Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dreaming A Powerful Flawed Dream Is Still Dreaming A Flawed Dream Part I

If only Sr. Joan had dreamed a particular dream. Who am I kidding, the dream would have been put out very very fast. Still the LCWR would do well to study Mother Angelica's strategies for combating an ecclesiastical takeover of one's missions and assets. When it comes to the assets of nuns it doesn't matter what sisters conference you belong too, they are all fair game.

I know I said today I would be writing on Mother Angelica, but the following is only part one of what I want to write. The more I research her life the more amazed I am at the number of attacks she sustained from so many disparate groups with in and with out of Catholicism. In dreaming her dream she stepped on a lot of other Catholic world views. She was also astute enough to figure out whose world view ultimately counted.

She disdained any reconciliation with local and national episcopal authorities in favor of courting the Vatican. In using this strategy Angelica benefited from the same kind of personal relationship with John Paul II that other charismatic leaders of other groups of Catholics enjoyed. These groups were the ones whose notions of obedience were tied almost exclusively into the Vatican and completely ignored obedience to local authority.

As long as Angelica kept her dream tied to John Paul's and Cardinal Ratzinger's notions of centralized Vatican authority, she was able to overcome the likes of Bishop Foley, Cardinal Mahony and interestingly enough, Archbishop Charles Chaput. These boys had their eyes on the big prize--EWTN and it's global voice. But when it came to keeping EWTN free of the meddling of the USCCB even Archbishop Chaput, who was one of three bishops on the board of EWTN, carried no weight with Angelica. Like Joan of Arc, Angelica maintained she was answering to a Higher authority.

Angelica's battles with ecclesiastical authorities are mirrored in countless other stories of mystical women who founded their own orders based on charisms from their own mystical visions. Another contemporary example would be that of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In most of these cases, the more successful the 'little women' became, the more interest in controlling them came from their male superiors. What could all this be about one wonders? Where's the trust?

It's about a global culture practice (dream) that defines the appropriate place of women. Each of these mystical women dreamed dreams that mandated they transcend the prevailing culture concerning their particular place the scheme (dream) of things. That's a scary place to be. For Angelica it made it necessary to tie her dream to the papacy because her world view truly sees the pope as Jesus's representative on Earth. Additionally, the Pope probably fulfilled a mythical father role. This world view does not easily extend the notion of 'in persona christi' to other male clerics or other mythical fathers--at least not in Angelica's case. Her experience of the immediate male parental figure had been abandonment. Better to keep the adult male parent at a distance and the figure of Jesus a boy.

This is in fact represents both an intellectual and emotional compromise. It permits both obedience to Papal Church authority but also for the dismissal of the authority of other clerics. It serves to reconcile what others would perceive to be a flawed vow of obedience.

It's no wonder this kind of thing was encouraged by the Vatican. It's their dream too. In the case of EWTN, the Vatican saw EWTN as an extension of the centralization of authority in the voice of the Vatican. EWTN is a very big global voice speaking the Vatican line, reinforcing the Pope as the single authoritative voice in Catholicism, and probably best of all, broadcasts it's liturgical dream for the reform of the reform. It's no surprise then that Angelica was recently given the Vatican's highest award for the laity or that she felt safe securing her dream to the anchor of the Vatican. The father in Rome has never abandoned her.

The trouble with all the power struggles around EWTN is this masks a fundamental injustice in the Church concerning women. Angelica was well aware of being a pawn in the power games of male clerics and refused to take that assignment. In this respect she stands as a model of, dare I say it, empowered secular feminism. Women have a right to lead, to speak, and to stand independent of male supervision. Angelica knew that, EWTN proved that, but she also knew she had to have the protection of the Vatican men, or her authority as a voice for Catholic purity would, in fact, be shut down. In the end, her dream only goes as far as her orthodoxy and her compromised relationship with her father will let it. It stops at the door of the Vatican and therefor perpetuates the dream of male control over women.

This is unfortunate because now that same Vatican is using other non Catholic women ministers as pawns in a power struggle in another area. The Vatican is reinforcing the devastating consequences the paternal meta dream has on women through out the world. The following excerpt take from Clerical Whispers makes this point very clearly. Although it deals with the Vatican's overture to Anglicans, it really speaks to what this overture means for the lives of women through out Christianity and the globe itself.

Angelica's dream child is the single biggest broadcast voice promulgating these teachings and perpetuating this injustice. She can continue to dream her compromised dream because she herself does not experience most of the effects her slavish devotion to the Papacy promotes for other women.

ONE OF THE key tasks of the Christian church is to live and to preach reconciliation.

William Barclay suggests that never once is God said to be reconciled to man; it is man who must be reconciled to God and that’s the difficult part. The tragedy is that the church which is called to be the model of reconciliation is often its contradiction because of a preoccupation with internal matters.

We see this in the debate within churches about the role of women in ministry. While there has been a general acceptance within Anglicanism of women’s ordination, there are those who feel in conscience that they cannot accept this break with tradition and especially if it means the ordination of women bishops. (Even though Angelica is no supporter of women's ordination, she most certainly was a powerful female voice in ministry. So much so the USCCB recognized Angelica and EWTN very early as a threat to their authority. Angelica's traditional habit seemed to have carried more authentic authority than their dog collars. Smart move on her part to re adopt the traditional habit. She knew her core audience.)

In response to the situation, Pope Benedict XVI recently approved a canonical structure which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Roman Catholic Church while preserving elements of their Anglican heritage.

But the suggestion that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was only informed of this proposal at the last minute has caused disquiet in Anglican circles and beyond.
Archbishop George Carey, his predecessor, was “appalled” that Archbishop Williams was informed only shortly before it was announced: “I think in this day and age, it was inexcusable to do this without consultation.” (Why is anyone surprised. This is how the Vatican now does it's business. It treats other men with the same lack of respect it treats women.)

The Catholic theologian Father Hans Küng described the offer as a “tragedy, a non-ecumenical piracy of priests.”
These are difficult times for ecumenism.

But what does this tell us about the state of the church when the role of women within the church can cause such dissension while the exploitation and abuse of women worldwide goes largely unnoticed? Has Christianity lost its way? (Absolutely Christianity has lost it's way.)

The Korean theologian Chung Hyun Kyung speaks of overwhelming suffering and injustice in the lives of Asian women.

“Female children generally are more poorly fed, less educated and overworked when compared with male children. Even after they grow up, women’s lives only get worse under oppressive public and domestic structures.Their bodies are controlled and their labours are exploited. In their brokenness and longing for a full humanity, Asian women have met and come to know God.”
The abuse and exploitation of women and girls is by no means confined to Asia.
We need to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches in tomorrow’s Gospel reading where Jesus comments on the exploitation of women by men in high places: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market places and to have the best seats in the synagogues. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” (Now they try to devour women's TV stations.)

He then commends a widow for her generosity, insisting that her contribution is greater than anyone else’s, including the men who make the rules. And he said these things in a culture where men praised God daily “who did not make me a woman”.


Mother Angelica dreamed a very powerful dream, but as long as her dream continues to give even grudging lip service to the unjust collective meta dream, she reinforces the brutal treatment of women and girls through out the world. Ultimately, hers is a dream constrained by her own human issues, but because EWTN is now a major global player in the Christian world, Angelica's flawed dream is effecting a lot of other people--mostly women. More to come.

1 comment:

  1. "The Catholic theologian Father Hans Küng described the offer as a “tragedy, a non-ecumenical piracy of priests.”

    I believe Fr Hans Kung is correct in his view. The Pope has really closed the door to VII ecumenism, set the Church back centuries by doing so, and has opened the flood gates for misogynist and gay bashers, and other hate-filled ignorant people. The Pope's piracy for such priests and laity is choosing to gather these sharks to fill the moats surrounding the Catholic Church. The Pope seems to think that piracy is how to lead the "faithful." A true follower of Christ would be a fisher of men and women, not sharks. I laugh at this, while at the same time recognize the insidious nature of his plan (dream). Stocking the Church's moats with hungry sharks should enlighten those who see the dangers of doing so and encourage them to dream a new dream and to have enough faith to walk on water out of shark infested waters, lest they be swallowed up by the pirate's dream.

    Thank you Colleen for the insight you continue to provide us with on our journey of faith with Jesus. There is much here for us to meditate on so that we may dream a dream that puts papal pirates out of business and Jesus back in the number one position He rightfully belongs in our Church, our hearts, our minds, our souls, our dreams, our world.