Philippine Idiocy, Continued

In the Philippines, where the Catholic bishops are engaged in a foolhardy, Quixotic fight against the government’s plans to reform the national reproductive health system by easing access to contraception for low-income families, their latest salvo is a highly offensive attempt to justify their stance by invoking the memory of the church’s historic role on the side of the poor and for justice,during the remarkable display of people power which unseated former President Marcos and his wife Imelda (and her famous shoes). The two issues are not comparable.

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Pray, Don’t Pay, Disobey: The Catholic Revolution Has Begun.

Prickly Pear, at Far From Rome, has written about a personal decision to remove himself from the sacramental life of the Church. He says that this was “precipitated” by moving house, but has been a long time coming – and was preceded by substantial time for reflection, during a time without easy internet access.  It’s important to note here, that this time was accompanied by an increase in meditation practice.  I was alerted to Pear’s post by a report on it by Jayden Cameron at Gay Mystic, who writes on his own experience outside the formal life of the Church for over 25 years. Anyone who is familiar with Jayden’s writing will recognize that he too may have left the institutional church, but retains a very strong spiritual, even sacramental life, with a strong devotion to the Eucharist. He simply chooses to practice his spirituality independently.  Pear quotes from a Commonweal article by Cathleen Kaveny (sadly, hidden behind a paywall I cannot access), on many others who are doing the same thing:

From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering. But why not stay and fight? First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don’t like what fighting is doing to them. The fight is diminishing their ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news. The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.

Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage is another important Catholic blogger who writes specifically as a Catholic theologian, at his own site and at Open Tabernacle, and has frequently made clear his objections to participating formally in the sacramental life of the Catholic church. He has a useful summary of Kaveny’s piece, and includes this extract:

From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering.  But why not stay and fight?  First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don’t like what fighting is doing to them.  The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.

Prickly Pear, Jayden and Bill are far from alone. It has been widely reported that ex-Catholics, those who have either transferred to another denomination or simply ceased to identify as Catholic, are now the second largest religious denomination in the US. Similar patterns of disengagement are seen in many other parts of the world. (Research has shown that the most important reasons people give for leaving concern Vatican teaching on gender and sexual ethics, compulsory clerical celibacy, and the child abuse disgrace). I am more interested though, in another phenomenon: the abundant evidence that Catholics who choose to stay are simply ignoring official doctrine, on matters ranging from sexual ethics to church discipline.

A couple of months ago, an Irish paper asked, with reference to the call for a boycott of Mass, “Is this the start of a revolution in the Catholic Church?” My response is no, the start of a revolution is no longer possible. The revolution has already begun, and is well under way, in Ireland, in the US, and elsewhere.

 

Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia: Prague 1989

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Conscience & Legislation: Sanity From the Catholic Church in Malta.

In the US and Mexico, some bishops are working themselves into a froth over the possible introduction of legal recognition for same-sex unions. In the Philippines, the issue that has them excited. In Malta, it is the possibility of legal divorce. Unlike the other two regions, though, the Maltese church has allowed some sanity into the official discourse, recognizing the possibility of an informed conscience reaching a conclusion that differs from Church teaching, and so acknowledging that parliamentarians could in principle vote in favour of divorce legislation.

 

The Awakening Conscience, (Holman Hunt)

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“Out of the Shadows, Into the Light”:Blessed John Henry Newman, Soho “Gay” Masses

Last Sunday I went up to London for one of the regular LGBT – oriented “Soho Masses”. Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had conducted the beatification service for Cardinal John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman is now officially Blessed John Henry – and so the liturgy used for our Mass was, quite appropriately, the newly minted liturgy for his festal day.

Portrait of Cardinal Newman by John Millais

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Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

A dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, who is be...

Image via Wikipedia

David Ludescher, a regular reader at the Open Tabernacle , has put to me some important questions on the formation of conscience. These arose in response to my post on empirical research findings on the current state of British Catholic belief, and some observations I made on the implications for our understanding of the sensus fidelium (on sexual ethics and priestly ministry in particular).

These questions were put in a comment box at the Open Tabernacle, where I cross-posted. (I have reproduced his questions in an independent post for easy reference). Just follow the link to read the questions in full. This is my response: Read the rest of this entry »

Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

A dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, who is be...

Image via Wikipedia

David Ludescher, a regular reader at The Open Tabernacle, has put to me some important questions on the formation of conscience. These arose in response to my post on empirical research findings on the current state of British Catholic belief, and some observations I made on the implications for our understanding of the sensus fidelium (on sexual ethics and priestly ministry in particular).

These questions were put in a comment box, which I have reproduced in an independent post for easy reference. Just follow the link to read the questions in full. This is my response: Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Relationships, Cardinal Schonborn, & Church Reform

I’m a little slow in noting this, but last week marked three months since then Cardinal Schonborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna, suggested that it might be time for the Church to rethink its stance on homosexual relationships, considering the quality of the relationships, rather than simply the “acts”, which is the sole focus of the Vatican document, “Homosexualitatis Problema” (“HP”). This seemingly obvious, eminently rational suggestion is nevertheless so out of kilter with the official stance embodied in HP that I have been waiting and watching carefully for any sign of refutation or repudiation, but there has still not been anything of the sort. Read the rest of this entry »

Reclaiming Our Consciences

At NCR Online, Joan Chittister has a thoughtful reflection on the Irish Bishops’ Vatican visit – from a perspective inside Ireland.  After noting that there are fundamental differences between the responses of people in Ireland and America, where the response was  that “people picketed churches, signed petitions, demonstrated outside chanceries, and formed protest groups”, in Ireland the response appeared much more low-key – but in fact was deep, and may well be far more significant for the future of the Church, over the longer term.

In Ireland the gulf got wider and deeper by the day. It felt like the massive turning of a silent back against the bell towers and statues and holy water fonts behind it. No major public protests occurred. “Not at all,” as they are fond of saying. But the situation moved at the upper echelon of the country relatively quietly but like a glacier. Slowly but inexorably.

A country which, until recently, checked its constitution against “the teachings of the church” and had, therefore, allowed no contraceptives to be sold within its boundaries, unleashed its entire legal and political system against the storm.

They broke a hundred years of silence about the abuse of unwed mothers in the so-called “Magdalene Launderies.” They investigated the treatment of orphaned or homeless children in the “industrial schools” of the country where physical abuse had long been common. The government itself took public responsibility for having failed to monitor these state-owned but church-run programs. And they assessed compensatory damages, the results of which are still under review in the national parliament.

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The Impotent, Violent Hierachy.

In an interesting observation on the disgraceful Vatican investigation, Mercy Sr Theresa Kane describes as a sign not of the power of the hierarchy, but of its impotence:

Referring to the Vatican investigation of U.S. women religious initiated last December by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, who heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Kane called it “a sign of impotence in the church hierarchy.”

“Regarding the present interrogation, I think the male hierarchy is truly impotent, incapable of equality, co-responsibility in adult behavior,” she said, not mincing any words. “In the church today, we are experiencing a dictatorial mindset and spiritual violence.”

Kane said there is a proper place for anger. “If we do not get angry, we won’t make change,” she said. And change can come, she noted. Years back, she recalled, women were required to cover their heads when in church — “even using tissue paper, if necessary.” After a while women simply stopped the practice and the requirement ended. She called it a “silent revolution.”

Spiritual violence it demonstrably is, impotence less clearly so, but I think she is right. Real authority does not do reassert itself with these conspicuous assertions of power, but instead is proves itself by the continuing, voluntary cooperation of those governed. I also like her observations on excommunication, and on the possibility of change, and on the possibility of facing excommunication:

Kane, as the nation’s most identifiable advocate of women’s ordination, has been repeatedly asked if she fears a Vatican excommunication. Her response: “I’m not out of communion. The institution got out of communion with me.”

This is the view that I am rapidly reaching.  It is not the ordinary Catholics who are out of touch with the real heart of Catholicism, but the supposed religious experts in the Vatican, and some of the bishops, who are so obsessed with their cloistered lives, power and finery that they have completely lost touch with the realities of ordinary lives.  In their courage and willingness to stick their necks out and speak up against injustice where they see it, including injustice inside the church, against the opposition of the powerful, these women are bearing true prophetic witness to the Gospel message.  Instead of being investigated by the authorities, they should be recognised and celebrated as the true leaders of the modern church.

(Read the full report of Sr Kane’s address, and other news from the 40th anniversary conference of the National Coalition of American Nuns, at the National CAtholic  Reporter,)


Some Faithful Dissenters

Investigating further the question of the sensus fidelium and Catholic dissent, I came across two notable articles on the subject. (Here I acknowledge thanks to the magnificent archives of Michael Bayley at the Wild Reed, where I first came across the links.)

The first, posted at U.S. Catholic in July 2008, is Catholic Dissent: When Wrong Turns Out to be Right. This article reports on notable dissenters, who have faced hostility and direct opposition for their views, but have since been vindicated and in some cases canonized.

Working backwards chronologically, the article begins with  the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, who took a stand for freedom of religion against the established view that

civil governments had an obligation to officially recognize the church and support it.

Pope Pius IX made the point in no uncertain terms in 1846 in his encyclical Quanta cura and the accompanying Syllabus of Errors: “The state must recognize [the Catholic Church] as supreme and submit to its influence. . . . The power of the state must be at its disposal and all who do not conform to its requirements must be compelled or punished. . . . Freedom of conscience and cult is madness.

Courtney argued not only that this view was wrong, but also that as espoused by Pius, it was of recent origin, having developed over the previous 100 years.  (This is not the only instance of a “traditional” teaching which is in fact of recent origin.  Papal infallibilty is another, among many).  Murray met fierce opposition from the authorities, who eventually ordered him to cease writing and publication on the subject – but he was entirely vindicated when he became a major drafter  at Vatican II of the Council’s Declaration of Religious Freedom:

“This synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups, or any human power . . . This synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and reason itself.” The words reflect Murray’s thinking and may very well have been written by him.”

An earlier famous dissident was John Henry Newman, during his time as editor of the magazine “Ramparts”.

As the editor of the magazine Ramparts, he got into trouble with the English hierarchy for asserting in an article that the British bishops would be well-advised to seek the counsel of lay Catholics in important matters. Such a view was regarded as rash and disruptive of good order. He was subsequently informed by his own bishop that the next issue of Ramparts, July 1859, would be his last as editor.

But in that last issue, he expanded on his argument:

Newman drew some shocking conclusions that have been reverberating in the church ever since: that there is in the body of the faithful (the laity) an “instinct” for the truth, that this “sense of the faithful” must never be ignored or taken for granted by the church’s official teachers, that authentic church teaching therefore comes about through a kind of “conspiracy” or co-operative enterprise on the part of both laity and hierarchy, and finally that certain lapses (or “suspensions”) can occur when one side or other of this living body temporarily ceases to function.

I had forgotten this point about the “suspensions”.  Are we now, I wonder, in just such a state, with most Catholics neglecting to speak up against the obvious stupidity of so much of the sexual teaching, against the folly of an exclusively male, supposedly celibate clergy, or against the whole structure of untrammelled clerical power?  Instead, we too readily leave the right wing neocons to parrot  their insistence that we can only be “true” Catholics if we acquiesce meekly in blind obedience to every teaching (except of course, on matters of the social Gospel). Convinced by their rhetoric that we are somehow less Catholic than they for our dissent, we bite our tongues and remain silent.

Newman, of course went on to be rehabiliated and was made a Cardinal.  His full vindication also came with Vatican II, with his ideas incorporated into the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.

Earlier examples were the women Mary Ward, founder of the religious order the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) in the 17th Century, Saints Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, Bridget of Sweden, and Hildegard of Bingen- “all remembered for their faithfulness to the Gospel as they understood the message in their time.  They join a cast of men who creatively protested in various eras”.

Earlier still were those against the Arian heresy, who opposed the many bishops who supported it – and about whom Newman wrote in developing his own argument. Earlier still, the apostle Peter, nominal founder of the Papacy , was opposed by Paul on the regulations governing Gentile converts to Christianity. Here too, the “dissident” view won the day.

Then the most famous religious dissident of them all – Jesus Christ, who dissented strongly from the religious authirities of His own day.