Reconciling the Church’s Ego with God’s Unified Plurality.
RECONCILING THE CHURCH’S EGO WITH GOD’S UNIFIED PLURALITY
Advisor: Professor David Tracy S.T.L., S.T.D.
Submitted to the University of Chicago in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of Master in Liberal Arts
Graham School of General Studies
Fr. Robert Barron Ph.D., S.T.D.
Prof. David Tracy Ph.D., S.T.L., S.T.D.
Mr. Christopher Hitchens
Catholics, with help from non Catholics, must revisit the problem looking at the Church as a top heavy bureaucracy which causes a disconnect between traditions dedicated to social justice and participation in cultural development. Nowhere is the fallout from this more apparent than with the sex abuse issue confronting the institution. If the Church can shed its disjointed nature through a humbling process, clergy and laity will begin to experience the faith’s true and binding fidelity to the Trinitarian Mystery without being corrupted by different scandals steming from the same hubris.
Jesus summoned them and said to them, you know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
The Gospel According to Mark, 10:42-451
The Holy Father Benedictus XVI (Joseph Alois Ratzinger)
© Benodette: The Pope Benedict XVI Forum Web
Recent accounts of child molestation by Catholic clergy have led the faithful, as well as secularists, to attempt explanations for the many atrocities. Many are demanding justice for the victims, and insist that those responsible for child rape, as well as their superiors, should not be exempt from secular criminal laws; others have highlighted the Church’s vigilance in putting an end to a horror which “mainly took place decades ago” (Bottum). While the matter of child molestation must be addressed, it is a mistake to confuse the sexual abuse of minors by some priests as the Church’s main challenge. Rather, this abuse is merely the outgrowth of an infected vine. Indeed, many have said that the reason these molestations keep unfolding is precisely because the Church is too preoccupied with its more fundamental issues, when it should be putting the safety of any children in its care first and foremost. This is undeniable, yet to respond appropriately to these repeated offenses, Catholic hygiene must address their root causes by examining the Church’s overall disposition before the world.
Various historical events, from the collapse of the Roman Empire to the printing press and the Protestant Reformation and beyond, have caused both the faithful and non-believers to reconsider the Church’s proper role. The Second Sacred Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, or Vatican II, was probably the most important attempt to understand and implement ways for the Church to proclaim Christ’s reign on Earth in the modern era. This conference—in which Catholic clergy and laity interacted with invited Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, as well as secularists—marked the beginning of a pluralism that bordered on the ecumenism proclaimed by its official title. But Vatican II’s modern attitude of mutual acceptance and respect has been under attack. A faction within the Catholic fold seeks, in the name of the Mysterious, to use its power to protect and promote its exclusive definition of what is “Catholic.” This definition is intended to increase Catholicism’s potency, yet paradoxically it has eroded its moral authority, limited its ability to recognize reality, and concealed cancers within its walls until after it has harmed others. Jesus said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.” (Matt. 23:2-3). One cannot assume, however, that any or all of those appearing in the name of God are charlatans. But it does emphasize how organized religion can draw the Pharisee by the very nature of sin. This places a huge responsibility on religion not to allow human rationalization to disrupt God’s scandalous grace. God appeared as human to save what God selflessly and generously loves. By appearing on Earth, God affirms the importance of the material. This can be seen in the Sacrament of Communion where the Transubstantiation takes place. It is only through their material existence that Catholics (actually all of humanity) may grow in their relationship to the Divine. This relationship calls for humanity to recognize that truth in the world, which is the “totality which surrounds us and sustains us,” is found when “what it seems to be” is identical to “what is.” (Augustine Answer 3:23-26; Soliloquies 2:5.8).
To illustrate a partial contrast, Aristotle’s interest in biology seems to have also been expressed in the naturalism of his politics.2 Insisting political and civic affairs were the highest ground on which to walk seems logical for Aristotle, who is widely suspected to have been an atheist. To him, handling life’s challenges required placing governance at human nature’s center. Oddly, the Church seems to be following in Aristotle’s path despite its insistence on being rooted in God’s center. It apparently lacks the ability to transcend the primal urge to protect itself above all else. In the absence of an outwardly-directed soul which, in the words of Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, “Brings every act of consciousness directed toward an object of some kind” (8-21), the Church has assumed the role of a self-centered, imposing, and defensive bureaucracy—rather than a loyal servant of Creation. The importance of knowing humanity’s position in relation to God reveals itself in many Catholic meditative traditions. For instance, Trappist monk Father Thomas Keating’s work on “centering prayer” is a congruency in God-centeredness. Hence there’s a gap between much Catholic teaching and the hierarchy’s ability to live by these teachings. This is human and natural; but it becomes corrosive when bad practices are allowed to morph into fractious infighting for power and condescending excuses are made to an already tired public.
Nevertheless, shades of hierarchical callowness range from discussions involving Pius XII’s conduct as pontiff, to Pope John Paul II’s near-manic elevation of 155 mostly “like minded” priests to the position of Cardinal, to the recent increase in the number of beatified popes (“John Paul II Short Biography”). The guesswork concerning Pope Pius XII would abate if The Holy See would make the relevant Vatican archives fully available. But John Paul II’s record number of appointments into the upper echelons of the institution may never be fully explained, although many observers believe that they were rewards for loyalty, as well as an attempt to continue his legacy long after his passing.
The issues of sainthood and beatification have been discussed ad infinitum, but it will not stop anytime soon, if ever. Leonard Foley, OFM,3 declares that saints are heroes and heroines who’s “surrender to God’s love is so great; they are worthy to be held up for our inspiration.” John 15:13 states “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” So few would disagree that Maximilian Kolbe—the Polish friar who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in Auschwitz—deserved this highest of honor. Yet the Church has been slower to even beatify people such as Irene Sendler, the Polish Catholic social worker who saved thousands of Jewish children from Hitler’s “Final Solution.” When a New York newspaper reporter once asked Dorothy Day if she was a living saint she replied, “Don’t trivialize me” (Rosin). Saints seem to be selectively remembered: St. Francis of Assisi is characterized as an eccentric bird watcher, and any discussion of St. Thomas More’s history of burning people at the stake is usually avoided. Yet despite these inconsistencies, Saints serve as a needed link between humanity and God. This is not to say they are Sophoclean Daimons; nevertheless, they draw us into a deeper love for God in many ways.4 In short, one cannot treat sainthood as if it were a political appointment.
This confusion within the Church helps obscure the need for a certain level of tension between tradition and modernity, allowing them to properly reinforce each other and thus generate a more organic plurality. Swiss Catholic priest and theologian Hans Küng termed this “plurality within unity” (Küng Church 14). seven years after the Holy See stripped him of his missio canonica, the Church certification necessary for teaching. A fear of this “plurality within unity” has been spread by a Catholic hierarchy determined to protect what they feel is theirs—yet actually belongs to God.
For within this overall unity, God has willed variance into his creation. And even within the human race, God also assured us a sense of distinctiveness. But the cultural response of human beings to this multiplicity among cultures (based on geography, climate, customs, gender, sexual orientation, economics or race) has ranged from everything from acceptance to rejection. The Ancient Greeks often tried to strike balance between the tension of the Apollonian and Dionysian. The ancient Hebrews attempted to create order by applying justice. In the East Asia, symbols such as the reed informed their culture of adaptation and its importance to existence (if the reed could not bend, it would break). None of these practices constitute the entire truth; yet such multiformity can point towards the Truth. Even Sartre’s existential feelings of loneliness can pull God’s creation towards each other and towards God. In Veraltetes Glaubensbekenutnis, Pope Benedict XVI specifically responded to Sartre’s philosophy:
From this, we can understand why the Old Testament has only one word for hell and death: the word sheol. In the last analysis, the two are identical. Death is loneliness par excellence. But a loneliness that love can no longer penetrate is hell. (qtd. in Moynihan 156)
Aeschylus’ tragic plays inform us that suffering can help us gain wisdom by bringing us closer to the gods. The Gospels recognize this. In his 1988 work The Canon of Scripture, evangelical biblical scholar F.F. Bruce writes: “Some scrupulous readers might feel that the inconcinnities of the four called for harmonizing activity, but others rejoiced in the plurality of testimony that was now available” (153). Consider the Crucifixion as told by Mark’s paratactic gospel. Christ cries out: “Eloi. Eloi. Lama sabachthani” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) (Mark 15:33-34). Luke’s more linear Gospel, which necessarily leads into Acts of the Apostles, has Jesus saying: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46), which strikes a strong association with Psalm 31. John’s Gospel tells of Christ saying simply: “It is finished” (John 20:30). The sacred scriptures seem to point towards an understanding of God through Küng’s “plurality within unity,” or unity in the Resurrection. As God is seen as “existence itself,” our Creator is infinite and stands outside of space and time.8 However, mortals familiarize themselves to existence in worldly terms. Catholics understand that their origins are rooted in God, but each must live his or her own unique existence. Dialogue concerning this heterogeneity seems essential and, more importantly, intended. Rather than permitting a hasty rush into the moral hazards of boundless subjectivism, this discovery is a starting point for any correlative discussion to begin.
There is a difference between “doctrinal plurality” and “theological plurality.” Doctrinal pluralism is the theory that a Catholic may hold a doctrinal position in direct contradiction to the faith and its morals. The First Vatican Council rightly condemned this (Papal infallibility is another story), because if Catholics are truly interested in the “unity” aspect of Küng’s phrase the faith’s fundamental precepts must serve as the Church’s mortar. Theological pluralism, on the other hand, describes the multiplicity of theological positions within the Catholic Church. Whether stressing the Platonic, Augustinian, or Thomist (i.e., Aristotelian) traditions, they are not only allowable but should be encouraged. Theologies may also differ in their biblical, pastoral, and historical methodologies.
Nevertheless, an ongoing series of “establishment” errors has caused many Catholics to recoil. Massachusetts priest James Scahill has requested that Benedict XVI resign for his lack of vigilance towards clergy who have had non-consensual sex with legal minors, and noted anti-theist Christopher Hitchens is discussing the possibility of the pope’s arrest during his scheduled Fall 2010 visit to London with human rights lawyers (Reiss). Former Benedictine monk and certified mental health councilor Richard Sipe has renewed his call for an end to the celibacy requirement for Catholic candidates for priesthood. Newsweek’s Lisa Miller has expressed her desire for the Catholic “all-male club” to be broken up, with women entering in a more integrated capacity. However, many traditional Catholics are also calling for the Church to make clear its purpose. Mundelein Seminary professor Father Robert Barron writes that the Vatican’s move to investigate communities of American nuns represents “a legitimate tending of the fundamental identity of the institution.” Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI’s December 25, 2005 encyclical on the subject of Christian love states: “The personnel of every Catholic charitable organization want to work with the Church and therefore with the Bishop, so the love of God can spread throughout the world.” On July 28, 2005, the Holy See issued a statement prohibiting remarried Catholics from receiving the body of Christ during Holy Communion. And while there are instances of pastoral counseling for divorced persons without an annulment, the Church will always consider them to be married to their first spouse (Matt. 5:31-32). The same July 2005 proclamation also prohibits sexually active gay people from receiving Christ’s body and blood. November 2010 when Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin wrote to pro-abortion Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy asking him to refrain from receiving Holy Communion, he enclosed a recent statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The statement reads, in part:
If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definite teachings on moral issues, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain. (qtd. in Gilgoff “Bishop Tobin’s Response”)
Most recently, legitimate concerns about the funding of abortions have led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to oppose the new health care law signed by President Barack Obama on March 24, 2010 (Lynch).
2. The Task
All of these matters must be addressed, but by taking on these tasks individually, Catholics are trying to place water back into a hose. Specifically, to whom does the Church belong? Within this framework, what are the cultural, ecclesial, political and theological duties facing the Church? As this process is unfolding, who and what are Catholics using to ultimately glorify God’s love? Traditionally, the faithful have looked to the Sacred Scriptures with Christ at the Center. To undergird this notion, the Church has employed human cultural endeavors such as cosmology, art, architecture, music, and rhetoric, to guide reverence towards the Holy Mystery. A continued emphasis on (and in some cases a return to) these categories is necessary for understanding and humility. And any discussion of the many different and complicated tasks facing the Church today also must include the Church’s internal and external political issues.
Yet for humans to understand Christ’s universal message, a largely unexplored hermeneutic guide to love and morality deserves honorable mention. Christ’s reign on Earth has yet to be brought to finality. As believers in the apocalyptic, Catholics— and other Christians—have to face the fact that human stewardship on this planet must give way to God’s ultimate will. Many have predicted how Revelation will ultimately be revealed to humanity but this will remain a mystery until it occurs. Whether you approach eschatology through preterism or futurism, the human species must await what God has made final.5 Without full knowledge of how this will be revealed (as it is impossible for us to fully know God as mortals), Church clerics must not act as if they do know (the Holy Spirit is a gift to help better understand the Mystery, but mortals cannot see the face of God). So Catholics must accept grace from the Creator without a full understanding of what God has willed into existence. To believe otherwise is to inflate the ego to a level where, in effect, human beings are attempting to substitute themselves for God. Even with the prophets at hand, humanity could not fully grasp God’s manifestation in the world.
Christ’s life, death, and resurrection confounded people during and after His time on Earth. Within the realm of infinite love (1 John 4:8) human beings must accept God’s transcendence of their understanding (Matt. 19:26) and work to integrate their love with God’s. In a varied and sometimes divergent world, the Church must learn what it means to love each other as God loves us (John 13:15). Christ dined with the sinner (Matt. 9:10), invited Judas to Passover Supper (Luke 22:7-13), and specifically arrived for the sinner over the righteous (Mark 2:17). Indeed, Jesus stands opposed to sin and its source: evil. However, most who read the Gospels are aware Christ brought people closer to God by means of what University of Chicago Professor and Catholic Priest David Tracy terms “persuasion over coercion” (Tracy 268-272). Although Catholics may view their duties to God’s Church through various prisms, they must keep in mind that Christ, while opposed to evil (Matt. 4:10), turns away no one. In his book The Strangest Way, Fr. Barron correctly observes how faith is not merely “our disciplined quest for God, but God’s relentless quest for us.” The origins of human existence seem an appropriate place to begin.
On the subject of evolution, the late John Paul II made his teleological approach clear in a 1996 message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:6
New knowledge leads us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis…. The convergence, neither sought nor induced, of results of work done independently one from the other, constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory. The elaboration of a theory such as that of evolution, while obeying the exigency of homogeneity with the data of observation, borrows certain ideas from the philosophy of nature. To tell the truth, more than the theory of evolution, one must speak of the theories of evolution…. There are thus materialistic and reductionist readings and spiritual readings (John Paul II, “Message [on] Evolution”).6
Implied in this statement is an understanding that life and the Church are contained in each other, mutually inclusive. This leads humankind to learn without the fear of distancing itself from Ipsum Esse (God explained as “the essence of existence” by Thomas Aquinas). Revelation assures the human race of an essential contract. While any truth revealed to humans cannot contradict Cataphasis or Apophasis,7 there is no fundamental contradiction between faith and science. From an ecclesial standpoint, traditionalists as well as modernists should agree on what ignites love for the Creator. The late Oxford Jesuit Frederick Copleston’s nine-volume work, The History of Philosophy covers both Aquinas (“a model for philosophical and theological studies” according to Pope Leo III) and the modern Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, whose existential research made him one of the great lay psychologists of his era. Regarding Aquinas, Copelston states:
Philosophy and other human sciences rely simply and solely on the natural light of reason: the philosopher uses principles which are known by the human reason (with God’s natural concurrence, of course, but without the supernatural light of faith), and he argues to conclusions which are the fruit of human reasoning. The theologian on the other hand, although he certainly uses his reason, accepts his principals on authority, on faith; he receives them as revealed. (Vol. II 365)
Fr. Copleston arrives at the nineteenth century five volumes later, when enlightened Europeans were starting to believe that universality could be transcended into individuality. Still, Fr. Copleston aptly writes of Kierkegaard: “The gap between God and man can only be bridged by a leap of faith” (Vol. VII 336). Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript may be examined on their own, yet Fr. Copleston’s herculean effort to bring the most prominent thinkers under a loosely unified umbrella can lend the Church perspective. Also, while there are various thinkers between Aquinas and Kierkegaard who agree with neither, this principle article of faith seems to be a solid foundation that connects a universal Church.
The Church has seen the durability of this contract lived out by fine examples such as Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, the Belgian priest and astronomer who discovered what became known as the Big Bang Theory. Lemaitre’s example shows a Church harmonious with science. This unity keeps God and reality the same. Other examples show the pitfalls of what can happen when the institution’s ego becomes threatened. The Church falls behind science attempting to make up for its lack of enlightenment issuing ad hoc explanations thus forcing inevitable adjustments at a later date. Historically, the Church has feared science’s implications and has spared little to erase what some felt could threaten the Church’s central tenants. This was demonstrated in 1633, when the Reverend Fra Vincenzo Maculano prosecuted Galileo for defending heliocentrism. As late as the mid-twentieth century, Pius XII stated that any scientific (or historical) theory was “unintelligible” if it cannot be squared with original sin, which “proceeds from sin committed by Adam” (Humani Generis). Fr. Barron’s recent book Word on Fire describes original sin this way: “When they grasped instead, sin entered the world. And all of the dysfunction of human history—greed, lust, anger, institutional violence, genocide, meanness of spirit—has flowed from and been conditioned by that primordial refusal” (137). Are Catholics supposed to stop at the water’s edge of science due to Pius XII’s fear-based statement? Or should the Genesis account be understood to express something true about human nature regardless of our actual ancestry? At times, it’s also possible to turn this question around, and use the astounding findings of science as the starting point. As Christopher Hitchens asks, given that “life is so miraculous, why must the faithful look for the ‘already celestially-based laws of nature’ to be suspended in order to have more (…) faith?”(Personal interview).
More recently, it was widely speculated that Father George Coyne had to resign as head of the Vatican Observatory in 2006 for criticizing Vienna Archbishop Christoph Schonborn’s promotion of “intelligent design” theory as an alternative to evolution (Abp. Schonborn was a friend of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was Prefect for the Doctrine of Faith at the time). Yet despite such disputes, Catholics around the globe have always promoted a tradition of outward love for creation. The work of the Vatican Observatory, as well as the Church’s strong support for extensive research on adult stem cells, strikes a needed balance between supporting scientific discovery to understand the physical universe, and respecting the dignity of God’s creation. Fr. Coyne is now at an observatory in Tucson, Arizona but he made one of his most important observations as the Vatican Observatory’s director. When asked for an instance of science informing his faith, Coyne replied:
Let me give you one very brief example, two stars, one is sucking mass off of the other star, so they’re sort of developing together. Now, to me that’s so different than an individual star growing on its own. It says there’s unity to the universe, that every piece of the universe is sort of a part of every other piece, et cetera. And this says to me a universe that has this sort of unity among itself, this says something to me about a God who is working in his universe.
This emphasis on an interrelated cosmos echoes Aquinas and many other spiritual doctors. Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar may have made the best twentieth-century attempt to elaborate on humanity’s relationship to God in his five-volume work Theo-Drama. Unity is expressed in the fact that human beings are willed into existence by the One, binding them to God and each other. Theo-Drama posits Creation as God in Action and faith in God as the human response.
Aquinas, Coyne, and Balthasar successfully correlate science with God, thus producing an enlightened wisdom. The moral boundaries of science are important even in a strictly human sense. Echoing C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man as well as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, University of Chicago Professor Leon Kass promotes science within the sphere of “human dignity.” He believes that scientific discovery used for strictly utilitarian ends is “dehumanizing” and “soulless.” A former biochemist, Kass’s curriculum relies on both theology and philosophy to apply morality in an increasingly technical universe. The Church has taken an excellent lead in this area by supporting medicine, education, and scientific research in the context of understanding how humans are related to the cosmos rather than the reverse.
4. Art and architecture
Art and architecture are essential facets of our ability to communicate. For example,
near the middle of Woody Allen’s film Hannah and Her Sisters, the character of Mickey Sachs (played by Allen), becomes anxious after pondering the possibility no God exists. He finds himself in the office of Catholic Pastor Flynn. Father Flynn asks Mickey why he has chosen to convert to the Catholic faith. Mickey responds: “Well, you know… first of all, because it’s a very beautiful religion. It’s very well structured. Now, I’m talking now, incidentally, about the uh, against school prayer, pro abortion, anti-nuclear wing.” Aside from Catholic morality, which didn’t interest Mickey, the character picked Catholicism as his faith for its beauty. This beauty is emphasized heavily in the Church’s art and architecture. It is hard to imagine Woody Allen and Benedict XVI agreeing on any subject. Nevertheless, consider the following statement Benedict made to L’Osservatore Romano in 2002:
The arrow of the beautiful can guide the mind to the truth…. The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments. (qtd. in Moynihan 167)
Indeed the artistic and architectural beauty expressed in the Catholic faith drew even a Woody Allen character to inquiry.
Specifically, Roman Catholic art conveys Catholic teachings through what may be made tangible. Painting, metalwork, sculpture, architecture, and tapestry typically adopt the narrative form whether they use allegorical symbols or images drawn straight from scripture. Nowhere does the debate between objectivism and subjectivism become more heated than in the artistic realm. Art is created from two basic sources: the first is craft, but the second is the tangible expression of the artist’s imagination. Historically, most Catholic art has emphasized the former. Fr. Robert Barron makes this poignant observation:
It seems to be a primary concern of the ecclesial architects of our day to make us feel at home in churches, which often resemble cozy living rooms. But when we enter a Gothic cathedral-say, Notre Dame de Paris, Amiens, Cologne, or especially Chartres—we feel anything but cozy. For the building lifts us out of our experience and draws us into a series of new worlds. (Word on Fire 137)
Catholic evangelization may often employ art as its vehicle. Fr. David Tracy’s emphasis on “persuasion over coercion” takes on real meaning through the craft of art. This is also consistent with Saint Francis of Assisi’s famous advice to “preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Assisi’s words have been paraphrased and altered over the years, but his emphasis on setting an example pleasing to God remains (McCloskey). Many argue for the ordinary over the majestic in religious art, yet while some people desire modern settings, few are much put off by pre-19th Century works. Regardless, a certain unity exists in our reach towards the beautiful. Beauty has allure yet it is not limitless. In short, beauty is not to be confused with rapture or ecstasy. It has a limit and exists in harmony with what is good; so the good and real must be measured properly for beauty to exist. This is why so many traditional works take a great degree of talent, effort, and time to produce.
These objects of sacred art are material representations of the plurality that exists inside the beautiful. From classical Roman sarcophagi of the 2nd Century through the ornate works of Baroque period, Catholic art has employed a dazzling array of techniques. These works reflect the cultures of their time and place, as well as the development of new methods based on scientific discoveries. Produced during the early Middle Ages, the Byzantine painting of Madonna and Child known as Salus Populi Romani has been given special patronage by popes up to and including Benedict XVI. Some stylistically Medieval art was still being produced until the beginning of the 16th Century. In these works, divine figures were usually centered on the canvas and their heads were surrounded with halos. Such symmetry and reverence reflected the deep religious devotion and respect for religious authority of the period. The metaphysical took precedence and prominent theologians had little patience for differing views. Notre Dame University’s Father Richard McBrien discusses the wonderful theology of medieval Church father Aquinas in his 2008 work The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism. Yet regarding St. Thomas, Fr. McBrien also states:
He insisted on subjection to the pope as a prerequisite for salvation. In his “Summa Theologiae” he held that heretics, if pertinacious, are to be excommunicated and turned over to the civil authorities for capital punishment. (II-II, q.11, art. 3, response) (76)
The culture emphasized uniformity and hence paintings of the time usually employed the same geometric proportions that are now recognized as a distinguishing characteristic of “Medieval art.”
Overlapping with, and then outlasting, this period was the art of the Renaissance which added a much more human aspect to its divine inspiration. The recurring emphasis on the human body is perhaps nowhere more evident than at the pope’s official residence in Vatican City. The decoration of the Sistine Chapel, completed in 1482, is chiefly comprised of frescos and paintings of Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Botticelli. Their work, to varying degrees, embodies the “rebirth” of humanism, derived mainly from ancient Greece and Rome, which added not just a more heroic presentation of the human body but also more passion and emotion.
Raphael’s 1510 fresco Scuola di Atene or School of Athens, adorns the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican [see Image 1, p. 54]. The traditional title is not Raphael’s and the subject of the “school” is philosophy. The fresco depicts many of the most famous ancient Greek philosophers inside an apparent architectural fantasy of a Roman basilica. Near the center stands Plato, whose hand is pointed upward to reflect his interest in the cosmos; and Aristotle, whose hand is pointed outward to emphasize his study of concrete particulars. The building is in the shape of a Greek cross, which may have been intended to show continuity between pagan philosophy and Christian theology. In their History of Art: The Western Tradition, H.W. Janson and Anthony Janson theorize that the building depicted in the fresco was intended as an advance view of the new St. Peter’s Basilica designed by Bramante, whom Rafael reportedly consulted about the painting’s architectural setting [see Image 2, p. 54]. (More locally, the same basic design can be seen at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, [see Image 3, p. 55].) Classical mythology may be long dead as religion, but polytheistic Greek philosophers and playwrights developed theories and discovered truths that remain meaningful today. Just as ancient philosophy still informs Catholicism, myth continues to resonate.
Art is often informed by science. The Baroque period, which produced Christian works during the 16th and 17th Centuries, was marked by important scientific discoveries such as Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and his groundwork for classical mechanics. These seemingly separate cultural and scientific developments intersected in ways that reflected the varied reality in which people lived. Contemporary scientific theories of gravity and matter were reflected in many Baroque paintings. These works sometimes portray a ray of light entering the scene from one end, while other areas of the canvass are obscured in complete darkness conveying an endless space of unknown. While Plato and other Greek philosophers contemplated the cosmos with enthusiasm, 17th century mathematician, physicist and Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal expressed his utter fear of looking into space and experiencing total silence. The Baroque painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo of Seville is especially well known for his religious pieces. St. Isidoro, his painting at Seville Cathedral, embodies the Baroque approach [Image 4, p. 55]. Archbishop Isidoro’s majestic garments are sharply illuminated by the light coming through the window on his left. The remainder is darkness. These three periods in Western civilization are unique from each other yet each honors God, God’s Church, and humanity with excellence. Traditionalists who object to “keeping up with the times” need only look to the evolution of art and its connection to evolutionary science and technology to see the impossibility of conveying Truth the same way ad infinitum.
However, modernism also has its limitations. Straying too far from the faith’s fundamentals abandons beauty, the good, and ultimately God by emphasizing the subject over object. This risk is evident in Catholicism’s evangelical efforts outside of Europe and North America. If love is an outward act directed towards another, the Church’s interaction with the indigenous cultures of South America, Africa, and Asia should reveal God’s central truths without implying religious colonialism. Despite its Middle Eastern origins, Christianity has been a Eurocentric religion for most of its history. This heritage has become an essential part of its character and should be preserved, yet supplemented with local customs where these are not inconsistent with core Catholic tenets. The requisite level of assimilation for willing Catholic identification is not always obvious, but the Church has done so successfully for centuries if only through trial and error. Viewing certain religious issues through a “biblical lens” requires an understanding of the historical conditions and cultural customs of the biblical era. Indigenous cultures are also not exempt from these nuances. So it is a false dilemma to imagine that an “either/or” choice must be made about other societies.
The Holy See hosted The African Synod in 1994. Singing in fifteen languages, priests, sisters, and laypeople engaged in a musical joie de vivre [see Image 5, p. 56]. Ululation alternated incongruously with Gregorian chants within the Baroque setting of St. Peter’s. These unfamiliar rituals—at least in combination—blended to create a joyous and necessary event.
People pray, communicate with each other, and grasp abstractions via their analogical capabilities. While visual art seems to be the primary method for gaining a sense of the Imago Dei, music can prompt an understanding of Creation in a unique context. Music may either be religious or secular but participation in the musical arts can include people religiously listening to music while others listen to music religiously. In Adoremus Bulletin, the current pontiff (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith), made two salient points about religious music:
It goes without saying that the biblical and liturgical texts are the normative word from which liturgical music has to take its bearings. This does not rule out the continuing creation of “new songs,” but instead inspires them and assures them of a firm grounding in God’s love for mankind and His work of redemption. (November 2001)
Simply put, the Catholic Liturgy should not use music to entertain the congregation. A purpose of this is to recognize God as a community, not as individuals. (For instance, no distinction is made between those in the front and back pews; closeness to the alter doesn’t indicate a person’s closeness to the Sacred.) Secondly,
There is the cultural universalization that the Church has to undertake if she wants to get beyond the boundaries of the European mind. This is the question of what inculturation should look like in the realm of sacred music if, on the one hand, the Identity of Christianity is to be preserved and, on the other, its universality is to be expressed in local forms.
Music, comprised of singing and musical instruments, is mentioned 345 times in scripture. Much of the Catholic liturgy is grounded in the ritual of Hebrew synagogues. Many of the precepts contained in the Gospels seem to have been adopted by diverse indigenous groups mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum (or Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) has caused some debate regarding scriptural inerrancy but it was approved by a vote of 2344 to 6. Scriptural interpretation requires historical, metaphorical, literal, and cultural lenses (otherwise it would be difficult to explain Ephesians 6:5-6, instructing slaves to obey their masters). Dei Verbum serves as an excellent reference to determine what the Church must preserve, even as it accepts and encourages many diverse practices it encounters around the globe. The distinctive Gregorian chants (named after Pope Gregory I, who reigned from 590 to 604 AD), although derived from earlier Roman and Gallican sources, may actually have been developed in the Frankish lands of Central Europe during the 10th to 13th centuries. But their usefulness and durability to Catholics is not derived from their land or date of origin, but in how they allow the Holy Spirit to lift the soul.
Benedict XVI is correct about how music functions in the Catholic faith and the specific rules it must follow during Mass. It becomes more of a mystery when he warns of music possibly causing our “disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality…” An example of this might have been Nietzsche’s initial passion for Wagner, despite his having said, “We have art lest we perish of the truth”—a strong statement considering that Nietzsche felt that there is no absolute and unchanging Truth. People who listen to music “religiously” may not listen to music with a religious ear, and some use music to portray themselves in a particular way to others. For instance, advertising a preference for certain musicians may establish that the person knows the latest fads, while a fondness for classical pieces may advertise an element of education and refinement.
Certain music speaks well to a person who is perfectly normal and if it lifts the human soul to absorb its surroundings in a unique context, this is also normal. When asked to name his favorite musician (singular), Vanity Fair contributing editor Christopher Hitchens answered, “Bach and Bob Dylan.”9 While it is possible that Bach and Dylan are actually his first and second favorite musicians, by naming a classical composer and a pop lyricist Hitchens is also demonstrating his range and sophistication. It is not inherently disintegrating if some one feels rapture when hearing certain music. A militant atheist, Hitchens listens to both the devoutly Christian Bach and the ambiguous, but undoubtedly spiritual, Dylan for his own enjoyment—and maybe even for some hint of (secular) transcendence. Religious people, who might admire music in the same subjective way, can also dig deeper to discover its intimations of the divine .
It can also work the other way: just as Hitchens can appreciate religious musicians, Christians can draw divination from artists who are not particularly devout. Beethoven was likely a pantheist, yet many Christians are overcome with a sense of universal brotherhood when listening to the “Ode to Joy” embedded in his Ninth Symphony. Music is a gift from God and enjoyment of it outside of the liturgy can also become transformative. God speaks to us through Revelation, but also through other people and their music (among other art forms). Deus Caritas Est, Benedict’s encyclical on Christian love discusses how love is grounded in both eros and agape. Nietzsche describes how Greek tragedians depicted certain human behaviors as either “Dionysian,” which emphasizes passionate desires; or “Apollonian,” which stresses the harmonious, measured, and ordered. Music can possess both these qualities, as do certain books and film, which speak to each of us uniquely. Yet for religious people, these qualities reinforce a sense of awe at how the design of creation can align us properly to God and other people (as music is a communal part of reality). The narcissist feels that music speaks merely to the self, is purely for consumption, and absorbed as an indulgence. In his Adoremus Bulletin article, Benedict correctly illustrates how some people who use music in the same way as drugs or alcohol can become disintegrated. But Catholics should not feel guilt about how music can awaken a sense of awe and shared enthusiasm. Respect for art grows as a gift, and enhances the human ability to use its analogical imagination.
“Ah, you have said something true and so untidy,” complained Constantine, “and what I said was not quite true, but so beautifully neat.”
—Constantine the poet, in Rebecca West’s The Black Lamb and the Grey Falcon
From Dante’s poetry to the theology of Aquinas to the novels of Flannery O’Connor, Catholics have contributed a deep and wide variety of literature to its tradition. Words are necessary for analogical efforts, but it is interesting to note that there is much less difference in Hebrew between the meanings of “word” and “thing” in the Bible. According to David Gelernter, author of Judaism: A Way of Being, these are both acceptable translations of the same ancient Hebrew word (98). John 1.14 echoes this linguistic example of “unity within plurality”: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” For John, the Word (Logos in Greek) of God is co-substantive with the person of Jesus. This identity is a theological construct, but it is also a clear example of analogical ontology. Since then, linguistics has developed a sophisticated range of analytical tools to study the interaction of grammar and meaning, which show how words can have myriad meanings depending on their context.
The second part of Constantine’s line quoted above calls to mind the ancient Athenian Sophists. Sophism is argument solely for the specious purpose of displaying ingenuity, but it is rooted in rhetoric, or the effective use of language. Often associated with Aristotle, rhetoric has traditionally been the preferred method for priests to communicate with laity. This is shown in the form of the homily, speeches outside of the liturgy, parts of Confession, and parts of the Wedding ceremony. This is not easy work, yet priests normally perform these duties well. Whether these uses of rhetoric contain elements of sophism depends upon the priest. It is an ongoing challenge to employ the disciplined rhetoric to effectively engender a proper response to God’s will, keep the Word alive among the faithful, and positively influence others.
Regarding homilies, there are differences of opinion about whether priests, after reading the Gospel during the liturgy, should leave the podium to join the congregation. There are a couple of ways to consider the priest’s options. Priests at the lectern are delivering God’s word to the faithful and it should not resemble a campfire sing along. On the other hand, reform-minded priests move to the center of congregation to strengthen a sense of solidarity with the Body of Christ. God’s will can be effectively communicated to the parish community whether a priest is at or away from the lectern. There are also instances where little is accomplished no matter where the priest stands. While the appropriate location of delivering a sermon follows no hard and fast rules, it seems laity should be able to depend on the priest to routinely speak from the same spot where the Gospel has been read. The “universality” of the Catholic liturgy uses tradition to demonstrate a sense of global community and predictability for participants. But tradition is not an end in itself, and is diminished when the priest’s reason for remaining at the lectern stems from a desire for self-elevation or spurious authority.
Occasionally a priest should circulate among the congregation to make a larger point. In early 2010, Father Tom Donaldson C.S.s.R. delivered a sermon at St. Michael’s Church in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. He read a letter of despair detailing a friend’s sufferings and how the Church’s hypocrisies left him lost. The letter catalogued the Catholic institution’s grievous misdeeds and how his life lost faith and hope. Fr. Tom did what no one expected. He showed empathy. He stood with his face to the crowd and showed courage. He didn’t whine about the New York Times or say the Church also does much good. As a member of Catholic clergy he took responsibility, and asked for more help from his parishioners. He wanted more time, involvement, and concerned voices from everyone (he did not ask for money). Rather than expect an obsequious laity for fear of self-diminishment, he approached his listeners to help the Church towards a sense of needed redemption. He didn’t hide, but rather came down to lift people up (this should sound familiar). Fr. Tom got his friend’s permission to use the letter and inspired others to begin a mission.
Rhetoric is not the only ancient discourse that the Church should use to achieve credibility. “Enlightened” thinkers like to boast their ability to follow rational inquiry by using logic. Over time, a history of logic accumulates. Church members should be fully implementing one method of discourse, in particular with Catholics, Protestants, and other monotheists, as well as with polytheists, agnostics and atheists: the dialectical method. This method of argument, associated with Socrates in the West, may be used in debates, ecumenical discussions and symposiums. The East has been host to intra- and inter-Dharmic dialectics, and Karl Marx discussed “dialectical materialism,” but the Catholic Church also needs to implement Socratic dialectic. Indeed, the classroom has encouraged antithetical views in hopes of achieving synthesis. Jesuit institutions have long had a reputation for questioning all matters, including the Catholic faith itself. It is also true certain instances of ecumenism encourage dialogue as on the National Prayer Day. Yet it is of premier importance for Catholic leaders to engage in rigorous debates to account for the Church’s actions and learn about those standing outside of the faith. Most Catholics participating in debates are lay members such as Michael Novak and Dinesh D’Souza. Nigerian Archbishop Onaiyekan and Australian Cardinal George Pell have each been pummeled by Christopher Hitchens in debates. There seems to be a reason for this. Church clerics are not used to accounting for their actions nearly as much as they hold others to moral standards. For example, clergy should publically explain the lifting of Holocaust denier Archbishop Richard Williamson’s excommunication. If the sole responsibility rests with the Vicar of Christ on Earth then the Pope should defend his actions in the face of questions and not subject the world to condescending blurbs from Federico Lombardi few take seriously. Explanations regarding Williamson were not nearly as black and white as when Sister Margaret McBride was swiftly and recently excommunicated.10 Inconsistencies with regard to Catholic discipline point toward an arbitrary and political agenda. This poses a question: do Catholics, all bear responsibility for lifting Williamson’s excommunication, or does shared blame stop somewhere along the chain of command?
Real reform and righteous conduct often results from external pressure of the sort that people grudgingly avoid when exerted internally. A modern example of this occurred with the United Nations. Their complicity in Iraq’s “Oil for Food” scandal was initially discovered and made known by those who loathe the U.N.. Subsequently, indictments were issued and money was repaid. Of course, the lives of those who were starved by the scam can never be recovered. Much like the sexual abuse scandal, the people at the helm did not desire to harm people. Their ego and institutional mission exceeds the genuine mission, and allows evil to surface. Through civil debate, the bar can be raised. Everyone’s expectations are increased when accountability is demanded on all sides. Atheists would have to admit that they don’t know what exists beyond the material. Progressives brandishing “science” would have to answer “pro-life” questions raised by prenatal 3-D ultrasound science [see Image 6, p. 56]. The questions—and answers—run both ways. Many would jump at the chance to debate members of Catholic clergy.
It could make for a challenging start to confront the sexual abuse evasions. The Church could give itself the opportunity to explain the many Catholic activities unreported by media outlets. For example, pro-life Catholics who wish to overturn abortion laws are often characterized as heartless moralizers and unsympathetic to women. People behind the pro-life agenda are often accused of caring for the woman’s child during the pregnancy while they disappear after the birth. But many Catholics share a sense of responsibility for human life at all stages. There are job placement programs for mothers and adoption placement programs. Some parishes have implemented the “Baby’s Bottle Program,” where bottles are filled with donations that are used to ease the burdens of pregnant and single mothers. Certain questions might help The Holy See realize how ridiculous it looks when the putatively celibate pontiff, wearing an ermine-trimmed red velvet cape and red Prada shoes, stands above everyone in Vatican Square issuing anti-abortion proclamations to raped women from third-world areas where their HIV-infected children die within days of delivery. The Church should vigorously promote life at all stages, and in all instances, allow Catholic missionaries to promote a basis for Christian society in suffering areas. Nevertheless, Vatican leaders need to know that certain approaches are counterproductive.
Most people know the Church opposes war and violence. Yet Catholics have a “Just War Doctrine,” and its leaders should explain what it entails. The Church should be held accountable, saying more than “violence is bad.” It should propose to help end totalitarian barbarism. Many Catholics point to John Paul II’s famous speech in Poland expressing solidarity against Soviet tyranny. There’s little doubt this was a major moment in history, but it’s also important to remember that John Paul II—like everyone in Western Europe—operated under a nuclear umbrella by the United States. This enabled his ability to safely travel and speak freely. Elsewhere, people are not allowed even a hint of civil disobedience. Kim Jong Il’s North Korea is a vast concentration camp with nationwide malnourishment and frequent torture. Most civilized people loathe violence, but it’s equally disturbing to see our neighbors treated with such brutality. “Loving one’s enemies” has not stopped acid from being thrown in the faces of children for violating Sharia law [see Image 7, p. 57]. There should be little contradiction between loving enemies and resisting evil.
A healthy Catholic institution should ask and answer questions about the promotion of peace and the protection God’s children from barbarity. These are just a few examples showing how others may learn from the Church and how it may learn from the larger world. Photo ops promoting cooperation between faiths are well and good, but the dialectical method deflates the ego and forces a humble honesty to justify belief while respecting others. To quote Fr. Copleston on St. Peter Damian11:
St. Peter Damian had little sympathy with the liberal arts (they are useless he said) or with dialectics, since they are not concerned with God or the salvation of the soul, though as a theologian and a writer, the Saint had naturally to make use of the dialectic himself. (Vol. II 145-146)
Plato and others recorded Socrates’ methods, but there is no evidence that he ever wrote a single word (the same is true of the Buddha and Christ). Yet even in ancient times, people such as the Jewish Josephus and the Egyptian Origen (albeit controversially) saw how different cultures and philosophies could usefully impregnate one another. Much of this inquiry in the West and parts of the Eastern Roman empire arose from the free exchange of ideas and rhetoric and the adoption of the dialectical method of the Greeks. By these means, Catholics are able to convey things, which may be untidy but true, instead of tidy non-truth.
A. Worldly politics:
In addition to the aforementioned cultural participations involving the Church, it seems important to touch upon political implications facing the Church. Benedict’s 2006 book, Values in Times of Upheaval, examines the tension between churches:
The aim of the Church’s political stand must be to maintain the balance of a dual system as the foundation of freedom. Hence the Church must make claims and demands on public law, and cannot simply retreat into the private sphere. Hence it must also take care on the other hand that Church and State remain separated and that belonging to the Church retains its voluntary character. (qtd. in Moynihan 131)
This meditation demonstrates nothing less than a full understanding of the Church’s criteria for participation in politics. The reader is taken right to Christ’s directive to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). This is not to imply categories exist outside God’s domain. On the contrary, Benedict is calling for people to choose God freely while living the Gospel. However, while the statement is tidy, following it is often difficult. The political invariably filters into the personal, provoking passions and dangerous egotism. In City of God, Saint Augustine of Hippo puts this matter into perspective:
Persecution had discouraged the early Christians from looking to the state for any moral benefit other than suppression of wickedness…. Man’s longing is for an ordered society of fellowship and love. This is something the state cannot create or maintain. Man accepts the authority of positive law because order is preferable to anarchy and chaos; but in laws man seeks some vestiges of higher justice. (qtd. in Short)
Here the political argument takes a back seat to Christological teaching. When Church dialogue begins with Christ’s teachings, the faithful may allow for God’s grace to filter through humanity and manifest itself by promoting human dignity, fighting human suffering, and achieving social justice. To reverse this process is for humans to bind themselves first to an economic system, government, or material agenda and apply it to others’ needs. Ultimately, the attempt may be to climb to God or to bring God closer to Earth’s matters. But this can have the paradoxical effect of moving away from God’s intentions when in fact God is already present. In Matthew, Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (11:30). Christ’s yoke is easy, not because humanity always acts with uninhibited self-determination; instead, true freedom arises from accepting the true order of nature rooted in God. Attempts running contrary to God’s nature become a guessing game and therefore a potential trap, when people determine what constitutes dignity and social justice for others. (The totalitarian systems of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Francisco Franco, and many others replaced higher moral imperatives with arbitrary human impulses and became nothing less than evil with a human face.)
However, even moral actors can run into this trap while intending good. Rio de Janeiro State University Professor Leonardo Boff, one of the world’s best known Liberation Theologians, left the Franciscans in 1992 after serving as a priest for twenty-eight years. In November 2001, Boff boorishly uttered the following:
For me, the terrorist attack of September 11 represents the shift towards a new humanitarian and world model. The targeted buildings sent a message: a new world civilization cannot be built with the kind of dominating economy (symbolized by the World Trade Center), with the kind of death machine set up (the Pentagon) and with the kind of arrogant politics and producer of many exclusions…. For me the system and culture of capital began to collapse. They are too destructive. (Boff “Interview”)
At first, this kind of “class struggle” expressed by Boff can seem rooted in the Marxist concept of “dialectical materialism”—until one remembers the three thousand innocent dead victims who did not know Leonardo Boff nor shared his passion for “Socially Democratic inevitability.” They were humans with lives and relatives, not a byproduct of Boff’s vision.12 Princeton history professor Anthony Grafton discusses Boff’s relationship with (then) Cardinal Ratzinger in the July 25, 2005 issue of The New Yorker. It was clear the Liberation theologian did not see eye to eye with the restorationist prefect of faith. Ratzinger’s office sent a letter to Boff requiring him to cease writing, editing, and teaching and to maintain an “obedient silence” for an unstated period. Yet Grafton believes that Ratzinger, following the examples of Bonaventure and Augustine, felt that “exalted figures in the Church could learn new truths even from men who challenged orthodox doctrine: within carefully prescribed limits, the hierarchy could learn from its heretics”(42). If the exalted Benedict XVI is to learn anything from the heretic Boff, it might be: when an ideology is wedded to ego, it loses sight of the truly needy and vulnerable. Boff’s zeal for revolution loses sight of history’s victims. Likewise, the Catholic hierarchy’s incestuous marriage to its own institution blinds many to the abused boys who have been forced to perform oral sex on predators. Despite Boff’s desire for a grand new political intervention and Benedict’s aversion to interference from lawmakers in the Church’s perceived internal affairs, an irony is exposed: that both ideologies ignorantly and selfishly misidentify the exalted and the humbled. Fr. James Schall, professor at Georgetown University, put the political and personal in their proper place during a recent interview with The Claremont Institute. When asked what the Church’s role should be in politics, Schall responded:
I suppose that I should say that the Church should seek to influence elections by teaching the truth about man, cosmos, and God in such a fashion that politics be restored to itself as a prudential area largely dependent on a correct understanding of man’s transcendent end and the arena in which this end is worked out in our lives. The reason politics is considered to be so important is, too often, because we suspect that this world is all there is. If this were true, of course, we can do whatever we want. To oppose it will seem to be inhuman.
People such as Jon Sobrino S.J., Bishop Ricard Durand, and the Maryknoll Sisters have made God’s love visible. Humans experiencing real suffering have felt God’s healing presence from people “in the field” caring about the material well being of others. This life-risking and rigorous work cannot be underestimated or merely brushed off.
And the Church has not lost sight of the needy. Leo XIII defined the Church as “the mother of material civilization” while organizing the First Vatican Council. Still, it must reconcile the gap between those clergy who work in horrid conditions daily, and those who—despite taking the vow of poverty—live in conditions made possible only by the generous donations of the faithful. But some of the clergy who reside in opulence, with superfluous mansions and privileges not available to all, stand in solidarity with those needing help. Catholic Relief Services (founded by the Catholic Bishops of the United States) serves the needy in over one hundred countries without discrimination. Daniel Hanninger recently wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal titled “How About a Good Catholic Story?” He discusses Dominican Sisters, Jesuits, Sisters of Charity, Christian Brothers, Dalesians, and Vincentians working together on the Cristo Rey High School Project teaching 6000 young men and women. Of these, 60 percent are Catholic; all are poor; and 90 percent go on to attend college. More recently, the Church has arranged with Cuban authorities for the release of 52 political prisoners (Weissert).The many duties demanded of the Church (ecclesial, cultural, evangelical, and theological) unquestionably serve unique yet vital roles. What is required for unity among the plurality of vocations is the understanding of God’s connectedness, which precedes the wants of the human self.
B. Internal Politics
As a whole, the Church seems less effective at participating in civic affairs with much moral authority. The Catholic institution is internally political in a way that sets itself apart from God. Restorationist attitudes such as Ratzinger’s have prompted an internal 2001 memo ensuring the Church’s investigations into sex abuse claims be carried out in secret. Thursday July 15, 2010 the Vatican issued new internal rules making it easier to discipline priests who have sexually abused minors. However, this revision does not contain measures to hold bishops accountable for abuse by priests on their watch. And while the Catholic pundit for the New York Times Ross Douthat is correct when he points out the Vatican does not prohibit a diocese from reporting sex abuse to civil authorities, it also does not require mandatory reporting to civil authorities even in countries where it is not required by civil law. Many molestation cases where a diocese has chosen to settle with victims for cash sums may also require signed confidentiality agreements prohibiting subsequent discussions regarding the abuses and settlement amounts. This prioritizes the Catholic institution above God’s will, disregards sovereign territories where the protection of children from child predators is a priority, and conceals such matters behind closed doors to maintain the (deceptive) authority of the Institution. One needs not look far to read some ungainly chauvinist cleric explain away this scandal by misidentifying the victim. It is now the Church that is suffering—at the hands of the media.13 By publishing the overall abuse numbers, defenders of the institution hope to illustrate how Catholic abuse is no more frequent than line secular abuse. Joseph Bottum, an editor for The Weekly Standard, recently wrote an essay titled “Anti-Catholicism, Again.” After saying “the more evil, disgusting part is over,” he quotes an unnamed Catholic seminarian:
Those old 1960’s and 1970’s types thought they were God’s gift to the ages. That they were smarter, better, more spiritual than anyone else had ever been. They said they didn’t need the old supervision and rules-the old wisdom about human behavior-that Catholicism had built up over centuries of experience. And, yeah, so, of course, when they finally got some power of their own, they ruined the liturgy, they wrecked the Churches, and they buggered little boys. None of it should have been a surprise.
Besides announcing that the “more evil, disgusting part is over”—as if molestation does not continue today—Bottum endorses the view that progressive reforms were the actual cause of these crimes, which in turn, are minimized beside the violence done to the church and liturgy. These instructions to keep abuse matters internal, while faulty Church leaders maintain high clerical status, are actually more patronizing than taking ownership of the scandal. Mr. Bottum has fallen for “the devil made me do it” excuse. He intimates that the conservative clergy should never have listened to progressive psychologists when they suggested that sexual offenders could be helped. At the time the profession felt it was possible to treat (but not cure) sexual offenders—as most still do. An over-optimistic interpretation of this view may have guided some initial decision making about priest relocations. But surely psychologists would not have recommended continuing contact with minors. Nor did they tell the clergy to keep all matters secret, or not to notify civil authorities. They never gave assurances that problems confronting offenders were fully eradicated permanently. Psychologists never told Bernard Law to flee jurisdiction and evade accountability. The profession surely never told bishops to bury cases indefinitely until the press made this impossible.
With regard to the seminarian’s sentiments, it is worth noting that many of the Church leaders secretly neglecting or relocating offenders without notifying civil authorities were not products of the progressive elements of Vatican II. Chicago Archbishop Francis George made a public apology in 2006 for not removing Fr. Daniel McCormack after numerous sexual abuse complaints and a letter from the Lady of the Westside’s vice principal recommending his removal (Hagerty). Reports estimate at least five children were molested between the time George’s office was notified that Fr. McCormack was a problem and the time he was arrested (McCormack was ultimately sentenced to five years beginning in 2006 for abusing fifteen underage boys). In late 2007, Cardinal George was named president of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and placed in charge of the sexual abuse crises in the United States.
One final example may help dispel the notion that the sexual abuse issue attaches itself predominantly to Church “moderns.” Most following this scandal have heard of Cardinal Bernard Law. The former Archbishop of Boston (and a 1960s civil rights activist) was found to have been involved in the cover-up of sexual abuse involving thousands of children. As a result, schools were closed, Catholic services shut down, and the diocese declared bankruptcy. Just as Cardinal Law was to testify before a grand jury, he fled jurisdiction and went to Rome. Once there, John Paul II appointed him Archpriest and was put in charge of the prestigious Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Today, he is a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Congregation for the Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for Bishops, and the Pontifical Council for the Family. Cardinal Law participated in the recent conclave that named Josef Ratzinger to the Papacy. To this day, Cardinal Law has never been instructed by anyone in the Church to answer grand jury questions in the United States. Nor have the Doctrine of Faith’s prefect or the pope asked for Law’s resignation.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi was quoted in the May 7, 2010 Wall Street Journal as saying “There are a number of initiatives and concrete measures that are rightly being announced and carried [out] by local authorities. We appreciate and support this, but we don’t want to take their place. The Church is not as monolithic-centralistic as people think.” This statement causes problems when one considers two sections of the Catechism, which may be read, as complimentary. Sister Mary Prudence Allen is a philosophy professor for St. John Vianney’s Theological Seminary in Denver. In an April 30, 2010 interview with National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, Sister Prudence states that, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#830-831), “The Church is catholic in a double sense: First, because the whole Christ, head and body, subsists in her, and second because Christ sends the Church out on a mission to the whole human race.” Additionally, the Catechism (#882) also states: “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” One senses the Holy See having it both ways. Certain times call for “power unhindered” and others for decentralized authority. Such give and take is sometimes necessary, but for the leadership to arbitrarily exploit this exercise of power to evade responsibility for the Church’s failings is an insult to the faithful. It is also worth noting that Church’s sexual scandals are not confined to its “localities.” On March 2010 it became known that one of Benedict’s ceremonial ushers, Angelo Balducci, and Ghinedu Ehiem, a member of an elite choir (the Giulia), were arrested by police in Vatican City for managing a gay prostitution ring which included the involvement of Catholic seminarians (“Sex Scandal”). It prompts a strange sense of “relief” that this scandal, at least, did not involve children under the legal age for consensual sex. However, it adds to the impression that fewer seminarians are called to the priesthood as a vocation, at the same time that an increasing number are seeking refuge from complicated personal issues.
To Sister Prudence, the reference in the Catechism that “Christ sent the Church out on a mission to the whole human race” must bind any discussion of global politics, internal politics and the Church’s abuse scandal. The Church needs to be consistently among the world rather than appearing and disappearing depending on the subject matter. Instead, the Church chose to remain unresponsive to the news media, victim advocacy groups, and polemicists as they revealed sexual abuse cases that have been kept quiet for far too long. That some of these sources may wish to harm the Church doesn’t mean that the allegations are false. If they are, it shouldn’t be difficult for the Church to disprove them. Furthermore, it is counterproductive to accuse these critics of implicit or explicit animus to explain their supposed “unfair treatment” of the Church. That The New York Times—the Catholic apologists’ biggest target—may sometimes treat different institutions unequally does not mean that its recent reporting on the Church has been unfair. While similar instances of sexual abuse within other secular or faith-based institutions surely deserve more coverage, the Church must first address the fairness and accuracy of the reports about itself. By allowing these cases to unfold seriatim, the Church has empowered its critics and eroded its authority on matters such as abortion, education, and family values. That these issues are inherently moral not political, ordinarily lends credibility to the Church’s teachings on the dignity of the human person in all stages of life—even for some non-Catholics (Woody Allen!). Yet these matters are inevitably politicized when the Church and its critics become preoccupied with institutional scandals (Should the Church consider child molestation a universal or an internal matter? If another organization performed abortions at the same statistical rate as some broader benchmark would Catholics consider this an adequate defense?).
Not all of the Catholic Church’s critics are external. Some within the Church may be opportunistically using the sexual scandals to advance their own agendas or settle old scores. In his March 18, 2010 column in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Küng called for Benedict to issue a mea culpa for “decades of cover up.” Inside the Church hierarchy, it is well known that Küng and Benedict have become quite distant—personally and doctrinally—since the 1960s, when they jointly participated in the Vatican II effort, and had often studied together. This animosity should not prevent Küng from stating his beliefs, but his Repubblica column seems more of a screed than a constructive appeal for reform. For instance, Küng uses his his letter as an opportunity to insert his opinion (unrelated to sex abuse) on the Church’s position regarding embryonic stem cells. He should beware the risks of schadenfreude.
8. Taming the Human Ego
After studying sentiments from diverse parts of the Church, it seems safe to conclude that many contending factions are tolerated and even encouraged. The presence of progressive academics, post-liberals, liberation theologians, restorationists, contextualists, moderns, post-moderns, and apocolyptics demonstrate that a plurality of convictions exist within the Church. While they may escape the attention of numerous Catholics who don’t delve into Catholicism beyond attending Mass semi-regularly and sending their children to Catholic schools, these contending viewpoints do in fact exist and they seem to be drifting further apart. The pitfalls of rivalry and thinking that one has all of the answers appear to have less solidarity between them.
Perhaps the work of French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin can shed light on what is happening with the identity crises now facing the Church and beyond. As he explains in his great work The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard believed that all humans are members of the mystical body of Christ. At the same time, technology was creating what the late Catholic Toronto professor Marshall McLuhan termed a “global village” and this evolutionary force had the potential to integrate humanity into a parallel secular unity. Teilhard died in 1955, but McLuhan, a follower of Teilhard’s work, lived long enough to see his theory come alive and drop dead simultaneously. Technology has indeed allowed us to become more erudite, through the sheer volume of information now available; and also more connected to each other, through innovations such as email, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But the same technology has also allowed for a more fragmented and disjointed society, which Sigmund Freud described as “the narcissism of small differences.” People seem to hide behind the narratives they have projected about themselves, causing them to have more superficial discussions with each other. To construct their identities, people garner information from comfortable places, or from places they loathe, to define themselves both positively and negatively. This one-dimensional path produces people consumed with their chosen reality and a rigid notion of what should be opposed. The effect is an outpouring of heated emotions and a desire to stay away from the broader world. People become wedded to the institutions they cherish to the point of obscurity. This may partially explain why so many traditional priests of all orders and positions have been reluctant to come forward and condemn what—beyond any rationalizations—they most know to be wrong. Why has not one Orthodox priest among the “power structure” come forward to denounce Cardinal Law’s current cozy situation as unacceptable, given the magnitude of his failures? More broadly, would the Church have acted with the same contrition without the media and its pundits (many of whom loathe the Church) banging the gong of scandal? While the answer to the latter question is obviously “no,” the answer to the former question comprises only a couple of possibilities. One of these is sheer cowardice. More than a few clerics do not wish to jeopardize their positions. The second possibility is that they are wedded to the Church as an institution. By instinct, they become defensive about a fraternal order where authority has been seldom questioned, and they circle the wagons for safety.
But those grasping at straws are wearing parochial goggles. These innovations have created an echo chamber in which their views are never seriously challenged— which has enabled the provincialism. This allows them to condescendingly defend the indefensible. (Imagine if Dostoevsky’s Christian ideal had been realized. We might be living in an anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic brand of Russian Orthodoxy. While many of his Christian insights remain brilliant, they amount to chauvinism.) By definition, God does not will provincialism. The entire idea of the Vatican as a “sovereign state,” developed under the dubious Lateran Treaty, is in direct contradiction to the Savior, the one God who became a wandering, penniless radical. However, not all sectionalism befalling the Church hierarchy is a function of technology or proximity.
In her weekly Wall Street Journal column, John Paul II biographer Peggy Noonan suggested that a more integrated role for women could help the Church. She quotes a nun who told her the following: “If a woman had been sitting beside a bishop transferring a priest with a history of abuse, she would have said: ‘Hey, wait a minute!’” Ms. Noonan did not propose that women become priests or wives of priests. But this did not stop one priest (who should remain anonymous as he is a decent man and his sentiments might send the wrong impression) from emailing, “last time I checked, women were made with original sin too.” Well. Original sin does not require gender segregation and women are usually children’s innate protectors. Nor are there many female abusers implicated in this scandal. As the National Review’s editor at large Jonah Goldberg wrote in his March 10, 2010 column, “Women civilize men. As a general rule, men will only be as civilized as female expectations and demands force them to be. ‘Liberate’ men from those expectations and Lord of the Flies logic kicks in.”
Nevertheless, if even proper protections for children result from this episode, other cancers—possibly different in nature—will surely surface. (Ms. Noonan’s proposal does not merely apply to the current sexual abuse scandal; it also addresses the sense of social awkwardness that seems to befall many clergy members.) If the solidity of the Catholic Church could be addressed simply by addressing the sexual abuse scandal, the $2.5 billion dollars the Church has parted with since 1950 in the United States alone should be enough to make the problem go away (Gilgoff, “Church”). But this scandal is about more than sexual abuse. It is about ego and its protection by an entrenched, top-heavy bureaucracy with nearly unchecked power within the Church. The American experience may not provide the complete answer, but it shows the virtues of checks and balances and accountability to a free press. But this model has its limits, as the United States Constitution was and is a political compromise. It would be foolish to maintain Christ’s teachings should be compromised.14
Conclusion: Love, a Unified Plurality
God’s will for us to be bound by his teachings must serve as a first step for Catholic clergy to understand the humility required for shared love in Christ’s mystery. From 1 John 4:8 (“God is Love”), it is possible to connect the dots to John 3:16 and discover how God defines this love: “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” When Catholics are told that no one gets to the Father except through Christ (John 14:6), this is not a prism through which the faithful can discern who will achieve salvation, as only God may grant salvation to a person. If it happens, it is done by God’s selfless grace. Human beings had no say in their creation and likewise can’t arrange the particulars of their deaths or afterlives.
Certain Christians hold the opinion, or act as if they do, that John 14:6 means belief in Christ affords certain individuals an automatic “personal relationship” which contains the answers ultimately separating the “saved” from the “damned.” If this is true, Pascal’s Wager would be a primary basis for Christian faith, as its mere proclamation would have no downside. God seems to be asking for a great deal more. God shows the true meaning of love by the sheer generosity of the Creator’s act to become flesh and suffer with humanity in its fallen state. Christians witness this and know such an act cannot be matched. Human deeds pale in comparison to this “ultimate deed.” This renders any notion of divination from human praxis insufficient. When Christ teaches people to see God the Son, they are invited to allow their mysterious Creator’s grace to compel our unconditional love for the whole of existence. Acknowledging humanity’s place in God’s greater picture positions it to better understand how God’s grace functions. Believers freely choose God who is Love, which in turn allows us to maintain their commitment to the act of loving outwardly.
This transcends debates concerning virgin births and diadems. Not that the scriptural particulars are unimportant or inessential; but people often become mired in and distracted by certain occurrences, inhibiting them from centering on a crucial point. From God’s generous love people can exist to develop in a selfless act for the good and genuine love for what is outside of the self yet by God connects us all. In circular fashion, the self becomes healthier from this rhythm, which is not unimportant. People are often made to feel guilty for addressing the self. Negative mental states such as self-loathing, among other pathologies, can often rupture a person’s ability to abide in Truth more freely. This cadency becomes a basis for life, augmenting God’s foundation with charity and necessary works rooted in compassion. When James 2:26 tells us that “faith without works is dead,” he refers to believers’ allowance for God’s love to work within them. The ability to fully grasp God’s grace is finite in the earthly realm. Humans lose patience, make mistakes, and cannot fully realize the command to love their enemies. (This is different than loving evil. Humans must resist evil and ignoring this imperative often results in harming one’s neighbor.) The Trinitarian Mystery explained as Creator, Flesh, and the Holy Spirit becomes an inclusive statement, which embraces the totality of existence.
The human race cannot and should not confuse clergy with its Savior by expecting infallibility from anyone wearing a collar, habit or vestments. As fallen mortals, all are sinners and it remains the case that the world has not reached the apex of God’s plan, thus the entire human race is still ignorant on many matters. To be sure, to guide us through this Christian path, the Church needs strong leadership. But such leadership must come with trust and example. Mahāyāna Buddhism defines a bodhisattva as a person with enlightenment who defers nirvana to share his or her wisdom with those still deprived of it. To accept the value of this insight is not to suggest a moral equivalency between all faiths; nor does it mean that Buddhism should be merged with Catholicism. But Cardinal Ratzinger, speaking to Cardinals as they entered the 2005 conclave that made him pope, described Buddhism as “self indulgent” and “auto erotic” (Nullis). Maybe some Buddhists are what Benedict says, but if so then some Catholics are also “self indulgent.” Ratzinger’s comments reflect an ignorance (or even bigotry) that is incongruent with the best of the Catholic tradition.
Despite his mistakes, lately there have been signs of Benedict taking stronger leadership. En route to Portugal on May 11, 2010, Benedict blamed the Church’s own sins for the abuse scandal and “not a campaign mounted by outsiders.” Benedict continued, “The greatest persecution of the Church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the Church. The Church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, learn forgiveness but also justice” (Winfield). This is a real first step in understanding how the Church should lead. Catholics, including the unnamed seminarian mentioned earlier, should take note of this. Many hope that the Church’s deeds match the Pope’s words. Recently, the Holy See’s nervous tic resurfaced after police raided the Roman Catholic headquarters in Belgium as part of an ongoing investigation. In a June 27, 2010 Associated Press article, Nicole Winfield quotes Benedict complaining about the “surprising and deplorable way in which the raids were carried out.” Benedict concluded by saying that both civil and canon law should “respect their reciprocal specificity and autonomy.” It might be difficult for people to have faith in Benedict’s statement, given this is the same man who in May 2001 said “Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret” (Doward).
As the world has yet to witness God’s final plan fulfilled, it is necessary for Catholics of all stripes to gather and affirm the mystery of faith.15 They practice this through communal participation in the liturgy, culture, education, evangelization, prayer, charity, and reading scripture in distinctly Catholic ways. Yet God also wills a unique existence into the universe. The universe’s particularities don’t stop at the rim of Catholicism. The Church’s plurality is evident and to an extent necessary. But much more is required. To fully know the ultimate Unifier will require cultural correlations much further along the maturity curve. Catholics must step out of their cliques and fully participate in both listening and learning. Only this faith practice can bind people together through their love for God and, by extension, all of their neighbors (Matt. 7:12).