Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Point/Counter Point

No question who ultimately has the claws in the following discussion.

Today's post is a little long, but it's a great read.  Both of these opinion pieces are taken in full from the Australian journal Swag.  The first is by Fr. Eric Hodgens, a priest of a more progressive bent.  The second is the orthodox response from Cardinal Pell of Sydney.  These two men are generational contemporaries with vastly different experiences with in the Church since their ordination.  They also live in two very different worlds, with two very different interpretations of Catholic history since Vatican II.

Reflections on an Ordination Golden Anniversary

 By Eric Hodgens - Swag -December, 2010

We are the Gaudium et Spes priests. We went into the seminary at the highest rate in living memory. We were ordained between 1955 and 1975 – in double the numbers our parishes required. Most of us were from the Silent Generation with a few years of Baby Boomers at the end. We took Vatican II to heart.
We changed from being priests called and consecrated by God to being presbyters called and ordained by the Church – the People of God.

Ecumenism became a normal way of thinking for us. Prepared for the challenge by Cardijn’s apostolate of like to like, we were successful at educating a newly vital and active laity. We worked with the people rather than for them. We realised that clericalism was an evil, not a good, and discarded it with its style and culture. We ran highly successful and active parishes. Though ageing now, many of us are still on the job. Our presbyteral and pastoral lives have been a source of that unusual experience – joy.

But not without grief. We have experienced the awakening 60s, the exciting 70s, the suspicious 80s, the depressing 90s and the imploding 00s. During the 1980s we became aware that a lot was going wrong. Ordinations suddenly dropped after 1975. We started to lose parishioners – first from Mass then from affiliation. Both of these changes had mixed social causes.

Worse! Discordant decisions were coming down from the pope. Priestly celibacy, despite being highly contentious, was reasserted by Paul VI in 1967 without discussion. In 1968 Humanae Vitae was a shocking disappointment. Most of us never accepted it. Paul VI began appointing bishops opposed to the council’s ethos. This was most notable in Holland which had become a trailblazer in implementing the council. Paul killed that initiative and we are all the worse off for that. The whole trend was demoralizing.
(Unless you live through those two decisions, it's almost impossible to describe the effect they had on the Church. One killed reform for the priesthood, and the other killed any hope of a sensible sexual morality for the laity.)
Then came John Paul II. Charismatic in front of the TV camera; brilliant at languages; but – out of touch in scripture and limited in theology, a bad listener and rock solid is his self-assessment as God’s chosen man of destiny. His whole life had been spent in the persecuted church of Poland with its fortress church mentality frozen in time.

The open dialogue of the Church with the new ideas and values arising out of new knowledge in scriptural criticism, theology, psychology, sociology, anthropology stopped. New scientific discoveries in genetics were treated with suspicion and their application usually condemned. Sexual mores were promoted to the top shelf of his panorama of sin – a bit of an obsession with him. (JPII was something of a sexual Jansenist--hence the personal flogging.)

Power corrupts. The history of the papacy shows this pre-eminently. Unchecked potentates believe their own propaganda. Taken to the extreme, they claim infallibility. Pius IX bullied Vatican I into institutionalizing such a claim. Since then creeping infallibility has resulted in the pope and his theologically limited curia stealing the term “magisterium” from its real owners – the college of professional theologians. How can you conscientiously give assent of mind and heart to policies formed without theological debate, consultation, transparency or accountability? In contemporary government and business this would be judged unethical.

John Paul’s lust for power showed very early and was taken to monumental proportions. Accountable to nobody, John Paul moved against any opinion other than his own and removed many exponents of alternative opinions from teaching and publishing. His most powerful enforcer was the Ratzinger-led Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Other Roman dicasteries joined the campaign.

The CDF is the current euphemism for the Inquisition. True to its mediaeval roots, it assumes the pope to be entitled to enforce his views. It conducts its delations and proceedings in secret. In today’s secular world this is a violation of human rights.

Theological censorship justifies itself as the quest for the truth and poses as truth’s champion. In fact it is the enemy of the discovery of truth because discussion is forestalled. The contemporary secular world understands this and wisely enshrines freedom of speech and debate as a central value. The Church no less than any other enterprise is at least the poorer and at worst prone to error when it rejects this value.

All of us are abused by this process. The priest at the coal face is not consulted, yet is contemptuously expected to defend policies he and his people do not believe.

John Paul II also enforced much of his own devotional life on the church at large. Despite Vatican II he effectively stopped the third rite of Penance, reversed a burgeoning dynamic theology of Eucharist by reverting to and re-emphasising devotion to the static Real Presence, reinforced a distorted devotion to Mary based on fundamentalist theology and introduced peculiar devotions such as Sr. Faustina’s Divine Mercy Devotion which undercuts Easter – the climax of our liturgical year.

A more grievous abuse of power by John Paul II was his appointment of bishops. Appointees were to be clerical, compliant and in total agreement with his personal opinions. This has emasculated the leadership of the Church. The episcopal ranks are now low on creativity, leadership, education and even intelligence. Many are from the ranks of Opus Dei – reactionary, authoritarian and decidedly not creative. Many, often at the top of the hierarchical tree, are embarrassingly ignorant of any recent learning in scripture, theology and scientific disciplines. Many are classic company boys. Some of the more intelligent and better educated seem to have sold their souls for advancement. Can they really believe the line they channel? Ecclesiastical politics have trumped integrity. And when these men are appointed as the leaders of priests without any consultation they become a standing act of contempt.

Worse still, this happened over a period when the priesthood held its biggest proportion of intelligent, educated and competent leaders. It was those very qualities which blackballed them for appointment under the blinkered but powerful regime. Our best chance has been missed. Today the ranks of the priesthood are depleted due to low recruitment over the last forty years. The pool from which future bishops must be chosen is very shallow.

A newly critical laity questions policy but receives no answers. Why can’t women be leaders in the Church? Why do priests have to be celibate? What is wrong with contraception? Why alienate remarried divorcees? Why this salacious preoccupation with sexual mores? Why are scientific advances always suspected of being bad? Why can’t we recognise the reality of homosexual orientation – and the social consequences of that recognition? Have we learnt nothing from the Galileo case – or the treatment of Teilhard de Chardin? Can’t we escape the Syllabus of Errors mentality?

Benedict XVI has continued the reversal of Vatican II. He is imposing a new English translation of the Sacramentary on a resisting English speaking constituency. This may very well backfire because many priests are not going to implement it. Benedict has received back bishops from the schismatic Society of St Pius X. He has encouraged the Tridentine Mass in Latin. He has reintroduced kneeling for communion on the tongue at his public Masses – all deliberate key pointers to regression from the spirit of Vatican II. To the priests who embraced Vatican II they are iconic insults.

Then he has the nerve to decree a Year for Priests in 2009 with St John Vianney as patron. Like Fr. Donald Cozzens, many felt they were being played. The celebration of the importance of priests in the church is belied by the contempt with which they are treated. How can Rome call priests to repentance when it is so recalcitrant; so slow to admit any failing of its own? How can they be serious in stressing the importance of the priest as confessor when it is clear that confession has all but vanished from the life of the Church? How can they urge Holy Hours and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament when most priests have moved on from that static theology of Eucharist to a dynamic one – with Vatican II leading the way? How can they urge priests to more intense prayer when they show no evidence of a change of heart or attitude – the genuine indicator that prayer is working?

We took as normal the world and the church into which we were ordained. In reality, the religious affiliation of the period was abnormally high. Mass and sacramental participation and priestly vocations were at a high water mark. The reversal which began in the late 60s was always going to happen. But with Vatican II we had the tools to handle the new situation. A large group of the priests were ready to meet the challenge. They did not get the chance. The orders from above were to withdraw to the fortress and sing the old song. Instead of embracing the new they lost the opportunity and left us high and dry – and disappointed.

In the western world priests still always rate highly in job satisfaction surveys. They generally enjoy their job and do it well. That is because they are happy in their own patch. But they feel betrayed by the pope and the bishops. If you ask them what they think about the powers up top and where the official show is going you get a very different answer.


Some Gaudium and No Spes

By Cardinal George Pell - Swag - April, 2011

Recently I have been concerned by the theological extremism of some Swag contributions, and am grateful for the opportunity to state the case for the orthodox mainstream. I am not ordering anyone to “withdraw to the fortress and sing the old song”, but my best lines are still from the New Testament with its ancient truths and melodies. Eric sees himself now as “a presbyter called and ordained by the Church – the People of God” rather than as “a priest called and consecrated by God”. It is difficult to know exactly what this means, but it might point us to a number of fundamental issues. (There is a huge difference between these two views of priestly calling.)

More cards have been laid on the table than in Father Hodgens’ earlier writings. While it would be interesting to know whether he still has any jokers up his sleeve, it is more important to recognize that many of the cards cannot be identified accurately. We do not know, for example, his answers to the nine questions he lists. We do not know the limits to his hostility to some ancient devotions such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and veneration of Our Lady. We do not know whether his opposition to the papacy and episcopate touches these institutions themselves or simply the style of recent incumbents. So too with priesthood and traditional Christian teaching on marriage, divorce and sexuality.

We cannot be sure whether Eric’s theological position is typical of a liberal or a radical Protestantism. But as an exercise in loyal dissent it moves beyond the limits of orthodox Catholicism.

Let me attempt to state the issue in the most basic terms.
We find no evidence in Eric’s article that the Catholic Church is the recipient of divine revelation, “God’s message not some human thinking” (1 Thess 2.13); nor that the Catholic Church was founded by the Son of God “the Word who was with God . . . the Word who was God” (Jn 1.1), Jesus the Christ, the son of Mary with a divine as well as a human nature. If Christ is divine, New Testament teachings have a unique authority.
Eric writes with the genuine anguish of most of us older Catholics who grew up at an unusually high tide of faith and practice and lived through the radical decline which followed the social revolution of the 1960s in the First World. But some of the damage was self-inflicted.

One major point of difference is that in my view Eric’s prescriptions are a significant cause of our problems. His solutions were put into practice after the Council, to some degree in Australia, but especially in Belgium, Holland and French-speaking Canada. They emptied the Churches there. (This is far far too simplistic.  JPII's crackdown had a great deal to do with the emptying of the churches, but as Fr. Hodgens notes, there were more variables to this trend than solely the decisions of the Vatican.)

Pope Paul VI appointed no bishops who were opposed to the ethos of Vatican II, and for various reasons the good bishops appointed in Holland were overwhelmed, tossed aside by the liberal gales. This brings me to another contemporary fact, which I never anticipated as a young seminarian in Rome during the Council or as a young priest. The now aged liberal wing of the Church, which dominated discussion after the Council and often the bishops and the emerging Church bureaucracies, has no following among young practising Catholics, priests or religious. This is not only true in Australia, but everywhere in the Western world. In these different countries dominated by a secular media and intelligentsia, liberalism has no young Catholic progeny. (This depends on how one defines affiliation.  I know a ton of young people who are truly Catholic in spirit but not in practice.)

On reflection we should not find this surprising, as growth is tied to Gospel fidelity, to faith, love and sacrifice. After Vatican II many of us overestimated our cultural strengths and underestimated the virulence of anti-Christian forces. You need strong Christian foundations to participate productively in “open dialogue”. Without these roots the end of the road is agnosticism. (Or a long period of redefining one's relationship to God which often includes a period of agnosticism.)

I should conclude with a few words in defence of the four popes who were mauled, especially Paul, John Paul II and Benedict. Incidentally it is a matter of historical record that at the 1971 Synod of Bishops, Pope Paul offered to the bishops the option of ordaining married men to the priesthood and the bishops declined to accept this. (Cardinal Pell only references three popes.  Maybe he included himself as the fourth--a freudian slip of sorts.)

All three popes were prolific writers, while John Paul II and Benedict were professional academics with a record of scholarly and popular publications rarely if ever equalled by any Australian priest. I believe Pope Benedict is now our most distinguished living theologian.

The charges against the Holy Father do not amount to too much e.g. instituting a special year to honour priests (which was well received by priests and people), continuing with a new translation of the Roman Missal, and encouraging the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated. He did not receive back the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, but only lifted their excommunication. They are still in schism. (Hodgens doesn't imply they were fully brought back within the fold as he calls them schismatic bishops.)

Pope John Paul provokes a special hostility, allegedly an abuser of power, out of touch in scripture, limited in theology, a bad listener. It is a surprise that anyone came to his funeral. In particular he is denounced for emasculating the leadership of the Church, who are clerical and compliant, “low on creativity, leadership, education and even intelligence”. (That is a funny sentence.)

In an astonishing example of provincial arrogance, Hodgens claims that “the more intelligent and better educated” bishops (only “some” to be sure) are corrupt and have sold their soul for advancement. Me thinks he protests too much. (Actually I do too.  But I also think some have sold their soul for advancement.  Ahemmm.)

Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict were not hostile to intelligence, education or competence, but they have striven regularly to appoint bishops who will defend the apostolic tradition and strive to implement policies which will strengthen the Catholic position, not white-ant it.

Hodgens’ misunderstanding of the magisterium is typical of his position. The magisterium refers primarily to the teaching authority of the pope together with the bishops (Vatican II’s collegiality). The baptised faithful share in this and so do the theologians with priests and religious. (No we laity and lower clergy do not share in the JPII version of magisterium.  We can only give assent.)

Certainly the teaching authority of the bishops was recognized early by St. Ignatius of Antioch (+107 A.D.) and St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (+200 A.D.) with his apostolic succession lists of bishops to defend the apostolic tradition. The ancient teaching chair of the bishop exemplifies this, predating by many centuries any groups of professional theologians in the medieval universities. In Pope John Paul’s 27 years of pontificate 24 individuals were disciplined for their theological views, including eight who were silenced or removed, in the worldwide Catholic community of more than one billion believers. Father Hodgens himself escaped any reign of terror and so did many hundreds of dissidents.

Eric is a bit too generous to his generation, to which I belong. Many were formidable, but we coincided with a period of decline probably unparalleled since the Reformation. (This also coincided with the biggest information explosion ever.  Not one iota of our understanding of the world or humanity itself was left untouched, and that includes spirituality and religion.)

“Reflections on an ordination golden anniversary” is thought provoking. I am glad Father Hodgens has enjoyed his years of priesthood. Unfortunately much of the analysis is mistaken since his solutions, to the extent we can identify them, are less than Catholic and would make a difficult situation worse. (How can it get worse?)


These two missives are intriguing to juxtapose against each other.  There are a lot of areas of contention, but I want to point to just one that Hodgens brought up twice, and Pell ignores.  That's this one referencing JPII:
"reversed a burgeoning dynamic theology of Eucharist by reverting to and re-emphasising devotion to the static Real Presence."
For me personally, this drive to put Jesus back in the Tabernacle and out of our mere human hands is the push that I think needs push back.  Nothing made Vatican II come alive like live laity touching the consecrated host with our own hands or receiving from the hands of other laity. Nothing lifted the laity in any symbolic sense like this one aspect.  We may have still been unworthy for Jesus to enter under our roofs, but we no longer had to cut a hole in the roof for access.  Jesus became a tangible presence, with no artificial boundaries.  He was no longer a prisoner of His tabernacle keepers.  It was a seriously mind altering change, a relationship changer not just with Jesus, but with the Church itself.  
Many people really got this, but some people did not or could not.  Their relationship with Jesus needed Him to stay out of their hands and in His tabernacle box or monstrance or the ordained hands of a priest. These people piously say they are not worthy for such a thing as holding Jesus in their own hands, or that Jesus is too transcendent for such a thing,  but I tend think the kind of God they can hold in their hands is just not God enough for them.   
Cardinal Pell is one of those people and he is catering to those people.  He is hell bent on returning to all of us this God who can not be in our hands because that God is not God enough for Pell, just as the Jesus of lay hands is not God enough for Benedict.  For all the bluster about tradition's appeal to young people, it is really bluster about young people who need their God removed from human hands so that God can be worthy of their belief.  And Jesus weeps.


  1. Fr. Hodgens gets it, and Archbishop Pell does not. I read Fr. Hodgens' article at Catholica, the Australian Catholic website. I hope they don't give Fr. Hodgens the Fr. Bourgeois treatment.

  2. I always knew there was something weird about "divine mercy sunday," and now I know why!! But what is this other thing he mentions, "third rite of penance," I'm not familiar with it.


  3. I am with Fr. Hodgens


  4. Fr.Eric Hodgens says it all for me. I resonated with every sentence of his statement. I am also deeply disappointed by the leadership of the three or four recent popes Cardinal Pell cites and Fr. Hodgens criticizes. Father's words remind me that the Spirit is still alive and at work.

    Cardinal Pell tries to make it sound like Fr. Hodgens is some kind of rebel who has lost his way. What I really suspect is that Fr. Eric is the one who in his fifty years of ministry has been in touch with the people, his people in a very pastoral way.

    The Catholic Church has lost its way. Yes, there are young people hungering for spirituality as young people always do. The answers of the past and Cardinal Pell's insular views will fail when those young people start to ask serious pastoral questions.

    If Fr. Eric Hodgens and people and priests like him have wrecked the church, then why with these "three or four" restorationist popes why isn't the church showing any signs of growth in the western world? Even now statistics are showing that Mexico is losing its Catholic heritage and is now a secular country.

    Thanks so much for these articles. I, for one, wish Fr. Eric Hodgens the very best on his anniversary of ordination!

  5. Wild Hair your comments ring so very true. Finally we are seeing a few cracks in the conservative ole boys with more priests with an integrity that is so lacking in the leadership. I enjoyed very much what Father Hodgens had to say and I am waiting for more and more clerics to speak truth. Thanks Colleen for pointing out this story.

    I enjoyed particularly this remark, “Since then creeping infallibility has resulted in the pope and his theologically limited curia stealing the term “magisterium” from its real owners – the college of professional theologians. How can you conscientiously give assent of mind and heart to policies formed without theological debate, consultation, transparency or accountability?”

    The excuse has been that the church is not a democracy but is based on divine revelation. Seems to me that the leaders of the Church refuse to listen to professionals in a position to be exposed to the Spirit. While a great God could reveal many things to a poor ignorant person, it is more likely that he would chose scientist theologians, philosophers and engineers to reveal more complicated material. It is particularly true in medicine and embryology where the Bishops come across believing themselves omniscient not needing the art of laboratory observation. They refuse to listen or attempt to understand to scientists are observing in their laboratories and continue to stress that God reveals only to the magisterium. This is so very defensive that even some young grammar school students can see through it.

    Funny thing I recall getting a A on a College documented and footed Theology paper in the 1960’s when I pointed out that the Magisterium began with the theologians who thought through and discussed the meanings of what God was telling us, it then was adjusted by the laity to insure that these ideas were a possible way to live and finally the bishops where to shepherd all to help them use dogma as a guideline on how to live.

    Cardinal pell says, “The magisterium refers primarily to the teaching authority of the pope together with the bishops (Vatican II’s collegiality). The baptized faithful share in this and so do the theologians with priests and religious.” (the baptized faithful and theologians are then supposed to submit to what the Bishops say-- that is the only way that the Bishops feel that others should share--- anything else is turf war.)

    One very impressive part that I recall about Vatican 2 was its statements that power and authority flow up and not down. Cardinal Pell is reaffirming a paternalistic authoritarian leadership. This is a leadership gone wrong. The People of God must realize that the priesthood of Baptism is much more important than any man made institution of priests, bishops and popes. The harder the Episcopate fights to declare their opinions and judgements infallible and beyond question, the more ridiculous they look and more and more people begin to realize that these men simply lack the integrity to lead.

  6. An awesome writing by Fr. Eric Hodgens. Amen and Alleluia !!! The Holy Spirit is alive!!

    Poor Pell. Sad.

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  8. I'll second Kallisti's question about the third rite of penance. I've not heard of that either.

    I've heard of the confessional, penitent and priest. And I've heard of the communal penance service which is basically a congregation of penitents and a priest in a communal setting. Can't imagine what a 3rd rite would be. Unless it is one person with a conscience in prayer with God. Which just did not make sense to me in the context of this article.

  9. There was a Third Rite of Penance approved by the Second Vatican Council as part of the liturgical reform. The American bishops never embraced this Third Rite which consisted of a communal service, followed by general absolution. There was no individual confession of sins to the priest. There was a caveat that if you went to one of these communal services and were aware of a serious sin, you should present yourself within a reasonable time to a priest for individual confession.

    At the time I asked my bishop in Mississippi if I could make use of this Third Rite of Penance. He basically told me to use the first form which is confession as we know it, or the second form which consists of a communal service with individual confession and individual absolution.

    Back in the late 70’s Bishop Dozier of Memphis held two of the communal services with no individual confession of sins to a priest and general absolution, the Third Rite. The first service was held in Memphis and was held in a large arena. Ten thousand people showed up. I sent parishioners who were in impossible marriage situations with no hope of getting an annulment. I understand from their reports that it was a very prayerful experience. Many people were reconciled to the Church.

    Needless to say, Bishop Dozier received a lot of criticism, and Cardinal Bernardin had to come to his defense. This pretty much ended the use of the Third Rite of Penance in the USA. I do know pastors who in various ways do employ versions of the third form.

  10. Thank you, wild hair for the explanation. Apparently what I was thinking of as a communal service was the 2nd form. The priest mentioned individual confessions were available if needed for those in a state of mortal sin; those with only venial sins were told to 'go forth and sin no more' in effect.

  11. Good Lord! Is Father Hodgens really this arrogant and unhappy?

    I think Cardinal Pell is spot on in his answers and rebutal. He also comes across as a heck of a lot more pleasant to be around than crotchety old Father Hodgens.

  12. I have to laugh Anon, when one is in serious sin, the attitudes of the Pell's of the clerical world are not that inviting. Fr. Hodgens attitudes about pastoral mentoring tend to be far more inviting. One should also remember, that Fr. Hodgens is a priest who evolved in the much more pastoral tradition just after Vatican II and before JPII. It's really difficult to explain what that period was like for laity and priests who had grown up with a Church that maintained you could go to hell for missing Mass on Sunday or eating meat on Friday.

    @wildhair. Thanks for clarifying the third rite. I was pretty sure I knew what it was, but I actually had no idea what the second rite was about. Now I know all three!