Saturday, January 10, 2009

Integrity Or Obedience?

I should send this poster to Benedict XVI. I wonder if he would have been a different person if his last name had been Catzinger.

Today, in recognizing the passing of Fr. John Neuhaus, I offer two points of view concerning the consequences of 'fidelity to the truth'. The first is an extract from a much longer article written by Fr. Neuhaus, the second is a comment from an anonymous English Catholic in regards to an article in the Tablet about the censure of Fr. Haight.

The dubious ally that has done in liberal Catholicism again and again is the conceptual regime of secular liberalism, and its misconstrual of the connection between freedom and truth. The result is liberal Catholics who insist that they belong -Once a Catholic, always a Catholic- but it is a belonging without being bound. (Fr. Neuhaus was consistent in his belief that true freedom could only be found through obedience to truth as defined by the Magisterium, but in his case, as with most of us, he didn't extend that obedience across the entire spectrum of Magisterial teaching. He admitted it though, as in the very next sentence.)

Let it be admitted that this is true of all of us in different ways, and to a greater or lesser extent. There is perhaps no greater obstacle to our entering upon the high adventure of Catholic fidelity than modernitys perverse idea of freedom, an idea that we breathe with the cultural air that surrounds us. And there is important truth in the maxim Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. The baptism by which we are indelibly marked is an abiding bond, and a magnetic force drawing us always toward the completeness of the conversion to which we are called. That conversion is perfected in obedience to the truth that freedom is discovered in obedience to the truth. For the Catholic, such obedience can in no way be separated from the community that St. Paul describes as the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). (Actually Fr. it's a call for a conversion to love with integrity.)

And so I end where I began. The question is whether Catholicism will be Catholic. The historical and sociological dynamics to which I alluded earlier have led to a serious unraveling, an unraveling gleefully celebrated and encouraged by the Catholic left. Liberal Catholicism, rightly understood, is an honorable tradition and could today be a source of renewal, but that depends upon its capacity and readiness to receive the invitation, an invitation so powerfully and persistently issued by this pontificate to enter upon the high adventure of fidelity to the truth. (In this case, Fr. Neuhaus is referring to John Paul II, and actually means fidelity to John Paul's version of the truth, as John Paul represents the Supreme Teaching Authority.

In reality John Paul represents Supreme Authority, inserting the word 'teaching' is pointless.


And now a countering point of view:

"How many of us know priests and lay people, active in parishes and dioceses, who compromise their core beliefs so as to carry on the good work they are doing within church structures? Whether the issue is eucharistic inclusivity, option for the poor, a thinking laity, married clergy, women's ordination, homosexuality, contraception, our Church fosters a culture of keeping quiet so as to keep going. Sometimes the pressure from above is overt, but we are all subject to that subtlest form of institutional intimidation which everyone registers without it having to be articulated. (I know way too many who compromise their core beliefs in order to receive and participate in the Sacraments. I did it myself for years.)

We watch the few who persist in standing against it being marginalised or pushed out altogether; their whole lives can be taken apart. Many, both young and lifelong churchgoers, can no longer accept it and are walking away. Meanwhile those who slip into capitulating to it progressively deform their spiritual integrity. (PERSONAL INTEGRITY, not obedience, is the core issue in the spiritual journey.)

Of course, the Protestant tradition and secular society have long picked up the tenor of hypocrisy about Catholicism. After Vatican 11, though, many of us felt we were on the way to being freed from it. But the volume now seems to be ratcheting up again. How can we commit to the Church we love without dancing to this particular tune?" (Fr. Neuhaus would seem to think we find our integrity in obediently dancing to the tune.)


I've always found it fascinating that the word integrity is rarely used by those who appeal to tradition. Obedience is their favorite word. Where I would say Jesus operated in total integrity in His understanding about His Father and His Father's will, Fr. Neuhaus and others would say Jesus was totally obedient.

I find that notion arid. In one sense it's saying that Jesus was following a script he was aware of before hand, that he was nothing more than an actor, given very little room to ad lib. There are portions in the New Testament which do seem to indicate that Jesus was following a script. Especially in Mathew, where there is an overt attempt to show that Jesus was enacting Old Testament prophecy. The problem with the notion of prophecy is that it tends to take any meaningful choice out of the equation. If one is the prophecy, then it isn't a matter of obedience or integrity. It's a matter of prophecy fulfilling itself.

I don't think that's true of Jesus, as the Gospels do give indications that Jesus matured in His understanding of His mission and His Father's will. Jesus spoke about maturation in His followers as well, and if leaving us the Holy Spirit doesn't indicate an evolving notion of the truth of God, I don't know why else He would leave mankind in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

An evolving notion of truth is far more in line with how humanity actually lives out it's life and how we as individuals live our spirituality. If we don't evolve we kill our spirituality. Jesus wasn't crucified just because the prophets made some prophecies, He was also crucified because he questioned authority and His ministry led Him to disobey parts of the Leviticus code. He lived His life with total integrity to the two laws of love.

In my book He died for His integrity to His own conscience, not for his obedience. For all I know, His conscience may have contained the entire will of His Father, but it wasn't obedience which led him to the Cross. It was integrity to His personal conscience in the face of hostile authority.

Obedience serves authority and is loyal to authority, and Fr. Neuhaus was big on authority and loyalty to authority. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are also all about obedience and loyalty to authority. The reason this doesn't work well anymore has nothing to do with relativism or misunderstood notions of freedom. It fails because it isn't a two way street. Accountability and responsibility flow only one way, from the bottom to the top.

Integrity is a two way street which recognizes that responsible use of authority implies both accountability to, and responsibility for, others. It's not contigent on that 'others' pecking order in society. Jesus taught this ad nauseum. True freedom is found in integrity because it isn't controllable by authority, obedience can surely flow from integrity, but it also forces one to draw lines in the sand and act on those lines. There is no subterfuge in acting from integrity. There is no deception and no deceit, therefore dialogue can be freely, trustfully, pursued and differences respected.

Satan is called the Father of Lies for a reason. Satan is portrayed as an entity with no integrity and that, not lack of obedience, is his critical failing. It's why he can't be trusted and why phrases such as 'actions speak louder than words'; 'by their fruits you shall know them'; and 'walk your talk' ring so true.

The Old Testament story of Job, where God gives Satan free reign to undercut Job, is first and foremost a story about the unassailability of one man's integrity. In the case of Job, that integrity is so firm, even God finally answers for His capricious actions.

I wonder sometimes if the story of Job isn't a metaphor for the state of Catholicism today and that those voices speaking from integrity aren't the voice of Job. If that's true, then there is hope in the story, and the capriciousness of the execution of Church authority will eventually be acknowledged.

Personally, I suspect our final judgment is about integrity, not obedience. I suspect this is true because personal integrity is a concept which is universally stressed and shared by many spiritualities irrespective of their concepts of divinity. It is the crucial starting point from which human interaction must commence if that interaction is to be meaningful and trustworthy.

It's time the hierarchy stopped speaking with a forked tongue from behind a veil of secrecy. It demonstrates little integrity and therefor little reason to be obeyed. Little surprise then that many (from both sides of the theological spectrum) have stopped participating. For some of us it's not a matter of relativism, it's a matter of personal spiritual integrity.


With all of the above in mind, I offer this story for contemplation because I kind of think St. Mary's Brisbane is in the vanguard of a coming change for Catholicism. St Mary's represents a Catholic moment.

MAVERICK priest Father Peter Kennedy says he will lead a breakaway congregation if Brisbane's catholic Archbishop forces him to leave St Mary's Church.

There are fears that exclusion from the historic South Brisbane property will be the final act in a long-running dispute that has reached the Vatican. The dispute has attracted national and international attention because it represents the battle between conservative and less traditional forces within the Catholic Church.

There are more Roman Catholics in Australia than any other religious group. Each week, St Mary's attracts large congregations while many more orthodox Catholic parishes struggle to fill pews.

In a rare and exclusive interview, Father Kennedy said he was determined to carry on."The reality is that, if we are excluded from this church, the Trades and Labor Council have already offered us their place just down the road," he said.

"I will continue. Our community will continue down there. We get 800 to 900 people coming every week. It's a vibrant, alive mass with people from all over the city."

St Mary's is known for its unconventional Catholic practices - allowing women to preach, blessing homosexual couples and recognising with ritual the traditional sovereignty of the indigenous people of the area.

The latest round in the battle was sparked by a complaint direct to the Vatican in August from an aggrieved church-goer. Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby accused the parish of operating outside the accepted practices of the Roman Catholic Church and encouraged Father Kennedy to fall in line or face closure.

The parishioners responded to the accusations but - in a follow-up letter to Father Kennedy, dated December 22 - Archbishop Bathersby said: "St Mary's has not yet adequately given proof of its communion with the Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Roman Catholic Church."

The Archbishop is expected to make a definitive statement on the fate of the parish later this month. With D-day fast approaching, Father Kennedy is preparing for the worst.

"We don't know what the Archbishop will do," he said."But he's not very hopeful. He did say he would set in train a formal process. That doesn't necessarily mean that he will throw us out of here."

Most of the people who come here are what we call 'recovering Catholics'."They've left their traditional parishes. If St Mary's closes down, they won't go back."

Father Kennedy said that at the end of the World War II, 50 per cent of Catholics went to Mass every Sunday, but "now, in this particular diocese, 13 per cent go to Mass every Sunday"."If the church doesn't come to terms with the fact that the church has to operate within a liberal democracy, while it continues to act like a monarchy where all power is invested in the leadership of the Pope, then there's no hope, we'll be down to 3 per cent."

Asked what Jesus Christ would make of the controversy, Father Kennedy replied: "Well, Jesus always stood with the poor, the broken and the oppressed. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. And he certainly wasn't a Catholic and he didn't start the Catholic Church. He didn't start any church." Jesus railed against the religious authority of his day, the people who liked to be in the important places, with status and power and all that."

Father Kennedy described the Catholic church as being "caught in doctrine and dogma still".

"I understand where the Archbishop is coming from," he said. "We have a different concept of 'church'. Nevertheless, because he does what Rome says should be done, he expects me to do what he says should be done. I can't do that because I would be doing violence to my conscience; to my understanding of what the church is about."

Father Kennedy said leadership selection in the Catholic Church was "a very incestuous process and it starts from Rome", adding it would never change "until the people regain the right to elect their bishops".

Brisbane's indigenous community has rallied behind St Mary's.

For almost 30 years the church has been a refuge for South Brisbane's homeless, excluded and underprivileged, particularly through the work of Micah, a social justice group that works in collaboration with the St Mary's Catholic Community.

"This community has been a place where indigenous people could come and feel safe," Father Kennedy said.


  1. Excellent and timely post Colleen. In all of what you wrote, there is one comment that stands out above the rest for me:

    "Jesus railed against the religious authority of his day, the people who liked to be in the important places, with status and power and all that"

    The catholic church magisterial authority today is a contemporary replica of the scribes and pharisees of Jesus' day. Replicating even the fancy clothes and superfluous rhetoric and arrogant attitudes that Jesus condemned.

    When one studies the scripture regarding Christ's words and actions, there is only one condemnation that will be found, and this is of the hypocrisy of the Jewish clergy. I suspect, the same would be true today, only the target of Jesus' condemnation would be the RCC Magisterial Authorities.

    The scriptures are so very clear about this point, the paralles are so very clear, and yet so many who are supposedly learned in the scriptures, truly are blind to their message.

    Integrity, sadly is a concept that is alien to most, if not all of the RCC Magisterial Authority. All of those I know who have left the RCC state that it was the lack of integrity within the clergy that caused them to leave.

  2. This post and the last one helped me to realize that there are a few things that truly are impossible right now.

    One is a true interfaith dialogue with the RCC. As long as the RCC Magisterial Authorities hold to the belief that THEY are the one true church, such a dialogue is impossible.

    Another is peace in the middle east. As long as there are factions that have as their stated goal the total destruction of isreal, no matter what the cost, peace is impossible.

    Another sadly, is honesty and integrity within the leadership of the catholic church.

  3. Well this one really opened up the worm can for me.

    Why do so many of the clergy compromise their core beliefs so as to carry on the good work they are doing within church structures?

    One Possible Answer:

    it will not be just the parish priest that is penalized, but it will be his congregants who will be suffering for his actions.

    St Stanislaus parish in St Louis is a living and recent example of what can happen when a pastor/parish do not kneel and pay homage to a vindictive bishop.

    The bishops have lied and continue to lie. That is well documented in the multimedia. It is a very short step from lying to blackmail and intimidation. We witnessed that step multiple times during the presidential election and the pedophile scandal. It is an even shorter step to bribery and extortion.

    Why do so many priests compromise their integrity? Most likely they are staying quiet in order to protect their families (congregations) from retaliatory attacks by vindictive bishops.

  4. Holy Jesus, tonight is the fullest moon of the year, no wonder I need to get wormed. :-p

  5. Fr. Neuhaus, God rest His soul, from the writing in the link seems to have great difficulty in perceiving, including and loving others, especially who he deems to be "enemies." It becomes obvious how he does this by his writing and descriptions of certain intellectual or spiritual leanings or elements within the Church. He bears the distinctive mark of someone who when he does not intellectually understand something makes it into an enemy to either be shunned, pushed away, discredited, etc.

    The bottom line of his idea of a post-modern Catholic identity is to shun others, which is in direct contrast to Jesus' teachings. In his mind he tends to want to destroy that which is not consistent with his truth, a truth which is not a truth because it is untruth.

    He seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge or justify the existence of signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit in the living scriptures and Psalms that unite us to Christ that would completely discredit him. As a matter of fact, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit or even a hint of it in his writing. He draws the mind to make conclusions that are founded from the premise of a traditional ego insisting on thriving, rather than the idea of selflessness and the care of Christ in that self that is Christ longing to live as Christ within us. In other words, his writing is not Christ-centered, but ego-filled. His view and perspective is a very worldly rendition of Church politics struggling though in its ego-identity and he sets out merely to destroy other egos which he does not find acceptable in his authoritative and exclusive public square. His is the view of ego vs. ego. There is no spiritual growth if one follows his line of thought. It can only lead to one place and that is a dead end of one man's opinion against anothers. This is certainly not how Christ taught, to pit one against another. Jesus is not about pitting men and women against one another.

    Neuman's constant political posturing and labeling of others brings about this idea of a false-Catholicism of righteous egos which many of us progressives are very familiar with and we reject heartily as in direct opposition to the Holy Spirit and the integrity of that Holy Spirit within. These seeds of his own discontent to finding the Truth bring about the tearing apart of any living Truth that lives and breathes within the People of God. His unwillingness and own intellectual handicap is the idea that obedience to the Magisterium is the only answer to his own intellectual weakness which generates a real incapacity and almost obstinate refusal to love others. And he really can't find love or the way to loving his enemies by being ego-centered. The reason for this inability is his obedience to authority of men rather than the obedience first to God and by following the age old tradition of loving God with one's whole heart, mind, body and soul. He takes issues very similarly as his intellectual and spiritually handicapped peer Pope Benedict XVI who also seems stuck in the tradition of ego-identity. Ego-identity centered religiosity can be equated to a type of nationalism that does not see the interconnectedness of all under God. The obedience he speaks of is an obedience really to intellectual and spiritual dishonesty and sloth regarding the Truth which God reveals to those who love Him and seek Him. There is always someone else to blame which is another mark of spiritual laziness. He winds up promoting spiritual laziness in the guise of calling it "obedience." A mindset of blame is in actuality a seed of the devil who will look out for your flesh but not your soul's capacity to be truly incorporated into the living Christ.

    In direct contrast to Fr. Neuman's writing in the link is a small book by Thomas Merton entitled Bread in the Wilderness. It was published in 1953. Merton's ability to write about what he has experienced spiritually and in concrete internalized ways is legendary. The ramblings on about Catholic identity by Fr. Neuhaus have only served to lead others away from the true guiding light of the living God and the Resurrected Jesus and that glorious Holy Spirit which is lost upon the obedience to ignorance and a life in darkness that Neuhaus seems now a legendary star.

  6. "Ego-identity centered religiosity can be equated to a type of nationalism that does not see the interconnectedness of all under God. The obedience he speaks of is an obedience really to intellectual and spiritual dishonesty and sloth regarding the Truth which God reveals to those who love Him and seek Him. There is always someone else to blame which is another mark of spiritual laziness. He winds up promoting spiritual laziness in the guise of calling it "obedience."

    This is very insightful Butterfly. If there were a ratings system it would most certainly get a four.

  7. Carl, it is sort of uncanny how the hierarchy is aping the Jewish authority of Jesus's day. As butterfly writes below, it's endemic of an ego driven spirituality.

    I don't mean ego in the selfish sense, I mean ego in the enculturated adaptive sense which needs other approval for any sense of self esteem and personal security. The unexamined or undeveloped self always puts obedience and loyalty above integrity and love.

    The entire philisophical basis of the traditional family is obedience and loyalty to authority and that is not going to be productive any longer. That's why I think gay marriage and the feminist move towards female equality really are the threats to the Church the Vatican proclaims they are.

    Any notions of social engagement based in equality rather than authority is threatening.

  8. Colleen way back in the field of pop psychology there was a phase when people talked of scripts; "Im Okay, Your Okay"?

    For the conservative laity i have wondered if the script might be concerning the ones demanding Obedience and tradition; "I am your rescuer, you are my captives"?. . .and for the laity; "You are my rescuers, i am your captive"?. . .

    ( i am using the word laity to c those caught in fundamentalism )

    Another thing as i was reading this; the mind went to the season.

    The season of the Christian year with Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany expressed in liturgy. In Jungian material Jesus would be seen as the Hero. The Hero is identified as as light,the sun, and the "Light of the World" which is also the symbol of the psyche, where light is equal to consciousness. Darkness is equated with unconsciousness and with that ruled by instinctual and undiffereniated. . .

    Thousands of years before Jesus birth, pre-christian celebrated the winter solstice. . . the beginning and return of the sun. The sun was more than a source of light and warmth but a symbol for the inner source of light within the psyche. . .

    Obedience????. . . For me it sounds like a power hierarchy that wishes to keeps its underlings at the more primitive levels of consciousness, unindividuated, dependent, and "in the dark". . .Rarely do we find the command of obedience except in power's hierarchy language. . .

    Whereas integrity?. . .Integrity is the word i use when making reference to the most sacred governing of my inwardness. . .

    For unindividuated people's psyche it might of made sense for the Church to create a system of parent to child. . .because for the more unconscious the control of instinctual drive is more precarious and evolution of consciousness is a slow process. . .

    Your writings with the birthday of Jesus and the celebration of the birthday of the Sun this year seems to hold great resonance . . .and what you are writing about these days seem to be a template for the pageantry of the birthing of the Hero at collective levels i believe. .

    The Hero lives by the integrity within and the shaming and demanding of obedience seems to respond to Jesus traditionally being born the "midnight" of the year ( the point where is the greatest darkness and the most absence of light?)

    Advent is the preparation of Christmas where we remember the world of darkness before the Christ (Hero)came. For the Christian, Israel remained in darkness, captive to the power of darkness, trapped in a fallen universe, enslaved by darkness of unconsciousness symbolically seen by some as the Dragon or Satan of the psyche. . . Synthesized to one sentence to two words; Power over.. .

    That which is not submissive to that which is greater.

    Advent prayer;

    " O come, O come Emmanuel,
    (God is with us, Consciousness)

    and ransom captive Israel,
    (the true Church based on what God has given to each as children of God, the Christ spark becoming ignited, the not i who lives but the Christ that lives within.)

    That mourns in lonely exile here."

    Just summoning up, the birth of Jesus , the birth of the sun, which occurs at winter solstice, there is a star constellation which rises in the East at the same time. The name of this constellation is Virgo, the virgin, and her image is a woman holding a shock of wheat. She is the mother of the sun-hero, which would be the Mother of Christ; Mary. . . .

    Colleen just my two cents worth and how i see the thread that is running through your posts these days. . .I think that thread is leading to a really good place with more and more people reconnection and rebalancing the Divine feminine in the symbolic form of the Divine Mother. . .

    my word is gotomat. . .???
    go to mat which might mean go to mata where mata in the East means great soul. . .

    So will close with may all go to their great soul and find freedom. . .

  9. "Obedience????. . . For me it sounds like a power hierarchy that wishes to keeps its underlings at the more primitive levels of consciousness, unindividuated, dependent, and "in the dark". . .Rarely do we find the command of obedience except in power's hierarchy language. . .

    Whereas integrity?. . .Integrity is the word i use when making reference to the most sacred governing of my inwardness. . ."

    I agree totally with this River. Integrity IS all about the sacred governing of one's inwardness. Violating one's integrity is like throwing mud on one's candle. Enough mud, and you can no longer even find the candle much less light it.

    I remember the pop psychology days quite vividly. A psychologist down the interstate from here wrote one called: "I ain't much baby, but I'm all I've got." It was a best seller. It almost inspired me to write my best seller: I ain't got much to say, but it sure makes money."

  10. Thank you for expressing concepts that many of us are struggling with. Does anyone know what has been happening to Fr Kennedy's congregation? It is so frustrating when we are made powerless because we refuse to obey, but choose to live our truth. How do we reclaim that power?

  11. Sandy, it's funny you commented on this article--especially today--at least for me.

    Claiming our power is all about recognizing we have it. I just finished reading a blog post on the National Catholic Reporter from Amy Manson and was really struck by some of the comments. People would talk about feeling a call to a vocation and be furious that the hierarchy won't let them pursuit it.

    The truth is they won't act on their vocation from God unless the Vatican gives them permission. If it's a vocation from God why do they need the Vatican's permission?

    This is exemplified by Fr. Kennedy's congregation which left official Catholicism and is thriving on it's own. They just "did it". They took the message that if their parish was of God that was all the permission they needed. Apparently when it comes to vocations the Vatican has more authority than God for way too many devout and Christ like people.

    The Vatican is fully committed to blinding people to their own empowerment. That's how they've survived for two millenia--by substituting pwereless obedience for empowered integrity.

  12. Your options were really a head thinker that you'll stop for a while and really think if what's fits or right for your wants.