Sunday, September 30, 2012

PG-13 Beware of Strong Language

Archbishop John Myers of Newark:
miter impeding circulation to the

Ok—to pick up where we left off: Archbishop Myers of Newark says that those who disagree with Church teaching on (same-sex) Marriage should not present themselves for Holy Communion.  Well, first for the ad hominem response.  His Grace, as he likes to be known, falls into the buffoon category of prelate along with Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Cordileone, Bishops Gracida, Lennon, Jenky, D’Arcy, Dewane and others who have demonstrated their inability to translate the basic principles of Christianity into evangelically sound leadership strategies.  I would distinguish these prelates from those of a much smaller group like Cardinal Law, Archbishop Lori, and several others whose professional integrity and primary commitment to the Gospel seems questionable.  By no means do I think that that the either of these groups prevail in the American Hierarchy. In addition to the buffoons and the bullies, there are also the bland and the brilliant.  While I wish there were more of the brilliant than the bland, I am grateful that the bullies are few and the buffoons are not more.  
Anyone who has spent any time in the company of John Myers knows that he is not a bad man.  He has a good heart.  His episcopal career, however, has often shown bad judgment—such as the summer of 1991 when as Bishop of Peoria and one of the pioneer turn-back-the-clock members of the American hierarchy, he ended up on the cover of either Time or Newsweek, I forget which, and declared in an accompanying interview “Rome has higher things in mind for me than Peoria.”  Cardinal Bernardin always told the story of how Myers’ secretary (just to prove that stupidity is contagious within chanceries), when Myers was Bishop of Peoria, confided to Bernardin’s secretary that Myers was “going to be sent up to Chicago after Bernardin to clean up the mess that Bernardin left.”  Chicago novelist-priest Andrew Greely invented the character of dumb-as-shit Bishop Gus Quill in The Bishop and the Missing L Train (Forge, 2000) as a parody of Myers.  When Myers was (somewhat surprisingly) saved from the obscurity of Peoria (I guess Newark is “higher” if for no other reason than as an archdiocese it carries a pallium) and sent to Newark, there was some apprehension.  But a combination of his bad health and Newark’s good presbyterate led to a relatively uneventful reign.  Thus just when he had a chance to graduate from the buffoons into the bland, this “pastoral letter” more or less sealed his fate among the mitered monkeys.   O well, when all is said and done, he is a good person and on the Day of Judgment that is what matters. 
But as for telling people that they should not go to Communion—well, let’s attribute that to his inability to grasp theological ideas at any level above the religion he learned at his mother’s knee. 
In the first place, the only thing that should separate a Catholic from the Eucharist is the communicant’s consciousness of being in mortal sin.  To disagree with Church teaching in the internal forum—i.e. within one’s own mind and not within any public protest—is not in any way sinful.  There are three requirements, at least according to the old catechism, for mortal sin.  The action itself must be gravely wrong.  Ok, perhaps—and I say perhaps—the action of rejecting (actively rejecting, not simply not accepting) the teaching of the Church on serious matters is gravely wrong.  People do it all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right.  There are those who disagree with Church teaching on capital punishment.  And don’t give me that b.s. that certain doctrines are required and certain ones are optional.  That is what conservatives call “cafeteria Catholicism” and those who disagree with what the ordinary magisterium (in this case the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae) declares on capital punishment—or just war, or just economic principles, or rights of workers, or other liberal issues—are every bit as much “cafeteria Catholics” as those who argue for women’s ordination or “abortion rights” or marriage equality.  But let’s all concede the point that active dissent from the ordinary magisterium is gravely wrong; there are still two more considerations for a sin to be mortal.  One is that the person must have the freedom of the will for sin.  Normally we have freedom to make up our minds.  There are occasions, however, in which a person can be emotionally or psychologically blinded to an issue.  A woman who has survived a rape might be psychologically unable to freely choose to support the Church’s teaching that abortion is not an acceptable option in the case of a pregnancy resulting from a rape.  A person whose loved one was murdered might not be able emotionally to support the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.  Such examples, of course are the rare exceptions.
Then the third requirement and the one most pertinent here is that the person must know that it is wrong. This is the tricky one.  We don’t know something simply because someone told us.  When I was a child my father would keep me from swimming alone in the lake by telling me that he had to be there to keep an eye out for sharks.  I was still keeping an eye out for sharks in Lake Michigan when I was in my late thirties.  (If I were a bishop, I guess I would be in the buffoon category.)  We know something because it has been told us and we have come to see the truth of what we have been told.  If there is anything wrong in our society—and Church—today it is that people are not critical thinkers.  FOX News works on the principle that you can tell people the most incredible thing and they will swallow the lie: hook, line, and sinker.  Karl Rove made a career out of feeding the masses lies and the masses believed him.  Mitt Romney is totally right—47% of the American People are going to drink Obama’s Kool Aid.  And 47% are going to drink the Republican Kool Aid.  When are we going to learn to think for ourselves—to weigh the evidence we are being fed and seeing if it rings true or not???  And in this blog—you don’t have to agree with me—I just want you to think for yourselves.  God did not create us stupid, he made us in his own image and likeness.  Our intelligence doesn’t match his, but for heaven’s sake—and I mean that literally—use your intelligence whether it is the President speaking or the Pope; whether it is the Newark Star Ledger or Archbishop Myers,  whether it is this blog or that shi*-house rat crazy lady from Woodstock VA with her Hilly Holbrook Les Femmes. 
Anyway—to refocus—if you disagree with a Church teaching it is obviously because you do not know it.  If, for example, you disagree with the Church’s teaching on abortion it is because while you may know that the Church teaches “x” on abortion you do not understand the issue in the way that the Church teaches it.  You see complexities in the issue that the Church teaching has not—at least as far as you know—sufficiently addressed for you to be able to accept the teaching as the Church states it.  There is something that is preventing you from accepting the teaching—it may be you.  It may be your personal experience that has put an emotional or psychological block in the way.  It may be the Church’s failure to articulate the teaching in a way that you can understand or to examine the question from a perspective to which you have access.  An embryologist, for example, may have some detailed knowledge about embryonic development that leaves Church teaching on abortion or stem-cell research open to further questions.  In fact, a sophomore biology student may have questions that people in the Church have not yet sufficiently answered for the Church teaching to make sense to that student.  It is not reasonable to expect people to accept a doctrine that contradicts the knowledge that they already have until that doctrine can be explained in a way that answers their questions or demonstrates that the knowledge that they had brought to the question was itself faulty. 
Now, when we disagree with Church teaching normally we should do so discreetly. I agree that there is an element of scandal when we publically dissent from the teaching of the Church.  There are exceptions to this—and a future entry will perhaps explore that.  Scandal itself is sinful.  But simply to look at a Church teaching and say “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that” is no reason to refrain from communion and no shepherd concerned for the good of his faithful (I am not going to use the word “flock” or “sheep”—that is the problem these guys have in thinking that we are stupid) would suggest that they should refrain from the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation simply because they don’t agree on every point of doctrine.   A brighter intellect than John Myers would know that; in fact, a deeper man than His Grace would never have suggested it.    

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Sheep Ain't Sheep Any Longer

Archbishop John Myers of Newark

Archbishop John Myers of Newark came out (pardon the pun) against the legalization of same-sex marriage in a “pastoral letter” issued this weekend and said that Catholics who disagree with Church teaching on this issue should refrain from Holy Communion.  To be fair to His Excellency, let me first reprint an account from the Associated Press that was carried by newspapers this past Tuesday, Sept 25.

More than 1 million Roman Catholics in northern New Jersey are being urged to vote "in defense of marriage and life."

Newark Archbishop John Myers released a pastoral statement today that calls on Catholics to examine how political candidates stand on abortion and "a proper backing of marriage."

Myers also says Catholics who disagree with the church's teaching on marriage should refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

Myers says his statement is not intended as an endorsement for either political party. The archbishop says he's been thinking about issuing a statement on the subject for about a year because he believes there's been a lack of clarity.

The diocese includes churches in Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union counties.

Garden State Equality, the state's largest gay rights organization, notes recent polls have shown the majority of Catholics favor "marriage equality."

Now, first let us distinguish what is legitimately meant by “disagree with the Church’s teaching on marriage.”  The Church’s competency for definitive teaching is faith (doctrine) and morals.  It certainly may have opinions on other matters—history, law, education, sociology, anthropology, etc. but its area of competency to bind the faithful is faith and morals.  The Church has the right (and obligation) to instruct the faithful on matters of doctrine and of morals.  That the sacrament of Matrimony is contracted between one Christian man and one Christian woman each of whom is free in the eyes of the Church from previous marriages, who intend fidelity in their marriage, and who is open to the creation of new life through their marital love, is well within the Church’s competency.  Furthermore, to teach that sexual relations are gravely wrong outside the context of a marriage that conforms to the Church’s ideals of marriage (not only sacramental matrimony,  but of what the Church teaches that marriage itself is—namely the freely-entered committed-until-death  relationship of one man to one woman, neither of whom are bound by previous marriages and both of whom are committed to fidelity and open to the transmission of life) is also in the Church’s competency, though no one should be surprised when non-Catholics take a different understanding, especially when it concerns their marriages.  But it is not in the competency of the Church to declare that Catholics must hold that the civil law should enshrine its doctrines or its moral stances in the civil law.  It is not the role of the civil law to incorporate into its code the doctrinal or moral teachings of any particular religious body.  That is not to say that members of a particular religion should not be free to evangelize within their society to win a consensus of the citizenry to their point of view but few people want the opinions of any particular religious group to be imposed on a disagreeing citizenry.  In other words, my read on this issue is that while we Catholics are bound to a particular doctrine on Matrimony,  we have no obligation to support laws that impose that understanding on the larger segments of our society. A Catholic cannot be compelled to vote against a candidate or a party that supports a different understanding of marriage than that which the Church teaches.  In fact, the Catholic Church in the United States has always accommodated itself to civil marriages that do not meet its doctrinal norms and Catholics have not been punished in any way for upholding such laws.  Catholic judges not only issue decrees of divorce but often preside at marriages in which one or both parties have been previously married.  Catholic judges and other Catholic civil officials sometimes preside at marriages of Catholics who are choosing not to marry in the Church.  Why is this only a problem when the marriage is between two parties of the same sex?  Why do we want to hold Catholics to a different standard of behavior in this question?  Is it bias?  It could be.  Is it pandering to certain pressure groups?  It could be.  Is it—like the “Fortnight for Romney”—a less than subtle political endorsement?  It could be.  The one thing it is not is influening the Catholic-in-the-Pew whom the polls show are in disagreement with the Bishops on this and many other issues.  I am not saying that the bishops are wrong, I am only observing that the sheep aren’t following.  There is a need to rebuild Episcopal leadership in the Catholic Church from the ground up.   

But there is still the question of whether those who disagree with the Church’s teaching itself—not only with the matter of enshrining the Church teaching in civil law—should refrain from Holy Communion.  That is for next time.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

New Day Dawning

Cardinal Avery Dulles SJ 
  I  am sorry of this most recent hiatus—some unexpected travel came up and I am behind in my lecture preps for class and….well, to be honest I am just not as organized as I would like to be and you know, it takes a big chunk of time to prepare these posts.
To pick up where we left off—and I am anxious to get over this topic and on to some things that have happened lately—I had most recently posted that there are two distinct traditions in the Catholic Church in the United States.  The one tradition, dating back to the Maryland colony and English Recusant Catholicism was a plainer, more Spartan Catholicism with a strong tradition of devotional reading, intellectual emphasis, and centered on devotion to Jesus Christ.  The other tradition, arriving later in mid 19th century America with the waves of immigration, was given to more public displays of pomp and colorful devotion, less intellectual and more emotional, and centered more on devotion to the saints.  That is an over simplification, of course, but I also recently posted references to some previous postings on this blog that elaborate more on the theme and give examples of what I am talking about should you be interested. And I suspect that it is a theme that I will return to time and again as it particularly interests me.  In the very last posting earlier this week, I mentioned that Catholics whose spiritual life followed that old Maryland/Recusant tradition were more prepared for the changes of the Second Vatican Council while those who found comfort in the immigrant Catholicism found that the conciliar changes really ripped away much of that in which they found their Catholic identity.  Most of those who want a full or partial restoration of the pre-conciliar Church come out of that immigrant Catholic heritage. 
Now that we seen the Maryland tradition vs the Immigrant tradition, and the pro-Vatican II and contra Vatican II factions, I want to “slice the cake” of American Catholicism along another axis.  Cardinal Avery Dulles writing in his book on the Catholicity of the Church, The Catholicity of the Church (Oxford University Press, 1987), stated that while the 1000 years of the Church were about evangelization (he actually says “witness”) and the second thousand years were about power, that the third millennium will be about service.  I think—as regular readers can attest—that Dulles is among the best modern writers on the Church and that he is dead on with this statement.  But that means, of course, that as a Church we are precisely at that place where the Church’s tectonic plates are shifting as the old millennium of power gives way to the new millennium of service.  The ground beneath our Catholic feet is shaking and trembling and this causes fear and anxiety.  Some of us, of course, are looking forward to this period of service; others are frightened by the loss of power as the old order passes away.  I think this “ecclesiastical earthquake” is very much at the heart of the strife and struggles within the Church of today.  I admit that I make fun of Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Cordileone and others for parading around swathed in their furs and yards of silk—but precisely because I see this as a ridiculous holding on to the symbols of a dying Catholicism, a moribund Church of power while the Church that is rising up is that Church of service.  I think that Burke and company are buffoons, however, while the Cardinal Law and Archbishop Lori types are far more dangerous because it is not the silken rags of faded glory that they are clinging to but real manipulative power that seeks to control—and bind—the hearts and minds of Christ’s faithful people.   But again—for those who cannot conceive a Church of service and know only the past any loss of power seems to be a weakening of faith itself.  On the other hand, for those of us who were raised in the old American Catholicism of the Maryland strain—Christocentric, intellectual, and devoid of the European trappings of princedom, the switch to the servant model of Catholicism is something that we welcome.  The heroes to us are not the buckled-shoe and caped wonders, but bishops with their feet on the ground like the late Dom Helder Camara, or Tom Gumbleton, or Matt Clark. or Howard Hubbard—or even Avery Dulles, and certainly Carlo Maria Martini.  We remember Paul Émile Léger who resigned his See of Montreal to work in a Leper Colony in Africa.  To us the nuns of the LCWR are the heroes and American Church women who were killed in El Salvador in 1980 or Sister Dorothy Stang who was killed in Brazil in 2005 for defending the peasants there.  We like Richard Rohr and Joan Chittester and Ronald Rohlheiser because they articulate a vision of the future that we recognize as truly Evangelical—witnessing the Good News of God’s Victory.  I did a posting not long ago (August 18) on Monsignor Ralph Beiting, a remarkable servant of God who spent 60 years serving the people of Appalachia.  I have known scores of priests and sisters—and hundreds of lay people—over the years who model this Church of the Servant Christ and I see this model of the Church slowly rising as the earth beneath the slipper clad prelates sinks into irrelevance—but that is history. History is about  change.  To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.  Keep moving forward!!!   To look back is to risk the Church becoming a pillar of salt. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

An Old Wound Reopens

I mentioned in the previous post that there is a long tradition in America of two distinct parties within the Catholic Church.  I referred to them as two Churches and so they are in every sense except the strictly canonical.  At the end of the nineteenth century there was a major clash between these two factions as the “Americanist” party headed by Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore and Archbishop Ireland of St. Paul tried to check the influence of the German Bishops such as Heiss, Katzer and Messmer successively of Milwaukee, Krautbauer of Green Bay, and other German-born prelates who were anxious to preserve the distinct ethnic heritage of German Catholicism.  This Europeanist party was not strictly German by any means as it also included several ultramontane prelates such as Corrigan of New York and a generation later O’Connell of Boston –both of whom were anxious to be more Roman than the Pope.  (You might want to look at entries for March 10,11, 16, 17, 19,20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, April 2, 5, 10, 13, May 22, 2011,  January 5,6,7, 12,  and August 14, 2012 for more on this topic of American versus European influence on the American Church.)  
 By the middle of the twentieth century under the leadership of Cardinal Francis Spellman the two traditions had more or less melted into a distinctive American Catholicism that tended to be socially and politically conservative but post-ethnic culturally.  Catholics were mostly working class and so tended to be Democrats (but this was a time when the southern Dixiecrats were keeping the part from tilting too far to the left) and pro-Labor.  While there were still some ethnic parishes that preserved Old World devotions, Polish and Italian for the greater part, most Catholic parishes were pretty homogeneously bland American even as their parishioners had intermarried and lost much of their distinctive ethnic traits. 
Initially most American Catholics adjusted well to the changes of the Second Vatican Council.  There was an enthusiasm for ecumenism and interreligious dialogues and churches (and synagogues) began holding joint services for such occasions as Thanksgiving.  Discussion groups began meeting in home to help Catholics get to know more about their non-Catholic neighbors and non-Catholics to come to understand better our beliefs and practices.     
The Liturgical changes were well accepted at first too.  People didn’t question the bishop or the priest—we were taught not to, but even more, the Liturgy was beginning to make sense to us.  We were no longer the passive by-standers but hearing the scriptures in our own languages and sharing in the prayers—and the initial feeble attempts to sing—pleased most of us.  There was pain sometimes when a statue grandpa had donated was removed from the Church or the sanctuary where we were married was changed around from the way it had been on that special day, but most of us were happy enough to see some life in old Mother Church.  Like a widow “of some years” who was suddenly taking an interest in her appearance again, the Church began looking better and better.  Granted some of the music was pretty awful at first—“here we are, all together, as we sing our song, joyfully….”  Frankly, there was a lot of crap but over time things got better.  And let’s be honest, the choirs hadn’t been doing Palestrina—at least with any success—in those years before the Council. 
I am not sure what happened but somewhere in the mid to late seventies a reaction began and then began to build up steam.  There had always been a handful of people who were very unhappy with the changes of Vatican II.  Some of these had drifted off into the schism of Archbishop Lefebvre—a French Prelate who rejected the Council and its liturgy.  Others had gone to even more radical groups who declared that Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and II had all been false popes because of their “heresies.”  And there were those who just didn’t like the Council and either stopped attending Mass or found churches where the changes were minimal. 
Several movements sprang up calling for a restoration of the pre-conciliar liturgy at least as an option.  Others called for the conciliar liturgy to be revised along more traditional lines.  Pope John Paul gave a limited permission for the pre-conciliar liturgy to be celebrated again and later in his reign extended this permission further.  Pope Benedict has extended it further still.  While only a small minority—less than  5% of active Catholics—have embraced this return to the pre-conciliar liturgy, it has appealed to a disproportionate number of younger clergy.  And to a great extent it has opened up again the split between the Americanist party in the Church and the Europeanist party.  Some parishes have restored the elaborate outdoor processions for such occasions as Corpus Christi or rogation days.  They build churches in the neo-gothic or baroque styles.  Priests wear their soutanes and birettas and lacy cottas have replaced the more sober albs of the liturgical renewal.  Other parishes continue to build churches where that congregation is wrapped around the altar.  Contemporary Church music is sung rather than the Latin chants.  Social action committees and “small faith communities” are more likely to be seen than Legion of Mary praesidia and while groups of parishioners still gather for the rosary after morning Mass, the youth group gathers for Taizé prayer. The priest is “Father Bill” or may just “Bill” to most of his flock. Two churches once again.  But this difference is even more complex than it first appears.    

Friday, September 21, 2012

America's Two Churches

Catholic Church, St. Mary's
City, Maryland in the simple
American Recusant style

In my courses on the history of the Catholic Church in the United States I show the students that there has existed two distinct Catholic Churches in the American Republic for two hundred years now.  One Catholic Church is represented by the colonial tradition brought by English Recusants to the Maryland colony with the Ark and the Dove in 1634.  Led by Jesuit Father Andrew White the Catholic settlers in Maryland brought the discreet Catholicism of Stuart England.  Due to the penal laws in England, it was a sober Catholicism where devotional life was centered in the family and devoid of the public spectacles of Continental Catholicism.  Its spirituality, impregnated with the heritage of its Jesuit chaplains, was centered about the person and life of Jesus Christ and it was a faith of spiritual reading and meditative prayer.   Its churches were simple and its liturgy plain in the recusant style.  This was the Catholicism of John Carroll and Leonard Neale.  It fit in well with the American Republic and its democratic traditions.  It was glad to be rid of monarchy and monarchial style—the Catholics universally supporting the War of Independence and embracing the new Republic.  Its new Cathedral in Baltimore, the Basilica of the Assumption designed in the neo-classic Federal Style by Benjamin Latrobe, was devoid of statues even of Christ and his Mother.  Its clergy, including Archbishop Carroll, wore simple clothes in the lay style but in black or darker shades and without ornamentation.  Its nuns—Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Sisters of Charity, eschewed veils and wimples for the sober dress and bonnets characteristic of widows in the early nineteenth century.  
With the waves of immigration that began coming after 1830, another Catholic Church took root in the United States.  Initially predominately German, it was soon supplemented by Italians and later by Poles and refugees from what was the Hapsburg Empire.  Here came the tradition of public processions in the streets and churches rich with stained glass and statuary.  Here came devotion to myriad saints from long ago and faraway places.  (The Irish—having lost their traditions after three centuries of English Persecution—mostly identified more with the old American/Recusant heritage.) This immigrant Catholicism and old American Catholicism barely recognized one another as sharing the same faith.  At first the American bishops tried to suppress the European Continental Catholicism or at least confine it to ethnic parishes but it was not to be contained.  After a period of time it divided along ethnic and more importantly along class lines with the older (and more upper-crust) American families preferring a more sober approach to their faith and the immigrant traditions and working classes liking the more colorful and distinctive expression of Catholicism.  This is far more simplistic than I would like it to be but one can only do so much in a blog entry. 
I think since the Second Vatican Council a second division has cut cross-wise through the American Church.  Again we have two churches.  We have a Church that looks to the past and cherishes the distinctiveness of Catholic identity with its rich ethnic heritage.  There is a strong move to build churches again in the baroque style, filled with color and stained glass and statues.  There is a desire for outdoor processions where priests show off their silk and brocade robes to our mundane world of jeans and sweatshirts.  There is a desire to restore the pomp and power that characterized the Church of the first half of the twentieth century.  I know I make relentless fun of Cardinal Burke and others for their long trains of silk and their fur wraps, but the desire is to hold on to the power that bishops and cardinals once had—and through them we as Church had—over politicians and newspapers for fear of alienating the masses of Catholics who were blindly loyal to their institutional leaders. We resent the loss of power and influence and even mistake this shift as “persecution” or impingements on religious freedom.  
On the other hand there are Catholics today who look not to this past—glorious as it was—but to the future and see the vocation of the Church to be for service.  Cardinal Dulles, in his book on the Catholicity of the Church, says that the first millennium of the Church was characterized by witness, the second by power and the third will be characterized by service.  There are those in the Church who are ready to renounce the drive for power and to move into this third millennium and take up the vocation of service.  They see the Church as here to be servant to the world and think that these signs of earthly power—the long robes, the kissing of hands and rings, the quasi-imperial edicts emitting from bishops like Fabian Bruskewitz, late of Lincoln, or Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix or Cardinal Burke, once of Saint Louis—are anachronisms that make the Church appear, well as the late Cardinal Martini said, 200 years out of date. 
Those who look to the future tend to identify more with the old American tradition; those who relish the past identify more with the immigrant tradition.  Both are Catholic.  Both are American.  But at times we look at one another and wonder how—and if—we are in the same Church at all.    

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Catholic Calvinism

 John Calvin, inspiration for
those who would expel those
who disagree with them from
the Church
   The subject of whether those who do not agree in full with everything the magisterium of the Church teaches came up in one of my classes yesterday and one of the students had a very interesting insight.  Comparing and contrasting Calvinist ecclesiology (theology of the Church) with Catholic ecclesiology, this student reminded us that the concept of the Church as a spiritual community of those destined for salvation was held by John Calvin and has long been condemned as heretical whereas the Catholic understanding of the Church is that the wheat and weeds grow together until the day of judgment and the Church—until that day when the Divine Judge separates out the saved and the damned—is no more than the visible community of the baptized.  Incidentally Calvinism’s Catholic cousin is Jansenism—a disease that is rampant in some Catholic circles on the web. 
We had a long discussion on the English Puritains—the Calvinist faction within the Church of England in the late 16th and first half of the 17th century—who wanted all those who held to “Roman Catholic” customs (such as the Sign of the Cross, the ring at a wedding, the placing of a cross or candles on the communion table, the use of the surplice [the only vestment retained in the Second Prayerbook of King Edward VI and in use in the Church of England at the time], or even a fixed liturgy itself) expelled from the Church of England because they were not being faithful to the Scriptures.   The Puritans were convinced that they knew what authentic Christianity was and those who disagreed with them should be expelled from the Church. 
To a lesser extent the same false doctrine was held by the Cathars in the 13th century.  The Cathars (also known as Albigensians) were Gnostic heretics who considered themselves the “Pure Ones” from the Greek  καθαρός (pure).  They knew the true faith and all others were on the road that led to damnation.  They alone were the true Christians.  These zealots who think that they can define who are the authentic Catholics and who are not authentic Catholics are cut from the same bolt of cloth.  People may choose—tragically—to leave the visible communion of the Church, but no priest or deacon or lay person can push them out or cut them off.  Ironically, those who argue for others to be cut off from the Church because they don’t hold authentic Catholic doctrine are themselves in violation of sound Catholic faith.  So let the weeds grow alongside the wheat and God will figure it out.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Okay, Torquemada, Enough Already--Take Care For Your Own Soul

Tómas de Torquemada
Grand Inquisitor

My last posting—the letter to a friend whose Catholicism was being challenged by self-appointed authorities on our faith drew a spike in readership.  One person sent me a link to a video of Michael Voris and a lecture on his “ChurchMilitant TV” (formerly “Real Catholic TV”) where Mr. Voris makes his claims about who is in and who is out.  Mr. Voris, of course, has no canonical authority to make such claims but that is not my point.  Listening to him, I was appalled to see the out-of-context quotes, the misquotes and misattributions, the selectively edited references, and the historical distortions he uses to make his point.  But then, a video clip or a Facebook page, or even a blog like this one is no place to find the Church teaching in its authenticity—not necessarily because people are actively trying to deceive others, but simply because our Catholic faith is not something that can be condensed in a ten minute video or a 200 word posting.  (I must admit that Father Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries does come awfully close to doing a great job at it though.)   Some of us have spent our lives studying the faith: reading book after book, going to lecture after lecture, taking course after course, subscribing to journal after journal, and most of all seriously praying and reflecting every day on the Word of God and how our faith—living faith, our relationship with Christ found in his word and sacrament and the communion of his disciples—brings together the life-giving Word of God in Sacred Scripture with the body of teaching passed down through the ages and forges from them a path of discipleship we can live in the world today. 
I think if there is anything that truly troubles me about people like Michael Voris and the host of bloggers and Facebook junkies that subscribe to his sort of Catholicism is that it comprehends “faith” only as doctrine and submission to their own authority.  Note—I say their own authority not magisterial authority, because while they claim to be obedient and faithful to the magisterium it is only the magisterium as they choose to present it.  They ignore certain precepts of the Church’s teaching and distort others—I think of Michael Voris’ misuse of papal documents to speak of the “common good” as no more than the aggregate of individuals’ goods—to advance their own agendas.  Many priests and some bishops are no better.  Convinced that they, and they alone, know the entire body of Christian doctrine they make decrees that are seriously troubling to the consciences of good Christians.   They presume the worst motives of those with whom they disagree and are so presumptuous as make judgments about the spiritual welfare of others.  Have they ever read the Gospel of Matthew? 
We have a great need for dialogue in the Church today.  The late Cardinal Martini said that the Church is 200 years behind the times.  Yes—the ancien regime has fallen, absolute monarchy has no credibility in the world today.  There is a need for those on top to listen to those in the ranks.  I am not calling for democracy here, just reminding you and me that the Church is a body and that the various parts of the body need listen to one another (1 Cor 12: 21) to hold the body in unity.  The mouth may have the function of doing the talking, but it had better be acting in harmony with the brain, with the heart, the eyes, the ears, and other body parts if it does not want to make a fool of itself.  Moreover, while the hierarchy does have the role of teaching the faith nobody has appointed Michael Voris or me or any Facebook flash mob to speak for them or to pass sentence in their name.  I have had enough of the good MaryBeth’s who always were raising their hand in sixth grade to say “Sister, Sister, Donald is chewing gum and we aren’t supposed to chew gum in school, are we Sister?”  Grow up people, take responsibility for your own lives and faith, respectfully dialogue about your faith with all who will listen, but don’t name yourself the Grand Inquisitor.  Ain’t your job.   

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Who's In and Who's Out???

Monsignor Ignacio Barriero of Human Life
International's Rome Bureau. 
 A friend of mine got involved in a conversational thread on Facebook in which several participants were supposedly citing a recent Angelus Message by Pope Benedict, claiming that the Holy Father was telling people who disagree with Church teaching that they should leave the Church. Looking at the sources cited in the thread, this was an interpretation given the Holy Father’s message by a Monsignor Ignacio Barriero, head of the Rome Bureau of Human Life International.  A local priest got involved in the thread with his opinions about Catholics and their obligation to support laws prohibiting civil marriage to same-sex couples. A lot of people were speaking for the Church.  But were they?  Anyway, here is my letter back to my friend.  I am no position, myself, to speak for the Church, of course and make no claims to.  On the other hand, as I point out in the letter, I think that until and unless those who can speak for the Church demand that civil marriage be denied all those (including non-Catholics) entering into second marriages without annulments, there is an inconsistency in any Church policy that would demand Catholics oppose the legalization of same-sex unions.  This inconsistency can be blamed only on political opportunism and/or social prejudice.  But of course the bigger question is how free are we to disagree with Church policies and still be Catholic.          

Hey James
I think fundamental problem is the forum in which these matters are being discussed.  A Facebook thread or a chatroom or some such forum is not a profitable opportunity to discuss Church teaching as by their nature Facebook pages or selective chatrooms tend to draw like-minded people who have their opinions but who are not qualified to speak authoritatively for the Church.  They may cite the Catechism or papal documents or other reliable sources, but invariably they cite them out of context.  It cannot but be otherwise as the “context” of our Catholic doctrines are two millennia of History where there is a very rich and incredibly varied range of theological opinions on practically every issue with only a handful truly resolved by definitive proclamation.  The presence in a thread of a priest such as “Father X” or any other priest—or individual bishop—for that matter is no guarantee that his contribution accurately reflects Church teaching.  I think “Father’s X’s” failure to make a clear distinction between Divine Law (and what it says about same-sex unions) and Civil Law (and its very different role and obligations) is an indication of that.  Father “X’s” position that Catholics must insist that the civil law proscribe same-sex marriage would demand also that we not only outlaw same-sex relations, but adultery, fornication, and masturbation.  It would also demand that we outlaw heterosexual marriages that involve one or both parties having been previously married and not having had their marriages annulled by the Catholic Church regardless of the religion (or lack of religion) of the parties to the marriage. It is based on the presupposition that the civil law is not to provide order in society and protect citizens from conflicts impinging on their rights and clarifying demands on citizens for their duties to the common good, but to reinforce the Divine Law (according to the teaching of a particular religious tradition) and require individuals to conform their lives to a particular set of religious principles.  There have been times and places (Ireland, Italy, Spain, Malta) in the past—and not the distant pass—where the pressure of the Catholic Church has indeed proscribed divorce and thus remarriage but the abolition of those laws with the tacit allowance of the Church—or only the most pro-forma objections—indicate that since the Conciliar Decree, Dignitatis Humanae, the Church sees that coercive power over the consciences of individuals is not in its Divine Mission.  In other words a consensus has emerged in the Church that while the law must protect rights and property, it is not up to the Church to insist that the civil laws legislate morality.
But let’s look for a moment at the broader issue in this thread.  It seems to me that the question is whether or not those Catholics who do not give full assent of their will and intellect to the entire body of magisterial teaching still have a place in the Church or whether they should leave.  What is required of a Catholic to believe?  Historically the essential matters of faith are the Doctrines of the Trinity and the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the one person, Jesus Christ as well as the profession of the three historic Creeds—the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athanasian.  To this is often (and reasonably) added those decrees of the Councils that bear an anathema for those who deny the particular doctrine defined in the decree. To avoid scandal, of course, we should publically conform, that is not dissent from—the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium but not even assent all these doctrines are required.  It may surprise readers but there are some doctrines taught by the Western Church such as original sin or purgatory on which the Eastern Church (including those parts of the Eastern Church united to the Holy See) remains silent because they are not held in the Eastern Church.   Because the Eastern Church does not hold the Augustinian doctrine of original sin, its understanding of the Sacrament of Baptism is quite different than that of the Western Church.  Yet no one asserts that those Eastern Christians in union with Rome who do not hold to these doctrines should leave the Roman Communion.  As important as the Church’s teaching on the moral deficiency of non-marital sex or on contraception is, is it more essential that our teaching on purgatory or on original sin?   
Let’s look for a moment at the papal statement that is cited.  You can find it at   Is the Holy Father telling people that if they don’t agree with the Church’s teaching in its entirety to leave the Church?  While Benedict has spoken in the past about a “smaller but more faithful Church” claiming that people who do not accept the magisterium in its entirety should leave the Church is one interpretation, but you can’t find it in the text of his Angelus message.   This is, in fact, the interpretation given the Papal statement by Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, the Director of Human Life International’s center in Rome.   Monsignor Barreiro’s position in Rome is held from Human Life International and not from the Holy See so he is no way qualified to speak for the Church or the Holy Father.    Why does Monsignor Barreiro (or “Father X”) want people who do not accept the magisterium in its entirety to leave the Church?  That is the question.  This idea of a “pure” Church consisting only of the “elect” is another symptom of the survival of Jansenism among Catholic neo-traditionalists.  It certainly cannot be attributed to the Holy Father as it itself violates the magisterium.  I certainly think people should be honest about their failures to accept the fullness of Church teaching and they should be open to exploring more fully the teaching of the Church to better understand it, but that is not going to happen by leaving the Church. At the same time, some of those who would claim to accept the magisterium in its fullness need to look more deeply and honestly at themselves.  My experience is that those who are most anxious to expel others from the communion of the Church, themselves are very quick to dismiss certain teachings of the magisterium as “optional.”  I think in particular of those who supported our entry into the Iraq war which Pope John Paul had clearly and explicitly identified as failing to meet the criterion of a “just war,” or those who support the death penalty as it is used in the State of Virginia which clearly fails to meet the criterion for such punishment as defined in Evangelium Vitae.  I cannot but think that most of those who decry dissent from “Church teaching” mean dissent from their opinions.  But in the end, let us remember that the only ones with the authority to tell someone that they are no longer in communion with the Church are the Holy Father or the local ordinary.   The rest of us should just pray, keep our mouths shut, and our hearts open.      

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Christ and His Church

Dom Helder Camara, model
pastor for the Church
It seems to me that if religion has a purpose it is to be the determinative influence on the culture in which human persons can be guided towards a spiritual, intellectual, and moral development, indeed a holistic development, that brings them to the highest possible self-realization possible to the potential of each individual for the good of the wider human family.  If this sounds too “secular” or too “humanistic” let me rephrase that in explicitly Christian language.  I believe that the purpose of religion, including and especially the Christian religion, is to bring the human person to the recovery of the Divine Image and Likeness in which each human person is created.  Let me cite a Master’s thesis of which I am one of the reader’s on this point. 
That as Christians the first role of culture in providing models of higher self-realization that result in higher culture is evident enough.  The Church has done well to preserve the Gospel in a way that invites its members to take on more Christ-like identities and realize more Christ-like actions in more Christ centered communities
At the same time, I would have to argue from history and from experience that religion, and specifically Christianity, has too often been corrupted precisely to prevent spiritual, intellectual, and moral development in the individuals in order to subordinate individuals to the interests in various political, economic, educational, and yes, religious institutions.  If I have a purpose in this blog it is precisely to speak up against those voices that have corrupted the Christian message.   Sometimes I do this by serious critique.  Sometimes by ridicule.  Sometimes by pointing out historical data or contemporary facts.  Sometimes by anecdote.  But I am sincerely concerned that our religious faith, the most important gift we have because it is the only gift that ultimately gives meaning to our existence, is too often manipulated for unworthy purposes.
It is crucial for us to distinguish between “the Church” and the Institution which governs that Church.  This is not to say that the hierarchy is not a constitutive part of the Church, but the Pope and the College of Bishops, much less the Roman Curia, do not by any means exhaust the theological reality of “The Church.”  The hierarchy is a constitutive part of the Church, but only a part of the Church and only one facet, as it were, on this incredibly beautiful jewel.  And it is perhaps the most flawed facet on that jewel.  I gladly accede to the dogma that the Church is founded by Christ.  That is a theological statement, not a historical one, and the corresponding historical statement is that the visible institutional form that Church, and explicitly its leadership, has taken is the product of historical development.  Historically, we cannot claim that Jesus sat down with Peter and gave him the floor-plan of the basilica or advised him on how to set up the Curia Romana.  The Petrine ministry can be found in certain interpretations of passages in the Gospels but that does not mean that Jesus of Nazareth historically established the papacy as we know it.  The papacy is clearly an evolutionary phenomenon.  The “papacy” of Sylvester I at the time of Constantine, the papacy of Leo I a century later, that of Gregory I two centuries after that, that of John XII in the 10th century, of Innocent III in the 13th century, Paul III in the 16th, Pius IX in the 19th and Benedict XVI today are each remarkably different institutions because they occurred in very different historical situations and at different points along what we might even call a dis-continuum of development. 
Something similar can be noted for the episcopacy.  It seems to have taken several generations of the faith for the Episcopal-presbyteral-diaconal model of Church ministry (note, I don’t choose to say “leadership” or “authority”) to emerge.  Being a bishop was a very different experience, vocation even, for Saint Augustine in the fifth century than it was for Thomas Becket in the twelfth.  It was different for John Carroll in 18th century America than it is for Carroll’s contemporary Baltimore successor William Lori.  For that matter, the “priesthood” (better, “presbyterate”) of Hippolytus in the 3rd century is a very different ministry than for Thomas Aquinas a millennium later, for Edmund Campion in Elizabethan England, John Vianney in post-revolutionary France, and a suburban Chicago curate today.  Sorry, the contemporary term is “parochial vicar.”  But I don’t want to digress too far.  We can look at the instability of institutional models at another time.  I want to focus on the reality that the Church, institutional and every other form, in its periods of greatest health has facilitated spiritual maturity among its members from the hierarchy down through those of us who comprise the lowerarchy.  Augustine, Gregory, Anselm, Jerome, Campion, Vianney, Innocent, Fisher, Carroll, Chrysostom weren’t  peacocks who preened before the mirrors of their self-importance.  They were pastors who were focused not on their power or authority—much less on their silk robes and pom-pommed hats, but on shaping the spiritual depths of the souls entrusted to them.  We too have seen shepherds in that model—Dom Helder Camara, Bishop Topel, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu,  O wait, he isn’t one of ours.  Pity.       And there are many fine priests who fit this model too.  But we need to hear more from them than from those who, like the pharisees of Jesus day, bind heavy burdens on people’s shoulders and never lift a finger to ease the load. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Help! Sheep Without Shepherds!!!

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas
City Missouri
Bishop Robert Finn, the Ordinary of the Diocese of Kansas City Missouri was convicted last week of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse to authorities.  Bishop Finn has indicated that despite his conviction he will not resign his see.  As he was not sentenced to prison but received a probationary sentence, he will not be impeded in any significant way from carrying out the responsibilities of his office, yet this is the first time that a Catholic Diocese in the United States has been led by a bishop convicted of such a crime.  (Note, the crime of not reporting the suspected abuse is a misdemeanor under the law, not a felony.)   Pressure by victim advocate groups is being put on the Vatican to remove Bishop Finn if he does not willingly resign but the Vatican does not respond well to such ground-roots pressure so it is unrealistic to expect he will be deprived of his Diocese.  In fact, the Vatican (I certainly need to refrain from using the term “Holy See” in this instance as the irony would be appalling) is all but certain to back up the bishop’s decision.  Hopefully they won’t promote him to a higher See.     
For those who think that this is just another case of the secular world harassing the Church, it should be noted that Bishop Finn himself had appointed former United States Attorney Todd P Graves to conduct an independent investigation of Diocesan policies and procedures regarding charges of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy or Diocesan employees.  Graves was the national co-chairman of the U.S. Justice Department's Child Exploitation Working Group.  Graves’ final evaluation was “that Diocesan leaders (read: the bishop) failed to follow their own policies and procedures for responding to reports" of sexual abuse by clergy.”   In other words, not only did a Court find that the Bishop failed in his responsibilities, but the independent counsel the Bishop hired  to investigate the situation found the bishop at fault.  Bishop Finn needs our prayers as to the people of the Diocese of Kansas City in Missouri.  The victims of abuse need our prayers and the clergy whose sins and sickness has led to this debacle need our prayers.  But also the Old Boys Club in Rome needs our prayers that the Lord will open their eyes to comprehend the problem.  In other words, Cardinal Law still doesn’t get it.  Talk about Invincible moral Ignorance! Incidentally, when Archbishop-designate Salvatore Cordileone assumes the responsibilities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco on October 4th, he will be the second Ordinary to assume the diocese under a legal cloud as he was arrested recently on charges of drunk driving—another misdemeanor.  He is due to appear in court five days after his installation as Archbishop.  I only hope he has the aplomb not to wear his cappa magna to the courthouse.  
My complaint here is not against Bishop Finn or Archbishop-designate Cordileone.  I live in a glass house myself and am not anxious to throw stones.  I am sure that each is a good man within the parameters of basic moral structures; they (and those responsible for their advancement) are simply injudicious.  And injudiciousness at this level is not simply unadvisable, it is immoral.  What I am complaining about is that the American Church not only deserves but is in desperate need of better men for the ministry of Bishop.  The Church is being humiliated not by external enemies who ultimately are unable to wound the Church but by her own hierarchs who can do great damage to the faith.    I know that there are wiser and holier men for the ministry of Bishop than we are getting in many of our Sees—and at some Roman desks.   I have met priests who would make better bishops than Finn or Cordileone or the clique responsible for their advancement (The Burke-Law-Lori axis).  Please just give us the leadership we need. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The "heresy" of Benedict XVI

Jean Jacques Olier, a defender
of Catholic Orthodoxy against
the Jansenists 

So what is the problem with the new translation of the “pro multis” (for many/for all) in the words of consecration?”  Benedict XVI has been very insistent that not only in the English language translations but in all the various language groups the words “pro multis” be translated literally so that the consecratory words over the chalice should say: “…the blood of the new and eternal covenant which is shed for you and for many” rather than “…for you and for all” as had been the custom with most vernacular translations since Vatican II.  (The equivalent translation had been in the Italian, Spanish, and German Missals among other vernacular translations.)  This translation was a sticking point for many who reject the Liturgy of Paul VI even though the official text, i.e. the Latin text, of the Missal says: “pro multis” (for many) rather than “for all.” 
It does make sense that the text should be translated literally if it is to be faithful to the scriptural words beneath and to the faith of the Church—but in this case the contrary is true.  While the Latin says “pro multis” (for many), the Latin itself is a translation from the Greek.  (The New Testament from which the words of consecration are drawn is written originally in Greek.)  And the Greek says “οί πολλοί” which means “the many.”  You see the problem is that Latin has no definite article—“the”—and so what is an inclusive idea in the Greek becomes an exclusive idea in the Latin.  When we say that Christ’s blood is shed for many it means that Christ died for many, not for all.  But the Greek New Testament means that his blood is shed for the many—the multitudes, the crowds, everybody.  (The French, by the way, got around this and translated it quite well: pour la multitude—for the multitude.) 
What further complicates the issue is that in the condemnation of Jansenism with the bull Cum Occasione by Innnocent X in 1653, one of the propositions condemned was the Jansenist claim that it was heretical to say that Christ died for all.  To the contrary—the Catholic Church teaches that Christ died for all.  Jansenism, like its Protestant cousin, Calvinism, held that God had predestined some to salvation and others to damnation and that Christ’s saving death applies only to those who are predestined to salvation.  Unfortunately, Pope Benedict’s insistence on the faulty translation of pro multis as “for many” undercuts the Catholic orthodoxy that makes it clear that the blood of Christ was shed for all.  The Pope, of course, believes in the teaching that Christ died for all, but his lack of pastoral experience leaves him blind to how this faulty translation will be used by those in the Church—and there are many among the neo-traditionalists—who are infected with Jansenism
I was recently talking with a young man who is now a student in a reputable Catholic seminary but whose family had long belonged to the sedevacantist group at Mount Saint Michael’s near Spokane Washington.  (The Sedevacantists reject the Second Vatican Council and believe that the last “true” Pope was Pius XII, the Vatican II era popes being ineligible for the Petrine Office because they have embraced the “heresies” of the Council.)  This gentleman explained to me the phenomenon of Jansenism sheltering among neo-traditionalists both within and separated from the Church. He said what drove him back into full communion with the Church after having been in sedevacantism for over twenty years was that so many of the people he knew in the movement “are just plain nasty.”  Mean-spiritedness is a characteristic of Jansenism as Jansenists tend to be very definite in the judgments about other people’s spiritual state.  This is what Jean Jacques Olier, the founder of the Sulpicians, said of the Jansenists: “They devour the heart of charity by which the Church lives.”  One can see this in many of the neo-traditionalist and Catholic neo-con websites from Michael Voris and his Church Militant TV to Mary Ann Kreitzer of Les Femmes to tantamergo—a blog for Dallas area Catholics and other sites like this that are very quick to tell you who are and who are not “good Catholics” without having any authority to make such evaluations. Jansenism is alive and well today in certain circles and one of the unintended consequences of this translation is that the Liturgy will nourish it as it opens to the door to the idea that there are those whom God loves and those whom God hates.  And what heresy is greater than the idea that God hates anyone, even the most vile sinner?