Monday, June 1, 2009

One Archdiocesan Community, Two Mindsets

By Paula Ruddy

Are you a “Communion” Catholic or a “Kingdom” Catholic? Does it matter? Can you be a “just plain” Catholic?

The Pentecost encounter between Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and the Rainbow Sash Alliance this past week may be an example of two different mindsets, or worldviews, trying to make sense of each other.

Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., has an analysis that may help us understand the polarity within our church and give us a way to approach each other.

Here is how he describes each mindset:

By Kingdom Catholics, I mean those of us who have a deep sense of the church as the pilgrim people of God, on the way to the kingdom. The theologians who have been central for this tradition have been people like the Jesuit Karl Rahner, and the Dominicans Edward Schillebeeckx and Gustavo Gutiérrez. This tradition stresses openness to the world, finding the presence of the Holy Spirit working outside the church, freedom and the pursuit of justice. They became very much identified with a publication called Concilium.

By Communion Catholics I mean those who came, after the council, to feel the urgent need to rebuild the inner life of the church. They went with theologians like Hans von Balthasar and the then Joseph Ratzinger. Their theology often stressed Catholic identity, was wary of too hearty an embrace of modernity, and they stressed the cross. They had their publication. It was called Communio.

Of course, all this is a bit of a caricature. I am able to go into a more nuanced analysis in my book. Most of us will feel some attraction to both of these traditions, but will probably feel a primary identification with one or the other. We will only heal the divisions if we stretch our imaginations open to understand why the others think and feel as they do. Before we can talk, we must sympathize, and feel how it is that their way of understanding the church offers them a home, a place in which to be at peace.

- Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., What is the Point of Being a Christian?;
lecture in April, 2006, entitled “Overcoming Discord in the Church”,
published in the National Catholic Reporter, May 5, 2006

Radcliffe says Vatican II disrupted the peace of Communion Catholics while it liberated Kingdom Catholics. Retrenchments from Vatican II dismay Kingdoms while they hearten Communions. They both experience what he calls “root shock,” a feeling of losing a home.

John L. Allen, Jr., in the National Catholic Reporter, May 17, 2007, writing about the Pope’s way of communicating, says this of the “communio school”:

Benedict is close to the communio school in Catholic theology, whose key figures accent the need for the church to speak its own language. It's an "insider's" discourse, premised on the conviction that Christianity is itself a culture, often at odds with the prevailing worldview of modernity. All this is part of Benedict's project of defending Catholic identity against pressures to assimilate in a relativistic, secularized world.

We don’t want to think of one mindset as right and the other wrong. They are different. They probably both have upsides and downsides. But to avoid extreme relativism in saying one is just as good as the other, we might say one has more going for it in 21st Century U.S.A. than the other. One may take into account more stages of human development than the other. One may produce stability while the other produces growth. We’d have to think that one through.

But for now, how does this analysis relate to the Archbishop and the Rainbow Sash?

The Rainbow Sash Alliance is a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people, their families, friends, and allies, who gather each Pentecost at the St. Paul Cathedral at the noon Mass to celebrate their lives and gifts and to give thanks and praise in the Eucharistic celebration. They wear rainbow colored sashes to identify themselves. Not unlike the Knights of Columbus in full gear, celebrating the contributions they have made to the community.

The recent Archbishops have seen this as a protest to Church teaching about the intrinsic disorder of homosexual sex. As we understand it, their view is that protest at the Eucharistic celebration is contrary to the sign of unity Eucharist is supposed to be.

In responding to the Rainbow Sash leader, Brian McNeill, Archbishop Nienstedt wrote: “I ask you to refrain from such a public act of dissent, especially as it so clearly shows disrespect and irreverence for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.” He also talks about disrupting the prayer of the gathered community. He speaks of being out of communion with the Church’s teaching when there is disagreement.

We are suggesting that this illustrates the two different mindsets Radcliffe is talking about. The Archbishop, as a good leader, wants to maintain order. He is focused on the external behavior of respect and reverence for the sacrament, shown in this case by not drawing attention to the fact that there is disagreement among the communicants. He is concerned for the inner life of the church in that to function well the members should be in agreement on all the basics and obedient to the leaders. The Church is one body, thinking alike, acting reverently, producing a right minded, godly membership. He is speaking like a Communion Catholic.

The Rainbow Sash Alliance, on the other hand, wants to affirm difference. There are many ways we are not alike. Perhaps it would be acceptable to leave differences at the door of the Cathedral when going in to celebrate Mass if there were a forum within the Archdiocese for bringing them up and having them affirmed in another venue. But there is such a high value on uniformity within the Communion leadership, that there is no room for difference. Individuals who do not fit are stifled. GLBT persons do not fit the mold, defined in formulations about sin. People who question do not fit the mold, defined in dogmas and “unchanging truths.”

Kingdom Catholics value diversity, inclusion of all differences, openness to the world of differences. The building of the Kingdom is a process of relating to difference in mutual love and cooperation, difficult as it may be. They believe that the Spirit of God is in every person and in the community of persons. The question arises for them: Why is reverence and respect for God in the Blessed Sacrament more important than reverence and respect for God in other humans?

Is there any way for these two mindsets to work together? Radcliffe suggests that each has to empathize with the other’s needs for belonging, affirmation, contribution. Each has to have a home in the Church.

Maybe if a person is self reflective at all, or aware of the human dynamics in community, he or she cannot be a “just plain” Catholic. Or maybe a “just plain” Catholic is one who, with either Communion or Kingdom leanings, has a spirituality deep enough to accept and value the other.

We would like to hear your ideas about these questions and if and how the polarization can be healed. Sign up for a Google account and leave us a comment.

See also the previous post:
Civil Discourse. In Church? - Charles Pilon (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 5, 2009).


  1. "But whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed (as happens... where 'faith' and 'knowledge' are constructed as opposites), then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of 'knowledge', and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation — a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated — a world in which art itself is forced to wear the mask and features of technique"

    The above quote of Hans Von Balthasar is a summary of what I would understand to be the main problem of modern society in the eyes of Communion Catholics; but really, this is a serious problem that any of us must grapple with: Kingdom or Communion.

    That said, I do not see that the open and celebratory existance of GLBT people in the Church or society is an expression or this problematic development within modern society.
    In fact, I would contend that the insistance that the sexual expression of love be tied solely to the function of procreation is more an expression of this problem than an affirming GLBT expression of sexual love. For then sexual love is reduced to a mere function - a technique - as the quote mentions.

    The task then of GLBT Christians would be to live and proclaim how nature and grace are, indeed, not severed within our sexual relationships but affirmed and enhanced.
    This will take hundreds of years before the Church is able to full proclaim such a grand and, at this juncture, provocative reality. So we must persevere. Keep living lives in affirmation of our way to Love. We must build traditions for an age to age support of our vision and never give up on the forever conversion of our lives to Christ's transforming Love.

  2. Thanks so much for the quotation from Von Balthasar and for the inspiring admonition. Do Communion Catholics distinguish between modernity and post-modernity or do they see the same dehumanizing characteristics carried forward?

  3. I am not an "expert" on such matters but I would surmise that the Communion strain within Catholicism would find no distinction between the two as this has been a rather public bone of contention within Catholicism at least since the 1860's and the "Syllabus of Errors" put forth by Pope Pius IX - Modernism and Post-Modernism being rather secular distinctions of cultural development.

  4. This is very interesting to me. In Western culture since the modern period there seem to be many perspectives from which the culture can critque itself, the post-modern being one. When the Catholic culture sees itself as unchanging and unchangeablee it is deaf to the critiques offered by other perspectives within the Western culture. It thereby loses its credibility to offer critique too. What do you think of this point of view?

  5. If we are speaking of the culture of the formal institution, that appears to be the case. But Catholic Culture is far more than that which operates within the formal institution. As more people are chased out of the formal institutional, we will experience an informal Renaissance of Catholic Culture. I believe we are in it now. The Spirit moves where it wills. Vatican II is working.

  6. Hmmmm. An "informal renaissance of Catholic culture"? Without an institution? You are more optimistic than I am. I'm thinking that the way spirit expands is by institutional support. For example, the institution of family supports the growth and development of children. Some institutionalization will be necessary to support the renaissance of Catholic culture, won't it? One form produces Communion Catholics, another produces Kingdom Catholics. Can the institution be flexible enough to support both? I think Kingdom Catholics are very much in need of a supportive institution. They have to affirm the positives in the mainstream culture and question the negatives. It takes a lot of discernment for which support is necessary. That is why I am for reform of the institution. Not you?

  7. I have quoted your post and linked to it in my own blog:

  8. I do believe we thrive and are formed/supported through the guidance of the institutional traditions of Catholicism. But where is it that these guiding traditions come from? Looking back through the attritions of history, one can see how they almost literally bubble up from the Earth: from the spiritual reflections of individual saints or small local communities, some with the blessing of the dominant institution, others not so much. It is this constant renewing force of the Spirit that inevitably brings about reform. The Church can say that she is unchanging and constant but history so teaches otherwise.

    One of the main contentions of the Reformation was whether grace can be mediated directly or only through the mediations of the Church in the sacraments. The Catholic Church, of course initially proclaimed that only through the sacramental actions of the Church could grace be mediated. Yet, just 100 years later we see that Bernini created a sculpture "St. Theresa of Avilla in Ecstasy" a clear depiction of a direct infusion of grace into the soul of the saint during contemplation.

    The point is, if the Spirit is moving within our faith communities, whether the institution can accept it or not. We must listen, study, discern, pray and always try to be honest and true to how we experience the Spirit moving within ourselves. Test our convictions in prayerful conversations with others of both like and of different mind just like we are doing here.

  9. Please continue to talk with us, Jamez. I've learned a lot from you.

  10. I shall have to now that I put myself out here; if only in the service of expanding the landscape of our journey unto Truth. It's gratifying to learn that there are others who are ernest in actually struggling in heart, mind and soul with these questions of faith and there practical application in the living of our lives. Thanks to you for getting the ball rolling here and piquing my passions.

  11. Jamez, I too have greatly appreciated your contributions to this discussion. I hope you will continue to engage us, and, as editor of the PCV, extend an invitation to you to consider submitting articles/commentaries/reflections for publication. If you're interested in this, feel free to contact me at



  12. In his written reply to Brian McNeill of Rainbow Sash Alliance USA and in the May 27, 2009 edition of the Catholic Spirit, Archbishop Nienstedt gives evidence that he, too, is a victim (as are many) of the Roman papacy, most recently of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. If you don’t believe this, you might consider reading, beginning to end, Practicing Catholic by James Carroll, but pages 220 – 286 in particular.

    We cannot accept some of the positions being taken by Archbishop Nienstedt for the Church into which we were baptized. No, we can’t. No, we won’t.

    Guided by the divine Spirit and the documents of the Second Vatican Council and with the release by Paul VI of Humanae Vitae in 1968, we have begun to think for ourselves and to act on our thinking. Guidance from the institutional Church is often vacuous and corrupted by the cruel exercise of power and clerical, righteous certainty that father always knows best. This certainty is somehow supposedly the will of God for us and meant for our own good. No way, no longer. “Reform is coming not from the collapsing clerical establishment, but from the people (Practicing Catholic, p. 321).

    Charles Pilon,
    Author, Waiting for Mozart: A Novel about Church People Caught in Conflict