Saturday, April 4, 2009

American Catholic Dark Age?

The trial of the disinterred Pope Formosus. An example of the control needs of real fundamentalists during the real dark ages. Even death did not free a pope from their control.

The following article is an excerpt from a much longer reflection written by an unidentified English Catholic just prior to the death of JPII. Entitled "A Catholic Dark Age" it's a reflection on the loss of Catholic laity, the decline in the priesthood and the Institutional church's responses or lack there of. It's also a thoughtful piece about the various splinter groups and factions with in the Church and how these have come about....

Since the mid-nineteenth century theorists of modernization have argued that economic development is attended by widespread cultural change. But this does not mean that sets of beliefs and values perish inevitably and entirely. Cultural values, according to other theorists, have a continuing influence in society despite modernization and development. Data from many surveys show that despite the decline in religious practice in advanced industrialized societies at the end of the twentieth century there is a persistence and even a rise in spirituality.

Released from the pressures of traditional practice imposed by ethnic immigrant communities, people in advanced and pluralist societies see their religious lives more as personal quests than familial and ethnic ritual obligation. Discovery, trial, curiosity, a willingness to mix and blend influences-as for example Eastern spirituality with Western-mark the religious journeys people make in prosperous industrial societies. Religion in everyday life is not, nor can it be, promoted or received top-down; religion in these contexts survives or dies as a result of the choices made by individuals and groups of individuals. The apparent privatization of religion appears to be a condition of its survival in a late modern environment, but to the orthodox this smacks of self-help consumerism, "cafeteria" Catholicism. (The individual quest for authentic spirituality was echoed by Jesus when he warned following Him may mean leaving family and comfortable social groupings behind. It is cultural ethnic Catholicism which is the 'non traditional' practice of Christianity. At least as Jesus taught it.)

The Mother Church of Christianity, steeped in tradition and memories of holiness and suffering, insists that the Church, not the individual, must be the ultimate guide. Who could possibly propose that an individual knows better than the 2,000-year wisdom of the Catholic Church, infused, as Catholics believe, with the Holy Spirit? (Jesus essentially proposed that following Him did mean moving beyond the 3000 year old history and tradition of Judaism. Paul certainly believed following Jesus did just that.)

But what is the Church? And where, and in whom, does the Holy Spirit dwell? Does God's presence in the Church permeate downward and outward-as nowadays it seems-exclusively from the Holy Father in Rome? Or does God dwell in all the faith communities of the world? In the early 1960s the Second Vatican Council attempted to resolve the paradox between the greater and the local Christian communities by restoring an ancient understanding of the meaning of the Church-affirming that each group of Christians gathered around its bishop is in that place, "the fullness of the church, the Spirit's temple, sacrament of Christ." Every Catholic knows instinctively that the latter is true, I certainly feel that to be true in my church in Covent Garden, and yet today it appears all too often that inspiration, guidance, and truth is supposed to flow only from the Roman center.

At the heart of the divisions and fragmentation among Catholics today are running disputes over centralization and devolution, inclusiveness and closure, pluralism and fundamentalism. The issues differ from country to country, from society to society, from culture to culture while the underlying source of conflict remains constant: is human flourishing, through spirituality and religion, better served by freedom or control? (This sentence hits on the real difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is based in control and spirituality in exercising freedom through informed choice.)

John Paul II has made his position abundantly clear on dissent, whether it comes from individual bishops, theologians, or the voices and actions of the laity. In response to a call from Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco for greater encouragement to moral theologians in September 1987, John Paul said:

It is sometimes said that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. . . . It has also been noted that there is a tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence to the Church's moral teaching. It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the magisterium is totally compatible with being a "good Catholic" and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error . . . bishops should encourage assent to that which is given both to those who proclaim the message and to those to whom it is addressed.

The uncompromising terms in which dogmatic teaching on sexual morality is stated, against the background of the realities of mass "dissent," suggests a denial of the extent and power of the forces driving the spread of secularism. But the "them" and "us" dichotomy, the proclaimers and the receivers, betrays the pyramidal top-down model of centralized Church authority, with the faithful-including the bishops-as passive receptacles of teaching and guidance issuing from the Roman pinnacle, branch managers responding to the orders of the chief executive at the head office. (The JPII as a sort of Jim Jones on a global scale, would also be a legitimate analogy. Scriptural references to Peter and the keys not withstanding. No other pope in the history of the Church made himself such a cult figure nor had the communication capacity to centralize so much authority in himself.)

The faithful, however, are proving to be anything but passive; and whether the Pope likes it or not they are voting with their feet. As a recent editorial in The Tablet puts it, "Some authorities in the Catholic Church fear that societies in which this occurs are lost. In fact it is the Church which is lost unless it can recover and foster true Christian pluralism, while maintaining its ability to draw the lines." (I don't know that I agree with the 'draw the lines' thinking. Set the ideals might be better.)

The predicament presents a state of crisis for the coming papacy. Is Catholicism headed for sectarian breakup?

Much depends on the next Pope. An ultra-conservative Pope would likely move to exclude those many millions of Catholics who refuse to abide by the Church's teaching. A recklessly progressive Pope could prompt the voluntary self-exclusion of many groups of traditionalists. Meanwhile, even a neutral Pope could find himself presiding over a Church which is splintering into myriad congregationalist groups. (Benedict seems to be both ultra conservative on individual levels, and more moderate on social levels. He's mostly doing a better job on the social levels and fomenting more division on the individual level.)

There are no easy solutions to the divisions within the Catholic Church. What seems clear, however, is that Catholics must rediscover the imperative of Christian love between themselves if they are to avoid breakup. (It may be that this can only be accomplished in small congregations where social politeness fosters inclusion and non judgement. When one's attachment is to Rome however, one is not connected to the local congregation. It may be this fostering of connection directly to the person of the pope that will be the lasting legacy of John Paul II. It will be a legacy that includes the willful destruction of parishes and individuals by JP II true believers. That's not about love, that's all about control.)


There are a number of stories today which tie in directly to the above observations. Bishop Morlino is back in the news. Apparently he met with the parish of Ruth Kolpack last night and heard the voices of the 400 people who showed up to support her. Although he himself did not speak with reporters, according to one attendee "Bishop Morlino said that it was 'external forces' that made him fire Ruth." I'm sure Bishop Morlino didn't mean the devil made him do it. I do wonder who those 'external forces' really were.

My intuition tells me they were probably the same kind of external forces which prompted Bishop Thomas G Doran of Rockford Illinois to send his objections to President Obama speaking at Notre Dame. The good Bishop proved his orthodoxy by also sending his take to the Cardinal Newman Society. In it Bishop Doran suggests Notre Dame change it's name to the "Fighting Irish College" or "The Northwestern Indiana Humanist University".

On the CNS website Bishop Doran is joined by Archbishop Neinstedt of San Francisco who added the charge of "supporting gay rights through out the nation" to the list of sins of this 'anti Catholic' politician. He also states he will not give his support to Notre Dame in the future unless Obama is dis invited. I wonder how much money he donated in the past? Brigham Young University will probably get his donations now.

And then there are the bishops in Iowa who are stroking out over the Iowa Supreme Court decision to strike down that state's heterosexual marriage only law. This was a unanimous decision based in Iowa constitutional law, but to the bishops it was 'social engineering' and will 'grievously harm marriage and families'. They also think marriage rights "are not something that the state creates or may redefine." I'm curious as to how they can take that stance since the history of marriage is far more about contractual law than any thing else and has always been the in the purview of state's to define and redefine.

On the other hand, I'm still breathlessly waiting for the proof that gay marriage rights 'grievously harm marriage and families'. Maybe they think adultery in heterosexual marriages is somehow caused by gays. Although, come to think of it, that is somewhat true in Evangelical adultery. Gays pretending to be straight do seem to have run into some adultery issues.

I just love that our bishops are seemingly being forced to answer to 'external influences' like the Cardinal Newman Society in order to prove their orthodoxy. Wow the power of some kinds of laity is truly impressive. No wonder the left tends to take these bishops with a grain of salt when they harp on their independent authority in their own dioceses. What independence?

There is a very serious and very troubling side to this capitulation to the control freaks. A comment was left on my blog from a reader who described the latest orders given to Eucharistic ministers in her parish: This week at our church,those distributing Communion were told that if someone that they knew to be "living in sin" "presented themselves", they were to give them Communion and report them to the priest. So the dogs are supposed to herd them to the wolves? Great question. It does look like that.

We are truly on our way to a dark age in American Catholicism when Eucharistic ministers become communion police, our own president can't speak at a Catholic university, and a bishop fires a beloved parish employee because of 'external influences'. No wonder good Catholics are dropping out in droves.


  1. Colleen, you say, "We are truly on our way to a dark age in American Catholicism when Eucharistic ministers become communion police, our own president can't speak at a Catholic university, and a bishop fires a beloved parish employee because of 'external influences'."

    Amen. Very fine conclusion.

  2. Bill, I still can't get over the communion police thing. It brought back memories of the thread you wrote for the NCR about Gasometers, or whatever you called them.

    Too bad that one was lost in the NCR changover because I would have cited it.

  3. This is terribly tragic that Eucharistic ministers have any say at all in the state of anyone's soul!!!

    Terribly tragic and regressive. It is the behavior of a corporation to have their managers target certain people for being laid off so that those at the top can feel comfortable in reporting to the shareholders. The shareholders would be the Magisterium.

    Around Christmas I composed a piece entitled Advent. I am never sure where the spirit will lead me as the instrument and servant of the Lord to convey a message He has for me as well as for all listeners with ears to hear. As well as the music that I receive, I also receive a visual. The visual while composing this piece of music was of a large Church that was empty. The Holy Spirit is there and is present, but there was hardly anyone there to even know of the presence. The Holy Spirit seemed to say "wake up and listen" to what the Holy Spirit is saying.

    The external forces that Morlino speaks about and is listening to is not from the Holy Spirit.

    Word is gambushm.

  4. The communion gestapho were niotexpected. Expect it to get worse before it gets better. Right now the target is the laity, especially women. The clergy will be next.