Today, in recognizing the passing of Fr. John Neuhaus, I offer two points of view concerning the consequences of 'fidelity to the truth'. The first is an extract from a much longer article written by Fr. Neuhaus, the second is a comment from an anonymous English Catholic in regards to an article in the Tablet about the censure of Fr. Haight.
The dubious ally that has done in liberal Catholicism again and again is the conceptual regime of secular liberalism, and its misconstrual of the connection between freedom and truth. The result is liberal Catholics who insist that they belong -Once a Catholic, always a Catholic- but it is a belonging without being bound. (Fr. Neuhaus was consistent in his belief that true freedom could only be found through obedience to truth as defined by the Magisterium, but in his case, as with most of us, he didn't extend that obedience across the entire spectrum of Magisterial teaching. He admitted it though, as in the very next sentence.)
Let it be admitted that this is true of all of us in different ways, and to a greater or lesser extent. There is perhaps no greater obstacle to our entering upon the high adventure of Catholic fidelity than modernitys perverse idea of freedom, an idea that we breathe with the cultural air that surrounds us. And there is important truth in the maxim Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. The baptism by which we are indelibly marked is an abiding bond, and a magnetic force drawing us always toward the completeness of the conversion to which we are called. That conversion is perfected in obedience to the truth that freedom is discovered in obedience to the truth. For the Catholic, such obedience can in no way be separated from the community that St. Paul describes as the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). (Actually Fr. it's a call for a conversion to love with integrity.)
And so I end where I began. The question is whether Catholicism will be Catholic. The historical and sociological dynamics to which I alluded earlier have led to a serious unraveling, an unraveling gleefully celebrated and encouraged by the Catholic left. Liberal Catholicism, rightly understood, is an honorable tradition and could today be a source of renewal, but that depends upon its capacity and readiness to receive the invitation, an invitation so powerfully and persistently issued by this pontificate to enter upon the high adventure of fidelity to the truth. (In this case, Fr. Neuhaus is referring to John Paul II, and actually means fidelity to John Paul's version of the truth, as John Paul represents the Supreme Teaching Authority.
In reality John Paul represents Supreme Authority, inserting the word 'teaching' is pointless.
And now a countering point of view:
"How many of us know priests and lay people, active in parishes and dioceses, who compromise their core beliefs so as to carry on the good work they are doing within church structures? Whether the issue is eucharistic inclusivity, option for the poor, a thinking laity, married clergy, women's ordination, homosexuality, contraception, our Church fosters a culture of keeping quiet so as to keep going. Sometimes the pressure from above is overt, but we are all subject to that subtlest form of institutional intimidation which everyone registers without it having to be articulated. (I know way too many who compromise their core beliefs in order to receive and participate in the Sacraments. I did it myself for years.)
We watch the few who persist in standing against it being marginalised or pushed out altogether; their whole lives can be taken apart. Many, both young and lifelong churchgoers, can no longer accept it and are walking away. Meanwhile those who slip into capitulating to it progressively deform their spiritual integrity. (PERSONAL INTEGRITY, not obedience, is the core issue in the spiritual journey.)
Of course, the Protestant tradition and secular society have long picked up the tenor of hypocrisy about Catholicism. After Vatican 11, though, many of us felt we were on the way to being freed from it. But the volume now seems to be ratcheting up again. How can we commit to the Church we love without dancing to this particular tune?" (Fr. Neuhaus would seem to think we find our integrity in obediently dancing to the tune.)
I've always found it fascinating that the word integrity is rarely used by those who appeal to tradition. Obedience is their favorite word. Where I would say Jesus operated in total integrity in His understanding about His Father and His Father's will, Fr. Neuhaus and others would say Jesus was totally obedient.
I find that notion arid. In one sense it's saying that Jesus was following a script he was aware of before hand, that he was nothing more than an actor, given very little room to ad lib. There are portions in the New Testament which do seem to indicate that Jesus was following a script. Especially in Mathew, where there is an overt attempt to show that Jesus was enacting Old Testament prophecy. The problem with the notion of prophecy is that it tends to take any meaningful choice out of the equation. If one is the prophecy, then it isn't a matter of obedience or integrity. It's a matter of prophecy fulfilling itself.
I don't think that's true of Jesus, as the Gospels do give indications that Jesus matured in His understanding of His mission and His Father's will. Jesus spoke about maturation in His followers as well, and if leaving us the Holy Spirit doesn't indicate an evolving notion of the truth of God, I don't know why else He would leave mankind in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
An evolving notion of truth is far more in line with how humanity actually lives out it's life and how we as individuals live our spirituality. If we don't evolve we kill our spirituality. Jesus wasn't crucified just because the prophets made some prophecies, He was also crucified because he questioned authority and His ministry led Him to disobey parts of the Leviticus code. He lived His life with total integrity to the two laws of love.
In my book He died for His integrity to His own conscience, not for his obedience. For all I know, His conscience may have contained the entire will of His Father, but it wasn't obedience which led him to the Cross. It was integrity to His personal conscience in the face of hostile authority.
Obedience serves authority and is loyal to authority, and Fr. Neuhaus was big on authority and loyalty to authority. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are also all about obedience and loyalty to authority. The reason this doesn't work well anymore has nothing to do with relativism or misunderstood notions of freedom. It fails because it isn't a two way street. Accountability and responsibility flow only one way, from the bottom to the top.
Integrity is a two way street which recognizes that responsible use of authority implies both accountability to, and responsibility for, others. It's not contigent on that 'others' pecking order in society. Jesus taught this ad nauseum. True freedom is found in integrity because it isn't controllable by authority, obedience can surely flow from integrity, but it also forces one to draw lines in the sand and act on those lines. There is no subterfuge in acting from integrity. There is no deception and no deceit, therefore dialogue can be freely, trustfully, pursued and differences respected.
Satan is called the Father of Lies for a reason. Satan is portrayed as an entity with no integrity and that, not lack of obedience, is his critical failing. It's why he can't be trusted and why phrases such as 'actions speak louder than words'; 'by their fruits you shall know them'; and 'walk your talk' ring so true.
The Old Testament story of Job, where God gives Satan free reign to undercut Job, is first and foremost a story about the unassailability of one man's integrity. In the case of Job, that integrity is so firm, even God finally answers for His capricious actions.
I wonder sometimes if the story of Job isn't a metaphor for the state of Catholicism today and that those voices speaking from integrity aren't the voice of Job. If that's true, then there is hope in the story, and the capriciousness of the execution of Church authority will eventually be acknowledged.
Personally, I suspect our final judgment is about integrity, not obedience. I suspect this is true because personal integrity is a concept which is universally stressed and shared by many spiritualities irrespective of their concepts of divinity. It is the crucial starting point from which human interaction must commence if that interaction is to be meaningful and trustworthy.
It's time the hierarchy stopped speaking with a forked tongue from behind a veil of secrecy. It demonstrates little integrity and therefor little reason to be obeyed. Little surprise then that many (from both sides of the theological spectrum) have stopped participating. For some of us it's not a matter of relativism, it's a matter of personal spiritual integrity.
With all of the above in mind, I offer this story for contemplation because I kind of think St. Mary's Brisbane is in the vanguard of a coming change for Catholicism. St Mary's represents a Catholic moment.
MAVERICK priest Father Peter Kennedy says he will lead a breakaway congregation if Brisbane's catholic Archbishop forces him to leave St Mary's Church.
There are fears that exclusion from the historic South Brisbane property will be the final act in a long-running dispute that has reached the Vatican. The dispute has attracted national and international attention because it represents the battle between conservative and less traditional forces within the Catholic Church.
There are more Roman Catholics in Australia than any other religious group. Each week, St Mary's attracts large congregations while many more orthodox Catholic parishes struggle to fill pews.
In a rare and exclusive interview, Father Kennedy said he was determined to carry on."The reality is that, if we are excluded from this church, the Trades and Labor Council have already offered us their place just down the road," he said.
"I will continue. Our community will continue down there. We get 800 to 900 people coming every week. It's a vibrant, alive mass with people from all over the city."
St Mary's is known for its unconventional Catholic practices - allowing women to preach, blessing homosexual couples and recognising with ritual the traditional sovereignty of the indigenous people of the area.
The latest round in the battle was sparked by a complaint direct to the Vatican in August from an aggrieved church-goer. Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby accused the parish of operating outside the accepted practices of the Roman Catholic Church and encouraged Father Kennedy to fall in line or face closure.
The parishioners responded to the accusations but - in a follow-up letter to Father Kennedy, dated December 22 - Archbishop Bathersby said: "St Mary's has not yet adequately given proof of its communion with the Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Roman Catholic Church."
The Archbishop is expected to make a definitive statement on the fate of the parish later this month. With D-day fast approaching, Father Kennedy is preparing for the worst.
"We don't know what the Archbishop will do," he said."But he's not very hopeful. He did say he would set in train a formal process. That doesn't necessarily mean that he will throw us out of here."
Most of the people who come here are what we call 'recovering Catholics'."They've left their traditional parishes. If St Mary's closes down, they won't go back."
Father Kennedy said that at the end of the World War II, 50 per cent of Catholics went to Mass every Sunday, but "now, in this particular diocese, 13 per cent go to Mass every Sunday"."If the church doesn't come to terms with the fact that the church has to operate within a liberal democracy, while it continues to act like a monarchy where all power is invested in the leadership of the Pope, then there's no hope, we'll be down to 3 per cent."
Asked what Jesus Christ would make of the controversy, Father Kennedy replied: "Well, Jesus always stood with the poor, the broken and the oppressed. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. And he certainly wasn't a Catholic and he didn't start the Catholic Church. He didn't start any church." Jesus railed against the religious authority of his day, the people who liked to be in the important places, with status and power and all that."
Father Kennedy described the Catholic church as being "caught in doctrine and dogma still".
"I understand where the Archbishop is coming from," he said. "We have a different concept of 'church'. Nevertheless, because he does what Rome says should be done, he expects me to do what he says should be done. I can't do that because I would be doing violence to my conscience; to my understanding of what the church is about."
Father Kennedy said leadership selection in the Catholic Church was "a very incestuous process and it starts from Rome", adding it would never change "until the people regain the right to elect their bishops".
Brisbane's indigenous community has rallied behind St Mary's.
For almost 30 years the church has been a refuge for South Brisbane's homeless, excluded and underprivileged, particularly through the work of Micah, a social justice group that works in collaboration with the St Mary's Catholic Community.
"This community has been a place where indigenous people could come and feel safe," Father Kennedy said.