Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Voice From The Past Speaks To The Present

Directly below is a quote from one of the founders of Italian communism and it is still very pertinent for today. By the way, in late November of last year, the Church claimed that Anonio Gramsci came back to the sacraments on his death bed.

"The strength of religions, and of the Catholic Church in particular, has lain, and still lies, in the fact that they feel very strongly the need for the doctrinal unity of the whole mass of the faithful and strive to ensure that the higher intellectual stratum does not get separated from the lower. The Roman church has always been the most vigorous in the struggle to prevent the “official” formation of two religions, one for the “intellectuals” and the other for the “simple souls” … That the Church has to face up to a problem of the “simple” means precisely that there has been a split in the community of the faithful. This split cannot be healed by raising the simple to the level of the intellectuals (the Church does not even envisage such a task, which is both ideologically and economically beyond its present capacities), but only by imposing an iron discipline on the intellectuals so that they do not exceed certain limits of differentiation and so render the split catastrophic and irreparable." (Antonio Gramsci)

In his condemnation of Fr. Hans Kung, the then Cardinal Ratzinger makes Gramsci's point when he stated that the simple faithful must be protected from intellectuals. If Gramsci's paradigm is still in operation then it makes perfect sense for Benedict to bring in the SSPX, which shares his notions of Church, and continuously silence the voices of progressive thinkers.

The only change I might make in Gramsci's observation is to substitute the word 'educated' for intellectuals. It's education which is the threat, not gross intelligence. The real split in the Church today is occurring in it's educated laity who are no longer the 'simple peasants' of yor. For the most part this split is not organizational, it's an exodus. People give up and leave.

However, what's happening in St. Mary's Brisbane and with St. Stephens in South Minneapolis is far more dangerous to Benedict's notion of Church. These are two congregations which are living a different kind of Catholicism. It's a Catholicism which directly threatens the third leg of the Church in Gramsci's thinking, and that's the established clerical structure. These are not parishes of 'simple faithful', they are parishes of dangerous 'intellectuals' practicing a social justice Catholicism which directly contradicts official church teachings about divorced couples, reception of the Eucharist, the place of gays, and ecumenism. These parishes also take lay involvement seriously. Their liturgies reflect a very different Catholicism from the one espoused by Benedict.

In the case of Saint Stephens, there the biggest majority of the congregation pulled up stakes and left. They have formed their own parish using different property. In the case of St. Mary's it remains to be seen what will happen. I'm sure the Vatican would prefer they all leave before it has to resort to excommunication. But in either case the result is the same, a preference for an empty church building rather than a vibrant left leaning parish.

This is similar to the history of base communities in Latin America. Base communities were a good idea until their lay leadership started to see themselves as equal with the clergy. Oh, and then there was that little matter of Liberation Theology. Which brings us back to Antonio Gramsci who was one Marxist who understood the importance of spirituality in a culture and did have a little influence on Liberation Theology.
I think his observation about the Church is dead on. The current clerical model can only sustain itself if it silences and stifles the progressive left because the real threats to it's authority come from the left. The reason it won't work is because most people are now educated well beyond the people of Gramsci's time, in many places courtesy of the Church and this idea of 'simple' people is mostly a figment of some people's imaginations.

I strongly suspect the future of the Church lies in the direction of Base Communities and parishes like St. Mary's and St. Stephens. The Spirit seems to be moving more and more from the bottom up, and the top no longer has the control it imagines it does. One bishop who started out opposed to Base Communities was Oscar Romero, that is until he actually experienced their sense of community and saw how vibrant the Catholicism was, he then became a big supporter. The same could happen in Brisbane. If it's really about the good of Catholicism, Archbishop Bathersby could take the time to actually experience St. Mary's, but if it's really about asserting clerical superiority and control then it really doesn't matter. It wouldn't change anything.

And if it's all about asserting clerical superiority and control then it isn't about Catholicism. Too many of us are coming to the conclusion real Catholicism doesn't need clerical superiority and control to be real Catholicism. Real Catholicism just needs real people doing real things like the real Jesus did. This is probably way too much reality for the Vatican.


  1. This post is full of arrogance and hubris. Is this really what progressive Catholicism is all about - the separation of the "enlightened" from the herd? Come on, can we have a real discussion about what the Catholic definition of Apostolic authority is rather than having to resort to these sorts of proud pronouncements of intellectual superiority?!?!
    It's funny - swing to the left far enough and you end up on the right.....

  2. I guess I'm just totally lost here. If there's hubris and arrogance involved then Benedict needs to take some of your angst. He's the one who stated the "simple" people must be protected from intellectuals.

    I made it a point with in the post to qualify Gramsci's statement by stating I believed the issue was education and not intellectual talent. Compared to Gramsci's time the average person in the West is far far better educated. For that matter, this would also apply to the time Benedict received most of his formal education.

    The point of the post is that in the West the environment on which clerical power was vested, that of knowing more than the simple people, no longer holds sway. Catholics don't need to be protected from intellectuals by a benevolent but still dictatorial clerical caste.

    Besides, I don't see where clericalism has much to do with real Apostolic authority. The Apostles had their authority becasue the did as Christ did. I don't see many Christ like abilities being demonstrated by our current Church authorities. A lot talk, but no walk.

  3. "The Apostles had their authority because they did as Christ did"
    ??? Where does this idea come from? And what exactly are "Christ like abilities?" Like walking on water, or...? The Apostles fought, bickered, and betrayed just like everybody else. This is, it seems to me, one of the principle points that seperates Catholicism from other denominiations. We actually believe that Christ can and does work in and through broken, frail, real human beings. The Church does not have the authority as Mother and Teacher because Her leaders are saints. Incompetent, bumbling, arrogant human beings are often the very instruments God in His wisdom chooses to work through. Mysterious - hell yes.
    And I say thank God we're not Donatists.