Tag: Infallibility

The Hope Which Springs Eternal Within the Human Breast

The title for this posting was stolen (like in baseball) from a classic 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 . Just in case you can’t remember the , 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 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 , 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 . 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 , [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 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 John Paul II.

The article also serves as an introduction to his last interview two weeks before he died, entitled, The 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 ism”. 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 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 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 Curia, 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 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 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 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 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 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 s (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 – John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on The Vocation and The Mission of the Lay ful 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 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 s: How the Church 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 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 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 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.

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 Church Should Choose Its Leaders. New York: Sheedp. 3.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

The Second Vatican Council has Already Made Us FreeArticle by Robert Blair Kaiser, National 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 Reporter, Editorial, October 11, 2012

The Bigest Meeting in History Feature Article on 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

Obedience To Authority And Loyal Dissent

My last blog, My Calling to the Clerical Culture, described and analyzed my experiences as a seminarian, when I was being indoctrinated into the culture and as a when I became part of that culture. The anecdotes I related were not intended to represent all clerics, but to provide readers with one man’s perspective, with the hope that they would be able to see how it was possible for a sincere, but naïve and psychosexually individual to actually become part of the culture.

In this blog, I intend to concentrate on the abuse of the virtue of obedience, which I believe is the crucial characteristic, the underlying problem, of the culture that gives the hierarchy power over the “lowerarchy”. As Lord Acton (1834–1902), the historian and moralist reminded Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This same reference also suggests that monarchial governments are more prone to corruption. But more about that later! 

The Perils of Obedience to Authorities

One of the first scholars I thought of when I decided to write this commentary on obedience was Stanley Milgram, PhD, a social psychologist whose website is linked here. Although his untimely death in 1984 ended a life of scientific inventiveness, his research and writing continues to influence contemporary culture and thought. When I was taking classes in research and statistics at Columbia University we studied his ground breaking work on obedience to authority as a model of an empirical study. At that time my focus was not on obedience to authority, but on Milgram’s methodology as a researcher. After recently re-reading his experiments, it became abundantly clear how his findings could apply to the chain of command in the Church, and it confirms the need for change in its archaic application of obedience to authority.

I’m just going to give a brief synopsis of his research on obedience, but if your interested, here is a paper he wrote that explains his methodology and findings: Perils of Obedience

As described on his website, between 1961 and 1962 he set up an experiment at Yale University to determine how conditioned humans were to obey persons in authority. He found, surprisingly, that 65% of his subjects, ordinary residents of New Haven, were willing to give what they thought were harmful electric shocks-up to 450 volts—to protesting “victims”, simply because a scientific authority instructed  them to, and in spite of the fact that the “victim” did not do anything to deserve such punishment. The ‘victim” was, in reality, a good actor who did not actually receive shocks. This fact was revealed to the subjects at the end of the experiment. But, during the experiment itself, the experience was as powerfully real and gripping one for most participants. His experiment illustrated the power that authority has over most humans. In Milgram’s Perils of Obedience above, he concluded that the road to disobedience “… is a difficult path, which only a minority of subjects is able to pursue to its conclusion…” For those of us who are , the bottom line is, since many of us are so strongly conditioned from early childhood to obey the injunctions that the Church authorizes as the unchangeable word of God, it’s important for us to question these orders and challenge unreasonable mandates of obedience to authorities.

Is Obedience a Virtue or Vice?

I believe the answer to the question above is—it depends. However,if you follow the official position of the Church verbatim, the correct answer would be that obedience is—always a virtue! This is clear in the Catechism of the Church (CCC)Check Chapter Three, Man’s Response to God , and scroll down to Article 1, I Believe, # 144 I. The Obedience of Faith and you will find this statement: 

To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment.

If we agree with the CCC, we always must obey the pope and bishops, “because the Bible tells us so”, as does the Church’s magisterial authority on faith and morals, that dates back to the apostles and the writings of the early Church Fathers. According to these sources, the hierarchy of the Roman Church speaks for God, and to defy or disobey Church authorities, is to defy and disobey God herself.

Marie Louise Uhr in an article published in 1998 entitled  Obedience, a Questionable Virtue , arrived at a different conclusion than the CCC.  I agree with her position that although in some cases obedience may be evil, (e.g. soldiers obeying orders to kill innocent civilians) at the very least, obedience is—a questionable virtue. She provides the historical background of how the Christology of obedience became so central in the church’s hierarchical structure. She puts the questionable virtue of obedience in the context of the Old and New Testament, as well as its theological and psychological background..

The whole article is available on the link above, and is well worth reading. Here are some highlights of her thinking, which hopefully will encourage you to read her article. In the introduction she first makes a strong case for the devastating results that the present Christology of obedience has produced.

I wish to suggest that Christian theology which preaches an obedient Christ and upholds obedience to authority as a major virtue has led to authoritarianism, hierarchical church structures, which have encouraged church members to uphold obedience, rather than conscientious discernment, as the primary response to orders from both church and civil authorities. And this has had disastrous consequences for large segments of society. Hence I want to consider the theology, and in particular the Christology of obedience; some of the social and theological problems that I think come from this Christology; scriptural foundations for dissent and disobedience , and the possibility of a more Spirited, democratic church…

Consequences of Considering Obedience as a Virtue

To mention just one of Ms. Uhr’s “disastrous consequences” of considering obedience as virtue, she describes the fact that for hundreds of years women have lived under “divine authority” to obey their husbands in all things. It was even part of the wedding service thanks to Saint Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, and Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical Casti Connubii, until rather recently when it became politically incorrect, thanks mainly to the women in the feminist movement. 

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Ephesians 5:21

Had Ms. Uhr lived into the beginning of the 21st century, I’m sure she would have addressed what many think is the most scandalous consequence of obedience in the history of the Church—the   sexual abuse of children by the pedophile predator and the bishops who covered-up for them, instead of protecting the victims. Without trying to go through hundreds of cases over the last twenty years, I believe the recent trial of Monsignor William Lynn, of the Archdiocese of the Philadelphia, his conviction of a felony, and his sentence of three to six years in prison, for the key role he had in covering-up for the clergy who abused children, should send a message to the hierarchy that they need to get their act together. They are no longer able to hide behind their prestigious positions in the church, their expensive lawyers, and public relations people.

A recent article in the Irish Times, entitled The Church in the Dock, highlighted the Lynn trial and sentencing, pointing out the impact Lynn’s conviction will have internationally.  The author specifically mentions cases in Ireland and London as well as Lynn case. He ends the article by saying in a typical Irish poetic and polite writing style, “All three cases raise uncomfortable issues for the church in addressing how, quite properly, its /employees, will be held to account legally. These and other cases all involve uphill battles in which the church used all legal means at its disposal…to fend off accountability. That is its right, but, particularly to victims, appears a strange form of contrition.” He’s got that right! It’s tantamount to the church giving itself absolution by saying an act of contrition, and for its penance saying three Hail Maries and three Our Fathers.  The time for the church to be apologetic is over; it’s time for them to be accountable!

Back to Philadelphia! Rather than my going over the details of the months-long landmark clergy-abuse trial of Monsignor, Lynn, and his sentencing, if you’re interested in a thorough and professional coverage of the trial, I’d suggest reading the archives from the website of Catholics4Change, based in Philadelphia. The website’s primary concerns are:

  • The Priest Pedophile Scandal
  • Church Accountability to Laity
  • Empty Pews
  • Lack of Moral Leadership

All of these concerns are in one way or another, connected with the abuse of obedience by authority.

Our Right to

Ms. Uhr’s articlealso deals with dissent. She reminds us that “Jesus is the great dissenting prophet”, and that there is a need for “dissent or disobedience from the ‘obedient laity’ to become a Spirit-filled People of God, if we are going to have a healthy church.”

Dissent has a long history in the Church. Robert Mc Clory’s book Faithful Dissenters provides stories of men and women, who loved and changed the church by taking contrary opinions on one or more of the Church’s teachings, and are models of loyal dissent. Most of the subjects of the eighteen stories in his book are well known names including: Galileo, St. John Henry Newman, soon to be declared a saint, the mystic Hildegard of Bingen, St. Catherine of Siena, theologians Yves Congar and John Courtney Murray, S.J. to mention a few. Mc Clory identifies how all of their stories have several things in common: each story was inspirational and can encourage us to stay the course, and most of all to be fearless in the face of extreme controversy. All the dissenters suffered emotional abuse for their dissent, for example John Courtney Murray was publically disgraced when he was silenced by Pope Pius XII because of his writings; they all remained in the church through thick and thin; they did not reject the concept of church authority, but just how authority was applied to particular teachings; the issues they questioned eventually were resolved, and more often than not, had ramifications that benefited the whole church and; the resolutions of their issues established principles that could be applied to other doctrinal disputes. These dissenters have been called by their admirers “the original cafeteria s”, who dared to contradict and criticize the Church.

I believe “now is the time for all good people of God” to ratchet up its level of dissent, and to follow these great role models. As the Irish Times article suggested above, I believe that Monsignor Lynn’s conviction and sentencing as a felon, should sound an alarm to the culture, from the hierarchy on down, to the point where they will be more open to make positive changes in their style of governance. And perhaps, just perhaps Lynn’s jail sentence will put the fear of the Lord or the fear of the civil justice system in them, if for no other reason to avoid Jesus’ uncharacteristic harsh admonitionBut whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believes in me, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:6. And perhaps, just perhaps, the USCCBs will have the integrity, the fortitude to follow the example of Penn State. The dyke built to protect abusers at Penn State finally broke and though overdo, the president, the vice president, the athletic director, and the icon of college football Coach Joe Paterno were fired. (See my blog Say it Ain’t So Joe—Penn State and the Catholic Church, 12/3/11). Not only was Paterno fired, but they removed the halo that encircling his head in a group painting, that canonized him as Saint Joe. They also impounded the famous eight foot bronze statue of him that stood outside of Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. There must be a message somewhere in there for the bishops. For a more in depth opinion of this issue, read Bishop Spong’s essay, The Penn State Tragedy Highlights the Catholic Church’s Failure.

On further reflection, I don’t think that the United States Conference of Bishops (USCCB) as it is currently structured will make significant changes without “the power of the people of God” mounting a persuasive crusade to claim their rights and needs. Here is an interesting article that appeared recently on the website,  Questions from EWE, entitled On Sheep and Shepherds.,that adds more light on our shepherds and our right to dissent. The authors of the website preface the article with a statement that appears on everyone of its blogs: “Test everything: retain what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). They then remind us of our canonical right to dissent: “Please remember that Canon Law says it is not only a right but a duty to question the church. Also, Canon Law provides an over-riding power to the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful). By this, Canon Law says that if the collective of the faithful rejects a law, it is not valid.” (How about contraception! The last I heard, close to 90% of the faithful did not agree with Pope Paul VI’s so called contraception encyclical, Humanae Vitae.)  

The article uses its interpretation of scripture to point out that the faithful want Shepherds not politicians to lead the church, and they use Jeremiah’s prophecy as a warning to shepherds (aka bishops), ‘’Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture declares the Lord!” (23:1) Apparently Jeremiah foresaw what was to happen under the reigns of Benedict XVI and John Paul II as they systematically rescinded parts of the most progressive documents of II. For example, Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World, Apostolicam Actuositatem, The Apostolate of the Laity, and , The Constitution on the Church.

MISSION OF DISSENT

The good news is there are already dozens of active groups within the church that are already actively exercising their right to dissent and their obligation to be responsible as baptized Christian s. From the American Catholic Council to the Voice of the Faithful virtually from A to V, and in between, there are thousands of fellow travelers already involved in carrying out their mission of dissent. Every day I’m collecting more Links and Resources  for my website, so you might want to check there.

For my next commentary, I plan to address the issue of democratizing the church, starting with how we choose our bishops, and how we can help change its monarchial structure.  In the meantime, I am writing a letter to the bishop of Phoenix and several bishops I know personally. I’m basing it on the great letter that Anthony T. Massimini wrote on his website  The 21st Century American Catholic under the section, CURRENT DISCUSSIONS, dated July 24, 2012.

He starts his letter to the Archbishop of Philadelphia by stating that Msgr. Lynn is not the only one that is sentenced for being an obedient servant but “…the Church’s authority structure has also been convicted, and must be “sentenced”. He goes on in a very straight forward style to remind the bishop of his responsibilities to the “true People of God”; and challenges him to do more than apologize and has a number of good suggestions how the archbishop can do that.  I hope you will consider joining in this letter writing campaign.

Finally, I end this commentary with a phrase that was used to close letters in the 19th century, the time of Pius IX, the father of infallibility. It seems appropriate for the topic of obedience to authority.

Sincerely, your humble and obedient servant,

Don Fausel

My Church Right or Wrong?

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 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 . 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 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 ; 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 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 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 church 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 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 s 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 s John Paul II and Benedict XVI launched campaigns to scuttle many of the reforms that II accomplished.

Hans Kung

Despite decades of disagreements with the 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.” [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 church 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 .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 …”, 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 ers: 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 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 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 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 Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance. AndI just finished reading The ’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 ’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 . 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 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 II generated was undermined by the last 40 years of efforts by s 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- 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 . Remember the Nuremberg War Trials after WWII and the defense that many of the indicted claimed, that they were just following orders (blind )? 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 , 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 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 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 dis.” [8] He also expressed remorse that so many 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 of so many German Catholics. Fox believes, “As Ratzinger rose the ecclesial ladder, he more and more built his theology on .”[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 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 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 , 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,   s 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 II envisioned; follows a creation 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 , 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.” [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 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.
Author anonymous

Endnotes

  1. Nor was I surprised to read on ’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. Hans Kung, (2010). What I believe. NY: Continuum National Publishing Group. p.50.
  6. Robert McClory. (2000). Faithful ers: 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 ’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.