I feel like I have been struck by lightening. I have tear filled eyes and an open mouth. I promise I will pray for Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa until God is sick of hearing from me. The following is from the middle part of Bishop Dowling's speech to selected laity in South Africa. It is music to my ears. The entire speech can be read here---and be sure to read the comments.
When I worked internationally from my religious congregation's base in Rome from 1985 to 1990 [Dowling is a Redemptorist] before I came back here as bishop of Rustenburg, one of my responsibilities was the building up of young adult ministry with our communities in the countries of Europe where so many of the young people were alienated from the church. I developed relationships with many hundreds of sincere, searching Catholic young adults, very open to issues of injustice, poverty and misery in the world, aware of structural injustice in the political and economic systems which dominated the world, but who increasingly felt that the "official" church was not only out of touch with reality, but a counter-witness to the aspirations of thinking and aware Catholics who sought a different experience of church. In other words, an experience which enabled them to believe that the church they belonged to had something relevant to say and to witness to in the very challenging world in which they lived. Many, many of these young adults have since left the church entirely.
On the other hand, it has to be recognized that for a significant number of young Catholics, adult Catholics, priests and religious around the world, the "restorationist" model of church which has been implemented over the past 30-40 years is sought after and valued; it meets a need in them; it gives them a feeling of belonging to something with very clear parameters and guidelines for living, thus giving them a sense of security and clarity about what is truth and what is morally right or wrong, because there is a clear and strong authority structure which decides definitively on all such questions, and which they trust absolutely as being of divine origin.
The rise of conservative groups and organizations in the church over the past 40 years and more, which attract significant numbers of adherents, has led to a phenomenon which I find difficult to deal with, viz. an inward looking church, fearful of if not antagonistic towards a secularist world with its concomitant danger of relativism especially in terms of truth and morality -- frequently referred to by pope Benedict XVI; a church which gives an impression of "retreating behind the wagons," and relying on a strong central authority to ensure unity through uniformity in belief and praxis in the face of such dangers. The fear is that without such supervision and control, and that if any freedom in decision-making is allowed, even in less important matters, this will open the door to division and a breakdown in the unity of the church.
This is all about a fundamentally different "vision" in the church and "vision" of the church. Where today can we find the great theological leaders and thinkers of the past, like Cardinal [Joseph] Frings of Cologne, Germany] and [Bernard Jan ] Alfrink [Utrecht, Netherlands] in Europe, and the great prophetic bishops whose voice and witness was a clarion call to justice, human rights and a global community of equitable sharing -- the witness of Archbishop [Oscar] Romero of El Salvador, the voices of Cardinals [Paulo Evaristo] Arns and [Aloísio Leo Arlindo ] Lorscheider, and Bishops [Dom] Helder Camara and [Pedro] Casadaliga of Brazil? Again, who in today's world "out there" even listens to, much less appreciates and allows themselves to be challenged by the leadership of the church at the present time? I think the moral authority of the church's leadership today has never been weaker. It is, therefore, important in my view that church leadership, instead of giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige, should rather be experienced as a humble, searching ministry together with its people in order to discern the most appropriate or viable responses which can be made to complex ethical and moral questions -- a leadership, therefore, which does not presume to have all the answers all the time.
Then a little further on Bishop Dowling has this to say about Vatican II's principle of subsidiarity:
Applied to the church, the principle of subsidiarity requires of its leadership to actively promote and encourage participation, personal responsibility and effective engagement by everyone in terms of their particular calling and ministry in the church and world according to their opportunities and gifts.
However, I think that today we have a leadership in the church which actually undermines the very notion of subsidiarity; where the minutiae of church life and praxis "at the lower level" are subject to examination and authentication being given by the "higher level," in fact the highest level, e.g., the approval of liturgical language and texts; where one of the key Vatican II principles, collegiality in decision-making, is virtually non-existent. The eminent emeritus Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz König, wrote the following in 1999 -- almost 35 years after Vatican II: "In fact, however, de facto and not de jure, intentionally or unintentionally, the curial authorities working in conjunction with the pope have appropriated the tasks of the episcopal college. It is they who now carry out almost all of them" ("My Vision of the church of the Future", The Tablet, March 27, 1999, p. 434).
What compounds this, for me, is the mystique which has in increasing measure surrounded the person of the pope in the last 30 years, such that any hint of critique or questioning of his policies, his way of thinking, his exercise of authority etc. is equated with disloyalty. There is more than a perception, because of this mystique, that unquestioning obedience by the faithful to the pope is required and is a sign of the ethos and fidelity of a true Catholic. When the pope's authority is then intentionally extended to the Vatican curia, there exists a real possibility that unquestioning obedience to very human decisions about a whole range of issues by the curial departments and cardinals also becomes a mark of one's fidelity as a Catholic, and anything less is interpreted as being disloyal to the pope who is charged with steering the bark of Peter.
It has become more and more difficult over the past years, therefore, for the College of Bishops as a whole, or in a particular territory, to exercise their theologically-based servant leadership to discern appropriate responses to their particular socio-economic, cultural, liturgical, spiritual and other pastoral realities and needs; much less to disagree with or seek alternatives to policies and decisions taken in Rome. And what appears to be more and more the policy of appointing "safe", unquestionably orthodox and even very conservative bishops to fill vacant dioceses over the past 30 years, only makes it less and less likely that the College of Bishops -- even in powerful conferences like the United States -- will question what comes out of Rome, and certainly not publicly. Instead, there will be every effort to try and find an accommodation with those in power, which means that the Roman position will prevail in the end. And, taking this further, when an individual bishop takes issue with something, especially in public, the impression or judgment will be that he is "breaking ranks" with the other bishops and will only cause confusion to the lay faithful -- so it is said - because it will appear that the bishops are not united in their teaching and leadership role. The pressure, therefore, to conform.
Bishop Dowling has given a very clear picture of how some of us see the current Roman Catholic Church. He is absolutely correct when he says it's all about a fundamentally different view of 'in the church' and 'of the church'. I maintain these different views reflect different positions on the spiritual maturity scale. The basic reason these differences seem insoluble is because once one moves on the spiritual maturity scale, one can not go back to a prior position. It's not just that ones spirituality has changed, it's that ones entire world view has changed.
The level of spirituality that Vatican II espoused was further out on the scale. For those ready to move on, it was a blessing. For those not ready to move on, it was terrifying. For those not ready to move on in the curia, it was doubly terrifying, and for those who materially benefited from the pre Vatican II church it had to be stopped.
When seeds have been sown and plants begin to sprout, you can't shove the plants back in the ground. You can only rip them out. For all the restorationist's attempts to rip out the sprouts of Vatican II they have essentially failed. Instead the clergy abuse crisis has put them in the unique position of defending themselves and their restorationist mindset from Vatican II accountability standards. And no, people who have moved on in a Vatican II spirituality are not going to cut the restorationists much slack. They are operating from too different a world view. This is a world view which emphasises personal conscience and personal responsibility and that makes for a huge, virtually unbridgeable gap with the obedience driven group think mindset.
I have a great deal of respect for Bishop Dowling. I really hope he is not left standing alone by other Catholic bishops who see things similarly. To paraphrase a song most likely despised by the restorationists, "it only takes a spark to get a fire going". May this be that spark.