It’s not surprising to read that many cradle catholics have already made their decision and left the of their youth, and that the largest number of christians in the United States is former catholics. I suspect that the majority left because they had no hope that those same members of the hierarchy would stop treating them as the “lowerarchy”, and expecting them to docilely ignore their conscience and let the feelings of guilt that is embedded in every cell of their catholic DNA take over.[1] By the way, I have a friend from my catholic grammar school days, who up to his forties, swore his mother had the east coast franchise on guilt.

“Whiter goest thou…?”
After having discussed what I consider the abuse by the United States Conference of Catholic s, () of the power of the political pulpit to kick off their campaign on contraception in my first commentary; and the in the second commentary the insanity of infallibility peddled by Pio Nino, that is the basis for the authority to condemn contraception. and many other teachings of the Roman ; I want to turn to some of the options that we have for reform or revolution. First, I will briefly outline the different positions that several theologians have taken on the future of the and on the Hamlet-like dilemma of whether “to stay or not to stay”?   Finally, I will share my point of view on these issues, and hope to hear your response.

Gregory Baum

I’ll start with Gregory Baum, who of the two other theologians I’ll consider, is the most hopeful that the has and can make significant changes. I suspect that’s apparent from the very title of his book, Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change. Fr. Baum has a rich back ground as a theologian. He served as an expert for the II from 1962 to 1965; taught theology both at St. Michael’s College in Toronto and McGill University in Montreal.His academic writing has been mostly on ecumenism and Catholic social teaching. In case you don’t have easy access to his book, there is a very thorough review of it in the end notes. [2]

Baum admits in the preface of his book that “My enthusiasm for the evolution of the Church’s official teaching is at odds with the mood presently expressed by many Catholics, who lament the ecclesiastical bureaucracy’s indifference to a number of urgent pastoral problems.” [3] He’s got that right! But when he describes other theologians’ positions as “moods”, it sounds like he expects that the mood will pass and they’ll come back to his way of thinking.

Throughout most of his book he brings up documents from II, partly to show how pastoral the documents are compared to those of other ecumenical counsels, but at the same time exhibit how the made changes in II. He also focuses on issues that I think are bureaucratic, and not of much interest to the faithful in the third millennium. For examples, Baum spends several pages on a Nota published by the Congregation of Faith and signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, that lifts the censure of 40 propositions of a philosopher by the name of Antonio Rosmini, who lived between (1797-1855) and whose work had been condemned posthumously.[4] I suppose it does demonstrate that the can change its mind, nice for Antonio, but I just wish the Ratzinger and his curial colleagues had been spending more time on the pedophilia problems with priests that was breaking out in the USA about the same time they were engaged in head games with revising a decision from the 19th century.

Although Baum proudly reminds us of the documents that excited most of us at the time, and did promise change, unless I missed something, he doesn’t spend any time exposing how Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI launched campaigns to scuttle many of the reforms that II accomplished.

Despite decades of disagreements with the on numerous doctrines , still considers himself  to be a Catholic, and  even though his license to teach in Catholic universities was revoked, he was never burned at the stake as a heretic, or even excommunicated. He still can celebrates Mass, and administer the sacraments. He confirmed his commitment to the in a recent book, What I Believe when he said, “I am and remain a loyal member of my .” [5] And makes it perfectly clear that his years of strict education in Rome taught him not to allow himself to be intimidated even by the authorities.

At age 83 Kung still maintains his integrity in spite of the looking over his shoulder and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, targeting him from the far right.  Here are a couple of examples of the slings and arrows from conservative websites:  The first one is Protect the Pope.Fr Hans Kung Exhorts Catholics to Reject the Authority of Magisterium as a ‘Duty’   It’s not just the article that attacks the “Dissident Catholic priest…”, it’s the vitriolic tenor of the comments by readers. Here’s another website entitled, Catholic Culture, Hans Kung Issues New Book Attacking the Church  Notice how this article introduces Kung, “The dissident theologian Hans Küng…” They love the word dissident to disparage Kung. I’d suggest they read Robert McClory’s book, Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church. McClory has a different take on dissenters. “These dissenters challenged fossilized traditions and seemingly irreformable doctrines, opened locked widows, and pushed the Church (sometimes kicking and screaming) into the future.” [6]

Perhaps there is still hope! Kung seems to thinks so. He expresses this hope as a vision of the future that most likely wouldn’t fit well with the as we know it today. His vision is reminiscent of the tone of Martin Luther King Jr’s I have a dream speech, which he gave in 1963 when he presented his vision of civil rights for Black Americans. There is one section in Kung’s book What I Believe, which captures his vision. After saying he’s not giving up hope that an ecumenism between the Christian es is possible, but it will have to grow from below, not from reluctant authorities. He lists a number of components of that vision. Rather than trying to encapsulate what he has in chapter 10 of his book, I will just mention two items of his vision that I think are the most important as he looks into the future:

  • Man-made dogmas that divide the es will retreat behind the truth of God and the message of Jesus. Medieval pre-modern structures that deny people above all women their privileges, will dissolve.
  •  ‘Infallible’ papalism and pseudo –Christian idolatry of the Pope will give way to a Petrine office which stands at the service of Christianity and functions in the framework of synodical and conciliar structures. [7]

He closes the chapter with a biblical quote that I also used in my memoir to underscore our need to move from the blind obedience of a child, to a responsible faith of an adult.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. –I Corinthians 13:11, New Living Translation, 2007.

So, keep showing up, Father Kung!

Just so you’ll know my possible bias, I need to confess I’ve been a fan of since I read the first edition of Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality in 1980. Currently a group we call the Seekers, that I’ve met with twice a month for the last 13 years, is reading The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother and the Birth of a Global Renaissance. AndI just finished reading The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and how it Can Be Saved. Oh, I almost forgot, I found his book, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, very inspiring.

Two interviews with by Jamie Manson where recently published in the National Catholic Reporter. Her interviews focus on Fox’s recent book the Pope’s War. If you haven’t read the book, the articles might be helpful to bring you up to speed on his latest thinking. In the first article, Former Dominican Sees Church’s Demise as a Blessing in Disguise  Ms. Manson briefly traces his background over the past 20 years, reminding us that he was expelled from the Dominican order after a twelve year battle with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and for the last eighteen years has been an Episcopal priest. Her focus is on the key themes from his book.

One of the first questions she asked in the first interview was whether he considered himself to be Catholic, but not Roman Catholic. He hesitated a bit and didn’t answer directly but said, “You don’t undo 54 years of being Catholic—it’s much too rich for that. I have a whole list of gifts that I was given by the Roman , but obviously I’m moving towards something that is beyond the boxes of denominations.”  I can resonate with that. I think most of us who have struggled with that question, or even have already left the , recognize the positive experiences we had along with the disappointments that turned us off. Fox responded to a follow up question about what tradition he most wanted to rescue. As might be expected; the mystical and prophetic souls like Hildegard, Eckhart, Francis of Assisi, and added great reformers of the 20th century such as;  Dorothy Day, Thomas Berry, Thomas Merton, Teilhard De Chardin as part of the richness that Fox needed to be take along on his continued journey.

Fox also stresses that every Catholic and every Christian needs to grieve what was lost when the hope that II generated was undermined by the last 40 years of efforts by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to backtrack on the promises made by the Council. He believes that the going through the  process, especially getting in touch with the anger and denial that many of us have, will produce a new creativity to “birth the anew”.  The good news is that he sees this as a “great moment” for the Holy Spirit to move in and reinvent things. “And that’s where we should be putting our energy.”

Manson continues her interview in Matthew Fox Talks Obedience and Courage, Young Adults and the Church , by asking about Joseph Ratzinger’s youth in Nazi Germany. The fact that young Ratzinger grew up, and was indoctrinated under a fascist regime, seems to have had an impact on him. Most likely, it was much greater than our growing up in a pre- II , had on many of us. As a teenager he joined the Hitler Youth Corp and later was conscripted into the army, where the most important “virtue” was blind obedience. Remember the Nuremberg War Trials after WWII and the defense that many of the indicted claimed, that they were just following orders (blind obedience)? Or if you have the time and the stomach for it, read the cross-examination of Goering to see how powerful an ideology like fascism and its requirement of blind obedience, can provide a license for atrocities like the world has never known. I’m not suggesting that Ratzinger is a fascist in his adult life, but I’d be surprised if his indoctrination as a youth made no impression on him at all, at the very least he seems to have a touch of the fascist’s obsession to control and to make obedience a priority.

Fox makes an interesting comparison between Ratzinger and Father Bernard Haring, who was also drafted into the Nazi army, but as an adult. He later in life became a prominent moral theologian. Haring rejected what he had been taught as a Nazi soldier that obedience is a primary virtue. As Fox described Haring’s position, “… the number one lesson he drew from living through the war was that of resistance and the need for civil disobedience.” [8] He also expressed remorse that so many Christians in Hitler’s Germany justified their participation in unimaginable atrocities by saying that they were obeying orders. According to Fox, Haring constructed his entire moral theology on the theme of responsibility, contrary to the blind obedience of so many German Catholics. Fox believes, “As Ratzinger rose the ecclesial ladder, he more and more built his theology on obedience.”[9]  AMEN!                                

In both of Manson’s interviews with Fox’s and in his book, it’s apparent that he is concerned and involved with the issues that youth have towards the institutional es. He’s also is concerned and involved in reaching out to those who have one foot in and one foot out, as well as those who have already made a choice to look elsewhere to meet their spiritual need and worship in more meaningful communities. If you haven’t already done so, check his Cosmic Mass Website . It has the lists of groups of cosmic christian communities, a section for questions,                  plus wealth of information about what he and others are doing to make worship more meaningful.

His book contains much more information, including list of myths and 25 concrete steps to take Christianity into the future. Before he gets to the 25 steps he points out how important it is to pay attentions to our own grief. He mentions a number of “betrayals” that many of us have experienced as faithful members of the . It’s similar in some ways to what couples go through in a divorce. I recently read a response in a website entitled Catholics4Change.com. The respondent to one of their blogs made a statement that seemed to capture what many on the fringe of leaving the go through. This is not the voice of someone who is making a decision dismissively, but one who has agonized over a that has let her down:

“My conscience is screaming at me: What are you doing? How can you continue to blindly follow something so wrong?” My faith is too strong to allow it. I know better, but this is like a terrible divorce after many years of marriage when you learn that your spouse has been unfaithful. The sadness, anger, fear, and grief are unbearable.”

I don’t think you need to have been through a divorce to identify with the respondent. Having counseled dozens of couples dealing with the pain of divorce, and given workshops on divorce recovery, I think the responder is right on in making the comparison of leaving the to a divorce. We need to recover from the multiple betrayals by the that Fox mentions. It’s almost like going through a Kobler-Ross, process of grieving period as we need to do for any loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. If you’re not familiar with the Kobler-Ross’ grieving process, you might want to check out her link above.

The 25 steps I mentioned above are mainly about structural changes needed in the Church, for example getting rid of the monarchial government that currently governs the Church from the , and replacing it with a democratic structure.  One of the most important changes would be to have bishops chosen by local communities, and not have to pass the litmus test that the pope requires; in a new structure,   priests would be female or male, gay or straight, celibate or married. One of the questions he asks that applies to most of the changes he’s suggesting is, “Would Jesus be more at home with …” a more democratic structure of his , one that was less bureaucratic; is more inclusive, is more “the people of God” that II envisioned; follows a creation spirituality versus the sin and redemption theology that made sense to St. Augustine, who taught that original sin was passed on through the male’s semen. These are the things that believes need to be changed, and what he lives through his writings, his ministry as a priest, and efforts to preserve and preach the value of the mystics in a world that joins the historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ.

Keep the Faith but Challenge the

Theologian and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Harvey Cox, in his book, The Future of Faith, recalls a conversation he had with a friend, who described himself as “a practicing Christian but not always a believing one.” Initially Cox was surprised with his friend’s statement, but the more he thought about it, he came to the conclusion that to call oneself a practicing Christian but not a believing one acknowledges the certainties and uncertainties that mark the life of any religious person. When I read his book, I realized I had come to the same conclusion about the differences between faith and beliefs a number of years ago, but I just wasn’t able to articulate it as well as he did.

My faith is in the Jesus of what Cox calls the Age of Faith, the first three centuries after Jesus died, when the early was more interested in following Jesus’ teachings than making obligatory what to belief about Jesus. The Jesus that I believe in and in whom my faith is grounded in is: the Jesus who gave us the Beatitudes and his example of how to live; the Jesus who focused on compassion for the disenfranchised. As Dr. Cox observed, when he realized how faith and beliefs were not the same,

“To focus the Christian life on beliefs rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by theologians who taught ‘faith’ consists of dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds, this came as a welcomed liberation.” [10]

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I strongly recommend a website that deals with the issues of faith and beliefs in greater detail than I could in a commentary. The website is Following Jesus. After you open the site, you’ll see and hear a power point presentation, that I believe expresses what it means to follow Jesus over two thousand years after his birth.  The presentation doesn’t offer a creed, but it’s a declaration of faith in Jesus. It’s what he said and did himself, while he was on earth.

Once the power point is finished, the website will immediately go to the home page, There are eight title at the top of the page, from left to right: INVITATION; SEEKERS; LEADER; VISIONS; CHANGING; JOURNEY; COMPANIONS; AND RESOURCES. Under each title there are between five and ten sub-titles. As you touch each of the titles with your mouse, you’ll see the sub-titles. There is enough information on this site for two semesters of classes that meet three times a week for two hours each day.

For example, the title on the far right of the page is RESOURCES, if you click on that title, you’ll see that one of the sub-titles is “links for action”. One of the areas I would have liked to have spent more time on in this commentary, is positive s and different strategies of social action as it applies to the . But hopefully this website will provide some generic suggestions.

To make sure this website gets the credit it deserves, here is information that they supply under “conract. It fits well with the distinctions we’ve been making between faith and beliefs.

The Following Jesus website is a project of the Mustard Seed School of Theology, which may be the smallest school of biblical studies and theology in the world. (We don’t award degrees, so please don’t ask!)

The goal of this project is to discover ways to be a faithful follower of Jesus in a postmodern world. It explores what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “religionless Christianity”—faith as a way of life, not as a system of beliefs and doctrines or institutional rites and rituals. The Mustard Seed School hopes to share the radical social and political ideas of Jesus as an antidote to the religious orthodoxy of the adopted under the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.

PS. Here’s a bonus that I came across while writing this commentary Forget the Church, Follow Jesus. Article by Andrew Sullivan, Newsweek, April 2, 2012
PSS.  If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try getting in bed with a mosquito.
Author anonymous

Endnotes

  1. Nor was I surprised to read on Catholica’s website that report titled Catholic Parish Ministry in Australia: The Crisis Deepens, writtenby Peter J. Wilkinson. Click HERE to read.
  2. Gregory Baum. (2005). Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. A review of Baum’s book by Jack Shea, in Corpus-National Capital Region on-line. http://ca.renewedpriesthood.org/page.cfm?Web_ID=658
  3. Gregory Baum. (2005). Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. P.13.
  4. Ibid. pp. 31-34.
  5. , (2010). What I believe. NY: Continuum National Publishing Group. p.50.
  6. Robert McClory. (2000). Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p.161.
  7. Op. cit. Kung, pp. 192-193.
  8. . (2011). The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secrete Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How it Can Be Saved. New York: Sterling Ethos.
  9. Ibid., p. 5.
  10. Harvey Cox. (2009). The Future of Faith. New York: HarperOne.  p. 17.