Thursday, September 30, 2010

Save the Date!

Catholics for Marriage Equality MN
invite you to a very timely and important presentation . . .

Why You Can Be Catholic
and Support Gay Marriage

By Daniel Maguire
Professor of Moral Theological Ethics at Marquette University
and President of the Religious Consultation on
Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics.

Thursday, October 21, 2010
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.

St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral
519 Oak Grove St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

NOTE: The organizers are planning a bus service to transport people
from a central location in St. Paul to this event and back. If you're interested
in utilizing this service, please call Paula at 612-379-1043.

Daniel Maguire is renowned for his informed critique of the sexual theology presented by the clerical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church – a theology sadly divorced from human experience and the insights of the sciences. This is especially evident in the clerical leadership’s stance on homosexuality and gay marriage.

Daniel, however, maintains that support for same-sex marriage can be found in all the world religions, including Roman Catholicism. Join us on October 21 as he highlights and discusses this support.


Daniel C. Maguire, has a degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, one of the world’s major Catholic universities. The author of eleven books and the editor of three anthologies, Maguire specializes in religious ethics focusing upon issues of social justice and medical and ecological ethics. He is also the author of some 200 articles in professional journals and magazines, including Theological Studies, Cross Currents, Atlantic, The New York Times, Crisis: Journal of the NAACP, and Ms. Magazine. In 1982 he was listed by Ms. Magazine as one of the “40 male heroes of the past decade, men who took chances and made a difference.” His published books include: Moral Absolutes and the Magisterium (1970), The Moral Choice (1975), The Moral Revolution (1986), On Moral Grounds: The Art/Science of Ethics (1991), The Moral Core of Judaism and Christianity (1993), Sacred Energies (2000), What Men Owe Women (2000), Sacred Choices (2001), Sacred Rights (2003), and Whose Church? A Concise Guide to Progressive Catholicism (2008).

Free and open to the public.

Light refreshments will be served
and a free-will offering requested.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Reclaiming" the Marriage Culture

By Paula Ruddy

I admire Archbishop Nienstedt’s determination to strengthen the culture of marriage, but I question his vision of what a good culture would look like and his strategies for making change happen. His strategies seem to be counter-productive. His intolerance of discussion prevents collaboration and it is only through collaboration that a vision of the good can be developed and then made actual in practice.

The Archbishop seems to believe that change toward some idea of the good requires intention and strategic action. I think we can all agree on that. Culture doesn’t just change for the good willy-nilly. Someone has to be paying attention. In religious language, we could say that the Holy Spirit works through human intentionality toward goodness. Or in human dynamics language, when people share a vision of the good, they tend to self-organize to work toward it together. An example of cultural change we have experienced is the change from a smoking society to a largely non-smoking society in about 30 years. I’m sure someone has documented the efforts that made that happen.

I think the Archbishop has been intending to impart a vision of a healthy culture of marriage and to direct strategic action toward it. Since January of this year he has promoted a program of talks given by Archdiocesan personnel called “Reclaiming the Marriage Culture.” I attended a session at the Cathedral on February 20, at which Peter Laird, ordained priest and Vicar General, and Teresa Collett, professor of law at St. Thomas, were the main speakers. Laird spoke on the theology of marriage and Collett spoke on the “slippery slope” of legal changes with regard to contraception, cohabitation, divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

The question I’d like to ask the Archbishop is about how people develop a vision of what a good culture might look like. Is vision inspired by “non-debatable” pronouncements about “God’s will”? A lot of communication is necessary to develop shared vision. At the Cathedral session in February, there were written questions but no one in the audience was allowed to speak. There was no interchange, no testing of information or logic. There is no mechanism within the Archdiocese for airing differences of opinion and reasoning together. How is a vision to be developed?

As to the vision of a healthy marriage culture, wouldn’t it include a nuanced understanding learned from married people of what makes a marriage good? What kind of personal development in the children should be the outcome of a good marriage with children? What does it mean that “the kids are okay”? Are the kids okay if the partners are not, and what does an okay partnership entail? We need communication about this to come to a common understanding. I think I heard the “Reclaiming” speakers say that civil marriage laws are not about love. Then what kind of culture are they meant to provide for children? What are the values that need strengthening?

If it is not about love, is it about coercion? I think the chief problem is that the Archbishop has chosen to focus his strategy for change on coercion by law. He is both depending upon the U.S. legal system to produce a healthy culture of marriage and undermining the legal system at the same time by demeaning politicians and “activist” judges. He wants a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex civil marriage “or any legal equivalent” and at the same time he wants the people to subvert the constitutional protections for minorities. This ambiguity doesn’t make for good strategy.

He has framed the problem as a decline from some time in the past when marriage culture was strong. The assertion is that the values of marriage have been undermined by decriminalization of contraception, cohabitation, and abortion and the relaxing of marriage dissolution laws. Is it true that marriages and the culture of marriage were stronger when contraception, cohabitation, and abortion were illegal? Is it true that marriages were stronger when one partner had to accuse the other in court to get a divorce? If the conflict is between the value of stability and the ideal of personal authenticity, we have to explore that and arrive at common understanding.

For example, the Archbishop points to all the women and children who live in poverty because of divorce. Would they be better off living with the man who won’t support them? Is marital stability an absolute value? Is repealing the no-fault divorce law the solution to the problem of unsupported families? How about more attention to moral development for the people who refuse to support their children?

Is same-sex marriage the final step to devaluing marriage as the Archbishop claims, or is it a step to legitimate thousands of families who value marriage?

There is no doubt that the marriage culture is evolving. Is coercion by law the way to direct it toward the good? Aren’t there more effective strategies drawn from the Gospel tradition? There is need for open discussion on these important questions. Pronouncements from on high do not equal teaching.

As long as local Catholics live in a culture of fear where those who speak are vilified or punished, we will not develop a common vision or effective strategies to collaborate with other Minnesota citizens in strengthening the culture of marriage.

I would appreciate your telling me where I have got this wrong or discussing any of these ideas with us on The Progressive Catholic Voice. If you don’t have a Google account, you can open one with your email address and a password. Then click on comment. Thanks.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Communicating With Leadership

By Paula Ruddy

What does it mean for Catholics in a diocese to “be in union” with their bishop?

Prior to the Synod of the Baptized last Saturday, September 18, the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), the sponsoring organization, issued a press release announcing the Synod and its goals. The press release said in one paragraph:

Although CCCR currently works independently of the clerical leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, it considers itself in union with Archbishop John Nienstedt and as working for church reform within the Catholic tradition. “The majority of coalition members are part of local parishes,” says co-chair Michael Bayly. “The dialogue we encourage and engage in is grounded in well-formed consciences – something our church values and expects.”

This paragraph elicited this curious response from Dennis McGrath, the Archdiocesan spokesman:

The fourth paragraph in your press release about tomorrow’s synod is absolutely untrue and was craftily phrased to give the impression that CCCR and this synod are “in union with Archbishop John Nienstedt.” That is, as you well know, patently untrue. CCCR is not “in union” with either the Archbishop nor the Archdiocese in any way, shape or form. That fact has been posted on our Archdiocesan web site since this past August and has been printed in the Catholic Spirit.

From the claim that some of CCCR’s “members” are also members of individual parishes does not justify the giant leap to conclude that CCCR is “in union” with this Archdiocese or its parishes in any way.

The decent thing for you to do would be to issue a correction of this claim, but since I presume that’s unlikely, we would ask you, on behalf of Archbishop Nienstedt, to refrain from making this kind of false claim again.

Dennis B. McGrath
Director of Communications
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

Did we read that right? CCCR is not “in union” in any way, shape or form?

The Board members are Catholics; the people they were inviting to the Synod are Catholics; they live within the geographical jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. They look to Archbishop Nienstedt as the leader of their local church. If we are not mistaken Catholics have the right under canon law to found and direct associations and to hold meetings. So how can it be that CCCR is not in union in any way, shape or form?

The Coalition has never claimed to be an official agency of the Archdiocese. CCCR is not part of the Archdiocesan governmental structure. The paragraph referred to says as much. If that is what Dennis McGrath means by the phrase “in union” he is right.

But there is another sense of the phrase “in union” that does describe CCCR’s relationship to the Archbishop. This kind of “union” is both spiritual and juridical. It is a spiritual union by virtue of baptism and commitment to the Roman Catholic tradition, of which bishops are a constitutive part, by individuals who have organized themselves into an association, as is their canonical right, to understand and work for the mission of the Church. In this sense all Catholics of good standing in the local church are in union with the Archbishop. I wonder why Dennis McGrath denies this? It seems to be the theological basis for the unity of the universal Catholic Church.

There is a third sense of being “in union” that we all long for. It is the wholly spiritual condition enjoyed by people who are of one mind and heart with each other. It is the condition we desire when we want to “put on the heart and mind of the Christ Jesus.” Obviously Archbishop Nienstedt does not consider himself in union with CCCR in this sense. The tone and text of Dennis McGrath’s message indicate that. The tone and text of the denouncement in the Catholic Spirit he refers to indicate that also. It was published in August 2009 and reiterated on September 17, 2010, on the Archdiocesan website. I can’t speak for the whole of CCCR, but I and, I suspect, many people regret this lack of union and want to work together to heal the disunity through reasoning together with compassion. I would appreciate the Archbishop’s sending us a message about how this could happen.

The Progressive Catholic Voice is a member of the Coalition and it brings you the Coalition Board’s response to Dennis McGrath’s message:

The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform does not claim to be authorized by the Archbishop or the Archdiocesan office. It is not an official part of the Archdiocesan government or its agencies. Nevertheless, we, the individual members of the Coalition Board, consider ourselves in union with the Archbishop by virtue of our baptism and membership in the mystical body of Christ. We, both as individuals and as an organization, want to work with the Archbishop as head of our local church in its mission to be the sacrament of Christ in the world.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Synod of the Baptized Uncovers Deep Well of Hope

By Paula Ruddy

If signs of the Holy Spirit’s action in a group are joy and hope, Saturday’s Synod of the Baptized was a Spirit-filled place. Most of us were not able to see tongues of fire, but we heard voluble talk and shining eyes while people spoke of their experience of oneness.

The experience boiled over into Sunday liturgies in at least three parishes with many Synod goers.

Sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) and held at the Ramada Plaza Hotel on Industrial Boulevard in Northeast Minneapolis, the Synod attracted 492 participants. About 40 signed up who, when the day arrived, were not able to come.

Paul Lakeland, Fairfield University professor and prolific author, spoke on the mission of the Church and what we have to do to become the Church we need. (To read the full transcript of his keynote address, click here. For a printable PDF version, click here.)

Lakeland is an ecclesiologist, a student of the theology of Church. He said the mission of the Church is to the world and the role of the institutional structure of the Church is to support the laity in doing that mission. The test of the value of any policy or practice of the institutional Church is whether it supports the laity in its mission.

The Synod was a full day of talk and plans for action.

The two-hour afternoon break-out sessions were conducted by the Coalition’s 10 work/study groups. At work since April 18, 2009, they zeroed in on policies and practices and tested them in the strobe light of conscience. Some questions we asked:

• Does the culture of clericalism among an exclusively male clergy, supported by the discipline of mandatory celibacy, serve us in showing to the world a community of equality and holiness? Or does it stand in our way?

• What is the strength of our Catholic identity? Do we need strong identity to do the mission?

• What about the depth of our psychological development with regard to intimacy and out spiritual awareness as a community? Does Church teaching support our individual growth?

• How do we form our children in the faith?

• What about our commitment to social justice?

Some work/study groups turned their minds to questions of structures that are needed to support the laity in doing the Church’s mission.

• What kind of communication structures are needed?

• What kind of leadership do we need and how can we have a voice in selecting the leadership?

All the talk led to the plan of action. The Action Coordinating Team (ACT) of CCCR took over the Synod after the break-out sessions. They asked the Synod participants to sign up for organizing ways to wake ourselves up to awareness of the mission and to ask for institutional support to fulfill it.

The local Church of St. Paul and Minneapolis is rapidly changing. On October 16-17, the Archbishop will announce his decisions about streamlining the parish system of the Archdiocese to save money and to accommodate the priest shortage. We do not know yet whether this reorganization will serve us in doing the Church’s mission. We have been told that it is in the service of mission but it is not immediately obvious how that is so. Our intent is to organize ourselves to act responsibly during the reorganization process.

Click here to view the sign-up sheet and to volunteer to help organize.


Above: Over 400 people filled the Grand Minnesota Ballroom of the Ramada Plaza Minneapolis Hotel for the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's September 18 Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table."

Left: An overflow room was set up in the hotel's Itasca Ballroom for an additional 80 attendees.

Right: Terence Dosh and David McCaffrey, recipients of CCCR's inaugural Adsum Award, presented at the Synod of the Baptized.

Adsum is a Latin word which means "I am present and listening." Whenever the participants in Vatican II were gathered at St. Peter's Basilica their traditional prayer was the exclamation: adsumus - "we are present and listening." The Adsum Award recognizes those individuals who are known within the local church for having committed to being present and attentive to the Spirit. Accordingly, they have served as partners with the Spirit in re-creating the face of the church here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Terry is a married priest and church historian who for over 40 years has been a dedicated advocate for church reform. Inspired by the vision of church launched by Vatican II, Terry began research on mandatory celibacy in 1962. This led him to significant involvement over the next four decades with numerous church reform organizations, including CORPUS, the International Federation of Married Priests, Call to Action Minnesota, and various other Catholic organizations for renewal. He also helped found the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) in 1980, serving on its board for 24 years. Since 1975, Terry has edited and published four church reform newsletters, the latest being Bread Rising. He has also taught church history, scripture, and justice and peace topics extensively in parishes and other forums within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

David McCaffrey is one of six co-founders of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), an organization that has worked since 1980 within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis for the equality and dignity of LGBT individuals and their families. In the 1980's, David played a crucial role in CPCSM's groundbreaking Needs Assessment Survey of local LGBT Catholics. He was also the executive producer of CPCSM's 1988 video, Silent Journeys of Faith, and the editor of its companion guidebook. Both resources were major components in CPCSM's training workshops given to pastoral and social justice professionals of 25 parishes throughout the archdiocese. In the 1990's, David played a major role in the development and implementation of CPCSM's Safe Staff Training Project, which provided sensitivity training around LGBT issues to the educational leadership of the archdiocese and to administrators and faculties of eight of the high schools of the archdiocese.

Liturgy, prayer and music played an important role throughout the day - contributing mightily to the spirit of joy and hope that infused proceedings.

Above: Bret Hesla (left) and Kathleen Olsen (right) were just two of the numerous musicians and singers who shared their gifts at September 18's Synod of the Baptized.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission

By Paul Lakeland

Editor's Note: Following is the transcript of Paul Lakeland's keynote address to the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's September 18 Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table." It is reprinted with permission.

In England tomorrow morning Pope Benedict will beatify the 19th century English cardinal and theologian, John Henry Newman. I think Newman could be a kind of patron for us here, even a forerunner. When asked by his fellow-clergy what the significance of the laity was, he replied: “We would look foolish without them.” And though Pope Benedict certainly knows Newman’s famous dictum that “to live is to change and to be perfect is to change often,” I do wonder if he is aware that Newman described the papacy of his day, that of Pius IX, as “a climax of tyranny.” The Holy See, he went on, was once “the court of ultimate appeal,” not “the extreme centralization that it now is.”

Isn’t it reassuring that someone can say these things and still be beatified?

Pope John Paul II once said, while he was still Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, that in his opinion the central insight of Vatican II was its insistence that the two priesthoods, ordained and baptismal, “differ essentially and not only in degree.” Many people, including me, found that a curious claim. Surely it was the idea of the Church as the people of God, or the new focus on the collegiality of the bishops, or the “turn to the world,” or a new spirit of religious toleration, but not the two priesthoods? But the more I have thought about this remark over the years, the more inclined I have been, if not entirely to agree with John Paul, at least to accept that he was right that this distinction was very important. Perhaps even critically important for the future of the Church, though not perhaps in the way he might have intended.

Let’s think about this distinction for a minute. The baptismal priesthood or what is sometimes called the priesthood of all the faithful or the common priesthood was the only priesthood that Martin Luther recognized. That was one reason among many others why it wasn’t a big marketing item in the Counter-Reformation. In the centuries after the Council of Trent it often seemed as if what the other side said was by definition something to be rejected. Praying to the saints, devotion to the Virgin, the Real Presence and all those sacraments, well, Protestants had “Reformed” those out of their Churches! And as for the priority of faith over works, or the insistence on reading Scripture and a liturgy in a language the people could understand, well, Catholics knew that these things were not important at all, mainly because Protestants thought they were.

So if Luther rejected the ordained or ministerial or hierarchical priesthood (all ways in which it can be described) and focused on the baptismal priesthood, then the Catholics were going to do the opposite. Actually, they had been doing the opposite for a very long time, slowly but surely forgetting the significance of the whole priestly people. There were many steps in this process, and here are just a few: the division of the Catholic people into clergy and laity in canon law; the separation of clergy and laity through lifestyle by means of the formalization of the law of celibacy for priests; and the development of medieval “character theology,” with its insistence on ordination conferring substantial ontological change upon the ordinand. So, as the 12th century theologian Gratian wrote, there are two classes of human beings, the clergy and religious in the one group and the laity in the other. As for the laity, he said that they had “no active part in the sphere of sacred things.” Almost 700 years later similar if not worse comparisons were being made by no less a person than Pope Pius X. “The Church,” he famously wrote, “is essentially an unequal society,” composed of course of clergy and laity. “The duty of the multitude,” wrote the Pope (thinking, of course, of the laity) “is to allow themselves to be led and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.”

In the light of this historical background, how refreshing (indeed, how amazing) to hear the Council fathers little more than 50 years after the Pope’s pronouncement, declaring that the two priesthoods “are none the less ordered one to another,” and that “each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ.” The remarkable theological turnaround recorded in this passage, however, does not of itself explain how the two priesthoods are related to one another. But one conclusion is unavoidable, namely, that ordained priesthood is not a promotion within the ranks of the faithful, but an additional responsibility. In other words, it is not “more,” it is “different.” If it were a distinction of degree, then the ordained priest would be more a priest than the baptized Christian and baptism would only confer a limited kind of priestly status. But in fact, ordained priesthood is something else added on. The ordained priest is one of the faithful, not someone set above them. The ordained, in other words, are priestly twice over and each in slightly different ways, not more priestly than the non-ordained. The great theologian of Vatican II, Yves Congar, put this well when he said:

A priest, a bishop, a pope is first of all a layman. He has to be baptized, to become a Christian, to offer his life as a spiritual sacrifice, to receive communion, to do penance, to be blessed, to work out his salvation. It is impossible to separate his personal religious life, that of layman, and the religious life of his office, that of the priest or of bishop.

As we think about the implications of this distinction for the role of the laity in the future of the Church, it is critical to realize that it is baptism and not ordination that constitutes entry into mission. To some degree this truth has been obscured by the Catholic practice of infant baptism and the slow but steady decline in the meaning of confirmation. Baptism has become simply a rite of initiation, and confirmation sometimes seems not to be much more than a signal that Sunday school is no longer a requirement and, indeed, Sunday Mass has become a personal lifestyle choice. Baptism and confirmation, however, are the two parts of initiation into a missioned community. In baptism the Christian is not so much rewarded with new advantages as s/he is charged with new responsibilities.

One of the many ironies of the post-conciliar Church is that this insight about the centrality of baptism and its critical relation to a missionary Church is in large part lost on the non-ordained. How many Catholics, do you imagine, would point to the baptismal priesthood as a signifier of true Catholicity, rather than, say, the papacy or devotion to the Virgin? A major reason for this failure to appreciate the message of the Council has surely been the failure to preach the message of the Council. We need not assign any conspiratorial theories to explain the fact, but a fact it remains that the preaching of the Word, when it touches on ecclesiology, tends to preach the preconciliar Church. When did you hear a homily on the collegiality of the bishops or the theological completeness of the local Church or on the responsibilities of lay people to speak up when serious issues arise? How often have you heard pastors speak of the universality of the offer of salvation, and how those of other faiths and none find their way to God in and through their own traditions and the deepest impulses of their own hearts? When did you last hear a homily on the way in which the whole faithful people’s Spirit-filled intuition shares in the gift of infallibility? How often are we challenged to explore the implications of our apostolicity, a gift of baptism?

In the rest of what I have to say to you here today it’s very important to keep in mind the unity of the baptismal priesthood. “Laity” and “clergy” are not, to my mind, happy terms and they certainly have acquired exclusive connotations that do not help us to think about the unity of the Church. My own preference is to distinguish the ordained and the non-ordained under the Pauline heading, “a variety of gifts but one Spirit.” (Excursus on negative terms for the laity.) Almost everything we can say about the important roles the non-ordained must play in the Church today applies equally well to the ordained. And first and foremost among these responsibilities is that of stressing the unity of the faithful, all of us priestly, prophetic and “royal,” all of us charged with an apostolic mission through the sacrament of baptism. In an ideal world, the non-ordained will exercise a ministry of unity, carrying along with them the ordained into a new ecclesial future in which the stress is on our many gifts shared for the good of the Church and the world, and not on ranks, differences, or who is in charge.

All that having been said, what does it mean for those of who possess the baptismal priesthood to be described as priestly, prophetic and “kingly”? A theological analysis, the details of which I am going to spare you, would stress the priestly role as one of bringing God and God’s creation into contact with one another, so that the love of God flows into the world and the cares of the world are brought before God. Evidently, it is in the Eucharist that this primarily occurs in the Church, and for this reason if for no other it is supremely important to emphasize that the Eucharist is the work of the whole Church, not the work of the presiding minister alone. The priest presides, but the whole people celebrate. The prophetic role is that of apostolic witness, teaching the world through showing the world that God loves and wills to bring the entire created order into conformity with the divine will. This too is not exhausted by the work of the ordained, though the bishops are charged with leading the way in explicit teaching. As we all know, good teaching is best provided through witness rather than lectures, in works rather than words, and the effectiveness of episcopal teaching is dependent on the faithful witness of the whole people. (Here, by the way, arises the tricky and sensitive question of what is going on when the faithful witness of the whole Church and the explicit teaching of the bishops are not in full agreement with one another.) Sometimes we have to be prophetic inside our own Church. Finally, to be royal or “kingly” is rightly related to the function of service. A kingly people serves the world, as a good king serves his people. All the baptized serve the world, though on the whole the ordained serve less directly, serving directly the whole priestly people who in their turn directly serve the world for the sake of the gospel.

I hope you will have noticed that I did not make a sharp distinction between the ordained and non-ordained, relative to mission. While the former serve the mission of the Church more indirectly, andthe latter are more directly involved, it is a difference of degree. All the ordained are also possessors of the baptismal priesthood and members of secular society, who may from time to time and in different ways be more or less involved in the world. And we would not be here today if we did not think that at times it is important for the non-ordained to turn their attention to the state of the Church itself. But I want to insist that we “laity” are concerned for the Church above all because without a healthy Church we cannot be effective ministers to the world. When Vatican II told us that it was our right and responsibility to speak up for the good of the Church, it was not a license to meddle but the recognition that we are owed leadership that supports a mission-oriented faith-community, not one that undermines it, and sometimes—in all humility—we have to call that leadership to account.

It may surprise you to hear me now say, after all this talk about mission, apostolicity and so on, that it is not our job to convert the world to Christ. Here, I believe, is where we have to part company with so many of our evangelical brothers and sisters, and for good reasons that grow right out of solid Catholic theology. Our mission is to aid in God’s will to be all in all, not to convert people to become Christians or Catholics. Those who become Christians or Catholics will do so because they want to share in the mission to aid in God’s will to be all in all, to bring creation back to God, which is the responsibility they will acquire when they ask for and receive baptism. Our missionary role as Catholics is to be signs, to be the sacrament of the grace of God in the world. We are not the grace of God, though we share in it. And it is not only present in the Church, but also in the world, because the Spirit of God is greater than the Church. The great Yves Congar wrote so well about this when he said that “final salvation will be achieved by a wonderful re-floating of our earthly vessel rather than by a transfer of the survivors to another ship wholly built by God.”

The mission of the Church, in which the non-ordained are in the front ranks, is to further the reign of God. But the reign of God is not the Church. In so far as the reign of God is present in history, it is present wherever grace is present, in the Church and, yes, in the world. We further the reign of God in history whenever we practice the love that does justice. We the Church, individually and collectively, are called to be the living sign of the love that God has for the world, and that God has poured out on the world in and through Jesus Christ. When we live our lives in the world as exercises in the love that does justice, we are fulfilling our baptismal mission. When we are a community of faith that evidently practices the love that does justice within the community, then we are the more credible when we put this love that does justice into practice in the secular world.

But here, of course, is the problem. What do we do as individuals when our community of faith is failing in some serious way to show the love that does justice, internally and externally? Of course we continue to practice the love that does justice in our everyday lives, but we also have to find the energy to turn inwards to address what is our right and our responsibility, the good of the community of faith. Our need to do this is not church-idolatry. It is the simple realization that when the community as community fails to live in the love that does justice, then its sacramental value is obscured, and our individual efforts are just so much more of an uphill struggle. When we call for reform in the Church we are simply asking that the structures support our apostolic mission to practice the love that does justice.

The Church is there to strengthen us in faith, and when the Church makes faith harder, when hope is dimmed because of the Church, then we need to recall the hard words of Jesus in chapter nine of Mark’s gospel, “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” Our faith and our hope are in God, not in the Church. The Church is God’s instrument and at the same time a weak and sinful human community. We all of us, ordained and non-ordained alike, are responsible for the state of our Church. We “laity” cannot just blame our leaders and exonerate ourselves, but when we see our Church in need of deferred maintenance, we also cannot sit back and wait for our leaders to act.

Identifying the fundamental problems in today’s Catholic Church is not an easy task, though it is a critical one. Of course we can quite easily come up with a list of things that we may feel need to be addressed. You all know pretty much what that list would include, and you can find those problems discussed in any of my more recent books: the place of women in the Church, clericalism, human rights in the Church, and so on. If you have followed my argument so far, you will not be surprised to hear that in my view it is not this issue or that on which we should focus, but rather on the need for the structures of our Church to support our faith, to strengthen us in our capacity to practice the love that does justice, to rekindle our missionary enthusiasm for the fate of the earth. Whether we are concerned for the roles of women in the Church, or our inclusiveness with the respect to the Catholic LGBTQ population, or our openness to the divorced and remarried, we have to challenge our leaders to explain and defend their often negative and unwelcoming positions. We cannot let them start talking about how the Eucharist or priesthood or marriage is not a right. Show us, we must say, how exclusion aids the community of faith to be the sacrament of the love of God in and for the world. I have yet to hear any opponent of women priests take up this challenge and, frankly, I do not think it can be done. I cannot see them making a better case for calling gays and lesbians “disordered.” The same litmus test needs to be applied to all the issues that divide our Church, and the same question has to be asked about the structures of the Church itself. Take the way in which almost everyone in the faith community is entirely excluded from any voice at all in the selection of bishops, and the entire local community has no say whatsoever in who might be its next pastor. How does this help us to be the sacrament of the love of God in and for the world? If these essentially structural rather than theological issues cannot be shown to be integral to maintaining the Church as strength and support for the apostolic mission of all the baptized, then while they are not thereby necessarily wrong, they are certainly not beyond being changed. When things are not going too well, moreover, the burden of proof is upon those who would keep the creaking structures intact.

If we pay close attention to our national or even our local Church, which is certainly where we can have the most impact, I think it is helpful for us to reflect on the not altogether alarming possibility that our Church has entered hospice care. This startling thought, with which I first became acquainted in an address that Fr. Bryan Massingale gave to the priests of the Milwaukee archdiocese, suggests that the structures of the Church as we have known it are dying. Like the loved one in hospice care, it is coming to the end of a long, fruitful and loving life spent in the service of God. Its accomplishments should be cherished and celebrated, in the knowledge that God is about to wonderfully change them into some new life. After death comes resurrection, in the Christian view of things. But as Christians we also know that it is God who brings the new life and that it will be wonderfully changed from the old life while being its culmination and fruition.

Whenever a loved one is dying, the temptations to denial and despair are always present, and this is no less true when the patient is the American Catholic Church as we have known it. In my view, this is what is going on in the conservative or traditional temperament, whether among the baptized in general or in the ranks of the hierarchy. They love the Church, just as more progressive Christians do. But they love it in denial of the life of the Spirit, which will persist beyond the death of the present form, so they cling to the details of the Church the way it has been. But be warned, the liberals have their own form of this problem. If traditionals are in denial, liberals can be tempted to despair. Like the traditionals, liberals too can fail to put enough trust in the Spirit, in this case in the power of the Spirit to overcome the entropy of traditionalism. For both groups, hope in the power of the Spirit to lead us into the future is sometimes lacking.

Looking to the future, on the other hand, is not a matter of waiting for the Spirit to act, but of acting prayerfully with trust in the guidance of the Spirit. As the great Lutheran theologian Dorothee Soelle wrote, “the only eyes God has are our eyes, the only hands God has are our hands.” So with this in mind, let’s think about some of the resources in our American Catholic experience upon which we can draw in working towards a healthier future, and end with some specific challenges which stand between us and that healthier future. I do not need to remind you of the advice of St. Augustine, “Pray as if everything depends on God but act as if everything depends on you”?

In my most recent book I have made an effort to identify some themes for reflection on the challenges for today’s Church that emerge from the American experience. I have done this not because I believe that the American story is somehow privileged or particularly valuable to the world Church, but rather because the world Church is a tapestry of local churches, and each has something to contribute to the beauty and complexity of Catholicism. This “inductive” or “grassroots upwards” approach to theology in general and ecclesiology, or the theology of the church, in particular is a conscious effort on my part to correct the excessively centralized and top-down or “deductive” method that has dominated the Catholic Church for several centuries. So let me say something briefly about the three images of pilgrim, immigrant and pioneer. You will see immediately, I hope, that what all three have in common is the sense of adventure into new and sometimes alien territory. In other words, they relate directly to our Church’s mission to the secular world, the particular responsibility of the baptismal priesthood.

Employed inductively, the model of the Church as pilgrim is appealing because it grows out of the history and culture of America and helps explain so much. The pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth Rock were on an adventure, escaping from a more restrictive religious and political reality into a new world in which they would be free to worship and organize themselves according to their own convictions. Or so they thought. Survival in the new reality, for the pilgrims as for all others in similar situations, depended upon their adaptability. Without abandoning the distinctive way of life that they had traveled here in order to preserve, their prosperity and security required that they find within themselves untapped and perhaps unsuspected reserves of flexibility and creativity, to go with the courage and faithfulness that was already well-established.

Courage, faithfulness, flexibility and adaptability in a new world in which not everyone shares your religious beliefs or your political convictions and in which some would likely welcome your disappearance and do not want to hear your opinions. Does this sound familiar? Isn’t this in fact a pretty good description of where the American Catholic Church stands today? Like the pilgrims of old we have a venerable and honored tradition that helps protect our continuing identity. But our future requires us to find all kinds of resources within the tradition to transform ourselves into a community that will thrive in a pluralistic and constantly changing environment. We need to be able to speak with authority when ethical values are challenged or misunderstood, we need to find ways to maintain a vibrant religious identity at a time when institutional commitment is not a high value even among those who consider themselves Catholic, and we need to be so comfortable in an environment of a pluralistic and at times secular democracy that we can admit elements of that democracy into our own ways of governing ourselves as a community of faith.

The idea of the immigrant suggests a way of being Church that is truly American while no less Catholic and Christian. American Catholics—perhaps all people with strong religious identities could say the same—have to be bicultural. We have to be equally at home with our Christian religious identity and our sense of ourselves as American. Today, because in our recent past Catholics were so desperate to be accounted true Americans, this may mean to reappropriate our Catholic identity as a strong challenge to some distortions of our society without abandoning anything truly valuable in American culture. Here perhaps is an internal problem for American Catholicism, that the people and the institution are in different places vis-à-vis the culture in which they have made their home and to which they owe allegiance. The internal challenge of the Church today is in large measure a matter of Catholics who are thoroughly and healthily American trying to deal with an institution that is modeled upon very different assumptions, drawn not from the Bible but from human cultural and political preferences for imperialism, benevolent despotism and paternalistic patterns of governance.

In the end, the immigrant model of Church reminds us of the provisionality of much of the baggage we carry as an historical institution. Like any immigrant we possess ideas, habits and practices that have their origins in times long past but that we tend naturally to assume are fixtures of what a human being or a human society must be. And then we meet another culture, one in which we are going to have to find a way to be at home, in which cultural expectations are not at all the same. Moreover, to be the immigrant Church is to be “always immigrant,” living constantly with the sense of provisionality and flexibility, always ready for a new turn in the road along which we will always be the People of God, always called to spread the good news, but by no means always called to do it in the same way. We will probably always carry with us some at least of the marks of our origins, and our genetic make-up will indicate our continuity with the Catholics of the fourteenth century and the fourth. But as successful immigrants we simply cannot always be looking back over our shoulder for reassurance. The Holy Spirit that guided the Church in the fourth and fourteenth centuries is no longer in those past times, but in this present time, coaxing and guiding us towards the next bend in the road.

Of all the images that resonate with Americans, the mythic power of that of the pioneer must be the strongest. The Conestoga wagons heading west, forging a new life in a new Eden, is an image that is instantly recognizable to almost everyone. The people in these wagons travel lightly and travel in hope, not sure what their exact destination will be but knowing that they plan to settle somewhere in the setting sun. They have left the relative familiarity of the land “back east” to head into an uncertain future, filled with hope and not a little fear. They know that the people and the places they have left behind they will probably never see again. As pioneers they are building a new life for themselves, and they are fashioning a new country for their children and their children’s children, even though many of them will die before they see it come to fruition. The pioneer is adventurous, determined, courageous, resourceful and—if not entirely foolish—aware that success depends more upon the grace of God than it does upon sheer good fortune or unaided human energies.

The image of pioneer adds to our images of hospice, immigrant and pilgrim a note of more protracted fortitude in the face of the elements, natural or of human origin, and a welcome call for humility in the face of our encounter with the new. The future is always almost with us, and even though we cannot anticipate it we have to be on our toes and ready to deal with it. The pioneer Church will have gritty resolve and joyful hope in equal measure. Its success will depend on being able to distinguish between what it needs for the journey and what it would be wise to leave behind, and what it can take along in the knowledge that it may need to jettison it along the way. The pioneer image calls on us to think about what we do and do not need to cling onto. The heavily-loaded wagon may be more comfortable in the short term but isn’t likely to make it over the next mountain pass or through the next swamp. Just as the Church as pioneer is always on the way, so it is also always about to begin the next stage of its journey, always needing to ask itself what to discard and what to pack, in the knowledge that it will never return to this precise spot again, unless of course the journey is abandoned. The pioneer Church which abandons the journey is eternally fixed in the past, and the past moment in which it is stuck is not the living point in history that it once was but a kind of wax effigy in which no blood flows.

As I draw this talk towards a conclusion, I want to be both practical and optimistic about the future of our Church. The work lies in all our hands, ordained and non-ordained alike, though the work is differently structured for the two groups. Church leaders need our help to see that what we need from them is leadership that nurtures Gospel faith and strengthens us for our role in the vanguard of the Church’s mission. What Church leaders need from us, though some of them may not realize it, is adult and accountable Christian witness in the world, licensed by our baptism and confirmation. The apostolic witness of Christians does not flow from Church authority but from the sacrament of baptism. So let me end by briefly discussing three developments that would materially affect our community of faith for the better, and thus that we ought to be demanding of our ordained leaders, three things that would make it much easier for us to be the Church and live the mission.

The first is a two-way structure of communication and accountability in the Church. So many of the hot-button issues that bedevil life in our faith-communities today are, if not false problems, bigger problems than they need be because there is nowhere, no place where ordained and non-ordained alike, bishops, priests and people, can hear one another. Or, perhaps more importantly, listen to one another. Our Church today is top-down and centralized in teaching and authority in a way that it never was for the greater part of the Church’s history. However, the over-centralization that is only possible by ignoring large parts of the teaching of Vatican II and that even hog-ties bishops, let alone us, has occurred at just the time at which non-ordained Christians in large parts of the world have become accustomed to participatory democracy in secular society and do not see why benevolent despotism must be the way of the Church. Some will tell you that these are only issues for the decadent Church of the north, of North America and Europe, and that the future lies with the Church south of the equator. That may be true, but I would caution against the racism that assumes that developing peoples have less taste for democracy or are less likely to find their way to participation in the shaping of their own societies.

There is a structure in canon law which is set up precisely for the purpose of speaking and listening to one another, and that is the diocesan synod. I imagine that most of you here would have preferred a diocesan synod to a “synod of the baptized.” Canon law places responsibility for calling a synod in the hands of the bishop, which is probably where it should be, and lays down fairly clear rules for significant lay representation. But because it is the bishop’s judgment when a synod is needed, they occur relatively infrequently. And yet it seems to me, at least, that the situation we find ourselves in the Catholic Church today is just the sort of set of challenges that the synodal structure exists to address. As canon law envisages it, of course, the synod is consultative rather than deliberative, but its proper use would go a long way towards assuring that “decent consultation hierarchy” that the Yale professor Bruce Russett called for some eight years ago. The chasm between bishops and rank and file in the Church today is not so much about the vote as it is about voice. Just as we have the right and responsibility to speak out for the good of the Church, so Church leaders have a responsibility to listen to all the people, liberal and conservative alike.

The second thing we need from our Church is good liturgy that is evidently the work of the whole Church, centered upon the Eucharist which “makes the Church.” In order to be able to be the Church and pursue the mission, this is a demand that we have the right and responsibility to make of the ministerial priesthood. The implications of this for Church order are considerable. The ordained ministry exists above all to meet two priority needs for the faithful; to preside over good liturgy and to offer expert and compassionate pastoral care. On this point I applaud Pope Benedict’s new focus on the importance of liturgy, though not the particular directions in which he is taking it. The impending changes in liturgical language and the growing practice of celebrating mass with back to the people (or the so-called “facing east”) are signs, in different ways, of failing to stand with that principle of the Vatican II liturgical reforms, “the Mass is the work of the whole people.” The priest presides, the community celebrates. It is more important that the language be clear to the community than that it be closer to the original Latin (Latin wasn’t the original language in any case) and it is more important for the body language of liturgy to represent the Eucharist as a communal meal than as a private sacrifice. Decorum and even solemnity is perfectly possible with the priest facing the people.

But the third, for the now the final, and the most important requirement we have of our Church is that its ordained members attend to the spiritual welfare of the people and, if I may exaggerate just a little, leave the mission of the Church to the world in the hands of us, the experts. The grace of God is at work in wonderful ways within our Church, even at the worst of times. The Eucharist is always the Eucharist, and it can always nourish us. But the grace of God is also wonderfully at work in the world, though in a different way. God’s grace in the world finds its way through the trials, struggles and complexities of living in today’s very difficult world, through what the great theologian Karl Rahner called the “concupiscence” of the world. The Church as Church is not directly involved in and cannot control the ways in which God’s grace works beyond the boundaries of the Christian community. Individual members of the baptismal priesthood, particularly the non-ordained, are of course called to be agents of the love of God in the world precisely because they live in the world and in the Church. We are both religious and secular. If we live as good Christians in solidarity with our fellow human beings in the secular world, then we are certainly pursuing the mission and being the Church.

The role of the Church as Church is not to interfere in the world, but to live as a shining example, a sacrament if you wish, of a community that practices the love that does justice. To be more concrete, it is far more important for the Church to practice justice within the Church than to proclaim the need for justice in the world. It is much more important to be a community in which all have their appropriate voice than it is to be inserting the Church as Church into the political process. It is inestimably more valuable that as a community we reach out in solidarity to victims, to the poor and oppressed, than it is that we lobby for our priorities with local and national governments or put pressure on politicians, Catholic or not, to conform to our priorities. Of course we believe that our vision of things is as right as a sinful people can be, but the means by which we promote a Christian vision in the world should be in the shining example we set, not some misguided crusade for values in a world which can learn only from example, not from proclamations or political pressure.

While the Church at its more foundational levels, especially in the well-run parish, largely operates with just such a vision of the Church, higher levels of leadership often do not. I do not lay the blame on bishops or clergy, but on a slow drift into thinking of the Church as what James Alison has called a “system of goodness,” charged somehow to persuade the world of the truth of the Church’s vision. In today’s intensely pluralistic and secular world, persuasion—if it happens—will come by way of example, not precept. At the present time it is not happening, at least not north of the Equator, and discouragement is not hard to explain. It is almost as if we cannot face the prospect that the shape of the Church is changing, perhaps radically, and we allow ourselves to slip into denial. Respect for teaching authority dissipates as credibility wanes, both respect from the wider world that could benefit so much from the wisdom of the Christian tradition, and, sadly, respect within the ranks of faithful Catholics. The role of the Church is to nourish the faith of its members, not to impede their Spirit-empowered apostolicity. And if this sounds a bit much or too high-falutin’ altogether, then let us finally put it simply in words perhaps more suitable for a homily. The Church is a school of love. The role of the institution vis-à-vis baptized Catholics is to let them loose to love, not to bind them with rules about who or how to love. The future health of our Church depends upon recovering that sense of itself. It is a matter of choosing the way of Jesus over the ways of Microsoft, Wall St. or the Ford Motor Company. It is a matter of trusting in the spirit, being faithful to our baptismal call, being the Church and living the mission.

Let me end with a powerful New Testament story, that of the Syro-Phoenician woman recorded in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 7:24-30, see also Mt 15:21-28). This woman, a pagan, asks Jesus to heal her daughter and is rebuffed with the seemingly harsh retort, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” with Jesus stressing that his mission is to Israel. But the woman persists: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” While most homilists focus on the woman’s faith, some notice that in this passage Jesus is corrected and taught something of how to understand the limits of his mission, by a pagan woman no less! If Jesus can listen to and learn from a pagan woman, surely we should not give up hope in the capacity of our leaders in the faith to open themselves to the wisdom of all the baptized. Be the Church! Live the mission!

Dr. Paul Lakeland holds the chair of the Aloysius P. Kelley, SJ Professor of Catholic Studies and is the director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT. He is also the author of The Liberation of the Laity (2004) and Catholicism at the Crossroads (2007). His latest book, Church: Living Communion (2009), has been described as “seizing the moment of a church on the brink of change” and as “pointing the direction forward.”

Recently The Progressive Catholic Voice concluded a special "Countdown to Synod 2010" series that explored ten challenges to the Catholic Church as identified and outlined by Paul Lakeland in his book Church: Living Communion. Following are the ten installments of this series.

The First Challenge: Identity and Commitment
The Second Challenge: Ministry - Ordained and Lay
The Third Challenge: The Roles of Women in the Church
The Fourth Challenge: Church Teaching and Individual Conscience
The Fifth Challenge: The Religious Formation of the Young
The Sixth Challenge: The Scandal of Sexual Abuse
The Seventh Challenge: Ecumenism
The Eighth Challenge: Religious Pluralism
The Ninth Challenge: The Church and Political Life
The Tenth Challenge: Building on the Strengths of the Church

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

The official law of the Catholic Church prescribes that the faithful have the right and sometimes the duty to tell church leaders their views on matters concerning the good of the church (Canon 212.3), especially their own spiritual needs (Canon 212.2), and to freely establish associations to accomplish their goal (Canon 215). Since the whole institutional church is committed to serve those needs, [the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's Synod of the Baptized] and its preparations enjoy the full support of the whole church, and all members of the Archdiocese [of St. Paul-Minneapolis] should feel responsible to assist it in every way possible, not least with prayer for its successful outcome. On this basis I hope St Paul-Minneapolis becomes a beacon for the national church.

- Roger Haight
Scholar in Residence,
Union Theological Seminary, New York

Note: This message of support from Roger Haight is one of many received by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform for its Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table." Five-hundred people are gathering for this synod today at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, Minneapolis. Others who sent messages of support include Hans Küng, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Rev. Richard McBrien, and Dr. Anthony Padovano.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Let Our Voices Be Heard!
A New Phase
Gerald Arbuckle on the Critical Role of Dissent
Chancery Issues Statement on CCCR
CCCR Responds to Censure by Archdiocese

Friday, September 17, 2010

In Minnesota, Catholics Inspire Action for Church Reform

Organizers of a “Synod of the Baptized,” entitled “Claiming Our Place at the Table,” hope to inspire local Catholics to take action for what they see as much-needed church reform. Scheduled to take place tomorrow, Saturday, September 18, at the Ramada Plaza Minneapolis Hotel, the synod is expected to draw 500 people.

“Our goal is to energize ourselves to work at reforming those church structures and practices that fail to manifest the love that Jesus lived and taught,” says Paula Ruddy, one of three co-chairs of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), the organization planning the synod.

“Most Catholics sense that things are not right with their church,” says co-chair Bernie Rodel. “Synod 2010 will offer concrete ways for us to move forward in the difficult but essential work of church reform.”

The synod will feature Professor Paul Lakeland, Director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, CT. Lakeland, the author of The Liberation of the Laity and Catholicism at the Crossroads, will deliver a keynote address entitled “The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission.”

Although CCCR currently works independently of the clerical leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, it considers itself in union with Archbishop John Nienstedt and as working for church reform within the Catholic tradition. “The majority of coalition members are part of local parishes,” says co-chair Michael Bayly. “The dialogue we encourage and engage in is grounded in well-formed consciences – something our church values and expects.”

In addition, the Coalition is willing and open to working with all Catholics in restoring trust, confidence, and allegiance to church doctrines, practices, and policies. However, based on the Catholic understanding of reception, the Coalition believes that this can only happen when all members of the church have an active role in the ongoing development, clarification, and articulation of church laws, norms and values.

“Such a process requires a model of church that embodies community, participation and dialogue,” says Ruddy. It’s also a model, the Coalition insists, that was put forward by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s but which has, in the years since, been undermined and downplayed by some within the church’s clerical leadership in an attempt to return to a pre-Vatican II model – one that discourages, even forbids, dialogue around certain issues.

CCCR’s reform efforts seek to emphasize Vatican II’s spirit of dialogue and reform, primarily by envisioning and working toward a church that “radiates Jesus’ core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity and transforming love.”

“We take to heart Vatican II’s call on the laity to play an active role in the dynamic process of discernment, decision-making and reception of laws,” says Ruddy. “It’s a process that’s an important part of our Catholic tradition and one that requires honest dialogue. We want to keep the conversation open and include everyone in the discussion.”

Throughout the church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, this discussion is well underway. For the pat year-and-a-half, small groups of Catholics have been gathering in CCCR-sponsored “work/study groups” and focusing on areas of church practice that many see as disconnected from Jesus’ message of love, justice and inclusivity. These areas of practice include Bishop Selection, Church Authority and Governance, Church as a Community of Equals, Mandatory Celibacy/Clericalism, Catholic/Christian Identity, Emerging Church, Faith Formation of Children and Youth, Catholic Spirituality, Social Justice, and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. At the September 18 synod, the work/study groups will present and facilitate discussion around recommended practices and actions for reform.

The synod will also serve as a launch pad for ongoing action. “A special Action Coordinating Team (ACT) will be commissioned,” says Ruddy, “and synod attendees will have the opportunity to sign up to become part of the action as together we take the synod’s recommendations for reform out to our families, parishes and communities.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” says Rodel. “And we trust that it is the Spirit that is leading us to be the church that Jesus envisioned – a community that welcomes and nurtures all.”

The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s 2010 synod will take place on Saturday, September 18 (8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.) at the Ramada Plaza Hotel (1330 Industrial Blvd., Minneapolis, MN). For more information, visit

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Tenth Challenge: Building on the Strengths of the Church

By Paula Ruddy

Concluding our special Countdown to Synod 2010 series . . .

In Church: Living Communion, Paul Lakeland ends his list of challenges with a beginning. Recognizing the problems that we as the contemporary Church have, we then need to go on and reaffirm our strengths and build on them.

Those of us who are intensely aware of the problems need this advice. We can tend toward negativity, not a healthy mindset for us or for the mission of the Church.

What are the strengths we can build on? Paul lists five key strengths of the Roman Catholic Church.

First is its liturgical life. The Eucharist is the heart of Catholic spirituality. Paul says: “We have to find the way in which we can ensure that whatever happens to the Church, we will always find the Eucharist at its center.” (p. 117)

Second, the ministry of lay people which is growing and will soon outnumber the total of active priests is a sign of vitality in the Church.

Third is the global reach of the Church and the pluralism of cultures within it, its catholicity. The value of power is in getting work done. Individual congregations can be powerful centers of energy for the individuals in them and in their own locale, but in consolidation of resources and in collaborative structures there is an increase of power. Of course, this can lead to over-centralized domination, but power used for the benefit of human development is a good thing. It is up to the members of the Church to see to it that power is used for the mission of the Church.

Fourth the strength particularly the possession of the U.S. Church “can be of most value to the worldwide community of faith.” It is the culture of democratic values. “We have a say in choosing our leaders, we do expect them to listen to us, and we do hold them accountable. These strengths of a democratic society are expectations that people do not entirely lay aside when they put on their religious faces. And so the challenge will be to figure out how the best of our democratic traditions can play a part in the Church without us becoming a people of committees, factions, and procedures.” (p. 118)

The fifth and final strength Paul cites is hope. “Our religious faith is in fact best understood as ‘fidelity to hope,’ and our hope as Christians is in the saving message of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God in history and the Savior of the whole of humanity.” (p. 118)

That completes our countdown. PCV thanks Paul Lakeland for the inspiration. The Synod of the Baptized is Saturday, the 18th, and we have 500 faithful, hopeful people coming to hear Paul and to gear up for the heavy lifting required to build on the strengths of the Roman Catholic Church.

See also the previous PCV posts
The First Challenge: Identity and Commitment
The Second Challenge: Ministry - Ordained and Lay
The Third Challenge: The Roles of Women in the Church
The Fourth Challenge: Church Teaching and Individual Conscience
The Fifth Challenge: The Religious Formation of the Young
The Sixth Challenge: The Scandal of Sexual Abuse
The Seventh Challenge: Ecumenism
The Eighth Challenge: Religious Pluralism
The Ninth Challenge: The Church and Political Life

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Ninth Challenge: The Church and Political Life

by Don Conroy

Continuing with our special Countdown to Synod 2010 series . . .

What is the role of the church in political life? In Church: Living Communion, Paul Lakeland begins addressing this question by reminding the reader of the mission of the Church: namely, to preach "the good news." The Church's political activity must follow that mission. He is writing as a Catholic theologian and points out that structures are a necessity in human endeavor, and since we are sinful, without structures in our political life we would have ". . . well-meaning chaos at best, a dog-eat-dog power struggle at worst." (p.112)

Also, without structures our human limitations would relegate love to sentimentality. Cardinal Sin, the former Archbishop of the Phillipines puts it this way:

Strength without compassion is violence.
Compassion without justice is mere sentiment.
Justice without love is Marxism.
And love without justice is baloney.

The separation of Church and state in the United States means that the institution of the Church cannot impose its teaching on the American people as a whole. The church leaders find it difficult to engage in debate and compromise, which is the stuff of political life. Lakeland reminds us that "ethics is about principles, politics is the art of the possible, and there are going to be conflicts." (p.114) The role of influencing public policy in the U.S. falls on the the Catholic citizens and Catholic politicians. The responsibility of the Church leaders is to teach the people Catholic Social Doctrine and that the people are the Church and have responsibility as Catholics. On the whole, he writes, the institution has done a poor job.

Charles Curran, in his recent address to 600 moral theologians from the world meeting at Trent, Italy (cf. National Catholic Reporter, 9/3/10), points out that the hierarchy's insistence on moral themes that are based on "normative solutions" (classical, neo-scholastic, abstract) makes little sense to the consciousness of contemporary men and women. As a consequence, the second largest religious group in the U.S. is former Catholics, and that adds up to one tenth of the population, according to the Pew Research Center. This data is a political concern for Catholics and calls for change for those who love the church.

The failure of the Church leaders to educate the Catholic people in Catholic Social Teaching is addressed in Gary Orfield's article, "Segregation, Inequality, Discrimination and Catholic Social Thought: Moving from Doctrine to Action" (Journal of Catholic Thought, March 2006, 143-177). Orfield emphasizes the power of Catholic Social Teaching against racism and discrimination in the U.S., but also points out the consequences of the Church's overemphasis of procreation policies and ". . . the tacit alliances with political forces that consistently oppose civil rights and minority interests." (Orfield was a professor of Education and Social Policy at Harvard University in 2006.)

Lakeland is not alone in his criticism of Catholic Church leaders and their responsibility to educate the Catholic people in its Social Teaching.

Tomorrow we look at Challenge 10: Building on the Strength of the Church.

See also the previous PCV posts
The First Challenge: Identity and Commitment
The Second Challenge: Ministry - Ordained and Lay
The Third Challenge: The Roles of Women in the Church
The Fourth Challenge: Church Teaching and Individual Conscience
The Fifth Challenge: The Religious Formation of the Young
The Sixth Challenge: The Scandal of Sexual Abuse
The Seventh Challenge: Ecumenism
The Eighth Challenge: Religious Pluralism

Theologian and author Paul Lakeland will be the keynote speaker at the Catholic Coalition for Church reform's September 18 Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table." For more information about this event and to register, click here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Eighth Challenge: Religious Pluralism

by Bernie and Eileen Rodel

Continuing with our special Countdown to Synod 2010 series . . .

In chapter two of his book Church: Living Communion, Paul Lakeland focuses on ten challenges that the Church today must address. Six of the ten challenges are internal issues: questions of identity and institutional commitment, authority, the roles of women in the Church, and patterns of ministry. The remaining four issues are concerned with how we think of mission and what sort of public face the Church should present to the world. One of these four external issues or challenges is religious pluralism. The question Lakeland seeks to address is: How can the Church grow into an ecumenical relationship with other great religious traditions of the world?

In order to grasp the critical issues in the discussion of religious pluralism we must have a good understanding of the document Dominus Jesus as cited by Lakeland. On August 6, 2000 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a declaration entitled Dominus Jesus that led to many disagreements about the interpretation of the Catholic Church’s relationship with other faiths and with other Christian Churches. The document gave rise to debates ranging over relations between the Church universal and individual churches, not least other Christian communions, matters of interfaith relations, questions concerning the realities of pluralism, and matters of ecclesial authority and governance.

Dominus Jesus appeared to set further explicit and definitive limits to what actually enables a community to be called a church. Certain aspects central to the Catholic faith are discussed: the uniqueness of salvation brought about through God’s incarnation in Christ; the place of the Catholic Church in God’s plan of salvation; and particular questions relating to religious and ecclesiological pluralism.

Upon closer review the prime target of Dominus Jesus was religious “relativism,” which the CDF believed to be a standpoint that tends to perceive all religions as equally valid paths toward salvation. Consequently, we see a shift in focus – from dialogue as noted in the documents of Vatican II – back to evangelization. The document sought to challenge a “false concept of tolerance” in the field of religious pluralism. Hence Dominus Jesus was concerned with attacking relativistic tendencies, that is, viewing all paths to salvation, even those calling themselves “Christian,” as equally valid and beneficial for their adherents. Relativistic theories endangered the Church’s constant missionary proclamation by seeking to justify religious pluralism. Such is the thinking of the CDF under the leadership of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

After reading the pages in Lakeland’s book on religious pluralism we think there is a real need to acknowledge that Jesus is the “true” but “not the only” bearer of God’s salvation. (See Paul Knitter: The Transformation of Mission in the Pluralist Paradigm.) We think there is a need to re-evaluate this Christological problem within the framework of an estimation of the place of Jesus Christ among other religions. This type of thinking results from the constellation of cultural factors called postmodernity.

Rather than considering in detail some of the negative currents of postmodernity that would form the framework of understanding here, it would be better to look at the positive side of postmodernity and the reception of religious pluralism. Many theologians have passed beyond the tolerance of other religions to a positive appreciation of the religious treasures they contain. They see a breaking down of barriers between people that used to be thought impenetrable. Pluralist theologians do not advocate the reduction of all religions to only one, but they look for commonalities, for the development toward a unification of people, for an ontological unity of humanity. We need to recognize that the universal love of God that is experienced by Christians is, as it were, manifested in the other religions. (See Roger Haight: Jesus, Symbol of God.)

In closing we would now like to quote Paul Lakeland as he describes the role and work of today’s theologians in explaining religious pluralism:

The problem for the teaching Church is that while it wants to treat world religions exactly as we have just described them, and most of the time these days it succeeds, it has to deal with its own and does a poor job understanding the ecclesial role of the theologian. The Church cherishes, proclaims, and lives by divine revelation. The theologian tries to understand. A theologian works liminally, that is, as a kind of frontier person, on the boundaries between what we know and what we do not know. No theologian, any more than any Church leader, can produce new revelation, but it is the theologians’s role in the Church to explore the boundaries of what can be said. It is the role of the teaching authority in the Church to determine, eventually, which of these liminal explorations are consistent with revelation and which are not. And just as the theologian has to respect the tradition and explore it faithfully, so the bishop has to practice patience. Theology is a kind of foraging or scouting expedition into unknown territory, and it cannot be rushed. A theologian carries maps and guides and sends reports back home from stages along the way, but the theologian is not really sure where she or he will end up. Some explorations will result in dead ends, and some will be abandoned. But sometimes you get to the right place by following a more circuitous route than those with direct pastoral concerns find easy to understand. On the other hand, theologians do occasionally need to remind themselves that the objective of their work is a fuller appreciation of the Gospel for the whole community of faith, not just their professional confreres. (p. 110)

Tomorrow we look at Challenge 9: The Church and Political Life.

See also the previous PCV posts
The First Challenge: Identity and Commitment
The Second Challenge: Ministry - Ordained and Lay
The Third Challenge: The Roles of Women in the Church
The Fourth Challenge: Church Teaching and Individual Conscience
The Fifth Challenge: The Religious Formation of the Young
The Sixth Challenge: The Scandal of Sexual Abuse
The Seventh Challenge: Ecumenism

Theologian and author Paul Lakeland will be the keynote speaker at the Catholic Coalition for Church reform's September 18 Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table." For more information about this event and to register, click here.