I’m not sure why, but as I was thinking about a title for this commentary, one of my childhood nursery rhymes Humpty Dumpty popped into my head. It was almost as if I were having a mystical experience. But why Humpty Dumpty I thought? What does he have to do with despair or hopelessness for reform in the Church? Then I remembered as kindergartener I could never figure out why Humpty fell off the wall in the first place. Did someone push him or was it his own fault that he fell, and why couldn’t they ever put him together again?
Then in my adult mind it dawned on me, perhaps Humpty Dumpty is an analogy for the situation the Catholic Church is in. There are many who believe the church is at a breaking point or already has “had a great fall” and can’t be put together again. An increasing number of us no longer have the energy to “fight the good fight”, and are ready to admit defeat, and move on. The question is, can Humpty Dumpty be put together again? This commentary will consider whether the hopefulness for renewal in the Church that I covered in my last commentary, makes me a Cockeyed Optimist, like the song in the Broadway musical, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, South Pacific. Or is it time to join the increasing numbers of what Tom Roberts calls ‘had it’ Catholics? [LINK].
SOURCES OF HOPELESSNESS
I believe that many of the reasons for our hopelessness for reform can be traced to actions or inactions of the hierarchy. Since there are so many examples of our leaders stonewalling adult dialogue, and examples of their own misbehaviors, I decided to limit the sources of hopelessness to a few fairly recent sources.
I’ve been reading Brian Lennon S.J.’s book published in 2012; Can I Stay in the Catholic Church?, with the hope that it would provide new information for how we decide our standing in the Catholic Church. Here’s a website, Building a Church without Walls, [LINK] with information about his book and links to other articles that he’s written, as well as links to articles by the website’s editor. Lennon clearly identifies the most logical reasons for leaving the church, and seems to be incensed by the behaviors of our church leaders. He asks the question, “So why do I choose to remain in the church?” I don’t mean to spoil the suspense but, his final decision is to remain in the church. I respect his decision, but I was surprised in the way he arrived at it. Lennon replays all the scandals over the centuries, from slavery which was “…imposed in the Third Lateran Council of 1179 on those helping the Saracens.” [LINK] to the crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries, to the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, up to the scandals of present time. When you come right down to it, I believe that he uses all the past scandals to confirm his thesis that eventually, the Holy Spirit will intervene and the church will bounces back magically from the current discontent, as it has in the past, but that change might take decades or more.
To me, it reminds me of playing baseball in grammar school, before we came up to bat we’d pray, “Hail Mary full of grace, let me get to second base” and expected divine intervention. I don’t mean to dismiss the Holy Spirit or prayer, but Lennon is basically making the argument, that because other incidents of malfeasance by our leaders have eventually been resolved, or faded from our memories, that’s the way the Holy Spirit works. It just doesn’t fit with my understanding of outside intervention by the Holy Spirit.
Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote an essay recently that I believe is an example of why the majority of the catholic laity doesn’t buy the church’s position on same sex marriage. The title of the essay is, You Are Profoundly Wrong: A Response to the Archbishop of Newark and Others.[LINK] Bishop Spong answers a lengthy article by Archbishop John J. Meyers, When Two Become One: A Pastoral Teaching on the Definition, Purpose and Sanctity of Marriage. [LINK]
He starts his essay in a very civil fashion by acknowledging that he has no reason to believe that Meyers is not a good and sincere person but, he advises the Archbishop that “…one has a responsibility to be well-informed on the issues about which one speaks.” He suggests that it is not acceptable to just quote the authority of the magisterium of one’s church to support ideas or “…to quote traditional religious conclusions, as if they are viable or still acceptable in academic and intellectual circles.”
If you look at the references at the end of Meyers’ article you’ll see that most of them are quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or what popes or early fathers of the church had to say. It’s like me quoting something from an article I wrote years ago, to prove a point on a current issue. This doesn’t make any sense, unless you’re in the type of denial [LINK] that can make an otherwise intelligent individual behave in an unintelligent manner, because they are too threatened by the Truth, and are unable to process what is perfectly apparent to most people. Spong goes on to “…try to unravel this maze of incoherent conclusions.” The article is well worth reading if for no other reason, to see how a contemporary scholar responds to a clergyman stuck in the past, whose mission is to impose the teaching of the church on the consciences of others, in this case sane sex marriages. Thus, denying us the primacy of our conscience.
THE BISHOPS’ POLITICAL CAMPAIGN
This reference is hot off the press. It’s a response from Americans United for the Separation of Church and Stateto President Obama’s re-election on November 6, 2012. The title of the article, Election Outcome is Bitter Defeat for Catholic Bishops and Religious Right [LINK] is essentially a response to the Catholic Bishops and their religious fundamentalist allies’ attempt
to control the outcome of the election. Many of us believed that the bishops’ casuistic strategies in their campaign to defeat the Obama administration, was an abuse of the power of the political pulpit. Attacks by some bishops and other clerics were blatant assaults on the President (like comparing him and his administration to the Nazis and worse). When the bishops were criticized publically, they tempered their rhetoric. They prefaced their statement by assuring their readers that they weren’t telling the faithful whom to vote for, but if you vote for a politian who supports legislation in favor of contraception or abortion etc., you are putting your immortal soul in jeopardy of eternal damnation. I questioned their approach in several commentaries on the Catholica website, one was entitled Obama vs. Dolan, [LINK] challenges the way the bishops abused the church’s tax exempt status to surreptitiously promote the election of political candidates who didn’t agree with their positions.
HANS KUNG HAS HAD IT!
Since the day that Hans Kung spent a pleasant four hours at Castel Gandolfo in 2005 with his former colleague, and newly minted Pope Benedict XVI, Kung has reassessed his optimism for Benedict’s papacy several times. I remember when Kung came to Phoenix for a lecture about two weeks after his meeting with the pope, and I had the pleasure of having an “intimate dinner” with him along with a group of 30 or 40 members of the Jesuit Alumni Association of Arizona. He told us “privately” that he had decided to talk about things that both he and the pope agreed on to avoid any awkwardness. His immediate response after their meeting was that they had a cordial reunion talking about old times and issues they agreed on, and he was “cautiously optimistic”.
Fast forward to 2009 when Kung called for a Third Vatican Council, and listed a number of issues that had not even been discussed at Vatican II. [LINK] At the same time he recognized that “…another global council would not happen because the Vatican was afraid…and was trying to restore the pre-Vatican II church…”
Kung’s next major announcement was a five page, single spaced letter addressed to all the Venerable Bishops. [LINK] He first apologized for the open letter format, and adds that “…unfortunately I have no other way of reaching you.” After expressing how his hopes for the pope’s papacy along with “… so many engaged catholic men and women have been unfulfilled…”, he spends over a page pointing out the missed opportunities for rapprochement with every religious group that Benedict has estranged. He particularly highlights the Jews, when he “… reintroduced into the liturgy a pre-conciliar prayer for the enlightenment of the Jews…and the Muslins in his 2006 Regensburg lecture…(when he) caricatured Islam as a religion of violence and inhumanity…”
Kung gives his assessment of what he thinks were serious faux pas on the pope’s part, like promoting the medieval Tridentine Mass, and reinforcing the anti-conciliar forces in the church by his curial appointments. He goes on to discuss some major crises that were poorly handled by the pope. At the top of his list “…comes a scandal crying out to heaven-the revelation of the clerical abuse of thousands of children and adolescents …and to make matters worse, the handling of these cases given rise to an unprecedented collapse of trust in church leadership.” He concluded the letter with six proposals for the bishops to consider.
I’m not sure if any of the Venerable Bishops personally responded to Kung’s letter but the Vatican responded on the front page of its official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, under the headline, Dear Hans, followed by a bit of tactless sarcasm from the author, Pier Giordano Cabra. [LINK] He told Kung that “…perhaps if your letter had breathed a bit more of the hymn to charity, it would have turned out to be a more elegantly evangelical gesture of congratulations” for Benedict’s 83rd birthday and fifth anniversary as pope, as well as “a more fruitful contribution to the church that is suffering for the weakness of her sons.” The weakness of her sons, indeed!
“Comes the revolution!” On October 5, 2012 an article appeared in The Guardian entitled, Catholic Theologian Preaches Revolution to end Church’s ‘Authoritarian Rule’. [LINK] Guess who the theologian was? You got that right! Apparently Fr. Kung’s letter to the bishops and all his previous strategies of reform, revival, or renewal didn’t have the effect on the Vatican that he hoped for, and he proposes a new strategy, revolution. He’s following an old social change dictum “If the strategy you’re using is working do more of it, if it’s not working, do something different.” This was not the first time Kung mentioned a more aggressive approach for change in the church, for example, the comprehensive transcript of an interview by Anthony Padovano presented at the meeting in Detroit of the American Catholic Council [LINK], and an article in Der Spiegel [LINK] entitled the Putinization of the Catholic Church, both in 2011. It’s apparent in reading these articles that Kung was getting more and more impatient with the hierarchy, not only for their digging their heals in, but if push comes to shove, they would take a laissez faire position and settle for a much smaller church.
THE SYNOD AND THE ‘NEW EVANGELIZIATION’, MORE DISAPPOINTMENTS!
The title of an article in the Catholic News Service on October 26, was Faith in Jesus Means Being Optimistic about the Future, Synod Message Says. [LINK] I’m sorry, I have faith in Jesus, but I don’t have the same faith in the 260 cardinals, bishops, and priests who attended the synod. Unlike the optimism that the documents of Vatican II inspired in many of us fifty years ago, I found the end results of the synod disappointing. Although the New Evangelization at times seems like talking points prepared by a Madison Ave. PR agency, there are some encouraging words. For example, an article entitled, Message of the Synod: Look with ‘Serene Courage’ to the Future of Evangelization, [LINK] is mostly positive. They point out issues of families, poverty, the importance of parishes, need for dialogue and how they “…want our communities to harness and not suppress, the power of their enthusiasm.” They talk about dialogue, dialogue, dialogue! [LINK] But given their recent history dialogues is not their best suit. We need actions not just words. The bishops know how to “talk the talk, but not how to walk the walk” as they say in the twelve step programs. I’d be more hopeful if they had added a sentence with a touch of humility, something like, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, we realize we haven’t always been open to dialogue, nor have we been consistent in being transparent, but we promise to be more transparent and committed to dialogue in the future.”
They reflect on Vatican II as, “the great Council of the Church”, which proclaimed the need for the faith to be communicated anew to the modern world.” This doesn’t match their recent rhetoric and actions. They acknowledge Lumen Gentium, for setting “…the groundwork…by laying out the Church’s mission; Gaudium et Spes, in which the Church dedicated herself to “dialogue,…changes in the social order and shifts in attitudes to morality and religion….”; Ad Gentes tell us the how of evangelization…” etc.
Much of text in The New Evangelization’s document reminds me of a song that Frank Sinatra sang in the early 1940ies, I’ve Heard that Song Before. Some of you might remember, the first line: “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before, It’s from an old familiar score, I know it well, that melody.”Now don’t get me wrong, I love nostalgia and I believethat some of the content of the New Evangelization can be helpful, but not as it’s presented in the synod documents, where they don’t mention the faithful having any role in the governance of the church. They are clear that our role is to evangelize, to spread the faith, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”, but they apparently plan to continue to dictate to the faithful what they must believe, without listening to what the sensus fidelium has to contribute to their decisions.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS
In the space available for this commentary and my last one in Catholica, Hope Springs Eternal …, [LINK] I’ve provided examples to help balance the pros and cons for whether to remain, leave, or take a sabbatical from the Roman Catholic Church. But, I don’t think it’s enough for us to just add up the pluses and minuses to make a decision. I wish it were as simple as it is for someone like Bill Donahue, “…the chronically peeved president of the Catholic League…” as Bill Keller referred to him in an article in the New York Times, The Rottweiler’s Rottweiler. [LINK] In Donohue’s new book Why Catholicism Matters, his characteristic response to someone who disagrees with the church’s teaching, on say gay marriages, would be, Shut up or go! Would that it were so unequivocal!
I think the major reason why it so difficult for many of us to buy into Donohue’s shut up or go philosophy, is that the decision to leave the church is not just a black and white cognitive decision. It involves emotions that we might have struggled with for years. Looking back on my life, there have been a number of occasions when I had to make a decision to stay or leave. I remember how I agonized about leaving the active ministry. It took me at least five years before I wrote Pope Paul VI a letter requesting a dispensation (It took him two years to answer me). Then there was the dilemma of my divorce. In some ways leaving the church is similar to getting a divorce. My personal experience of getting divorced, and my professional experience as a therapist, where I counseled couples and families through their divorces, and gave workshops on divorce recovery, supplied me with ample anecdotal and empirical information of just how heartrending it can be. Leaving the church, despite its many moral weaknesses, is not an event as much as it is a process. No matter how much reflection, how much support, how much praying we do, when push comes to shove, only the individual can make that decision, we are the deciders; not the pope, not our bishop, not our confessor, not our parents, only we can make that decision. But that’s a whole other commentary.
As I’ve said a number of times, I believe change in the institution of the church has to come from the bottom up. I don’t belong to the same Roman Catholic Church of my youth. I don’t kowtow to Rome or its minions. I follow the mantra of “Keep the Faith, but question the beliefs”, and have eliminated those beliefs that no longer make any sense to me. I intend to continue to be part of those lay movements that are working from inside the church for change, as I have for years. Will all the changes I’d like to see, happen in my lifetime? I doubt it! In the meantime unless they kick me out of the Catholic community, I don’t plan to change religions. Living in a retirement community, where the good Holy Cross fathers preside at the liturgy every Sunday, meets my need for a sense of being part of a spiritual community. But I am open to the sharing social change responsibilities for the disenfranchised with other spiritual and religious communities.
So, as a former professor of mine used to say, “We shall see what we shall see!”
In paraphrasing the patriotic slogan, “My country right or wrong” and substituting church for country, I think it portrays what many of us learned in from our Catholic culture, and followed for years. It’s another way of saying, “you gotta go along with the church, 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 church, 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 church 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. 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 Bishops, (USCCB) 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 Catholic Church; 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 Catholic Church 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.
I’ll start with Gregory Baum, who of the two other theologians I’ll consider, is the most hopeful that the church 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 Vatican 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. 
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.”  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 Vatican II, partly to show how pastoral the documents are compared to those of other ecumenical counsels, but at the same time exhibit how the church made changes in Vatican 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. I suppose it does demonstrate that the church 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 church 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 Vatican II accomplished.
Despite decades of disagreements with the Vatican on numerous doctrines , Hans Kung 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 church in a recent book, What I Believe when he said, “I am and remain a loyal member of my church.”  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 church authorities.
At age 83 Kung still maintains his integrity in spite of the Vatican 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.” 
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 Vatican 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 churches is possible, but it will have to grow from below, not from reluctant church 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 churches 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. 
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 Matthew Fox 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 Earth 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 Matthew Fox 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 Catholic Church, 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 church, 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 Vatican 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 church 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-Vatican II culture, 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.”  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.” 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 churches. 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 church. 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 Catholic Church go through. This is not the voice of someone who is making a decision dismissively, but one who has agonized over a church 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 church to a divorce. We need to recover from the multiple betrayals by the church 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 Vatican, 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 church, one that was less bureaucratic; is more inclusive, is more “the people of God” that Vatican 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 Matthew Fox 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 Beliefs
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 church 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.” 
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 social changes and different strategies of social action as it applies to the church. 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 church 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Gregory Baum. (2005). Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. P.13.
- Ibid. pp. 31-34.
- Hans Kung, (2010). What I believe. NY: Continuum National Publishing Group. p.50.
- Robert McClory. (2000). Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p.161.
- Op. cit. Kung, pp. 192-193.
- Matthew Fox. (2011). The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secrete Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How it Can Be Saved. New York: Sterling Ethos.
- Ibid., p. 5.
- Harvey Cox. (2009). The Future of Faith. New York: HarperOne. p. 17.