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Making Benedict’s “Optimistic” Words Count: Ten Theses about Moving from Words to Action

I ended my posting yesterday about Benedict’s recent “optimistic” Portuguese address with the following observation:

The church finds itself in its current “terrifying” position due to decisions the current pope himself made as John Paul II’s theological watchdog, which he has not effectively reversed through his actions up to this point—as fine as his recent words sound.

And so to make my critique constructive, what actions would I hope to see Benedict undertake, if he is sincere about reviving Vatican II’s call for affirmative dialogue with the world, which recognizes that the church can learn from the Spirit’s leading in other religious traditions, as well as in cultural developments and movements?

As Donald Cozzens notes, every thinking person needs to have a vision of where the church is going—what many on the right like to call an “agenda” when the vision is articulated by Catholics grounded in Vatican II and its call for constructive dialogue with culture:

Every thinking person should have a vision of where the church should be going. The only way not to have an agenda is to stop thinking and to stop imagining. It’s like saying Galileo had an agenda and therefore he had to be squashed and threatened with not only excommunication but torture and death. Is it fair to say that the preeminent theologians of the Second Vatican Council-Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, and John Courtney Murray-each had a secret agenda? I don’t see that.

I find it interesting that conservative visions of the church are never called “agendas.” Apparently only liberals have agendas. Conservatives may want to go back to a pre-conciliar church, but no one accuses them of having an agenda; we just see that as some strange notion of orthodoxy.

And so my vision of where the church must go, if it is to reform itself and if Benedict’s words in Portugal are to mean anything beyond rhetoric.  As a minimum, I’d expect the following, if Benedict’s “optimism” and retrieval of Vatican II are to be effective.  Ten theses:

1. Apologize to and rehabilitate the more than 100 theologians whom Benedict himself silenced as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Admit that the Vatican has been unjust and cruel to theologians whom it has silenced, forbidden to teach or speak, and refused to permit a fair, open hearing as it takes these actions.

2. Retrieve the work and talents of this group of Spirit-led individuals, whose gifts are exceptionally needed by the church today, if it’s to negotiate its current crisis successfully and begin to interact creatively, fruitfully—with evangelical intent—in its encounter with postmodernity.

3. Apologize for, in particular, the vicious attack on liberation theology which has decimated that much-needed movement in faith communities of the developing areas of the world.  Rehabilitate those theologians, in particular, whose prophetic witness is also much-needed by Western theologians, with our lack of attention to structural injustice and our fixation on issues like abortion and homosexuality, while the church faces far greater moral challenges in the economic and political life of nations around the world.

4. Reopen the discussion about women’s ordination.  Give women a voice equal to that of men in the governing of the church.  This requires ordaining women.  Now.

5. Reopen the discussion of sexual ethics that Paul VI squelched when he ignored the recommendation of the commission he appointed to advise him about artificial contraception.  Take the witness and voices of lay Catholics about sexual ethics seriously, for a change.  Do so in a way that incorporates that witness and voice in the governing structures of the church and its official teaching.

6. Abolish the pre-modern, non-democratic process by which the work of theologians is vetted in Rome.  Stop the process of accepting secret reports about “unorthodox” theologians, and then calling them to Rome to answer secret charges made about them of which they have no knowledge in advance of their hearing. Open these hearings to the public and allow those under scrutiny to bring advocates to these hearings—if they are going to continue at all.

7. Send a strong signal that the length of hierarchs’ cappae magnae is not a self-evident testimonial about their virtue, pastoral acumen, or qualifications for high office in the church.  If Benedict places Cardinal Pell at the head of the world’s bishops, as credible reports from Rome indicate he intends to do, he will send a signal to the church in general and to clerics in particular that his words in Portugal were just fine words and nothing more.  Pell is eminently unqualified for—eminently wrong for—the position for which he’s being considered.  He has led the way in the procession of resplendent and ever-longer cappae magnae.  His refusal to meet with or even engage the letter his lesbian cousin, a former nun, wrote him several years ago, asking for open dialogue about the church’s oppression of gay and lesbian people, totally undermines his credibility as the leader of the world’s bishops in the 21st century.

8. Become accessible to the people of God.  Walk among them.  Listen to them.  Do so without frou-frou and gravitas.  Be a pastor.  Take as your pastoral model Jesus, the good shepherd.

9. Demand that every bishop in the world behave that way, as well.

10. Reverse the chill in theology departments of Catholic universities around the world, and admit that it was an act of great evil to trample on the gifts offered to the church by the many laywomen and laymen who flocked to programs of theological study following Vatican II, with great hope and enthusiasm for serving the church in the ministry of theology.  Only to find themselves, in the papacy of John Paul II with Benedict as the theological watchdog, subject to intense negative scrutiny and threats, as they followed their vocations as theologians.  The effect on the church of this purge designed to chill theological reflection has been deleterious in the extreme.  Reversing the chill would go a long way towards starting the process by which the core problems at the heart of the abuse crisis would begin to be addressed—honestly and transparently.

All this to pave the way for the next ecumenical council, which must be a council of reform and must, for the first time in history, be truly ecumenical, with women’s voices counting as much as men’s, and with lay voices counting as much as clerics’.  And with representation and voice on the part of non-Catholic communities of faith . . . .

Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 13 May 2010.

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59 Responses

  1. An outstanding post in every way, which deserves to be widely read, but as recent reports out of Fatima make clear, the leopard does not really change it’s spots. We are being pushed further and further by the Spirit away from reliance on religious authorities in pointy hats. The era of the great institutional religions has come to an end ( in my humble opinion).

    • Jayden,

      No doubt the era of great institutional religions in the Western world is coming to an end. In many ways, and for many people it is a positive development. On the whole, I don’t think it is a positive development.

      When institutional religions deteriorate, they usually are not replaced by a better, or more pure form of the Spirit. They are replaced by the religions of Bill, Jayden, and David which are characterized more by a common hatred of something than a love of the Spirit.

      • Just came across this quote, which is very apropos (and which I’ll comment on at greater length at Gay Mystic) –

        The saintly Benedictine monk, Bede Griffiths, writing from his Ashram in India to the editor of the London Tablet in 1985:

        ‘Perhaps the “scandalous pessimism” which Cardinal Ratzinger finds in the Church today can be reconciled with what others call the “scandalous optimism” of Cardinal Ratzinger, if one considers that what is collapsing today is the old system of Roman Catholicism and what is taking its place is a new understanding of the Catholic Church.’

        • Jayden, thank you for posting this. Bede Griffiths has long been one of my favorite spiritual writers. He was called everything under the sun–crazy, unfaithful, motivated by hate.

          And yet he kept on writing, hoping, loving. His love for the church was manifested by his willingness to tell the truth about the church and to call the church to be what it claims to be.

      • Jayden,

        The relentless bashing of Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church administrators has to cease before there can be dia-logue.

        I find it quite tiring, and frankly, very narrow-minded to continually focus upon the social agendas of the Church that you and others find distasteful as a basis for suggesting that somehow the Holy Spirit is on the side of those opposed to the Church’s policies.

        A more even-handed approach might actually convince some of us that you and others are actually more concerned with the workings of the Spirit than in the adoption of an undifferentiated pluralistic dogma.

  2. After the 1527 Sack of Rome by the Mercenaries of the Holy Roman Empire the Renaissance came to a close in Mediterranean Europe. The Council of Trent would begin to meet in the following decade for the Reform of the Church Abuses highlighted by the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church in the West would lose the tapestry of expression of Faith from so many cultures to ossify around the single one centered upon the Roman Experience. The colonial ambitions of European Nations retaining allegiance to the Pope would be seen as a replacement in the New World of souls lost in the Old. For four hundred years this Tridentine Model of the Church would maintain its hold on the imagination of Catholics until the recovery of sources from Scripture and Patristics in the 19th century leading to the Vatican Council on 1962-65. The paranoia of the Counter-reformation Church was symbolized in the attempt to put loin cloths on the nudes decorating many of the Renaissance Churches as if the nudity of the human form was some how detrimental to the Faith. While Missionaries would herocially preach the Faith to the newly discovered worlds the Old WOrld of Europe began a decline into atheism and indifference as the heirarch disengaged from the intellectual life of the Universities and Scientific discovery. Fear of the Unfamiliar was standard. Matteo Ricci efforts at evangelizing China would be thwarted by a retreat to Roman Forms as throughout the world the corrections required by the abuses of the Renaissance would throw out the baby with the bath water. Jesus’ command to a sinful doubting Simon Peter “Duc ad altum” put out into the deeper water would be forgotten as church leaders clung to forms which had ceased to engage the souls of millions. Today’s experience is no different. the Reform of th4e Reform which is about to unfold in the liturgical life of the Latin Church is but another symbol of this retreat from challenge to joust only with meaningless leftovers from another age. Instead of developing a witness to Christ in the present age by presenting a coherent sexual ethic the contemporary leaders of the Church lock away offenders in monasteries or pay off the abused in cash and demand secrecy. The loss of liberation theology is moving multitudes away from the redress of grievenances countenanced by the Church for centuries. It may be nice to create a desert and call it peace but the toll is heartbreaking. Arrogant Bishops reject the input of the laity and continue to insist they pray, pay and obey. The gay and lesbian minority which make up the majority of the clergy and religious are damned for seeking expression for their giftedness. The two-spirited are targets of persecution and blamed for every problem in Catholic life. Instead of seeking healing for both the victims and abusers within the Gospel Framework the litigation fixation of the Modern World has become the standard procedure. Putting Out Into the Deep is a Demand of the Lord whose Church this is.

  3. Wonderful comment, Jack, though you definitely need an editor to make it more readable. Love your final comment which really struck a cord in me: Putting Out into the Deep is a Demand of the Lord whose Church this is (love the capital letters also).

  4. Jayden and Jack, thank you both for provocative comments with which I agree. I am thinking a lot these days about how the initial stage of reaction when an institution absolutely must reform itself is a whiplash of denial and blame.

    When that doesn’t work, it’s followed by image-management and words about reform–words that usually prove blowsy.

    And then most processes of institutional reform end at the second stage, particularly when the institution has deep moral capital and real capital to buy positive media coverage.

    Real reform usually happens only when groups on the margins push so hard that there is no option except for the institution’s leaders to go beyond the image-management and the nice words.

    Jack, I especially appreciate your recognition of the significance of liberation theology. The church has lost incalculably much with the suppression of that movement. Still, the embers are alive in the developing world, and it would not take much for them to be rekindled to flame.

  5. I agree, an excellent post! To this manifesto I would add the complete reform the Vatican Bank and church finances, with a completely transparent, open, and audited books for scrutiny by all within and outside the Catholic Church.

    • Thanks, Steve. Yes, an excellent point. The reform of the Vatican bank was on the agenda of John Paul I before his papacy was cut tragically short by his sudden death. It has long been necessary.

  6. It was greatly discouraging to hear the Holy Father describe abortion and gay marriage as the most “insidious threats” facing mankind today — epsecially since I’ve recently been banking on him making a turn around. But then I realized something. How much of a turn-around were we expecting Joseph Ratzinger to make? He is after-all 83, and set in his ways. To me, this is the key difference between him and Cardinal Schonborn, a dynamic gap of generational consequence.

    • I agree, Phillip. The bottle of optimism had barely been uncorked when Benedict’s remarks took the fizz right out of the optimism.

      I think that it’s unrealistic to expect the changes the church needs to come from the center and from Benedict. Those leading the church have locked themselves into an institutional logic that is very hard to get outside of, once you’re inside it.

      And it’s the problem, that logic. It’s very difficult to achieve much-needed reform when you can’t even see the problem because you’re inside the problem.

      • Amen amen

    • There is nothing in the text of Benedict’s remarks that says gay marriage is an insidious threat. He did say that traditional marriage will provide a protection against “insidious threats”, from which the press have inferred that gay marriage is the threat referred to, but other interpretations are also possible.

      As so often with Benedict, trying to work out what he actually said, even with the text in front of us, is never straightforward.

  7. Benedict’s Fatima trip came across to me as an attempt to herd both ends into some vague amorphous middle. He threw out a little bit for everyone.

    Excellent post Jack. It is quite ironic that the ‘two spirited’ are so over represented in religious life. There are a multitude of reasons for this state.

    David, although I want to so agree with your observation about dialogue, it’s impossible. It was not a progressive Vatican who silenced all the voices of conservatives. It was the other way around, and that silencing was far more effective than anything accomplished by progressives directly after Vatican II. After all, progressives did not hold all the key positions in the Vatican or the College of Cardinals and were never in the position to completely silence dissenting voices. JPII took advantage of his long papacy to make sure the so called reformers of Vatican II would never be in such a weak position.

    It’s not surprising then that progressives now feel we have to shout to be heard at all. Thank God Bill Donohue is on the scene to show us how it’s done.

    • The ministers of God who do not denounce the evils of the Church are bad pastors. They do not have a dog, the dog of their conscience, or it would bark at them. . .Cry out as if you had a million voices, it is silence that kills the world

      SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENNA.

      • Jayden, thank you for posting this. Before I read through the thread, this is precisely what I had in mind to post, in response to those who claim (while advancing no evidence for their claim), that those who call for transparency and accountability on the part of our pastoral leaders are motivated by “hate” and a desire to “bash” the church’s leaders.

        As though the church is synonymous with its leaders . . . .

        And as though the behavior of the leaders has not often over the course of history presented serious challenges to those who wish to maintain faith . . . .

        I wonder if those making these claims about hate and bashing would say the same about St. Catherine of Siena.

        Or if they even know of her and her writings, and her willingness to call the pope to accountability.

    • Colkoch,

      I don’t find anything in the writings of either Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict to suggest that their leadership is based upon anything other than a sincere desire to lead the Church in a Spirit-ed manner.

      Admittedly, the positions that they have taken on many of the social issues are conservative (whatever that means). However, on many of the issues, including social justice, capital punishment, and immigration the Church has been on the leading edge of the progressives.

      If a fruitful dialogue is to occur, the Vatican has to be given credit for what it has done right. For example, Pope John Paul II’s principled stance for the labor unions of Poland eventually broke the back of the Polish government, and began the liberation of Eastern Europe from the grips of communism.

      An honest appraisal of the state of liberation philosophy would have to admit that it needed some discipline. It was running the danger of being a theology onto itself.

      The Church has advanced a lot of “progressive” causes – read Pope Benedict’s last encyclical.

      Lastly, many of the theologians who have received some discipline were advocating positions outside of the Catholic tradition. Theologians teaching at Catholic institutions shouldn’t expect to be able to teach their own theology under the guise of “academic freedom”.

      Some acknowledgement on any of these issues would be a much more fruitful approach to dialogue.

      • David some of what you listed is what drives me around the bend with Benedict. I’ve written I think Caritas en Veritate was the best thing he is ever written, but I don’t understand how then can he turn around and not extend the same theology to the class of people commonly known as gays, or think women have zero control over their own bodies. I mean zero control because apparently women are to accept being pregnant via rape or die in the process of child birth or from sexually transmitted diseases or at the hands of any of the world’s uncounted armies.

        JPII talked a great show in Poland but funded Solidarity with CIA money and CIA money at that time came via drug and gun running. At the same time he’s waxing eloquently about the necessity for human rights in Communist countries, he’s denying full human rights to women in the Church and calling it God’s will. I’m sorry, but I’m left with the impression that too many of the social justice concepts espoused by the Vatican mostly pertain to straight males and I don’t find that kind of compartmentalization particularly Christ like.

      • Colkoch,

        I don’t know if you are writing for the other gifted intellects here when you say you don’t “understand” the theology. If that is the case, then it is incumbent upon you to come to an understanding before criticizing.

        My guess is that your lack of understanding is trying to understand how he could write about social justice without creating a place for gays within the framework of marriage.

        That is a difficult theological problem within the current structure of the Church’s teaching. It seems to me that it is incumbent upon those requesting the change to propose a sound theology that creates a place without destroying the theology that is already there.

      • David, you are quite right to point to the strong record of the Catholic Church on issues of social justice. This is a proud record in many respects -except one. That is the singular failure to apply the same principles of justice within the church’ s own structure and governance.

        Justice incorporates ideas like transparency, accountability, equality and inclusion, and respect for the rule of law and procedural fairness in legal proceedings, all of which I was delighted to see the church advocating in the long South African struggle for democracy. I do not see any of them applied internally.

  8. The Bill Donohue’s of the Catholic world would have a field day with St Catherine of Sienna just like they have the current leadership of the LCWR. St. Francis would be a peacenik hippy with no ambition and a brain fried on drugs, while St Claire would be a groupie looking for something other than salvation.

    • haha too funny

    • Yes, imagine Bill the Bully (Donohue) encountering some of those saints, and trying to fit him into his neocon Republican worldview–which has little room for the likes of Francis or Claire or Catherine.

      Or Dorothy Day or Franz Jaeggerstaetter, for that matter.

      And perhaps not even for Jesus, if truth be told.

  9. I still have the impression that the greatest sin in the Western World inside and outside the Church is Patriarchy. We easily recognize that an easy credibility is extended to males while women are accorded nothing of such. Gays are marginalized because they seem to have reduced themselves to females in their passivity and penetrability in sexual matters. The environment is exploited; the culture is hypermasculinized a al Superbowl; and women earn usually earn less than men doing the same job.
    Jesus’ revolutionary stance toward women was neutralized early on as cultural norms of the ancient worlkd replaced the demands of the Gospel. Paul and pseudo-Paul would seem schidzophrenic in their contradictory writings on women in the Church. Feudalism would enshrine this prejudice and tehology would standardize it as divine order. Until we seriouslyt take a look at Patriarchy in the Mindset of the Peoples of the world neither Church nor society can become what Jesus envisioned.

    • I tend to agree, Jack. I think you’re exactly right when you note that prejudice against gay men finds its roots in misogyny.

      And that Jesus moved decisively against the patriarchal norms of his culture, though his followers began to obscure that fact from very early in the history of the church.

      And that the objectification (and denigration) of the natural world has everything to do with patriarchy.

      In fact, at my Bilgrimage blogsite, I addressed some of these themes today.

  10. David, my lack of understanding is not rooted in my understanding of the theology of sex and marriage. It is rooted in psychology. Love is the product of relationship, and relationship should be the meta organizing paradigm for any theology of sex and marriage.

    Benedict can’t go there for any number of reasons, some traditional and some personal. Instead he compartmentalizes his personal issues–walls them off–in a flood of intellectualizations based in a biological and mechanistic view of sex as acts, and not expressions of relationship.

    If Benedict had ever been in a position where he was one to one in a pastoral setting with someone capable of making him question his compartmentalizations, he might have had to look at his underlying unconscious motivations, defenses, and denials. Instead, he has made sure he is in control of any dialogue, which of course means he doesn’t have dialogue, he has teaching moments, but never personal learning moments.

  11. I have to add one thing, it may be that Benedict has indeed had a personal learning moment when it comes to priestly sex abuse. I’m just unsure at this point as to what lesson he took. Hopefully it includes more than, “there was a lot of it, we go caught trying to keep it secret, and now I have to figure out a way to fix that with out touching any other part of the clerical structure.”

  12. What a list – funnier than Dave Letterman ‘s Top Ten.

    • Thank you for your contribution to the dialogue, Larry.

      • Let me elaborate further, since it was late when I left my comment.

        #4 of your theses: “Reopen the discussion about women’s ordination. Give women a voice equal to that of men in the governing of the church. This requires ordaining women. Now.”

        You want to have the discussion “reopened’, and yet you want the ordinations to happen now. Why have a discussion if your mind is already made up? Kinda defeats the purpose of having a discussion, doesn’t it?

        • Thank you for your explanation. I am sorry my point was not clearer for you.

          It seems to me that if the church does ordain women, the decision to do that will demand much discussion, even after the decision has been made and ordination of women begins.

          Hence my simultaneous call for reopening a discussion that the previous pope declared closed, as I also call for women to be ordained.

          There will be practical obstacles of many types to be overcome when/if ordination of women happens in our church. What has happened in the Anglican communion demonstrates that. Men for whom the gospel hinges on continuation of patriarchy have, for instance, created schism in the Anglican communion over the issue of women’s ordination.

          We’d need discussion to handle the blowback that could be expected from the same men defending patriarchy in the Catholic church, and women who buy into the patriarchal worldview, as well.

      • #8 from your list of theses: “Become accessible to the people of God. Walk among them. Listen to them. Do so without frou-frou and gravitas. Be a pastor. Take as your pastoral model Jesus, the good shepherd.”

        And yet, over 150,000 people jammed St Peter’s Square to show their love and support for the Holy Father. The man isn’t out of touch with those whom he shepherds. Far from it.

        What has you bothered is that the Holy Father isn’t allegedly listening to you. Actually, he is – and he’s speaking to you, and unfortunately, you aren’t listening to him.

        This point, coupled with #9, seem rather arrogant. On whose authority are you (or anyone else, such as Pres Morales of Bolivia yesterday) lecturing the Holy Father or the bishops? To me, it would seem we ought to behave the way we should before demanding the same of our betters.

        • If the proof of holy leadership is a huge demonstration (aka popularity contest), what are we to make of the fact that Jesus was abandoned by almost all of his followers at the end of his life, and died alone, except for his female followers and John?

          I’m sorry you imagine me not be listening. Are you listening to Cardinal Schönborn, I wonder, as you speak of submitting ourselves humbly to “our betters”?

          Or do you practice a form of cafeteria Catholicism that listens only when it is convenient for you to hear?

      • If the proof of holy leadership is a huge demonstration (aka popularity contest), what are we to make of the fact that Jesus was abandoned by almost all of his followers at the end of his life, and died alone, except for his female followers and John?

        You misread my comment – I put forth that info as proof that the Holy Father is amonst the people, even if the people come to St Peter’s Square. Thousands followed Christ around, too, if you recall. It’s not about popularity – it’s about being people being attracted to truth and holiness.

        I’m sorry you imagine me not be listening. Are you listening to Cardinal Schoenborn, I wonder, as you speak of submitting ourselves humbly to “our betters”?

        In the hierarchy of things, I am not required to obey Cdl Schoenborn’s opinion on things, as he is not my archbishop, nor does he speak for the whole Church. Just as I’m not obligated to read Arbp. Weakland’s memoirs and agree with his opinions therein.

        Or do you practice a form of cafeteria Catholicism that listens only when it is convenient for you to hear?

        I can tell the difference between opinion and doctrine. The former is optional; the latter is not. To the best of my ability, I submit to all of Church teaching, and when I fail and sin, I go to confession. Do you?

        • And I think that, in turn, you’re misreading my comment.

          In the first place, pointing to the (planned, staged, completely organized) “spontaneous” demonstration in St. Peter’s Square as proof of the pope’s holiness or popularity is not a persuasive way to respond to an observation that the pope and our bishops should be out walking among their flocks.

          Because the pope didn’t, in fact, walk among the people gathered in St. Peter’s this Sunday.

          A persistent theme of the gospels is that the “thousands” who followed Jesus were there because they expected some miraculous demonstrations or the appearance of a new military king to overthrow their oppression–not because they got his message. In fact, constantly throughout the gospels, Jesus laments that few actually hear what he’s saying, and that most go away sad when they understand what he’s about.

          Basing arguments for the self-evident holiness of a religious leader on his/her popularity is dangerous, since most holy people end up not drawing to themselves flocks of followers, as if they are glamorous rock-star figures. It’s especially dangerous in a religion founded to remember a man who died virtually alone–except for his female followers and John–and a failure, on the cross.

          I have never met a right-wing Catholic who is not every bit as much a cafeteria Catholic as a progressive Catholic is. And so the expression really needs to be laid to rest, since it’s nonsensical. We all appropriate aspects of our faith to the extent that we hear them well and recognize their claim on us–while we ignore or overlook aspects of our faith to the extent that, having listened, we judge them either incorrect or incidental to what our life of faith is all about.

          The phrase cafeteria Catholic, as a description of progressive Catholics only, lost its validity the moment William F. Buckley uttered his famous statment, Mater si, Magistra no.

      • It seems to me that if the church does ordain women, the decision to do that will demand much discussion, even after the decision has been made and ordination of women begins.

        Hence my simultaneous call for reopening a discussion that the previous pope declared closed, as I also call for women to be ordained.

        So basically, you’re saying ordain women now, and then have dialogue afterwards to explain/justify the cram down? That’s not discussion, Bill. You are in effect advocating a process progressives accuse the Vatican of using – making a decision (i.e. the new translation) and then demanding everyone to step in line.

        Men for whom the gospel hinges on continuation of patriarchy have, for instance, created schism in the Anglican communion over the issue of women’s ordination.

        You got that backwards, Bill. It should read: “Progressives for whom the gospel hinges on dismantling of Sacred Tradition, for instance, created schism in the Anglican communion over the issue of women’s ordination.”

        We’d need discussion to handle the blowback that could be expected from the same men defending patriarchy in the Catholic church, and women who buy into the patriarchal worldview, as well

        See? Act first, then discuss. Backwards.

        But discussion is a non-issue anyway, because the Church does not have the authority – authority given to Her by Christ – to ordain women. If you disagree with the Church, you disagree with Christ.

        • Again, you’re not quite hearing what I’m saying.

          I’m not “basically” saying that we should ordain women now and then discuss the matter later. I’m calling for a re-opening of the open discussion of this issue that was going on until John Paul II declared the discussion over, by papal fiat–ignoring the recommendations of a commission of Catholics set up by the pope himself, to discuss this issue and make recommendations to the pope.

          We have a long, significant discussion behind us as we approach the issue of women’s ordination. That discussion has already tended to the conclusion that there is no sound basis in our tradition to deny ordination to women.

          Sacred Tradition is not, by the way, equivalent to what patriarchy chooses to hear in the tradition. That’s sort of the point, I think, of the many important theological advisers who came to the conclusion, when asked to advise the pope about this matter, that there’s no sound basis in tradition to deny ordination of women.

          It would help the church enormously if men who want to equate their patriarchal privilege with gospel and tradition stepped back from that untenable claim, and began to admit that the gospel is not about how those who happen to have a penis are thereby endowed with an ontological status that should authomatically accord them power and privilege.

      • The phrase cafeteria Catholic, as a description of progressive Catholics only, lost its validity the moment William F. Buckley uttered his famous statment, Mater si, Magistra no.

        According to Buckley, he didn’t coin the phrase, only republished what Gary Wills’ said.

        As to the phrase “cafeteria Catholic” – well, according to your buds at National Catholic Reporter, and Eugene Kennedy, they all like the phrase. Here’s the link.

        As to right-wing Catholics…you might be surprised, Bill, that I don’t consider my self a “right wing” Catholic. I consider myself a faithful Catholic. If the Church teaches it, I accept it.

        Nice dodge on my last question, by the way. I see you chose to ignore it – how’s that for being a cafeteria Catholic?

        • To keep the discussion grounded in reality: when you logged onto this blog, your very first comment (about this posting) was,

          “What a list – funnier than Dave Letterman ‘s Top Ten.”

          I wonder if you think that’s a serious contribution to a serious discussion, Larry?

          Or a helpful one?

          Is this how you begin all your serious discussions?

          You didn’t really come here hoping to have a serious or respectful discussion, did you?

          It’s clear that you came here to inform me that you and you alone (along with your set) own Catholicism. And that I and my set don’t.

          Fair enough. You’ve made your point. I don’t accept it, particularly when your discussion began with a flippant, disrespectful, dismissive comment designed to undercut rather than to foster discussion.

          But having acknowledged that you’ve made your point, I can only say in reply that you don’t own Catholicism, and that the attempt to subvert serious, respectful theological discussion about the issues I raise in this blog is not going to stop the conversation. In the long run, I wonder what serves the church’s interest better–serious, respectful conversation or flippant, dismissive, disrespectful attempts to subvert such conversation?

        • “I consider myself a faithful Catholic. If the Church teaches it, I accept it.”.

          This idea, which we come across so often, is one of the saddest statements I know to testify to the fundamental ;problem in the Catholic Church: the many who believe that because they are “faiithful”, they are required to check their brains at the door.

          The “Church” is the whole church, not just the bishops and the cardinals. There is no authentic “church teaching” except that which has been accepted by the whole church, and has the “sensus fidelium”. To become accepted, ideas need discussion and testing.

          What is often referred to as “church” teaching should more accurately be described as “Vatican” teaching. To transform Vatican teaching to authentic church teaching, we do it stronger service by debating and refining it in open discussion, drawing in a range of perspectives and backgrounds, than by simple blind assent to everything that comes from a band of ivory tower theologians.

      • I wonder if you think that’s a serious contribution to a serious discussion, Larry?

        Or a helpful one?

        Is this how you begin all your serious discussions?

        Got your attention. Broke the ice 😉

        First of all, I don’t accept the premise of the original post. The ten issues listed are nothing more than standard boilerplate for progressives: the Church has to become like all the other denominations in order to be relevant in the world; the Holy Father’s words and actions don’t match; same old same old. My initial reaction is that the post didn’t warrant a serious reply. I ought not to have acted on my initial impluse.

        Secondly, I don’t take myself all that seriously, either. I’m a sinner struggling to stay on the narrow path, in need of a savior, and in need of His Church. That keeps me grounded in reality. And that’s the serious business we all need to keep in mind.

        Thirdly, I have found that interjecting a little humor into a serious discussion keeps things loose. In this case, it backfired and failed miserably. Oh well. If you get to know me, you’ll find that I use humor to mask my deep insecurity about who I am as a person and to hide my inadequacies as a result of an overbearing mother and absent father.

        Just kidding about that last part.

        It’s clear that you came here to inform me that you and you alone (along with your set) own Catholicism. And that I and my set don’t.

        Fair enough. You’ve made your point. I don’t accept it, particularly when your discussion began with a flippant, disrespectful, dismissive comment designed to undercut rather than to foster discussion.

        No one owns Catholicism. No one’s forced to remain a member, neither do we have the authority to change the rules and tenets to satisfy our proclivities. Being Catholic requires a conversion of heart and submission of the will to Christ. I’m grateful to be Catholic, and I’m ashamed when I don’t live up to the highest of standards the faith requires of me.

        I apologize for the flippant, dismissive opening remark. I ought to have been more forthright in my initial comment to point out how I disagree with your (and your set’s) view of the faith. In my opinion, the theses you set down (sad that you would use the same term that Martin Luther used) have as much seriousness about them as Letterman’s ubiquitous Top Ten lists – but it’s an opinion I ought to have kept to myself. I truly believe that if the Holy Father were to take the actions you suggest, all that would happen would be a second Protestant Reformation. Thankfully, the Holy Father won’t be doing any of the things you hope for.

        …the attempt to subvert serious, respectful theological discussion about the issues I raise in this blog is not going to stop the conversation.

        I’m not so big-headed or all-powerful to think I can “stop the conversation”. This is your blog. I ought to have been more polite, since this is your house.

        That being said, your point of view, from my perspective, is also subversive, for a multitude of reasons. I disagree with each of the points you made above, and I’m not afraid to say so. And I did say so at my blog.

        In the long run, I wonder what serves the church’s interest better–serious, respectful conversation or flippant, dismissive, disrespectful attempts to subvert such conversation?

        In the long run, I wonder what serves the Church’s interest better – acceptance of Church teaching, or progressive, dismissive, dissenting attempts to subvert Church authority? I think my question is much bigger and more important.

        I admit it – I’m snarky and sarcastic, and have no patience for dissent and heresy. Probably not the best combination to argue truths of the faith, but that’s how God made me. So be it. I have a weakness I need to work on.

        I’m not going to persuade you, and you won’t persuade me either. I think we can agree on that. But I will pray for your conversion, Bill. Scripture says the prayers of a righteous man availeth much, but I hope God makes an exception in my case.

        • Thank you for your apology. I accept it.

          But I also have to say once again: countering a serious statement of a set of issues with what you call a “snarky and sarcastic” one-liner is hardly conducive to discussion. Not serious discussion, and that’s what these issues–and the crisis in the church today–clearly need. And that one-liner was your initial contribution to the conversation.

          As your comment about being snarky and sarcastic notes, what your initial posting here was designed to display was your ownership of the issues, of the discussion, and of orthodoxy itself. And everything you’ve said thus far in your comments reiterates that position of ownership.

          And I’m asking you in return how you happen to come by such an astonishing sense of ownership–such that you know and claim to represent Catholic orthodoxy in toto? I would like to suggest that this claim has much to do with unexamined presuppositions about who owns the world, who owns discussions, who owns the church–which this blog and others intend to keep bringing to the surface for discussion, despite the dismissive attitudes of some of those responding to postings here.

          Because the church needs such discussion to move beyond its current crisis. And to survive.

          I would not dream of landing on your blog and issuing a one-line zinger designed to claim ownership of the issues you discuss–and designed to inform you that you’re a sinner in need of conversion. I wouldn’t dream of doing that for all kinds of reasons.

          First of all, it’s plain tacky.

          Second, I don’t have or want your sense of ownership and entitlement.

          Third, it’s simply not conducive to the kind of serious discussion these issues demand. And which the church needs at this point in history–a point Benedict himself made in Portugal.

          And so I wonder why you and those with whom you stand feel entitled to behave as you’ve done in this case–to taunt and dismiss, to declare brother and sister Catholics who disagree with you and who have a right to our carefully thought-through positions beyond the pale, defective Catholics in comparison with you.

          What gives anyone such an astonishing sense of entitlement, I wonder? And the apparent belief that he can use that entitlement to violate basic canons of human decency in conversations, while claiming he’s all about “breaking the ice” and being “snarky and sarcastic” to make a point?

        • “Being Catholic requires a conversion of heart and submission of the will to Christ.”.

          To the will of Christ, note: not to the will of the Pope. Why on earth do you suppose that Bill needs “conversion”, requiring your prayers, because he is more concerned with the will of Christ than the will of Rome?

  13. I’m glad you brought this up Larry:

    “because the Church does not have the authority – authority given to Her by Christ – to ordain women.”

    I just laughed and laughed when I heard this from JPII. What ever happened to Jesus telling Peter what he loosed and bound on earth would be loosed and bound in heaven? Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on this statement. It’s totally open ended.

    Or am I expected to believe Jesus got on the phone to JPII and told him Peter’s authority to loose and bind stopped when it came to the status of women?

    Seriously Larry, nobody with a working brain bought JPII’s defense of the all male priesthood. It would have been much better if he had just said, “that’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it will be under my papacy.” Passing his opinion off on Jesus was pretty low in my book.

    • Seriously Larry, nobody with a working brain bought JPII’s defense of the all male priesthood.

      Thanks for the insult. I’ll put in up on the shelf with all the others.

      And it wasn’t merely Pope John Paul II’s “defense”. It was “teaching”. Two different things.

      What ever happened to Jesus telling Peter what he loosed and bound on earth would be loosed and bound in heaven? Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on this statement. It’s totally open ended.

      Nothing happened to it. But using your logic, that means the Church can substitute Cheez-its and root beer for bread and wine in the Eucharist, too, right? Because Christ, not putting qualifiers on His statement, gives the Pope license to do what he wants? Wrong.

      The binding and loosing, as I understand it, has to be engaged (for lack of a better word I can’t think of right now because I don’t have a working brain) within context of the entirety of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and magisterial teaching, and kept within those confines. It’s not a “power” the Holy Father has in order to do whatever he wants.

      A person with a working brain would know that.

      It would have been much better if he had just said, “that’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it will be under my papacy.”

      If you read Ordination Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II did say basically that (among a whole lot else):

      “She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.” (emphasis mine)

      2nd paragraph, quoting Pope Paul VI. To leave Christ’s actions out of explaining the Church’s teaching would seem silly IMHO.

      • Trouble is Larry we have no definitive statement that only the twelve apostles were present at the Last Supper. Jewish tradition regarding the Pass Over meal specifically calls for women to be present to light the candles at the beginning of the meal.

        Make all the fun you want about Christ’s statement about binding and loosening, but this has been a very convenient statement for the authority of the hierarchical church for a very long time.

        Where you and I probably have our core difference of opinion on ordination is in Church discipline vs Church dogma. I see anything associated with the norms for ordination as a product of Church discipline and that is changeable–just as it has historically played out.

        JPII raised the bar with women and seemed to elevate the ordination of women to an issue of dogma. I don’t buy his reasoning because issues surrounding priestly ordination have never been previously discussed as issues of dogma.

        In this particular case, women were questioning the validity of the unstated, unexamined issues surrounding the priesthood, JPII’s answers were essentially non answers because he did not address the questions about the underlying assumptions of the male priesthood.

      • The problem with this, is with so much that comes from the Vatican to suit their propaganda, is that is factually false. There are numerous examples in the New Testament to women among the disciples and apostles – most notably Junia, extolled by Paul.
        There are equally examples in the history of the early church of female deacons, priests and powerful abbesses.

        The Vatican has a habit of making false claims, relying for their acceptance on no more than constant repetition and the unthinking acquiescence of some Catholics who will swallow anything that they are told.

  14. I’m calling for a re-opening of the open discussion of this issue that was going on until John Paul II declared the discussion over, by papal fiat–ignoring the recommendations of a commission of Catholics set up by the pope himself, to discuss this issue and make recommendations to the pope.

    If you’re referring to the 1976 Pontifical Biblical Commission, then I can see why you feel the way you do. It’s interesting you accept the Commission’s report, but not the Pope’s. Didn’t Christ establish the papacy? What about the “binding and loosing” that Colkoch referenced earlier? Does that only work one way with progressives?

    It would help the church enormously if men who want to equate their patriarchal privilege with gospel and tradition stepped back from that untenable claim, and began to admit that the gospel is not about how those who happen to have a penis are thereby endowed with an ontological status that should authomatically accord them power and privilege.

    When the penis comments come out, it’s time to step away from the conversation. What it comes down to is that you want the Church to do what Bill wants to do, and not what Christ has ordained. Which is too bad.

    • I’m having a bit of trouble following your logic in this string of comments. First, you take me to task for calling for the reopening of discussion of this issue.

      Now you’re telling me that closing the issue was advisable, because the pope chose to close it.

      And yet Vatican II demonstrates to us something that has gone on over the course of history, as theological issues were declared closed by papal or episcopal fiat at one point in history, and reopened at another point in history. It would seem to be not very . . . faithful to tradition . . . to argue that an issue closed by a particular pope should be permanently closed. That hasn’t been how our tradition has worked, historically.

      I’m sorry if you find what you call penis comments offensive. Assumptions about phallic power run everywhere through our tradition, including–and this is surely pertinent–the discussion of women’s ordination, where the ultimate argument of the papacy against ordaining women is that because women lack a phallus, they cannot stand in the place of Christ in the community.

      It seems better to me, if we hope for conversations to be productive, to lift out what is taken for granted and to place it on the table for discussion. And surely you realize that no matter how much you and others who follow your line of thought declare that you own the gospels and have the final say about what Christ has ordained, necessary theological discussions will continue.

      I would find it difficult, I think, to have on my shoulders the burden of upholding orthodoxy–and of assuming that only I and my crowd own orthodoxy.

  15. And yet Vatican II demonstrates to us something that has gone on over the course of history, as theological issues were declared closed by papal or episcopal fiat at one point in history, and reopened at another point in history. It would seem to be not very . . . faithful to tradition . . . to argue that an issue closed by a particular pope should be permanently closed. That hasn’t been how our tradition has worked, historically.

    Fair enough – but that’s for the Pope to decide, and not us. If I had to bet though, I’d say this particular issue will remain closed til Christ’s return.

    I’m sorry if you find what you call penis comments offensive.

    No offense taken.

    And surely you realize that no matter how much you and others who follow your line of thought declare that you own the gospels and have the final say about what Christ has ordained, necessary theological discussions will continue.

    Necessary ones, yes. Women’s ordination is not a necessary theological discussion, as the Church has declared in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

    I would find it difficult, I think, to have on my shoulders the burden of upholding orthodoxy–and of assuming that only I and my crowd own orthodoxy.

    No one “owns” orthodoxy. It’s either accepted or rejected. As to upholding orthodoxy – well, there are plenty of martyrs throughout the history of the Church who paid the ultimate price for upholding orthodoxy. Their lives are worth emulating, seeing as how they enjoy the Beatific Vision.

    • There are also plenty who were excommunicated or declared heretical at one point, only to be rehabilitated later. May McKillop and Thomas Aquinas come to mind.

      In one mind set orthodoxy is either accepted or rejected, that’s true, but in other mind sets orthodoxy demands questioning as part of the process which leads to acceptance or rejection.

      Personally I don’t venerate too many of the saints whose canonization came because they upheld orthodoxy. I venerate the saints who did as Jesus did, and some of them happened to be pretty orthodox, and some of them no so much.

    • “that’s for the Pope to decide, and not us. ”

      Why on earth do you suppose only the Pope may decide what we may discuss?

      “as the Church has declared in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis”/

      False. “The Church” has declared no such thing. Only the Vatican has.

  16. Archeologists have examined tombs from the First centuries of the Christian era on which word indicated the buried was “episcopa” or” “presbytera” indicating a female interred. Whether these were ordained women bishopesses or priestesses or spouses to ordained men is not clear. This does give an aidea that not all the evidence has been studied yet.

  17. Why do you feel the need to overthrow the Catholic Church? There is already one that fits all of your needs and beliefs. They have signs all over the place…

    The Episcopal Church Welcomes You

    Seriously. I have navel lint that is more Catholic than you are. Just be honest and leave the RCC. You already have in all but name.

    Post Scriptum: I am an ex Roman myself. Though I went in the other direction.

    • Nowhere is there any indication that anyone on this site is attempting to “overthrow the Catholic Church”.

      Criticizing the excesses of some who hold power in Church structures is not remotely the same thing as wanting to overthrow the “church”, which is far bigger, and in any case would be impossible.

  18. fascinating piece of information, Jack, and there is probably much evidence we will never see. And Congratulations to Bill for having hit so many nerves – with 170 specific hits on this article this past week (apart from people who simply visit the site generally). You know someone has hit the target when it generates so much discussion, negative or otherwise. But I do feel sarcasm and derision are out of place in a civil discussion, especially if one claims to be representing Christian values. When the sarcasm and ridicule hit a certain level, we begin to suspect we are witnessing examples of tribal religion, designed to bolster the self esteem of the ego which has over identified with the institution as a source of absolute security and self-definition. Jesus himself seemed to pay the temple institution very little attention, living and preaching very much on the margins -outside the formal framework of the organization of Judaism – and of course that was one of the main charges laid against him – that he spoke out, preached, and dared to criticize the religious authorities with no recognized authority of his own. “By what authority do you say and do these things?” Human societies are always in danger of turning the institutions of religion into sacred cows, and the prophets are always there to remind us of the fallibility and relativity of such institutions – and for such reminders and warnings they suffer the derision and hostility and rejection.

    • Jayden, thank you. I especially appreciate feedback about my responses on this thread, because I do not want to come across as harsh when I respond to comments that, in my view, don’t foster genuine and serious conversation.

      Sometimes, I choose to ignore these–as with the tired old taunt to join the Episcopal church, or the totally unfounded and unsupported (because there is no support for these) statements that I am writing out of hate or trying to invent my own religion.

      I admit I have little time for these very trite taunts precisely because they don’t attempt to engage the primary points I make in my piece. I’m happy to have people disagree with me and happy to engage critical arguments that move in the opposite direction. I’ve done so repeatedly on some threads here, taking much time to do so.

      But taunts like, “Seriously. I have navel lint that is more Catholic than you are,” or “What a list – funnier than Dave Letterman ‘s Top Ten”? How are those advancing the kind of meaningful conversation we hope to have on sites like this, and which the church so sorely needs?

      And–this really does perplex me–where do people who maintain blogs with whose postings I completely disagree, but which I’d never attack in this way, come up with the sense of entitlement that presumably gives them the right to drop in, deliver one-liners, and launch a non-dialogical, completely dismissive personal attack? And the chutzpah to call this exemplary Catholicism?

      I don’t get it. And I appreciate your feedback very much.

  19. The problem with the Churches of the East is the failure they experienced to separate themselves from the governmental control exercised in the late Roman Empire and carried over into the Byzantine experience. While the Roman Church has often assumed the role of authority over secular rulers the Churches of the East became court chaplains to whichever power held sway in their respective territories. At various times before the 1054 rupture with Constaninople the Bishop of Rome had to rescue the patriarchs of the East from encroachments on theological and jurisdictional areas by the rulers of tje Eastern Empire.
    The collapse of the East under the Muslim onslaught allowed the torch to be passed to Moscow and the nascent hierarchies in the lands of the fallen “New Rome”. In each case the central authority of the Church became subject to the nationalist and ethnic authority of individual sovereigns. In the West the feudal systems allowed the Pope to free his authority from investiture and other interferences until the emerging Nation States of the Modern Era. The Protestant Reformation occured at this time and divided Western Europe into “Cujus Regio Ejus Religio”. Each branch of the Church failed to establish itself as independent of the secular power. Orientalism is just as diminished as Catholicism until this new situation is seen as a grace and not a failure.

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