I wrote this for Christine, but thought I would share the observation with all of you. Catholics and Lutherans welcome to comment.
The comparative situations of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church in the US and in Australia are close but not identical. There are more than enough similarities for me to understand what is happening there, but there are still important differences.
For instance, the existence of one major liberal (ELCA) and one major conservative (LCMS) Lutheran synod in the US has sort of guarenteed that the one will continue to stay liberal and the other will continue to stay conservative. Imagine if something like that happened to the Catholic Church in the US – a split, I mean – the one would scuttle the vernacular mass overnight, and the other would be ordaining women in a blink of an eye.
When you try to keep a Church of 1.2 Billion people together all over the world, that Church does end up looking like a series of endless compromises with “The Truth” (whether seen from a liberal or conservative point of view). The Holy Father is getting his butt kicked for exactly that problem at the moment.
Here in Australia, the Lutheran Church is much the same. There is only one Lutheran Church (of any significance), and it has endless battles trying to keep the peace and unity it gained back in 1966 with the merger of the two pre-exisiting synods. There are pastors and congregations on all ends of the spectrum – fundamentalist, catholic, traditional, confessional, conservative, charasmatic, contemporary, evangelical, liberal, social gospel, protesant, church growth, ethnic, you name it. Somehow, they have kept all these people in the one Church – but it is a battle.
The Synodical system of democratic government in the Lutheran Church encourages this battle, and does not ensure that confessional Lutheranism (or any other type) will prevail. Actually, it probably favours liberalism, because once liberal ideas get a grip in a democracy, they tend to be very difficult to overturn.
This is the battle out of which I emerged in 2001, and I was quite happy to lay down my arms. The Catholic Church is like the Lutheran Church of Australia in trying to keep a great variety of theologies together in one communion, but unlike the Lutheran Church, the Catholic Church does not allow democratic government. In other words, it really doesn’t matter what Sister So-and-So RSM or Fr So-and-So SJ thinks, because they don’t get a vote.
That doesn’t make the job of maintaining unity any easier, but it does make the task of promoting authentic teaching within the Church – if not “easier” – then at least little more “hopeful” of eventually achieving its goal.