Tag: Pope

My Calling to the Clerical Culture

I’d like to share some anecdotal information that I personally experienced both as a seminarian and , who became part of the clerical . There certainly were “benefits” but there was also a price to pay for being put on a pedestal by parishioners as well as people outside the Church, who had some unrealistic images of anyone who wore a Roman collar. I’m not suggesting that my experiences represent the majority of those who were ordained in pre-Vatican II, but I think my experiences can resonate with others who were ordained during that period of time, and for those who are interested, they can vicariously identify with the dynamics of becoming part of the clerical .

In my next commentary, I will move from my personal experiences as a former “cleric”, and consider the concept of the clerical from an institutional, sociological, and psychological perspective. I will first examine the abuse of—and—and addiction to power in the Church, from the Vatican on down. Second, how the perpetuation of clerical has contributed to the sexual abuse of children. Finally, I will propose how I believe that we, the people of God can begin to change this elitist of clericalism.

Naïve and Immature

I have a section in my memoir entitled My Calling. It describes a casual conversation I had with Father Harry Hinds. He was the director of the Youth Program (CYO) for the diocese of Albany, NY. I worked in his office as his assistant during my last year in high school. One day while we were working on the spring baseball schedule, he asked me what I was going to do after I graduated. I told him I was thinking of going to Siena College to study social work. He asked if I ever thought about becoming a . I told him I thought about it, but I didn’t think I had a calling. The next thing I knew, he was on the phone talking to the Chancellor of the Diocese telling him he had a young man in his office who was thinking about a vocation to the hood. By the end of his phone call, he had made an appointment for me to talk to Monsignor Rooney about my vocation. I was a little surprised to say the least, but part of me was flattered that he thought I was worthy enough to join their club. I was also more than a little naïve and immature. To make a long story short, the next September, I was off to St. Thomas’ a minor Seminary in Connecticut to become part of the clerical . My parents never questioned or pushed my decision, but being “good s”, I sensed that they were pleased with my “choice”.

Seminary Days

I took to the seminary like the proverbial “duck to water”. The sports, the camaraderie,  the feeling that I would have a purpose in that would not only bring me closer to God, but would give me an opportunity to help others to know and serve God. In my puerile mind, I imagined myself as being like Bing Crosby in the two movies Going My Way, and The Bells of St. Mary’s, where he playedFather Chuck O’Malley. For me, being a seminarian was like being a member of a Fraternity. We even had our own song, Ecce quam Bonum, the first line from Psalm 133, “Behold how good and how joyful it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”.  That was also our chosen class song at the major seminary, St. Mary’s Seminary and Pontifical University.

The Hot House

During the eight years I was in the seminary, we were required to spend eight weeks of our summer “vacation” at Camp Gibbons, the diocesan camp for seminarians on Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. The schedule was much more relaxed than the seminary’s. In the morning they bussed in children from parishes in several towns near the camp for religious instructions. It was a chance for us to teach catechism.  The rest of the day was time for swimming, playing tennis, sun bathing, and living a of luxury. Our colleague from other dioceses accused us of being put in a “hot house” for the summer to maintain our chastity by not being open to the temptations of the outside world. Looking back, I suspect that they were right. Especially, since we were under the watchful eye of our bishop, who spent his summer with us in what he called “his Villa”.  At the time I thought it was just another opportunity to bond with your brother seminarians, after all they would be my major support group after ordination.

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When I was getting close to ordination, one of our neighbors, a non-catholic woman wrote a poem that she dedicated to me. The title was, He Walks with the Hand of God. I just remember the first line or two, a little corny but it was her perception. “Not long ago a boy I met, who my kind of did not covet, for he walked with the hand of God. His air was so proud, and he so perfect, for he walked with the hand of God.” You see what I mean about it being a little corny? Thinking about it now, it’s a little scary—me, perfect?—years later I used to do a workshop entitled Be Ye Perfect: Mission Impossible! I must have intuitively known before my ordination that perfectionism was not achievable, at least for me.

Here’s another example of the perfection that was expected of me. One of the meditations that I often used in the seminary was written by a Dominican , Father Jean Baptist-Lacordaire, who lived in the nineteenth century:

Thou Art a Priest Forever

To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasure; to be a member of  every family, yet not belong to none; to share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets, to heal all wounds; to go daily from men to God to offer Him their homage and petitions; to return from God to men to bring them His pardon and hope; to have a fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity; to bless and be blessed forever. O God, what a and it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!

At the time it seemed like a very quixotic role to play. But even then, I used to wonder, why me? There were so many guys in my high school class who were: smarter than I, holier than I, more popular than I, why was I the chosen one? Looking back, Father Lacordarie’s description of the role and responsibilities of a was indeed a “mission impossible”. The expectations seem overwhelming.  When I expressed my doubts to my seminary confessor, he told me they were just goals and that no one could meet them all the time, and that no one is perfect, we just do the best we can. When I told him about my concern about having “a heart of bronze for chastity”, andthat I was struggling with impure thoughts and temptations, he reassured me that once I was ordained, God would give me the grace that I needed to overcome those temptations.
It was not until I read A.W.Richard Sipe’s book, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, published in 1990, I realized just how many other were struggling and often losing their battle to have a “heart of bronze for chastity.”  Sipe is a former , and now is a psychotherapist, who has been engaged in research on the institution of the and ly celibacy for over thirty years. The research for this book presented empirical of sexual activity by almost 50% of the Roman . I wonderedif my seminary confessor knew that there were that many who were ordained and did not ipso facto receive the grace of celibacy. And if he did, would he have given me different advice.

Ordination

At my first mass there was a line of over 200 people waiting to receive my blessing. I realized that it was not Don Fausel they were waiting for, but Father Fausel—but it was still a rather spine-tingling feeling to have everyone from my long lost relatives to Erastus Corning II, the mayor of Albany kneeling at my feet as I pronounced in Latin, “May the blessing of Almighty God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain forever.”

After I finished blessing everyone, my boyhood friend, Muggsy McGraw, pulled me aside, and brought me down to earth in his own inimical way, “Look Fausel, you got your butt in a tub of butter, three squares a day and no heavy lifting, don’t screw it up! You got instant status, instant security, and a job for . Yesterday you were nobody and today you’re Father Fausel. Ya get my drift? ” How right he was!

But I was elevated again when I got to my first parish. Like most parishes in those days, there was an older lady that acted as cook and housekeeper for the . We ate at a formal table with a white table cloth, the pastor sitting at the head carving the roast; solid silver eating utensils, expensive China dinnerware, and a little bell to summon the cook for dessert or coffee. I’d come a long way from the kitchen table where my family ate our meals and where I thought my mother ate the neck and wings of the chicken because she liked them.

I remember one morning I went into the kitchen after Mass to let the housekeeper know I was ready for breakfast.  I noticed a note scotch taped to the wall that said, “Father Fausel, turned over easy.” My immediate thought was someone had been monitoring my sleeping habits, until she told me the note was a reminder of how I wanted my eggs. Sitting at that table alone for breakfast, I always felt like the “poor little rich boy.”

Then there was Mamma Leone’s Italian restaurant on West 48th Street off Eighth Avenue, one of the most popular eating places in New York City. When I was a student at Columbia, occasionally several of us cleric types would go there for dinner dressed in our clerical clothes.  We’d be standing outside in a long line, when a Maitre D’ would spot us and rush out to say loud enough so others could hear him, “Fathers your reservations are ready”, and then usher us into the restaurant, leaving dozens of dinners waiting behind . Of course we didn’t have reservations. As I became more accustomed to similar privileged treatment, it was easy to assume it was an entitlement.

In my memoir I recalled an incident about the pastor of the I was assigned to in the Schenectady, NY. It was in the early sixties, I was on duty at the rectory, when I received a phone call from the captain of a police precinct in New York City. He introduced himself and asked if we had a Father Mac (factious name) stationed at our parish. He went on to tell me that they picked him up at a local hotel down near the Bowery and he was “drunk as a skunk” and didn’t have money to pay for the hotel room. He told me they wouldn’t press charges, and asked if we could pick him up. I told him I’d be down the next day and thanked him.  Before hanging up he sheepishly gave me some advice, “Look Father, this poor guy needs some professional help. Our records show that this ain’t the first time we picked him up. You know what I mean?”  The next day I was off to NYC to pick up our pastor. It was a sad one hundred and fifty mile drive back to Schenectady. Father Mac was either apologizing profusely or crying, or both.

This episode demonstrates several things about the clerical : the deference the police captain had for hood, and the willingness he had to cover up for a drunken . Plus my congenital condition of being an enabler and coming to Fr. Mac’s rescue, so he wouldn’t be embarrassed for having been charged with a crime and the parishioners wouldn’t be scandalized by his behavior. The good news is that the other associate pastor in the parish and I arranged a quasi-intervention to persuade Father Mac to get professional help. Which he did!

Priests Need Priests

There were number of us relatively newly minted stationed in Schenectady. A few of us decided we’d like to get together on a regular basis to go out for lunch. The group grew to about eight or ten. We would meet at different restaurant each week, have lunch and chat mostly about what was going on in our parishes, complain about our pastors, gossip about who might be made a pastor, etc. Some of us would play golf together, maybe go to an occasional movie, or go to NYC for a Broadway musical, and several of us when to Cape Cod for a week’s vacation. Our mantra was Priests need Priests. There’s certainly no question about that, who else were we going to relax with or enjoy our free time with? It only occurred to me recently, even though we might talk occasionally about theological issues or the up-coming Vatican Council, it was always on an intellectual level. Even if we discussed mandatory celibacy it was not about our getting married if they changed the rules, it was as if we depersonalized it. As I remember we never talked about feeling or personal problems that we might be struggling with. At least that I was struggling with. Being able to share feelings should have been one of the major reasons the Priests need Priests group were meeting for.

Fast Forward to 2002

On June 12, 2002, my friend John Rusnak and I boarded a plane to Dallas Texas to attend the meeting of the United States Conference of s (). We were not invited quests of the bishops but where members of Call to Action (CTA). John was the president of the Arizona Chapter and I was a card carrying member. We had been reading the news papers accounts about the out- break of the scandal of pedophile in the Boston Globe, and we were a tad cynical that the bishops would have the integrity to put the best interests of the victims and their families ahead of their history of secrecy of protecting the . As we buckled ourselves into our seats and the cabin door slammed shut, I looked at John and said, “What the hell are we doing going to Dallas?” Neither of us had a rational answer, but our plane was taxing down the runway as we both shrugged our shoulders as if to say—beats me!

Well, here we are ten years later! Little did we think that the sexual abuse of minors would be worldwide.  In the United States most are still not satisfied with the bishops’ negligible response to the clerical sexual abuse debacle, or with the fact that the bishops refuse to acknowledge, and take responsibility for their part in covering up for the perpetrators.

So contrast those experiences I described above, when I was wearing a Roman collar to about forty some years later to the 2002 meeting in Dallas. In addition to attending some very stimulating workshops, one of the other activities our CTA group participated in was a protest march from a local parish to the luxurious Freemont Hotel where the bishops were holding their meetings. The closest we could get to their hotel was across the street, where we set up our signs of protest and peacefully demonstrated. At one point I had to go to the men’s room. When I tried to cross the yellow tape police markers, I was informed by a policeman, that I wasn’t allowed in the hotel unless I was a guest. When I explained my urgency, he accompanied me into the hotel, turned me over to another officer who told me I would have to give him my driver’s license before I could take care of business. The men’s room that I used was not even close to the room where the bishops were holding their meeting. I guess they weren’t taking any chances.  Since the media was out in full force, the thought briefly went through my mind to make a scene, but nature’s call prevailed.

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The few experiences I described about my as a seminarian and (I have a million of them) might seem rather trivial, but they’re typical of the unearned deference and distinction made between and “ordinary folks” that underlies clericalism. It’s the same distance that the movement brought to our attention when they pointed out the disparity of the 1% of the top of the economy to the 99% at the bottom. As we definitely were part of a privileged class, not just in those little acts of reverence we were given, but more significant Father was always right. After all, at that time had more education than most of our parishioners. We had spent four years after college studying theology; we had the power to administer all the sacraments; we were always in a place of honor at any parish event. The only ones in the Church that were above us were the bishops and the pope.

Remember as we were at the bottom rung of the clerical latter.  Although there was often a gap between and people, I don’t believe that gap was the same for every , or that most had ambitions to climb up that latter. Nor do I believe that every bishop is equally addicted to the power that corrupts to the point that he loses sight of the children he is suppose to protect from predator , or the disenfranchise in society, and puts his own or the ’s interest first. But given the structure of governance of the , its current , its process of how clerics are groomed, and given the psychosocial up-bringing that many clerics bring to the table, major changes are essential for the future of the Church. Please join me on my next blog, where I will discuss solutions to these issues.

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

Gregory Baum

I’ll start with Gregory Baum, who of the two other theologians I’ll consider, is the most hopeful that the 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 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 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 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 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!

Matthew Fox

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 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 Matthew Fox 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 priest. Her focus is on the key themes from his book.

One of the first questions she asked in the first interview was whether he considered himself to be Catholic, but not Roman Catholic. He hesitated a bit and didn’t answer directly but said, “You don’t undo 54 years of being Catholic—it’s much too rich for that. I have a whole list of gifts that I was given by the Roman , but obviously I’m moving towards something that is beyond the boxes of denominations.”  I can resonate with that. I think most of us who have struggled with that question, or even have already left the 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 obedience. Remember the Nuremberg War Trials after WWII and the defense that many of the indicted claimed, that they were just following orders (blind obedience)? Or if you have the time and the stomach for it, read the cross-examination of Goering to see how powerful an ideology like fascism and its requirement of blind obedience, can provide a license for atrocities like the world has never known. I’m not suggesting that Ratzinger is a fascist in his adult life, but I’d be surprised if his indoctrination as a youth made no impression on him at all, at the very least he seems to have a touch of the fascist’s obsession to control and to make obedience a priority.

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

In both of Manson’s interviews with Fox’s and in his book, it’s apparent that he is concerned and involved with the issues that youth have towards the institutional 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,    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 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.” [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. Matthew Fox. (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.