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 »

“The Holy Spirit Moves Through All: All Must Be Consulted.”

What do you think has happened to the spirit of Vatican II?  Depending on your personal view of the value of the Council, most assessments appear to either lament the rolling back of the reforms by the revisionist JP II and Benedict XVI; or to rejoice in the return to the authentic tradition before that prevailed before the supposed errors of the reformists. Ted Schmidt, editor of the Canadian “New Catholic Times sensus fidelium” has a much more encouraging view.

The Canadian church is still recovering from the shock of Bishop Leahy, who resigned suddenly after being charged with possession of child pornography. It was in the light of this scandal that Schmidt conducted a series of interviews with Canadian bishops, then shared his reflections on what these said about the state of the Canadian Catholic Church. His observations, though, are applicable to the whole church, not just to Canada.  I share here some extracts – the full article is available at   New Catholic Times sensus fidelium

Knowing many of these fine men I say without fear of contradiction that presently they seem to have missed a fundamental truth of modern ecclesiology, the teaching on the sensus fidelium, that the Spirit is given to the entire church and not an ordained rump of clerical celibates. They are so fixated on the idea that they are “the teachers” that they have forgotten that they must first be the listeners and learners.

That sounds familiar, but it is what follows that is important: Read the rest of this entry »

Magisterium and Me.

In one his comments on my Catholic Teaching page, Ignatius / Benedict writes that

“I think you’ll be happy in the Anglican denomination where this sort of reasoning evades the Truth.”

I’m sorry to disappoint you, IB, but you will not get rid of me that easily.  I am a cradle Catholic, “gebore en gerore” (born and bred, as expressed in Afrikaans), and could no more renounce my faith than I could my language – or my orientation. Read the rest of this entry »

The Obligation to Dissent

The teaching authority of the church is an important concept, well – known and widely accepted.  Less well-known is the   importance of conscience, at the level of the individual, and of the ‘sensus fidelii’ at the communal level. This leads me to a notion of an ‘obligation to dissent’ in certain circumstances.  This is a theme I will return to repeatedly.  In the meantime, The Wild Reed has drawn my attention to an important article,  Balancing Integrity and Obedience,in which Collen Kochivar – Baker (of Enlightened Catholicism) explores the same theme in different words.

For a short extract from this article, see  The Wild Reed .   For a fuller exploration of the idea, follow Michael’s links at the foot of the extract, or explore his useful archives.