Archive for the ‘State of the Church in the West’ Category

36e7vzLast week, we had a combox discussion about what in the Church needs reform. David Schutz, in a thoughtful post on the reform of the Curia, reminds us that reform can’t stop in one place, and that – in Church history – those in most need of reform have usually been those most resistant.

Read the whole post for gems like this:

Don’t think that the Curia can reformed without the whole Church being reformed; and don’t think that the Church can be reformed without YOU (and me) being reformed.

…and this:

…it isn’t a “liberal vs conservative” thing, it is an “inward vs outward” thing. The Counter-Reformation was, of necessity, “inward”. But the time for “inward” is gone, and the time for “outward” – Evangelisation – is here. Yet a characterisation of both the old fashioned dyed-in-the-wool liberals and new Rad Trads is that they both share the view of an “inward looking”, aka, “self-referential” Church.

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479699_10200882652894910_1998537882_nMy beloved is a born teacher. In every job he’s ever had, he has made knowledge-transfer a pivotal part of his job performance. He brings his skills into his family life, as a father, as a grandfather, as a husband. At times, his insistence that mistakes and trials are learning opportunities can be a little trying. Note to husbands: If your wife is leaping on one foot around the floor, holding the broken toe she has just sustained from the fall of a heavy wooden bedhead, it is not a good time to lean your head in the window and say: “What have you learned from this experience?”

He’s right, though. (He usually is, God bless him.)  “What have you learned from this experience?” It’s the logical and productive way to look at what happens to us, good and bad.

In a post reacting to widespread debate about Pope Francis’ style, David Schütz invites us to ponder “What can we learn from this experience?”

There was a time when ceremonial grandeur attracted people to the Church. There some societies in which it still does. Unfortunately, our western society is no longer such. While the grandeur of the Church remains very attractive to some of us, there are a lot of others for whom (rightly or wrongly – and I would definitely say wrongly) this grandeur interpreted as a display of wealth in the face of the overwhelming poverty of many in the world. In a word, it spells “hypocrisy”. To many it has become an impenetrable barrier to hearing the message of the Gospel.

Now I know that many of us have suffered the horrors of banality in the last 50 years or so in the Church – where the beautiful has been ditched for the common, and the lowest-common-denominator at that. So I am not talking about that. But we are mistaken if we think that the only kind of beauty that can be put up against such banal ugliness is grandeur. There is beauty in simplicity too. Or, to put it otherwise, simplicity can be as beautiful as grandeur. And attractive.

So, I think Pope Francis has judged that – in order that the Church’s message be heard – a new kind of beauty needs to shine forth from the Church at the highest level: the beauty of simplicity. This is not a criticism of his predecessor, or of those of us who happen to find grandeur attractive.

Also take a look at Darwin Catholic’s post ‘There is not just one way to be Pope’:

It seems to me that John Paul II’s dense intellectualism combined with his oversize and highly charismatic personality was arguably exactly what the Church needed at the time of his pontificate — as we emerged from a time in which it seemed like the roof was coming down and everything was up for grabs. Benedict’s liturgical focus was another thing that the Church desperately needed at the time that he was chosen — and I think that his ability to write deeply yet clearly was also a huge need. If John Paul II’s struggle to incorporate Catholic teaching and a moderl philosophical understanding of the human person were something very much needed in our modern era, I at the same time suspect that Benedict’s books (both his books about the life of Christ and the many books he wrote prior to his pontificate) may actually be read more often by ordinary Catholics in the coming decades than anything that John Paul II wrote.

Similarly, I think that Francis’ intentional simplicity is something that we need to see in our pope at times. This is not to say that Benedict and John Paul were not simple. They were, though in different ways. But while not every saint needs (or should) be simple in the sort of over-the-top way that our pope’s namesake St. Francis of Assisi was, St. Francis nonetheless remains a good saint to have. That it is good that we have St. Francis as an example does not mean that every other saint is the less for not being St. Francis.

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Uncivil-war2 copyI began blogging as a reaction against the venom spewed in com-boxes. Not the venom against the Church by those outside it – that, I can understand and even (in a prideful and totally inappropriate reaction) delight in. Generally, such venom is based on total misinformation and often on wilful misunderstanding. Even those who are informed betray a double-standard about morality that shows, deep down, the commenter expects the Church to be better. Which is a compliment, in a twisted, backhanded kind of a way.

My reaction was to the venom of Catholic commenters against anyone who didn’t agree with their views. It seemed to me that there was a scale to the nasty, insulting, cruel comments. Agnostics were treated with reasonable compassion; atheists got it with both barrels; Protestant Christians received both barrels plus grenades; but all out war was reserved for other Catholics whose views on what it was to be Catholic differed from those of the commenter.

This isn’t a nice way to behave, folks. It isn’t productive. It isn’t a good witness for Catholicism. All in all, it sucks big time.

Yesterday’s readings sum up the way we should be with everyone we meet: showing good judgement (of course), but not judgemental. The worst persecutor of the young Christian community doesn’t spend the rest of his life apologising for his misdeeds, but instead works himself to the bone to spread the Christian message. Jesus doesn’t condone the sin of the adulteress, but neither does he condemn her.

Please read a beautiful post by Calah Alexander on why we Catholics shouldn’t be tearing the Pope (and one another) apart in com boxes. It’s a powerful argument for a cease fire. Here’s a snippet:

We had Benedict because we needed him. We have Francis now, I think, because we also need him. We need beauty in the liturgy. We also need to help the poor. These two forces seem so ludicrously opposed to each other in American Catholicism. Either you’re a conservative, rad-trad, pro-Liturgy Catholic or you’re a liberal, social-justice, pro-guitars-and-holding-hands-during-the-Our-Father-Catholic. And anyone who takes the blogosphere as an example probably thinks we Catholics spend all our time hunkered down in our trenches, lobbing carefully-worded-blog-post-bombs at each other, waiting for the other side to go over the top so we can mow them down and cleanse the Church of that crap for once and for all.

We’re waging a pointless and counterproductive war on each other. Both sides are defending deposits of the faith. Good, beautiful, true things that we have learned through our mutual faith, things which our faith needs equally in order to flourish. Can you imagine what might happen if we stopped haunting each other’s comboxes, accusing each other of heresy, and instead spent that energy working together to make the Church better? Maybe we could even *deep breath* try and see what’s true, good, and beautiful about the other. Like, maybe I could go to a Tridentine Mass and viciously repress my inner Jan Hus and really, really try to see the beauty in that ancient liturgy that bequeathed to me the faith I hold so dear today. And maybe whoever runs Rorate Caeli could go to a Novus Ordo Mass in Spanish in Immokalee, the town down the street from me, and instead of being horrified at the abuses in the liturgy really, really try to see the beauty in these migrant workers shuffling into the pews after a day of back-breaking work in the Florida sun, sweaty and dirty and wearing jeans, but resisting the urge to go home and collapse until they’ve seen Jesus.

Our faith is so multi-faceted. That’s why we have a gazillion saints. They’re all doing something different, giving us different examples to follow. Not everyone can be Francis of Assisi, living in blissful poverty, fasting and praying. Someone had to be St. Thomas Aquinas, puzzling out the finest points of theology while remaining very very well-fed. And our Church would be infinitely poorer if Francis and Thomas Aquinas had spent all their time arguing over whose way was better instead of just doing the work God had set before them. We all have different work to do in the Church, and God wants all of us to help make his Church complete. But we can’t very well do that if we’re busy tearing each other to shreds.

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phariseepublicanDavid Schütz, at Sentire Cum Ecclesia, has had a combox discussion with a Lutheran Pastor in which the Pastor quotes his wife (a former Catholic) as saying that Pope Benedict resigned because the crisis of evil in the Church broke his heart.

Below, I publish David’s response in full, but I urge you to go and read the whole post, and the comment stream. It’s well worth a look:

What, you wanted me to say “sex abuse”? Happy now? No. I don’t talk about it very often. Because my reaction to it is just what your wife thinks Benedict’s was: it breaks my heart.

And yes, I am sure that it did break Benedict’s heart too. I am sure he knew a lot more about the evil in the Church than you, or I, or your wife or anyone could possibly know.

But to say that this is the reason he resigned? I don’t think so. He has had to deal with that particular evil his whole papacy. I am sure it wore him down, but… some other needle must have broken this particular camel’s back.

If “the crisis” to which you refer, Pastor Mark, is “evil in the Catholic Church”, well, then that truly is a crisis that has been with us since the beginning. It is the very same crisis that I find every time I look into my own heart and see what is there – more than you, or anyone else other than God, could know.

But perhaps one of the greatest evils that has come as a result of this particular evil is the fact that it has become the only evil we can see. It is like the person who goes to confession again and again and confesses the same sins each time. This particular sin becomes the only thing he can think about, the only thing he thinks he needs to repent of – and he does not realise the other more subtle evils affecting his life.

Yes, evil exists in the Church. This is not something to be accepted (“well, it has always been so, so why try to change it?”) but it is certainly not something we should be surprised at. I would have it that the whole world could look at the Church and see nothing but holiness and love – what an evangelising moment THAT would be! Instead the body of Christ is shamed and spat upon because of the betrayal of her members.

But should anyone stand like the pharisee in the temple and say to himself “God, I thank thee that my church is not like that one over there in the corner etc” – well… Pastor, if you and your wife and family have found a Christian community in which there is no evil, no crisis, I wish you luck.

I didn’t choose to become a Catholic because Catholics were more holy than other Christians. I wish it were so, but on balance I know that probably they are not. I chose to become a Catholic because I was convinced that the Catholic Church is the visible society upon earth in which the Church of Jesus Christ fully subsists. That is something quite different.

All that having been said, I do remain convinced that if one is seeking to become holy, then the Catholic Church is the place where the means of attaining holiness are most fully to be found. For all the dreadful, horrific evils committed by members and priests and leaders of the Catholic Church over all the centuries, yet I can name you so many more whose life here on earth, by the grace of Jesus Christ working within them, enabled them to reach that perfection of holiness in this life that there was no sin at all left in them from which they needed no be purified after their death.

Does that sound horrific to you? Does that scandalise you? It should not. Because I used the words “by the grace of Jesus Christ”. One thing you must say about us Catholics: we believe in the power of God’s grace – perhaps more than the most ardent protestant – because we believe that God’s Grace in Jesus Christ really CAN change lives and make sinners into saints.

That is – now and always and world without end – the answer to the crisis of which you speak: the crisis of evil in the Church.

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On Catholic Soapbox, Gavin Abraham talks about an editorial by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth.

Archbishop Costelloe has hit many nails on the head in the excerpts I’ve shared, but even more in the wider article. While I think most people recognise that the sex abuse crisis has severely eroded the Church’s moral standing in society, few have been so explicit in acknowleding it.

And Archbishop Costelloe does it in the right context, saying that while the Church might struggle to be heard in the same way in might have been 20 or 50 or 100 years ago, that doesn’t change the fact that the message is as real and important and resonant as it always has been.

I recommend you read the rest of what Gavin has to say, and also follow his link to the editorial.

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Russell Shaw says that the Church needs to educate Catholics on the meaning of sacramental marriage. He comments that President Obama is framing the question around the meaning of the word ‘marriage’ – and that word definitions can change over time. However:

…the debate about same-sex marriage is not an argument about words. It is a debate about the fundamental core meaning of marriage—a meaning that isn’t even touched, much less changed, by playing games with words.

If that is true of civil marriage, though (and it is), it’s infinitely more true in the case of sacramental marriage.

St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) likens the relationship of husband and wife in matrimony to the relationship of Christ to the Church. (“This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church.”) For centuries, the Christian tradition has seen here the foundation of its belief in the sacramentality of Christian marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting that, speaks of “an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church” (CCC 1617).

From this perspective, the very notion of a same-sex union somehow being a “sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church” borders on blasphemy.

But for whatever reason or combination of reasons, the deeply moving reality of sacramental marriage isn’t getting through to large numbers of Catholics today.

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I’ve been avoiding the LCWR vs Vatican discussion for at least four reasons. One, I didn’t have time to look into the background (fixed). Two, I don’t live in the US and I don’t presume that what I know about nun/magisterium relationships here in NZ automatically transfers elsewhere. Three, US bloggers were already having a field day, and I didn’t see that I had anything to add. Four, it’s a hot-button issue for at least one of our commenters, and I wanted to avoid a combox full of cliches and undercover venom.

Now the Anchoress has summed up my feelings on reasons three and four in a masterful post that also provides links for those who want to examine the issue in more depth. Thanks, Elizabeth.

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Here’s the essence of the US Bishops’ argument, from their own letter dated 14 March:

…we wish to clarify what this debate is—and is not—about. This is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive, even when it is not provided by the Church’s hand and with the Church’s funds. This is not about the religious freedom of Catholics only, but also of those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. This is not about the Bishops’ somehow “banning contraception,” when the U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church—consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions—to act against Church teachings. This is not a matter of opposition to universal health care, which has been a concern of the Bishops’ Conference since 1919, virtually at its founding. This is not a fight we want or asked for, but one forced upon us by government on its own timing. Finally, this is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.

So what is it about?

An unwarranted government definition of religion.

The mandate includes an extremely narrow definition of what HHS deems a “religious employer” deserving exemption—employers who, among other things, must hire and serve primarily those oftheir own faith. We are deeply concerned about this new definition of who we are as people of faith and what constitutes our ministry. The introduction of this unprecedented defining of faith communities and their ministries has precipitated this struggle for religious freedom. Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry. HHS thus creates and enforces a new distinction—alien both to our Catholic tradition and to federal law—between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need, of any faith community or none. Cf. Deus Caritas Est, Nos. 20-33. We are commanded both to love and to serve the Lord; laws that protect our freedom to comply with one of these commands but not the other are nothing to celebrate. Indeed, they must be rejected, for they create a “second class” of citizenship within our religious community. And if this definition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity. All—not just some—of our religious institutions share equally in the very same God-given, legally-recognized right not “to be forced to act in a manner contrary to [their] own beliefs.” Dignitatis Humanae, No. 2.

A mandate to act against our teachings.

The exemption is not merely a government foray into internal Church governance, where government has no legal competence or authority—disturbing though that may be. This error in theory has grave consequences in principle and practice. Those deemed by HHS not to be “religious employers” will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions. This is not only an injustice in itself, but it also undermines the effective proclamation of those teachings to the faithful and to the world. For decades, the Bishopshave led the fight against such government incursions on conscience, particularly in the area of health care. Far from making us waver in this longstanding commitment, the unprecedented magnitude of this latest threat has only strengthened our resolve to maintain that consistent view.

A violation of personal civil rights.

The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values. They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing “services” contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption. This, too, is unprecedented in federal law, which has long been generous in protecting the rights of individuals not to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions. We have consistently supported these rights, particularly in the area of protecting the dignity of all human life, and we continue to do so.

I’m interested to note that they say that it is the first issue, the Government’s narrow definition of religion, that has precipitated the struggle. In the commentaries I’d read, this was always a side note, with the second point taking the lead. But the bishops seem to me to be saying that their top concern is that they’re being told that religion is limited to providing religious services, and that other ministries are not part of religion. This ties in with an earlier kerfuffle, when Obama was quoted as talking about “freedom of worship”, rather than “freedom of religion”.

To my mind, our faith is seen at its best precisely in the work that the Catholic charities do. When I think of the great Catholics of the 19th and 20th centuries, I think of those who took Christ’s love to those in need: the Fr Damians, the Mother Irenes, the Mary MacKillops, the Dorothy Days. Religion is worship? Indeed – but the best worship we can offer, as God himself has told us, is to serve to Christ’s body in the poor, the needy, and the distressed.

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Max Lindenman has written about clerical narcissism. It’s a thoughtful piece, asking whether clerical nacissism is a myth or a reality:

I am curious to know whether a certain excessive self-regard might be a priestly occupational hazard.

This sort of question is bound to elicit defensive responses, and for good reason: nobody wants to hear, “You’re all a bunch of preening jerks” much less “you’re all a bunch of sex abuse abettors.” Before anyone imagines I’m saying either, let me throw in couple of qualifiers. First, where priests are concerned, imposing any collective sense of guilt is the very last thing I want to do. The mistakes of the institutional Church have much less interest for me than the experience of the individual priest, whom I take on faith to be an essentially good guy who wants only to do right. If any Church norms or practices do, in fact, encourage priests to adopt a narcissistic self-concept, I am assuming they adopt it unwittingly and probably unwillingly.

Second, narcissism happens to the best of us. Every group of professionals with arcane knowledge and its own old-boy network runs a danger of developing a pathologically inflated opinion of itself and the perks it deserves. Surgeons are often said — in particular by nurses — to believe in their own divinity. Where to start with lawyers? My own hands are far from clean here. After I’d worked for just as short time as a loan officer, it felt perfectly natural to think, “Gee, I hope this borrower is stupid enough to let me stack on the points” in almost those very words. When one borrower’s wife went into cardiac arrest, forcing him to cancel his signing, my only thought was, “Why me, O Lord?”

Third, I’m not asking out of rhetorical mock ignorance. I’m asking out of real ignorance. If it seems improbable that any fully functioning Catholic should know so little about the sacerdotal headspace, bear in mind that I entered the Church right in the middle of a vocations crisis. The priests in my orbit are few, and usually overworked. They don’t have time for much more than an after-Mass handshake, and there’s little to be learned from one of those. I know that Fr. Andrew Greeley and A.W. Richard Sipe have written extensively on the inner realities of the clerical life, but — inexcusably — I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet.Instead, I go right to the source. To those of my readers who are priests and seminarians, I ask: does that tight collar sometimes make your head swell? If so, have you worked out some routine for getting back to normal? Remember, the Catholic Church is the only place on earth where people thank you for sharing and mean it.

The comment stream contains some fascinating answers.

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From GK Chesterton

I hope it is not a secret arrogance to say that I do not think I am exceptionally arrogant; or if I were, my religion would prevent me from being proud of my pride. Nevertheless, for those of such a philosophy, there is a very terrible temptation to intellectual pride, in the welter of wordy and worthless philosophies that surround us today. Yet there are not many things that move me to anything like a personal contempt. I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification. I do not feel any contempt for a Bolshevist, who is a man driven to the same negative simplification by a revolt against very positive wrongs. But there is one type of person for whom I feel what I can only call contempt. And that is the popular propagandist of what he or she absurdly describes as Birth-Control.

I despise Birth-Control first because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly word. It is also an entirely meaningless word; and is used so as to curry favour even with those who would at first recoil from its real meaning. The proceeding these quack doctors recommend does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control. It cannot for instance, determine sex, or even make any selection in the style of the pseudo-science of Eugenics. Normal people can only act so as to produce birth; and these people can only act so as to prevent birth. But these people know perfectly well as I do that the very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public, the instant it was blazoned on headlines, or proclaimed on platforms, or scattered in advertisements like any other quack medicine. They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising. Therefore they use a conventional and unmeaning word, which may make the quack medicine sound more innocuous.

Second, I despise Birth-Control because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly thing. It is not even a step along the muddy road they call Eugenics; it is a flat refusal to take the first and most obvious step along the road of Eugenics. Once grant that their philosophy is right, and their course of action is obvious; and they dare not take it; they dare not even declare it. If there is no authority in things which Christendom has called moral, because their origins were mystical, then they are clearly free to ignore all the difference between animals and men; and treat men as we treat animals. They need not palter with the stale and timid compromise and convention called Birth-Control. Nobody applies it to the cat. The obvious course for Eugenists is to act towards babies as they act towards kittens. Let all the babies be born; and then let us drown those we do not like. I cannot see any objection to it; except the moral or mystical sort of objection that we advance against Birth-Prevention. And that would be real and even reasonable Eugenics; for we could then select the best, or at least the healthiest, and sacrifice what are called the unfit. By the weak compromise of Birth-Prevention, we are very probably sacrificing the fit and only producing the unfit. The births we prevent may be the births of the best and most beautiful children; those we allow, the weakest or worst. Indeed, it is probable; for the habit discourages the early parentage of young and vigorous people; and lets them put off the experience to later years, mostly from mercenary motives. Until I see a real pioneer and progressive leader coming out with a good, bold, scientific programme for drowning babies, I will not join the movement.

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