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.
Do We Have Freedom of Thought and Speech on Church Matters?
Among the responsibilities of the Catholic hierarchy is the preservation of basic doctrine or core beliefs, and the structure of the church. The fundamentals of our faith are perhaps best expressed the Nicene Creed and the prayer Jesus gave us, The Our Father. Beyond these simple basics men for nearly two thousand years have developed a series of doctrines, theologies, and institutional structures. This paper concentrates on the position of the Catholic hierarcy towards those who question the validity of some of these doctrines in the light of the contemporary world - those who reinterpret in today's setting what it means to be a follower of Christ.
In a logical sequence we will present the following: 1.) Core beliefs - what it means to be a Catholic Christian, 2.) Vatican II's position on our responsibilities as people of God, both clergy and laity alike, in seeking the truth., 3.) To what extent these responsibilities have been advanced since Vatican II, 4) The official church position towards both lay and clerical theologians who question centuries old doctrines and practices, 5) The position as stated in the 1994 new catechism, and 5) The road ahead for us and the whole church.
The basic core belief of the church is found in the Nicene Creed which we recite during Sunday Mass. This dates from the fourth century council at Nicaea, now Iznik in western Turkey. We believe in a tripartite God: Father, Son born of the Virgin Mary who became man, and the Holy Spirit. "We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church." Please note that the church is apostolic, so we seek our roots in the writings of the apostles.
We do not question core beliefs whatsoever, , but have the right and indeed the obligation to assess man-made doctrines and practices in light of the advancement of knowledge and the needs of the contemporary church.
Vatican II reminded us that we are God's people and told us we should not feel the need to remain mute for fear of confronting the Vatican. The Holy Spirit's influence is not limited to Rome. On the contrary, we have the duty, not just the right, to advise our clergy and the hierarchy to consider honestly the issues which impact our lives in the real world. Chapter 2, dealing with the people of God, in the Documents of Vatican II, pp. 24-37, tell us that:
"For, by this sense of faith which is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth God's People accepts not the word of men but the very Word of God...... it is not only through the sacraments and church ministries that the same Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the People of God and enriches it with virtues. Allotting his gifts to everyone according to his will (1 Cor. 12:11), he distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks or offices advantageous for the renewal and upbuilding of the church...... These charismatic gifts .... are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the church."
This statement in Vatican II clearly laid the foundations for us as lay people to develop and follow an informed conscience. The 1994 Catechism confirms the role of the laity inspired by the Holy Spirit. Many talented and spiritually inspired Catholics have eagerly dared to leap into the riches of scripture. Comparing the spirit of Christ's scriptural teachings with some of the official church's positions, one wonders whether the church has veered away from the original Christian message. The liberating power of the Christian faith leads one to analyze many church doctrines and rituals to see whether they have been or still are appropriate in the contemporary world.
Much of the explosion of Catholic thought since Vatican II has seemed to church leadership as a challenge to its validity and authority, and it has reacted defensively. Historically it has always done so, and this is understandable. For centuries the hierarchy has enjoyed a monarchical, authoritarian form of administration and government, and see itself as being threatened. Consequently the hierarchy has clamped down on what it deems dissident protests. It has censured people and destroyed ecclesiastical careers. A very real problem and key issue is the process the hierarchy has followed in dealing with dissident theologians. Due process of law has virtually been ignored for the accused. They are not even given a chance to defend themselves.
There are many examples of the church being open to change, however, and we applaud the results. Since Vatican II there has been an explosion of active lay involvement in a plethora of ministries formerly handled only by priests. The Mass is said in the vernacular with the priest facing the congregation. Women are lay readers and Eucharistic ministers, which earns them new respect and status. The church has a broader outlook on confession, reconciliation, and the concept of sin. Superficial practices like forsaking meat on Friday have been replaced by the need to develop a moral conscience. This all seems to harmonize with the vision of Pope John XXIII who convoked Vatican II and which stressed that an active laity, clergy and hierarchy must think through what adjustments the church needs make to successfully meet the challenges of the modern world.
Pope John Paul II participated actively in the proceedings of Vatican II, but he gives us much evidence that he wishes to apply the brakes and rein in the momentum for change. Early in his pontificate he made it clear that no priests would be candidates for promotion who even supported discussion about change in the Vatican's position on artificial birth control, abortions, women becoming priests, or allowing priests to marry. Since prelates are human, many do seek advancement. Will they suppress their own honest beliefs and take the long view, waiting for the Holy Spirit to help the process of change out of Rome?
Following are some examples of centralized control by the Pontiff and the Roman Curia (the papal bureaucracy), censuring individual prelates and usurping previously acknowledged rights and customs of religious orders.
The Jesuit order following its own constitution in 1981 appointed an American priest as its general. The Pope vetoed him and imposed his own man.
In 1985 the Franciscan Friars Minor received the same treatment.
In 1989 the Confederation of Latin-American religious women elected a nun as its leader, but Rome vetoed this and imposed a priest, a man, as head. In 1991 a papal delegate, another man, was appointed to supervise them and screen all publications.
Next came the turn of the Latin-American bishops. Pope John XXIII had granted them the right to elect their own leader. In 1992 this was revoked and Pope John Paul II appointed his own man. A Brazilian bishop, approved by his cardinal to attend the Bishop's Conference, was then forbidden to attend. He had been an active supporter of liberation theology, ministering to the needs of the impoverished masses.
American Archbishops are not immune from Rome's control. In 1986 Seattle Archbishop Hunthausen was censured because he had allowed a Catholic homosexual support group to celebrate mass in his cathedral. Since he was following his pastoral principles and authority, he was exonerated in 1987.
In that same year the Pope raised the question of denying the Sacraments to divorced Catholics. Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee was among those prelates who refused to deny the rights of individual conscience. He also advocated ordaining married men as priests and had liberal views on birth control and abortion in cases of rape and incest. He and four other theologians were nominated for honorary degrees by the Swiss Papal university at Fribourg. This needed Vatican approval. Weakland and two others were vetoed, so the university responded by rescinding all five nominations. Weakland was not officially censured by the Vatican. It respected his authority as Bishop to act according to his own conscience.
Priests are even less secure than bishops. The Swiss Hans Kung was removed as professor of theology at a German university. He had written against the idea of papal infallibility, and had recommended that all dioceses enjoy the right to appoint their own bishops, citing a Swiss example which had received this privilege centuries ago.
In 1986 Father Curran, professor of moral theology at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. was removed. He had written controversial views about birth control and homosexuality. It was not only his removal, but the process employed in this and other cases that seems alien to the generally accepted concept of due process of law for one accused. The accused has the right to study documents to be used against him (at least in modern Western culture), the right of counsel, the right to defend himself and to appeal. Canon law denies all of this. There has been no right of defense at all.
In 1988 the American Dominican priest Matthew Fox was silenced for one year and ordered not to publish or speak out. He said later that his offense to Rome was really that he emphasized original blessing rather than original sin, that he referred to God as father and mother, and that he was an ardent feminist. He received no formal hearing and no chance to respond to the charges against him.
The word feminism, a catchall term used to describe the various concepts of women's rights, seems to create paranoia in the hierarchy. In 1985 the spokesperson for Dutch Catholic Women's organizations was Catherina Halkes, professor of theology at Nymegen. She was expected to address the meeting when the pope visited the Netherlands. She was forbidden to speak.
Such attitudes as these are counter productive. They can put the Church at odds with democratic processes and create a backlash of anti-Catholic opinion. In 1990 certain American bishops announced that legislative candidates or incumbents should seek to overturn the legal rights to abortion, the law of the land. If they did not comply they should be forbidden the Sacraments. In San Diego a Catholic woman candidate welcomed this and publicized it, thinking that the reaction would secure her election. It did, to the dismay of her bishop.
Recent news reports confirm that even discussion, let alone dissent is to be forbidden. In 1994 the Pope stated that ordaining women as priests would be against God's law. Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, added that those who disagreed publicly should be denied the Sacraments.
The June 1995 issue of the Redwood Crozier, published by our diocese, reported that a nun professor at a Catholic seminary in Indiana had been dismissed from the faculty for publicly opposing the Pope's declaration that women cannot be priests.
The 1994 American edition of the catechism was revised before publication to remove any references to liberal feminist attitudes. It does, however, give a qualified acknowledgment to laity in general (Section 907, pp. 239-240) stating:
"In accord with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they possess, (lay people) have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the church, and they have a right to make their opinions known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and dignity of persons."
This Catechism has been a best seller in the United States, but it most certainly was not intended for mass consumption. One almost needs to be trained in theological organization or library research to be able to use it systematically. The subject index does not mention Vatican II. The reference to councils does not mention any by name. The index of citations does list many under the heading of Vatican II; however, they are footnoted in the text under obscure headings without mentioning Vatican II, so that most lay persons would not know that this council ever took place. One can check the entire bulky main text and not find reference to any specific church council mentioned by name. The confusion of the structure of the Catechism almost seems to reflect the Church's perplexity in coming to grips with our world. We must therefore ask, what lies ahead?
The Vatican makes no distinction between core beliefs of the faith and issues on which we Catholics must follow our own consciences. The Pope in his 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, acknowledged discontent in the church, but he wrote that it is not serious enough to cause real division. Is he realistic? Are the faithful drifting away to the extent that the church, or the papacy, could become irrelevant?
The Irish author Father Dunn in The Rest of Us Catholics pp. 256-258 outlines trends in the Dutch church where the Vatican has imposed foreign bishops. In 1955 more than 90% of Catholics subscribed to a Catholic newspaper, listened to Catholic broadcasting, or, if workers, joined a Catholic trade union. Over 80% voted for a Catholic political party and attended mass regularly. Now mass attendance in the diocese of Haarlem, including Amsterdam, is estimated at 14%.
What about American Catholics? The October 9, 1995 issue of U.S. News and World Report showed a cover photo of the Pope with this statement: "HONOR THY FATHER, The Pope's Blunt Message to American Catholics." The article on pages 72 - 77 cited a U.S. News recent opinion poll. Eighty six percent of American Catholics approve of the man. Only 56% approve of the job the pope is doing. Per the U.S. News opinion poll, American Catholics hold these views:
"Perhaps more important than restoring discipline, say church observers, have been Vatican moves to install strong papal loyalists in the U.S. church hierarchy and to consolidate decision making authority in Rome. It is a move 3 out of 4 American Catholics in the U.S. News survey said they oppose. Only 24% said the pope alone should have authority to decide church doctrine and policy. Undaunted John Paul II has appointed 297 of the nation's 383 bishops and nine of its 11 (sic) cardinals, and all are intensely loyal."
Those who are happy to follow the Vatican line uncritically are good Catholics. So are those who seek to interpret God's will by returning to scripture and interpreting the truth in the light of the so called real world.
The core beliefs are summarized in the fourth century Nicene Creed which we recite at mass. They include acceptance of the Tripartite God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a son wholly God and wholly man. This God-man died on the cross to atone for our sins, was resurrected, appeared again to his disciples, and ascended into heaven. The sacrament of the mass reenacts the last supper and his sacrifice. When we reconcile, confess and receive communion we partake literally of the body and blood of Christ.
Matthew 16:18 quotes Jesus: "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
A good Catholic can believe that this refers to Peter's belief and faith. The pope insists that this legitimizes papal dictatorial control and dominance over the church. Peter founded Christ's church in Jerusalem, not Rome. The work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to Rome. She inspires men and women everywhere.
Having read this paper, please consider the following questions:
1. In a democratic society, how can the Catholic Church become more open and democratic?
2. Is it desirable for the Catholic Church to become more open and democratic in authoritarian societies? Do you think this would advance the cause of democracyin such societies?
3. What does the US News and World Report article tell us about the acceptance of the pope's message?
4. Does the pope intend to undo the progressive achievements of Vatican II?
5. What degree of freedom of speech and thought should priests and bishops have?
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994.
Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994.
The Documents of Vatican II, 1966.
Cardinal Suenens, Memories and Hopes, Dublin, 1992.
Henry F. McCreery, The Recovery of Religious Roots, 1993.
Histories and Basics of the Church
Thomas Bokenkotter, Essential Catholicism, New York 1986.
Edmund Hill, Ministry and Authority in the Catholic Church, London, 1988.
Alan Schreck, The Compact History of the Catholic Chuch, Ann Arbor, MI., 1987.
US News and World Report, October 6, 1995, pp. 72-77.
Advocates of Change
James J. Bacik, Tensions in the Church, 1993.
Father Avery Dulles, A Church to Believe In, 1982.
Father Joseph Dunn, The Rest Of Us Catholics, 1994.
Father Philip S. Kaufman, Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic, 1993.
Morton Kelsey, (Episcopal priest, emeritus professor at Notre Dame University), Companions on the Inner Way, 1984.
_____________, The Drama of Christmas, Letting Christ into our Lives, 1994.
_____________, After Life, The Other Side of Dying, 1982.
_____________, Can Christians Be Educated, 1977.
_____________, The Other Side of Silence, A Guide to Christian Meditation, 1976.
_____________, Encounter With God, 1972.
Penny Lernoux, People of God, The Struggle for World Catholicism, 1989.
Father Richard P. McBrien, emeritus head of theology, Notre Dame University, Catholicism, 1994.
Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, professor at Harvard Divinity School, Discipleship of Equals, 1988.
Lucinda Vardey, Belonging: A Questioning Catholic Comes to Terms With the Church, 1988.
History of Religions or Philosophy
Karen Armstrong, former Catholic nun, A History of God, 1994.
John H. Randall, Jr., was professor of philosophy at Columbia University, The Making of the Modern Mind, 1940.
Huston Smith, was professor of philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Religions of Man, 1958.
We have done our best to credit our sources. Please forgive us if we have overlooked any.