Our Little Church
The views presented in the following papers are those of the Issues Group and are not necessarily representative of the people of St. Aloysius Parish nor the Roman Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church Organization
In our Catholic Issue outline given out at the beginning of this effort to clarify our Catholic identity, we listed as a topic, "Democracy Vs Dictatorship - Power Issues." We are, of course, referring to the organization of today's Catholic Church organization. We would add that today's organization is not much different from when the papacy rose to secular power in the early centuries after Christ. Organization is not an issue of how best to function, but is really a manifestation for the desire and distribution of power. This reality has been demonstrated in our preceding papers and will be touched upon again as needed.
It is important at this point to define a few terms. The term "church" refers to all the people of God. "Hierarchy:" refers essentially to the pope, curia and bishops with a specific emphasis on the pope and curia who control the appointment of bishops.
We all have the tendency to emphasize power as a negative force against us. The Jews of Christ's day looked for a Messiah who would bring together a worldly power to expel the Romans and other enemies. Jesus had to handle the issue of power throughout his ministry. He pointed out time after time that power came only from his heavenly Father. Not only did his power and authority come from God, but all who had power received it from God. How can power be evil then since God does not create evil? Power in itself is neutral. It is what we do with power that makes the result good or evil.
Our real issue is the exercise of power - its dissemination or concentration and its divine source within the Church.
Past history of almost two thousand years shows triumphs and failures in the exercise of hierarchical power. Today's exercise of power by the hierarchy is consistent with a pattern that goes back to the days of a papacy as a secular power. In our judgment, in order to evaluate the "right" or "wrong" of the use of power, it is appropriate to return to scripture to see what expectations and standards Christ set for his Church. (At this point, It might be of value for you to review "What did Jesus say about Church?" (3/29/95) and "Papal Infallibility" (3/29/95), that are a part of this series of papers on Catholic Issues.
What did Jesus say about the organization of the Church? Like any other founder, Jesus set out a mission, identified tasks, identified those who would be the focus of the mission, and set responsibilities and accountabilities. This is the same process any thoughtful organizer would do. However, Jesus established the broad guidelines and left further evolution to men and women with guidance of the Holy Spirit.
What is the purpose or mission of the Church? The very last words recorded by Matthew (28:19-20) say: "Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age." The perfect ending to Matthew's gospel was a new "life-filled beginning" for all generations to come. This mission statement also identifies who is to be included ( to all people), and identifies tasks ( and make them my disciples). Jesus further expands on the assignment for the mission in Matthew 18:18 when he says to all his disciples (not just Peter as in Matthew 16:15-19): "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I tell you, if two of you join your voices on earth to pray for anything whatever, it shall be granted you by my Father in heaven. Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst."
In John (21:15-17) we find a statement from Jesus on responsibility whether for hierarchy or laity: "After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?' 'Yes, Lord' he answered, 'You know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Take care of my lambs.'" Then Jesus asks him a second and third time saying each time, "Take care of my sheep." As disciples Jesus also gives us a new commandment when he says (John 13:34) "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
When it comes to accountability, the most powerful is that accountability when Jesus speaks to us about the last judgment. He speaks to us as individuals, but also he is speaking to the hierarchy of his Church throughout the ages. In Matthew (25:34-40) Jesus says, "Then the King will say to the people on his right, 'Come you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the Kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.' The righteous will then answer him, 'When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me!'" And so we shall all be judged, particularly those who would be leaders in Christ's mission (for to whom much is given, much is expected).
Jesus is very specific about essential characteristics he looks for in leaders and teachers. In John (13:2-11) Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and says "If I do not wash your feet you will no longer be my disciple." Whether a church, government or business, great leaders (Lincoln, Gandhi, Pope John XXIII) have this Jesus-like quality of humility.
There is much more that can be stated with reference to Jesus' mission and essentials of organization, but hopefully the essence is captured in these notes.
The Gospels do not tell us that the church organization will be democratic. However, that is just how the church operated in the early centuries. On the other hand, the Gospels do not tell us dictatorship is the appropriate form of church organization either. There are some clues that would indicate Jesus was very much against the arrogant elite of his day. For example, he used extremely strong language to berate the vipers and those who heaped burdens upon the people. Was Jesus simply relating to the ills of the time? Was Matthew giving this heavy emphasis in the strongest of words in response to struggles of leadership in the early church? The timeless message of scripture applies to all ages and we know Jesus was condemning the use of divine power for evil means. This sounds a lot like a condemnation of giving all power to a few unchallenged individuals, also known as a dictatorship.
Knowing the mission, responsibilities and accountabilities given the church (both the people and the hierarchy), let us look at what we have today.
Underlying the entire power structure of the Church is the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church). The catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) Section 890, p. 235 states: "The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is the Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the people of God abides in the Truth that liberates, to fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals."
At first glance one might think that the hierarchy has set out a different mission for the Church than Christ did. However, the hierarchy as defined is the point of unity of thought. It gives us a common creed that we would not have without some central coming together. For us it is Rome where we come together and so the pope is the symbol and place of unity that makes us Catholic. The mission of the magisterium would seem to be another appropriate mission of the hierarchy and the broader church also has a mission that calls us to "Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples ... ." As we go to all peoples then we bring a message of divine love that is not of our own making but comes to us from Jesus through the Church.
When one reads the mission of the magisterium you see clearly that the focus is on a very few individuals when the Catechism also states: "Christ endowed the church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals." Ah yes, here is the rub when we look at the issue of power. There must be power of discernment, but is it in the divine will that it should be controlled by a very few?
When we understand that the hierarchy sees its essential mission and purpose as maintaining divine truth then we can appreciate the many encyclicals and recent catechism. We can see the energy and single focus and concern about any change in thinking or loss of hierarchical power.
It would appear there is a fearful dread by the hierarchy that the pope could become only a symbol of unity and a gathering point of bishops who act with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then the hierarchy would jeopardize its power base and be forced to listen to loyal dissent. Who knows what could evolve from such a form of collegiality. Would it result in the blossoming of the church founded by Christ or would it worsen the current crisis existing in the church today?
The encyclicals and the catechism continue to emphasize a form of infallibility that critics term "creeping infallibility." This is the premise that the hierarchy builds its power on. It is a centralized, no discussion power base that punishes the dissenters with shame and silencing. Combined with this emphasis on infallibility is the control by the papacy and the inner circle of the curia on appointments to hierarchical positions and the bureaucracy which support them. This control extends to the appointment of bishops who either follow with out question the current criteria (no waivering on hierarchical positions on birth control, abortion, married clergy or ordaining of women) or are not considered candidates for the position. This is done to perpetuate the power of the papacy because no loyal dissenters are allowed in the ranks of the greater hierarchy.
As a lay person it appears that there is a strong emphasis by the hierarchy to be an all wise infallible teacher and not a listener. It shows in the complicated wording of the encyclicals and catechism. It shows in the lack of laity representation in the hierarchy. The Catholic Church strives to be a community but doesn't make it happen as Jesus emphasized in "love others as I love you." In its righteousness it explains away the crisis in the priesthood so today we are very limited in the key spiritual leaders that bring the sacraments and a loving community into focus. The disciplines and power are more important than "fed my sheep, cloth the naked," etc. Married priests, women as priests are not up for discussion so the hierarchy has its male, celibate, clerical continuity and the laity are not fed.
The attached addendum on the curia organization shows that it is essentially one of control. This is in response to the mission of the magisterium. Any focus on laity is at a secondary level. There is no check or balance in the hierarchy. In our form of government we have three bodies (congressional, judicial and executive) plus elections to bring some check and balance. Corporations have corporate boards and financial results to bring about accountability. The hierarchy has only the Holy Spirit who is essentially one who responds to listeners. Yes, we all have a problem with listening.
In the western church the great impact on the role of papal authority came with the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1967. Prior to this encyclical on birth control a crisis had arisen among loyal and the married laity over the teachings of the church on the subject. Many highly respected theologians took the stand that the teaching should be changed. Pope John XXIII set up a commission to review the issue but died before any action was taken. Three cardinals and a patriarch called for action at Vatican II and the bishops wanted it discussed. Pope Paul VI removed it from the council. Instead Pope Paul expanded John XXIII's commission with members who supported the traditional stance on birth control. Still this commission voted overwhelmingly for change. So the pope added another fourteen members to make sure the commission on birth control would favor tradition. In the end only 3 of his total 16 appointments voted against change. Despite this overwhelming input even from a stacked representation, the pope wrote Humanae Vitae to retain the traditional stance on birth control. Then the laity responded with their own informed conscience and papal authority diminished greatly.
Recent polls by U.S. News and World Report, Time, CNN, CBS and The New York Times during the Popes 1995 visit show the enormous decline in papal authority among the laity. Only 15% of those polled believe they should always obey the popes teaching on such issues as birth control and abortion. Seventy nine percent believe Catholics can make up their own minds. Seventy three percent said knowing that the pope had taken a position on a social or moral issue would make no difference and one can be a good Catholic at the same time.
These are indeed a sad set of statistics. We need so badly the spiritual guidance of the hierarchy but we need their understanding and fairness which was not evident in Humanae Vitae. That defiance, that non listening has eroded the papal authority to one of irrelevance.
We also refer to informed conscience as a final decider in the confusion that arises. This is not a simple answer when one contemplates the responsibilities that go with informed conscience. For your review we attach "The Honest Conscience" by James O'Reilly.
If we have a Catholic crisis it is rooted, it seems, in the crisis that comes from an addiction to the institution and its power. This goes on in all institutions, but it is of incredible destructive force in an institution that was divinely founded. The focus should be "feed my sheep." Instead the focus is the mission of the magisterium to "preserve God's people form deviations and defections..."
What is the ideal organization (distribution of power) for a Christ focused Church? We propose neither dictatorship (benevolent or not) nor pure democracy. What we do propose is a church organization that responds to the mission, responsibilities and accountabilities outlined for us by our savior. To do this we must begin with the main resource Jesus gave us. that is the Holy Spirit.
Need we quote the Gospels on the role of the Holy Spirit? Where is the theology of the Holy Spirit and its essential and personal message to each of us in the Church organization? Certainly the Holy Spirit is within all and not just within the Vatican. To release the power of the Holy Spirit we must return to collegiality. By this we mean we must have our Bishops, representing the people of God, give direction and shape to the Church organization. Bishops should be chosen or confirmed by the people (as it was in the beginning). In this atmosphere we can respond to the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 18). This is where infallibility has substance. This collegiality of bishops cannot be restricted to the current male celibate cleric.
Our true leader is the Holy Spirit, and with such a leader the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. The pope, the Bishop of Rome, is a sign and a focus of our unity, the leader of a community led by the Holy Spirit. It is time for the papacy and curia to be the servants that Jesus calls them to be. It is time to leave kingly ways, titles and palaces behind. The continued focus on building and maintaining papal power is not the mission of Jesus, nor is it the appropriate means to achieve Jesus' mission.
Such a move would seem revolutionary, but nothing would compare to the change it would demand of us, the people of God. Kahlil Gibran (The Prophet, on laws) addresses this challenge:
"And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.
For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride?
And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you.
And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the land of the feared."
Dictatorship leaves us with little self determination and, furthermore, the expectation of conformity. However, collegiality (community at our level) requires a great amount of giving and great humility. It could come down to a choice of the comfort of having someone else think for us, or accepting the responsibility to respond to Jesus' mission. A change in organization requires first a change of heart by all. Let us assume that we were to move the church organization to a serving collegial body not dominated by male celibate clerical power. What would we expect to happen? We would move to be a "wholly" Church that has a balance of male and female qualities. Today we have a right brain church that drowns itself in reasoning (and rationalization). A balanced, fully human, fully brained church would be in the image of Christ, a sexually balanced God. We would have nurturing, emotion, grounding, humility and true relationship. " And God created them male and female." The Church still struggles with the way God made things. We are each male and female. (In fact we all begin as females. Until a chromosome kicks in (or not) all of us are first female). It is not an issue of genitals, but the difference also comes with different window views of life. We can only be whole in looking out both windows. A change to collegiality of male and female will bring Jesus alive in our church. Then a new millennium will truly begin.
We leave you with these questions.
1. How does the Holy Spirit guide the Church?
2. As defined, how does the hierarchy impact you personally?
3. Should any changes take place in the hierarchy in structure or focus to achieve the mission Jesus lays out for us?
4. What can we do as a Christ centered community to respond to the mission Jesus has given us?
Books you may wish to read for further material on this subject.
__________________, Catechism of the Catholic Church - 1994
__________________, Catholic Almanac - 1995
E.C. Bianchi and R.R. Reuther, A Democratic Catholic Church
M.H. Crosby, The Dysfunctional Church
J. Dunn, The Rest of Us Catholics
A.M. Greeley, The Catholic Myth
P.S. Kaufman, Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic
We have done our best to credit our sources. Please forgive us if we have overlooked any.