This is the third in a series of three commentaries by Professor Don Fausel in which he continues to explore the theme of his book "From Blind Obedience to Responsible Faith". Many today seem to ask "Should I stay or leave?". Don Fausel appears to have no inclination to want to consider himself something other than Catholic. But to truly "follow Jesus" what, precisely does that mean today? This professor's advice in the end is "Keep the Faith but Challenge the Beliefs!" This is a lengthy commentary with many links to other resources that might merit extended reflection and discussion.
My Church Right or Wrong?
In paraphrasing the patriotic slogan, "My country right or wrong" and substituting church for country, I think it portrays what many of us learned in from our Catholic culture, and followed for years. It's another way of saying, "you gotta go along with the church, even if you don't agree with it, if you want to be a loyal citizen." It also reminds me of G.K. Chesterton's response to the quote, "...it's like saying my mother drunk or sober". I think what Chesterton meant was, that however much we love our country or church, it's necessary to temper that love and loyalty with a good dose of reality. I believe many of us have struggled with that dose of reality. Some consciences say, you need to take a stand, but for others, after years of submitting to authority say I have hope that the authorities will shape up and get it right; in the meantime, I'll wait and see. Others answer, not in my time, I'm out of here!
It's not surprising to read that many cradle catholics have already made their decision and left the church of their youth, and that the largest number of christians in the United States is former catholics. I suspect that the majority left because they had no hope that those same members of the hierarchy would stop treating them as the "lowerarchy", and expecting them to docilely ignore their conscience and let the feelings of guilt that is embedded in every cell of their catholic DNA take over. By the way, I have a friend from my catholic grammar school days, who up to his forties, swore his mother had the east coast franchise on guilt.
"Whither goest thou…?": After having discussed what I consider the abuse by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, (USCCB) of the power of the political pulpit to kick off their campaign on contraception in my first commentary [LINK]; and in the second commentary the insanity of infallibility peddled by Pio Nino, that is the basis for the authority to condemn contraception. and many other teachings of the Roman Catholic Church [LINK]; I want to turn to some of the options that we have for reform or revolution. First, I will briefly outline the different positions that several theologians have taken on the future of the Catholic Church and on the Hamlet-like dilemma of whether "to stay or not to stay"? Finally, I will share my point of view on these issues, and hope to hear your responses.
I'll start with Gregory Baum, who of the two other theologians I'll consider, is the most hopeful that the church has and can make significant changes. I suspect that's apparent from the very title of his book, Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change. Fr. Baum has a rich background as a theologian. He served as an expert for the Vatican II from 1962 to 1965; taught theology both at St. Michael's College in Toronto and McGill University in Montreal. His academic writing has been mostly on ecumenism and Catholic social teaching. In case you don't have easy access to his book, there is a very thorough review of it in the end notes.
Baum admits in the preface of his book that "My enthusiasm for the evolution of the Church's official teaching is at odds with the mood presently expressed by many Catholics, who lament the ecclesiastical bureaucracy's indifference to a number of urgent pastoral problems." He's got that right! But when he describes other theologians' positions as "moods", it sounds like he expects that the mood will pass and they'll come back to his way of thinking.
Throughout most of his book he brings up documents from Vatican II, partly to show how pastoral the documents are compared to those of other ecumenical counsels, but at the same time exhibit how the church made changes in Vatican II. He also focuses on issues that I think are bureaucratic, and not of much interest to the faithful in the third millennium. For examples, Baum spends several pages on a Nota published by the Congregation of Faith and signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, that lifts the censure of 40 propositions of a philosopher by the name of Antonio Rosmini, who lived between 1797 and 1855 and whose work had been condemned posthumously. I suppose it does demonstrate that the church can change its mind, nice for Antonio, but I just wish the Ratzinger and his curial colleagues had been spending more time on the pedophilia problems with priests that was breaking out in the USA about the same time they were engaged in head games with revising a church decision from the 19th Century.
Although Baum proudly reminds us of the documents that excited most of us at the time, and did promise change, unless I missed something, he doesn't spend any time exposing how Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI launched campaigns to scuttle many of the reforms that Vatican II accomplished.
Despite decades of disagreements with the Vatican on numerous doctrines, Hans Küng still considers himself to be a Catholic, and even though his license to teach in Catholic universities was revoked, he was never burned at the stake as a heretic, or even excommunicated. He still can celebrates Mass, and administer the sacraments. He confirmed his commitment to the church in a recent book, What I Believe when he said, "I am and remain a loyal member of my church." And makes it perfectly clear that his years of strict education in Rome taught him not to allow himself to be intimidated even by the church authorities.
At age 83 Küng still maintains his integrity in spite of the Vatican looking over his shoulder and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, targeting him from the far right. Here are a couple of examples of the slings and arrows from conservative websites: The first one is "Protect the Pope". The headline reads: Fr Hans Kung Exhorts Catholics to Reject the Authority of Magisterium as a 'Duty'. It's not just the article that attacks the "Dissident Catholic priest…", it's the vitriolic tenor of the comments by readers.
Here's another website entitled, Catholic Culture, where the headline reads: Hans Kung Issues New Book Attacking the Church. Notice how this article introduces Küng, "The dissident theologian Hans Küng..." They love the word 'dissident' to disparage Küng. I'd suggest they read Robert McClory's book, Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church. McClory has a different take on dissenters. "These dissenters challenged fossilized traditions and seemingly irreformable doctrines, opened locked widows, and pushed the Church (sometimes kicking and screaming) into the future."
Perhaps there is still hope! Küng seems to thinks so. He expresses this hope as a vision of the future that most likely wouldn't fit well with the Vatican as we know it today. His vision is reminiscent of the tone of Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech, which he gave in 1963 when he presented his vision of civil rights for Black Americans. There is one section in Küng's book What I Believe, which captures his vision. After saying he's not giving up hope that an ecumenism between the Christian churches is possible, but it will have to grow from below, not from reluctant church authorities. He lists a number of components of that vision. Rather than trying to encapsulate what he has in chapter 10 of his book, I will just mention two items of his vision that I think are the most important as he looks into the future:
Man-made dogmas that divide the churches will retreat behind the truth of God and the message of Jesus. Medieval pre-modern structures that deny people above all women their privileges, will dissolve.
'Infallible' papalism and pseudo – Christian idolatry of the Pope will give way to a Petrine office which stands at the service of Christianity and functions in the framework of synodical and conciliar structures.
He closes the chapter with a biblical quote that I also used in my memoir to underscore our need to move from the blind obedience of a child, to a responsible faith of an adult.
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. [I Corinthians 13:11, New Living Translation, 2007]
So, keep showing up, Father Küng!
Just so you'll know my possible bias, I need to confess I've been a fan of Matthew Fox since I read the first edition of Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality in 1980. Currently a group we call the Seekers, that I've met with twice a month for the last 13 years, is reading The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance. And I just finished reading The Pope's War: Why Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and how it Can Be Saved. Oh, I almost forgot, I found his book, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, very inspiring.
Two interviews with Matthew Fox by Jamie Manson where recently published in the National Catholic Reporter. Her interviews focus on Fox's recent book The Pope's War. If you haven't read the book, the articles might be helpful to bring you up to speed on his latest thinking. In the first article, Former Dominican Sees Church's Demise as a Blessing in Disguise [LINK], Ms. Manson briefly traces his background over the past 20 years, reminding us that he was expelled from the Dominican order after a twelve year battle with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and for the last eighteen years has been an Episcopal priest. Her focus is on the key themes from his book.
One of the first questions she asked in the first interview was whether he considered himself to be Catholic, but not Roman Catholic. He hesitated a bit and didn't answer directly but said, "You don't undo 54 years of being Catholic—it's much too rich for that. I have a whole list of gifts that I was given by the Roman Catholic Church, but obviously I'm moving towards something that is beyond the boxes of denominations." I can resonate with that. I think most of us who have struggled with that question, or even have already left the church, recognize the positive experiences we had along with the disappointments that turned us off. Fox responded to a follow-up question about what tradition he most wanted to rescue. As might be expected; the mystical and prophetic souls like Hildegard, Eckhart, Francis of Assisi, and added great reformers of the 20th Century such as; Dorothy Day, Thomas Berry, Thomas Merton, Teilhard De Chardin as part of the richness that Fox needed to be take along on his continued journey.
Fox also stresses that every Catholic and every Christian needs to grieve what was lost when the hope that Vatican II generated was undermined by the last 40 years of efforts by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to backtrack on the promises made by the Council. He believes that the going through the process, especially getting in touch with the anger and denial that many of us have, will produce a new creativity to "birth the church anew". The good news is that he sees this as a "great moment" for the Holy Spirit to move in and reinvent things. "And that's where we should be putting our energy."
Manson continues her interview in Matthew Fox Talks Obedience and Courage, Young Adults and the Church [LINK], by asking about Joseph Ratzinger's youth in Nazi Germany. The fact that young Ratzinger grew up, and was indoctrinated under a fascist regime, seems to have had an impact on him. Most likely, it was much greater than our growing up in a pre-Vatican II culture, had on many of us. As a teenager he joined the Hitler Youth Corp and later was conscripted into the army, where the most important "virtue" was blind obedience. Remember the Nuremberg War Trials after WWII and the defense that many of the indicted claimed, that they were just following orders — blind obedience? Or if you have the time and the stomach for it, read the cross-examination of Goering to see how powerful an ideology like fascism and its requirement of blind obedience, can provide a license for atrocities like the world has never known. I'm not suggesting that Ratzinger is a fascist in his adult life, but I'd be surprised if his indoctrination as a youth made no impression on him at all, at the very least he seems to have a touch of the fascist's obsession to control and to make obedience a priority.
Fox makes an interesting comparison between Ratzinger and Father Bernard Haring, who was also drafted into the Nazi army, but as an adult. He later in life became a prominent moral theologian. Haring rejected what he had been taught as a Nazi soldier that obedience is a primary virtue. As Fox described Haring's position, "... the number one lesson he drew from living through the war was that of resistance and the need for civil disobedience." He also expressed remorse that so many Christians in Hitler's Germany justified their participation in unimaginable atrocities by saying that they were obeying orders. According to Fox, Haring constructed his entire moral theology on the theme of responsibility, contrary to the blind obedience of so many German Catholics. Fox believes, "As Ratzinger rose the ecclesial ladder, he more and more built his theology on obedience." AMEN!
In both of Manson's interviews with Matthew Fox and in his book, it's apparent that he is concerned and involved with the issues that youth have towards the institutional churches. He's also is concerned and involved in reaching out to those who have one foot in and one foot out, as well as those who have already made a choice to look elsewhere to meet their spiritual need and worship in more meaningful communities. If you haven't already done so, check his Cosmic Mass Website [www.thecosmicmass.com]. It has the lists of groups of cosmic christian communities, a section for questions, plus wealth of information about what he and others are doing to make worship more meaningful.
His book, The Pope's War: Why Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and how it Can Be Saved, contains much more information, including list of myths and 25 concrete steps to take Christianity into the future. Before he gets to the 25 steps he points out how important it is to pay attentions to our own grief. He mentions a number of "betrayals" that many of us have experienced as faithful members of the church. It's similar in some ways to what couples go through in a divorce. I recently read a response in a website entitled catholics4change.com. The respondent to one of their blogs made a statement that seemed to capture what many on the fringe of leaving the Catholic Church go through. This is not the voice of someone who is making a decision dismissively, but one who has agonized over a church that has let her down:
"'My conscience is screaming at me: What are you doing? How can you continue to blindly follow something so wrong?' My faith is too strong to allow it. I know better, but this is like a terrible divorce after many years of marriage when you learn that your spouse has been unfaithful. The sadness, anger, fear, and grief are unbearable."
I don't think you need to have been through a divorce to identify with the respondent. Having counseled dozens of couples dealing with the pain of divorce, and given workshops on divorce recovery, I think the responder is right on in making the comparison of leaving the church to a divorce. We need to recover from the multiple betrayals by the church that Fox mentions. It's almost like going through an Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' process of grieving period as we need to do for any loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. If you're not familiar with the Kübler-Ross' grieving process, you might want to check out the webpage of her Foundation [www.ekrfoundation.org] or the Wikipedia page [LINK].
The 25 steps I mentioned above are mainly about structural changes needed in the Church, for example getting rid of the monarchial government that currently governs the Church from the Vatican, and replacing it with a democratic structure. One of the most important changes would be to have bishops chosen by local communities, and not have to pass the litmus test that the pope requires; in a new structure, priests would be female or male, gay or straight, celibate or married. One of the questions he asks that applies to most of the changes he's suggesting is, "Would Jesus be more at home with..." a more democratic structure of his church, one that was less bureaucratic; is more inclusive, is more "the people of God" that Vatican II envisioned; follows a creation spirituality versus the sin and redemption theology that made sense to St. Augustine, who taught that original sin was passed on through the male's semen. These are the things that Matthew Fox believes need to be changed, and what he lives through his writings, his ministry as a priest, and efforts to preserve and preach the value of the mystics in a world that joins the historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ.
Keep the Faith but Challenge the Beliefs...
Theologian and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Harvey Cox, in his book, The Future of Faith, recalls a conversation he had with a friend, who described himself as "a practicing Christian but not always a believing one". Initially Cox was surprised with his friend's statement, but the more he thought about it, he came to the conclusion that to call oneself a practicing Christian but not a believing one acknowledges the certainties and uncertainties that mark the life of any religious person. When I read his book, I realized I had come to the same conclusion about the differences between faith and beliefs a number of years ago, but I just wasn't able to articulate it as well as he did.
My faith is in the Jesus of what Cox calls the Age of Faith — the first three centuries after Jesus died, when the early church was more interested in following Jesus' teachings than making obligatory what to believe about Jesus. The Jesus that I believe in and in whom my faith is grounded in is: the Jesus who gave us the Beatitudes and his example of how to live; the Jesus who focused on compassion for the disenfranchised. As Dr. Cox observed, when he realized how faith and beliefs were not the same,
"To focus the Christian life on beliefs rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by theologians who taught 'faith' consists of dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds, this came as a welcomed liberation."
At the risk of sounding pedantic, I strongly recommend a website that deals with the issues of faith and beliefs in greater detail than I could in a commentary. The website is Following Jesus [www.followingjesus.org]. After you open the site, you'll see and hear the flash presentation we re-present below. I believe that audio-visual expresses what it means to follow Jesus over two thousand years after his birth. The presentation doesn't offer a creed, but it's a declaration of faith in Jesus. It's what he said and did himself, while he was on earth.
Once the audio visual is finished (or you can skip it if you've already viewied it here), the website will immediately go to the home page. There are eight titles at the top of the page, from left to right: INVITATION | SEEKERS | LEADER | VISIONS | CHANGING | JOURNEY | COMPANIONS | RESOURCES. Under each title there are between five and ten sub-titles. As you touch each of the titles with your mouse, you'll see the sub-titles. There is enough information on this site for two semesters of classes that meet three times a week for two hours each day.
For example, the title on the far right of the page is RESOURCES, if you click on that title, you'll see that one of the sub-titles is "links for action". One of the areas I would have liked to have spent more time on in this commentary, is positive social changes and different strategies of social action as it applies to the church. But hopefully this website will provide some generic suggestions.
To make sure this website gets the credit it deserves, here is information that they supply under "contact". It fits well with the distinctions we've been making between faith and beliefs.
The Following Jesus website is a project of the Mustard Seed School of Theology, which may be the smallest school of biblical studies and theology in the world. (We don't award degrees, so please don't ask!)
The goal of this project is to discover ways to be a faithful follower of Jesus in a postmodern world. It explores what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "religionless Christianity" — faith as a way of life, not as a system of beliefs and doctrines or institutional rites and rituals. The Mustard Seed School hopes to share the radical social and political ideas of Jesus as an antidote to the religious orthodoxy of the church adopted under the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
PS: Here's a bonus that I came across while writing this commentary Forget the Church, Follow Jesus. Article by Andrew Sullivan, Newsweek, April 2, 2012.
PSS: If you think you're too small to make a difference, try getting in bed with a mosquito. Author anonymous
Don Fausel. Submitted to Catholica on 15Apr2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?