Thursday, April 29, 2010

More Light on the Church

We are all well aware that anger, bitterness, and indignation have characterized much of the reporting and the commentaries around the scandal of sex abuse in the Church.

There remains a great deal of that, many months into the unfolding of the story.

It is becoming clear, however, that the anger has a focus, and it is not really the abuse itself any more. It is the not coming clean, the general lack of transparency, that is exasperating the observers of this moment in history.

Interestingly, a new phenomenon is unfolding out of this. A kind of concordance is happening between the messages of the secular commentators, and those of observers within the Church. There are many examples.

Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Here is a short selection from her article on April 6 of this year, titled The Church’s Judas Moment:

The church is dying from a thousand cuts. Its cover-up has cost a fortune and been a betrayal worthy of Judas. The money spent came from social programs, Catholic schools and the poor. This should be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. We must reassess. Married priests and laypeople giving the sacraments are not going to destroy the church. Based on what we have seen the last 10 years, they would be a bargain. It is time to go back to the disciplines that the church was founded on and remind our seminaries and universities what they are.

Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister and a prolific Catholic author. She has written some powerful books on spirituality that I have enjoyed very much. Here is an excerpt from a piece she wrote on March 17, 2010, titled Divided Loyalties: an Incredible Situation:

From where I stand, if there are any in whom we should be able to presume a strong conscience and an even stronger commitment to the public welfare, it is surely the priests and religious of the church. But if that is the case, then the church must also review its theology of obedience so that those of good heart can become real moral leaders rather than simply agents of the institution.
A bifurcation of loyalties that requires religious to put canon law above civil law and moral law puts us in a situation where the keepers of religion may themselves become one of the greatest dangers to the credibility -- and the morality -- of the church itself.

Strong words. Is there a theme in articles like these? I think so: the Church needs to find a new way to do business.

Perhaps a new Church is in the offing. Perhaps the priesthood of the laity (Vatican ll) will re-emerge. Father Paul Philbert, a Dominican, puts it this way, starting with a quote from the Council:

“The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all their Christian activities they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the marvels of him who has called them out of darkness into his wonderful light” (Lumen Gentium 10). In other words, the vocation that the church offers to the faithful is not a secondary role as clients of clerical ministries, but a Spirit-filled participation as pioneers in the church’s role as herald of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps an open, joyous transparency will emerge in this Church. People will come back to that kind of Church. Many have walked away from the secret, dismissive, set apart Church. The scandal locked the door for them.

The world we live in understands that perfection is not the minimum. But it will not tolerate being lied to and talked down to. That went out a long time ago. The Church needs to ‘read the signs of the times’ again, as Pope John XXIII said in calling that great gathering we fondly remember as Vatican II. I suspect a lot of reading is going on as we speak.

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