Friday, 11 February 2011

A case of the Munsters? Part II

On Wednesday I posted reflections on the preamble to the recent statement by German-speaking theologians, but I left consideration of their proposals until now. We have seen a summary in the press of their agenda, but let us try and get below the surface as much as we can. The proposals are in italics with my remarks afterwards.

1. The faithful's participation is a touchstone of credibility for the freedom of the Gospel message. Following an ancient principle, what concerns all should be decided by all, and thus we need more synodal decision making. The faithful should have a say in the appointment of priests and bishops. What can be decided locally should be decided locally, and decisions should be transparent.

Well, yes and no. Catholicism always advances through a deeper understanding of the paradoxes of revelation, not through a rushing to one side or other of the paradox. One could argue that, hitherto, overbearing clericalism has in some ways strangulated some of the charisms which God grants individuals for the sake of the Church. Crikely, that is the story of half the saints! But then, one must also maintain that those charisms are not the only source of the Church's life. Not all of that which concerns all of us can be subjected to the judgment of us all (if you see what I mean). Part of the Church's credibility is not only the contribution of all the members to the working of the Mystical Body but also the order of that Mystical Body maintained by its chief members, especially with regard to the handing on of Revelation and the santification of the members of the Church. Some sort of democratic revolution, as proposed here, would only be the opposing vice of a debilitating clericalism.

2. Christian communities must be places where people share spiritual and material goods with each other. But now the life of the community has been eroded. The shortage of priests has led to the enlargement of parishes in which intimacy and membership can hardly be experienced. Historical identity and established social networks have been lost. Priests are "burned out". Believers will stay away if they are not trusted to take responsibility and participate in democratic structures at the direction of their community. The church office has to serve the life of the communities - not vice versa. Therefore, Church needs married priests and women in the church office.

Well, I was with them all the way until 'burned out'. They are right. All this is shocking. Ironically, it has come about in spite of (or because of?) the renewal that their immediate predecessors promised us. So, why do we now need yet more of the same revolution? I must say I also have my doubts about this idea that what people want is some kind of democratic vote in the Church. Yes, many laymen have views about this or that. Some of them feel strongly about the position of the statue of Saint Philomena, or the lack of parking available at the church. Most of them don't like being told to go to confession or do penance, though the Church needs to remind them all the same. But I hardly think the failure of the Church to listen to them is keeping them away. Most people have enough to do in running their own homes. The silliest thing in Proposal 2, however, is the conclusion about the need for female and married ordinandi. How on earth is that logical? The logical conclusion to this proposal is that the Church needs more priests. What we have here is accurate observation at the service of unproven ideology.

3. Legal culture: the recognition of dignity and freedom of every person shows up precisely when conflicts are resolved fairly and with mutual respect. Church law is worthy of the name only if the faithful have real rights. Law and legal culture in the Church must be urgently improved, and a first step is to develop the Church's administrative jurisdiction.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Here was I assuming these theologians had a sophisticated ecclesiology. Instead, they have some kind of bastardized model of a contractual society with a few wafts of religiosity here and there. In their minds one side of the paradox of the Church masquerades as the answer to all our problems. Yes, the faithful have rights, but they also have duties. Where is the language of duties in these proposals? I'm not sure you will find the words 'rights' in the letters of Saint Paul, but you will stumble across the expression obedience of the faith (or something approximating it) frequently. In any case, this language of rights is also indicative of a fundamental acceptance of the position that all our individualities are alienated and thus must be controlled by coercion. These theologians want ot talk of 'love' but their language of rights is more indicative of where they are coming from.

4. Freedom of Conscience: The respect for the individual conscience means to have confidence in the decision-making and responsibility of men. The Church must aim to support this ability and not become paternalistic. More seriously this affects the area of personal life choices and individual lifestyles. The Church's appreciation of marriage and the celibate life is beyond question. But by the same token we must not exclude same-sex partnerships or remarried divorcees who live responsibly through love, loyalty and mutual concern.

This is pretty bankrupt from start to finish, but let's isolate a few nuggets. Conscience is a question of subsidiarity, not of liberation. Indeed, when the Church presents something to our conscience, in most cases it is simply handing on the imperatives of the Gospel which we must then implement in our own lives (that is partly the subsidiarity bit!). There are large areas of our Christian life in which, according to subsidiarity, we constantly use conscience to guide us in matters where the Church has little or nothing to say: where we live, what job we do, what our hobbies are, the friends we choose - the fundamental stuff of every day living. Ah, but here's the rub. What these theologians want is for the Church not to propose the Gospel in those areas which affect life choices and personal lifestyles. To do this by implying that the Church's action in these areas is paternalistic is, however, a rhetorical decoy. The question is this: if the Church must preach against doctrines, like racism, which deform the dignity of the human person, how can she not preach against homosexual acts or remarriage after divorce which deform or illicitly simulate the dignity of the nuptial relationship? My own guess is that our German-speaking theologians don't mind the Church being paternalistic, as long as her paternalism serves their own principles.

5. Reconciliation: solidarity with "sinners" requires to take the sin in our own ranks seriously. The self-righteous moral rigour of the Church is not good. The Church cannot preach reconciliation with God, without reforming its own conduct. This is the prerequisite for Church's reconciliation with those towards whom it has been guilty of violence, by depriving them of their rights and by perverting the biblical message of freedom into a rigorous moral without mercy.

Oh, this is desperate! Of course the Church must reform itself, but so as to reimpose discipline, not to jettison it! In any case, what we have here again is the 'biblical message of freedom' without any reference to the duties or obedience which are also part of the Church's mission. As for rigorous morals without mercy, I have no idea what this can possibly be a reference to, unless it is simply code for the lamentable situation in which the Church preaches the Gospel Christ commissioned it to preach and not that believed by large numbers of German-speaking theologians. Indeed, the recent history of the Church has been one of reconciliation, an end to excommunications (apart from a couple of famous ones), and the elevation of the Divine Mercy. What monstrous authoritarianism has taken hold in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to have triggered Proposal 5?

6. Worship: The Liturgy lives on the active participation of all believers. Experiences and expressions of their presence must have a place. The service must not freeze in traditionalism. Cultural diversity enriches the life of worship and is not consistent with tendencies of centralized standardization. Only if the celebration adopts the concrete life of faith will the Church's message reach the people.

Yes, the liturgy is about us and celebrating us and our feelings and our emotions and our needs and our culture... Or is it? This view of active participation is inward looking, and hardly engages for a second with what the liturgy reveals to us about God, or with the effects of the sacraments. Of course the liturgy must not freeze in traditionalism. But neither must it be hijacked by a constant fadism! The German-speaking theologians here are once again at the lone end of a paradox. It's no wonder they are struggling.

The Church will begin a dialogue process leading to liberation and awakening, when all are prepared to address the pressing questions. It is through a free and fair exchange of arguments that solutions can be found to pull the Church out of its crippling self-managment. We must not be inactive. Fear was never a good guide in times of crisis. Christians are encouraged by the Gospel, to look to the future with courage and like Peter to walk on water. As Jesus said, 'Why were you afraid, oh ye of little faith?'

Awareness of problems, frank discussion, activity, fearlessness, courage: all good ideas of course! But we might be reading a party political statement were it not for the waft of religiosity at the end. Do these people believe in Jesus? Well, why don't they invite us to pray about it, or would that be paternalistic?

We have at the heart of this document one key phrase on which we must keep an eye: 'the gospel message of freedom'. What does it mean for these theologians? In short, it means that nobody can tell me what to do; the Gospel says anyone telling me what to do is committing violence against me; the Gospel says my part in the Church is like that of a democratic citizen in a Nation State. That, for these theologians, is the Gospel message of freedom. And their view is that the current crisis in the Church, especially after the abuse scandals, comes from a failure of the Church to live out this message of ecclesial liberty.

One hardly knows what to criticise first: the shallowness of thought, the hand-me-down liberalism, the theological language sellotaped over a secular, ethical agenda, the dishonesty in labelling the Church rigorist, and the self-absorption that wishes liturgy to be about us more than it is about God. Let us be under no illusions. Nothing redeems this document from its own baseness. Even its accurate observations are instantly put to work in support of a purblind ideology not of liberation by the gospel but of liberation from the gospel.

What ultimately reveals the paucity of thought behind this document is its failure to recognise that paradoxical nature of Christian revelation. These people call themselves theologians, and yet all their analyses - on conscience, on governance, on worship, etc - are based on one-sided accounts of some mystery which is so much larger in reality.

Every one of these men will have a doctorate and, at least in Germany (I don't know about the others), will have passed their habilitation which enables them to teach in university. So why does this document read like it was written by a clique of jabbering Calibans, leering and whining, unable to cope with the demented picture of the world which their ramshackle ideology presents to them?

I disagree with Peter Seewald's judgment that this document is a rebellion in a nursing home. If these proposals represent the opinions of a third of Catholic theology teachers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, then let us be under no doubt that in German-speaking lands, a great and terrible darkness has descended.


Gregory the Eremite said...

Yes, the most striking thing about what you have reported here is the shallowness, the sheer banality of it. I've often thought that academic Catholic theology in the UK is (with a few honourable exceptions) something of a joke, but this takes the biscuit.

However, perhaps point 3 can be read in another way - that canon law within the Church does not function. This is simply a truism - the manifold examples of liberal clericism trampling on the "rights" of the faithful give witness to this.

Left-footer said...

Great post!

What these people want is like treating an alcoholic with more alcohol. The Church has been greatly weakened in those areas where timidity in teaching, wedded to denial or 'nuancing' of Church doctrine, have become rife. More of the same will achieve only a further decline.

Democracy in Church government would lead to an increase in the power of vociferous interest groups who will form oligarchies.

Perhaps the Germans consciousness is still poisoned by their history: Bismarck, Falk, Hitler, and so they distrust all authority per se.

GOR said...

In a reply to the theologians, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Lugano, Manfred Hauke (two of whose colleagues at Lugano were signatories), made some good points – as reported by Sandro Magister on his blog Settimo Cielo. Among them:

- How can these theologians “make the Profession of Faith required of those who teach theology in the Church’s name?”

- The Memorandum “rather than showing profound theological understanding, demonstrates a loss of faith and morals”

- Subjective “freedom of conscience” cannot be separated from objective truth.

The Holy Father has spoken more than once to theologians about their role in the Church and how they can best exercise that role. A sine qua non for them and their role is humility. I suspect he may have some appropriate words for them - and for their bishops – in his upcoming visit to Germany.

Paolo Rodari of the Palazzo Apostolico blog thinks he has already begun. In his homily at the recent episcopal ordinations in Rome, Pope Benedict had some hard-hitting words for bishops, saying they should not be like reeds in the wind or servants of the spirit of the age. Noting that the homily was immediately available in German - unusual for the Vatican - Rodari thinks it was aimed at the German hierarchy.

The Holy Father’s visit could get very interesting…

Ttony said...

"If these proposals represent the opinions of a third of Catholic theology teachers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, then let us be under no doubt that in German-speaking lands, a great and terrible darkness has descended."

Yes, indeed! But at least the enemy is out, and in the open. And the Holy Father is heading that way, a Holy Father capable of taking this stuff head on.

JARay said...

A great post Ches.
But, to take just the last part of Ttony's comment..."at least the enemy is out...Holy Father capable of taking this stuff head on".
Certainly I am sure that Benedict XVI will not accept the "great and terrible darkness [which] has descended".
However, I wonder just how much of the Holy Father's wisdom will penetrate this darkness. I heard Bishop Fellay remark in December of last year that Benedict XVI has less power than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger used to have. That is because he is circumvented by powerful forces within the Vatican who hate the fact that he was elected as Pope. Bishop Fellay gave instances of this circumvention. I cannot remember all the instances which he related but one concerned the only Cistercian Abbey in Germany. They had decided (democratically!) that they wanted to return to their older Rule. They petitioned the Pope. Time passed and no reply was forthcoming so the Abbot asked a friend who was going Rome to raise the matter again with the Pope. This he did, and was told by Benedict "I gave permission for this six months ago". The permission had never been passed on because of the subversion which exists within the Vatican.
Bishop Fellay's closing words on this matter were "We do not trust the Vatican".