Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Advancing The Spirit Beats Reforming The Reform

Ireland is beginning to move forward on the long long road to advancing their Vatican II vision of Church.

Ireland's Association of Catholic Priests held a conference this past weekend in Dublin at which attendance far surpassed organizers estimates. Over 1000 people showed up instead of the expected 200. The following article take from Clerical Whispers notes some interesting demographics and gives a good over view of the concerns of attendees.  Although it 's easy for me to imagine that the Cardinal Brady situation helped attendance numbers, I still think the Irish hierarchy took note.  Events are moving fast in Ireland and not in Rome's direction.

1000 attend conference on future of Catholic Church

ANALYSIS: Speakers showed the spirit of compassion unleashed by Vatican 11 remains alive.

TWO OUTSTANDING characteristics were immediately evident at the “Toward an Assembly of the Catholic Church” event in Dublin yesterday morning.

One was the unexpectedly large number there. 

The other was their age profile. 

One of the organisers, Fr Brendan Hoban, parish priest in Moygownagh, Co Mayo, and a member of the Association of Catholic Priests leadership team, seemed taken aback. They had expected 200, he said, but “there are in excess of 900”.

The number increased to well over 1,000 and, unusually for a day-long conference, continued to grow as the day progressed. The attendance was, Fr Hoban felt, “a huge statement” of the desire of Catholics for change.

Many were priests, many were nuns, most were laity. Almost all were middle-aged and older. 

But then the average age of an Irish Catholic priest today is 64, while the age profile generally seemed an accurate reflection of those at any weekend Mass. They were broadly representative of Ireland’s practising Catholics.

Even a couple of younger people who spoke during open sessions were an accurate representation in number and view of that increasingly strident, traditionalist element among young Irish Catholics today. 

Though there were also more liberally minded young Catholics there too. 

But, and typically, they were less assertive than their traditionalist peers and did not get the chance to speak.

Still, that is to digress from the spirit of yesterday’s event which was overwhelmingly of Vatican II, as articulated again and again by those forever loyal children of that great council.

Despite four decades of rowing back by Rome it was evident from yesterday’s contributions that the 60s spirit of openness, inclusiveness and compassion unleashed by Pope John XXIII remains alive and well in the Irish Catholic Church.

Also striking was the passion with which contributors spoke. It was to be reminded once more that in the Ireland of today it is not to the young one looks for those grand old architects of change: courage, drive, commitment, or its great engine, anger. You look to the older generations.

It was to be reminded that the only real people revolution of recent years in Ireland was when the over-70s faced down Brian Lenihan over their medical cards in October 2008.

Of course age is itself a reason why people such as those at yesterday’s assembly are prepared to stand up and say they are not going to take it anymore. 

For the laity among, then life’s responsibilities have been discharged and there’s little to lose. 

For the priests and nuns present the attitude was one of “what more can they do to me”?

It is early days and there’s a long way to go, as Fr Hoban also said, but something was unleashed yesterday. 

Time will tell “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born”?
I truly have to admit I get ever so tired of hearing young traditionalists denigrate the Vatican II blue hairs and the ever aging out of existence LCWR.  Part of my frustration is they seem to be utterly blind to the simple fact Benedict and his curia are even older, a generation older, and that the priesthood itself is aging out of existence.  In Ireland the average age is 64 and it's only slightly better in the US.  Who do these young traditionalists think is going to 'save' the Church.  Certainly not them, they just don't have the numbers nor the resources.  It certainly isn't going to be Pope Benedict's age bracket, unless it's the women.  That leaves the boomers, and that's who is showing up at conferences like this one held in Dublin by the ACP.
I can freely admit it maybe time the 'boomers' got off the cultural stage and let the younger generations take up the mantle, but not on the spiritual stage.  It is on this stage that we have the time and the resources and the motivation to work for change in Roman Catholicism.  This is especially true if we want to leave anything meaningful after we have permanently left the stage.  One of the big reasons I believe this is because the young trads have no clue what they are supporting in their drive to return Catholicism to pre Vatican II days.  That period was not just about the Gregorian Chant and the Tridentine Latin Masses of their fantasies.  It was also about a practical theology which used huge amounts of fear to enact a conformity by terrorizing laity, especially children, with threats of eternal damnation for virtually everything.  Scrupulosity was a real and present danger.  Many of us got so discombobulated we would make up sins, lie essentially, so we could delude ourselves into thinking we made a 'good' confession and could then go to communion.  It was a crazy time, not a spiritually beneficial time.
Vatican II did not just open windows, it got rid of an enormous amount of fear and opened us up to the possibility of relating to a very different kind of Jesus.  Because of that, we began to see beyond our own little parish ghetto and gaze upon a much bigger world.  It was a world crying in it's pain.  It is the world the LCWR orders chose to minister to and the world to which it still has that commitment.  It is the world that still desperately needs the vision of the Vatican II church.   That vision is big enough to include Latin Masses and Gregorian chant.  It's big enough to include believers who still desire an external form of conscience and behavioral control.  Why wouldn't it be, that's where we all start our faith journey, but that's not where the People of God should finish and conformance to an external authority should never be mandated.  People do move past using training wheels to ride a bike. No one should ever be commanded to always use training wheels because then they never learn to balance---and falling down and getting back on is part of that process.
The second major change didn't quite make it out of Vatican II and that change involves the status of women.  That just has to change.  I read a comment on an NCR article this morning where the gentleman is listing historical attitudes towards sex offered by the early doctors of the Church.  It's just ugly, and their ideas about women were uglier, but it struck me that the Church has had no female voices speaking about sex and gender.  Our entire history has been men, mostly terrified or disgusted by their own sexuality, assuming the right to teach women about female sexuality.  It is literally impossible for most Catholics to conceive of this dynamic working the other way around. We can't go into the twenty first century leaving the voice of over half the Catholic population officially silenced.  Just can't happen.

In any event, if Ireland is destined to save Western Catholic civilization one more time, they seem to be off to a good start.  It would help if the rest of us blue haired Vat II lovers would join them in their effort.


  1. On my own little blog when I was promoting a local initiative on women’s ordination, I received an email from someone demanding to know who I was so that person could report me to the bishop. That person also told me my generation was dying. Well, I’m still here and let me tell you, the vision of Vatican II was awesome and that vision lives.

    I appreciate young Catholics’ love and attachment to the tradition. I was there once myself.

    What I really appreciate about your post, Colkoch is that it affirms all of us who believe in the vision of the Second Vatican Council.

    The Spirit powered that Council and it still lives to the chagrin of many very traditional believers.

    From my limited historical perspective it was the Irish Church that Rome decided to follow on the Irish Confessionals. Hope Rome catches the Irish Spirit, again, soon!

    God bless the Irish Association of Priests and the folks who support and walk with them.

    1. ...terrorizing laity, especially children, with threats of eternal damnation for virtually everything. Scrupulosity was a real and present danger. Many of us got so discombobulated we would make up sins, lie essentially, so we could delude ourselves into thinking we made a 'good' confession and could then go to communion...

      Isn't that the truth. How did you know Colleen? Examining my conscience for my first confession I recall that I had viewed the naked female form. It was a portrayal of Eve. On a Holy Card! At age 8 I was too young to have sexual thoughts but I had been drilled by Sister Bernadette. So my first confession was that of sexual sin. Since then I have always considered original sin to be sexual sin. Here's an example or two of how artists depicted Eve throughout history:


      Scroll down.

      Naughty Eve. Bad Eve. About 50 years later I look at these religious images and shake my head. In the 15th century Italian Masolino da Panicale portrays naked Eve without pubic hair. Today that seems so Brazilian. How about Michaelangelo's Temptation? What was that snake interrupting? Hmmm. Gazing upon one of those pictures was, I was convinced, what had so stained my 8 year old soul.

      We await the Copernicus or Galileo of our time, someone to convince the church of its error in the understanding of life, sexuality and gender issues. It is every bit as important as the discussion of heliocentrism was to an earlier age.

      Church teachings are based upon fundamental misunderstandings regarding these issues. To the church the man's semen, or seed, contained the human which requried fertile ground for development. Masturbation was bad, not only because it was hedonistic, but also because it spilled those seeds along the road, on rocky ground, on dry ground, or among the thorns. (not speaking from personal experience, of course... of course ;7) )

      They thought women were defective men. And they still persist in this mistake. Modern genetics show that we all contain the X chromosome, for female characteristics. Women are XX while men have the Y chromosome. In embryology we know that all embryos start with female characteristics, only later in development with the Y chromosome make the individual male. The church teaches the opposite that a male is the creator, the originator of life. That flies in the face of evidence even ancient peoples knew; that it is the female who creates life. At conception the man's just along for the ride.

      Does life begin at conception? No. It begins long before that, in an uninterrupted chain that stretches back millions of generations to the first species. Life begins before there are sexual organisms. All living creatures are of us and we of them because science shows most of our genetic code is shared with other species.


    2. Incidentally, at our parish there is a stained glass window showing Adam and Eve leaving paradise wrapped in furs. Mrs. p2p refers to it as "Dolce and Gabbana expelled".


    3. Wild I feel for you. I frequently think how lucky I am that I can write this blog with zero fear of being turned in to any religious authorities.

      You are so right that the vision of Vatican II was awesome. For me it utterly changed my world view. While I can't go back, I can certainly make room for people who need a more rigid structure. Like you write, I was there too. I think all of us were. That's where we were entrained to be.

    4. There is a lot in your comments Paul. While you were dealing with sex at your first confession, I was dealing with blasphemy. It took an act of God for the powers that be to let me make my first communion. (I had pointed out problems in the Baltimore Catechism about the nature of God.) When we were supposed to be making our first confession, I was so afraid I was going to be sent to hell, I threw up in our classroom. I was sent home and made my first confession virtually hanging on to my dad, who saw to it that when we went on the following Saturday, he went first to his favorite priest and I went second. Things went quite better than I expected. What an Abba huh?

      I sometimes wonder if I wouldn't be far more enthusiastic about the Latin Mass if I hadn't experienced all the other shit.

    5. There's nothing wrong with the Tridentine Mass as a spectacle. My 87 year old mother has fond memories of the music, the smells and the bells. The sanctuary separated from the laity by a gate made it clear to all present that this was a performance to be witnessed by passive spectators. At times it was great theater.

      We altar boys would mumble our responses, oblivious to the meaning of the foreign words. I was fond of lighting the candles and one church had particularly beautiful bells which I enjoyed ringing enthusiastically.

      I lived in fear that I might not catch a stray host with the paten, but that never happened. My fellow altar boy, nephew of the bishop, once tripped on his too-long cassock while moving the Missal from one side of the altar to the other. He tumbled head over heels down the stairs. That was quite the commotion. Corporal punishment was the order of the day so he was swatted when the Mass ended.

      We were passive spectators who couldn't do anything right. Naww. Catholics will never return to that. The so called orthodox traddies look to the past with rose colored glasses. What are they nostalgic for?

      Did Jesus preach a return to Old Time Religion? You know, Moses, Elijah, those guys were the greats!


    6. I don't know Paul, Broadway occasionally makes big bucks by bringing back tried and true spectacles. Anyone for a reprise of Oklahoma?

    7. Paul, I sure remember the smells, the bells and the music of the VI Church. Lived within earshot of the choir loft. It's funny that as a baby boomer I didn't get to see a whole lot of the theater though because I was so short. I remember the Church being very crowded. Imagine you are real short and all you see are people's backs. So it was a very passive Mass, sort of robot-like, kneel, stand, sit, kneel, stand, Communion, kneel for a bit and sit, stand, leave. May 8th is when I received First Holy Communion. I remember the nuns preparing us for Confession before receiving. Oh, what memories. I had no idea what to say. It really is kind of silly to have children confess sins. It was scary as I remember it. Like going into a closet and there was a screen with some man behind it that just looked like a shadow. Could barely see his face. It was really the only time I saw a priest other than when going to receive Communion. I say mostly the IHM Sisters.

      Perhaps because I grew up in a small town or that I'm a little younger than some here, not by much, but enough for it to make a big difference, that I did not notice a significant change in the Mass at all. That could be attributed also to the fact that the parish got so big that they had to open the cafeteria up so people could attend Mass. Couldn't see a thing.

      They still sang the same songs. Really, there was nothing different that I can remember. I was just turning sixteen when we moved away and that truly marked an end to that close connection to the Church I had for many many years. It was real interesting going back to a VII Church. I really started getting into going to Mass and then the stupid rules just alienated me and the most recent changes in the wording in the Mass, the sexual abuse cases, the politics in the Church, just turned me off from any desire to go anymore.

      There definitely needs to be changes in the Church. And mostly in the attitude of those who will replace the eighty year olds who should just go on a long vacation and not come back, in my opinion. It will take the baby boomers to make positive changes to bring a sense of community back that is so fractured and broken right now.

      I remember the corporal punishment in the VI days. There was a lot of fear in that Catholic school. Way too much fear. You couldn't even bounce a ball in the school yard. We were packed like sardines with at least 80 to several 8th grade classrooms. They dont call us baby boomers for nothing. In 8th grade we got a nun who was in a really bad mood from day one. She was so strict and mean. That's when the Beatles were just arriving and the boys were scolded harshly for having long hair, which wasn't really, just not a crew cut. Oh, the memories. She also strapped two brothers in front of the whole class. We never saw them again. Their mother took them out of the school. So even back then parents were protective of their children. It was an awful thing to see her strapping these two boys. Just awful. Wicked really.

      No, the youngins who are craving for VI have no idea that when they have children what they will have to probably deal with in the affect it has on their children. Not a nice picture as I imagine if it did go back to the old ways.

      Good news from Ireland. Blessings to my Irish cousins. Baby Boomers Rock!


  2. Maybe all the emphasis on sex by the hierarchy is because they are vowed to celibacy and obviously are not, in general it seems, living up to their promises. Maybe this unrealistic and unscientific emphasis on sexual sins of the laity is the projection of their (the hierarchy's)shadow side. It certainly shifts the focus away from the hierarchy's issues with sex. Searcher

    1. At the least, it's a projection of their self imposed ignorance.

  3. True, true and true again! I stick around in the Church to maintain enough credibility to challenge the awful damnation teaching of my childhood. Some of our young Catholic priests have no idea where they are trying to take us back to (I hope!)
    One of them has already been removed from a parish in my Archdiocese. In another parish, people are staying away in droves.

    1. And these young priests have little idea where we are coming from precisely because their brains were entrained in the Vatican II vision. It's easy for them to say lets go back to more authoritarian control when they haven't actually experienced what that meant.

      I have some faith that most of them will eventually grow up and out of it. I hope that faith is not misplaced.

    2. Knowing some of them personally, it's a love of the sacraments and a dedication to following Jesus, rather than any love of authority.

    3. Knowing some of them personally, it is really a lack of reality testing in these men. Any to Baptized Christians can offer the Sacraments just as occurred before the official establishment of orders in the Church. Authority is not really involved, it is a willingness to follow the authoritarian. Perhaps even some of these very young minds will eventually grow and develop.

    4. Is this the belief of Christians throughout the centuries and throughout the nations? Er, nope.

      Your misunderstanding of scripture and rejection of tradition puts you in a very, very, very small group of people who espouse such opinions.

      We don't believe in the sacramental priesthood because of our "undeveloped minds", but because we understand the scriptures and because we see that our understanding is written in unbroken teaching in the Church from that embedded in the pages of the Bible, or those ordinations happening this very year.

      If you are right, then the global and historical Church is wrong and the Bible contains doctrinal falsehood, and the very foundations of the faith are torn out.

  4. Wow....thanks to all of you for sharing. I didn't realize it was that oppressive before V11.

  5. When I look back on all of that I just find it amazing how far the sisters have come from those days. I had IHM nuns as well, and believe me they were literal in their catechetical teaching without exception. No speculation at all, which is how I got in trouble with my first communion. I look at the IHM now and I don't think there is a better example of what can happen when religious women are allowed to find their path.

  6. Colleen, I was in huge trouble with the IHM sisters of my first 3 years of school. I made a decision in grade 1 that if the Russians did indeed invade and begin killing the Catholics, I would become a communist and turn my parents in so I could survive--that was 1st grade and this decision gave me a scary secret life throughout elementary school. In 3rd grade, I was imprudent enough to ask for more information by what was meant by the word "grace." I did not appreciate that I was a member of a 70 student class, half third and half fourth grade that was exhausting our teacher. I just couldn't figure out what grace meant but learned quickly that questions were unacceptable. Between my first grade secret and the uselessness of questions, I was an agnostic child who found her elders mad as March hares. It was the reforms of Vatican II that attracted me into active Catholicism when I was 28. And boy have the sisters come far!

    1. Wow, your story brings back memories. I just decided the way things were going my butt was toast anyway, so why not get some answers. My daughter has trouble understanding what it was like to live under the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation. She's sure it must be similar to living with the threat of global warming. Operative difference is 'immediate' threat.

      It finally dawned on me having those huge classes must have been enormously difficult only when I was in a two room school house in Montana that had a student population of 26 inclusive of all eight grades. Of course by then, I was plowing around Minute Man missile pods and the nuclear threat got even more immediate and a whole lot more real.

      I think one reason I appreciate how far the IHM has come is because for a long time I personally wasn't sure evolving was in humanities future. I just find their commitment to evolving an incredible statement of hope in mankind. I sure had no such hope for a very long time.