Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What is "Mainstream" Catholicism?

By Carol Ann Larsen

No doubt most of us progressives would resist the term "mainstream" in describing ourselves. So who is the mainstream Catholic these days? For instance, is the so-called "cafeteria Catholic" considered mainstream? Take the issue of birth control. We Catholics practice artificial contraception/sterilization at about 2% less than our Protestant counterparts in the US. Does this make 92% of us mainstream? Does the mainstream Catholic want his priest to be able to marry? Women to be able to be ordained? How is "mainstream" to be defined in 2011? It seems to me that the traditionalists among us who are happy to take orders from the Roman Curia and the Holy Father without question are in the minority.

Unfortunately for the Church and for them as well, the young are voting with their feet in huge numbers. They do not protest, they simply leave. Who is responsible for this? Of course, our first impulse is to blame an overreaching and dictatorial hierarchy. But where is the sense of responsibility in the laity?

According to Vatican II, we have the right and the duty to shape our church, not merely to "pray, pay and obey" as our parents used to say. This overreach of the prelates of the Church took centuries to develop, and seems to be nearly impossible to reverse to a state more closely resembling the early church. Thankfully, there are Catholics working for reform who will attend the first ever meeting of the American Catholic Council in Detroit during Pentecost weekend, 2011.

These reform-minded people should resist being labeled as a disgruntled minority, or worse yet, a bunch of cranks, and claim their rightful status as, indeed, mainstream Catholics who love the Church that Christ founded and refuse to be marginalized. There is strength in numbers and our numbers will grow if we can convince ourselves and others that we have nothing to fear and a renewed and inclusive Church to gain.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Catholics Speak Out in Nationwide Listening Sessions

Editor's Note: The following is a media release from the American Catholic Council.

A key component of the inaugural convening of the American Catholic Council, to unfold in Detroit on Pentecost Weekend June 10-12, will be the release of a report on nearly 100 local and regional Listening Sessions across the country over the past 18 months.

These sessions have taken place in diverse settings, from parish halls and living rooms, to hotel conference rooms and retreat centers. Each has been an occasion where the faithful have had the opportunity to dialogue and listen to the promptings of the Spirit as they prayerfully considered fundamental questions about the future of the Catholic Church. Many gathered out of a sense of urgency and a shared sense of responsibility to build a better Church, and one grounded in the vision and promise of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The overwhelming issue echoed throughout Listening Sessions is the hierarchy's unwillingness to enter into dialogue with the laity about real issues which affect the lives and faith of real people in the church. From the perspective of the vast majority of participants in these listening sessions, the hierarchy is increasingly remote, disengaged and irrelevant to the faith lives of rank and file Catholics. This suggests a fundamental crisis of leadership in an increasingly dysfunctional institutional Church. Many see this failure to engage the diversity of the faithful as undermining the promise of a more inclusive Church that is central to the reforms called for by Vatican II. It is increasingly evident that the primary focus of the ACC when it convenes in Detroit will be to address issues of leadership, governance and structural reform.

These dialogues were informed by three fundamental tenets drawn from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Vatican II).

• As baptized Catholics, all the faithful share in the ministry of Jesus, the Christ;

• Because all of us are the Church, the common sense of faithful Catholics (sensus fidelium) is a legitimate agent of the Holy Spirit and serves to inform Church practice and teaching, in tandem with Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium;

• As adult Catholics, we are called to nurture an informed conscience that is the final arbiter of our actions.

Preliminary data demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of participants in the listening sessions love the church and do not wish to leave the church like the 30 million who have left in recent years. Many are greatly concerned that the spirit of Vatican II has been repressed.

The 2011 Detroit Council celebrates the upcoming 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII and seeks to reinvigorate the Council's reforms, which have been increasingly downplayed in recent years. These include openness to all peoples and cultures, collegial and responsible decision-making, the primacy of a well-formed conscience, and sincere ecumenism.

The ACC Listening Session process also recalls two years of similar sessions leading up to an historic gathering convened in Detroit in 1976 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to implement Vatican II. Honoring the U.S Bicentennial year, that event 35 years ago recognized that many reforms called for by Vatican II mirrored foundational American principles of freedom of conscience, individual rights, and democratic practices, thus encouraging increased involvement of the laity in Church governance.

To register for the June 10-12 American Catholic Council, click here.

For program brochure, click here.

See also the previous PCV post:
American Catholic Council to Convene in Detroit in June

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reforms Can Save the Catholic Church

By Anli Serfontein

Editor's Note: This article was first published May 8, 2011 by ENInews.

The Catholic Church is seriously, possibly terminally ill and only an honest diagnosis and radical therapy will cure it, one of the sharpest critics of Pope Benedict XVI, the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng, has written.

Speaking at a sold-out event in the Literaturhaus (Literary Centre) in Munich on 2 May 2011, Küng, who is a former colleague of the pope at the University of Tubingen, introduced his new book, Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? (Can the Church Still Be Saved?).

Küng argues that the malady of the church goes beyond recent sexual abuse scandals. According to him, the church's resistance to reform, its secrecy, lack of transparency and misogyny are at the heart of the problem.

He said that the Catholic church in the United States has lost one-third of its membership."The American Catholic church never asked why," he said."Any other institution that has lost a third of its members would want to know why." He also said that 80 per cent of German bishops would welcome reforms.

Küng is one of today's most outspoken Catholic theologians. Because he questioned the infallibility of the pope in 1971, he had his 'missio canonica', the license needed to teach Roman Catholic theology, withdrawn. Thereafter, he became professor of ecumenical theology in Tubingen. He remains a Catholic priest.

He told the mostly elderly audience in the Diocese of Munich and Freising, the former diocese of Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "I would have preferred not to write this book. It is not pleasant to dedicate such a critical publication to the church that has remained my church."

He said he had hoped that Benedict would find a way forward in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) which in the early sixties reformed the church in a number of ways, such as the celebration of Mass in local languages instead of Latin.

However, Pope Benedict has distanced himself from Vatican II and "failed in the face of the worldwide sexual abuse by clergy," King said. Benedict is "in essence a person for medieval liturgy, theology and a medieval church constitution."

Referring to the celibacy debate that arose after the sexual abuse cases, Küng said, "the Roman Catholic church survived for the first thousand years without celibacy." He is strongly in favour of allowing priests and bishops to marry.

Küng compared the changes needed in the Catholic church to the democratic changes taking place in the Arab world."When will in our church the youth take to the street? That is our problem; we have no young people anymore," he said to laughter from the 350 people present.

At the end of the book Küng returns to the question: "Can the church still be saved?" He said he has not lost his vision of a church that would meet the expectations of millions of Christians, but certain conditions have to be met. In their reforms, this Church should show Christian radicalism, constancy and coherency, he said.

"I have not given up the hope that it will survive," Küng ended, to applause.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Daniel Berrigan: A Lifetime of Peace Activism

By Deena Guzder

Editor's Note: This article was first published May 9 by CommonDreams.org.

Jingoistic crowds erupted with frat-boy glee shortly after President Barack Obama announced the extrajudicial assassination of Osama Bin Laden earlier this month. After all, America’s public enemy Numero Uno – our own veritable Darth Vadar – had lost what the mainstream media depicts as a Manichean battle ten years in the making. The lone voices in the wilderness that dared to point out the covert operation violated elementary norms of international law were quickly dismissed as “fanatics”.

According to prevailing wisdom in the United States today, the best way to eradicate the world of a hateful ideology is by deploying 80 commandos on the home of an unarmed suspect and murdering him on the spot. Yet, we already see the entirely predictable consequences of the Osama bin Laden raid. In Portland, Maine, a mosque was defaced just hours after the news broke of bin Laden’s death. The graffiti read, "Osama Today, Islam tomorow" [sic]. Less than a week later, any misconception that the so-called Global War on Terror was winding down was dispelled when a drone attack killed at least eight people in Pakistan’s North Waziristan. Meanwhile Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disingenuously conflated al-Qaeda with the Taliban and, with bellicose bravado, declared the U.S. would continue its war in Afghanistan. And, in Pakistan, hundreds of Jamaat-ud-Dawa activists prayed in Karachi for their new martyr: Osama bin Laden.

Many great minds have questioned the logic of retributive violence, but perhaps none as persistently and unwaveringly as Father Daniel Berrigan. Today, the lifelong social justice activist and renegade Jesuit priest turns 90 years old. At a time when self-proclaimed Christian politicians espouse a Tea Party-inspired theology of xenophobia and vengeance, Berrigan is a rare soul that continues tirelessly opposing violence in its many forms.

Along with his late brother Phillip, he has publicly opposed aid to alleged anti-Communist forces in Southeast Asia, the use of American forces in Grenada, the installation of Pershing missiles in West Germany, aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, intervention in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, the Cold War, and the Gulf War. Berrigan also vocally opposed the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.[1] For Berrigan, Christianity is a counter-cultural practice directly at odds with the prevailing national culture of retributive justice. Arrested more times than he can count – but “fewer than I should have been,” Berrigan says – he has spent over half a century digging mock graves on the Pentagon’s front lawn, pouring vials of his own blood on Capitol Hill, vandalizing army airplanes, hammering on nuclear nosecones, turning his back on judges during his sentencing hearings, staging hunger strikes in prisons, undergoing strip searches for educating his fellow inmates, and standing in court on charges ranging from “criminal mischief” to “destruction of government property” to, most egregiously, “failure to quit.” [2] Berrigan fears moral suicide over physical death and regards moral autonomy as more liberating than physical freedom.

Last year, after badgering members of the Catholic Worker community across the country, I tracked down America’s most famous living priest. When I arrived at Berrigan’s Lower West Side friary in Manhattan, I half expected to find a Bible-toting warrior, but on that clement morning, I walked into the friary’s cozy hallway to find a slightly hunched elderly man with a meek smile and skin crinkled like aluminum foil. Greeting me with the softest, gentlest “hello” that I’ve heard since my first day at Montessori school, Father Berrigan clasped my hand and led me into his tastefully decorated office.

The walls of his office showcased posters of freedom fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi, a child’s drawing of a circus clown, and framed quilts of butterflies. Among his impressive collection of books are volumes by his longtime heroes: Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Merton [pictured above right with Berrigan in 1965]. Just shy of his ninetieth birthday, Berrigan spoke with me for an hour and a half, patiently answering my many questions and stopping only twice or so to cough.

Berrigan told me of surviving a Depression-era boyhood, an abusive father, and countless wars to emerge with a startlingly simple message: stop the violence. If Berrigan had lived during slavery, he would have fought with the abolitionists, but he would not have joined John Brown in leading violent slave insurrections. Even at the height of his Vietnam antiwar activism – or, as his detractors would say, the height of his arrogance – Berrigan never condoned violence. A tape-recorded message to the Weatherman Underground, attributed to Berrigan in 1971, pleads with the militant group to return to nonviolence, warning,: “No principle is worth the sacrifice of a single human being.”

In a world still wracked by violence, Berrigan’s peace testimony remains largely unheard and his pacifist views are too often dismissed as naïve. As we celebrate his lifelong commitment to social justice activism on his birthday, may we remember his startlingly clear message that violence is not the answer even when it’s seems most tempting and most justified. As Berrigan and so many others have noted, our convictions matter most when they’re tested on the crucible of life – not when they are easy, safe, and fashionable. If we believe in a world in which international law triumphs over unilateral action; mercy triumphs over vengeance; and clemency over sacrifice then Berrigan’s lifelong testimony teaches us that there are no exceptions.


[1] Joe Sabia, “The Cornell Catholic Community is in Crisis,” Cornell Daily Sun. September 23, 2003

[2] For more see Gary Smith, “Peace Warriors,” The Washington Post Magazine, June 5, 1988, W22. June 5, 1988.

Deena Guzder is an independent journalist who has reported on human rights issues across the globe. She is the author of Divine Rebels: American Christian Activists for Social Justice (Chicago Review Press, 2011), which includes a profile of Daniel Berrigan. Please visit her website, here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Quote of the Day

Well-informed U.S. Catholics are acutely aware of the arrogance, paternalism, flawed logic, inflammatory rhetoric, failure of personal accountability, and lack of pastoral sensitivity of many of our church leaders.

The U.S. bishops have set the tone with their continued denial of the wholesale rejection of church teaching on contraception; their clumsy, heavy-handed, ineffective attempt to influence national health care legislation; their opposition to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians; and their condemnation of the work of theologian St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson without even meeting with her.

. . . The history of the official church has been one of conflict, corruption, violence and scandal, but if we are believers, we know that as much as we would like to, we cannot separate the institution from the community of the faithful.

But we can pray, and we can trust in the Holy Spirit that our church leaders will come to realize they have lost their teaching voice and will come to discern, consulting with the community of the faithful, how their legitimate authority can be exercised far more effectively and pastorally.

As we pray, we might appreciate that those of us who resist the “hard-liners” are as imperfect and broken as they appear to be. Their words and actions may have greater impact than ours, but why should we expect them to be different from us, and why should we allow their imperfections and brokenness deprive us from something so life-giving, so grace-filled, so sanctifying?

And we can speak out. All the silent bishops who do not agree with the approach of these church leaders can speak out. All the bishops and priests and religious who do not accept church teaching on contraception can speak out. All who believe that women should be priests can speak out. All who believe celibacy is a gift, not a mandate, can speak out. All who understand and accept the reality of homosexual orientation can speak out.

We are the people of God. We are called to be prophetic voices. . . .

– Brian Cahill
"Why Let Bishops Drive Us from the Church We Love?"
National Catholic Reporter
May 2, 2011

See also the previous PCV posts:
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
It's Critical That Catholics Find Their Voice
The Consensus of the Faithful as the Voice of the Infallible Church
Richard Gaillardetz on the Need to "Wrestle with the Tradition"
Communicating with Leadership
Let Our Voices Be Heard!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

American Catholic Council to Convene in Detroit in June

By Jerry Filteau

Editor's Note: This article was first published May 2, 2011 by the National Catholic Reporter.

The American Catholic Council, a reform group formed in Washington in September 2008, plans to hold its first national conference in Detroit June 10-12. The organization has already drawn fire from the hierarchy for parts of its platform.

Last October, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron cautioned local Catholics not to attend the conference and ordered local parishes, schools and other Catholic institutions not to sponsor or host any of the preparatory listening sessions leading up to the conference.

In a media advisory, the archdiocese called the planned conference a “misguided effort” that proposes goals “largely in opposition to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council” and “distorts the true spirit of Vatican II.”

Among organizations that banded together to form the American Catholic Council are: Voice of the Faithful, an international lay organization started in Boston in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal in order to promote greater transparency and accountability in the church; FutureChurch, a Cleveland-based Catholic group, headed by St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk, that advocates expanding ordained ministry to women and married men; and CORPUS, an organization of married priests seeking an end to mandatory celibacy for Catholic priests in the Latin church.

Featured speakers at the June gathering in Detroit are to include:

* Famed Swiss-born theologian Fr. Hans Küng, ecumenical professor emeritus at the University of Tübingen, Germany. Since 1979, Küng has been barred from teaching as a Catholic theologian. Advance notices say that depending on his health, he may address the group only by a pre-taped video.

* Sr. Joan Chittister, former prioress of the Benedictine Abbey of Erie, Pa., a noted author and an NCR columnist who has often criticized church positions on a wide range of issues.

* Anthony Padovano, a theologian, author, former priest and former CORPUS president, who has long advocated the abolition of mandatory celibacy in the Latin church and other changes in church practice.

* James Carroll, a Boston Globe columnist, former priest, and award-winning author whose 2009 book, Practicing Catholic, is sharply critical of the papacy of Benedict XVI.

* Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and former lieutenant governor of Maryland.

* Jeannette Rodriguez, chair of theology and religious studies at Seattle University and author of several works on Hispanic theology. Rodriguez also serves on the NCR board of directors.

In preparatory work for the Detroit conference, the American Catholic Council has held numerous listening sessions around the country and has drafted a “Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.” It says in part that every Catholic has the right to:

* Develop an informed conscience and to act in accord with it.

* Participate in a faith community” and have “responsible pastoral care.

* Proclaim the Gospel and to respond to the community’s call to ministerial leadership.

* Freedom of expression and the freedom to dissent.

* A voice in the selection of leaders and in the manner in which governance and decision-making are exercised.

* Summon and speak in assemblies where diverse voices can be heard.

“Church leaders,” it says, “shall respect the rights and responsibilities of the baptized and their faith communities.”

“One must not be told that one becomes a Catholic at the cost of being less an American,” the preamble to the Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities says. “We cannot declare that fundamental rights have no place in the church of Christ.

“We often hear that the ‘church is not a democracy,’ ” it adds. “This is not true: Ecumenical councils, papal elections and the election of religious superiors occur regularly. The first ecumenical council in 325 [in Nicea] declared that no priest was validly ordained unless the community made the selection. Popes and bishops were chosen by the people at large. Fundamentally, Catholic doctrine maintains that the Spirit is given to all and that baptism makes every Catholic equal.”

On its web site the council describes itself as “a movement bringing together a network of individuals, organizations and communities to consider the state and future of our church.”

“We believe our church is at a turning point in its history,” it adds. “We recall the promise of the Second Vatican Council for a renaissance of the roles and responsibilities of all the baptized through a radically inclusive and engaged relationship between the church and the world. We respond to the spirit of Vatican II by summoning the baptized together to demonstrate our re-commitment.”

Among other presenters at the June gathering, to be held at Detroit’s Cobo Hall Convention Center, are Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways Ministry and longtime advocate of fuller Catholic ministry to the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender-questioning community; Leonard Swidler, professor of Catholic thought and interreligious dialogue at Temple University in Philadelphia and a founder of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church; Diana Hayes, a leading African-American Catholic theologian; Jesuit Fr. James Hug and Dominican Sr. Maria Riley of Center of Concern, a Jesuit-founded social justice think tank; Barbara Blaine and David Clohessy, leaders of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests; and Jason Berry, whose NCR writings on clergy sexual abuse of minors have helped change the way the church approaches that issue.

For complete details, visit: www.americancatholiccouncil.org.

Jerry Filteau is NCR Washington correspondent. He plans to cover the Detroit American Catholic Council conference for NCR and to write about pre-conference developments in coming weeks.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Launching a Council of the Baptized in St. Paul and Minneapolis
Listening Sessions Underway in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Local Church
CCCR's Action Plan for 2011
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission