Kerry Gonzales explores what me mean by the terms being "in" or "out of" communion. The recent situation of St Mary's at the local level and the enthusiasm of the Vatican to welcome back members of the Society of St Pius X providing confusing and contradictory contrasts.
Two contrasting situations of who's "in" and who's "out"…
In recent times there has been a lot of talk about "communion with the Roman Catholic Church". Notably we have the SSPX bishops who were re-communicated and must now be "in" communion and then Fr Kennedy who is now "out" of communion. Sounds a bit more like a club than a church supposedly underpinned by gospel values and understandings.
On the one hand we have the bishops excommunicated for doing things like consecrating their own bishops and generally pretending Vatican II didn't really exist. Yet now, in this new era, this same group has been recognized and a group that encourages holocaust deniers is now being encouraged back "into" communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Yet from the little research I have done, it does not appear that any of the reasons that the group was excommunicated in the first place have ever been resolved. More likely, just ignored. In fact a look at the SSPX website shows an ultraconservative group more at home in Latin than the vernacular.
On the other side of the divide we have Fr Kennedy and his vibrant and large congregation who are now "out" of communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It seems that being a welcoming, socially conscious and popular church is nowadays something to be treated with the utmost suspicion and intolerance. There is no doubt that there are two, opposed but probably reasonable positions amidst the intense heat generated, but how can a group of people not be "in" communion, when it appears that their shepherd is assisting them to find meaningful social and spiritual journeys within the Catholic Church.
I realize I have simplified the situations and issues in these two circumstances, yet for me, and for the growing Catholic and secular observers aware of it through the, now public, carriage of the matter, the complexities are perhaps not the most important issue here. For many, it seems to be simply a matter of Rome, once again, deciding what will happen in Australia and being out of touch with what, an ever increasing number of people, have taken on board.
The sky is not about to fall in through discussion...
To slightly diverge here, I am most certainly not opposed to the publicity given to these matters. Obviously there is some distortion and bias involved in the presentation of all sides' views and passions. However it is high time that the Roman Catholic Church faced the same scrutiny that any other organization of its size and influence is subject to. Bringing the dirty linen to light will also encourage and provide confidence to others who have misgivings about how the Roman Catholic Church is being spiritually led and practically governed. When the sky does not fall in, perhaps real dialogue and progress will be facilitated both within and outside the church.
The Merrian Webster dictionary pulled up the following for "communion":
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin communion-, communio mutual participation, from communis
For myself, as a Catholic, I consider all of the above definitions can be applied to the concept of being in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. There is no doubt that being part of a worshipping community is an "act or instance of sharing" — sharing all of ourselves, both gifts and weaknesses — is integral to the real meaning of communion within such a community.
The definition of communion as a specific sacrament within the Catholic faith tradition is also integral to the make up and direction of any Catholic community. This sacramental aspect of Catholicism is perhaps the most obvious and significant focal point for believers and is therefore a reference point for others outside the community to identify who the believers are and to a certain extent what they believe. For the Church to withhold eucharist is a very easily seen and powerful example of being forced "out" of communion with the Church.
Without "intimate fellowship and rapport" a Catholic community is such in name only and perhaps there is no "communion" to be "in" or "out" of anyway. This "intimate fellowship and rapport" however can take many and varied forms, all of which have the potential to bind together the participants in true communion.
The Roman Catholic Church is a "body of Christians having a common faith and discipline". Much discussion needs to be had about what constitutes such "common faith and discipline", however it is reasonable to expect that a cohesive group of people, modeling the gospels will have fundamental understandings that are shared and productive. The difficulties come of course, when instead of "common faith and discipline" we have rules and edicts imposed from above that often bear little resemblance to the faith that underpins our own Catholic journey.
The reality and lived experience...
Definitions on their own, however, do not necessarily encompass the reality and lived experience of Catholics in 21st century. Therein lies a major difficulty for a Church as large and diverse as the Roman Church. Yet, one of the most significant elements of the above definitions is that they point to a Church that is about "mutual participation" or relationship — relationship with God, the rest of humanity and the natural world. Even that is fraught, as our relationship with God, according to the Roman Catholic Church, can really only be predicated on the rules set down by Rome and mediated through the structures they have in place. In this day and age it seems that God/Church are interchangeable, and this relationship then gives rise to the Church deciding who is "in" and who is "out". In theory this may sound tangible, but in fact given that large numbers of Catholics, myself included, who feel free and in fact bound to bypass the hierarchy in nurturing our relationship with God, it shows that the reality is sadly different.
For me, to be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church means that we are in it together. We both have rights and responsibilities, which cannot be shirked or taken away. The Church, at both a Roman and a local level, needs to listen to all the voices that clamour to be heard — not just those minority voices that peddle gossip, innuendo and disunity. My voice as a woman, along with the many and varied voices of the elderly, disabled, homosexual, divorced, youth, clergy — all of God's children — need to be recognized, valued and nurtured. This reality is such a long way from the current practice, that it is little wonder that frustration and disenchantment are stronger forces in the Roman Catholic Church today, than peace, harmony and tolerance.
Everyone has a place in the church...
As an individual I am "out" of communion with the Roman Catholic Church because I, like the parishioners of St Mary's in Brisbane, along with many other Catholics, believe that:
"Everyone has a place in the church. Every person without exception should be able to feel at home and never rejected".
Those are the words of Pope Benedict XVI. I am not sure in what context they were said, but if Rome really took these words to heart and attempted to put them into practice, the Church as a whole could only be enriched. No-one is saying the task would be easy, but what the Church has in abundance is its people. Good, faithful and expectant people who only await that clarion call, that will encourage and lead them back to a more vibrant and meaningful communion within the Roman Catholic Church.
Of course, it's all a pipe dream really, because the power entrenched in Rome is not about to be dispersed throughout the Catholic world. Locally elected bishops meeting the specific needs of their local congregations, is not a probable event in my lifetime. A Church that persecutes its own clergy and followers for attempting to model Jesus in a complex world, or who, God/Church forbid, highlight the dilemma of an ageing clergy and suggest scurrilous solutions, will ultimately be a Church that has more people "out" than "in" communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Perhaps we will never really have meaningful communion until we get rid of the "Roman" before the "Catholic Church"? Maybe then we can be a part of a community that is built on "sharing", "fellowship", "mutual participation" and "eucharist" that seriously and meaningfully promotes relationship at its best, where all are seen, heard and cherished. For the good of the greater Church, communion must be more than a one way street — more than simply obeying the rules — more than an inverted pyramid model. Ultimately communion must be the blessed meeting of the minds, hearts and souls of all choose to live their lives, attempting daily to follow the gospel message of Jesus — to really love one another as we are loved by him.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2009 Kerry Gonzales