Monday, January 10, 2011

Cardinal George: Taking 'Possession' Of One's Vocation Means Punishing Trespassers

Cardinal George is all for bishops taking 'possession' of their vocation.

John Allen posted an NCR interview with Cardinal George over this past weekend.  The following excerpt contains the bullet points of the interview:

Among the highlights of the interview:

 - George said debates over Catholic identity these days often pivot on the authority of the bishop – and he said bishops are more prepared to “take possession of their vocation,” not just as teachers and preachers, but as governors who exercise, however reluctantly, “the power to punish.” (This is another way of saying bishops are now firmly committed to the idea of 'owning' their diocese and that laity will be punished for trespassing on their intellectual property.)

 - He wondered aloud if the “Faithful Citizenship” guides issued by the bishops in advance of national elections may be an exercise in futility, since they offer broad moral principles to a pragmatic culture interested only in specific conclusions. (Broad moral principles don't cut it for the right, and that's a major problem with attempting to define a nuanced Catholic position. Eventually someone in the hierarchy is going to have to admit that today's Church authority prefers to cater to those in the early stages of spiritual development.)

 - He asserted the church has been “true to its promises” on sex abuse, weeding out predators and creating a safe environment. He expressed hope that as time goes on, the “zero tolerance” policy can be balanced against protecting priests from false accusations -- some of whom, he said, have been “severely damaged” by the experience. (This thinking conveniently ignores the fact that had bishops previously done their jobs correctly, today's bishops wouldn't have been forced into a zero tolerance policy.)

 - George conceded that while bishops are now punished just like priests if they abuse, there’s not the same degree of accountability for bishops who covered up abuse or failed to prevent it. He said more work may need to be done, while insisting there is a growing “informal” spirit of accountability in the church. (An 'informal' spirit of accountability is just another way of stating their is no meaningful accountability for bishops.)

 - He said a breach between the U.S. bishops and the Catholic Healthcare Association over health care reform has produced “good conversation” -- adding that if the CHA wants to repair relations, one important signal would be joining the bishops in support of the Pitts-Lipinski Amendment, designed to restore restrictions on abortion funding. (According to George, the CHA must come crawling to the bishops for trespassing on the bishop's intellectual property rights. No recognition at all that bishops like Olmstead trespass on the 'intellectual property' rights of the CHA and it's individual hospitals.)

 - George admitted some surprise that the bishops broke with tradition by passing over the vice-president of the conference, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, to elect Dolan as president. He admitted that given the pace of change in the 21st century, it now may be an anachronism to think the bishops can pick the right leader three years in advance. (What he's not saying is that Dolan was chosen in part because he can put a smiley face on the fact the current hierarchy has no intention of entertaining change in the structure of 21st Century Catholicism.) 


There's no question Cardinal George has taken his teaching authority by the horns.  I can't for the life of me understand how he has the chutzpa to talk about the abuse crisis at all, when his own post Dallas Charter record is abysmal. Oh well, it is indicative of the over gist of this interview and Cardinal George's thinking.

I found this interview with Cardinal George instructive for a different reason. It seems to underline the fact that the current members of the USCCB, and the Vatican curia for that matter, have made a real decision that the Church they represent is a church that caters to and fosters the mind set described by James Fowler's as Stage III spirituality--a stage Fowler called the 'synthetic conventional' stage. I encourage readers to check out this link to prickliest pear's Far From Rome blog in which he goes into detail in explaining this particular stage. From that post you will also find links the Fowler's other stages and an overview of Fowler's research. 

For purposes of this post I'll only state that core aspects of Stage III thinking involve accepting external authority as validation for one's beliefs, and that where as one might use their higher reasoning functions to dissect their ideas about economics, they will not do the same with their religious beliefs.  This is easily seen in highly educated adults who believe they will incur the wrath of God should they turn their intellects on Catholic doctrine or question Catholic bishops the way they freely do their bosses and corporate policies.

This is a really interesting set of behaviors when you consider bosses have one's material survival in their hands, and bishops have no such survival threatening abilities--unless you happen to actually be employed by them.  This says a great deal about the power initial religious formation has on people and why it can be such a potent chain for some.  It also gives a bit of an explanation as to why it can be so difficult for people who have essentially moved past the synthetic conventional stage to completely leave the Church. It's kind of like leaving your first true teen age love.

Fowler doesn't limit his system to religious belief.  His stages can easily be applied to other areas of human belief.  Politics is another area in which it can be difficult to move beyond the views of one's birth family.  Perhaps that's why our bishops have gotten on the same page as the Republican party.  They both emphasise the same kind of idolizing of authority figures and same notions of governance. Punishment is in and compromise is out. 


  1. Law has been exiled, huh? The new job is a step UP in the institution. And that is supposed to be a punishment.

    Wonderfully, perfectly logical. But I don't buy it anymore than I buy pink elephants.

    The bishops simply continue to squander away anything resembling moral authority. And what exactly gives them the right to punish?

  2. I try hard not to read arrogance and maliciousness into everything the bishops says. But it gets tougher and tougher for me to do. Yes, I can pray for them and do. But only that God might soften their hearts and enlighten them. And protect His People from them.

    My question above though is more to do with how they can exercise the authority to punish in accordance with what God has given them to do. I know Christ spoke of turning the other cheek. Somehow I don't think He meant that to be a limited prescription. Certainly I don't think He specified that was for lay people only.

  3. "Take possession of our vocation"??

    How many years will the "we're not being tough enough" excuse for the failings of the Church go on?

    George is remarkably opportunistic. It was my impression that he was once positioned in the middle but now sees where the winds are blowing and wants to be king of the hill no matter what he has to say to achieve that.

    Laughter, really, is the best response for George's advice for bishop's to use "the power to punish." Punish? How?
    If he's serious it means that we'll see politicians excommunicated. George seems to have forgotten that Americans easily switch denominations.

    Excommunications will only bring about among the laity the kind of thing you see more often in Europe, people writing letters to the diocese renouncing their faith, i.e. antagonism as opposed to apathy.

  4. I think the justification for the Bishops actions lies in a comment on a vary conservative board that I found. It was made by a person who calls him or herself thinker. It probably comes from a cleric.

    If not for Church teaching, why do you believe in God? Who is God? What does God want? These are questions answered by Church teaching. Afterall, why do you even believe that God exists? How do you know Jesus is God and that he ever walked the planet - you weren't there. you did not experience Him; your experience with Jesus is based upon what has been handed down for two millenia by the Church. 

I challenge you to find the words Holy Trinity in the Bible - you know, Father Son, and Holy Spirit? You won't find them there - the existence of the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons, was the very first dogma of the Church. Would you even believe in the Holy Spirit without the church? Not likely.

Faith and our relationship to God have nothing at all to do with constructive thinking. We accept Him or we do not. When Jesus told His disciples that they would have to eat His flesh, the constructive thinkers and self proclaimed intellectuals left. The confused Apostles stayed because they believed in Jesus - they had Faith.”
    Continue to next post for part II

  5. Part II or III

    What follows is my response that they failed to post for the past three weeks. The “official church” is very threatened about looking into new knowledge that they have no background to understand. They seem to approach teaching authority not as humble servants but as a know it all tyrant. This works only for people in the formative stages of belief and will not be accepted by people that go beyond third stage spirituality. An interesting point is that there are atheists that have a spirituality that is easier to communicate with than are those who see themselves as fulfilling a vocations as a Bishop.

    Thinker, you pose many questions about early formation of religious thought and they are good questions. Yes the Church should teach dogma and must do so. Sometimes people of the Church in there zealous attempts to get others to understand as they do go too far. We the people, the priests, the bishops and the popes are only human. Sometimes those that teach feel so threatened about what they believe that they have saw fit to argue with well reasoned other theories be they scientific or philosophical.

    It is the Holy Spirit that is with us now. He/She is what inspires us in our observations. In fact it was the Holy Spirit that inspired Copernicus and Darwin, as well as many of the worlds great philosophers (great thinkers all.) She/He works from inside many individuals not just clergy. All of these individuals are also sinners and we hope some of them at least are true saints, but the inspiration of truth does not always go to just saintly people.

  6. Part III of III

    When there are new inspirations, particularly those that do not come to Bishops or Popes; many times the men of the Church, instead of reaching out to search for the new meaning that God wants the world to understand, these men of our Church feel threatened and feel they must re-intrench themselves in the old beliefs. For that reason, it is difficult to accept new scientific or philosophical theories for what they are---- Inspired attempts to understand something new. The Church of the past has been too set on knowing The Truth, that the leadership has failed and failed badly about understanding a little more of what we should know. It happened with Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin and today with those that study stem cells. It has happened with virtually all the great philosophers and in the last 40 year with so many of the Church’s own greater theologians.

    The Church tends to react to new knowledge as an affront to their own authority to teach rather than to humbly examine and find where new observations fit into God’s world. After all there are so many great thinkers and new observations (all inspired by the Spirit) that they are hard for Canon Lawyers or even good theologians to understand all this information at once. If then they can not understand it, how can it be useful to those in Christian formation? It is a difficult task but one that any true church must take on if it wishes to in fact authoritatively serve the very God that they profess. They can not take on this type of new information through the glazes of infallibility. They lack the humility to know that God is ever an ever revealing God. They wish to live in a simple world with simple formulae for salvation when God is ever stimulating us not only to know more but to not to simply enshrine the lives of past saints but for some to be much better than those past saints! They do not get it that for the Church and the Bishops to be true leaders, they must ever be willing to look at with an open mind what that great Spirit is saying even today! Not to do so cause a failed Magisterium and that is what we have today. It results in purely unwarranted defensive dogmatism. It lacks the life of the Spirit that is in the world around us. It reflects the poor leadership that we have today!

  7. Orlando, I wondered about that phrase too. It was what caused me to ascribe arrogance to the bishops in this particular interview. How exactly does one 'own' what is in a fact a Gift from God's Grace?

    The vocation of my spouse to marriage is a gift from God - for both of us. But neither of us would ever consider the idea that we own our vocations, our marriage or each other. One cannot own a method of living. One simply lives it out as best one can in thankfulness for the Grace of God.

  8. The bishops "own" their vocation the same way they "own" the Church.

  9. Veronica and Orlando, You both shed much light! How can I "take possession" of my profession as a physician? Do I just perform the "right" procedures and give "the right" medications as I have known to do in the past. Is any knowledge infallible truth? Do people have the right to choose to do what seems to be a good way to go even if it is or is not the suggestion of their doctor, or priest? Can one doctor, priest or bishop have the depth of understanding without truely functioning as a shepherd? Is it not part of a professionals responsibility to learn not merely from the past but from his own and others experiences?

    I think we all must continue to communicate this idea that "taking possession" of a profession is impossible. Others in our faith will begin to understand and someday the leadership of this church, in an inevitable changed form will begin to understand that it is leadership’s job is to be humble shepherds and not venues for punishment. In the Olmstead decision, just whom is being punished when he forbids that mass to be said at a (formerly?) Catholic Hospital?

  10. rdp46: Thank you for your comments on vocations and professions.

    That 'Thinker' you quoted really does not have a clue of spirituality based on that quote. The Church - be it defined as the institution led by the priest caste or in the home with the parents as the first teachers or something in between - can not do more than provide a framework for discussing and therefore sharing knowledge of God among various humans. But knowledge does not equal experience and framework does not equal faith.

    Faith is too a gift of God's Grace. Yes, it can be brought out into the light and shared by way of Church. And it is also true that it can be damaged or even destroyed by Church abuses as we have seen all too clearly in sexual abuse cases. But to say that Faith cannot exist without Church is silly. The apostles did not stay with Christ because of their faith in Him. They stayed because they were open in however strong or limited a human way - to the Gift of Faith from God and taking their places in His Plan. This is the free choice that they made. A choice BTW that God also gave them.

    And as to your commentary on the inability of the institutional Church to deal appropriately with the human expansion of science... You nailed that dead on. Although I'm not sure about the shepherd part. To me, given human failings, it seems to me to be too close to the blind leading the blind too much of the time. Or maybe this it also part of the Plan - to ensure that we as humans use the emotional, reasoning and spiritual abilities God created in each of us.

    When I was growing up, I felt secure that the Catholic Church taught this. [What can I say - I was naive.] With more recent proclamations from the Vatican and various bishops, I now feel this is not the case. And I just simply do not become more human or more in the Image of God, by turning my back on those Gifts of God and becoming the robot the institutional Church prefers these days.

  11. Veronica, You are correct again. In Science, Philosophy and Theology, (even in applications of science) it is always the bllind leading the blind. As Einstein once said, "the more one knows, the more one knows that he(she) has much more to learn, for he(she) knows that he(she) still knows very little." This is a humble statement from a great physicis, and yes Eintein was not yet to the point of quoting both genders. If only the Bishops could understand the meanings of what this scientist was saying, I think they could then be close to ready to actually serve as shepherds.

    Good leadership should be able to understand and speak to varing levels of spirituality. Good scientists should be ever ready to revise outdated theories when observation clearly points that they must change their calculations. The understanding of "anti-inflaibility" would lead to better leadership, mentoring or "shepherds." dennis

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. One more point Veronica, I have come to believe that our talents and our creativity are part of a great Godly power inside of us. We as a growing people must continue to develop them as we love our families and our communities. For me this is what is meant by the Holy Spirit being ever with us. dennis

  14. Isn't Cardinal George himself a major trespasser -- for instance in the way the railroaded the ghastly new translations of the liturgy through the bishops' conference? I foresee that he will be totally discredited when these translations hit the faithful next November.