Thursday, April 8, 2010

Conversion Moments And Personal Choices

Can the pope restore the purity of Catholicism?
By Timothy Shriver - Washington - Monday, April 5, 2010

The scandal facing Catholics today looks a lot like the Watergate scandal that engulfed the United States in the early 1970s. Then, what started as a crime committed by a few burglars slowly escalated to reveal corruption at the highest levels of authority. The White House counsel, senior advisers and others were punished for their roles. In the end, the president of the United States was implicated and forced to resign.

Is the Catholic Church on a similar pathway to the resignation of a pope?

On the surface, there are many similarities. A few years ago, the church was embarrassed by revelations that some priests were involved in the abuse of minors -- unlike the Watergate break-in, a major crime. Those priests were largely in Boston, but other abusers were exposed around the country. Reforms followed, and the scandal seemed to pass.

More recently, the equivalent of the Watergate tapes have blown open the church's calm. The Cardinal Archbishop of Ireland was involved in not only a failure to act but appears to have been an active agent of cover-up. And the trail seems to be leading even higher: the pope himself, while an archbishop in Munich, may have played a role in failing to respond to abuse.
Must he resign?

That's where the parallels break down. Watergate was not only a scandal; it was a threat to the republic itself. The head had to be removed for the country to survive.

The church is not a democracy. Bishops (and popes) are not answerable to polls; they're supposed to be dismissive of popular trends in search of a higher truth.

But the church's indifference to public opinion is not designed to protect those who condone blatant violations of gospel principles. Yet that is exactly what has arisen in our time. An episcopal culture that placed defense of the structure over the defense of children is broken, pure and simple. The pope may not be guilty of any wrongdoing, but the culture is.
So if the pope isn't going to resign, can the hierarchy survive?

The first part of the answer will depend on justice: Catholics and non-Catholics alike must hear a full confession -- evidence of contrition so pure that it cannot be mistaken. We must see bishops leave their teaching positions because their moral authority is lost. We must believe that civil justice will be served when crimes are committed.

But that isn't enough.

And it's not enough to say that 95 percent of priests and nuns are heroic and dedicated servants of the faith, baptizing our children, caring for the sick and the poor, ministering to our families and burying our dead. They are of course all of that.

It's not enough to say that the church has created an enormous diversity of religious practice and expression, giving birth to contemplative, monastic, scholarly and popular forms of faith that have brought the gospel to life for billions -- even though it has.

It's not even enough to argue that the church traces its roots to Jesus himself -- that it is His church. It does indeed trace its roots to gospel times. But not even that is enough to justify confidence in the bishops.

The capital of trust between the people of the church and their leaders is dangerously close to empty. The bishops cannot take the people for granted any longer. We were raised to love the gospel, to seek the truth, to serve justice, to grow in the bosom of the sacraments. But we will not do it under their leadership unless they change.

What's needed is a conversion of the bishops and the pope himself. That's right: It's time for the pope and the bishops to convert their culture to one that is centered on loving God from the depths of their souls and to leading a church that is as much mother as father, as much pastoral as theological, as much spiritual as doctrinal. It is time for them to listen to the deep and authentic witness of the people of faith, to trust the spirit that blows where it will, to abandon their defensiveness of their positions and trust only the gospel, and not their edifice of control. Conversion is a total experience -- letting go of the old and putting on the new.

The conversion we seek for them is the same conversion they invite for us: Put on a contrite heart and fall in love with God, recklessly, totally and passionately. Let the love of God be the only measure of their actions.

We live in a spiritual age, and until the bishops and the pope learn to lead a people hungry for authenticity, trust and spiritual nourishment, we will look elsewhere. There are millions of Catholics with deep spiritual wisdom -- millions of faith-filled people who love God in transformative ways. We will trust their faith and witness if the bishops fail us.

My faith is not shaken by these scandals. My hunger for my own conversion to a more loving, more just and more peaceful way of living is undiminished. On Easter, my family and I celebrated the hope beyond all hopes and did so with the Eucharist.

But this is Altargate. The hierarchy, not the faith, is in jeopardy. The pope need not resign. He must do something far more difficult: convert.


I found myself thinking along these same lines this past couple of weeks. I listened to the blame throwing and the diversionary excuses coming from the Vatican and US bishops and thought in some frustration: "Will you act on what you say you believe and stop this pathetic self justification?"

I read Jason Berry's article and seriously wondered how many of these Cardinals actually believe the pious rigid morality they espouse, or for that matter, if they even believe in God on any but the most superficial levels.

I wondered if the real rot and filth in our hierarchy is precisely the fact they don't really believe any of what they teach. Catholicism is no more than the excuse and front they have used to access wealth and power. Or at least that wealth and power is more real to some of them than Jesus.

Numrous folks are writing that Catholicism is at a cross roads. I don't necessarily agree with that because I don't believe the ruling institution will change at all. I think individual Catholics are at the crossroad. The choice is with individuals and many individuals are choosing to leave the institution to find spiritual sustenance within and elsewhere. They are choosing to follow the spiritual path rather than the religious path.

I think that's one of the problems Rode and company have with the LCWR. Too many LCWR congregations have followed the spiritual path rather than the institutional path. They have sought a deeper spiritual relationship for themselves, and that wasn't necessarily with in the Church.

It's getting harder and harder to find a meaningful spiritual relationship with in the Church unless one is content with ritual piety, confuses God with the Pope, and agrees to ignore or excuse all the contradictions. No wonder so many Catholic youth say they are seeking spiritual meaning rather than religion.

The kind of conversion that Tim Shriver writes about is different from the kind of conversion that Benedict spoke of in his letter to Irish Catholics. Benedict means conversion through traditional Catholic religious practices, while Shriver means conversion to the very real power of love. Catholic religious practices are no guarantee for this conversion to love. No pope can guarantee such a conversion. No set of pietistic practices can guarantee this kind of conversion. This kind of conversion is found in relationship with others and with Jesus. It isn't about discipline, or consistent religious practice, it's about meaningful relationship.

Abuse victims represent an opportunity for meaningful relationship for our hierarchy, but it takes being open to conversion to make use of that opportunity. I can remember an article from last year in which Archbishop Martin of Dublin stated that his reading of the preliminary report on clerical abuse in Dublin disgusted him to the point that he threw the report on the floor. That's a description of a conversion moment. He was engaged with and by the plight of the victims, and one can see the result of that in his subsequent actions. He too is at an individual cross road. He will have a choice to make. There are others in episcopal office who seem to be facing the same choice at the cross road. Will they follow the conversion path, or support the status quo?

Benedict seems to be trying to take a kind of middle path. One where he both supports the existing clerical structure while seriously trying to move around the roadblocks. Cardinal Sodano comes to mind.

The Maciel case is not the first case where Benedict had to move around Sodano. This was also true in the Fr. Buresssi case. Buressi was another sexual abuser who started his own order, generated quite a following, and was heavily supported by Sodano. It took the Vatican 17 years to finally act in this case, and action was the direct result of having the case moved to the jurisdiction of the CDF. By that time the Canonical statute of limitations had run out on the sexual offenses but once Pope, Benedict acted anyway.

I wonder about Cardinal Sodano's 'spontaneous' defense of Benedict during the Easter Sunday liturgy. Was Sodano sending some sort of message? In any event this truly is a time for choice for all of us as individuals. Do we choose the power of love as Jesus taught, or just fall in line with the power of the Church? It's a separating of the wheat from the chaff moment, and it's not an easy decision for a lot of good people.


  1. You write:

    "I think individual Catholics are at the crossroad."

    I saw a priest's jaw drop yesterday when I told him I've joined the Orthodox. He sat there stunned!

    Even my own dad, nearly 93, was able to immediately view my path as a sincere one, chosen for the best of reasons.

    I can only think that as we, those of us who choose to deepen our relationship with God through another path, break this news to others, it will prompt even more pondering among those who find themselves within the bosom of a church which has stopped feeding its flock from the "breast" of the Holy Spirit only to forcefeed them the very Gall that Jesus rejected!

  2. TheraP,

    Mind if I ask a personal question?

    What is the "Orthodox" church you've joined?

    I wouldn't go near anything like Opus Dei or the LC/RC because they identify themselves as "orthodox".


  3. We need people of faith, not just piety, in our church. Our Church is indeed at a cross roads, but it will only choose the correct path if it is pressured by the faithful. This is why the lay faithful must stay and fight for accountability, transparency and reformation. Ours is the Church of Christ, it must be returned to His leadership. He walked the path of Love, we must as well. It is our salvation.

  4. I'm happy to answer your question, Anonymous. It's a parish within the Orthodox Church of America - which also includes Canada. It is a self-governing church within the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It began when Russia sent missionaries to Alaska (when they owned it). The particular parish is unusual in being black and white (maybe 40% black, of which maybe half are Ethiopians), poor people from the neighborhood (it's in a poor, now mostly Hispanic neighborhood), people from a nearby RC university, both faculty and students, so more educated and working class people, and it has a big focus on helping peace and justice and helping the poor.

    If you are interested in a link that would provide further info, check out the writings of Alexander Golitzin, especially the 2 articles on Liturgy and Mysticism. For me those were the final links in my own choice point:

    Each one of us must search our own conscience and seek whatever home we feel we must dwell in. For some that will continue to be the RCC (for important personal reasons). For others the path will lead elsewhere (again, for authentic personal reasons).

    Peace be with you. And may you find your path opening before you.

  5. P.S. Sister: The faithful must CHOOSE. Not just "stay and fight" - though that is ONE option. The Orthodox are also Catholic. To me, the divisions in the Church are man-made, not God-made. Yes, we must walk in the path of Love. But that path does not only point to Rome.

  6. New allegations against the Pope:

    Looks like a Come to Jesus moment, if only he'd take it!

  7. I don't know TheraP, maybe slowly the Vatican is getting the message:

    "Father Lombardi acknowledged that the Church had lost public trust and said Church law could no longer be placed above civil laws if that trust were to be recovered.

    He also said Pope Benedict was prepared to meet more victims of abuse to offer them moral support.

    BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says this is an abrupt change of tone by the Vatican.

    He says officials had previously accused critics of trying to smear the Pope personally and only last weekend said he should ignore petty gossip directed at him."

    For Fr. Lombardi to admit that it was time the Church stopped putting Church Law over civil law is quite a statement. Seems the boys at St. Peter's have been burning the midnight oil trying to come up with solutions which save themselves. I suspect this statement is one of those solutions. Trouble is, we still are put in the position of trusting them to actually do that and have no reason to believe they will.

  8. While I do not want to jump to hasty conclusions, the boys on Vatican Hill may have realized that they are in deep...poop.

    We must realize that they are the oldest organization on earth with a vast geopolitcal reach & diplomatic listening posts in some 150 nations. They have better intel then the CIA & Mossad combined.

    They do monitor news media & online forums & blogs. To gauge the pulse. They have access to information on the whole truth of the abuse scenarios.

    They also know - more then we will - who is preparing what potential legal action against them. Criminal as well as civil.....globally.

    I do not honestly feel that they will 'convert'; though the thought may pass through some minds within the Vatican walls. At least for some fleeting moment. That is the Holy Spirit opening a tiny window to a soul.

    It is then the free choice of that person to open the window more - or shut it forever.

    The seeming 'change of heart' in Lonbardi's remarks have the smell of fear. If there is any sincerity in this, they may well be afraid of legal action brought before the World Court in the Hague. Or at least of catastrophic losses of pew sitters & revenue.

    In other words, in this power play...."they blinked'. Fear shows at some level.

    Of course, even if genuine on an individual level, there may be a cadre on the corporate management level who are manipulating this whole scandal to serve Satan. As the scandals serve to cause millions to lose what little faith they have.

    As to the Orthodox, they are Catholic. There are other smaller churches which also have apostolic succession & valid sacraments.

    And if all else fails, there is also this:

    Since the Blessed Sacrament is itself a window into Eternity, one may adore Christ online.....when the church is locked as 'father is perpetually out'.

    Christ is always in.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  9. TheraP-

    I remember Fr. Golitzin quite well since he helped officiate at my wedding many, many moons ago when he was still a young academic at his first teaching post at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Ca.

    He was, and I presume still is, a lovely man with a rather dry sense of humor quite deeply knowledgeable, ( as his essay proves), of the theology of the Orthodox church.

    You should know that the OCA, ( which I also belong to), has had its own scandal, not about sex, but money, ( if it isn't sex it's money and vice-versa). Fortunately, it seems that things have cleared up a bit and that there is a general concensus to clarify and rectify the situation.

    Orthodox is also at a crossroad right now. It still suffers from phyletism, the tendency to associate national identity with the Orthodox faith. This has resulted in far too much fragmentation as is evident in the U.S. where one finds Russians, Greeks, Arabs, Serbians and other groups each with its own little hiearchy. Most American Orthodox want a unified church but there's still a long road ahead before unity can be achieved.

    Your parish sounds interesting and definitely different from most.

    I hope you are enjoying it.

    Catholics aren't that far away. They're next door. I hope that one day Catholics and Orthodox will be in union.

    I have the feeling that it may not be that far off.

    The main stumbling block has been the Vatican. Now that it's showing to be rather hollow perhaps something more interesting will emerge.

  10. TheraP

    Thanks for the information. We have Eastern Orthodox Churches here but they aren't to my liking. The Greek and Ukrainian Churches are every bit as sexist as the RC Church.

    I guess I'd consider Anglican as a better choice for me if ever I was to go to a different church.

    Here's a woman Bishop in the Toronto region: Dr. Linda Nicholls. I believe I met her two summers ago at a conference.


  11. "to admit that it was time the Church stopped putting Church Law over civil law" is like saying it's time to stop beating my wife!

    Ummmm... when people realize what that REALLY means... it's only adding fuel to the fire!

    Because how many people KNOW they put church law over civil law?

    But oh, well... yes, it's progress... even if the "progress" leads to further regress - and by that I mean people out the door.

    See here:

    How will they EVER pay all they owe in legal claims if there are fewer and fewer folks in the pews? It's like your mortgage being underwater. So when will even the hierarchy start jumping ship>

  12. Anonymous, our son was born in Toronto, long, long ago. My pastor and his wife studied in Toronto. I love the city! I love Canada. We have camped from sea to sea in Canada - well I have to admit only my husband has made it to Winnipeg.

    Yes, ours is a unique parish. And yes, I am aware there was a financial scandal in the OCA. (Mind you, at least there was enough transparency that one could find that! As opposed to the RC where money flows - but who knows how, what, when, where, to or from whom?)

    I realize that people are tempted and fall into it everywhere. Nevertheless I choose to throw in my lot with the beauty and mysticism of a deep and tradition-rich Liturgy.

    Yes, Hieromonk Golitzin has a dry sense of humor. But seemed honored that I'd read his paper on Liturgy and Mysticsm, not once but twice! Right away he told me I was not coming to a perfect church. Which is good -- cuz I'm not perfect! (One of these days I may have a long talk with him, but he is shy man, who comes and goes in a humble, discreet way. Quite the Spiritual Father, I hear!)

    Once you look into the history of the Anglicans, it's hard to square them with the Orthodox. But I totally understand how narrow some of the ethnically "sacrosanct" Orthodox groups can be.

    In our Church we have Romanians, Russians, Ethiopians, and Americans. (I had an Ethiopian couple as my sponsors - two days after my mother's death, which we also commemorated.) Lots of converts. Lots of families with very young children. And a very rich group of priests and a Deacon. We are wealthy.

    One could complain about lack of women in the priesthood. Yet in this little parish I see the young girls and women included a great deal. For me, I've long since settled that issue - in terms of a "priesthood" which is an outgrowth of the spiritual life. I learned that from a Cictercian nun in New Brunswick, a bilingual monastery, where the nun was Abbess for a long time - and where her primary prayer life was in the hesychast tradition (she quoted Olivier Clement and Placide Deseille and others and that's one of the powerful tugs - for me - of modern Orthodoxy).

    I greet you with a holy kiss!

    How amazing to find on the internet so many people who are only a degree or two of separation from me!

  13. TheraP,
    It is nice to have this connection. I admire your writing and concern for the issues here on Colleen's blog.

    We have a number of friends who are "Eastern Orthodox", Greek and Ukrainian. (One couple was married in the Church featured in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" Of course Nia Vardalos has a TO connection too.)

    We have a friend who is a married man ordained in the Eastern Orthodox Church who now ministers an RC Church.

    I'm not going anywhere yet, I hear you SisterKris, but I must say some of the Anglican tradition appeals to me.

    On meditative prayer, check out Taize.



    word verification: weenie

  14. I use a great deal of the Taize stuff myself.

    Down here I guess I would say we practice a kind of combination Catholicism which is a kind of earthy piety in that it's a cross of Catholicism and Native--at least on the Pueblos.

    I was playing quarter keno the other day in one of the local casinos and got to talking about this situation with a native grandmother who told me "If those sick boys had to answer to the grandmothers instead of bishops, things would have stopped in a big hurry."

    I had to laugh because it so reminded me of my Assiniboine buddy who told me he was far more respectful of the grandmothers circle than he was the male grandfathers of his medicine lodge, because the grandmothers 'didn't mess around and they didn't miss anything'.

  15. If the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic - the apparent divisions are no more than a kind of dualism. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. But just as Jesus went ahead and criticized the religious leaders of his day, and Apostles eventually concluded what they were engaged in had developed beyond Judaism, the Holy Spirit is free to move us and tug us too.

    We each live in different places. And we enrich those places from the wells of ourselves, just as the places may enrich us - even in surprising ways. And the net is one such place!

    There is so much rich spirituality! One could never plumb it all.

  16. Loved the comment about the grandmothers.

    I wonder what the Pope's mother would say to him?

  17. Then there is the Old Catholic Church:

    I loved the comment about who took the Eucharist first. And check out the clerical drag -- actually tastful!

    Jim McCrea