Thoughts on Popular Revolutions: in Egypt, in South Africa – in the Church

Events in Egypt are dominating the headlines all around the world. It is always dangerous for outsiders to comment too definitively on the internal politics of foreign countries, but inevitably many of us will have thoughts of our own, and will consider the implications for their own countries.  Bill Lindsay’s reflections on this theme at Bilgrimage led to an exchange in the comments between myself and another reader, which I would like to share (and expand on) here. After some specific response to Bill’s post, I reflected on the implications for the Catholic Church:

My own reflections lie in analogy and implications for another autocratic and corrupt empire of an entirely different kind – the Holy Roman one, based in the Vatican, but with global reach and influence. Just like the Egyptian (and Tunisian) people this year, and the East Europeans, South Africans, Ukrainians and Filipinos before them, Catholics will not continue indefinitely to blithely accept control from the top, with no possibility of meaningful input from below.


Vatican control and influence in the lives of Catholics takes a fundamentally different form to the political control in Arab states, and the Catholic revolution will look different. But the principle is the same, and the revolution is most certainly coming – if it has not already begun.

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On Dialogue, Disagreements and Dissent in Church

I frequently come across Catholic writers and commenters (the rule-book Catholics) complaining in horror on-line at the existence of Catholic “dissenters” who insist on calling themselves Catholic, even while flouting the teaching of the church.

As I am one of those who publicly disagree with the teaching on some issues (by no means all) but refuse to deny my Catholic identity, I am directly affected. In my own mind, the position is simple. I am in agreement here with Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who made clear a few months ago that Catholicism is not in fact about blind obedience to authority, but rather it is a commitment to a search for truth (and with it, in consequence, to service, and justice and the rest). I have stated before that I accept the teaching authority of the Church, but “teaching” does not mean legislating, and any good teacher will fully expect and encourage students to argue a case where they disagree.

A useful article at America magazine by Nicholas Lash makes much the same point, but does so much more effectively than I could hope to do.

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.

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“Orthodoxy is Overrated”

One of the blogs I like to follow is “Prickliest Pear”‘s Far From Rome: Orthodxy is Overrated. (The prickly pear, Opuntia  spp., grows in arid climates, has vicious thorns, but also produces beautiful flowers and delicious fruit. Quite an appropriate image for attempts to produce comfort and nourishment from the surface aridity of so much of orthodox Vatican doctrine.)

Last month he described how (like many of us who try to write about the Catholic Church), he has a constant struggle between writing about the positive things in theology and spirituality that he most wants to write about, and responding to the fluctuations of the news cycle with digressions on the failures of the bishops. He declared then that he would no longer be writing about the bishops, and would instead be developing a series on obedience and dissent. Read the rest of this entry »

Joseph Gentilini’s Letter to Bishops

Now, why couldn’ t the Church have adopted this approach in the first place? An agreement following discussions between gay activists and church authorities puts the decision on whether to accept communion firmly in the hands of the individuals concerned, as long as they first confess “serious sin”.

This decision is in clearer accordance with orthodox teaching (overall) than the previous knee jerk refusal. The Church recognises the primacy of conscience, and the obligation to follow conscience over other authority where they are in conflict. (I fully accept the standard proviso that the conscience must be an informed one). Only the individual can identify the conclusions of that conscience. The need to confess serous sin is an important qualification, but it is the responsibility of the individual to conclude, in the light of conscience, whether sin is in fact present. In adopting this approach, the Church is simply applying the best of Catholic teaching on conscience, and doing so in a manner which parallels the established guidelines on contraception.

Pray now that the authorities stick to their guns in the face of the probable howls of outrage from those who would prefer to keep the double standard.

From Dutch News:

Wednesday 03 March 2010

Gay Catholic activists and the church authorities in Den Bosch have reached a compromise deal over communion, the Volkskrant reports on Wednesday.

The deal means it will be up to gay Catholics themselves to decide whether or not they should accept communion, the Volkskrant says. ‘Serious sins’ should first be confessed, the agreement states.

Officially, the Catholic church regards homosexuality as a sin.

The compromise follows a row over the refusal of a local priest to give communion to the openly homosexual carnival prince – a traditional part of the pre-Lent festivities.

Last weekend
, a service at the St Jan church in Den Bosch was disrupted by activists and the communion celebration cancelled.

 

(It is worth noting that this landmark decision has come about after first angry protest, then discussion between the two sides. It’s not always easy, or even possible, to talk to the church authorities about matters of orientation, but it is important to keep trying.)

See the earlier report on this:

Dutch Gay Catholics: Excluded From God’s People?

More Modern Heroes, From Frank Cocozzelli*

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Married Priests, Womenpriests, Gay Priests: Let’s All Stand Together

In ongoing debates, discussions and raging arguments over compulsory celibacy for priests, we usually overlook the simple, plain fact that there are already many thousands of married Catholic priests. The eastern rite churches within the Catholic church have always accepted a married clergy, and in recent years there has been a steady trickle of married clergy converting from other denominations, who have been ordained in the Catholic Church and are now ministering openly and officially in Catholic parishes, in many parts of the world. Most of us know this, even if we do not think about it consciously.

Eastern Rite Catholic Priests

We completely overlook, however, that by far the greatest number of married priests today are those who started out conventionally enough in the Western Church, but later left formal ministry within the institutional church. Many of these left in order to marry, others left and only later chose to marry. All, however, remain priests. In catholic theology, the principle is clear: “Once a priest, always a priest”.

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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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