Irish Archbishop Agrees: Catholic Church Needs Fundamental, Cultural Change

When people think of the crisis facing the Irish church since public awareness exploded over the sexual abuse scandals, they generally think only of the abuse itself. However, the real crisis goes much deeper. The abuse problems brought the crisis into sharp focus, but (tragically important as they are) they are in fact just one symptom of a much deeper malaise.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has garnered respect for his own response to the crisis, but in a hard-hitting speech in Cambridge, he has explained the extent of the problem, in terms remarkably similar to the argument made by the German theologians this month. Their statement, remember, was a response to a reflection on the abuse problems that emerged in Germany, Austria and Switzerland a year ago. Reflecting on the abuse issue, they concluded, like Archbishop Martin, that clerical sexual abuse cannot be looked at in isolation, but must be viewed as part of a much larger problem of Catholic culture and structures, which are urgently in need of fundamental reform.

Read the rest of this entry »

Exceptionalism: failing to learn from history

(Gay priest Bart writes on the impact of the culture of clericalism on the Church):

Exceptionalism (Wikipedia; Collins English Dictionary) is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles. In recent decades, we heard more often of the term “American exceptionalism”, but really this word has a long pedigree, with British and Soviet exceptionalism being other recent examples. The perception behind exceptionalism is not dissimilar to that belief which holds that certain companies or institutions are too big to fail. The last decade disproved  this perception in a horrific way, first with the Enron collapse, and then more recently with the collapse of Lehman Brothers (and with it the whole banking sector), followed by the bailing-out of a corporation that used to boast a product output that was larger than the GDP of most countries: General Motors. As I sat reading Terry’s Thoughts on Popular Revolutions: in Egypt, in South Africa – in the Church, I couldn’t but help remembering that the Catholic Church promotes its own brand of exceptionalism. I would like to share a couple of thoughts on this point with my readers.

Catholicism locks onto a cluster of foundational principles, the most important being the following:

1.      The belief that the Church is established by Jesus Christ, who also promised that he would be with it till the end of time (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:20);

2.      The belief in the unifying, leadership role of Peter the Apostle and his successor, the Pope, the bishop of Rome (Matthew 16:18-19); and

3.      The belief that the one Church of Jesus Christ – “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” (Nicene Creed) – subsists in the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, in n. 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, stated that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in this present, world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure; such elements, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic unity.”

 

pope-benedict-saturno-hat

Image by Waka Jawaka via Flickr

Read the rest of this entry »

True Catholic Belief, UK Edition.

I really do not know why I failed to write about this at the time of release – I can only imagine that it was because there was so much information coming out around the papal visit, that I simply could not keep up. The findings of this survey however are valuable still, confirming similar research findings from other parts of the world: what Catholics in fact believe, does not coincide with what the Vatican claims we believe. In a survey for ITV of 1,636 Catholic adults in Britain prior to last September’s papal visit, these were the key findings:

Broadly Orthodox

Not Supportive
Artificial contraception:

4% agree  it should not be used

Artificial contraception:

71% believe should be used more often, to avoid pregnancy and STD infection

Abortion

11% agree “only as indirect consequence of life-saving treatment”

6% – should never be permitted

Abortion

44% believe termination should be permitted for rape, incest, sever disability to child;

30% should always be allowed

Homosexuality

11% agree homosexual acts are wrong

Homosexuality

41% said homosexual relationships should be celebrated along with heterosexual ones.

Clerical Celibacy

Just one third supported compulsory celibacy for priests

Clerical Celibacy

65% believed priests should be allowed to marry

 

The sensus fidelium requires that to be valid, a teaching must have the assent of the Church as a whole. Now I confirm once again that the SF is not determined by a simple matter of opinion polls, but the evidence of such extensive disagreement does at least prompt the obvious question: what grounds exist for believing the opposite, that these teachings on sexual ethics do in fact have the assent of the Church as a whole?

These results also demonstrate the importance of constantly challenging the bishops, drawing their attention to the obvious disjunction between abstract Vatican orthodoxy and the views of those Catholics with real-world sexual experience, so as to fashion sexual teaching with some foundation in reality.

This was the response to the results by the UK reform group, Catholic Voices for Reform

What the survey confirms very strongly is that Catholic Voices for Reform is correct in its claim that the Church has reached a stage where an open discussion about how the Church can best fulfil its sacred mission in the modern world is the only way forward.

Concerns and needs should always be brought to the Bishops and shared among others of the laity as is perfectly legal in Church law. (Can. 212 (3))  Those who ask for dialogue and reform are demonstrating loyalty in their commitment to the Roman Catholic Church.

We now call upon our all of our bishops to initiate a full and open dialogue involving the whole Church in England and Wales, laity, priests and bishops, to cover all of these issues which are already being discussed by Catholics all over the country after Sunday Mass and on other occasions when they meet.

Such a discussion should include:

  1. Governance of the Church in England and Wales and the role of the laity, with a view to introducing fully inclusive governance through collaboration at parish, diocesan and national level.
  2. The requirement for compulsory celibacy for priests.
  3. The treatment of people of a different sexual orientation and others who feel separated and excluded from the Church.
  4. The role of women in Church ministry.
  5. The imposition of the new translation of the liturgy.

We believe that, in the true spirit of collegiality and subsidiarity, as indicated in outcomes of the Second Vatican Council, it is appropriate for the Church in England and Wales to make a genuine effort to listen to lay Catholics and consult with them in the most collaborative way.

Marriage, Procreation, and “The Broad Book of Nature”.

At the British Catholic publication “The Tablet”, there is an important column by Clifford Longley, reflecting on Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ recent BBC radio interview, and in particular on some of his remarks about homosexuality. The full article is behind a paywall, so I am unable to supply a link. I would urge you though, if you can to try to arrange sight of the original. Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage has already written at length about some of the implications of this. I want to pick up on some other aspects.

This is the only part of Longley’s column that quotes the Archbishop directly:

“When it comes to understanding what human sexuality is for, there is a lot that we have to explore.. Because I think what is at one level in the broad perspective clear, is that there is an intrinsic link between procreation and human sexuality. Now how do we start from that principle, not lose it, and have an open, ongoing conversation with those who say, well, that’s not my experience? How do we bring together some principles that if you like are written into the broad book of nature, and individual experiences? That’s the area that we have to be sensitive and open to, and genuinely wanting to explore.”


Read the rest of this entry »

The Evolution of Catholic Teaching on Sex and Marriage.

In “The Sexual Person“, the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler give a useful historical review of the substantial shifts in the orthodox doctrine on sex and marriage – while also illustrating how much of that teaching is stuck in the fourth century thought of Augustine, and that of Aquinas from the thirteenth century. (Is there any other field of human thought that is so rooted in those two distant periods?) This is an important book that I will be discussing regularly in small bites. For now, I simply want to point to the briefest summary of the main argument, in preparation for a specific extract referring to Pope Paul VI and Humane Vitae.

Two things strike me in this account. As I have frequently noted before, it is completely untrue that the Catholic Church has a “constant and unchanging tradition” on sexual ethics.  Rather, the tradition has been constantly evolving. Just consider the complete transformation of the view on sexual pleasure – from one that it is to be avoided at all costs, even while begetting children or in nocturnal involuntary emissions, to one where it can contribute to the sacramental value of marriage. What has evolved in the past, will surely continue to evolve. That evolution will surely be aided by the capacity of theologians and popes to retrieve, when required, obscure and forgotten pieces from history – and proclaim them of fundamental importance. In two thousand years of theological writing, there will surely be a plethora of documents now obscure, which contradict some current thinking. Some of these will no doubt be retrieved by scholars – and being rehabilitated, will influence further adjustments in the changing tradition of the Church.

 

St Augustine - 6th cent fresco, Lateran

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »