Dr Anthony Padovano…
Interspersed with our regular commentaries over the coming two weeks we will be publishing excerpts from this lengthy, detailed and interesting analysis by Dr Anthony T. Padovano which looks at the progress of reform in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council. Dr Anthony Padovano was the first elected president of one of the oldest reform groups in the United States — Corpus (www.corpus.org). He is presently Ambassador for the organisation. He holds doctorates and professorships in theology and literature. He is the author of twenty-eight books including three award-winning plays, translated into eight languages. He has been visiting professor at twenty-five American colleges and universities, lectures world-wide and appears regularly in the media on both sides of the Atlantic. Dr Padovano will be visiting Melbourne for a conference next year. This essay was originally delivered as an address to the 2006 Annual Conference of Corpus but will be largely unknown to our Australian readership. We thank Dr Padovano for permission to republish his analysis on Catholica.
To What Have We Been Committed?
It was like a case of ecclesial whiplash. Some forty years ago, Vatican II ended with a mandate to reform and renew the Church thoroughly, in all its structures and disciplines, making it inclusive, incarnational, contemporary.
Then John Paul II, for 26 years, ordered a reversal. Reform had gone too far, retrenchment was imperative, the Church must become conservative, even reactionary, selective, countercultural, exclusive, suspicious of the times in which we live.
For a quarter of a century, many tried to run in opposite directions simultaneously. The ecclesial environment did not seem peaceful or creatively energizing but schizophrenic, paranoid, adversarial. It had all the fog and ambiguity of war about it. We had to work with a liberal charter from Vatican II and a conservative, ideological Pope. We passed, it seemed, in a heartbeat, from Vatican II to a kind of Vietnam, from the elegant simplicity and clarity of a Council to a war zone with blurred borders, unreliable alliances, uncertain objectives. Enthusiasm and joy traded places with belligerence and anger. In fairness, some of this passage would have occurred under any Pope because the revolution was so rapid and profound. But it might have happened with a gentleness, a pastoral care, an even-handedness that John Paul simply did not have.
I would like to express how I think many of us worked through these dilemmas, made sense of them and learned to live with them. I shall consider five topics:
Despair is in Order
Hope is Justified
What Happened and Who Are We Now?
What is Our Legacy?
The Future is Made from Commitments
Although I concentrate on despair among Church reformers, it is worth noting that traditionalists also sense despair. All the Popes since the Council have been conservatives (Paul VI after his pronouncements on celibacy in 1967 and birth control in 1968; John Paul II; Benedict XVI). Four decades of conservative even reactionary leadership from Rome and the Church is still in disarray. Why is it that one Pope (John XXIII) and four years of a Council cannot be undone by forty years of conservative papacies?
Traditionalists see despair everywhere. Stern policies, clearly stated, with the highest authority possible cannot win majority lay support. Papal policies with threats of excommunication and the intimidation of bishops who waver slightly on these matters have failed to unite the Church against them. A minority of the laity agree that abortion must be prohibited in every instance, that same-gender sex is always immoral, that contraception is intrinsically evil, that women must not and cannot be ordained, that optional celibacy will harm the priesthood, that divorce is never permissible. Blame is in order and so the laity are blamed or the times in which we live. But how can the Church get away from the laity or the times in which we live?
The traditionalist despair is widespread. Catholic publishing is permissive; Catholic universities favor dissent; theologians, priests, even bishops must be monitored constantly, carefully. Under conservative papacies, Church attendance in the United States has plummeted from 75% to 25%. The sex abuse scandal surfaced anger among Catholics so great that bishops are summoned to court, priests imprisoned and dioceses driven into bankruptcy on lay initiative and with lay approval. Vocations to canonical religious life have all but ended; such a calling is not even on the radar screen of young Catholics and, indeed, parents are happy it is not. Parishes close, seminaries disappear, schools end their service.
Indeed, there is despair among Church traditionalists.
But why are liberals locked in despair?
Partly because they gave their lives and hearts, their ministries and hopes to a Council that is now often regretted, even vilified. Forty years after this Council, there is no meaningful collegiality in the Church at any level. The laity who attend Church seem content with this; apathetic, unwilling to join resistance or reform movements. Only a shell and a bit of rhetoric remain of the collegiality that was at the very core of Vatican II.
The quality of pastoral charisms among priests and bishops has declined. One is now astonished to find a Church administrator eager for dialogue, open and fair. The claustrophobic ideology of John Paul II has been cloned and replicated.
There have been liturgical retrenchments, rejection of a pastoral sexual ethic, of an inclusive ordained ministry, of accountability for all Church administrators.
Ecumenical progress has been stalled for decades. Even with substantial doctrinal agreement among a number of Churches, Rome refuses to act. Interreligious dialogue has been oppressed by recent Church teaching.
Of the six great documents of Vatican II (Church, Liturgy, Revelation, Modern World, Ecumenism, Religious Freedom), only Revelation or biblical renewal continues to show life. The document on the Church has been shattered by papal monarchy, the Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World by flawed sexual norms and servile lay theology, Ecumenism by a denial of inter-communion, Religious Freedom by the denigration of conscience. Authority and canon law have become normative. This is not what Vatican II intended.
Reformers are aging and seem quaint rather than prophetic. Creative and pastoral dissent, once celebrated as Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Kung, Congar represented it, is now an invitation to the margins of the Church's life.
Despair is in order!
The few who remain optimistic appear desperate in their optimism, impractical, unrealistic, foolish, perhaps, arbitrary.
Despair is in order!
The Council is dead. The reform movement is finished. The renewal of the Church has failed.
ON MONDAY: In Part II of this essay, Dr Padavano argues that "Hope is Justified".
FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SKIP AHEAD: For the impatient the full text of Dr Padovano's address is available in pdf format on his website at: apadovano.com. The website also contains further background information.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2008Dr Anthony Padovano