Daily Archives: February 11, 2008

TIME again….

And here is the next installment from “Catholic Freedom vs Authority”, TIME, November 22, 1968. See the previous post below for the first section.

Just one word of comment. It is worth reading, against this article, John L. Allen’s assertion that Benedict XVI is practicing “affirmative orthodoxy”–ie. not issuing “new warnings almost daily against imprudence, rebellion, disobedience and the dangers of heresy” as this journalist described Paul VI, but rather proposing the positive reasons for faith and Christian ethics. In other words, Benedict has been proposing a truly orthodox and Christian approach to “Love over negatives”.

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Love over Negatives. Almost all the stern “thou shalt nots” of Catholic morality are being similarly reinterpreted via a person centered ethic based on the imperatives of love rather than on categorical negatives. Recently, Msgr. Stephen J. Kelleher of New York’s archdiocesan rota openly proposed that the church allow divorce and remarriage in certain “intolerable marriages.” (Kelleher was promptly transferred to a suburban parish.) Jesuit Lawyer Robert Drinan has proposed that abortion should be a matter for private decision. Some Catholic college chaplains will concede that where a boy-girl. relationship is truly loving, premarital sex no longer need be considered a sin.

Catholic dissent, however, is not basically a question of objecting to specific strictures. Far more often it involves unhappiness with an unwieldy, outdated organization that demands obedience to dogmas that no longer make sense or to rules that restrict Christian liberty. Moreover, obedience is compelled frequently not by scriptural testimony but by threats of punishment in hell–an eschatological scare increasingly rejected by Catholic theologians. Despite their commitment by solemn vow to this ecclesiastical machinery, priests have been among the most vociferous rebels. This year alone, at least 463 Catholic clerics in the U.S. have left the priesthood, many of them to marry. Rome’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has on file more than 3,000 requests for laicization, or approval of a priest’s return to lay life. (Church officials customarily sit on these applications for months without taking action; many priests have discovered that when they marry illegally, their petitions are more quickly acted upon.)

Traditionally, docility has been considered the supreme virtue of the Catholic laity; today, laymen are less and less docile. Cardinal O’Boyle’s stern treatment of his dissident priests has moved thousands of laymen to anger. Eugene McCarthy and Mrs. Philip Hart, wife of the Michigan Senator, are among several prominent Catholics in the capital who have lent their support to a new church center where several of the censured priests live. The five resident priests have set up a kind of campaign headquarters for local Catholic protesters in a three story row house. In San Antonio, 4,700 laymen have signed a petition in support of the 68 priests who had publicly requested the Pope to retire Archbishop Robert E. Lucey.

Liberated Cathedral. Catholic rebellion also involves a new critical attitude toward secular society that frequently puts bishops and their flocks at odds–despite the generally progressive attitude of the church toward social problems in recent years. In Santiago, .. Chile, 214 priests, nuns and laymen “liberated” the National Cathedral for 15 hours in a demonstration against the Pope’s visit to Bogota, which they said would only reaffirm “the alliance of the church with military and economic power.” Milwaukee’s Father James E. Groppi, a civil rights advocate of Black Power, is a symbol of courage to many U.S. Catholics. So is the pacifist Jesuit poet Daniel Berrigan, who, with his brother Philip and seven others, was sentenced to a federal prison term two weeks ago for burning draft files at a Selective Service office in Maryland. Says Berrigan of many of today’s Christians: “They pay lip service to Christ and military service to the powers of death.” Quite a few Catholics would agree with Philosopher Michael Novak that “the quest for human values in our society has moved outside the churches” and that the heroes of the present are secular saints.

A decade ago, a priest or layman who found himself at odds with an accepted teaching of the church or an order from the hierarchy would have been forced by conscience to separate formally from the church. In his book, A Question of Conscience, British Theologian Charles Davis argues that Catholicism is a seamless whole and that those who cannot accept the decisions of authority should leave, as Davis did two years ago. Yet the most striking fact of the contemporary Catholic rebellion is that the vast majority of dissenters–except for priests whose marriages entail automatic excommunication–feel free to create and define their own faith and still consider themselves within the church. “Fewer are leaving than ever before,” says Bishop Hugh Donohoe of Stockton, Calif. “Their attitude is ‘We’re not going to be thrown out of the church. We are going to fashion it to our own liking.’ ”

Historic Community. Many Catholic liberals regard Davis’ all-or-nothing approach as curiously old-fashioned and unsophisticated. To be a Catholic, they argue, does not mean formally subscribing to a consistent body of dogma but belonging to a historic community, the self-proclaimed people of God. Liberals further argue that a true spirit of Christian freedom in this community should and even must allow for a diversity of opinion on spiritual issues. Says Philosopher Leslie Dewart (The Future 0/ Belief): “I understand membership in the church not to depend at all on agreement with the Pope. or with any particular authority.” Adds philosopher-Journalist Daniel Callahan: “Even if a bishop should judge me heretical, I don’t grant him the right to judge what is heretical and what is what is not. I consider myself a Catholic, first of all, because I’m not anything else. This is the tradition out of which I work. This is the tradition in which I was born. If I’m going to remake any tradition, it might as well be my own.”

Millions of Catholics simply cannot and will not, accept Callahan’s attitude toward tradition. There is a powerful spirit of conservatism in the church, and it is embodied in urbane archbishops and middleclass managers as well as devout but uneducated peasants. The dissenters are strongest in the U.S. and Western Europe, and except perhaps in The Netherlands, they constitute a minority of the faithful. Father Greeley estimates that no more than 1,000,000 of the 35 million churchgoing U.S. Catholics could be considered rebels. The pastoral problem for the bishops, however, is that the dissenters influence a great many concerned, educated lay. men who take their faith seriously as a commitment rather than as a social club held together by ritual, dogma and Friday night bingo. Their numbers are likely to grow. “I don’t know a well· educated young lay person who has religious concerns who’s not a dissenter,” says Greeley. Among Catholic college students, alienation from the church as an institution is almost a badge of maturity.

Journalist John Cogley, a staff member of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, argues that the present crisis in Catholicism stems from a disparity between theology and structure. “We have the structures which fit a theology that is no longer accepted,” he says, “but we don’t have the structures to fit the emerging theology.” The new understanding of the church as an organic spiritual community implies a spirit of democracy; of shared authority. Yet it is the firm view of Pope Paul–backed overwhelmingly by the bishops–that the church was founded by Jesus Christ as an absolute monarchy, and cannot be changed without doing violence to God’s intentions.

Michael Novak has defined this attitude toward church structure as “non-historical orthodoxy.” It is not supported by an analysis of Christian origins. The papal claim to monarchic supremacy is based, in part, upon Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Today, the majority of New Testament scholars agree with the view of Bishop Francis Simons of India, who notes in his new book, Infallibility and the Evidence (TIME, Nov. 1) that the sentence simply singles out Peter as first among the Apostles and says nothing at all about the rights and privileges of his successors.
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Next installment in the near future…

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Which is it?


In the combox to the last post, Peregrinus wrote (quoting me):

It didn’t happen gradually over the last forty years–it didn’t even take 10 years. It happened virtually overnight

. . .These dissidents couldn’t possibily have simply sprung up like weeds. There must have been decades behind this rise in liberalism.

Well, which is it?

Both, Peregrinus. Let me give you an illustration that might explain it.

I have just finished listening to a marvellous audio book called “Krakatoa: the day the world exploded”, read by the author, Simon Winchester. In it, he explains how the famous volcano was really a kind of geological time bomb, with immense pressures building up under the sea bed that eventually exploded in the most violent eruption in recorded history.

I believe that what the TIME journalist was describing was just such an “eruption” of built up pressure. In other words, although the visible and recorded rise in the level of rebellion and dissedence in the Church was literally a sudden explosion, the explosion had a long history. To be over simplistic, in Vatican II the Church Fathers opened a valve, in Humanae Vitae Paul VI tried to put the lid back on. But the pressure was too great. It blew itself to pieces.

That might be over dramatic. In any case, to continue the metaphor, today we have only the smouldering ruins of the great volcano of 1960’s dissent. It’s still active, and can be dangerous, but is probably on its way to extinction. Nevertheless, as Winchester describes in his books, volcanoes have a way of being reborn, not always in the same location, but always due to the shifting tectonic plates of the earth. Nothing is fixed in concrete, and every age will have its “Krakatoa’s”.

I’m not sure where this analogy is leading me, so I think I will leave it there…

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The Difference between knowing and KNOWING

In response to my posting of the article from TIME magazine, Joshua said in the combox:

Didn’t you know all this before? This has been the reality in the Church for the past 40 years.

Of course I “knew” this, Joshua, but it is one thing to know your history (eg. to know that in 1492 Columbas sailed the ocean blue, or that in 1066 William the Conquer won the battle of Hastings, or that in 1770 Captain Cook sailed into Botony Bay) but it is ANOTHER THING altogether to actually find a magazine article from the time reporting these events.

And what really stuns me is that even before the release of Humanae Vitae, in the two and half short years between the close of Vatican II and July 1968, the Church had already slid almost all the way down the dissenting slope that we so lament today. It didn’t happen gradually over the last forty years–it didn’t even take 10 years. It happened virtually overnight.

This leads me to ask two questions:

1) exactly how good were those pre-Vatican II years in terms of fidelity, catechesis, evangelisation etc.? These dissidents couldn’t possibily have simply sprung up like weeds. There must have been decades behind this rise in liberalism.

2) What on earth was Pope Paul VI thinking when he unleashed the new vernacular liturgy into this mess? So often we think the liturgy is where it all went wrong, but whatever “went wrong” had gone wrong already, before the “reform” was put into action.

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