When cruising through blog sites yesterday I came across an article which dealt with USCCB President Cardinal George's speech to the Knights of Columbus. Today I have found many blog sites addressing the same speech, but most especially one particular quote of the Cardinal's. This quote:
"A Catholic way of life is based on assent to revealed truth and obedience to appointed pastors, both of which create the unity Christ wishes us to enjoy."
I was stopped in my tracks with this particular quote. I don't believe I have ever heard the Catholic way of life described in quite this stark a way. Usually there is some token mention of love, occasionally sacrifice, often repentance for sins, and once in a great while some notion of communion. Now I guess it's just assent to revealed doctrine and obedience to appointed pastors. Nice to know the whole Catholic thing has become so simple.
Sarcasm aside, Bill Lyndsy has written a great piece on this whole notion of Cardinal George's vision of the Catholic way of life. Below is an extract. The full post can be read here.
Cardinal George’s attempt to ground Catholic unity in obedience to appointed pastors is actually a tacit admission that Catholicism has a big problem to deal with today. When coercion replaces the experience of love as the foundation and center of the Christian life, then something has gone radically wrong. And no amount of coercion is going to solve the problem, since the pastors doing the coercing are the ones who have led the church to precisely the impasse it’s now facing, through their attempts to replace love and communion with obedience and coercion.
If obedience is the best we’ve got to offer, we’re really admitting that we’ve simply failed to build communion by living communion. And so we need to use the cudgel of obedience, as we make ludicrous claims about its centrality to the Christian tradition and about what it means, to enforce a formal “unity” that is not really there in the life of the community, as the lived experience of love within a communion bound together in love.
Note where that cudgel is especially active today, and I think you’ll see the depths of the problem. It is no accident that Rome and the Catholic right in the U.S. (who have long egged Rome on with false apocalyptic claims about the situation of American Catholicism) are now targeting American religious women. Disobedient women. Nothing enrages the right more than women out of control.....
It maybe that Cardinal George fine tuned his thoughts for his audience. The Knights of Columbus is an all male organization and hierarchical in it's own right. One doesn't get to parade with a sword until one has reached fourth degree status. In a quasi military organization of men it might make more sense to define the Catholic way as assent to revealed doctrine and obedience to the appointed chain of command.
To the ears of this woman it sounds bizarre.
I have a friend who makes a very cogent case that the Church's biggest mistake was to organize along military lines--lines which may have been essentially co opted from the Roman military cult of Mithras. This allowed the clergy to become an officer class and relegated laity to the status of privates. Women religious were treated as the lowest of the official institutional privates, with their leadership accorded the status of perhaps a sergeant. Saluting was replaced with ring kissing and genuflecting. The return salute was father's blessing.
This notion makes far more sense to me than the official idea the Church is based on some kind of cosmic marriage or family model. The problem with the military model is it leads to objectifying, using, and finally abusing the lower troops while protecting the senior officer class and leaving junior officers out to dry. These less exalted troops are sometimes referred to as Canon fodder. Real military organizations have a judicial process which keeps the abuses in check and sometimes even punishes high level abusers. Not so much the Church.
I imagine it is difficult for bishops to deal with women religious who had previously acted as vowed privates only to find those privates have educated themselves into what must appear to the bishops as a separate officer class. No military organization can withstand the creation of a separate officer class. I think it's called insubordination and mutiny, ---sometimes even when none is present.
Also one is never allowed to self promote--in any sense of that word. It's bad for discipline. So is dumping your uniform which is frequently seen as desertion. Given all this it's no wonder the LCWR congregations are being investigated--or should I say court martialed.
The problem I have is that the military model works very well when the goal is the organized killing of mass numbers of people. Confusion in and about the chain of command or the quality of it's orders is inefficient and counter productive when the stakes are killing or being killed.
The Church is supposed to be about love, communion, forgiveness, evangelizing, and spiritual grace. It's supposed to be filled with servant leaders and members who demonstrate Jesus equal love for all of us. It's mission is life, not death. I guess I don't see how the military model is all that useful for a mission of life. In fact, it seems utterly counter intuitive, unless the mission is to kill spiritual initiative. The military model is pretty good for that, but then that's killing.