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. In this second very optimistic extract from his essay Dr Padovano argues why there are good reasons to be hope-filled…
And so, given the despair outlined in the first part of this essay, what does one do?
To join another Church is not an attractive alternative for many; to accept an unreformed Catholic Church seems a betrayal. This would make a lie of our lives and charisms.
Opposition to reformers is as hostile and mean-spirited as was that of reformers forty years ago to those reluctant to change. A thoroughly conservative Church is as frightening and suffocating as a completely liberal Church.
Is hope now best achieved by abandoning the Church altogether for the sake of our integrity and authenticity? Are we now called upon to be former Catholics or, if we wish to remain, submissive Catholics?
Are there better choices? If so, they must not be fanciful or else we shall become foolishly hopeful and then despairing as the false promises and pointless visions vanish.
It is not the Council which undermines our hopes but the painful post-conciliar period.
Let us, however, be more measured than this. Let us explore how this post-conciliar period itself can justify our hopes. We might do this by taking account of developments in this period, developments we take for granted, developments we found unthinkable even in the euphoria at the close of Vatican II.
A number of the above items could have led to formal heresy charges against John Paul II by the Council of Trent.
Pius X at the beginning of the twentieth century excommunicated Catholic theologians for less than this.
In the United States, some bishops, before Vatican II, excommunicated laity for not sending their children to Catholic schools. That, at a time when excommunication was terrifying in the extreme.
Vatican II was not prepared to accept the Augsburg Confession or to have a Pope dine with the leading theologian questioning papal infallibility. It did not intend that laity would bring bishops to court or that lay people, opposed to Church teaching, would decide for themselves, without confession, whether they should receive communion.
A good deal of this is done unofficially but not without widespread lay and considerable clerical approval. The Catholic laity now see the world as Protestants or even secularists did in 1960. Indeed they take these choices as a matter of course, not worth mentioning. Large numbers of Catholics consider their non-canonical wedding fully Catholic if a married priest celebrates it for them. Such a statement could not have been parsed theologically in 1960.
I concluded the first part of this essay by citing six key documents from Vatican II. I would like to list now the five crucial areas where the Church at large is in a very different place from where it was as Vatican II closed. There are no structures to support these attitudes but they seem to flourish without them.
Catholics no longer go to Church administrators for their values or their meaning or even their identity as Catholics.
Catholics by and large do not agitate for collegial structures but they affirm what I would call collegiality by default. They give their consultative voice by their non-compliance.
Hardly a Catholic in 1965 would feel competent to judge the value of a liturgical celebration or move from parish to parish until a better celebration was found or would attend a Protestant service and receive communion there. Hardly a Catholic would approve of a priest resigning his ministry or seek pastoral care from him. Catholics now, in escalating numbers, judge ministry by its charism and content, not its canonicity. There are still many Catholics who do not act this way but there were none who did in 1965.
Sexual experience has become a right and not a permission or a prohibition. Catholics see this experience as morally evil when it is self-indulgent. The evaluation of sexual experience is personal, conscience-driven, perilous, but not for the hierarchy to decide or define. On every contentious sexual issue the belief and behavior of Catholics is the same as that of the general population. This does not always make for enlightened sexuality but neither did the Catholic norms of 1960.
There is a general sense now in Catholicism that all the Churches are valid. The same is true of world religions. Catholicism is a choice, not because it is better but because Catholics choose to be there. Their children frequently feel comfortable joining other Christian Churches and an increasing number of Catholics find this acceptable.
Had we presented this scenario in 1965, most, if not all, Catholics would judge it aberrant.
All this leads to a deeper question. Are these developments tolerable or even praise-worthy, not because they emerge from Vatican II but because we have become secularists? Is secularity, not Catholicism, the driving force here?
Church administrators express concern repeatedly about secularity. They have a point. Defining all human reality in terms of materialism or rationality alone, in terms of rights without responsibilities, self advantage without commitment to others, this definition leaves out the deep spiritual yearning in us, the pull of transcendence, the need to live with generosity, forgiveness, compassion, magnanimity and sacrifice.
But secularity too easily becomes identified with its liabilities. Religion should not be judged this way. Nor should secularity. Secularity is conveniently blamed for the Church's policy failures and bad institutional decisions.
Secularity, however, is sometimes the honorable alternative to false and ignorant religiosity. It flourishes when religion fails, a symptom, of sorts, of religious pathology.
More than this, however, secularity is a value in its own right, a benefit to the human family and its religious enterprise. The Church, particularly, resisted most of secularity's advantages. Some of the developments which came from secularity with little or no help from the Churches were:
Would we want to live in a world without these advantages? Often, church resistance to secularity tried to give us such a disadvantaged world.
Hope is justified…
Hope is justified, I believe, because the paradigm the world and the Church works with now, even when it does not acknowledge this, is open, resilient and inclusive. Closed secular societies (fascism, communism, terrorism, cults) are relatively short-lived and can only be maintained, however brief their tenure, with extreme violence. There is no future there. Science, communication, transportation, education, economics require and demand global connections.
This same paradigm works also with the Church. No one claims Vatican II was a closed Council. Indeed it was so open that it ended far more advanced in its decisions than even the most ardent liberal had anticipated. Despite occasional and severe reactionary moments, the contemporary Church works with Vatican II. Church discourse is conducted in the light of this model. No one quotes Trent or Vatican I much any more. As we have seen, even a reactionary like John Paul II was compelled to conduct his papacy with far more openness than his instincts or ideology warranted.
An instructive model might be the United States Constitution. It emerged, together with the Bill of Rights, far more liberal than the American revolutionaries had envisioned. Yet that Constitution allowed slavery and excluded women from civic equality. These injustices were eliminated in the very name of the Constitution because the basic paradigm of the document was open, resilient, and inclusive.
In human history, paradigms prevail, and one can predict this, if they are endowed with certain characteristics. I argue that the paradigm the world works with now (open societies) and the paradigm the Church works with now (Vatican II) have these features. Indeed I would argue that Vatican II became the Council it was because it lived in a world shaped by the United States Constitution, the scientific method and universal education. For a paradigm to prevail, the following characteristics are imperative:
We must judge, each of us, whether the modern world (open societies) or the Catholic Church (Vatican II) have any better or even viable paradigm than those we have named. Indeed, I suggest that the liabilities of the contemporary world and Church can only be solved in the light of the paradigms they now employ.
Hope, I submit, is justified. Despair is myopic, unwarranted, uninformed, and unjustifiable.
ON SATURDAY: In Part III of this essay, Dr Padavano explores "What happened and who are we now?"
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