Monday, October 22, 2012

Vatican II And Social Theology

Is there a relationship between
Vatican II and a Theology of
Social Reform?
After my entry yesterday, I do need to be fair to Archbishop Thomas Toolen who was Bishop (Archbishop was a personal title; he was not metropolitan) of Mobile Alabama from 1927 to 1969.  In the early and mid ‘60’s Toolen, as I mentioned, forbad the priests and religious in his diocese to participate in the Civil Rights movement.  It was a volatile time in Alabama, and indeed in the United States.  Americans by the busload were travelling down from Northern cities such as New York and Detroit and Chicago to stand in solidarity with southern African-Americans who were trying to register to vote and to end the segregation policies that were making them second-class citizens.  People standing up for civil rights—both African-Americans and white supporters—were being bullied, injured, and killed in outrageous acts of violence.  Law enforcement officials were not only facilitating these crimes but were meeting the non-violent protests with savage attacks by police dogs and fire houses.  The worst act of violence was the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1964 in which four young girls were killed by white terrorist member of the Klan.  Toolen’s prohibition of clergy and religious supporting the demonstrations could be construed as distancing the Church from the occasions of violence that were accompanying the Civil Rights movement but the presence—the notable presence of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Church leaders—including the distinguished and saintly Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakavos, was a tremendous embarrassment to those Catholics who believed the importance of the cause required the risks. 
On the other hand as Bishop, Toolen showed great pastoral concern for African-Americans regardless of religion.  He opened hospitals to care for them when white hospitals would not accept patients of color.  In 1950 Saint Martin de Porres hospital in Mobile became the first hospital in Alabama where white and black physicians served jointly on the hospital staff, though the patients were exclusively African-American.  In 1964 he desegregated the Catholic schools in the state of Alabama.  Toolen would not accept African-American candidates for the priesthood however, and one whom he turned down—Joseph Howze—later became the Bishop of Biloxi. And in 1965 Toolen expelled Father Maurice Ouellet of the Edmundites from the diocese because he had permitted organizational meetings for the Selma marches on parish property.  In other words, Toolen was a man of charity but not of justice and this is a crucial distinction as there are many who believe that our duty as Christians is to give succor to the poor but not necessarily to correct the injustices that cause the poverty. In fact, one change which comes not from the Council itself but from the Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra of John XXIII and then is reinforced in the Council—and subsequent papal teaching—is that authentic charity is committed to the pursuit of justice.  Our old idea of “charity” as almsgiving is a deficient understanding of the virtue.  While generosity or the desire to offer aid to those who are suffering is one aspect of charity, the theological virtue of charity is the most profound expression of the Divine Nature—quoniam Deus caritas est (1 John 4:8).  And as an expression of the Divine Nature, charity is essentially oriented towards Justice—that is, towards the order of things being conformed to the Divine Will. 
Of course for centuries people believed—and Churchmen taught—that the divergence of wealth and poverty in the world is the Divine Will; that some are rich because God wills them to be rich, others are poor because God wills them to be poor.  The 19th century Anglican hymn-writer Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander put it this way in her famous hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.

The rich man in his castle,
         The poor man at his gate,
         God made them high and lowly,
         And ordered their estate.

Since Mater et Magistra, the Catholic Church has moved away from this idea and has increasingly questioned the morality of extremes of wealth and poverty in our world, but a great part of the reaction against Vatican II among contemporary Catholics is a reaction against the Church’s message of Social Justice.  Former Catholic Glen Beck told his listeners that when they hear “Social Justice” in Church they should flee that Church.  Michael Voris—a very unreliable source for things Catholic, has called the message of Social Justice a distortion of our Catholic faith.  The Lefebvrites—the schismatics who followed the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre out of the Church in protest against the changes of the Second Vatican Council, are rooted in the conservative social and economic doctrines of the Action Française. The Tridentine Mass, at least in the United States, attracts congregations that are white and upper-middle class, first-generation of superfluous wealth, precisely because they can be sure that the priests who offer these liturgies will not preach a Gospel that supports socio-economic reforms.  (I have been told that in Great Britain the situation is somewhat different and the “Extraordinary Form” attracts intellectuals and social liberals, but I don’t know the reliability of this report.)   
When we look at the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council in some depth we should probably see how the Liturgy itself has been restructured to make us more aware of the relationship between the Worship of God and the Gospel call to social justice, but this much seems clear that there is a direct relationship between those who support the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the commitment to Justice.  There seems also to be a corresponding relationship between those who reject, dismiss, or water down the teachings of the Council—including those who insist on a “hermeneutic of continuity”—and those who promote the existing social-economic policies.            

No comments:

Post a Comment