Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Launching a Council of the Baptized in St. Paul and Minneapolis

Editor's Note: The following is a statement from the Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), of which The Progressive Voice is a founding member organization.


Archdiocesan Catholics want a voice in the direction of their local church. We want a local church inclusive of all age groups, all cultures, and points of view, where communication promotes spiritual growth. We want to manifest God’s love for the world as was Jesus’ mission.

It’s not that we don’t value the role of the Archbishop as spiritual/institutional leader. We appreciate the value of that role very much. The world-wide institutional network of dioceses that is the Roman Catholic Church, with the Bishop of Rome as its symbol of unity and the bishops in regional conferences working together, creates an unparalleled structure for spreading the good news of God’s love for humanity, the message of Jesus. How bishops understand and live out their role matters. It makes the difference between a local church that manifests the Spirit and a lifeless one.

We, the laity, have a role to play in the institutional church too along with the Archbishop and the ordained clergy. Vitality in any organization comes from all its members taking ownership, in open communication, working toward common goals.

Through our Catholic practice we have become profoundly aware of the need for institutional change so that the Church can fulfill its mission. We are calling the disconnects we see between the Gospel message and institutional policies and practices “concerns of conscience.” We the people want to partner with the Archbishop and the ordained clergy to voice our concerns of conscience, and to embody the loving community that manifests the Gospel message. We see this as our baptismal responsibility.

Council of the Baptized

To further our goal of participation, CCCR has founded a charter Council of the Baptized, a 21 member panel, to receive input from the people of the Archdiocese, to deliberate on questions of conscience they present, and to prepare and publish consensus statements in their name. Click here for the Charter document.

Nominations for the 21 seats on the Council of the Baptized are now open. Think of the people you know who are wise, open-minded, thoughtful, and compassionate. You may nominate up to three persons. You can nominate them on-line or you may print the nomination form, fill it in, and mail it to the address listed on it. Click here for a nomination form.

Nominations will be open throughout the months leading to the Synod of the Baptized on September 17, 2011, where it will be one of the main tasks of the participants to nominate Council members. Nominations will remain open until September 24, 2011. At that time, CCCR/ACT will sort and collate the nominations.

The sorting will be by geographical quadrants. There is nothing rigid about the geographical designation: the East/West divide is generally between St. Paul and Minneapolis and the North/South divide is Interstate 94. Choose the quadrant of your parish or your home. We have used the Archdiocesan deanery system as a convenient way to divide parishes into quadrants. In 2015 the deanery system will become a convenient way to group parishes for elections. Click here for your parish and the deanery and quadrant it is in. You may nominate people from any quadrant.

The Council Charter calls for 3 phases of the Council’s establishment. We want it to be as representative as possible of all the people who want their voices heard. Ideally we would have elections at the parish and deanery level. But we will not be able to set up mechanisms for elections right away. Rather than wait till we can make that happen, this year CCCR/ACT will select members by a process of discernment from the nominations by all those who choose to join us before or at Synod 2011. By 2015, the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II, we hope to have elections from parish groups to the deanery level and from the deanery level to the Council

In 2011, then, the 21 member panel will be comprised of 16 quadrant representatives-- 4 members from each quadrant. Each member will have a 3 person support team chosen from the same quadrant. The remaining 5 members will be at-large, chosen for the skills and qualities the Council needs to do its work.

We project that the process of discernment shall be complete by the end of 2011 and the first Council of the Baptized will be seated in January, 2012. It will be ready and open to take the concerns of conscience you wish to present for consideration--in writing, signed with your name or the names of the people in your group

The first topics to be considered by the Council will come from the concerns of conscience brought forth at the Listening Sessions being held now throughout the quadrants. Those concerns will be brought to the Synod for Synod participants to discuss and add their own. Synod Table Leaders will gather after the Synod to work on presentations to the Council.

We need you to pray for guidance for us during this time when many decisions are in the making. We want our first Council to model the kind of community we want our local church to be—collaborative, welcoming the gifts of young and old, full of hope and joy.

See also the previous PCV posts:
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
Synod of the Baptized Uncovers Deep Well of Hope
Listening Sessions Underway in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Local Church

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform
Can the Catholic Church Change? – Michael Leach (
The Huffington Post, March 30, 2011).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Consensus of the Faithful as the Voice of the Infallible Church

This year The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, celebrates “a century of Catholic journalism.”

Reflecting on this milestone, associate publisher Bob Zyskowski opined that an “essential characteristic” of any Catholic newspaper is that it should strive to reflect the community it writes for. In other words, it should “tell their stories, report on their joys and their sorrows, write about what matters most to them.” Wise words.

Unfortunately, however, for many Catholics within the Archdiocese who have serious concerns of conscience around numerous church policies and practices, and who accordingly are open to discussing and implementing reform,“what matters most to them” receives scant attention in The Catholic Spirit. Indeed, their efforts to simply gather together and talk openly and honestly about important issues in the life of the church have been denounced in the pages of the paper. This is, of course, a major reason for the establishment of The Progressive Catholic Voice: to serve as an “independent and grassroots forum for reflection, dialogue, and the exchange of ideas within the Catholic community of Minnesota and beyond.”

There was a time, however, when The Catholic Spirit did indeed share the perspective of all Catholics – including those drawn to discern and embody the church’s capacity for reform. And some of those who shared such a perspective and who regularly wrote for the newspaper were actually members of the clergy. The Rev. Marvin R. O’Connell was one such regular contributor. His column was entitled, “Tracts for the Times.” O’Connell is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame, and the author of the award-winning John Ireland and the American Catholic Church and several other books, including Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart.

I believe it would be a worthwhile endeavor for The Catholic Spirit, during its 100th anniversary year, to republished a range of past articles – including some of those written by O’Connell. A good one to start with would be the following, the focus of which remains as relevant today as when it was first addressed by O’Connell in 1969, when The Catholic Spirit was known as The Catholic Bulletin.


Consensus of Faithful Infallible, Newman Said

By Rev. Marvin R. O’Connell

The Catholic Bulletin
September 19, 1969

In 1859 John Henry Newman published a magazine article called “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.” Like much of what Newman wrote, this piece played its part in a contemporary controversy, the relevance of which has long since passed away. But, as was so often the case when Newman was arguing about a particular issue, he spoke on the level of principles applicable to times, places and situations far different from his own.

The genesis of “On Consulting the Faithful” is not, however, without interest, because it had to do with a problem with which we are all too familiar. During the 1850s the precarious condition of English elementary education prompted parliament to set up an investigating commission, one of whose tasks was to find out how effectively government subsidies were being spent in denominational schools. Among these subsidized, religiously-affiliated institutions were the Catholic schools.

The English bishops were very suspicious of the commission and refused to cooperate with it. Unhappily, they did not make their position known to the country at large nor to their own people, and so there had grown up among Catholic laity – especially among the better educated and more articulate – strong support for the commission. The feeling was that the commission could bring about a general improvement in elementary education, from which the Catholics – the poorest of poor minorities – could not but benefit.

When the bishops condemned the commission as an instrument of state intrusion into the strictly religious sphere, a good many Catholics were not only angry at the condemnation itself, which they considered ill-advised, but embarrassed as well at finding themselves, because of the bishops’ prior secretiveness, far out on a limb. A lot of bitter things were said, and Newman’s comment was relatively mild. But the context within which he spoke caused a new furor which pushed the school issue into the background.

“Acknowledging most fully the prerogatives of the episcopate,” he wrote, “we do believe, both from the reasonableness of the matter and from the prudence and considerateness which belong to them personally, that the bishops really desire to know the opinion of the laity on subjects in which the laity are especially concerned. If even in the preparation of a dogmatic definition the faithful are consulted, as lately in the instance of the Immaculate Conception, it is at least as natural to anticipate such an act of kind feeling and sympathy in great practical questions.”

Were the faithful indeed to be “consulted,” not only in practical matters to which they brought special expertise and interest, but “even in the preparation of a dogmatic definition?” The very casual way in which he asserted the principle no doubt helped whip up the storm that now fell upon Newman’s head. The bishops’ reaction was unequivocal: it is “absolutely unnecessary,” they said, “that the reasons for our own actions should be explained and that the Catholic community should be informed of the grounds of our proceedings.” The most prominent English theologian, told him that it was at least proximate to heresy.

And so, by way of defense, Newman wrote “On Consulting the Faithful.” Learned and closely argued as it is, filled with historical lore and citations of Latin and French authorities, the article is difficult to summarize. Yet its central thesis is clear enough. To consult the faithful means that, since the truths of revelation reside within the baptized community, the belief of the people is a testimony to the apostolic tradition upon which any doctrine is defined.

In 1854, when he was contemplating the definition of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX insisted that he could not act until he ascertained the views of the Catholic people on the subject. This, said Newman, was only one in a host of examples that might be cited in support of consultation. The most spectacular working out of the principle came in the fourth century, when under pressure from the Roman government, the church’s shepherds collapsed into Arianism. It was the people who sustained the belief in Christ’s divinity.

As Newman put it, “The body of the episcopate was unfaithful to its commission, while the body of the laity was faithful to its baptism; at one time the pope, at other times general councils said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth; while on the other hand it was the Christian people who, under Providence, were the ecclesiastical strength.”

Crucial to Newman’s point in his understanding that the consensus of the faithful is the voice of the infallible Church. Nor that the consensus is itself infallible; it is rather one indication of the real judgment of the church – the church composed of both teachers and the taught – which is infallible.

– The Rev. Marvin R. O’Connell
“Consensus of Faithful Infallible, Newman Said”
The Catholic Bulletin
September 19, 1969

Recommended Off-site Link:
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocesan Newspaper – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 14, 2007).

See also the previous PCV posts:
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
Richard Gaillardetz on the Need to “Wrestle with the Tradition”
Church Teaching and the Individual Conscience
St. Paul-Minneapolis Catholic Archdiocese Releases New Strategic Plan: Who Was Consulted?
Communicating with Leadership
Let Our Voices Be Heard!
It’s Critical That Catholics Find Their Voice
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)
Catholicism: A Changing Church – Despite Itself
A Return to the Spirit

Image: “Sensus Fidelium” by Annette Falk Lund.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

5 Reasons We Shouldn’t Be Surprised That Catholics Support LGBT Rights

By Paul Gorrell

Editor's Note: This article was first published at

A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows not only that more Catholics support marriage rights for same-sex couples than other Christians [43%, while 31% support civil unions] but that they do so at a higher percentage than the general population. In fact, on every LGBT rights question, including DADT and job discrimination, a high percentage of the Catholic population supports the move toward full participation of LGBT individuals and the necessary legal protections to create the environment for that participation.

Perhaps most surprising, 70% of Catholics surveyed believe that the words of their priests in sermons can contribute to the suicides of LGBT teenagers. In other words, Catholics understand that orthodoxy from the pulpit has consequences and they’re concerned with both the means and the ends when it comes to LGBT rights

While conventional wisdom says that Catholics are generally conservative, those who understand Catholic culture aren’t terribly surprised by these findings. Here are five reasons why I believe that Catholics are more open to LGBT rights:

1. Catholics have an underlying commitment to social justice built upon a prominent liberal notion that we are meant to serve each other and pay attention to those who suffer most within our society. Despite the Catholic Church’s turn to orthodox positions on so many aspects of its faith, the 20th century included an adoption of liberal perspectives when it comes to social order, caring for the poor, promoting social justice, and living Gospel values. The teaching challenged many capitalistic hegemonies and called people to pay attention to those who suffer most. Against this backdrop, Catholics get the fact that LGBT folks face social injustice in a society based on hetero-normative structures, so it should come as no shock that they’d respond with compassion and a strong sense of justice.

2) Catholics love ritual. Ritual is integral to Catholic experience. While many of us can point to moments when we experienced really bad ritual at Catholic liturgies, ritual still remains at the core of all expressions of faith within the Catholic Church, and marriage has not escaped this reality. Catholics believe that marriage is one of the seven sacraments which leads them to take the celebration of the union between a man and a woman very seriously. There’s no need for a professional wedding planner or a lot of contemporary add-ons (the lighting of a unity candle comes to mind). Like every sacrament, core symbols show the power of the transcendent experience. Here, the rings and the words shared by the couple are enough to change two lives and all that they touch forever. Denying a ritual celebrating a fundamental human experience does not pass the smell test of a people dedicated to ritual expression of divine love. The rich and yet simple rite exemplifies the right to marriage. It speaks of commitment and a life changing “yes” to togetherness.

3. Catholics believe in both individuality and community. Those who practice Catholic faith are trained to make individual choices about moral behavior based on the primacy of the conscience. The idea here is that Church teaching informs the conscience but it does not absolutely rule it. While Church teaching has a privileged place within the moral formation of the person, it’s always meant to be considered in light of a particular context and the intentions of the people involved. Catholics practice the art of translation when it comes to moral decision-making and, in this practice, are highly pragmatic. The teaching of the Church does not dictate their thinking or demand blind obedience.

4. Catholics are highly skeptical of the sexual teaching of their Church. Ever since Pope Paul VI delivered Humanae Vitae in the 60s—the papal encyclical on sexuality which seemed incongruent with the sexual revolution driven by the advances in birth control — Catholics have largely ignored the official teaching of the Church on sexual relations within marriage and outside marriage. Teaching delivered by the celibate clergy on sexuality was seen as na├»ve, impractical and unresponsive to the experience of sexually-active Catholics. This was true in the early stages of the post-Humanae Vitae era and in later years when the Church refused to endorse condoms to help prevent HIV/AIDS. The Church authorities seemed more connected to the consistency of their ideology than sympathetic and responsive to the lives of people who were in trauma. You might say that Catholics responded with a collective eye roll at its leaders when they failed to allow for condoms in Africa within marriages when one of the spouses had HIV. On this, the Church teaching was unrealistic, rigid, and irresponsible.

5. The pedophilia crisis undermines any teaching which denies LGBT rights. It’s hard to take a church which has been in crisis around priestly pedophilia seriously when it comes to its rigid position on the rights of a sexual minority who is trying to do the right thing. The causes that underlie pedophilia within the Catholic priesthood are worthy of a robust debate. Let’s just say that many priests have chosen a double life when it comes to sexuality. They make a public proclamation about celibacy while fully realizing that they will have future sexual experiences in which they freely choose participation. A caveat: I was a Catholic priest and had an insider’s view of this duplicitous lifestyle. LGBT folks who are striving for personal joy without losing personal integrity are an interesting juxtaposition to those who have official authority to teach about sexuality while practicing it in the shadows.

In this latest survey Catholics have simply continued to show the complexity of their thinking and confounded the general sense that they’re out of touch, reactionary, and against sexual justice. In fact, we might argue that it’s precisely because they are Catholics, they get the issues related to LGBT rights.

— Paul Gorrell
March 25, 2011

Recommended Off-site Links:
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
Catholic Theologian: "Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the ProblemThe Wild Reed (November 11, 2010).
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, April 19, 2010).
A Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage – Erma M. Durkin (The Baltimore Sun, March 6, 2011).
A Hopeful and Encouraging Trend – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, September 26, 2010).
A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage – Daniel Maguire (The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, April 20, 2006).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Catholics More Supportive of Gay and Lesbian Rights Than General Public, Other Christians
More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church
Dialoguing with the Archbishop: Amendment Campaign Contrary to Church Moral Teaching
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology!

Image: Michael J. Bayly

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Catholics More Supportive of Gay and Lesbian Rights Than General Public, Other Christians

By Michael Sean Winters

Editor's Note: This article was first published March 22, 2011 as "New Report on Catholic Attitudes Towards LGBT Issues" on Michael Sean Winter's National Catholic Reporter blog, Distinctly Catholic.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) this morning released a new survey of polling data regarding Catholic attitudes towards same-sex issues. The report indicates that Catholics are more supportive of same-sex marriage and other gay rights than other American Christians.

According to the report, which was based on several surveys, 43% of Catholics support same-sex marriage and another 31% support civil unions, while only 21% of Catholics oppose all legal recognition of same-sex unions. By comparison, 16% of white evangelicals, 23% of black Protestants and 36% of mainline Protestants support same-sex marriage.

The survey also found that if the pollsters specified that same sex marriage would be defined as a civil marriage (“like you get at city hall”), support among Catholics increases to 71%. As well, the survey indicates that Latino Catholics, the fastest growing part of the Catholic population, are even more supportive of gay rights than their Anglo co-religionists.

“American Catholics will be surprised by these findings,” said Professor Stephen Schneck on a press call organized by PRRI. Schneck said the results rebut the “stereotype that Catholics are more conservative on social issues.” He noted that a “striking feature” in the report is the higher interest in civil unions among Catholics. “Catholics seem to like civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriage.” This is true even more among those RCs who attend Mass regularly.

Schneck also expressed surprise at the higher levels of support for same-sex marriage among Latino Catholics. He noted the “prevailing understanding is that Latino Catholics are much more supportive of traditional Catholic teachings on social issues.” He called the polls findings on Latino Catholic attitudes an “eye opener.”

As in most surveys, those who attend religious services more regularly tend to take more conservative stands on gay rights issues. This tracks with data that shows higher rates of church attendance among older sectors of the population and attitudes towards gay rights are hugely conditioned by age, with younger people much more accepting of gay rights.

Professor Michelle Dillon of the University of New Hampshire, who was also on the press call, said, “Catholics, even frequent Mass attenders, make up their own minds on these matters.” Dillon noted that many surveys have indicated that, “for Catholics, same sex issues are seen as personal matters of morality. Just as Catholics have made up their own minds about divorce and contraception, they view this issue in that arena of socio-sexual issues.”

Robert P. Jones, the president of RPPI, noted that in a 2008 survey, Catholics were asked, “Can you be a good Catholic even if you disagree with official Church teachings?” Eighty percent responded in the affirmative.

The entire survey has been posted at the RPPI website here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Catholics for Marriage Equality MN
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, April 19, 2010).
A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage – Daniel Maguire (The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, April 20, 2006).
A Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage – Erma M. Durkin (The Baltimore Sun, March 6, 2011).
A Hopeful and Encouraging Trend – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, September 26, 2010).

See also the previous PCV posts:
More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church

Image: Michael Bayly.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Many Voices, One Church

Note: Continuing with our series that recognizes and celebrates the contribution of lay preachers within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the editorial team of the PCV in honored to share the following homily for the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

For an introduction to this series, click here. Also, please note that to avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and parishes will not be disclosed in this series.


Readings: Deut. 11:18, 26-28; Rom. 3:21-25,28; Mt. 7:21-27

When invited to do the homily for today, I was told that the readings were difficult. Although warned, I saw they were about law; I was a lawyer; so why not. I have since come to agree that the readings are hard, not because they are difficult to understand, but because they are so central to our faith. It's always hard to talk about central things.

When I was in grade school, the parish priest used to visit our classes and talk about religion. I suppose he wanted to know if we were learning our catechism properly. I remember only one discussion from those visits. We talked about the rules of fasting before Communion. He explained that we couldn't eat solid food after midnight of the night before Mass, or liquids other than water. But what, we asked, about ice cubes? I think we were born lawyers, every one of us.

This is often how we tend to think about law – as a finely calibrated checklist of rules, designed to distribute credits or debits in each person's eternal accounts book. The aim in life is to try to ensure that the credits outweigh the debits and so earn us eternal life. This accounting view of law is very far from the vision in the readings today.

The book of Deuteronomy consists of a retelling of the Jewish law. It is framed in the form of a speech by Moses to the people just before they enter the promised land. Moses begins with a summary of all the great deeds God has done for his people, leading them out of Egypt, sustaining them through the perils of the desert, and taking their side in battles with many enemies. He reminds them that none of these favors came because of their own merit. Instead, God freely gave them. Moses says: "It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you – for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you . . ." (Deut. 7, 6-7).

The entire law in Judaism is based on a relationship of love between God and the people. God initiates the relationship and invites the people to love Him in return. The core of the law is this: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut 6, 4-5). This verse forms the essential core of the Sabbath service in Jewish synagogues to this day. In our reading, these are the words that Moses tells the people to take into their heart and soul, bind on their wrists and foreheads, and teach to their children. All the rest of the law recited in Deuteronomy, from the ten commandments to the minutest prescriptions of religious ritual and the every-day rules of economic and family life, flow from the relationship of love between God and his people.

I have more trouble with the second reading. In fact, I have trouble with all the epistles of Paul. Some of that has to do with his ideas, particularly about women, but part of it is because I can't help hearing his language through the filter of the Reformation. "Righteousness," "testified to," "justified," "expiation," "works of the law" – to me all these terms resonate with the fervor of a fundamentalist preacher. As an Irish Catholic in 21st century America, I find they set my teeth on edge. But if we can put aside those cultural biases, Paul's message becomes much more interesting. In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul has argued that God's law is known to all peoples, pagans as well as Jews, and all of us have failed to follow it. We have chosen to turn away from God; we have chosen to sin. No one, Paul says, has the right to judge any one else for violating the law of God, because we have all failed. But that doesn't mean we're doomed, cut off from God forever. Echoing Deuteronomy, Paul insists that our merit is not the question here. What counts is our relationship with God. God's love for us, which is manifested in Jesus, is a free gift. All that is asked of us is to return that love.

Here is another instance where language gets in the way. Paul says God's gift is shown " through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe". The image presented by our history and culture is that of a long list of dogmas which we are supposed to read, check off, yes, yes, yes, and then, if we believe them all, sign at the bottom. And if we don't agree with every proposition, we lose. But when we look at these words "through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" more carefully, we see that Paul speaks about faith in someone, not something. To have faith in someone, means to trust them, have a relationship that inspires confidence in them as a person. And this is what Paul means here, I believe. Not that the gift of God's grace is limited to those who intellectually assent to the tenets of Christianity, but that it is available to all who trust in God's goodness, have confidence that God wills the good of us all, the good of all creation.

I have a little granddaughter who just turned three. I am very lucky that we get to see her every week. She is just coming out of the terrible twos, which I remember from raising my own children as a very trying period. But as a grandmother I have found the age to be fascinating. (No doubt in part because she goes home at the end of her day with us.) I am removed just enough from the front lines to watch the development of her conscience. She has no guile, at this age. I can see across her face every sudden impulse to do something she shouldn't. Then she remembers that Mima (what she calls me) has said no. Then she is angry with Mima for getting in the way of what she wants to do. But she loves Mima and wants to please her. It's a drama with high emotional stakes. Sometimes one side wins, sometimes the other. But however it turns out, we end up with her climbing onto my lap and sucking her thumb while I hug her. Because the ground of everything in our relationship is love, and ultimately it is her trust in my love that allows her to mature and develop the internal controls she needs to live. Love is the basis of law.

Our third reading forms the final section of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus emphasizes that what is important is not external obedience to the law, but our internal orientation toward God. Jesus asks for metanoia – a turning at the deepest level towards God. If we put our deepest trust in the God, all else follows. There is no opposition between law and love in the teaching of Jesus, but only a reordering of the priorities. Jesus says he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He is willing to ignore the precepts of the law, concerning the Sabbath, for instance, when the good of people requires it. Hans Kung, in his study of the historical Jesus, puts the message this way: "God's cause is not law, but man. . . . The commandments are for man's sake, not man for the sake of the commandments."

I think it's a question of where our gaze if fixed. If we are looking primarily at ourselves, our own interests, we need to concentrate on the rules so we can tell how we're doing. If we break the laws, we get too many debits, and are anxious. If we stay within the lines, we get lots of credits, and suffer from the more serious condition of self-righteousness. Where the exact lines are becomes a question of personal importance. But if, as Jesus asks of us, we fix our attention on God, then God is the Beloved, and we naturally and joyfully want to do what makes the Beloved happy. The well-being of God's creation, which includes ourselves, of course, becomes our focus. While laws are useful as guides, developed from centuries of experience, the exact rules are less important than taking care of each other. If a particular law ceases to serve life, it should be ignored. If we have confidence in God, we are joyful, and we are able and happy to act, knowing that if we mess up, we can turn back, climb on God's lap, and start over, no questions asked. As the reading has it, we have built our house on rock.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Listening Sessions Underway in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Local Church

In preparing for Synod of the Baptized 2011, the Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) is inviting local Catholics to host and/or attend "listening sessions." A number of these sessions have already taken place and more are being planned.

A listening session is a small gathering of Catholics who come together to discuss concerns about the institutional Church. They raise questions of conscience, note disconnections between the Gospel and Church practice, and express the needs they see within their Archdiocese. Listening sessions are an opportunity for the people in the pews to share concerns and listen to one another. These concerns will also be shared with the Council of the Baptized, the representative and deliberative body that will be the primary outcome of CCCR's Synod of the Baptized 2011.

Do you know people troubled by church policies and practices that do not reflect Gospel values?

Just invite them to your home, 6-20 people. Then call the coordinator, Paula, at 612-379-1043. CCCR will provide a facilitator to lead the discussion for you. Touch base with the facilitator ahead of time and she/he will do the rest.

Invited participants to listening sessions will discuss two main questions: "What disconnections do you see between the Gospel and our Church?" and "If you could talk face-to-face with Archbishop Nienstedt, what would you say?"

CCCR's goal is to attract 500 new participants to Synod 2011. "These added to the 500 Synod 2010 participants will make us 1000 strong," say organizers. "Our numbers give us courage, strength and hope."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church

Editor's Note: The following media release was released by Fordham University, Union Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School and Fairfield University.

More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church is an unprecedented collaboration — two Roman Catholic universities and two non-denominational divinity schools are coming together to change the conversation about sexual diversity and the Catholic Church.

For too long, the conversation on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in the Roman Catholic Church has been only a monologue — the sole voice being heard is that of the institutional Catholic Church. We must engage in more than a monologue by having a 21st century conversation on sexual diversity, with new and different voices heard from.

This series will show the variety of viewpoints on issues of sexual diversity among Catholics. Each event has a unique focus, and as a whole they will lift up new voices that are rarely heard and raise awareness about the impact of church teachings and public stances of the lives of LGBT people. The goal is to encourage more vigorous, honest, and open debate about sexual diversity within and outside the Catholic Church.

The four events in 2011 are:

Friday, September 16
Learning to Listen: Voices of Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church
Fordham University, Lincoln Center Campus, New York, NY

Saturday, October 1
Pro-Queer Life: Youth Suicide Crisis, Catholic Education, and the Souls of LGBTQ People
Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY

Saturday, October 22
Same-Sex Marriage and the Catholic Church: Voices from Law, Religion, and the Pews
Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT

Saturday, October 29
The Care of Souls: Sexual Diversity, Celibacy, and Ministry
Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT

Participants and audiences will include clergy and laypeople, scholars and activists, faculty and students, Catholic, post-Catholic, and non-Catholic thought leaders.

For more information contact, Elyse Raby,
For press inquiries contact: Geoffrey Knox,

Quote of the Day

Across the Middle East and in North Africa, courageous citizens are calling to account monarchies and dictators who have invested in power and personal privilege over the well-being of their people.

The sheer volume and tenacity of the crowds indeed are bringing change as some leaders fall and others hasten to gesture to their populace in ways meaningful enough to keep the peace.

In Philadelphia, the second grand jury in 6 years issued a second scathing report highlighting the moral corruption and indifference to souls we have come to expect from the Catholic hierarchy in that city and, indeed, around the world as events in Germany, Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland have amply illustrated.

This time, the grand jury recommended criminal charges against three priests, a teacher, and Msgr. William J. Lynn, former secretary for clergy, who has been arrested.

Once again, a prince of the church – fuschia-lined cape flowing behind him, gold ring shimmering in the camera lights trained on him – stood at a bank of microphones apologizing for harboring 21-37 alleged sexual predators, many still laboring in the ministry he controls.

Really? Is there anyone left who believes this hackneyed and heartbreaking theater of hypocrisy?

So where is Catholicism's Tahrir Square? Why isn't the Philadelphia chancery surrounded by thousands of Catholics and their priests shouting for Cardinal Rigali to "Go! Go!" What will it take to mobilize the People of God to insist on, to fight for an end to a privileged patriarchy holding up a feudal monarchy whose members tolerate sexual and spiritual slaughter of the lambs?

When will the people say, "Enough!" and assume the power that is theirs to wield within their own church? . . .

– Mary Gail Frawley ODea
"Where is Catholicism's Tahrir Square?"
The National Catholic Reporter
March 16, 2011

Recommended Off-site Links:
Jim Jenkins on Philadelphia Story: Bishops at Heart of Story, but Lay Catholics Complicit – William D. Lindsey (
Bilgrimage, March 16, 2011).
Sex Abuse and the Legacy of Lay Passivity – Jamie L. Manson (
The National Catholic Reporter, March 14, 2011).

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Nicholas Lash on Dissent and Disagreement

Following is an excerpt from an informative article by Nicholas Lash entitled "Teaching or Commanding?" It's from the December 13, 2010 issue of America and examines what Lash sees as "the heart of the crisis of contemporary Catholicism": the subordination of education to governance.


When the Second Vatican Council ended, several of the bishops who took part told me that the most important lesson they had learned through the conciliar process had been a renewed recognition that the church exists to be, for all its members, a lifelong school of holiness and wisdom, a lifelong school of friendship (a better rendering of caritas than “charity” would be). It follows that the most fundamental truth about the structure of Christian teaching cannot lie in distinctions between teachers and pupils—although such distinctions are not unimportant—but in the recognition that all Christians are called to lifelong learning in the Spirit, and all of us are called to embody, communicate and protect what we have learned. Much of what is said about the office of “teachership” or magisterium seems dangerously forgetful of this fact.

. . . Catholic Christianity is a lifelong school of friendship, holiness and wisdom. Yet the tasks of those exercising the pastoral teaching office seem not, in fact, primarily to be teaching, at least as this activity is understood in most schools.

In 1975 a plenary session of the International Theological Commission issued a series of theses on the relationship between the magisterium and theology. In 1966 Paul VI had addressed an international congress on “The Theology of Vatican II” on the same topic, and the commission introduced its theses with two brief quotations from that address. The commission defined ecclesiastical magisterium as “the office of teaching which, by Christ’s institution, is proper to the college of bishops or to individual bishops joined in hierarchical communion with the Supreme Pontiff.”

What terminology might be appropriate to describe what someone is doing when, for whatever reason, he or she seeks to take issue with some particular instance of magisterial teaching? “Disagreeing” is the term that comes to mind. But because teaching is, in current ecclesiastical usage, usually construed as governance, as command, such taking issue is described in the recent literature not as disagreement but as “dissent.”

Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., reminded readers of his 1983 book Magisterium that Pius XII, in “Humani Generis,” announced that “when a pope, in an encyclical, expresses his judgment on an issue that was previously controverted, this can no longer be seen as a question for free discussion by theologians”; Father Sullivan goes on to point out, however, that “there is no such statement in any of the documents that were approved by the Council.” The silence of the Second Vatican Council notwithstanding, John Paul II, addressing the American bishops in Los Angeles in 1987, said without qualification: “It is sometimes said that dissent from the magisterium is totally compatible with being a ‘good Catholic’ and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the bishops in the United States and elsewhere.”

If Father Sullivan’s study seemed content to work with the terminology of “dissent,” Ladislas Orsy, S.J. [author of Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates], is more troubled by the notion. “Dissent has become,” says Father Orsy, “one of the dominant themes in Catholic theology in the United States,” but “is mentioned less in European writings.” Dissent, he says, “is an imperfect term under several aspects”: It is purely negative; it implies “deep-lying internal antagonism”; it is historically loaded; and so on. “It follows that if we abandoned the word ‘dissent’ altogether, we would lose little and gain much.” I agree. Yet, “All these arguments notwithstanding,” Father Orsy concludes, “it appears that for the time being at least” we must “live with an unsuitable word.” For goodness’ sake, why?

Here is a very simple model: The teacher looks for understanding, the commander for obedience. Where teaching in most ordinary senses of the term is concerned, if a pupil’s response to a piece of teaching is yes, the student is saying something like “I see” or “I understand.” If the response is no, the pupil is saying “I don’t see” or “I don’t understand.” When subordinates say yes to a command, they obey; when they say no, they disobey. Dissent is disobedience. The entire discussion about the circumstances in which it may be permissible or appropriate to dissent from magisterial utterances makes clear that what is at issue is when and in what circumstances it may be virtuous, and not sinful, to disobey. There could, in my opinion, be no clearer evidence that what we call “official teaching” in the church is, for the most part, not teaching but governance.

I am not in the least denying that governance, the issuing of instructions and commands, has its place in the life of the church, as of any other society. That is not what is at issue. The point at issue is that commands direct; they do not educate. It is one thing to accept a doctrine, quite another to obey an order. . . .

– Nicholas Lash
"Teaching or Commanding: When Bishops Instruct the Faithful"
December 13, 2010

See also the previous PCV posts:
When is a Law Not a Law?
Richard Gaillardetz on the Need to "Wrestle with the Tradition"
Church Teaching and the Individual Conscience

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Save the Date!

Saturday, September 17

Synod of the Baptized 2011

Sheraton Bloomington Hotel
7800 Normandale Blvd.
Minneapolis, MN 55439
(For map, see here)

Join Vatican II-inspired Catholics as together we
launch the Council of the Baptized, a representative and
deliberative body that will address questions of conscience
communicate the voice of the people throughout
the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

More information, including a registration form,
will be available soon on the website of the
Catholic Coalition for Church Reform,

Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR)

We are the Church. In our understanding of Church, all the baptized are one big community of smaller communities. We are all equal. We all participate in different ministries. We communicate with one another and we share a vision and an attitude of self-critique. The five words we have been using to summarize this model of Church are community, equality, participation, dialogue and prophecy. Our mission, the Church's mission, is the mission of Jesus.


In December 2008, a few people met around a dining room table with the idea that all the reform-minded organizations in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis could be more effective in coalition. We gathered the Association for the Rights of Catholics (ARCC), Call to Action Minnesota, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), Dignity Twin Cities, CORPUS, Minnesota St. Joan's Community, The Progressive Catholic Voice, and Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP).

In April 2009, at a prayer breakfast, ten work/study groups, involving about 70 people, formed to prepare for Synod of the Baptized 2010. They suggested actions and practices to bring gradual cultural change within our local Church.

Five hundred people became the Synod of the Baptized on September 18, 2010. The Synod's outcome was the formation of the Action Coordinating Team (ACT), the Action Plan and action teams for Synod 2011.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Lasting Impact of Vatican II in America

By Kristen Moulton

Editor's Note: This article was first published March 4, 2011 in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Colleen McDannell knew the title of her new book, The Spirit of Vatican II: A History of Catholic Reform in America, would be provocative.

It does, after all, place the book smack in the middle of a contentious debate within the U.S. Catholic Church.

Modernists talk of the church not living up to “the spirit of Vatican II,” while traditionalists mock the phrase as if it’s a ruse for turning the council on its head.

Yet McDannell [left], a history professor at the University of Utah, says the title was nonetheless perfect for what she wanted to do: Tell the story of how American Catholics negotiated a time of dramatic change in their church.

“There was a spirit, and it was not just a light, frivolous, hippie, mini-skirted-nun type of thing,” says McDannell, who holds the Sterling McMurrin Chair in Religious Studies at the U.

The Spirit of Vatican II, McDannell’s eighth book, was released this week by Basic Books of New York. It is a social history, so it focuses on people’s lives.

“Many Catholics of an age remember this time in a warm and positive way, and that legacy endures,” McDannell says. “The council was, for most Catholics, a breath of fresh air.”

The Second Vatican Council was a meeting of Catholic bishops from throughout the world. It convened for months at a time in Rome over a three-year span, ending in late 1965.

Vatican II is considered the most pivotal church council in recent centuries, not because it declared new doctrine but because it changed the way the faith engages the modern world. It described a whole new role for lay Catholics.

The documents produced by the council to guide the church “were more poetry than law,” McDannell says. “The documents were meant to be inspirational and show through language an openness.”

A Mass for the masses

The most apparent changes had to do with liturgy.

Soon after Vatican II, priests began facing their congregations rather than the altar during Mass, and worship was in the vernacular of the people rather than the church’s official language, Latin.

Lay people began reading the scriptures for their fellow Catholics at Mass and serving communion. Women no longer covered their hair with veils, scarves or hats. Guitars appeared, and, for a time, popular folk songs were played.

In addition, lay people began studying scripture and theology together, and teaching it, too — something previously reserved for priests and nuns.

“It was a call to lay people to take a more active stance with regard to the liturgy,” says Kathleen Dolphin, who organized a conference and yearlong series to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Vatican II in 2005. She is the director of the Center for Spirituality at St. Mary’s College in Indiana, next to Notre Dame University.

“There were some people who went overboard with making the liturgy too ordinary,” Dolphin says. “Some of it was silly and some of it got kind of vapid, but . . . they were putting together the airplane while in flight.”

The church also began conversing with those engaged in science, government and other faith traditions.

McDannell says the effects cascaded.

“The council,” she explains, “opened up a space for Catholics to think critically, intelligently, thoughtfully, thoroughly, about their religious tradition.”

For regular Catholics, Dolphin says, the changes were profound.

“There has been this consistent effort to tone down what happened at the Second Vatican Council,” as if it were not a major turning point, Dolphin says. “But the people in the pews would say something really happened.”

Mother’s load

McDannell tells the story through the lens of her parents, particularly her mother’s life.

In Los Angeles, where her parents lived in the early 1960s, the archbishop was in no hurry to implement Vatican II reforms, and so Catholics there saw slow change.

When the family moved to Denver in 1967, they found Vatican II in full flower, with an architecturally modern church, a priest who wanted to be called by his first name, “Bill,” and guitar Masses.

Her Republican parents, Margaret and Ken McDannell, were now in a parish with a social-justice commission that took up collections for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union and sponsored a refugee family from Vietnam.

“Although she chose not to boycott nonunion grapes and lettuce, she did begin a long relationship with an order of priests who worked among the poor in Appalachia,” McDannell writes of her mother. “For Margaret and many of her generation who were critical of liberal protests, the parish served as a trusted interpreter of world culture and politics.”

Indeed, McDannell was surprised in researching her book to learn of the importance of the church to her mother, who moved every few years because of her husband’s work in the federal prison system.

“She had a ready-made community no matter where she went, with core rituals and history,” says McDannell, who visited her parents’ parishes from Ohio to California and from Colorado to Florida, interviewing friends and former priests and reading old parish bulletins.

While the American church still suffers from a rift between traditionalists and modernists, which centers often on the legacy of Vatican II, the divide often is set aside, she says. Her parents’ affluent, conservative parish in Ocala, Fla., for instance, has a sister church in Uganda.

“In parishes alive and growing, they have to deal with a variety of different kinds of Catholics,” McDannell says.

Catholic exodus

While it was not part of her mother’s story, McDannell talks about one of the other consequences of Vatican II: the hemorrhage of American Catholics out of the church.

“It’s . . . indicative of Catholics thinking the church did not go far enough in making changes, in its attitude toward homosexuality, toward women in the priesthood, toward birth control,” McDannell says. “For many people, they just got frustrated with that. The promise that we moved so far but not far enough.”

McDannell says she has stopped practicing her faith and now describes herself as a secular humanist.

“Where the church seemed to be going,” she says, “was not where I thought I wanted to go.”

Nonetheless, she calls herself a “confusing Catholic.”

“I spend more time talking about it, reading about it, studying it, than most normal Catholics.”

The publication of her book is bittersweet, because her mother died Dec. 13, as it was going to press.

“I feel confident that I told her story in an honest and straightforward way,” McDannell says. “This was not a woman who in any way was a liberal hippie, but it [Vatican II] allowed her to participate in the changes . . . in that era in a way that made sense to her. For many serious Catholics, it really revitalized their relationship to their faith and the tradition itself.”

Peter Steinfels, co-director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, calls McDannell’s book innovative for looking at the cultural changes through the eyes of women, particularly her mother.

“She has brought in a grass-roots perspective,” Steinfels says. “It is a very readable introduction. . . . It’s not inside baseball.”

Unlike McDannell’s mother and her friends, though, Steinfels has a more “worried” interpretation of the legacy of Vatican II. In 2003, he wrote A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

“Vatican II set in motion certain dynamics, this conservative and liberal split,” Steinfels says, “and it was handled poorly in turn.”

Data show that one in three adult American Catholics have left the faith, he says. “And the picture looks much more troubled from the standpoint of 20-somethings.

“There’s a conservative read on what went wrong and a liberal read on what went wrong, but is there a common ground?” Steinfels asks. “Something is amiss right now.”

Quote of the Day

. . . To be clear, the entire reputation of the entire American hierarchy, and that of the officials in the Vatican, is being weighed in the balance [by events in Philadelphia]. There is nothing that has been done or said by SNAP, or by victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson, or by any of the Church’s critics that comes even close to the damage to the Church’s reputation inflicted by Cardinal Justin Rigali.

All of the warnings from SNAP about the lack of independence by the independent review boards have been confirmed. The Vatican must remove Cardinal Rigali and remove him now.

On a New Orleans radio show the other day, Archbishop Gregory Aymond said, “What has happened in Philadelphia, quite frankly, is embarrassing to us.”

That is putting it mildly, although Aymond gets credit for breaking the unwritten rule that no bishop criticizes a situation in another diocese. What has happened in Philadelphia eats at the very heart of the credibility of the American bishops as a whole.

If they can’t get the clergy sex abuse mess right, after all their protestations that they had taken steps to deal with the problem, and all their claims that the Catholic Church was now ahead of the curve on the issue, that our policies were such that the Catholic Church was the safest place for a child to be, nothing else matters.

The New Evangelization? Forget about it. Pro-life activities? Not a chance. Advocacy for the poor? It rings hollow. If the leaders of the Church cannot be trusted to keep their most solemn pledge to protect children, they cannot be trusted at all. If they fail to see this, their moral sensibility is not merely skewed, it is dead. It is not only that they cannot be trusted, it is that they should not be trusted. . . .

– Michael Sean Winters
"The Crisis of Episcopal Governance in Philadelphia"
National Catholic Reporter
March 9, 2011

See also the previous PCV post:
The Scandal of Sexual Abuse

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Richard Gaillardetz on the Need to "Wrestle with the Tradition"

Later this year theologian Richard Gaillardetz (left) will leave his current position at the University of Toledo, Ohio, to take up the Joseph Chair of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College. On January 27, he delivered his final Murray/Bacik lecture at the University of Toledo. Entitled “The State of the Church, 2011,” this lecture outlined some of the major changes that have transpired in the U.S. church following the Second Vatican Council, and discussed the ongoing tensions between the early reception of Vatican II and the legacy of Pope John Paul II.

The full text of Gaillardetz's lecture can be viewed here. Following is an excerpt that deals with the issue of authority in the church.


The authority of church teaching places demands on all Catholics. The Canadian sociologist, David Lyon talks of the contemporary trend toward the "deregulation of religion." What he is describing is a larger societal tendency to be religious on our own terms, to define for ourselves what matters and what does not in matters of religious belief and practice. It encourages us, in other words, to become religious consumers and for the authentic practice of Catholicism, such an attitude is problematic.

Catholics are called to resist this cultural tendency. I am not talking about some unthinking obedience to what "Father says," or the bishop says, or even what the pope says. Postmodern religion has been profoundly influenced by our culture of choice. Within that culture we are tempted to see our tradition as a religious grab bag in which we are free to pull out whatever we find appealing. It is this consumer oriented view of the Catholic tradition that many have in mind when they speak disparagingly of "cafeteria Catholicism." For many church leaders, the default reaction to this situation is to return to the juridical paradigm of command and obey. Their solution is to insist on an uncritical and unswerving obedience to all church teaching. And so they enforce fidelity oaths on ministers and church employees. They micro-manage curricular and textbook decisions in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs.

But there is another way beyond the inadequacies of "cafeteria Catholicism"; it is to encourage a substantive and deliberate "wrestling with the tradition." To be part of a religious tradition requires that I take that tradition seriously, even when it troubles me, and even when, at the end of the day, I find that I cannot give an unqualified adherence to it.

Consider two Catholics, Michael and Marie, who have both just come across the Catholic Church's teaching that the use of in vitro fertilization to assist in having a child is always morally wrong. Upon learning of this, Michael rejects the teaching immediately as silly and unworthy of his consideration. For him it is simply another example of the Catholic obsession with sex and he never gives it another thought. Marie, however, wrestles with the teaching, researching the scientific and medical dimensions of the issue while trying to grasp the moral arguments that lie behind the church's teaching. She actually reads a recent Vatican statement on the topic and finds herself in sympathy with some but not all of the arguments. She spends considerable time in prayer and reflection on the matter and finds that she still cannot fully accept the prohibition, at least in every case.

We might be inclined to say that Marie ends up at the same place as Michael who also rejected this teaching. In fact, many of the orthodoxy police would be inclined to dismiss both as "dissenters," but is their status really the same? I would argue that it is not. Michael was in no way troubled by this particular teaching; he simply ignored it. But his willingness to be so cavalier about this teaching suggests a general unwillingness to deeply engage any of the Catholic tradition. His Catholic identity is almost certain to remain relatively superficial. Marie, in contrast, may not have found that she could fully embrace the teaching, but she came to appreciate some of the ethical issues in a way she hadn't earlier and she now has a much greater sensitivity to some of the dangers associated with an unfettered use of reproductive technologies. Her wrestling with the teaching, although it did not end in an internal assent, has impacted her in significant ways. She has been shaped by her tradition.

In sum, the question is not whether authority should continue to exist in the church; the question is whether the church will find the will and the wisdom to re-imagine church authority in accord with both the ancient biblical tradition and the demands of the church today. Again, I think ordinary Catholics can do their part. They can take a young priest under their wing and celebrate his passion and commitment while gently drawing him into a different style of leadership. They can make a point of affirming the positive examples of church leadership they see from their pastors and bishops.

To read the text of Richard Gaillardetz's lecture, “The State of the Church, 2011,” click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Richard Gaillardetz on the State of American Catholicism: My Response – "I Was a Stranger and You . . ." – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, March 8, 2011).
Richard Gaillardetz on Reading the Documents of Vatican II
The Wild Reed (2008).

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dialoguing with the Archbishop: Amendment Campaign Contrary to Church Moral Teaching

By Paula Ruddy

The first item on the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s new legislative agenda for 2011/2012, prior to poverty, the educational achievement gap, or abortion funding, is a Minnesota constitutional amendment preventing same-sex civil marriage equality.

One of the MCC’s primary initiatives in this session is to develop and identify sponsorship for a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. If this bill is passed by both the House and Senate, it will be placed on the ballot in 2012 for approval by the voters of Minnesota. Once the bill is introduced, many hearings will be called. It will take ongoing efforts to shepherd the bill through the committee process, get it to the floor of both the House and Senate and ensure that it receives a positive vote.

Is this legislative effort in accord with ethical citizenship or with Catholic Church teaching? I believe it is a violation of both. I respectfully ask the Archbishop to drop the Constitutional Amendment campaign from the legislative agenda. If you agree, please write to him at 226 Summit Avenue in St. Paul, 55102.

First, I am assuming that Archbishop Nienstedt has the power to direct the agenda. It is possible that the prime mover could be one of the other Minnesota bishops – John F. Kinney of St. Cloud, Paul D. Sirba of Duluth, John M. LeVoir of New Ulm, John M. Quinn of Winona, or Michael J. Hoeppner of Crookston. Or it could be David McCauley, Interim Executive Director of the MCC. Or, for all we know, it could be Kathleen M. Laird, Director of the Office for Marriage, Family and Life. It is not clear who sets the legislative agenda for the bishops, but it seems that all of these Catholic leaders are in support of the Constitutional Amendment campaign. On the website of the Minnesota Catholic Conference you will find the Minnesota Bishops’ names and addresses. As Church teachers, they have a duty to explain to us how their decision to wage this campaign for a Constitutional Amendment fits with our ethical duties as citizens and the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human persons, Dignitatis humanae, the Declaration on Religious Freedom. Let’s write to all of them.

I don’t doubt that the Archbishop is following his conscience. But he, like all the rest of us, has to make sure his conscience is informed. If he immerses himself in a closed ideology of air-tight conclusions – not negotiable, indisputable – and faces down all questioners from the high status of his authority as head teacher of the Archdiocese, he is risking culpable ignorance. The risk is greater if no one may dare to question him without fear of reprisal. A closed-minded authoritarianism isn’t an optimal position to be in for the formation of conscience.

Here is the question I would like to pose to him:

Given the ethics of citizenship in a constitutional democratic republic, and given the Church’s teaching in Dignitatis humanae, how do the Minnesota bishops morally justify depriving gay and lesbian Minnesota citizens of equal protection of the laws of civil marriage?

We are not talking about Church practice of sacramental marriage for Catholics. We are talking about civil marriage for Protestants, Jews, Unitarians, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, (I won’t go on) and non-believers of every description – who are gay and lesbian citizens of the State of Minnesota.

Ethics of Citizenship

In a constitutional democratic republic, which is the form of government we have, the people have committed ahead of time, in the constitution, to some principles that govern all their law-making. One principle is that we value freedom. We don’t restrict freedom by law unless there are good reasons to do so. Another principle we value most highly is the principle that each person is equal under the law. The people have already decided, long ago, in ratifying the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that equal protection of the law is in the common good. We cannot decide to exclude some people from legal benefits we afford to others or from restrictions we put on others. Since we are our own law-makers through our representatives, we all have the duty to observe these principles in making law. We have committed ourselves to principles that protect individuals and minorities from majority injustice.

Distinctions: Persuasion, Coercion, and the Legitimacy of Coercion

There is no question that the Church’s teaching authority has a duty to contribute to society by persuading people of the justice of its thinking on social issues. Bishops should enter into the public discourse and add the ancient wisdom of the Church’s tradition to the discussion of the common good.

When it comes to making law, however, another level of moral discretion kicks in. Law is coercive, not persuasive. A law either forces people to do an action, (e.g. File your income tax return) or it slams the door on a freedom they would otherwise enjoy (e.g. Do not exceed 30 miles per hour on this street). The coercion of law requires good public reasons. We restrict freedom to prevent foreseeable harm to the public. The law has legitimacy when people, for the most part, can see the harm to be prevented for the common good. Sometimes the people are divided, maybe even fractured, on the values underlying societal issues. Unless we have substantial agreement about the good involved it is prudent to err on the side of freedom. If we restrict freedom of action when a substantial number of people don’t see the public harm to be prevented by the law, we risk the legitimacy of the law. Public order breaks down when people do not respect the law. Most marriage laws have legitimacy. For example, people generally agree that there are good reasons why an adult should not marry a minor or that minors should not marry. It’s about having the experience and knowledge for free consent. But what is the harm prevented by restricting the freedom of gays and lesbians to marry?

The Position of the Minnesota Catholic Bishops

The Minnesota Roman Catholic bishops are urging people to violate their Constitutional commitment to freedom from restriction of law without good reasons. Denial of freedom to marry to same-sex couples has had legitimacy until quite recently. As happens in the ethical sphere, people begin to question long held assumptions and to see that they have no basis for continued belief. The status of the questioning on same-sex marriage is now such that a law restricting the freedom to marry is quickly losing legitimacy.

The DOMA law, Defense of Marriage Act, is still on the books in Minnesota. To make it harder to repeal the Minnesota bishops want to make the restriction constitutional. Instead of persuasion by good reasons, they want to deprive a minority of equal protection of the law by majority rule.

Even if they firmly believe they are preventing a harm, they surely know that not enough people agree to make the restriction of the freedom to marry legitimate. They may be able to get a simple majority of votes, but the ethics of citizenship requires them to refrain from making a law with a simple majority to force a restriction on such an important freedom as the choice of a life partner with all its legal protections and obligations. Why would the bishops want to force millions of people to live under a law that they have no respect for?

The Minnesota Roman Catholic bishops are urging people to violate their constitutional commitment to equality under the law. If heterosexual unions are called “marriage” and afforded benefits under the civil law, there have to be good reasons for denying the status and the benefits of the law to homosexual unions. Law-makers, who have sworn to uphold the constitution, and the people they represent have an ethical duty to keep a clear breach of the constitutional commitment to equality off the ballot. Saying “Let the people decide” in an act of defiance against the principle of equality is irresponsible. So is calling judges and law-makers who honor their constitutional commitment “ruling elites” and “activist judges.” Why would the Minnesota bishops do that? Why show such contempt for the principle of equality?

Dignitatis humanae, Declaration on Religious Freedom

Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church’s official teaching is that the Minnesota Catholic bishops have no moral justification for urging people to violate their constitutional commitments to freedom and equality.

The Universal Church in Ecumenical Council has spoken to that question. In Dignitatis humanae, the Declaration on Religious Freedom, the Second Vatican Council in a 2308 to 70 vote said that the dignity of the human person requires governments to protect the freedom of all citizens to practice their religions and codes of ethics.

Finally, government is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.

While holding firm to our own ethical precepts, in respect for the freedom of other citizens, we responsibly limit our power to make laws coercing them to act or to make laws depriving them of freedom to act according to their own consciences.

Dignitatis humanae is clear that the right to religious freedom is inalienable. It is also clear that the exercise of this right is not inalienable, and can be subject to “certain regulatory norms.” The first of these norms comprises the personal and social responsibility by which individuals or groups impose limits on the exercise of their own religious liberty. “In the exercise of their rights,” the council wrote, “individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all.” (John Tuohey, Commonweal, January 11, 2011.)

These principles of constitutional protections for citizens are abstract, but I hope not too abstract to move us to stand up against the Minnesota bishops who are ignorant or careless of them. They are the backbone of our civic community life and, like the backbone, we don’t think about them much until we fear losing their support.

We could go on asking questions: Why do the Minnesota bishops want to enact a law that makes family life more difficult for thousands of same-sex oriented people who, though they cannot conceive children together, have biological and adopted children in their care. How can all the bishops of Minnesota be in lock-step with the Archbishop’s reasoning? How can Archdiocesan employees in conscience cooperate in this?

The shining ray of hope is that the Catholic people will not follow and will by their leadership call the Archbishop to re-think the morality of his campaign.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Catholics for Marriage Equality MN