Monday, August 19, 2013

Dueling Worldviews

By Paula Ruddy

Did you know that . . .

• Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) is holding
its third Synod of the Baptized on Saturday, September 28,
at Ramada MOA in Bloomington,


Archbishop John Nienstedt is holding a
Rediscover Catholicism” conference on Saturday,
October 12, at St. Paul RiverCentre.

• CCCR’s keynoter is Sister Gail Worcelo, who will talk
about co-creating the living church, a vision
for reform for the 21st Century,


Archbishop Nienstedt has invited George Weigel to address the Rediscover celebration. Weigel’s book Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church (2013)
writes the prescription for curing the "disease"
we are experiencing in the church today.

Both CCCR and the Archbishop agree that reform is necessary. That is a great step forward.

Now can we come together on a program for reform?

The Archbishop seems inclined to adopt George Weigel’s program for reform, called Evangelical Catholicism. It has many good points we could all agree on. We all want to respond to God’s love by uniting our hearts and souls to the divine, what Weigel calls cultivating “friendship with Jesus.” We all want to witness to God’s love in the world, evangelism. We all want the Church to be a community modeling that living witness. We all need institutional leaders, bishops, to provide a structure for our communal life and to serve the mission Jesus gives us.

Worldview One

Here is the rub. Weigel’s program is based on the idea that “what the Church teaches” and “what the Gospel reveals” are one and the same. If you are calling yourself “Catholic” you must accept that the Holy Spirit is with the bishops alone when it comes to Church teaching. There is no room for our experience that there are disconnects between the Gospel and Church policies and practices. There is no justification for lay people’s questioning the bishops. My raising the question here about what program of reform the Archbishop should adopt is utterly out-of-line in the Evangelical Catholic worldview. Weigel says the bishop is not a discussion club leader. There is no such thing as “loyal dissent.” If I were “thinking with the mind of the Church” in this cultural framework, I would not address the same questions the Archbishop must address, like “What is good for this Archdiocese.” Rather I’d ask “What does the Archbishop say is good for this Archdiocese?” Then, receiving the answer, I’d get wholeheartedly behind his program. Being Catholic is entering into a life of identity with Catholic culture.

Given this worldview, it is no wonder Archbishop Nienstedt is dismayed by CCCR’s asking the questions that are within his job description and questioning his judgments. From this point of view, it is impudence, rebellion, defiant “dissent”, entirely out-of-line for us to question his opposition to civil marriage for same-sex couples or to question any position the bishops espouse. Within the “symphony of truth” that is Catholic culture, priests and laity get behind the bishop’s programs whatever they are. It is no wonder that he tells us to go to another church. In his view, we aren’t “Catholic.”

Reading Weigel’s book was a revelation to me. In all my 78 years of being Catholic I never thought asking questions was impudent or rebellious. I always thought it was being helpful. During the civil marriage debates I always expected the Archbishop to respond to reasoning with counter-reasoning. I never understood how a repetition of the Church’s position was thought to be sufficient as an answer to an argument. Now that I glimpse into that worldview I can see that from that point of view a statement of the bishops’ position is enough. Asking for reasons is a challenge to authority. I see now what a disappointment we were, just as his refusal to reason together was a disappointment to us.

Worldview Two

The worldview I take for granted with CCCR is based on the belief that the Holy Spirit is with everyone of good will working through human agency. God is both immanent — in the world — and transcendent — more than the world. In this culture people are responsible to contribute whatever insights or values they have to the common project. The market-place of ideas sorts the valuable from the not so valuable. We come to a shared understanding, agreeing on what is needed, and throw ourselves into the common project. It is a different culture from Evangelical Catholicism, but it is firmly Catholic in its grounding in incarnation. We belong to the institutionalized community of the Church in which there are many cultures contributing their points of view.

Weigel says this worldview is born of modernism, postmodernism, “the imperial, autonomous Self”, individualism, too much psychology, subjectivism — all in all, an evil perspective. Anyone who doesn’t “think with the mind of the Church”, i.e. unquestioningly support the bishops’ leadership, is to be called out as a weed among the wheat. He gives lots of examples of weeds: Hans Küng, Roger Haight, Elizabeth Johnson, the sisters of the LCWR, and anyone who opposes the bishops’ positions in the political arena.

Thank God Weigel is not our Archbishop. Maybe John Nienstedt, though he shares Weigel’s worldview, will have the grace of his pastoral office to visit our point of view as we visit his. He will see that we do not intend to encroach on his God-given role. We know he is the “chief catechist” and we want to work with him. Our process would be to sit down with the Archbishop and other stakeholders to work it out together, taking into account differences among us and being careful for all. That is what “reason” is for.

We can hope that our Archbishop will listen to Pope Francis instead of George Weigel. Pope Francis seems to love the world.

We ask only one thing: that you reach out! And that you go and seek out and encounter the most needy! . . . Does this mean going to convince someone to become Catholic? No, no, no! You are just reaching out to meet him, he is your brother! That is enough. You reach out to help them, the rest is done by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit.
— Pope Francis to the Argentinians on the Feast of St. Cajetan
August 7, 2013.

Perhaps, emulating Francis, we can grow beyond seeing the worldviews as conflicting. We and the bishops can believe that they are intended by God to teach and lead, and, at the same time, believe that the best way for them to do that in a postmodern world is to be reasonable and attentive to the needs of the people.

Let us know what reforms you think are needed. And register for Synod 2013 at!

See also the previous PCV posts:
Countdown to Synod 2013
A Review of Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose
East Side, West Side: Opposing Views of the Good
"All Voices Must Be Heard": A Response to Archbishop Nienstedt
Big Deal or No Big Deal?
A Tale of Two Cultures: Vatican and American
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
CCCR Responds to Censure from Chancery

Recommended Off-site Link:
In the Garden of Spirituality – Ron RolheiserThe Wild Reed (August 20, 2007).


  1. "Let us know what reforms you think are needed."

    Thank you for inviting contributions, Paula.

    In my view, a very simple, but critically necessary, reform our church needs is the following: if you ask me a question and I respond to you, you acknowledge my response--because your acknowledgment of my response is an acknowledgment that I count in the human community and the Catholic conversation.

    I find far too many Catholic dialogues flawed from the ground up, because of the inability or unwillingness of those engaged in these dialogues to acknowledge the existence of everyone within the dialogical community. To do so by responding in a human way, back and forth, to questions and answers . . . .

    Creating such simply human but really holy dialogic spaces would go a long way towards bringing our notions of holiness out of the realm of the impossibly ethereal into the realm of incarnation, in my view.

  2. William Lindsey, you have put into words exactly what I believe too. Now I am seeing things from Weigel's point of view, I think he would say you and I are infected with "subjectivism" and the "imperial autonomous Self." What I think he means is there is objective truth, and when our rational computer-like mind hears it, we have to act on it whether our personal humanity is acknowledged or not, whether we count or not. He complains about too much psychology. Is it that his view discounts so much of what we have learned in the last 80 years or so about human cognition? I'd be interested to know what you think. Would dialogue with a person in that frame of reference require an "objective" approach?

  3. Thanks, Anonymous. Taking the subject of homosexuality off the table for the time being, do you think it is possible to refrain from asking questions about things you are being asked to believe? I find that hard to do.

  4. Please note our comment procedure: You MUST use a REAL NAME when you comment. "Anonymous" is no longer acceptable, nor are monikers. We don't need your last name or your email address, but we do require a FIRST NAME at the very least. Plan on having your comment deleted if it isn't a real name.

  5. This is now the fourth comment that you have deleted.

    I will restate my argument once again. The article above asserts that there is a discontinuity between the Gospel and current Church teaching. I am asserting that on at least one issue there is continuity. The repudiation of artificial contraception.

    The Gospel teaches: "4 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
    26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." Romans 1:24-27.

    The Catechism teaches: "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." CCC 2357.