15 March 2008
Dear members, readers and friends of Catholica,
Our lead commentary today in Catholica is a particularly hard-hitting editorial published on Thursday night (Austalian time) in the Journal of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, ARCC Light. While being broadly sympathetic to the views expressed by Dr Christine Roussel in that editorial written on behalf of ARCC, in our own editorial for Catholica I'd like to take a slightly different tack...
It's time to start articulating a positive alternative...
It is quite possibly one of those "inevitabilities of life" that all people who come to a belief that something needs to be reformed will tend to define their own beliefs in the negative sense of a response to that which needs to be reformed. Those of us who have become questioning, or disenchanted, with the direction the Catholic Church has taken in recent decades tend to define ourselves not in terms of what we like about Catholicism but what we dislike about the agendas of those who have been seeking, at every step, to undo the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
Could we here at Catholica Australia humbly suggest to all in that growing body of reform-minded organisations within, or on the periphery of, the Catholic Church around the world that it is time we began articulating a vision which places emphasis on the positive. Let's start talking about the things we genuinely like about Catholicism — the things that keep us "hanging in there, hoping for reform" — rather than those negative things that cause us to grind our teeth in despair and which have driven so many hundreds of millions out of the institutional Church to go seek their spiritual sustenance in other places.
Starting on Easter Monday we will begin publishing the final chapter of Tom Lee's manuscript. In a sense it brings his entire endeavour of researching the early history of Catholicism and Christianity into perspective. It's not a chapter about "the past". He endeavours to articulate as his final conclusion to his mammoth study what he believes in in a positive sense. From this one can glimpse what motivated him to embark on the ambitious venture that he embarked upon in researching and writing the book. In effect, Tom seems to be asking: "where did we (the collective institutional Church) go wrong and what can we do to get back on the right track?"
The letter from Pope Benedict to Dr. Heinz-Lothar Barth published in the ARCC Light editorial demonstrates perhaps more elloquently than anything else that the Holy Roman Catholic Insitutional Church is no longer seriously led by the Holy Spirit but it is instead led by the personal predelictions, preferences, tastes and aspirations of the Pope at the time. Many of us have slowly been coming to that conclusion watching the sad and painful drift of the institution into indifference and irrelevance under the late JPII, now we have proof as it were that the agenda is not substantially different under his successor. It is a farce to suggest that Benedict's preferences in liturgy and music are some articulation of the "will of God" or "the desire of the Holy Spirit". They are nothing more than his personal preferences.
Instead of having our agenda framed for us by these personal preferences of men who still seem to see Catholicism as some kind of feudal monarchy, is it not time when the rest of us who have been slowly but surely turned off by this immature, children's level game of dress-ups, started to articulate in very positive terms where we think the Holy Spirit is calling God's people?
As a way forward let me endeavour to articulate here some of the elements that might make up this positive alternative.
A positive alternative…
At the foundational level we need to articulate a vision that God speaks to humankind through ALL of the people — not just through some self-elected elite and minority. Yes, we do need a leadership for our collective aspirations but the principal role of those leaders is not one of acting as overlords and dictators, it is one of acting as the discerners and articulaters of what God is saying collectively to all of humanity. Catholicism, in its broadest sense incporating both the Eastern and Western lungs of our tradition, certainly has a leadership role internationally, or universally, in endeavouring to coordinate the many diverse messages that arrive from our Creator through multifarious channels of communication but we, as an institution, must never again be tempted to usurp the role of "all the people" and act as intellectual dictators believing that we alone, or that our Pope alone, is vested at ordination or consecration with some "special supernatural power" to alone be the interpreter of Divine wisdom for all of humankind. That role belongs to all of God's people. The Primacy of the Pope is a human bestowed role of leadership as the one who should endeavour to coordinate the mechanisms by which all of us — all of humanity — are listening to "the will of the Spirit" and then giving it expression through our liturgies, our prayerlife, as well as the intellectual, emotional and physical framework and structures we erect to enable this "will of God" to find voice. As we sing in that popular hymn: God has "no hands but ours"!
Yes, we DO all want to respect our leaders — whether spiritual leaders or secular leaders. But leadership is something that is bestowed by the community at large. Respect has to be earned from "the people". It is not something imposed by "zealous minorities" or what my veteran journalist friend, Cliff Baxter, described to me the other day as the emotional needs of "deep-fried adolescents".
Like our own Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, we yearn for a return to the true "spirit of Jesus" and an end to this game of medieval clericalism of "Papa knows best" which is a product of a culture that has been "deep fried" in its adolescence.
We also yearn for a return in Catholicism to catholicism and universality — an institutional structure that expresses the "universal hopes and aspirations" of the entire human community — not just the emotionally insecure and those trapped in "deep fried adolescence", little boys trying to act as emotionally mature, grown men.
We also yearn for a return in Catholicism to inclusiveness where, as in the very early Church, the first half of humanity — women — are accorded an equal place of dignity, respect and leadership. This is not some condescending, immature sense of equating femininity with some "idealised version of motherhood".
We yearn again for a sense of "universality" in the sense that whether one lives in Arakun or Timbuktoo; Paris, New York or the Davis Research Station in Antarctica when we walk into a Catholic or Christian Community we have a sense "this is my home" or "I feel at home here". There is a core "unity" to our liturgy and intellectual and emotional senses of "who we are as a people of God" but, at the same time, there is enormous cultural and geographic diversity as to how we articulate and express our "unity as one people of God".
We yearn to break down the "politicisation" of religion. Let us cease this adolescent game of categorising each other as "liberal" or "conservative" Christians or Catholics. We need an institutional leadership that above everyone else stops playing that game. We need institutional leaders who are no longer divisive, trying to carve up humanity into categories of "the saved" and "the damned", "the remnant" and "the rest". We yearn for an institutional leadership who can articulate and give effect to our very human aspiration to be "one people of God" living in peace with all of our neighbours whatever political party they happen to belong to, whatever the differences in the colour of their skin, whatever the differences in the sexual characteristics that God ordered into them at birth (and that includes the "differences" for what seems to be that 10% of the human population, both male and female, who have to deal with that element of "God's plan" where a small proportion of the population are attracted to people of the same sexual orientation as themselves).
We also yearn for an institution that respects differences in intellectual abilities and which ceases this game of "lowest common denominator" intelligence. We yearn for a collective community which seeks to "raise its people up". It seeks, in the words of that early Church seer, Gregory of Nyssa, to assist all people in their desire to think and act like God — to "be like God". We recognise that we are not God — and neither do we grant a sense of "Godliness" to Popes, nor to any remnant or self-appointed subset of the population who believe they "have all the answers" — but that we all aspire to the wisdom, insight of God and also of the capacities to articulate and express the Divine wisdom and insight in our lives.
Brian Coyne (Editor)
PS: If you haven't already done so, click the banner immediately below to read the ARCC Editorial.
We welcome comments in the forum from members, or as Letters to the Editor from Catholica subscribers, expressing your views on this commentary.