Sunday, November 18, 2012

On Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine

Bishop Michael Botean
Romanian Catholic Eparch
of Canton OH
We will take a short break from our “Rethinking God” series in which we are looking at how our basic understanding of God has not been unchanging but has evolved over the course of time and look at an indirectly related issue.  I saw the following statement from Jason Miller of Catholics United on the internet.   
“Members of Catholics United delivered petitions with more than 20,000 signatures which said the church's public stands against contraception and same sex marriage distract from what should be the Church's main mission of helping the poor.”
We wouldn't be able to have this type of success without the support of each and every one of our members. This is our victory, and we will continue to be speakers for the poor and marginalized who do not have a voice, just as Jesus commanded us to do in the Gospels.

Well, I am glad that Mr. Miller and Catholic United were able to deliver their petition to the Bishops during their annual meeting in Baltimore.  But who from the Episcopal Conference was sent to meet Catholics United and receive the petition: Bishop Michael Botean of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of Canton OH.  All due respect to Eparch Botean and to the Romanian Catholic Church but his Excellency is of sufficiently low stature in the hierarchy as for it to be a sign of contempt for Catholics United and the 20,000 members of the faithful that he would be delegated to meet with their representatives and receive the petition.  A bishop is a bishop, and those of the Eastern Churches in communion with the Holy See are of the same dignity as those of the Roman Rite but I sincerely doubt that there was a single Romanian Catholic signature among the 20,000.  I realize that 20,000 signatures can hardly claim to represent 70 million American Catholics but if our bishops were to take our laity with respect and accord the faithful their proper role in holding the faith which they, the bishops, are supposed to teach, they would have sent an Archbishop or a bishop of a major see to meet the delegation.  But their Lordships obviously see that the role of the laity is no more than to pay, pray, and obey.
In the nineteenth century when Blessed John Henry Newman wrote his famous essay “On Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine,” Newman’s “perennial nemesis” responded with his own description of the role of the laity: “To hunt, to shoot, and to entertain.”  Monsignor Talbot obviously hung out with a rather select class of English gentry, but then too our bishops are for the most part out of touch with the average Catholic in the pew.  They say that when a priest becomes a bishop he “has had his last bad meal and will never hear the truth again.”  Alas too true.  Our bishops are, I am afraid, out of touch with the average Catholic.  And as such they see the faithful as those who are to be instructed with their Episcopal wisdom.  But the faithful are the core of the Church (The Church, of course, is the whole body of the baptized, including the bishops.) The faith of the Church which the bishops are required to teach is the faith held by the faithful.  The bishops cannot teach authentically if they are out of touch with the lived faith of the People of God. 
I have heard it said of Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, that he “lives in his head.”  His priests and people—or many of them—say that he is a man of very low affect.  This means that his Eminence, admittedly a distinguished theologian, lives in a world of ideas and ideals, unaffected by the emotional, or better, the “wholistic” self that integrates the intellectual with the emotional, spiritual, and physical elements of personality.  The Cardinal suffered from polio as a child and has some severe physical limitations and the opinion has been offered that he “lives in his head” because experience has shown him not to trust his body—his body lets him down.  To whatever degree this analysis is true, I feel sorry for his Eminence because such a sorrow about one’s physical limitations is a heavy burden to carry.  But I think our collective hierarchy is of much the same malady—they see themselves as the (visible) head of the Church and they don’t trust the Body.  They and they alone hold the truth.  But the Truth resides in the entire Body and if the Church is reflect that truth our bishops need to become more intuitive and less dogmatic.
Several years back I had a chance to sit down over coffee with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary of Detroit.  Bishop Gumbleton is one of the old Vatican II war horses who has always been light-years ahead of his brother bishops in apprehending the Mysterium of the Church.  I asked Bishop Gumbleton what had happened that the great bishops of the American Church were no more—the Gibbons and the Irelands, the Mooneys and the Topels, the Sheils and the McNicholases, the Cushings and the Deardens, the Bernardins and the Haases.  (Of course you also had your share of mitered horses’ asses –the Corrigans, the William O’Connells, the Glennons and the Francis McIntyres.)  Bishop Gumbleton explained the insensitivity of so many of his current brother bishops as that they no longer come from families that were immigrant, working class and labor union, but now come from families that are in the professions and who have been to the “best schools” and belong to the “best clubs.”  Like Newman’s antagonist, Monsignor Talbot, they are simply out of touch with ordinary people.  But those who are charged with teaching the faith of the Church cannot afford to be out of touch with the ordinary people who hold that faith.  The great bishops who are the “Fathers of the Church” –Augustine, Chrysostom, Isidore, Gregory—these were pastors who knew their flocks and cherished the faith as held in the hearts of their people.   Let us pray that God’s flock will be given good shepherds.     

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