Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflections On The American Catholic Conference

OOPS, Wrong Conference.

I've found it fascinating to read the conservative response to the American Catholic Conference.  If there is any sense of Jesus Christ in these responses I didn't find it.  It's like Jesus doesn't count in comparison to the Pope and the infallible magisterium.  And in all honesty I don't find that surprising because Catholics have been enculturated for eons to look to Rome before looking to Jesus.  Or more precisely look to the collar before reading the Gospels.  Indoctrination dies hard, and when it's coupled with fear of about everything, it dies even harder.  I suspect this tendency is in play to some extent in all of us.  But the conservative comments all reminded me of something my freshman college roommate once yelled at me.  She was somewhat irritated at the time.  She said "If you're going to be tactless, at least be nice about it."  There was not much nice about the conservative response to the ACC, and it was pretty tactless.  

I even got an email from one of the Ave Maria crowd informing me of all that was wrong with the ACC and why I should never even consider supporting it.  I responded to it by telling the sender his email was now designated as SPAM. I read this one right after the one from my daughter explaining that she almost sent the Helena Police Department out looking for me since I hadn't answered my cell phone in three days, and my work phone went right to voice mail.  I don't know what happened with the work phone, but I do know what happened with the cell phone.  The only reason I didn't get a visit from the HPD is that I had updated this blog on Sunday.  When I finally called her she was tactless and not nice about it.  Oh well, stuff happens. It was nice to know she cared enough to almost send the very best.  Can't say the same for the conservative spammer.

I've been interested in reading the editor of Catholica Australia Brian Coyne's response to the ACC.  The following is an excerpt of his take a day after the conference:

WILL THIS BE SOME SORT OF WATERSHED or TURNING POINT CONFERENCE: I have to confess I'm in two minds. Certainly at the level of having any impact on the American Bishops or the Vatican, or any hope of reversing the Reform-of-the-Reform agenda of those who've taken over the institutional agenda I honestly think it has all been "pissing in the wind". It will not have the slightest impact. If anything this conference has driven home to me that the prospects of a return to the spirit of Vatican II in the Church are more remote than ever. Young people have deserted the Church in greater numbers than any other demographic. This was a conference basically comprising what was the former leadership elite in the lay Church who were energised by John XXIII and the whole message of the Vatican II but who today feel totally let down by those who have betrayed that spirit despite all their nice and Orwellian "newspeak" use of language to suggest they are upholding the Spirit of that Council. (I'm not sure if it's Orwellian or shades of Goebels.)

At a second level the Conference did fill me with enormous hope. Here at last you have a strong and visible and highly educated sector of the popular who have at last stood up and said "enough is enough — we're not putting up with bullshit and crap from the bishops or even the pope anymore. If they (the bishops and popes) want to continue treating us as 'little people' and 'simple people', we're not playing that game anymore. The Conference was, I sense, the beginning at least of the articulation of any alternative agenda — and one that does remain authentically true to what was discerned by the majority of the listening bishops at Vatican II. The gzillion dollar question and great unknown right at this moment is how this will eventually manifest itself in society? No young people will be taking it up — at least in the short term — but neither will the majority of young people be taking up what Benedict and nutter/conservative/insecure elements put up. Benedict and the bishops who believe their evangelization initiatives and language are going to attract the great unwashed masses of young people back to what they have to offer are totally deluded. (That's one of my major concerns as well, what's the point of any reform if younger generations aren't going to buy into it period. Thirty five years of JPII/Benny have utterly lost the vast majority of these generations to any concept of Catholicism.)

As James (a really astute Catholica commenter) has written in many posts over a lengthy period of time, secular society has taken over many of the great social justice and moral questions and is the great educator in society now. I frankly do not see society become less moral or less spiritual. Certainly it might becoming less religious but that is probably a very good thing. Will some new "structured" or "institutional" gathering arise? I honestly don't know the answer to that. At one level I sense there is a deep drive in humanity for a sense of community and identity that drives people to want to congregate and worship together as well as combine their energies in good works and social justice initiatives. That might be the factor that is more important in causing some new structure to coalesce rather than any sense that the great majority in the future want to recite some "common creed".

The only thing I am certain of these days is that Benedict and his bishop and "conservative movement" friends have about as much chance of reversing the decline in participation figures as any of us have of flying to Mars in the next ten years. He will achieve his dream of building a "smaller, purer Church" but it will be largely irrelevant in guiding the course of human civilisation let alone getting anyone to heaven.


I really believe Brian's point about younger generations is the crux of any reform or re evangelization movement.  Tweaking or even breaking the system is not going to be enough.  It's going to take people actually demonstrating that Jesus Christ had something relevant to teach them, and that's going to take individuals who prove that in their lives.  It's going to take people willing to walk the talk one person at a time. Just as it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be.  And that's the way it was always meant to be.


  1. That's an excellent point. But isn't it possible that meaningful reform could draw the youth back into the church as well?

  2. Something that picture brought up for me: One of the reasons so many religious left the orders in the 60s & 70s was because the strict and unbending formation process they went through did not prepare them for the explosive changes in society (religious and secular) that happened across the entire world.

    Are a number of the ultra-conservative orders drawing young members? Yes but the question is how many will still be there in five years or ten? Just deep faith and passion in a young person isn't enough.

    Flexibility and maturity are more necessary today than ever. It would be nice if we had such maturity at the top and not only in local priests and nuns.

  3. Sue the retention numbers so far aren't any better than the LCWR and for the reasons you state. The time between 18 and 25 is a pretty dynamic time in neuro development--especially for the higher reasoning centers. What's appealing at 18, in a counter cultural sense, isn't quite so appealing after one hits their mid twenties.

    @Macha, it would have to be meaningful reform, and that would include how we understand what Jesus was all about. He was not about Roman Catholicism as we know it today, where individuals are dependent on external sources of 'grace' in order to achieve heaven. He was about internalizing relational connections with our Source and sharing that in an active form of collective consciousness. He didn't found a religion, He founded a Way and it worked a whole lot better when people understood that.

  4. V2 was a sincere attempt to move back to the Way of Jesus. JP 2 the great and Benny are narcissistic responses to hold on to personal power. Rome has become once again a cult of personality. Young people usually, after a time, find their ways out of cults. My impression is that it is very few young people in comparison to the excitement of the young toward an inclusive V2 that threw its windows open to the Holy Spirit. With the shutters now closed, it does not take long for the inner flatus to become a disincentive.

  5. I agree that the comments are filled with vitriol. I do think the ACC was worth it. The Traddies have had the ear of Rome and the USCCB for quite a while. The Conference won't change anything, certainly in the near term, but it reminds the Good Ol' Boys and the Traddies that we're still here, and we still have a voice.

  6. Thanks for posting Brian's relection on the conference and for your expert commentary. You are absolutely correct about participation by the young as being vital. Perhaps if someone builds it, they will come. I'm sure more people are already finding their way to all kinds of religious "communities," probably most we've never even heard, of in houses and gatherings, just like the beginning of Christiantiy

  7. I am with you, if there is any concept of Jesus in the traddie responses to the ACC (particularly on NCR's story,) it's impossible to discern. It encourages a passive mindset (we Catholics know all about passivity) and almost makes an idol of Church governance. We should never let human institutions block the importance of Jesus's message. Sue B, you are also right about the ultra-conservative orders. I think they are reporting relatively high rates now, but the real test would be how many there are in five, ten, fifteen years. One of the conference attendees advises that the conference was intended to plant seeds. It is up to us how to tend them so that they grow.

  8. Thank you for this. Brian Coyne's opinion on effectiveness is true but that doesn't detract at all from other good points made here.
    For several years now it is obvious that there are several people who want movement on these issues.
    This link below came up today -I don't know if is of use but at least it is an attempt to join up the dots.


  9. "I've found it fascinating to read the conservative response to the American Catholic Conference. If there is any sense of Jesus Christ in these responses I didn't find it."

    He's apt to be forgotten by all sides - the two NCRs are pretty evenly matched. Where I do notice some difference is in the essayists: John Allen could hardly be anything but a Catholic Christian. Some conservatives, OTOH, are of a different spirit. People on all sides can be repulsive, but that's human nature, unfortunately. Which is not an excuse, but an observation.

    What I do notice (speaking an foreigner, with no experience of US life) is that US Catholicism seems to be terribly divided, not tidily, as in an army, but more like a broken window. And people who are on the same side in one or more respects, are likely to be opposed over other matters; often very bitterly. It's not a pleasant sight to behold, at all. Worst of all, no one seems want to talk to anyone who is not on the same side. But this, surely, is exactly what needs to be done.

  10. Anonymous for post 9 = rat-biter

  11. Rat, I'd like to confirm your feelings. Although I skew very strongly to the liberal side, i have seen some conservatives go after our differences in faith and with charity. However, the anonymity of the internet does seem to bring out the mob mentality as well. I note that it is hard for me not to jump on any little mistake by those on the other side of the issue, winning my point rather than listening and "growing the faith".

    However, the worst vitriol seems to come at a central issue for me. It seems the hierarchy has created a modern Gnostic approach, a superclass of the faithful who have the answers we all seek. They have bastardized the goodness (charism?) of obedience, twisting it to preclude any co creation or inspiration as God touches us. A set of laws becomes primary, and adherence to those laws starts a cascade of denial. I understand denial of childish wants and discipline, but fear of evil is preached as a prerequisite for docile purity and goodness.

    Here's where I get crazy. I could be 100% wrong in all of the above suppositions. Heaven knows I am regularly wrong, and probably the object of much celestial chuckling if not dismay. I can't understand what part of the Catholic tradition disqualifies me based on those beliefs. You think women can be priests? Must excommunicate now. You think the papacy might be temporary rather than permanent, and may be fraught with human assumptions? Obviously Satan has you. It is this cleansing that is toxic, and it is this part of the discussion that must be addressed -- the inclination to kick out those who don't believe properly. It's not Catholic.

    I'll add that I've not heard anyone ask for the excommunication of Ratigan or Flynn in Kansas City. Merely retuning them to the pews is sufficient for most, and jail is a separate and secular issue (I hope they both go, for the good of society as incarceration should always be). That's the inclusiveness and forgiveness that I'm listening to. That's where I see self sacrifice. That's where Jesus is reflected.

  12. I'm personally glad the NCR has changed their commenting rules. The NCR blog was getting to be very toxic, especially on the articles written by certain contributors--- virtually all women, I might add.

    The saddest part for me was I truly enjoyed battling wits with a couple of the long time conservatives who were definitely not part of Fr. Z's storm trollers. But even those voices got drowned out and conversation became impossible.

    I have no idea how many comments of my own get self censored because my snark-o-meter gets tripped. Too often I find myself writing a furious response to some off the wall attack comment and then my better self takes control of my right hand and hits the delete button. :)