I received this commentary by Brian Cahill via George Bouchey. First George provides an introduction and then an unnamed source provides another.
* * *
An Excellent commentary!
From one of the lists I am privileged to be on.
Unfortunately, it did not come with a URL,
so if it truncates I do not believe I can help you.
pax . george
* * *
“From a close friend and former seminarian
Subject: Transcriptof a recent talk re: Church
A group to which I belong, consisting mostly of current priests, former priests, former seminarians, secular theologians and at least one bishop, had a dinner gathering recently in San Francisco. At it, a former seminarian, former Director of Catholic Charities and San Francisco’s Department of Social Services, Brian Cahill, spoke about the status of our Church today and why he stays in the Church.
I thought you might find the transcript of this talk of interest. He seems to cover all the bases in our evolving Church. Despite all of our Church’s “problems,” this talk gives me hope…”
* * *
Our Troubled Church and Why Some of Us Stay
(Brian Cahill, SemNet Live 2/20/15)
In 1969 my dad was appointed to the first lay advisory council of the U.S. Catholic Conference, the forerunner of the U.S. Bishops Conference. The General Secretary of the Conference was a very young Bishop Joseph Bernardin and there was a spirit of Vatican II renewal and optimism among the group. Twenty-five years later, my dad was no less faithful to his church, but he was far less optimistic. Shortly before he died, and only half joking, he said, “There’s no evidence that the Holy Spirit has been anywhere near the Italian peninsula since Roncalli died.” If my dad were alive today he would certainly be positive about Pope Francis, and he might acknowledge that the Holy Spirit has finally reappeared in Rome, but he would not assume that major change was immanent. He would be cautious, skeptical but I think, still faithful.
For those of us who pay any attention to our Church today, in spite of the positive influence of Francis, we have good reason to be cautious and skeptical.
The anger, disgust and frustration surrounding the child abuse scandal caused thousands of Catholics to walk from their Church. Bernard Law of Boston was removed from office but given a cushy retirement job in Rome. Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali announced that he had no priests in active ministry accused of child abuse. It turned out there were twenty-one. That was ten years after the Dallas Charter. Roger Mahoney was allowed to participate in the election of our new pope. He spent part of his time in Rome trying to tweet his way through the unfolding evidence of his role in the child abuse cover-ups in Los Angeles. Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, convicted for failing to report child abuse, continues in office.
But this tragedy is far from the only failure in our Church today. The history of the church under John Paul II and Benedict, as manifest in the behavior of many American bishops, is one of arrogance, paternalism, flawed logic, sexism, inflammatory rhetoric, hypocrisy, failure of personal accountability, lack of pastoral sensitivity and obsession with authority.
In taking on the role of culture warriors and exclusive possessers of “fundamental truth”, many bishops have lost their credibility and moral authority. Raymond Burke and other shortsighted bishops have used the Eucharist as a sanction against public officials, eventhough then Msgr. Bob McElroy had written about the unintended consequences of the denial of Communion: the perception of coerciveness, the identification of abortion as a sectarian Catholic effort, and the diminishment of the full range and impact of the Church’s social teaching.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, when he was in Denver, tried to tell us not to vote for Barack Obama, while at the same time banning children of same sex couples from the Denver catholic school system. Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., told us that Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposals involve “choices where intrinsic evil is not involved.” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix excommunicated a dedicated Mercy nun for making an impossible decision in a tragic, ambiguous medical crisis. After Illinois approved gay marriage, Bishop Thomas Paproki of Springfield conducted an exorcism against same sex marriage.
Oakland Bishop Michael Barber forced the inclusion of a morality pledge in teacher contracts. Jim Purcell’s sister, Kathy had the courage and integrity not to sign. And our own archbishop is trying a similar approach, but it’s not a new idea. Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr’s contract prohibits teachers from “public support of the homosexual lifestyle.” That contract language forced a Catholic teacher who is the mother of a gay son to choose between her son and her job. She chose her son. Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon fired a Catholic high school teacher from her job when the diocese read the obituary of her mother’s death and discovered the teacher was in a lesbian relationship. A Seattle Catholic high school, at the direction of Archbishop Peter Sartain, fired a gay assistant principal after he married his partner. The assistant principal was told that if he divorced his partner he could be reinstated. He moved on. Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt sent one of his priests to speak at a mandatory high school assembly just before Minnesota was to vote on an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. The priest, in attempting to influence soon-to-be voting age seniors, told the students that single parents and children who are adopted are not normal. A married Catholic couple presenting with the priest, compared same sex marriage to bestiality. The students didn’t buy it and the voters of Minnesota rejected the constitutional amendment.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, with his slick Irish charm, explained church teaching on same-sex marriage by saying that he always wanted to play shortstop for the Yankees, but did not have the “right stuff.” He wasn’t suggesting that gays with the range and arm of Derek Jeter could marry, but instead subtly using the lack of “right stuff” as code for “objectively disordered”—the Roman church’s favorite label for gays and lesbians. Dolan, with his smug sarcasm, has also compared homosexuality to incest.
In addition to his Catholic identity crusade, Salvatore Cordileone continues to lead the failed crusade against civil same sex marriage. He repeatedly proclaims that children need a mother and a father, blissfully ignoring both the heterosexual divorce rate and the thousands of children in the foster care system, placed there because of the neglect or abuse of their heterosexual parents—parents who are living proof that sexual orientation is not a reliable indicator of good parenting. He also ignores that the only significant cohort of adoptive parents for the most vulnerable of these children are qualified gay and lesbian couples who want to form family. Ignoring the pleas of major political and religious leaders to cancel his attendance, Cordileone was the featured speaker at the recent March For Marriage in Washington D.C. last June. Cordileone had no problem associating with the folks at the National Organization For Marriage (NOM) and the Family Research Council (FRC), groups known for their vitriolic rhetoric against gays and lesbians.
Cordileone is also busy on other fronts. He has spoken out against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, currently languishing in Congress. This law would prohibit workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians and includes an exemption for religious institutions, but Cordileone opposes this basic protection. Cordileone is also seeking a federal waiver so that Catholic adoption agencies can get back into the business and legally discriminate against same sex adoptive parents. And in a talk advocating natural family planning, Cordileone commented, “It’s not as if we have our bodies here, and our relationships over here, and our souls over here, our emotions here—it’s all interconnected.” This from the man who says it’s okay to be gay but you can’t act on it.
American Catholic bishops are rapidly losing ground on the issue of same sex relationships not just because a growing number of Catholics, especially younger Catholics, disagree with church teaching and feel the church is disrespectful to gays and lesbians. The bishops are losing because they continue to gloss over the infuriating, insulting, wounding and chasm-like dichotomy between regularly expressing respect and compassion for gays and lesbians and at the same time condemning them for acting on their nature.
Cordileone and his allies ignore recent scholarship on these issues. Louis Crompton, in Homosexuality and Civilization, documents ancient civilizations where same-sex relations were accepted. Daniel Helminiak, in What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, shows how biblical passages apparently condemning homosexuality have been mistranslated and misinterpreted.
Nicholas Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer from Duquesne University, questions church teaching on natural law and challenges the church “to address the counter-arguments of our fellow citizens who would say that, in their perception of nature, some folks come out of the factory with sexual attraction to members of their own sex. That is their nature. Did the divine creator make a mistake?”
In her book, Just Love, Sister Margaret Farley proposes an ethical framework for sexual ethics where justice is the criterion for all loving, including love that is related to sexual activity and relationships. Predictably the Vatican condemned the book, but many theologians considerJust Love the best book out there on sexual ethics. In a similar vein, Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has called for a complete overhaul of Catholic teaching on sexuality. He argues that there is no possibility of a change in church teaching on homosexual acts unless the church changes its teaching on heterosexual acts. Citing the church’s claim that God inserted into nature the demand that every human sexual act be both unitive and procreative, he contends that this teaching creates the false image of an angry, sex-obsessed God, and he reminds us that the teaching is simply an assertion with no compelling arguments or proof that it reflects God’s will. Robinson proposes that the Church consider sexual acts in relation to the good or harm done to individuals and their relationships rather than in terms of offending God. He does not suggest that all sex is good as long as it does not hurt anyone, and he shares the church’s concern about casual sex not related to love or relationship. He believes the sexual act should be motivated by a desire for what is good in the other person, should involve no coercion or deceit and should not harm a third party. He believes these requirements can be better met in marriage, but he does not believe that is the only way they can be met. Robinson suggests that either heterosexual or homosexual acts, if they meet these requirements, are not offensive to God but are rather pleasing because they enhance individuals and relationships.
In a recent book, God and The Gay Christian, Matthew Vines, a young gay evangelical, makes a compelling case for affirming orthodox, scripture-based faith and at the same time affirming committed same sex relationships. With scholarship and clarity he refutes and discredits the well-known passages in Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, 1 Corinthians and 1Timothy that have been the basis of church teaching on homosexuality. Vines goes on to say, “When we tell people that their every desire for intimate, sexual bonding is shameful and disordered, we encourage them to hate a core part of who they are. And when we reject the desire of gay Christians to express their sexuality within a lifelong covenant, we separate them from our covenantal God, and we tarnish their ability to bear his image.”
I won’t review our battle over working with same sex adoptive parents before I left Catholic Charities other than to say that Archbishop Levada knew what we were doing until he got to Rome and then he decided he was against it.
A few years ago the United Nations began an unprecedented and long over due interrogation of the Vatican regarding the scale of priestly child abuse. The Vatican was obligated to respond to the UN representatives because it’s a 1990 signatory to the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child, which calls for all governments to take adequate measures to protect children. Rome ignored the requirements of this agreement for the last eighteen years until 2012. But there is another story here. While the Vatican blew off this UN mandate when it came to the sexual abuse of children, it took the agreement very seriously when it came to another matter. In 2003, when Rome issued the teaching prohibiting same sex couples from being adoptive parents, the Vatican cited the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child as support for the Roman position and the church’s effort to “protect” children from the “great violence” that would be done to them by gay and lesbian parents. When it came to priests abusing vulnerable children, the agreement was ignored, but when it came to gay and lesbian couples adopting vulnerable children, it was run up the Roman flagpole.
The US Bishops continue to argue for a broader exemption from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Healthcare Act. Led on this issue by Archbishop William Lori, the bishops have little Catholic support because the great majority of Catholics have long rejected Church teaching on contraception and 95% of Catholic women of childbearing age use contraception. The bishop’s incredible assertion that contraception is a “deeply sacred religious belief” would be laughable if it weren’t for the reality that in their intransigence, leaders of the American Catholic Church, which always has been a strong advocate for health care, have ended up as opponents of health care reform. The bishops want an exemption for agencies like Catholic Charities and for any employer who would have a “conscience” problem with providing contraceptive coverage for employees. Not only is this effort turning religious liberty on its head, it ignores the reality that affordable health care, including contraception, is the most effective way to significantly reduce abortion.
The history here is interesting. The Obama law mandating contraception is exactly the same law California law passed in 1999. Only one bishop sued over that law and the California Supreme Court affirmed the law. Archbishop Levada told me not to worry about it and Catholic Charities continued to provide contraception coverage. If it was not a calamitous religious liberty issue then, why is it now? The bishops are now arguing that contraception is a “deeply held sacred belief” and that the broader service mission of an organization like Catholic Charities is religious and therefore the exemption should apply. While the mission of Catholic Charities is rightly driven by religious values, the bishops’ argument would allow them, in the name of religious liberty, to shove their beliefs down the throats of all employees regardless of their beliefs. The bishops complain that the exemption only applies to Catholic institutions limited to hiring and serving Catholics, and therefore, for an agency like Catholic Charities, the government is setting limits on who can be served. But the government is not telling Catholic Charities whom it can serve. The government is simply saying that if a Catholic agency hires employees without regard to their faith and serves clients without regard to their faith, then it has to play by the rules of the pluralistic society in which it chooses to function.
And religious liberty is not just about contraception. Last year President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians by federal contractors. He did this only after the House Republicans refused to approve a legislative approach to this problem. The President retained a 2002 Bush executive order allowing religious institutions flexibility in hiring for key positions, but resisted the call for a blanket exemption for all religious organizations. Most involved observers consider the language a reasonable and workable solution. Rev. Larry Snyder, then the head of Catholic Charities USA, agreed with the language. Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Catholic University of America also supported the compromise. “We all wanted to find a way to balance the rights of religious identity with the clear moral obligation to end discrimination based on orientation.” But not all parties wanted to find a way. The language was not good enough for the US Bishops. Archbishop Lori, their point man, announced, “In the name of forbidding discrimination this order implements discrimination. With the stroke of a pen, it lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent. As a result the order will exclude federal contractors precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs.” Actually it will exclude contractors precisely on the basis of their prejudice.
In 2010 the bishops’ lobbyists flooded Congress with false claims about the Affordable Health Care Act, including the charge that it would increase abortions. Two groups of nuns—the Catholic Health Association led by Sr. Casrol Keehan and NETWORK, a coalition of nuns organized by Sr. Simone Campbel—set the record straight with reliable empirical evidence that generous funding of healthcare actually lowers the incidence of abortion. Cardinal George was more angered that nuns dared to challenge the power of the bishops’ conference to speak “with one voice” in the name of the church than he was that the bishops’ lobbyists had spread misinformation on Capitol Hill. Shortly after this event the Vatican—in the person of our own William Levada—ordered a heavy-handed “visitation” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. LCWR represents eighty percent of Catholic sisters in the United States. These are women who do so much of the heavy lifting in our church, especially in education, health care and social services. The bishops have worried that the conference’s positions on homosexuality and the ordination of women would “give scandal,” and they criticized the nuns for focusing too much on poverty and injustice while not sufficiently supporting church teaching on abortion and marriage. It took four years of life under a cloud of needless suspician until the final report came out from the Vatican last December clearing the nuns of the false allegations raised against them.
Just a few thoughts on abortion. I believe that in many cases, but not all, abortion is wrong, but I think the strategy and tactics of our American church leaders have been ineffective and at times counterproductive. It’s as though someone wrote a handbook for the American bishops on how to lose influence and credibility in the abortion battle, with the following recommendations:
- Keep insisting on church teaching on contraception
- Keep ignoring the health care needs of low income women
- Keep supporting personhood bills and constitutional amendments that don’t go anywhere
- Keep insisting, as the bishops did in South Dakota, that abortion is murder but at the same time fail to propose an appropriate punishment for the mother or the abortion provider, thus showing the world they really don’t think it’s murder
- Keep claiming that abortion trumps all other Catholic moral issues
- Keep trying to tell Catholics they cannot vote for a pro-choice politician, and keep calling the Democrats “the party of death”
- Keep being seduced by the likes of Karl Rove, into naively believing that one day, with the right president in place, the Supreme Court will do the bishops’ work for them
- Keep ignoring thoughtful, pro-life Catholics such as Peter Steinfels, the former New York Times religion editor, who argues that insistance on an outright legal ban of abortion will in the long run harm the church and the pro-life cause.
It is impossible to ignore the impact of Pope Francis, a modern-day pope who lives simply, who prefers to spend his time with the poor and the marginalized, who tells his bishops to stop being obsessed with the sexuality issues and who sees his role as pastor, compassionate friend and fellow sinner on the Christian journey.
But Jamie Manson, a Yale trained theologian and a writer for National Catholic Reporter, suggests that we should not get too excited. For her, the bottom line is that in spite of the warmth and sincerity of the Pope’s words, he is not indicating any change in church teaching. She points out that the Pope says that the church does not want to wound gays and lesbians, but “Francis doesn’t seem to understand that it is precisely the teaching of the church that is doing the wounding.” And Manson asks the broader question: “What good is a more pastoral church when ultimately, gays and lesbians are still told their relationships are sinful, women are still barred from answering God’s call to ordained ministry, women in need of lifesaving abortions are forced to die, and starving families in countries like the Philippines are denied access to condoms?”
The Vatican Synod on the Family convened by Pope Francis, opened with refreshing sensitivity and respect for homosexuals and positive proposals relating to divorced and remarried Catholics. Half way through the session, conservatives were fighting back hard, resisting any change in church teaching. Between the start and close of the Synod, language changes give a hint of what’s to come. The phrase “welcoming homosexual persons” was dialed back to the more antiseptic “giving pastoral attention to persons with homosexual tendencies.”
But the charming Cardinal Timothy Dolan explains how the press got everything wrong about the synod. “There must have been two synods. From what I’ve heard and read the real synod was divisive, confrontational, partisan; it dealt only on same sex attraction, cohabitation, divorced and remarried Catholics.” The synod Dolan attended was “a synod of consensus.” In a CBS television interview Dolan enthusiastically stated how great the synod was and reiterated how there really wasn’t that much controversy. “All of this discussion was to help the Holy Father present the timeless, unchanging teaching of the church in a fresh new way. The Church isn’t about no. It’s about yes—yes to everything that is good and true. We just have to fix the language.”
Raymond Burke—no one would ever call him charming—had a slightly different take after the synod: “Under Francis, the Church is like a ship without a rudder.” Later, he offered this pre-holiday advice: “Catholic families should not expose children to the evils of homosexuality by inviting a gay son home for Christmas dinner with his gay partner.”
Following on the heels of the Synod on the Family was a conference organized by the current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Muller. Invitees included Mormon and Southern Baptist church leaders, Rick Warren, Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and Archbishop Charles Chaput who had just declared that the “synod confusion was the work of the devil.” Pope Francis opened this conference with a talk acknowledging that marriage and family are in crisis, and the conference went on to be a celebration of procreative, heterosexual marriage. Many observers wondered why the pope, after raising the hopes of progressives at the beginning of the synod, would step into this environment. NCR editors see Francis as calling for a middle ground between doctrine and reality. Others see him as between a rock and a hard place. And some women writers, who appreciate the pope’s efforts to renew the church, are not impressed with his less than enlightened language when he addresses the role of women in the church. And in the same interview when the pope issued his now famous statement, “Who am I to judge?” he also declared, “the priesthood is closed to women.”
So how are we to see this pope? I have no more wisdom than any of you, but clearly he is a breath of fresh air, committed to transparency and a reform of the Roman institutional structure. He may not initiate any change in doctrine, but hopefully he is laying the groundwork for changes in the future. It’s certainly possible that the hardliners, especially the young ones are simply waiting him out with the hope of replacing him with one of their own. But I think it’s also possible that this pope with his modeling a spirit of simplicity, compassion and love at the highest levels of the church, is reminding all of us—lay people, clergy and religious, and especially bishops—that there must be a balance between law and love, that the law is to serve love and can’t be considered as an end itself. I’m reminded what our fellow Semnet member Bob Nixon said about Jerry Kennedy when Jerry died, “He bent to love over law.” And the pope’s recent homily to the new cardinals makes his pastoral approach crystal clear.
But the hard liners, those who prioritize the law over love, are not slowing down. After putting his own people in place in the seminary and the chancery office, Cordileone and his imported crew of orthodox, smugly ideological and deliberatively provocative zealots are moving to enforce his sex-obsessed version of Catholic identity not just in in Catholic high schools, but it turns out, unbelievably—in at least one Catholic grammar school, apparently trying to root out second grade masturbators, fourth grade fornicators and sixth grade same sex couples.
Leaving aside the bizarre, inappropriate, irresponsible behavior of Star of the Sea pastor Joseph Illo, there is nothing wrong with focusing on Catholic identity. The question is: how does a Catholic organization—a hospital or a social service agency, or in this case a school—which does not limit its hiring or its services to Catholics—how does such an entity manage the tension between what our church teaches in the area of sexuality and how it is expected to carry out its mission, serve its students and support its staff, in the pluralistic society in which it lives and operates? The answer: very carefully, and it’s an ongoing challenge, not conducive to an ideological, non-collaborative, disrespectful, thought-police approach. Bob McElroy, who did his dissertation on the writings of John Courtney Murray wrote, “It is the responsibility of the Church to proclaim the whole Gospel, but it is not the responsibility of each part of the Church to proclaim it the same way.” Cordileone appears tone deaf to this kind of nuanced thinking by the man who is now his assistant bishop. But Cordileone is a true believer/culture warrior who is also playing to his national conservative base.
So why stay? Why stay in a church with such flawed, out of touch leaders? Why stay in a church that treats women and gays as second-class citizens? Why stay in a church that can never admit it is wrong? And why stay in a church that at times seems to represent the opposite of Jesus’ message of love and inclusiveness?
My children, and I suspect some of your children, and thousands of their generation, have answered that question clearly. They’ve walked—many of them as soon as they came of age. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that four out of five Catholics who have left the Church and haven’t joined another church, did so before the age of twenty-four. One can point to an increasingly secular, materialistic culture as a factor in this exodus, but a closer look suggests that young Catholics are increasingly turned off by the attitudes and actions of some American bishops. More recently, Catholic high school students, who can spot dishonesty and hypocrisy a mile away, are reacting with disillusion and disgust at how the Church is treating some teachers in Catholic schools.
So for those of us who stay, do we remain simply because we are too old or too apathetic? I would like to suggest that there are a number of valid reasons to stay in our Church that don’t have to do with old age or apathy.
For myself I could say it’s in my DNA, inculcated in my parents’ home, in Holy Name grammar school, and in my time in the seminary. I could say it’s because of my wife Donna, an evolved soul who loves the Church warts and all. But I think there are other reasons.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “Life is full of brokenness, broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful, except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives.” Many of our church leaders are broken, but are they any more broken than many of our political leaders? And are they any more broken than we are?
Don’t get me wrong, some of these guys should be the targets of our anger and some of them have their heads so far up their rear ends they’ll never see daylight. But I wonder if all of us had stayed and went on to the priesthood, and if some of us had become bishops, especially if we were formed during the time of John Paul II, would we be any different from some of them? Could we have avoided the insularity and clericalism that so entraps them?
I stay because it’s my church, because I won’t let these guys drive me out of my church. Maybe that’s a form of pride, but I also stay because of the good guys—Thomas Merton, Richard McBrien who just died, heroes like Bishop James Shannon who had the courage and integrity to resign over Humanae Vitae, pastors like Bishops John Cummins and Frank Quinn. I stay because of retired Archbishop John R. Quinn, who continues his advocacy for the reform of the papacy and with humility and wisdom urges his fellow bishops to consider how their voices can be most credible, describing the pitfalls of bishops functioning as partisan political actors, revving up the culture wars and exclusively focusing on abortion and gay marriage.
Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, has not only publicly questioned the bishops’ contraception lawsuit, but has consistently spoken out on behalf of the poor and vulnerable and clearly articulated the deficiencies in Paul Ryan’s budget. Joliet, Ill., Bishop Daniel Conlon, the point man for the bishops on sex abuse, had the courage and integrity to acknowledge that the “credibility of the bishops on the subject of child abuse is shredded.” Bishop Frank Caggiano, newly arrived at Bridgeport CT, told his fellow Catholics: “Rebuilding trust requires transparancy, simplicity and authenticity” and he has gone on to live out those principles, convening a diocesan synod, meeting with all stakeholders and making it clear that he does not have all the answers. John Wester recently reminded his prolife, pro-family colleagues that the Catholic defense of families means aiding immigrant families And Bob McElroy is writing and speaking strongly and eloquently that poverty and inequality should be church priorities at least equally paramont with abortion and marriage.
I stay because of the good women in our church like the leaders of LCWR, like the theologians Elizabeth Johnson and Margaret Farley; like Sr. Simone Campbell, whose Nuns on the Bus was not just about ministry, justice and charity, but a brilliant model of effective communication and public relations, unlike the bishops’ silly and shallow Fortnight for Freedom. I stay because of Sr. Sandra Schneiders, the author ofProphets In Their Own Country, who in her address to a recent LCWR meeting, suggested that “Gospel leadership consists of leaders who emerge from the community, leaders who practice anticipatory leadership, discerning and preparing the community for coming change, and leaders who not only act efficaciously, but live with “integrity.”
I stay because the Catholic Church, for all its faults, has developed social teaching so significant that it influenced both the work of Martin Luther King and that of the American labor movement, and I stay because our Church has produced the greatest health and social service system in the history of this country.
I stay because of what Frank Norris wrote in God’s Own People: “The Church on earth is a mystery that calls for faith. Only the gift of faith can enable man to see beyond the human element in the Church to the divine presence of Christ within it.” And I recall the words of Hans Kung from his great work, On Being a Christian: “Then why stay? Because, despite everything, in this community of faith critically but jointly we can affirm a great history on which we live with so many others. Because, as members of this community, we ourselves are the Church and should not confuse it with its machinery and administrators, still less leave the latter to shape the community. Because, however serious the objections, we have a found here a spiritual home in which we can face the great questions of the whence and whither, the why and wherefore, of man and the world. We would no more turn our backs on it than on democracy in politics, which in its own way is misused and abused no less than the Church.”
Peter McDonough offers an interesting view of our church today. In The Catholic Labyrinth: Power, Apathy and a Passion for Reform in the American Church, he argues that while there is a conservative and liberal wing in the Church, the folks in between—the largest segment in the Church—are complacent in their participation in their religion and ignore the ethical teaching of the Church in the area of politics and sexuality, and therefore there is no burning desire for reform. His point is that the polarization of liberals and conservatives is somewhat marginalized and most Catholics just do their thing without getting involved one way or the other. He may be right.
But in his recent book, Can We Save the Catholic Church? Hans Kung states, “As long as we truly believe that this is the Church of Christ in which the Spirit of God continues to work despite all human failings and obstacles, there is no reason to doubt that we can and will save it and that the Church will not only survive its present mortal crisis, but that sooner or later, we will once again become what Christ founded us to be.”
In Why Stay Catholic, Michael Leach writes, “Catholicism seen through the eye of a needle is a religion of rules and regulations. Seen with sacramental imagination, it is a unique take on life, a holy vision, a way of seeing the chosen part of things.” He writes about the changing and unchanging teachings of the church, a concept that seems to elude the likes of Burke, Dolan and Cordileone. Leach concludes, “The church has changed. It is changing. It will change. After the dust settles, the gold will remain.”
On a personal note, when I lost my son I found myself raging at God, wondering what kind of god could be so incompetent as to allow this to happen. CS Lewis, writing after the death of his wife, offered this: “Not that I am in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him.” For some time, in his rage after her death, Lewis referred to God as the “Cosmic Sadist.” My point is this: if I can believe in a God that allowed my son to take his life, then it’s not much of a stretch to believe in a flawed, dysfunctional church.
So what’s the solution for staying and not going crazy? Here are my thoughts for whatever they’re worth:
- Pray and try to be in God’s presence.
- Go to Mass where there is a vibrant liturgy.
- Seek out and find Church. For me Church is in the chapel at San Quentin with a bunch of lifers, but I also have experienced Church at my son’s funeral, at Lenten Vespers at Most Holy Redeemer in the Castro, in a gathering of people from all around the world in Medjugorie, a small town in the mountains of Bosnia where the Blessed Mother has been appearing. And Church can be found in many different settings where we serve the poor, vulnerable and marginalized among us.
- Speak out against the leaders of our church when you think they are wrong, or hypocritical and when they are not representing Jesus’ message. And speak out against the nonsense.
- Trust in the Holy Spirit, because if you don’t believe that the Spirit of God is in the Church, then it’s all nonsense.
I want to emphasize the need to speak out. Jim Purcell wrote a powerful piece about Cordileone in the San Jose Mercury News. Some of you could try to get a piece in the San Mateo Times, the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times, the Marin Independent Journal, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Those of you who are adept enough to be on social media have the opportunity to speak your truth about the Church. You can speak out within your parish. My point is that for those of us who stay and dissent, we have an obligation to speak out.
I’ll close with one of my favorite spiritual writers, Fr. Ron Rolheiser. In The Holy Longing he wrote, “To be connected to the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers and hypocrites of every kind. It also at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul within every time, country, race and gender. To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of the soul…because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves.”