Monday, January 16, 2012

The Power Of The Minority In Pursuit Of It's Own Survival Is Not About Faith

Not a particularly banner headline in global Catholicism.

Fr Richard McBrien's latest NCR post makes a couple of really important points about the period just after the Second Vatican Council.  He brings these points up in reference to the Year of Faith Pope Benedict has instituted for October 2012 to November 2013.  The last Year of Faith was called by Pope Paul VI, and that one did not turn out to be all that good a year for anyone's faith, least of all PP VI.  The following is an excerpt of the original post.

......This is not the first time the church has been called to celebrate a Year of Faith, Benedict XVI pointed out. His predecessor, Pope Paul VI, announced one in 1967 to commemorate the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul.

Unfortunately, it began almost a year before the lowest point of his pontificate; namely, the publication of his last encyclical, Humanae Vitae ("Of Human Life") in July 1968 -- "last" because Paul VI was so taken aback by the negative reaction to the encyclical that he vowed never to write another one, and he did not.
The encyclical had declared that contraception is always seriously sinful. The central words that Paul VI used were that "each and every marriage act must be open to the transmission of life" (n. 11). (I sometimes wonder if the JPII generation actually understands how vehement the reaction was to this encyclical. It wasn't just a case of 'self centered' laity reacting--it was across the Catholic spectrum and included the vast majority of bishops. Unfortunately for laity, loyalty to the Vatican trumped personal conscience in way too many of these leaders. It sent a very loud message to Catholic laity about how far 'subsidiarity and solidarity' went between bishops and flock--as in nowhere.)

One might also place the publication of Paul VI's Credo of the People of God, which concluded the Year of Faith in 1968, as a distant second in relation to Humanae Vitae as another low point in his pontificate.
Benedict XVI said the Credo was "intended to show how much the essential content that for centuries has formed the heritage of all believers needs to be confirmed" (n. 4).

The Credo of the People of God was issued on June 30, 1968, just under a month before the release of Humanae Vitae, on July 25.

In my column for July 19, 1968, I wrote: "Insofar as this document allows the views of one particular school of theology (a minority view, let it be added, that was clearly rejected at Vatican II) to intrude itself upon the ground of authentic Christian tradition, the 'Credo' has transformed itself from an expression of common faith binding the whole Church together, into a personal brief on behalf of one party in the current theological debate." (Six days after Fr McBrien pens these prophetic words Humanae Vitae was released and we all learned just how much power that 'one party in the current theological debate" had in the Vatican.)

On the other hand, Benedict XVI did well to begin his own Year of Faith on the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II to "provide a good opportunity to help people under-stand that the texts bequeathed by the council fathers 'have lost nothing of their value or brilliance' [John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 308]" (n. 5).

And he concluded his apostolic letter on a very high note. He made it clear, in typically Catholic fashion, that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-18). He also cited Matthew 25:40: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

"What the world is in particular need of today," Benedict XVI wrote, "is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end" (n. 14).


I find myself in disagreement with Fr McBrien about Benedict's thoughts as quoted in the last paragraph.  I would word it differently. "What the word is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the Law of Love and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God's love and for the true life that comes with that Love."  Too many people already think they know everything there is to know about the word of the Lord and use those words to engender hate.  We don't need any more of that.  We have had enough of that.....and enough of the rules and doctrines those Words of the Lord have generated in an attempt to control the rest of us.

The minority theological view that McBrien references in the above was perfectly exemplified in Humanae Vitae.  The Law of Love is based in compassion and and in the idea of growth towards a fuller understanding of God's love and how that love is expressed amongst each other.  Humanae Vitae was the antithesis of that understanding, reducing sexuality to it's base biological function, utterly devoid of the concept of compassion and divorced from any notion of relational love.  I sometimes find myself laughing when PPVI is called 'prophetic' because of some of the observations in Humanae Vitae.  It didn't take a prophetic genius to predict once married couples could actually plan for their children that they wouldn't have a dozen children and that the birth rate would fall to or below replacement levels.  That was the whole idea in the first place.  

What didn't happen was any forward thinking political solutions to deal with that very predictable demographic fact.  The one obvious solution is immigration and population redistribution, but of course, that means white hegemony is dead in Europe and soon to be in North America.  For all our Christian love, we can't be havin' that. Pope Benedict must not want that either if his recent batch of Cardinals is any indication.  The truth is the last thing Mother Earth needs is relatively wealthy white consumers having more hordes of relatively wealthy white consumer children.  There is not enough Mother Earth to sustain that level of consumerism.

All of which brings me to Martin Luther King day. This was a man who was well on the path to understanding the Law of Love and the incredible demands it places on evaluating our attitudes towards our fellow travelers on the road of life.  The Law of Love demands we see our fellows travelers exactly as we see ourselves. There are no 'others'.  There is only 'us'.  That is a very difficult command to follow because we have to shed all the years of conditioning which have told 'us' we are 'us' because we are not 'them' and 'they' are not 'us'. Every time I read of some Bishop or another who is defining Catholicism against one or another 'other' of the month, I want to cringe. All of this is utterly antithetical to what Jesus taught and lived.  This is not love.  This is not Faith.  This is plain old fear.



  1. I was beginning to be concerned because I have not seen any recent posts from you. This is a good one. I am relieved, and hope you are well.

    After all these years the memories are a bit hazy. I do remember how disappointed I would be as Paul VI made changes to some of the final documents of the Vatican Council. In part it seemed he was attempting to assert his papal authority which he felt was threatened by the Council. Humanae Vitae seems to be the culmination of that rescue effort of Paul VI to "save" papal authority and "infallibility". I recall news accounts saying Paul VI could not accept the recommendations of the lay advisory group which he formed around the issue of artificial contraception because the pope feared what it would do to the credibility of the papacy and infallibility. The church cannot change.

    Humanae Vitae began the great exodus from the clergy at least in the USA. The exodus was particularly acute in the Archdiocese of Cardinal O'Boyle in Washington, DC. It seems that the church still endures the cost of Humanae Vitae in many ways to this day.

    So on this day when we honor Martin Luther King, I can take heart from his message which was one about honesty and truth. His words and message as you indicate were about being enlightened in mind and heart by the Law of Love. This is not about saving face or preserving one's authority. Today we should reflect more on King's words than anything coming out of the Vatican. For me, this would be the beginning of a Year of Faith.

  2. It's the fear of the loss of European dominance that is at the root of the hatred for President Obama and driving some aspects of our domestic politics.

  3. Wild, life has been kind of interesting lately. It's been hard to generate the energy I needed to write this blog. Hopefully all that is about to change.

    Great point about the Law of Love. That law is hardly about saving face and preserving authority. It calls us to get beyond all that. Love is not about being right, it's about all that stuff Paul said it was.

    Kathy, yes, absolutely the fear of the loss of White Eurocentric dominance is the unstated fear fueling a lot of our domestic politics.

  4. I had never heard of Paul VI deciding to never again write another encyclical because of the poor reception he felt Humanae Vitae got. I've wondered about the reasoning behind so much theology. In so many cases it seemed to me that the conclusions reached so far past the data as to be irresponsible at the very least. And I think the Church would be so much better if they reduced rather than continually expanded the basics of the faith for this reason. Perhaps this was the lesson the hierarchy was supposed to learn [and did not] from that non-reception.

    Back in the mid-70s when I studied for Confirmation, there were exactly 6 things one must believe in order to be a good Catholic. Maybe I'm being a bit simplistic, but none of those things had anything to do with pelvic issues. Humanae Vitae sure managed to re-focus toward those pelvic issues, to the ultimate detriment of the Church.

  5. Birth rates are also diminishing in Latin America and have reached nearly the rates of North America in much of Asia. Unfortunately, it's the parts of the world that are least "Progressive" that are having the babies.

  6. Colleen, I especially like the following observation: "I sometimes wonder if the JPII generation actually understands how vehement the reaction was to this encyclical. It wasn't just a case of 'self centered' laity reacting--it was across the Catholic spectrum and included the vast majority of bishops."

    That strikes me as so correct. I do think the JPII generation has very little accurate grasp of the real history of the Catholic church immediately before and after Vatican II. In the place of real history, caricatured history has been written for and by the JPII generation.

    The real shutdown of the theological creativity that began with Vatican II started with Humanae vitae. The non-reception of what the encyclical taught, both by the laity in their own personal lives and by theologians in general, was so widespread that the only option left to the magisterium, if it wanted to save face, was to begin repressing theological reflection.

    They started with Curran, because they knew that if they could silence him and not have reprisals, they'd strike fear into theologians across the board, and this would have a chilling effect on all dissent. And they were right. They got away with it, and the courts upheld them--just as the Supreme Court has now done in a decision that really only rubber-stamps what courts had already said in the Curran case.

    The results of this campaign of theological repression have been dismal in the extreme for the Catholic church.

  7. Perhaps the Paul VI had buyer's remorse about VII. I consider the ban on birth control to be the worst error of the Vatican in the last 100 years. That some think this is an infallible teaching compounds the problem and makes the eventual solution considerably more complex.

    The first problem has to do with the Vatican’s misunderstanding of science. A devout Catholic, Dr. John Rock, invented the birth control pill. He designed it to meet Vatican criteria for morality. See: John Rock's Error by Malcolm Gladwell.

    The second problem is the Vatican’s fundamental misogyny. They are completely blind to their own weakness on this issue. For example, in Canada until 1929 women were not considered to be “persons” in the eyes of the law. When the Cardinals were children there were no female Prime Ministers, or Presidents, or leaders of men. The Vatican could not then, nor does it now, consider women to be fully equal to men in law, in canon law, or from a theological perspective. JP2 acclaimed the miraculous apparitions of the BVM, but failed to acknowledge women as fully human. The Vatican should have embraced feminism, or at least a particular sort of feminism. Who had more faith, the three Marys or the apostles who ran away? Who was chosen to first witness the resurrection? A woman disciple, the apostle to the apostles.

    The third problem has to do with the return of the church to an anti-intellectual organization. In the past 200 years life expectancy has doubled for most humans, particularly in the wealthier parts of the world. The anonymous poster above laments that the non-Christian world is reproducing more quickly than we Christians in the west. That's a common but naive comment.
    … continued

  8. ... continued

    The Vatican has combined their misogyny with a deliberate anti-intellectualism in their approach to birth control. See:

    Dr. Hans Rosling's animated charts show how the fertility rates have changed over that 200 year period. In 1800 the average American woman had 7 children in a lifetime. In 1800 Pakistani women had 6.6 children. With improvements in health and wealth the average American woman had 3.9 children in 1900. In the same year Pakistani women had not benefited from advances in hygiene or the bounty of the industrial age, so they had the same 6.6 children that they had produced 100 years earlier. Most scientists acknowledge that couples choose fewer children when they know how and when they know their children have an excellent chance of reaching adulthood. In the year 2000 the average American woman had 2 children. The average Pakistani woman had 4 children. The trend is unmistakable everywhere in the world. When women have opportunity and education they choose fewer children. When the women in the poorest parts of Africa are able to more fully benefit from advances in hygiene and wealth they will follow their sisters throughout the rest of the world. Consider South Africa a predominantly Christian country that has a history similar to colonial Pakistan. Fertility rates remain unchanged at 6.8 children per woman from 1800 to 1900. The post-colonial, post-apartheid average South African woman now has 2.5 children. The trends are undeniable. Who is to believe that God's will is a short miserable life for most human beings in this age? Do we desire to return to the high child mortality rates of the past? The high rates of women dying in childbirth? The dehumanizing poverty, cruel starvation and suffering of what are now preventable diseases? Even before artificial birth control and widespread knowledge of physiology women knew how to control reproduction and there is a mountain of evidence that they did so.

    Penultimately there is a problem with the theology that looks to the past for an imperfect understanding of what it means to be a sexual human being. Surely there were homosexuals in the time of Jesus. What did he say on the subject? What does the Old Testament say? It is as abhorrent as shellfish, or wearing cloth woven of two different fibers. Philosophy and science have given us a much better understanding of human sexuality than that taught by the church. What does it mean to delay permission for sexuality ten years beyond puberty? What does it mean to lead a life of 80 years, instead of 30, as a sexual human being?

    Lay members of the church have never accepted Humanae Vitae. Whatever teaching authority the Vatican might have had 50 years ago has been completely lost due to the hypocrisy of the Church. The sexual behavior of some clergy has been appalling and the response of the hierarchy has been inexcusable.


  9. I think some of the pelvic issue that the clergy fail to face is not simply birth control but also their own lack of metaphoric and physical creativity when they define celibacy as a virtue instead of understanding it is a deprivation and has wounded the Church in almost everything this institution tries to do. Without a celibate priesthood, there never could have been a humanae vitae. The problem with celibacy is it is a deprivation and an action against natural creativity. This forced state is a deep wound in the Roman Catholic Institutional clergy because it really emphasizes an asexual state that is not part of nature at all!! Even masturbation is a supposed mortal sin. This church that has way too few priests refuses to talk about a married priesthood or women priests or allowing ordained and married men back into the priesthood. To claim that birth control is not natural or homosexuality is an unnatural and disordered state is simply a reaction formation against the truly unnatural state of celibacy. The problem with the Episcopacy is a false placement of potency. It was the celibate cleric that got his potency from brick and mortar in the pre Vatican II clergy and it was the asexual Ratzinger that got his erotic satisfaction from censoring and ruining theologians. Now he is pope and claims to have THE TRUTH yet he hides truth about both the sexual and banking crisis because to reveal the truth would be a strike right through the groin of the Grail King Ratzinger.

    Their is little hope that the current leadership will lead toward a potent spirituality. The hope for the People of God is to follow the way in small groups and break bread together without being bothered by the envious eyes of an impotent clergy. Unfortunately for the Church, of all the men who left the clergy to marry, most of them were psychologically more healthy than those that stayed leaving behind a dark borderline discorded group as a whole. There, of course were and are, exceptions but few are in the leadership.


  10. I think being progressive has certainly led to the vibrant diversity and rapid rates of growth in Mainline Protestant groups.

    1. @anonymous 4:19pm

      This progressive, for one, is not going anywhere. Why the snarky comment? Bring some facts and join the conversation. The Pew Forum on Religion in America has some good ones.

      There isn't any evidence that the "orthodox" are adding numbers to the Catholic flock. If you think it is just progressives leaving the RC Church, think again. Tell us why you think the "orthodox" might be more tolerant of misbehavior by the clergy. Tell us how those obedient reverentials who steeple their fingers just so, and speak in dead languages are holier than the rest of us sinners, how their conspicuous prayer sets a good example. Because it is self-evident that those who obey without thinking are superior to this motley gathering of those you want to condemn as heretics.


  11. No, but it is fun to watch people run twice as fast and still end up going backwards.
    Here's another statistic: if ex-Catholics were their own denomination, they'd be the second largest, and one of the fastest-growing, in North America.
    I couldn't care less about "heresy"; you're all just making it up as you go along.
    And the fastest-growing group, especially among those 21-35? "None of the Above". The unaffiliated and just plain bored are now 15% of the US population.