Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Fight of Their Lives

.
Archbishop Nienstedt rallies the priests & deacons
of the archdiocese
to “fight” against same-sex marriage
at the state and national level.



By Paula Ruddy


Would you have pictured a meeting of the archdiocesan priests and deacons with their new archbishop as a genial get-together of the brotherhood? There would be lots of affable greeting, talking and laughing before they settled down to a serious exchange of views about the announced topic, the sacrament of marriage. They would be serious because some research shows that as many as one in five Catholic marriages end in divorce.

According to our sources, the meeting on marriage scheduled by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt for August 28, 2008, at St John the Baptist Parish in New Brighton had been announced as just such an opportunity for priests and deacons to get together for discussion in between the every two-year presbyterate meetings that are customary in the Archdiocese. About 200 priests and deacons attended.

Instead of being about sacramental marriage, however, the meeting was almost entirely about homosexuality and same-sex civil marriage. There were four speakers to present the well-known moral position of the Roman Catholic Church on same-gender sex and partnering.

Instead of discussion, there was a Q&A period during which priests were asked to write their questions and submit them to the speakers. The opportunity to talk to one another was limited, as one priest put it, to asking: “How’s your chicken sandwich?” At the end, according to our sources, the Archbishop told the priests to ready themselves for the fight of their lives against legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.

Several of the priests and deacons we spoke to expressed dismay at having been misled about the subject matter of the meeting and the lack of opportunity for discussion. Two were reported to have left in disappointment. One said he felt like he had been “duped.” One priest said, “I was embarrassed to hear what we were hearing and to sit together with my priest friends and do nothing. But it just didn’t feel like anything we could say or do would make a difference.”

To obtain information on the meeting agenda, we called Dennis McGrath, Archdiocesan Communications Director. He said no information was available through his office. We got the following information from printed materials the speakers at the meeting provided to clergy in attendance and from the internet.

The first speaker was Dr. Janet E. Smith, guest lecturer at the St Paul Seminary during the current term, and a professor of moral theology at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. She is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family. A search of the internet does not reveal where Dr. Smith went to school or received her training.

Our sources said Dr. Smith’s presentation had been announced as “Marriage from the Perspective of Canon Law.” Her handout, however, was entitled, “The Natural Law Argument Against Homosexual ‘Unions’.” In an attempt to define what is “human,” Dr. Smith wrote that humanity is characterized by “living in community, seeking knowledge (art, music, sports), and worshipping God.” Humans live “in a rational way.” Examples were “eating in a rational way (plates, utensils); having sex in a rational way (married).” Inexplicably, she also noted that “Everyone is disordered sexually; chastity is a challenge for everyone.”

Other speakers were Dr. John C. Cavadini, Reverend Michael Prieur, and Professor Teresa S. Collett.

John C. Cavadini is Associate Professor of Theology, and Chair of the Theology Department at the Unversity of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. He received his B.A. in 1975 from Wesleyan University; an M.A. in 1979 from Marquette University; and his Ph.D.in 1988 from Yale University. Dr. Cavadini’s lecture was entitled “Marriage from the Perspective of Church.” Contacted by phone, Dr. Cavadini said he did not have a written copy of the lecture.

Fr. Michael Prieur, who graduated from St. Peter’s Seminary, London, Ontario, in 1965, obtained his Doctorate in Theology from the Pontificio Ateneo di S. Anselmo in Rome in 1969. As a professor of Moral and Sacramental Theology at St. Peter’s Seminary for over thirty-five years, he has specialized in Bioethics, the Sacrament of Marriage, and the Art of the Confessor. He is Coordinator of the Permanent Deacon Program for the Diocese of London.

Fr. Prieur’s subject was “The Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Issue in Canada: What Happened?” Fr. Prieur warned against allowing the issue of legalizing homosexual unions as civil marriages to be framed in “rights” language. That is what happened in Canada, he said, and it led to some lower courts holding that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms required recognition of same sex civil marriage.

The relevant passage in the Charter reads: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (Section 15 (1)) The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was embedded in the Canadian Constitution in 1982, replacing a Bill of Rights which had been a federal statute since 1960.

After the lower court decisions, instead of appealing, the Canadian government drafted a bill, which the Supreme Court ruled was constitutional, and the Parliament passed. On July 20, 2005, Royal Assent was given to the Civil Marriage Act and it became the law of Canada. It reads: “Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.” The Act also “recognizes that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

The problem with framing the question in “rights” language, according to Fr. Prieur, is that it “totally bypasses looking at the institution of marriage in any ontological sense, rooted in the ‘givens’ of creation and objective reality.” He did not specify why the government of Canada should view civil marriage in sacramental terms.

In addition to bypassing the sacramental aspects, Fr. Prieur wrote that “rights” based civil marriage bypasses the question of the “common good.” In separating “love” from “procreation,” the primary purpose of marriage, the best interests of children, is overlooked. Fr. Prieur sees the equal protection of same sex civil marriage as possibly resulting in many evils – discrimination against heterosexual marriage, the blurring of all objective differences in relationships, the increase of illness due to anal intercourse and consequent law suits against the government, and the state’s inability to determine criteria for consummation. All of these arguments weigh in on the side of prohibiting same sex civil marriage for the common good in Fr. Prieur’s view.

To avoid the negative consequences to the common good in the US, Fr. Prieur advised the priests to use the media, and to stand up strongly against legalizing same-gender civil marriage. “We may need simply to say: ‘Our teaching about marriage as being between a man and a woman is inherent in creation itself. This is the way God made marriage. It is unchangeable by human beings. And this teaching is on the level of the Creed. This is a teaching for which I am willing to die’.” Emphasis his.

Teresa S. Collett, Professor of Law at the University of St Thomas Law School, gave a presentation, entitled “Marriage & Government, An Uneasy Union.” Professor Collett earned her B.A. at the University of Oklahoma and her J.D. at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

In her power-point talk, Professor Collett showed the gradual decline of sexual morality from the Middle Ages, when marriage was a matter for ecclesiastical courts, to the present, when civil governments set the criteria for civil marriage. She cited statistics on the “cultural erosion of civil marriage,” including no-fault divorce, creation of legal rights for cohabitants, acceptance of out of wedlock births, and legal recognition of same-sex unions.” The rest of her presentation was on the history of the legal struggle for GLBT rights in the US and particularly in Minnesota. She warned that in 2008 “nineteen state legislators sponsored a bill to include marriage within the Minnesota Human rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and to delete the prohibition of state recognition of marriages between persons of the same sex.”

The bills she may be referring to are Senate File 3880, authored by Senator John Marty, and House File 4248, authored by Representative Phyllis Kahn, providing for gender-neutral marriage laws. The Senate bill is entitled “Marriage and Family Protection Act.” Under the “Legislative Findings” section, the bills declare that the state has an interest in encouraging stable relationships regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the partners and the entire community benefits when couples undertake the mutual obligations of marriage. The bills also specify that religious institutions are not required to solemnize such marriages.

If anyone has more or more accurate information on this initiative of the Archbishop to influence civil law and would be willing to share with the laity, we would appreciate hearing from you. Email us at progressivecatholicvoice@gmail.com.

Paula Ruddy is a founding member of The Progressive Catholic Voice.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Reflections on World Youth Day

By Margaret and Gordon Bayly


World Youth Day activities have concluded and it’s time to reflect. In keeping with the WYD theme, may we all receive guidance from the Holy Spirit and be a Light to the World.

There are so many thoughts crowding our minds.

The increased workload for clergy, religious and pastoral assistants – the generosity of volunteers and host families – the massive organization – the joyous and prayerful behavior of the pilgrims – the great TV coverage which gave us beautiful images and kept us informed – the understanding of the general public and the disappointment with the few who felt the need to protest in a disrespectful manner.

We must admit we have always found it difficult to equate Jesus with the fine robes worn by the Pope, cardinals and bishops.

We were impressed by the Pope’s heartfelt apology to the sexual abuse victims but sorry he wasn’t able to emphasize that when confronted initially with the scandal of sexual abuse there was a lack of leadership from the highest levels of the Church (including Rome). For some victims their cases were mishandled. An opportunity for additional healing was prevented when the Pope spoke to the Church’s selected victims and excluded the Broken Rites group and Anthony and Christine Foster. What model of Church are we presenting to our young pilgrims?

On a positive note, the Church is alive and well with regard to some social justice issues. We pay tribute to the many wonderful groups and individuals who are achieving great results.

Dissent in the Church is obvious. Parishioners are expressing their views in many and varied ways.

In the past, it was accepted that we should always approach Communion with reverence – now it is dictated that we must incorporate a bow – yet another rule to adhere to. Is this really necessary? This may be viewed as a trivial matter but many are ignoring the request.

According to the Powers that Be, the Eucharist should be denied to those who practice artificial birth control, are divorced and living in defacto relationships or irregular marriage situations, due to not gaining an annulment. Yet many of these parishioners disregard this ruling and present themselves for Communion.

For clergy and religious there is always the fear of being reprimanded if they offer advice that is contrary to the hierarchy. They must encounter many hurt and confused people who feel alienated from their faith family.

The following we cannot understand: the Catholic Church can accept and ordain a married Anglican minister but will not consider reviewing celibacy issues for its own priests. Also, leadership roles for women are not open for discussion. We should always pose the question, “What would Jesus do?”

Our middle son, Michael, is Catholic, compassionate, caring, and gay. The USA is home for him. He gained his Masters in Theology from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota and is employed as an educator and events coordinator by the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM). He is a wonderful advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their families.

We have come to accept that homosexuality is not a “lifestyle” that people choose; it is an “orientation” you are born with. The terminology that the Vatican uses to describe homosexuality is so distressing for us. Examples include “intrinsically evil,” and “objectively disordered.” Unfortunately, such terms fuel homophobia. Yes, it does exist!

There are many gay Catholics who desire to be accepted for who they are. We love equally, Michael and his two straight brothers. They fill us with pride and joy. Our family continues to embrace and support Michael. We have been questioned by some as to whether or not we should do this as it is contrary to Church teaching. Being “out” parents of a gay Catholic child is challenging and frustrating!

In a recent Diocesan article an Auxiliary Bishop stated “that coming to Communion is not a matter of ‘Come As You Are’ – a most misleading hymn.” To read this filled us with sadness as this hymn is a favorite of ours.

The following appeared as part of a reflection written by Michael and describes how this “misleading hymn” sustained him as he came to terms with his sexuality: “Yet, still the words of that hymn from my childhood stayed with me – like a warm, indestructible light flickering deep within. It restored my hope, and perhaps even saved my life.”

We continue to pray that those in power within the Catholic Church will consider acceptance and understanding towards those who are considered not worthy to receive the Eucharist. For some, the waiting time is over. The feeling of rejection can result in their faith journey following another path. Sadly, for others, dealing with not being welcome at the Lord’s table means a loss of faith.

Our Catholic teaching tells us there will be a Judgment Day. Preoccupation with the hereafter should not distract us from the here and now. Unfortunately some lose sight of the many good deeds and social justice issues that require attention in our daily lives.

In closing, we wish to share a quote from a dear friend, “Didn’t Jesus have some strong words for authoritarian people who were known to judge others by adherence to the letter of the law rather than by the love within their hearts?”

Gordon and Margaret Bayly are the parents of Progressive Catholic Voice editor Michael Bayly. They live in Port Macquarie, Australia, and their commentary was first published by CatholicaAustralia.com.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Does Christianity Have a Monopoly on Salvation?

By Eleazer S. Fernandez


A Note from the Editorial Team: Dr. Eleazar S. Fernandez, sheds light on the relativity of religious truth claims. We think readers who have always questioned the idea that “salvation” can be exclusive for Catholics or Christians will be particularly interested. Our thanks to Dr. Fernandez for allowing us to publish his article and our thanks to Jim Moudry, Minneapolis, for bringing it to our attention.

Dr. Fernandez, Professor of Constructive Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, New Brighton, MN, presented the following address at the Evangelical-Liberal Dialogue, November 8, 2007.


I find it a challenge to answer our question, “Does Christianity have a monopoly on salvation?” on at least two counts. First, it presupposes a shared understanding of what salvation is. This in itself is a complex and controversial topic. Our understanding of salvation will in some ways inform how we respond to the question before us. Since I do not have much time to dwell on this topic and would like to proceed as quickly as possible to the issue of the Christian monopoly on salvation, I can only offer a terse and limited account. I speak of salvation as the liberation, healing, and reconciliation of the whole creation both within history (as we know it) and beyond, which, from the Christian lens, is the work of God in Christ through, but not limited to, the particularity of Jesus. Second, it is a challenge to answer our question from a liberal or a progressive Christian perspective because there is no single voice that can fully represent the complexities and nuances of the whole liberal/progressive theological spectrum. Even Friedrich Schleiermacher who is considered the father of modern liberal theology, is, for many, not really liberal enough in relation to the issue. Schleiermacher continues to put Christianity at the peak of humanity’s religious evolution while relegating other religions to the lower rung. (1) Moreover, from the point of view of postcolonial discourse, his hierarchy of religions is infected by the virus of Euro-centrism. (2) Nonetheless, there are main tenets that characterize the liberal theological position that we can name and articulate.

At the heart of the liberal tradition is a protest against an external authority that claims to be the sole possessor of a divinely-mandated truth and which imposes this truth claim to the rest of humanity. Failure to accept this truth, it is argued, is not only to go against the divinely ordained earthly authority but also to go against God, the consequence of which is eternal damnation in hell where the damned will damned will be weeping and gnashing their teeth. “How about those who do not have teeth,” I jokingly asked a friend. His answer was quick and swift: “Don’t worry brother, God will provide.” The liberal theological tradition exposes the historical character of the external authority’s truth-claim, particularly its alliance with oppressive power. It subverts heteronomous discourse by locating its historical origin and pointing to human beings as active interpreting subjects. With human beings as active interpreting subjects, truth is not only historicized, it is also pluralized.

What does this critique of religious truth-claim mean in relation to how liberal or progressive Christians take account of the Christian claim vis-√†-vis the claim of other religions? What does this mean in relation to Christ’s saving act in Jesus? Does Christianity have a monopoly on salvation?

First, from a historical and hermeneutical point of view, liberal or progressive Christianity affirms that as historical creatures we do not see reality from the point of view of eternity (sub specie aeternitatis), but only through our limited socio-historical and geographical location. Historical beings that we are, what we see is a part and not the totality of reality. If our perception is limited by our historicity and circumscribed by our relationship with the world around us, then we should not close ourselves to other dimensions of the total reality or to other expressions of truth that our neighbors may see and experience. We should not be threatened when our neighbors affirm something as true, because his or her truth affirmation does not necessarily cancel out what we deeply hold as true. The Nobel Prize physicist Neils Bohr puts it well: “The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth. (3)

When we apply this insight to Christianity and the question of salvation, I say that what we know of God and God’s salvific acts in the world is limited to our historical window—the Christian window. This is not bad in itself. In fact, we see only because we see through a particular window. Not only is it impossible for a single human being to see through all the windows: there is no way of seeing apart from our particular window. This Christian window may become our Christian box -- our prison cell -- if we do not embrace it consciously and take account of it critically. When we are conscious and critical of our Christian window, we know that even the way we have framed our topic -- “Does Christianity have a monopoly on salvation?” -- is already set within the Christian framework. Believers from other religious traditions may not even want to play our Christian game—the game of salvation.

Second, from the theological-mystical point of view, not only is our knowledge of God limited and historically conditioned, but God is also the Ultimate Mystery. Moreover, the Ultimate Mystery is not only ineluctably ineffable; at the heart of the Ultimate Mystery is plurality. We can discern the Ultimate Mystery’s ontological plurality in the manifold particularities. To confine the Ultimate Mystery to one particular expression is to misunderstand what is at the heart of the Ultimate Mystery: the mystery of plurality — a plurality that at the same time does not deny the mystery of unity. (4) I have underscored ontological plurality as central to the Ultimate Mystery to counter embedded habits of thinking that reduce, swallow or melt the many into one. (5) In a society with a long history of devouring and melting the many into one, there is more reason to worry that the discourse on oneness with regard to the Ultimate Mystery maybe a religious projection of political hegemony. Instead of thinking in numbers and starting to count (In matters of Ultimate Mystery, he or she “who begins to count, begins to err,” says Augustine), we must see the other side of plurality not in terms of oneness (mono) but of the unity and the connection of the many. (6)

Third, from an ethical and practical point of view, liberal or progressive Christianity not only affirms that our knowledge is limited and that plurality is at the heart of the Ultimate Reality. It also affirms that the building of a just, humane, and sustainable world demands openness to the claims of other religious believers and to what their religious praxis can contribute into our common life, particularly to our shared well-being. Openness to the truth-claims of others and testing them in light of their contribution to greater well-being reminds me of Aristotle’s notion of phronesis (practical wisdom). Practical wisdom knows that something is “true” because of its “good” effects. If the “true” is the “good,” then the true is discernible in the “good” that a person does or what a “good person” does. (7) In short, a particular religious expression that claims monopoly of the absolute truth is, I believe, violating that truth-claim when it undermines mutual respect and when it harms the other. Monopolistic claims and imposition of truth claims are contrary to the nature of truth. Such actions devour people in the name of the sacred truth.

Where does this openness to the salvific claims of other religions lead to? Does it relativize or water down the Christian claim? How does it take account of the particular and decisive claim of the Christian faith? What is it going to say about the mandate to evangelize the whole world of the good news of Jesus Christ? Are liberal or progressive Christians destined to a wishy-washy or mushy kind of relativism and non-engaging niceness or tolerance, which fits very well into our individualistic-privatistic culture? My answer is a resounding No.

The best liberal or progressive Christian theological position overcomes religious schizophrenia and integrates the insights of scientific, historical, cultural, and literary studies as well as the nature and language of religious commitment. The liberal or progressive Christian does not crucify his or her intellect even as she or he continues to be a committed Christian. The de-absolutizing and relativizing perspective of historical studies and comparative religion is affirmed and valued by a liberal or progressive Christian. Relativity is the nature of all historical and religious institutions. One cannot escape from it. But an astute liberal or progressive Christian interpreter of religious traditions does not confuse or equate historical relativity with relativism. In fact, relativism is a contradiction to the spirit of the liberal tradition, because relativism is absolutism in disguise. In its subtle form, it is repressive tolerance.

What I affirm as a Christian who is an inheritor of the liberal or progressive tradition is not relativism but relationality. Relativity does not only mean being “limited” but also of being “potentially relatable” to other truth claims. (8) Relationality does not ask us to abdicate faith commitment through one religious medium, such as Christianity, but affirms it in the context of relationship with other claims. In fact, our day-to-day lives call us to make commitments in the context in which what we see is only through a mirror dimly—only through the relative and the particular and amidst competing claims. When the particular presents to us in the form of competing claims that demand our wholehearted commitment, we know that we are confronted to make a choice that is beyond the trivial, such as a choice between different kinds of doughnuts (old fashioned, honey glazed, cream and strawberry doughnuts, etc.), but a serious one. I cannot deny that there are other claims, but in committing myself to a particular claim it has made a claim on my life and it demands my total commitment. This is particularly true of the claim of Christ in Jesus.

As a Christian, the Christ who calls and demands my total commitment has become fully particular in Jesus. It is through this particularity that Christ’s saving work in Jesus has become a reality. If I may pair the word “only” with the word “salvation,” I say that it is “only” through the particular that we are “saved.” To use the syntax of the famous exclusivist dictum, “outside of the particular there is no salvation.” God loves particularities, lots of them. Yes, God saves through the particularity of Christ in Jesus, but God’s saving act in Christ is not limited to this particularity, and this particularity does not exhaust God’s saving acts through other particularities. This is at the core of what we call the incarnation. Incarnation means that the Divine has assumed the fullness of humanity, not that a particular humanity has taken on the totality of the Divine. (9) To make a particular assume the totality of the Divine is not an expression of Christian faithfulness but an act of betrayal. It is to fall into what the Christian tradition calls idolatry. Idolatry makes God a prisoner of a particular. To limit God’s saving act in Christ through Jesus is to imprison God, which is often done in the name of Christian faithfulness.

This may help us understand the creative tension between the particularity and decisiveness of the Christian claim in relation to Christian openness. I suggest that we see Christ in Jesus as a prototype (breakthrough figure) and not as an archetype figure. Unfortunately, the prevailing mindset of many well-intentioned Christians is that of Jesus as an archetype. If I may use a more mundane language, to construe Jesus as an archetype is to image Jesus like a cookie-cutter or a pasta-maker, which is to assume a cookie-cutter or pasta-maker mentality. In the pasta-maker mentality, the present as well as the future are strangulated and cut to fit the past. Similarly, threatened by the freedom of the Holy Spirit, the pasta-maker mindset abducts and imprisons the Spirit. The guardians of the pasta-maker mindset have the Spirit (Sophia) controlled and subordinated by the Son. The filioque controversy is an account of the history of the subordination of the Spirit. The subordination of the Spirit by the Son has been disastrous. The Son, through the Church, has imprisoned the Spirit and has limited its creative saving work by making the Christian container the only correct container of God’s grace.

It is, however, a different matter when we think of Jesus as a prototype. While archetype thinking equates Christ’s particularity in Jesus with exclusivity (a way of thinking among fundamentalist Christians), prototype thinking sees Christ’s particularity in Jesus as openness to other particularities. While archetype thinking confuses Christian faithfulness with exclusivity, prototype thinking holds in creative balance faithfulness and openness. Jesus the prototype allows freedom of movement of the Spirit, and it does not call Christians to live in the past; rather, it calls Christians to live creatively in the present. Jesus the prototype--God’s breakthrough figure--is not threatened by the freedom of the Spirit, but celebrates the novel and creative work of the Spirit to bring about salvation both within the confines of Christianity as well as beyond its walls and even beyond the work of Christ in Jesus. This does not mean that the Spirit contradicts the work of Christ in Jesus, but this does not confine the Spirit either. The Spirit’s freedom is in line with the work of Christ in Jesus. Put differently, we are open to others and to the work of the Spirit in others because we are faithful to the work of Christ in Jesus. John Cobb, Jr. puts it this way: “We must show that we are open to the other because we are truly faithful to our heritage.” (10)

Christian faithfulness is not a contradiction to Christian openness. Jesus construed as a prototype – God’s breakthrough figure – offers that possibility for liberal Christians. Liberal Christians can and must affirm that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), but in affirming this they affirm the way who is open to other ways. Put differently, to affirm that Jesus is the way is to be led to the way that is open to other ways and other paths. The way of Jesus is the way that is open to the presence of the Spirit who is doing its creative and saving work even beyond the historical deeds of Jesus. The way of the open Jesus is the way of the one who is truly but not the only nor the totality of the incarnation of the Divine.

Liberal or progressive Christian faithfulness walks in light of this understanding. Wholehearted commitment to the way of Jesus does not require that he be the only and the totality but that he be truly and fully an embodiment of God’s saving work. Truly is indispensable or essential to experiencing the saving work of Christ in Jesus and to faithful discipleship, but this is not the case with solely or only. Throughout the ages, faithful Christians have committed themselves to Jesus not because of their belief that he is the only or the exclusive manifestation of God’s saving grace, but because they have experienced him as the true, indispensable, universal and decisive manifestation of the Divine. (11) Yes, true religious experience—an experience that strikes at the core of one’s being—cannot be true only for me; it has to be true for others as well. (12) But the truth and universality of the Christian truth-claim does not demand the elimination of other truth-claims; neither does the recognition of other truth-claims require that one must water down the universal validity of the Christian truth-claim.

Wholehearted commitment may express in words that demand absolute devotion, but it should not be confused with arrogant exclusivism. The absolute language that comes from an experience of God’s saving power and which calls us to witness is not the language of comparison, but the language of commitment and devotion. Words and phrases such as “one and only” and “no other name” belong to the language of devotion (love language) and what scholars call performative or call to action language. (13) In the transformation of a common language to a language of devotion a slippage from a to the happens or that a has become the. (14) When something at stake is of ultimate significance, there is no other language short of the absolute language of commitment. No other language can make people leave what they have and make great sacrifices short of the absolute language of commitment. The absolute language of commitment and devotion is not, however, synonymous with exclusivism, which fundamentalist Christians confuse. Rather, it is a language of commitment in the face of other claims, and it is a language that finds a creative balance between faithfulness and openness.

Indeed, one can be both faithful and open to the claims of others and to the saving work of God in other religious faiths. Rather than be sad, we should be feasting and dancing that God is at work not only in us and through us but also beyond us Christians. The central point of the Christian Story is not God’s exclusivity but God’s radical love and hospitality. Liberal or progressive Christians must proclaim God’s radical saving hospitality whenever and wherever Christian exclusivism is present; liberal Christians must witness to God’s radical comma where exclusivism has put a period. Moreover, liberal or progressive Christians must proclaim God’s radical openness with the passion and excitement of an exclamation point! Thanks to God’s liberality, we have a God in Christ who saves through the many particularities!


Notes

1. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1989).

2. See Kwok Pui-Lan, Post-Colonial Imagination and Feminist Theology (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 186-208.

3. Neils Bohr, cited in Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998), 62.

4. Raimundo Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges: Three Kairological Moments of Christic Self-Consciousness,” in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, ed. John Hick and Paul Knitter (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Press, 1987), 109.

5. Cf. S. Mark Heim, Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1995); also see, Paul Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2002), 192-202.

6. Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges: Three Kairological Moments of Christic Self-Consciousness, in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, 111.

7. Paul Knitter, One Earth, Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1995), 82.

8. John B. Cobb, Jr., Transforming Christianity and the World: A Way Beyond Absolutism and Relativism, edited and introduced by Paul Knitter (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999), 6.

9. See Paul Knitter, Jesus and the Other Names: Christian Mission and Global Responsibility (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Press, 1996), 73; also Edward Schillebeckx, The Church: The Human Story of God (New York: Crossroad, 1990), 164-168.

10. Cobb, Jr., Transforming Christianity and the World: A Way beyond Absolutism and Relativism, 60.

11. Marcus Borg, “Jesus and Buddhism: A Christian View,” in Buddhists Talk about Jesus, Christians Talk About Buddha, ed. Rita Gross and Terry Muck (New York and London: Continuum, 2000), 80. Also, Knitter, Jesus and the Other Names: Christian Mission and Global Responsibility, 72.

12. Michael Polanyi cited in Daniel Maguire, The Moral Core of Judaism and Christianity: Reclaiming the Revolution (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1993), 63.

13. Knitter, Jesus and the Other Names: Christian Mission and Global Responsibility, 70.

14. John Dominic Crossan, “Exclusivity and Particularity,” in Buddhists Talk about Jesus, Christians Talk about the Buddha, 86.


Monday, May 5, 2008

The Fear Factor

By Mary Lynn Murphy


Over the past year or so, I have noticed an increasing climate of fear among liberal Catholics in our local archdiocese. Perhaps it is a trickle down effect from Pope Benedict’s tenure, or more likely, a reaction to the arrival of the new archbishop, John Nienstedt. In addition to Nienstedt’s very conservative record, his opening salvos and recent initiatives have been undeniably aggressive for a new guy in town. Add to that Archbishop Flynn’s termination of the 9:00 a.m. Sunday liturgy at St. Stephen’s parish, and both of the bishops’ sudden support for the Tridentine Mass (i.e., the return to the Latin Mass) and the so-called “new evangelization,” and you get a pretty grim picture from the liberal point of view.

Liberal employees of Catholic institutions are feeling especially vulnerable. The whole scenario seems slightly reminiscent of the McCarthy era of American history. People have become more cautious and self-censoring. They worry not just about job loss, but about the loss of established liturgies and their communities of worship. They whisper among themselves and look over their shoulders.

I have posed to them the straight forward question: “What specifically are you afraid of?” Their answers have startled me:

“If we are perceived to be questioning Catholics by admission counselors, we fear our children will not be accepted into Catholic high schools.”

“Conservative parents of my high school students closely monitor my assignments. In fact, I have eliminated several books from my reading list. I fear if I appear too liberal, my principal might be pressured by parents or higher-ups to fire me.”

“As an aging priest, I fear I could lose my parish or my pension if I appear to be too supportive of GLBT persons.”

“I am old. I have no money. If I were expelled from my religious order for opposing the archbishop, I would have nowhere to go.”

“For speaking my conscience, I fear I could be excommunicated, with no Catholic burial when I die.”

“I work in food services at a Catholic university. I was shocked to see that Catholic LGBT support groups are not allowed on campus. But I would never mention it because I need my job.”

“At Catholic universities, free speech and students always suffer when professors routinely self-censor. But self-censor I do because in this job market I have no options.”

“Even respectful, thoughtful discussion of certain topics is off the table at Catholic high schools, which is so frustrating to most of us students. We really need to talk freely about issues we face – like reproductive freedom or homosexuality.”

As appalled as I am at such heartbreaking responses, I had immediate questions of my own:

Are Catholics in the pew aware of the fear factor? If they are aware of it, does it worry them?

What is the fundamental nature of a Catholic hierarchy that would intimidate its own people, or a church system that would tolerate intimidation?

What is the intended purpose of intimidation in any faith community?

Do individual Catholics or entire faith communities believe they have the human right to resist intimidation? If faith communities resisted intimidation, what might be the outcome? What would it take to make a faith community finally resist intimidation?

Is it worth imagining or designing an intimidation-free faith community that is all inclusive?

I have some answers of my own, but perhaps you, our readers, would like to respond to these questions, or share reflections of your own about the fear factor. We welcome your comments – anonymous or otherwise, just let us know.


Mary Lynn Murphy is the president of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the coordinator of Catholic Rainbow Parents, and a co-founder of The Progressive Catholic Voice.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Big Picture Framework of a History of Christianity

By Terry Dosh

As a church historian, I find Karl Rahner’s three-epoch theory of Christian history very helpful – and hopeful – in understanding the huge changes taking place in today’s church.

Rahner, the preeminent Catholic theologian of the 20th century, delivered these remarks in 1979 at age 75 while reflecting on the impact of Vatican II in the long schema of the history of Christianity.

Theologically speaking, he sees this history as divided into three epochs. Chronologically, an epoch can be a very limited time period, or a very expansive time period. The transition between epochs marks significant shifts.

The first epoch is the short period of Jewish Christianity from the time of Christ until the late first century. Christianity is heavily indebted to the Jewish ethos and culture in its beginning years. For example, the liturgy of the word in the celebration of the Eucharist is rooted in the Jewish liturgy of the word.

The first Christians were all originally Jews who lived in a Greek-speaking Roman Empire. The shift from the first epoch to the second is marked by a deep cultural shift from Judaism to Hellenism in the empire.

The second epoch goes from the late first century up to 1950. Obviously this covers a lot of ground: Constantine, Charlemagne, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, the Enlightenment, a variety of revolutions – scientific, industrial, agricultural, political (American, French, Russian) and two World Wars.

The four characteristics of epoch two are: a Eurocentric church; a centralized governance; monocultural (Latin, Roman, Mediterranean); and patriarchal, that is, a top-down pyramidal line of authority. There are many appropriate subdivisions in this epoch, as noted above, but the overarching characteristics remain valid for the entire epoch.

The third epoch is the period in which the major sphere of the Church’s life is not just Europe, but, in fact, the entire world. It began about 1950 but made itself observable officially at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). So we are just at the beginning of epoch three.

The four characteristics of epoch three are: World-Church; a decentralized mode of governance, as shown in the various regional groups of bishops promoting their regional churches; a pluriformity of cultures as manifested in the hundreds of vernacular languages in the contemporary Eucharistic liturgy worldwide; feminist, that is, a series of concentric circles (pope, bishops, priests, the rest of the baptized) wherein each circle serves the other circles in an egalitarian, reciprocal way.

This term feminist is not Rahner’s as such, but rather that of John Glaser who uses the term to counter the term patriarchal of epoch two.

Admittedly, this three-epoch theory is a grand schema and is open to many questions and comments. But I have found it quite helpful in reflecting on the half century since Vatican II. The four characteristics of epoch three give me a sense of hope whenever I observe some current Vatican officials and some local clerics still functioning from an epoch two model.

I believe that the epoch three view of history is with us. This lifts my spirits as I keep moving along, trying to make this vision of history a reality.

At 77, I experienced the first 30 years of my life in epoch two, where my parents spent most of their lives. But the last 47 years are happily in epoch three, where our two sons and their families have spent their entire lives.

As a ‘middlelescent’ living in the swing generation between my parents and my sons, I see that my task is to translate the values that made my parents wholesome and holy to my children and grandchildren who only know the third epoch. Quite a joyful challenge.

Terry Dosh is a married priest, a co-founder of CORPUS, and the editor of “Bread Rising,” a newsletter on Church reform.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Why I Stay

By Mary Beckfeld


In a letter to her family, Mary Beckfeld explains why she loves the Catholic Church enough to stay.


To my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren:

Some of you repeatedly ask: “Mom, why do you stay in a church that discriminates against you?” I know I haven’t answered you satisfactorily, but in this letter I am going to attempt to do just that.

I stay because this is the church of my parents, my grandparents, and my ancestors. This is the church that fed and nourished me as a young child. The Jesus stories, the sacramental preparations, partaking in the sacraments, even the liturgies that exclude me as a woman, have formed and made me who I am today.

As an adult, I have come to appreciate that the church that Jesus came to establish is bigger than the one I was raised in, and much more inclusive than what I was led to believe. I have come to accept the fact that if my life is fully dedicated to the God who loves me, I must first recognize God in everyone I encounter: family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the street. I must also recognize God’s wonderful work in all of creation. I accept that if I fail to see God in all of creation, I fail to see God. This is a powerful concept for me, the former throw away queen.

I love the church. I stay because I have found a community within the church where I am always welcome and always loved. This community is comprised of my friends in the diaconate program, the CSJ community, and those involved with CPCSM, Catholic Rainbow Parents, and The Progressive Catholic Voice.

I despise and resent what some in positions of authority are doing to the church. Yet I stay because this church is my history, my story. In particular, I have been shaped by my experiences in the diaconate program. If I left, I would be leaving a part of myself that was formed by my ancestors. I stay because the church of Jesus Christ is who I am – warts and all.

I stay because the sacraments and all they represent mean so much to me. I stay because the gift of faith is my strength in times of sorrow, struggle, and loneliness. I stay because this church is still home – warts and all.

Hopefully, this letter answers some of your questions and will help strengthen your resolve to stay in a church that is not always welcoming. I encourage you to find a community within the church, as I have done; a community where you feel welcomed and loved.

Love you all as God loves you!

Mom


Mary Beckfeld is a founding member of the Catholic Rainbow Parents and of the editorial team of The Progressive Catholic Voice.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The "Underground Church"


By Michael Bayly


A four year-long study by Regis College professor Kathleen Kautzer
reveals new insights into the “underground church” movement
– a movement embodied by Eucharistic communities and parishes
that have intentionally moved beyond the institutional structures
of Rome so as to create and sustain Catholic communities
of vibrancy and authenticity.

I’m a member of a Catholic parish in the Twin Cities that, along with a number of other “progressive” Catholic communities, has recently been ordered by the archdiocese to conform its liturgical practices with the rubrics as stated in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal.

I’m sure that for many Catholic parishes, the rubrics of the Roman Missal serve well to express and reflect their faith and community life. Yet for the past 30 years, the parish to which I feel blessed to belong has developed its liturgy in ways that beautifully reflect the presence of the Spirit discerned in the unique gifts and needs of its members and in our shared lives together. This development has been a very intentional and faith-filled embodiment of Vatican II’s call for the “full and active participation” of the laity in “liturgical celebrations” (Sacrosanctum Concilium [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy], 1963). Yet many feel that now, in one fell swoop, this embodiment - along with the Spirit that nurtured and inspired it - has been discounted by the Archdiocese in its demand that it be abandoned for the rubrics of the Roman Missal. It seems that in this situation, the “form,” which Jesus said “profits nothing,” has been elevated above the “Spirit” which gives life.

According to Catholic theologian and author Richard McBrien, those ultimately responsible for demanding this type of Spirit-denying conformity comprise “a small but powerful and determined group within the Vatican who have never accepted the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI.”

The resistance of this “small but powerful” clique to these reforms (and to subsequent Spirit-led innovations within Catholic parishes and communities from the Netherlands to South Minneapolis) is, insists McBrien, “at root ecclesiological in nature.” What they oppose is the “de-clericalization of the liturgy” and Vatican II’s call for the “full and active participation” of the laity.

In the minds of those resistant to such “full and active participation,” writes McBrien, “the Church is identical with the hierarchy and the priests who serve under the bishops. The laity, on the other hand, are simply the beneficiaries of the sacramental ministrations of the clergy, in a process ultimately controlled by the Vatican. The problem for the resisters is not so much that the Mass was put into the vernacular, but that the laity could now fully understand it and actively participate in it. . . . It is [the] underlying ecclesiology [of Vatican II] that is rejected, and not simply the changes in language and rituals. What the resisters oppose is the very idea that the Church is the whole People of God, laity included, rather than the hierarchy and clergy alone.”


Inclusive welcoming, participatory liturgies, and democratic governance

The recent efforts of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis to enforce strict liturgical conformity, along with its efforts to promote the pseudo-science of NARTH, forbid dialogue, and ban certain speakers, have left many experiencing feelings of deep frustration, sadness, loss, and anger. Such responses, coupled with McBrien’s observations regarding the rejection by many in the Catholic hierarchy of Vatican II ecclesiology, bring to mind Kathleen Kautzer’s comprehensive study of the “underground church” movement, and specifically this movements efforts to move beyond the institutional structures of Rome so as to create and sustain Catholic communities of vibrancy and authenticity.

Kautzer is an associate professor of sociology at Regis College, a predominately all-women’s Catholic college founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Weston, MA. She teaches courses in peace studies, women’s and children’s issues, social movements, and spirituality. For the past four years, Kautzer has traveled the country studying the Catholic reform movement and, in particular, the emergence and growth of Eucharistic communities and parishes that operate outside Vatican control. Her study, soon to be released as a book entitled The Underground Church, drew on theories of nonviolence and social movements to interpret and evaluate the Catholic reform movement.

Last November, Kautzer spoke at the annual Call to Action conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As part of her presentation, entitled “The Underground Church: Nonviolent Alternatives to Vatican Empire,” Kautzer shared photos and descriptions of “Vatican II-styled communities marked by inclusive welcoming, participatory liturgies, and democratic governance.” She noted that “some are within, others outside the institutional structures of the Roman Catholic Church.” Many of the Catholics that comprise these “resistance communities” no longer find dialogue with the hierarchy constructive. Accordingly, they are proactively creating, discovering, and employing “a range of nonviolent strategies to preserve or create vibrant communities that fit their vision of a just Church.”

Kautzer defines the “underground church” as the movement to reform the Church structurally. The term encompasses a range of Vatican II-styled parishes and reform groups, from Voice of the Faithful to Call to Action.

Generally, all such parishes and groups are working for four basic reforms:

1) A formal role for laity in decision-making.

2) Fiscal transparency and accountability (an important issue, says Kautzer, given that a recent study found 85% of the dioceses looked into had serious problems of embezzlement).

3) An inclusive priesthood - one welcoming of married clergy, women, and gays.

4) A commitment to renewing and expanding the direction of Vatican II.


Kautzer chose the term “underground church” in part because it parallels Elisie Boulding’s concept of the “underside of history,” which Kautzer explains is the idea that “in any society, even if the dominant culture is oppressive and hierarchical, there is always an underside where people try and practice cooperation and nonviolence.”

Although the scope of Kautzer’s four-year study was limited to the U.S., she notes that there are similar “underground church” movements underway and flourishing in other parts of the world. Perhaps the most well known of these is represented by the liturgical reforms being carried out by the Dutch Dominicans.


“Above-ground communities”

Kautzer organized the communities she studied according to the different forms of non-violent resistance they embody. Many Vatican II-styled parishes, for instance, along with the reform group Voice of the Faithful, comprise the “lightest form” of non-violent resistance. These “above-ground communities” often employ the “insider tactics” of “protest and persuasion.” They attempt to work “within the system” and, in the case of Voice of the Faithful, avoid “controversial” issues such as female ordination.


“Borderline communities”

“Borderline communities,” says Kautzer, are those engaged in “a little stronger form of non-violent resistance” than the “above-ground communities.” They sometimes engage in the “insider tactics” of protest and persuasion, but more often than not engage in the “outsider tactic” of non-cooperation. Some examples of borderline communities include:

1) Convents in which Catholic nuns perform their own liturgies (including Eucharist) and new types of rituals.

2) Eucharistic communities that are at least tolerated by the hierarchy and rely on “insider priests” (i.e., priests recognized by the Vatican) but engage in church reform work.

3) Vigiling Parishes that are resisting closure orders and conducting their own rituals (e.g., St. James the Great in Wellesley, MA, which is part of the Council of Vigiling Parishes).


The “underground church”

The “underground church” is defined as groups, parishes, or networks of parishes that operate outside of Vatican approval or control, and work for church reform. They tend to employ the “outsider tactics” of non-violent intervention and the creation of parallel institutions. Examples of the underground church include:

1) Catholic reform organizations such as Corpus, Women’s Ordination Conference, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Catholics for a Free Choice, and Dignity, which, unlike the others, says Kautzer, “has no choice but to operate as an underground church because of the Church’s punitive policies towards homosexuals.” (In most dioceses, including the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, Dignity is banned from meeting on church property.)

2) Eucharistic communities that are not approved by the Vatican, rely primarily on lay persons or “outsider” priests (i.e., priests who have married, resigned, or been defrocked), and engage in church reform work. For example: Community of God’s Love in Lowell, MA.

3) Parishes that are not recognized by the Vatican, but retain the “Catholic” label and engage in church reform work. For example: Spiritus Christi in Rochester, NY, and St. Stanislaus Kostka in St. Louis, MO.

4) Communions and/or networks of parishes that are non-Roman yet identify and are recognized as Catholic, and provide governance structure and support services for “underground” parishes. For example: the Old Catholic Church (for an extensive interview with Rev. Robert Caruso of Cornerstone Old Catholic Church in St. Paul, MN, click here), the Reformed Catholic Church, the National Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Catholic Communion. This last group has developed a constitution based on the Association of the Rights of Catholics in the Church. Among other things, this constitution expresses welcome to all “regardless of race, national origin, religious affiliation, gender, or sexual orientation,” and mandates that people within parishes vote on policy and elect their priests.


Disadvantages and advantages

Kautzer acknowledges that the underground church communities are labeled “schismatic” by the Vatican. Others dismiss the movement as being like a modern-day Protestant Reformation. “It is in a way,” says Kautzer, “but the difference is that people aren’t creating new denominations. They’re saying, We are Catholic, but we’re just going to do it without Vatican approval.”

There are, of course, some potential pitfalls – including the ongoing struggle for funding and membership, and the potential for cult-like and/or unqualified leadership. However, it’s not as if qualified leadership is guaranteed by reliance on the Vatican, notes Kautzer. In addition, the Vatican itself encourages cult-like organizations, for example, Opus Dei. Many of these organizations, says Kautzer, are documented in Gordon Urquhart’s book, The Pope’s Armada: Unlocking the Secrets of Mysterious and Powerful New Sects in the Church.

Advantages of the underground church include not being restricted by Vatican pronouncements – many of which reflect a narrow and impoverished theology, especially around issues of gender and sexuality. As a result, the underground church, says Kautzer, “challenges dualistic categories that separate laity/clergy, men/women, celibate/married, the sacred and the profane, thereby embodying the notion of the priesthood of all believers and the sacred dimension of reality.”


Impediments to reform

As to why so many Church hierarchs are resistant to the type of change heralded by the underground church, Kautzer suggests that one factor is that many of them, especially those within the Vatican, “tend to be isolated and surrounded primarily by like-minded colleagues selected precisely because of their conformity and subservience.”

Drawing on the theories of human consciousness development pioneered by Ken Wilbur, Kautzer notes that the current pope, like his predecessor, operates primarily from a “traditionalist philosophical framework” – one that is highly authoritarian and dismissive of alternative perspectives and views. Most Catholics, Kautzer contends, operate from a “post-modern or even integralist framework” or worldview. In terms Wilbur’s model of human consciousness development, these are two stages beyond where the vast majority of Vatican officials are. “This gap in worldviews,” says Kautzer, “makes it difficult for people to communicate.”

Kautzer also draws on the insights of psychotherapist Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, author of Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, when she describes many Catholic hierarchs as “narcissistic,” a state that Frawley-O’Dea maintains is “reinforced by the highly deferential treatment of unchecked power.”

In light of all of this, Kautzer, paraphrasing Gandhi, insists that: “We must be the change we want to see in the Church.” “If ‘We are the Church’,” she says, “then we don’t have to sit back and wait for the hierarchs to make decisions.”


Status and prospects of reform

The hierarchs, however, are making decisions – ones that many Catholics find, at the very least, problematic and, at most, intolerable. It’s too early to say how my Catholic community or others within the Archdiocese of St.Paul/Minneapolis will respond to the latest demands to conform. My sense is that the “insider tactics” that many have embraced for years are rapidly losing their appeal.

Perhaps the abandoning of such tactics is long overdue. After all, during her talk at the 2007 National Call to Action Conference, Kautzer could give “no substantive examples” of successful insider strategies (i.e., of people working, protesting, and attempting to persuade authority figures within the system) bringing about reform. For substantive change to occur, she declared, outsider strategies must be employed.

“There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in the underground church,” said Kautzer. But within reform groups focused on insider reform, great difficulties and obstacles – including financial – are being encountered. Voice of the Faithful, for instance, is experiencing a “funding crisis.” People seem to be giving up on insider reform, she said, and are “tired of having the iron thumb of the hierarchy on their back and saying that you can’t talk about this, or think that, or do this.”

“The prospects for reform are dim if we rely solely on insider tactics,” said Kautzer. This is especially true given that the new priests coming into the priesthood tend to be very conservative and authoritative; that Vatican II priests, bishops, and cardinals are either “dying off or being forced out”; and that Pope Benedict XVI has stated publicly that he wants a smaller, purer Church, and that he wants reformers to leave unless they can support everything the hierarchy teaches. “[The pope] doesn’t care if you leave,” says Kautzer. “He’s happy to push you out the door.”

This isn’t true, however, of all cardinals and bishops, many of whom are not as isolated as the pope. They are acutely aware of what such an exodus would mean financially for the Church. Even some conservative Catholics are worried. Writing in the February 2008 issue of the Catholic World Report, Russell Shaw refers to David Carlin’s book, The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, and notes that: “Carlin concludes that the outcome of the crisis will probably be the de facto collapse of the Church in America and the retreat of Catholics into the status of a ‘minor and relatively insignificant sect.’ Traditionalists will have won the internal Catholic power struggle, mainly because the progressives will have drifted away. But in the end, the small band of traditionalists will find themselves isolated in ‘a new Catholic quasi-ghetto,’ with about as much influence on the culture as the Amish and Hasidic Jews have now.”


Movement of the spirit

I’m not interested in living in any type of ghetto, yet that’s what Pope Benedict XVI seems intent on creating for Catholics. I’m drawn to a Church open to the Spirit, a Church that recognizes and celebrates itself as the Risen Body of Christ, alive and afoot in the world; a Church unafraid of journeying and engagement, of growth and change. My sense is that the birthing and rising of the “underground church,” as described and documented by Kathleen Kautzer, is the movement of the Spirit, seeking and finding welcoming and fertile soil beyond the fortress-like walls of the Vatican’s current state of rigidity and its fearful retreat into conformity.

I cannot help but think that Kautzer’s study validates Rosemary Radford Ruether’s observation that the more the hierarchy stagnates and retreats, the more numerous and freewheeling the creative initiatives that spring up on the ground.

I do not believe that such initiatives herald the destruction of the Church or it’s collapse into insignificance. Rather, I believe that the initiatives that comprise the “underground church” are, in fact, the hope of the Church, and herald its transformation into the fullness of new life.


Michael Bayly is an editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice and the executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM). This article was first published on Michael's blog, The Wild Reed.