Thursday, July 8, 2010

Vatican II Music To My Ears

Is Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa the spark that starts the fire glowing?

I feel like I have been struck by lightening. I have tear filled eyes and an open mouth. I promise I will pray for Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa until God is sick of hearing from me. The following is from the middle part of Bishop Dowling's speech to selected laity in South Africa. It is music to my ears. The entire speech can be read here---and be sure to read the comments.

When I worked internationally from my religious congregation's base in Rome from 1985 to 1990 [Dowling is a Redemptorist] before I came back here as bishop of Rustenburg, one of my responsibilities was the building up of young adult ministry with our communities in the countries of Europe where so many of the young people were alienated from the church. I developed relationships with many hundreds of sincere, searching Catholic young adults, very open to issues of injustice, poverty and misery in the world, aware of structural injustice in the political and economic systems which dominated the world, but who increasingly felt that the "official" church was not only out of touch with reality, but a counter-witness to the aspirations of thinking and aware Catholics who sought a different experience of church. In other words, an experience which enabled them to believe that the church they belonged to had something relevant to say and to witness to in the very challenging world in which they lived. Many, many of these young adults have since left the church entirely.

On the other hand, it has to be recognized that for a significant number of young Catholics, adult Catholics, priests and religious around the world, the "restorationist" model of church which has been implemented over the past 30-40 years is sought after and valued; it meets a need in them; it gives them a feeling of belonging to something with very clear parameters and guidelines for living, thus giving them a sense of security and clarity about what is truth and what is morally right or wrong, because there is a clear and strong authority structure which decides definitively on all such questions, and which they trust absolutely as being of divine origin.

The rise of conservative groups and organizations in the church over the past 40 years and more, which attract significant numbers of adherents, has led to a phenomenon which I find difficult to deal with, viz. an inward looking church, fearful of if not antagonistic towards a secularist world with its concomitant danger of relativism especially in terms of truth and morality -- frequently referred to by pope Benedict XVI; a church which gives an impression of "retreating behind the wagons," and relying on a strong central authority to ensure unity through uniformity in belief and praxis in the face of such dangers. The fear is that without such supervision and control, and that if any freedom in decision-making is allowed, even in less important matters, this will open the door to division and a breakdown in the unity of the church.

This is all about a fundamentally different "vision" in the church and "vision" of the church. Where today can we find the great theological leaders and thinkers of the past, like Cardinal [Joseph] Frings of Cologne, Germany] and [Bernard Jan ] Alfrink [Utrecht, Netherlands] in Europe, and the great prophetic bishops whose voice and witness was a clarion call to justice, human rights and a global community of equitable sharing -- the witness of Archbishop [Oscar] Romero of El Salvador, the voices of Cardinals [Paulo Evaristo] Arns and [Aloísio Leo Arlindo ] Lorscheider, and Bishops [Dom] Helder Camara and [Pedro] Casadaliga of Brazil? Again, who in today's world "out there" even listens to, much less appreciates and allows themselves to be challenged by the leadership of the church at the present time? I think the moral authority of the church's leadership today has never been weaker. It is, therefore, important in my view that church leadership, instead of giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige, should rather be experienced as a humble, searching ministry together with its people in order to discern the most appropriate or viable responses which can be made to complex ethical and moral questions -- a leadership, therefore, which does not presume to have all the answers all the time.

Then a little further on Bishop Dowling has this to say about Vatican II's principle of subsidiarity:

Applied to the church, the principle of subsidiarity requires of its leadership to actively promote and encourage participation, personal responsibility and effective engagement by everyone in terms of their particular calling and ministry in the church and world according to their opportunities and gifts.

However, I think that today we have a leadership in the church which actually undermines the very notion of subsidiarity; where the minutiae of church life and praxis "at the lower level" are subject to examination and authentication being given by the "higher level," in fact the highest level, e.g., the approval of liturgical language and texts; where one of the key Vatican II principles, collegiality in decision-making, is virtually non-existent. The eminent emeritus Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz König, wrote the following in 1999 -- almost 35 years after Vatican II: "In fact, however, de facto and not de jure, intentionally or unintentionally, the curial authorities working in conjunction with the pope have appropriated the tasks of the episcopal college. It is they who now carry out almost all of them" ("My Vision of the church of the Future", The Tablet, March 27, 1999, p. 434).

What compounds this, for me, is the mystique which has in increasing measure surrounded the person of the pope in the last 30 years, such that any hint of critique or questioning of his policies, his way of thinking, his exercise of authority etc. is equated with disloyalty. There is more than a perception, because of this mystique, that unquestioning obedience by the faithful to the pope is required and is a sign of the ethos and fidelity of a true Catholic. When the pope's authority is then intentionally extended to the Vatican curia, there exists a real possibility that unquestioning obedience to very human decisions about a whole range of issues by the curial departments and cardinals also becomes a mark of one's fidelity as a Catholic, and anything less is interpreted as being disloyal to the pope who is charged with steering the bark of Peter.

It has become more and more difficult over the past years, therefore, for the College of Bishops as a whole, or in a particular territory, to exercise their theologically-based servant leadership to discern appropriate responses to their particular socio-economic, cultural, liturgical, spiritual and other pastoral realities and needs; much less to disagree with or seek alternatives to policies and decisions taken in Rome. And what appears to be more and more the policy of appointing "safe", unquestionably orthodox and even very conservative bishops to fill vacant dioceses over the past 30 years, only makes it less and less likely that the College of Bishops -- even in powerful conferences like the United States -- will question what comes out of Rome, and certainly not publicly. Instead, there will be every effort to try and find an accommodation with those in power, which means that the Roman position will prevail in the end. And, taking this further, when an individual bishop takes issue with something, especially in public, the impression or judgment will be that he is "breaking ranks" with the other bishops and will only cause confusion to the lay faithful -- so it is said - because it will appear that the bishops are not united in their teaching and leadership role. The pressure, therefore, to conform.


Bishop Dowling has given a very clear picture of how some of us see the current Roman Catholic Church. He is absolutely correct when he says it's all about a fundamentally different view of 'in the church' and 'of the church'. I maintain these different views reflect different positions on the spiritual maturity scale. The basic reason these differences seem insoluble is because once one moves on the spiritual maturity scale, one can not go back to a prior position. It's not just that ones spirituality has changed, it's that ones entire world view has changed.

The level of spirituality that Vatican II espoused was further out on the scale. For those ready to move on, it was a blessing. For those not ready to move on, it was terrifying. For those not ready to move on in the curia, it was doubly terrifying, and for those who materially benefited from the pre Vatican II church it had to be stopped.

When seeds have been sown and plants begin to sprout, you can't shove the plants back in the ground. You can only rip them out. For all the restorationist's attempts to rip out the sprouts of Vatican II they have essentially failed. Instead the clergy abuse crisis has put them in the unique position of defending themselves and their restorationist mindset from Vatican II accountability standards. And no, people who have moved on in a Vatican II spirituality are not going to cut the restorationists much slack. They are operating from too different a world view. This is a world view which emphasises personal conscience and personal responsibility and that makes for a huge, virtually unbridgeable gap with the obedience driven group think mindset.

I have a great deal of respect for Bishop Dowling. I really hope he is not left standing alone by other Catholic bishops who see things similarly. To paraphrase a song most likely despised by the restorationists, "it only takes a spark to get a fire going". May this be that spark.


  1. Hi Colleen,
    Like you i have posted this on my blog and I fully support Bishop Dowling's words What a great man and we need more of us lay people and other priests, Bishops and Cardinals to support him.

    However. I noticed this morning a similar article but most of the comments were from the completely opposite viewpoint, supporting Bishop Slattery instead.
    You can read it
    from here

    We live in interesting times !!

  2. I just read this statement on NCR along with the comments...what an honest brave bishop...I was so moved by all of the comments...and the many mention of tears as people read his statement.....tears of hope and joy are so rare among us disaffected ones these days.....may the spirits of John XXIII and the smiling Pope - John Paul I watch over and protect him from the hierarchy....Michael Ferri

  3. If I may comment on Bishop Slattery's homily as well as Bishop Dowling's talk and the emotive reactions that follow both, this is what Vatican II has wrought that is so fear inducing to the hierarchy. Conservative and liberal, obedient and rebellious, pious and ecstatic, all of us now feel we have a voice in the proceedings. As much as the hierarchy would like to stop or control the rough-and-tumble (what's more than a dialogue? multilogue? magnalogue? googologue?), the sensus fidelii will out.

    The recourse for the controllers is to disenfranchise, to define the faith and the faithful in smaller and smaller circles. I see this tendency on both sides of these issues -- "They can't possibly be faithful because they are doing (or not doing) this, which is vital."

    I'm starting to rewatch the series "Jazz" by Ken Burns. The white elite in the 1920's are looking for the new American composer. The black middle class decries the degradation caused by this jungle tinged so-called music. And Louis Armstrong is right under their noses, with both black and white enthralled when they hear him. The new lexicon of American music is right there. Some can't help but hear it, and some are too afraid to engage.

    As faithful, we need to recognize and nurture faith and love. Despite the fact that I detest the cappa magna draped style, Bishop Slattery's sermon is of the Lord. I can only pray that those who love the ornate old obedient church can see the Christ in Bishop Dowling's words. And yes, for me Dowling provided a long cool drink of water in the desert.

  4. Phil, thanks for the link to Bishop Slattery's sermon. It does articulate the restorationist position in a meaningful way. At least in the sense Slattery hits the best points of the philosophy/pychology underlining why this Christology can be so attractive to people.

    mjc I think the solution to the problem will come when both/and thinking becomes more the norm in the Church and replaces our either/or mode. This change in conceptualization almost has to come from the leadership for that portion of the Church steeped in restorationist theology.

    We really are talking about a Church which is now having to face the fact the laity are on different spiritual levels. The laity is not like it was in the good old days. Their world view has been opened up to incredible new vistas through education,science and global communication. Humanity will not willingly go back to a smaller box. In point of fact, humanity will not go back under any scenario--willingly or not.

    The current situation in the Church puts me in mind of Catholic grade school when nun were faced with huge multicultural classes. They separated the kids into different groups based on speed of learning. We all went along at our own pace, but still all belonged to the same class. It was what I like to call a healthy both/and solution that recognized differences while instilling unity.

    This kind of solution can't come from the restorationists espousing either/or choices. It will only come from the Dowling's of the hierarchy who can work effectively with both/and strategies. In this sense I guess it's not surprising that Dowling is from South Africa where finding both/and strategies were so necessary in dealing with Apartheid.

  5. This is indeed also music to my ears! Bishop Dowling is like a breath of fresh air and a rain shower after a long long dry spell. He is exactly the medicine needed to keep hope alive in the People of God. Reading the entire text of Bishop Dowling caused such a burst of tears to fall; a floodgate of hopefulness opened.

    Yet with the current mindset of the Pope and the Curia I have to wonder what will be the consequence of Bishop Dowling's words? From the comments at NCR it would seem that a great spark is ignited and it can not be contained. God cannot be contained.

    I want to and need to dwell in the hope that this Bishop Dowling represents and provides to so many of us who have been thoroughly alienated, pushed out and aside into a desert, belittled for our views by this medieval papacy.

    The Church without a Bishop Dowling speaking is a wasteland and a dead end Church. Dowling, no doubt, could potentially inspire many of us to sing in Church.

  6. I read the whole post of his and all the comments last night, and I must say, Colleen, your comment stood out!

    It was heartening to see a Bishop so engaged and able to describe things exactly as I remembered them and as I see them now.

    I foresee this man at the forefront of something. Along with the Egyptian Jesuit who wrote so movingly a while back. I simply wonder if such men of God will need to "leave" the RCC on behalf of the True Church. (For I can only see the conservatives circling the wagons more and more tightly.)

    I too will pray for him.

  7. This problem of restorationism is everywhere in spiritual circles. I have had really advanced native elders tell their listeners not to repeat conversations with True Traditionalists because they weren't ready to hear the message that the Other Side Camp was calling for the secrets and prophecies to be revealed to all who could hear--irrespective of blood, language, race or culture.

    Some Elders call this period of history "The Time of the great Awakening" and this message crosses all tribes---and there are traditionalists in all tribes who are furious with them. To the traditionalists this is tantamount to giving away or dishonoring all the spiritual power in the tradition.

    I can vividly remember being at a Sundance when a traditionalist grabbed the microphone and went on a thirty minute rant against the leaders of this Sundance. A Grandmother sitting next to me translated for me and finally asked me if I was offended. I told her no more than listening to a member of some conservative Catholic movement call me a devil infested heretic. She laughed and laughed.

    Religious systems have to stop convincing people they will go to hell for maturing in their relationship to however they see God. Our relationship-or lack there of-to God colors every thing we do and hear and see and say.

    I guess that's why it's such a critical relationship for some people to control since deep down inside they know they can't control God.

  8. The most trenchant point Bishop Dowling made was about Curial usupation of episcopal leadership. Even restorationists get theologically tongue-tied when you ask them to justify theologically the Curia.

    Look at the new Sacramentary in the making. Virtually every English-language conference of bishops tried to stall, end, or at least amend the process. The one congregation in Rome...with essentially the word of one archbishop, overrode them all.

    Tell me where in gospel mandate can a Catholic justify this exercise of power? This is why the Orthodox and the more traditional Protestant denominations won't reunite with Rome. And they told JPII this: to the Bishop of Rome, we'll listen; we'll even assent...but don't dare ask us to bow to some bureaucrat who's never shepherded a See in his life.

  9. Kevin what they should have asked is why so many POPES bow to the curia. It seems to me the Universal Magisterium in practice refers to the Vatican curia. The global bishops and natinal conferences are a joke. It's not surprising ecumenism fails on this issue.

  10. I also applaud Bishop Dowling's words. He is a great man and he speaks for many. Kevin, I have heard that many of the bishops are not happy with the new English translations. You said that one Archbishop overrode them all. Who was that?

  11. Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria is the author of Autenticam Liturgicam, the key document that started all this.