Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dialoguing with the Archbishop

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt writes a column in The Catholic Spirit entitled “In God’s Good Time.” As the editorial team of The Progressive Catholic Voice, we take his public statements as an opportunity to discuss his views with him.

Dear Archbishop Nienstedt:

Thanks for your column in the August 2, 2012, issue of The Catholic Spirit, entitled “What it Means to be Church.” We are happy that you had a relaxing, insightful vacation.

Your reflection – Church is the encounter with the living Christ in the faith assembly – is inspiring.

You go on to focus on the bishops’ role in the official magisterium, the teaching authority of the faith assembly:

And this is where the teaching vocation of the Church, that organ of the Body of Christ which we call the Magisterium, comes in to play. This is the “living voice” of the faith assembly that preserves the fundamental message of Scripture and Tradition, that is to say, love, properly understood and properly lived.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reaffirms the importance of this teaching office of the Church when it states in paragraph 85:

“The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.’ This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.”

Will you please follow up with a column about the role of theologians, clergy in orders other than bishop, and laity in the teaching authority of the Church? Do you believe that as part of the “faith assembly” theologians, lesser clergy, and laity have any contribution to make to the teaching authority entrusted to the bishops, particularly with regard to love, “properly understood and properly lived”?

You are right that there is much controversy and questioning of authority. Could that be indicative of a need for communication about the substance and reasonableness of what is being taught? We remember reading that Cardinal Newman quoted St. Augustine as saying "Securus judicat orbis terrarum." in relation to doctrine – "A tranquil world is the final judge." In other words, controversy is a sign that the faith assembly has not settled the question and the bishops have more work to do before they can voice the faith of the community.

It is our greatest desire to come together reasonably with respect for one another so that the teaching authority of the Church in this Archdiocese will be recognized in its wisdom and balance.

– The Editorial Team of The Progressive Catholic Voice

Michael Bayly
Mary Beckfeld
Paula Ruddy


  1. Here's the word of God.


    All the rest of the talk is politics and arm wrestling over rank, position, ego and a trillion dollar real estate empire.

    There's enough work in the single word love to keep all of us busy for the rest of our lives. And we all already know that.

    KISS, keep it simple stupid.

  2. Hi, Phil. Would you agree that it is necessary to both love and reason? It is not either/or. Isn't it possible to keep it so simple that it is stupid? Reasoning together doesn't have to be confrontational, adversarial, hostile. People can lovingly and patiently work to define terms, sort out distinctions in ideas, track the logic, and find the language to come to a provisional truth together. The Catholic tradition has always valued the human capacity to reason, hasn't it?

  3. Hi Paula, thanks for the exchange.

    I love reason. And dialog too. I'm addicted to both. And yes, agreed, I feel both are very much a part of being Catholic. I'm working right now on a dialog tool for Catholics, so I'm not against dialog.

    However, the fact is, much of the dialog within the Church has become adversarial, often to the point of being hostile. We've become obsessed with the definition of Catholicism, imho. It's not healthy when taken to this degree.

    And so, in an attempt to avoid the acrimony which none of us want, I'm attempting to use reason to seek a solution, a coming together. And I'm dialoging about this inquiry with you, and anyone else who cares to join in.

    I believe the gospels brilliantly offer the very answer we need.



    We, all Catholics, are surrounded on all sides by people who have bigger problems than ideological concerns.

    Imho, the fact that the Catholic community is undergoing so much controversy these days is a signal that we all have too much time on our hands, and are paying too much attention to ourselves, and not enough attention to those in real need. I feel shifting the focus would help the Church.

    Let's argue for awhile about the most efficient means of providing service to the poor. That would be a good argument to have.

    This too is not "the one and only way", but I feel it's worth exploring.

    Thanks again!

  4. Hi, Phil. You are probably right that working together at an important problem like providing services to the economically disadvantaged would distract us from other more intangible injustices. I don't think our arguments about what it means to be Catholic are trivial, however. I think they are about people suffering from injustices, though not economic ones. Telling those of us who feel the injustices to change the subject may be seen as a trifle cavalier, don't you think? For example, in order to call yourself Catholic, do you have to assent to the exclusion of women from sacramental ministry and, therefore, from decision-making positions in the church? Do you have to assent to the teaching that homosexual physical intimacy is intrinsically immoral? Do you have to assent to the Archbishop's view that the Holy Spirit speaks only through bishops? These positions affect people's spiritual well-being. Let me ask, do you personally feel any oppression from current church policies and practices? That might determine whether you think they are worth talking about or not. We do have to learn to reason about internal church problems without hostilities but I don't think turning away from the effort to communicate is a solution.

    1. Paula, thanks again for the exchange. I enjoy chatting with you. We seem to agree on many issues, all those you list above.

      Personally, I do what millions of good Catholics have been doing for centuries, respectfully ignore the Church leaders much of the time. And I do mean respectfully, because I generally accept that the Church leaders are mostly sincere people of good faith.

      We are oppressed by their opinions only to the degree that we accept their definition of themselves as being the Church and owning the word of God. I see the Bishops as being members of the Church, just like you and me, and nobody owns the word of God but God.

      By knocking on the Bishop's door and begging for this or that, we are ourselves handing these unelected officials the power to declare themselves above everybody else, and to authoritatively do and say those things that we feel don't represent the true spirit of Catholicism. The Church leaders have no power over us that we don't hand them on a silver platter.

      I'll happily dialog with any fellow Catholic including Bishops, but propose to you that all we highly imperfect human beings are equal in the eyes of God, and that is the proper understanding upon which a dialog should be built.

      If any member of the Church doesn't accept this equality, ok, no problem. I'm not sugggesting a battle, but the opposite. We can peacefully and quietly ignore those who don't accept us as equals, and carry right on with walking the walk as best as we can.

  5. Yes, you must assent to that view...homosexual acts are wrong. But that is not solely the view of the archbishop. That is the view of the Church. Homosexuals are not some sort of other race or entity created apart from everyone else. They are all humans and the same laws apply to everyone. How does one even define "homosexual" anyway? Christianity is about reforming our lives. Homosexuality should be discouraged and abandoned. It's part of humanity's barbaric past.

  6. I enjoy talking with you too, Phil. There is a difference between knocking on the bishop's door and "begging for this or that" and standing as witness to an alternate view to the bishop's on any given subject. I think it is important to stand as a witness to an alternate view when the bishop's view is causing harm to people. I think I take the role of leader more seriously than you do. I want strong leadership in the role of bishop so the institution can forge ahead in its mission. I think we agree on the mission--to be a sign of God's love in the world. The institution with strong leadership could become a lovely nurturing flowering garden. Of course, one can ignore a bishop that is not fulfilling his role, but one can also call him to account and invite him to step up. What do you think?

  7. Dear AltonRoute. I agree with you on a couple of points. People are pretty much all humans, and Christianity can be thought of as about reforming our lives--turning to God. How did you come by your views on homosexuality?

  8. Hi again Paula,

    What I'm looking for in my posts are ways the Catholic community might leap out of the pattern of division and controversy. Shifting the focus from ideology to service is one idea, politely ignoring unproductive conversations is another.

    I have plenty to learn, and would like to be wrong on this, but for the moment my impression is that dialog with the Bishops is unproductive, because I don't sense they're interested in what we have to say.

    It must be said their position is logically coherent. If one feels one is God's official spokesperson, then it makes sense that one would view one's role as teaching, a one way top down transfer of inforrmation, not as a participant in a two way conversation among equals.

    Yes, agreed, strong effective uniting leadership in the Church would be a plus.

    But the reality is the Church is not a democracy and the current Church leaders are not interested in your point of view, and are not asking for your vote. As best I can tell, you are talking to the back side of a closed door.

    If that's true, what's an effective and Christian response to such a situation? Perhaps our focus should be on being the leaders we wish we had?

    You are doing that here by respectfully welcoming, and actually listening to, all Catholic points of view. Your reply to the other poster above is a good example.

    So, rather than argue with Bishops in Rome, I can turn my attention elsewhere, choose you as my Bishop, and follow you. :-)

  9. Leaping out of the pattern of division and controversy by focusing together on love and service of the marginalized--I wholeheartedly endorse your plan, Phil. If I were bishop, I'd invite you on to the first team to set to work.

    And I think you have put your finger on exactly the point for those of us who continue to try to talk to bishops (not bishops in Rome, but our own local bishop): if we really believed we were talking to the back of a closed door, we might quit, as you eloquently suggest. However, I do not think we are not heard. Our archbishop does write to us on occasion. He hasn't agreed to sit down with us yet, but who knows? We also get a lot of encouragment from people who see the need for listening leadership. They want to keep calling on him. Many people are going with your plan, and that is good. At the same time, maybe enough of us continuing to call upon the Archbishop will get the whole Archdiocese behind loving and serving the marginalized, including our marginalized selves. How about that?

  10. Hi again Paula,

    I would agree it doesn't have to be an either/or situation, and each of us can and should press forward with whatever we're called to do. I'm glad you have hope, and wish you only the best in your project.

    The great thing about the Catholic community being so large is that it includes people of many different talents, and we should of course try to learn from each other. I will follow your efforts, and see what I can learn about the Church leadership. I'm surely not well enough informed, and am perhaps not open minded enough on the subject.

    Speaking of leadership, there's another group of Catholics I'd like to learn more about.

    Although the net is ablaze with factional controversy on many hundreds of Catholic blogs, somewhere out there must be a quiet army of dedicated Catholics who are too busy serving to join the debate.

    It would be great if we of the typoholic net nation might redirect our efforts to discovering these quiet leaders, telling their story, praising their work, and raising money to support their efforts.

    Perhaps we are missing an opportunity to elevate the kind of leaders all Catholics could respect and follow? If such leaders are too humble and busy to honk their own horn, well, there's a job for those of us with big mouths to take on. :-)

    So Bishop Paula, I accept your invitation, and look forward to discussing this with you further.

  11. I know several such people. Contact us at If you do an interview, we can post it on this blog. Great idea, Phil.

  12. Email on the way Paula. Thanks for the chat!

  13. We need some in-depth instruction on the "magisterium" and the "teaching authority" of the Church. How is it supposed to work?