Roamin' Catholic

Friday, November 19, 2010

Evangelization or Catholic Jingoism…

Jingoism is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy". In practice, it refers to the advocation of the use of threats or actual force against others in order to safeguard what they perceive as their own country’s interests, and colloquially to excessive bias in judging one's own country as superior to others – an extreme type of nationalism. It is captured in phrases like “My country, right or wrong” and “Might makes right.”

Replace the political references with “Catholic”, and you virtually have the definition of the “new” Evangelization in the JPII worldview, or Catholic Jingoism. Fr. Pat Brennan recently wrote a reflection on a similar point….

This past spring, one of the books I used in teaching at the Institute of Pastoral Studies, was The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church by John Allen. John Allen mentions influences in the 21st century that are going to have an impact on the future of the Catholic Church… One trend that I was eager to read about was a chapter entitled Evangelical Catholicism.

Based on my background in evangelization work, I was enthused that Allen was seeing in the church a renewed interest in evangelization as called for by Paul VI in 1975. As I understand it, evangelization has to do with calling people to a personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ, conversion, and a growing experience of life in the Reign of God.

I was disappointed when I read Allen's description of the church's renewed interest in evangelization. The new Catholic evangelization is one that is promoting the institution of the church, Catholic culture, Catholic norms, and Catholic expectations. It is more a restoration movement than it is refounding the church according to the mission and vision of Jesus. This new Catholic evangelization sets black and white standards of what it means to be Catholic. If you do not meet the standards, you are not needed or wanted. Some Catholic leaders have said perhaps we are in a purification process and that what we need are fewer Catholics who abide more rigorously to Catholic norms and expectations.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cloud of Fear

Over the past several years the Vatican has been very busy… suppressing “dissident” theologians, investigating American nuns, excommunicating women priests, using the Eucharist as a political weapon, shoring up mandatory celibacy while wooing married Anglican priests, closing parishes without recourse, proposing retro-English and Latin liturgies, demeaning homosexuals, etc.

While there has been a lot of grumbling (or quiet voting with their feet) about various actions in the Vatican, there haven’t been many loud vocal objections or significant protests. Jim Martin, the Jesuit editor of America magazine, suggests it’s because of a cloud of fear than hangs over the faithful. He should be wary considering “they” came down on his predecessor for supposed deviation from the party line. It reminds me of a quote by Pastor Martin Niemöller from Germany in the 1940s:

They came for the Communists,
and I didn't object -
For I wasn't a Communist;

They came for the Socialists,
and I didn't object -
For I wasn't a Socialist;
They came for the labor leaders,
and I didn't object -
For I wasn't a labor leader;
They came for the Jews,
and I didn't object -
For I wasn't a Jew;
Then they came for me -

On June 1, Bishop Kevin Dowling, an outspoken Catholic bishop in South Africa, gave a surprisingly frank talk to a group of prominent Catholics in Cape Town. The other day a friend sent me a link to his address, posted on Independent Catholic News, parts of which I posted on our magazine's blog. Many read it, and other sites picked it up.

Then, somewhat mysteriously -- or so it seemed -- his candid talk was removed from ICN. Then it was posted again a few hours later. (This was due to a glitch involving some incorrectly deleted words, the website's editor explained in an email.) Subsequently, the National Catholic Reporter reported that the bishop had intended the talk to be off the record. "Given the fact that it would be a select group with no media present," he said, "I decided I would be open and honest in my views to initiate debate and discussion."

Now, I've done some off-the-record speaking myself. But after I read his superb talk I wondered: Why wouldn't a bishop want such a carefully crafted, well-thought-out address, which would clearly be of great help to so many, disseminated more widely? Why not be "open and honest" with everyone?

Bear with me. For I've been thinking about his talk not so much to unravel the twisted skein of the on-again, off-again posting saga, but to meditate on what it might say about the Catholic church.

Bishop Dowling's blunt address was not only about what he called the "dismantling" of the Second Vatican Council, which reformed the church in the 1960s, but something else: the overwhelming "pressure to conform." Here's an irony: the one speaking out about speaking out apparently did not feel that he could speak out, at least not broadly, or at least not to everyone, or at least not publicly. His desire not to speak more publicly on the topic may have proved his point.

None of this is meant to be a slight against Bishop Dowling, whom I've greatly admired for some time. He is a terrific leader, a wonderful teacher and, in many ways, a real prophet. What a bishop should and could be.

But neither is this surprising. Today in the Catholic Church almost any disagreement to almost any degree with almost any church leader on almost any topic is seen as dissent. And I'm not speaking about the essentials of the faith -- those elements contained in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed -- but about less essential topics. Even on those topics -- for example, the proper strategy for bishops to deal with Catholic politicians at odds with church teaching, the new translations of the Mass, the best way for priests to address complicated moral issues, and so on -- the slightest whiff of disagreement is confused with disloyalty.

Certainly disagreement with statements from Rome, even on non-dogmatic or non-doctrinal matters, is seen as close to heresy. As Bishop Dowling said:

What compounds this [frustration over the church's unwillingness to be critiqued], 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.

Even for bishops! Kevin Dowling is a bishop: Catholic theology considers him a successor to the apostles. For Christ's sake (and I mean that literally) he's not some lowly functionary. He's not simply a branch manager of the Vatican's main office. He is a teacher in his own right. And even he feels the "pressure to conform."

What does this engender? It engenders a fear-based church. It creates clergy and members of religious orders frightened of speaking out, terrified of reflecting on complicated questions, and nervous about proposing creative solutions to new problems. It leads to the laity, with boundless experience on almost every topic but who have a hard enough time getting their voice heard, giving up. It causes the diminution of a thoughtful theological community in Catholic colleges and universities. It muzzles what should be a vibrant, flourishing, provocative, innovative, challenging Catholic press. It empowers minuscule cadres of self-appointed watchdogs, whose malign voices are magnified by the blogosphere, and who, with little to no theological background, freely declare any sort of disagreement as tantamount to inciting schism -- and are listened to by those in authority. It creates fear.

Does this seem like what Jesus wanted to establish on earth? It doesn't to me. I thought he said "Fear not!" And I thought St. John said, "There is no fear in love." And "Perfect love casts out fear." But perfect fear casts out love.

Sometimes when I'm writing or speaking, even to small groups, I find myself thinking not "What would God want me to say?" but "Will this get me in trouble?" Again it's not surprising.
Occasionally, during talks I'll spy an unsmiling man or woman furiously taking notes. The other night it happened during a talk on a particularly controversial topic: joy. Ironically, I am probably one of the most theologically conservative Catholics you'll ever meet. Every Sunday, when I say the Creed during Mass, I believe every single word of it.

Bishop Dowling is right. There is a "pressure to conform." And it is intense, particularly within official church circles. Sadly, this is the last thing that the church needs right now. In the midst of perhaps one of the worst crises ever to face the Catholic Church -- the sexual abuse scandals -- what we need is not fear-bred silence, but a hope-filled willingness to listen to any and all voices. Because the Holy Spirit works through everyone.

What's the alternative? Well, for an answer I'd like to turn to Pope Benedict XVI. In preparation for some of my own writing, I've been rereading his book Jesus of Nazareth, which I'm enjoying very much. At the beginning of his book the pope says something quite surprising. Benedict writes that the book is "absolutely not" a work of doctrine, but the "expression of my own personal research." "Consequently," he writes, "everyone is free to contradict me. I only ask the readers that they read with sympathy, without which there will be no comprehension."
That seemed eminently sensible, completely humble and absolutely right. How much easier it is to listen to someone who invites, rather than commands.

How wonderful if everyone in the Catholic Church could be afforded that "sympathy." Then we could listen to the voices of all sorts of people who have much to offer the church, by way of their own "expressions" of their "personal research" -- that is, the experience of their lives as faith-filled Christians. The pope's approach in his book -- about Jesus, hardly an insignificant topic! -- is the way forward.

What is needed is sympathy to the experiences and voices of all in the church. Without this there will truly be, to quote the pope, "no comprehension."

James Martin, SJ, is culture editor of America magazine and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. This essay is adapted from a post on "In All Things."

Friday, February 05, 2010


FROM: John Chuchman, poetman@torchlake.comRE: 30 MILLION PEOPLE HAVE LEFT THE CHURCH WORLD WIDE (as posted in MIRABILE DICTU)

The hierarchy labels Catholics who have moved beyond the boundariesof institutional religion in search of Spiritual growth "Fallen-away Catholics", as if not following the man-made rules and regulations signifies a loss of faith. Outrageous! I asked people for a more appropriate name for us; Here are some of the responses:

Homeless Catholics, Nomad Catholics, Catholic Alumni,
Exodus Catholics, Liberated Catholics, Adult Catholics,
Non-Attending Catholics,Un-fearful Catholics,
Alienated CatholicsNon-bureaucratic Catholics,
Inclusive CatholicsCatholics in Love, Catholics in Exile,
Recovering Catholics, Kinda Catholics,
Liberal Catholics, Raised Catholics, USTA B Catholics
Wandering Catholics, Roamin’ Catholics
Disgruntled Catholics, Wayward CatholicsActivist Catholics,
Gypsy Catholics, Agitator Catholics, , Jesus Catholics
Non-bureaucratic Catholics, Un-hierarchied Catholics,
Protesting Catholics, Re-Formed Catholics
Metanoiaed Catholics, Pray, Play, DisObey Catholics
Non-Babel Catholics, Catholics Living in the Real World
Post-medieval Catholics, Un-clericalized Catholics
Freed Catholics, New World Catholics, Rebel Catholics,
Disenfranchised Catholics, Home-Liturgy Catholics
True-Tradition Catholics, Non-Lay Catholics
De-Catechized Catholics, Open-Table Catholics
De-institutionalized Catholics, De-programmed Catholics,
De-culted Catholics ,Ecumenical Catholics, catholic Catholics,
Fundamental Catholics (as opposed to Catholic fundamentalists)
Un-intimidated Catholics, Illuminated Catholics
Former Catholics, Universe Catholics , Refreshed Catholics,
Progressive Catholics, Small-Faith-Group Catholics,
Happy liberal Catholics, Discerning Catholics, Thinking Catholics
Emmaus Catholics, John XXIII Catholics, Christian Catholics
Global Catholics, Welcoming Catholics, Beatitude Catholics
Episcopalians, Call-To-Action Catholics, Pot Luck Catholics,
People of God,Catholics-with-a-brain-not-afraid-to-use-it,
Thinking Catholics, Catholics Conflicted , The Newly Marginalized Catholics,
First-Century Catholics, Run-Away Catholics

Fallen Away?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Inquisition of American Nuns

Almost a year ago the Vatican announced an investigation of American nuns. The stated intent was to "help" them in their mission, and denied any attempts to bully them about orthodoxy and returning to the habit. (You can't bully someone if you publically admit you're bullying them). And now the Vatican would like the financially strapped American dioceses to graciously pick up the tab for over a million dollars.

In the meantime, many individuals and organizations have come to the defense of American religious orders who are less inclined to see the visitation as innocous. In fact, Cardinal Franc Rode, the Vatican head overseeing religious orders, felt obliged to defend the investigation. He told Vatican Radio that he hoped the investigation would encourage more vocations and ensure a better future for the U.S. women religious, calling the investigation a response to concerns.
I think you only need to gaze upon Cardinal Rode to know where his heart is. It's somewhere under those bolts of red material...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Bunch of New Married Priests?

Just weeks after I suggested Bishop Sartin pursue a married priesthood, the Vatican announced their own new strategy. The Pope has authorized an overture to disaffected conservative Anglicans to come on over to the Catholic side en masse. They were offered their own rite to retain some traditional Anglican elements. Anglican priests can even keep their wives (if they want to). Only married bishops would lose their miters in the crossing (no married bishops allowed).

The details are still being worked out, but it would be interesting to see how many Anglicans might actually take the offer. Up to this point, I know more Catholic priests than Anglicans (Episcopalians) who switched sides. Many switched to get married. Will they be welcomed back? Early reports suggest that only Anglican priests who are married can be married, with a resounding "NO" to anyone else. Alas, only a stop-gap measure

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Strategy To Reduce Church Attendance

Our local parish just announced they are dropping the Sunday 9:00 AM Mass due to the “priest shortage”. They've just plumb run out of Sunday help - whether foreign born, local retirees, or whatever. Faced with a one-priest parish and five Sunday Masses (plus weddings & funerals), the pastor cannot handle it alone.

Somethings got to give, and for now, it’s the 9AM Mass. While some other parishioners might be impacted, it is usual 260+ 9AM attendees that will have to go an hour and a half-earlier (7:30 AM) or an hour later (10:00 AM).

On the Joliet diocesan level, there is an expressed goal to get more people in Church on Sunday. But if there ever was a strategy to get less people to
attend Mass, it would be to give people less options and make attendance less convenient. This has become a national trend.

Consolidating Mass schedules is only the start. The next step is consolidating parish schools, and then parishes. Some dioceses have closed twenty, forty, sixty or more parishes in a felled swoop. Rarely, if ever, have these consolidations resulted in an increase in over-all attendance. There seems to a reverse synergy at work. The results of new schedules, schools and parishes are less than the sum of the original individual parts.

Maybe Bishop Sartin does already have the answer to the priest shortage and consolidations in
his reach. He has a married priest, Fr. Dave Medow working and saying Mass in Plainfield. He is in fact the pastor of St. Mary Immaculate Parish, and this photo shows Fr. Dave, his wife and children.

If Sartin sought out the married priests he already has in his diocese and put them to work, the shortage would be alleviated. The spoiler to this idea is that Fr. Medow was a married Lutheran Pastor with a family before being ordained a priest. All other kinds of married priests are not welcome. For the most part, only bishops don't see this as a double standard. Maybe it's time to help the bishops look at the possibilities before more parishes and the diocese are virtually consolidated into oblivion.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A New De-Frocking Process

News Item: Earlier this summer, Pope Benedict XVI has granted the Congregation for Clergy new powers to dismiss from the priesthood and release from the obligation of celibacy priests who are living with women, who have abandoned their ministry for more than five years or who have engaged in seriously scandalous behavior. The new faculties were announced by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the clergy congregation.

John Horan responded with an open letter to Cardinal Hummes. With a good mixture of fact and irony John's reponse hit's a sympathetic core among many of the thousands of priests who left "active" ministry. You can read the entire letter at , posted August 4th.

I think the cartoon captures Hummes new job.