The National Catholic Review
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In his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict XVI joins “the ministry of charity” in proclaiming the word of God and celebrating the sacraments as the expression of the church’s “deepest nature.” What is more, charity, which Benedict equates with love, is called the “indispensable expression” of the church’s very being.

These are inspiring words addressed to everyone in the Catholic Church. But there is a problem: the words are often not matched by reality. To be sure, there are armies of known and nameless Catholics who powerfully witness to love. There are many devoted clerics and vibrant parishes and spiritual movements. Most of us, we can hope, have even had our own high moments, expressive of charity.

But we should be honest with ourselves, especially when considering the church as institution and how it is perceived in the world. Are we known by our love?

Since the encyclical is addressed to everyone in the church, we might want to consider whether the answer to that question has something to do with us.

Indeed, there have been members of the hierarchy who, like Archbishop Mark Coleridge in Australia, have worried about a “clericalism understood as a hierarchy of power, not service.” But there is at least a perception among many Catholics (including the 10 percent who have left the church in the last decade) that power is a greater concern to members of the hierarchy than service to “proclaiming the word of God,” the sacraments and “the ministry of charity.”

I would be surprised if I were the only priest to have been asked painful questions like the following: Is having a male, celibate priesthood more important than the liturgy itself or than other sacraments administered only by a priest? Why is it supposedly forbidden to even raise this question?

If proclaiming the word, living the sacraments and charity mark the church’s deepest nature, why does it at least appear that our highest priorities are rules and self-protection? In the public eye, the church is perceived as mounting its most urgent opposition in matters of sexuality and ecclesiastical law rather than of justice, charity and service.

Such a confusion of priorities is exemplified in incidents like the full-page indictment and excommunication of a sister who supports women’s ordination while some highly placed clerics, profoundly compromised by their actions of injustice and disordered attachment, seem to be quietly passed over. The confusion is intensified when newspapers throughout the world give front-page coverage to a Vatican document that, by its presentation, appears to assert a strange moral equivalence between attempting to ordain a woman and the abuse of children or the disabled, or the distribution of child pornography. They are all considered “grave crimes.”

I do not think such questions betray hostility to the hierarchy or the church, although I know many people who have left the church because of them. But there are also many who abide in painful conflict, like the appellate court judge in Illinois who wrote in The Chicago Tribune that maybe she should be excommunicated because she has questions similar to those reported above. As a committed Catholic and mother who loves the church, she cannot abandon it, because “walking away would break my heart.”

Perhaps the whole church can learn from her. For members of the hierarchy, one hopes that they do not ignore her plight or belittle her complaint. May they always embody what Archbishop Coleridge calls the way of service, rather than power. And we can hope, for the church and the world, that our bishops’ model for love is the one who said, “as I have loved you.”

As for the rest of us, the Illinois judge exemplifies the fact that none of us can say, “I am the church” or “They are the church.” We are all the church; and our union of hearts and minds is not found in our state of life, but in the saving Lord the church has given us through all its years of splendor and, yes, its crying need of reform.

As his followers, we will be known, then, like the great ones who have gone before us, not for our self-righteousness or anger, our resentment or judgment of others, our human-made laws or pet causes, but for our love.

 

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

Mike Evans | 10/1/2010 - 2:54pm
What if we suddenly declared all our Christian neighbors as members in good standing of the one church of Christ. We could then let them keep their own forms of worship, of governance, their traditions of ordaining women and married men and celebrate one common fellowship with simply different 'rites.' Among the main line churches there is really little difference in beliefs and a proclamation of the same sacramental life. The only way sometimes to really tell you are in a Protestant church is the padded pews. I think Jesus would be pleased and thankful that his prayer 'that all may be one' has been answered.
Julett Broadnax | 9/16/2010 - 2:29pm

Well, it seems to boil down to Christ considered a woman graced enought to carry his body and blood within her and then "give" him to the world - but somehow, women are not graced enough to consecreate bread and wine - so as to give the body and blood of Christ to the world - just because they are female? 
And further, following your comment above - how has Christ always shown the Vicar of Rome the answers to all questions?  I am curious about this - I thought it was through inspiration of the Holy Spirit - haven't heard of anyone being talked to by Christ - other that what is stated in Scripture by men's voices.  That was a cultural condition back in the time of Christ - inherited from the Jewish Culture - that women were lesser creatures - but Christ did not treat women as "lesser" individuals in his dealings with them in Scripture.  He "sent" women out to proclaim his messages - just as he sent men and slaves out to proclaim his messages.  He made no distinctions - that was later formulated through early church history - again by men with no women's voices considered. 

6466379 | 9/15/2010 - 12:20pm
Dear Deacon Killoren,

Thanks for your kind response to my on again, off again, Post dealing with Professor Kavavaugh's insightful critique of our Church's failure to live up to its fundamental commission from Christ, to onconditional love, even towards an enemy. Such love is the most singular indelible mark of what makes a Christian, a Christian!

 But my opinion on women as priests puzzles you because it seems to hang on to the wisdom of the ancients. Deacon, it's not so much that I object to women as priests because they are women, but rather, it's because my tendency is to do exactly that -  honor the wisdom of the ancients. That now-a-days everybody seems to be "doing it" I mean allowing women to become full fleged liturgical ministers, including even Orthodox Judaism, is not very convincing to me. I t try to avoid "jumping on
 the bandwagon" just because everybody else is doing it,  is part of how I think. I'm reluctant to follow the "herd" just because everybody else is. I'm not saying you do this as your response to my post is and well-consdered and gratefully received.

Then too, I have to factor into my thought-process, John Paul the Great's almost apologetic remark, that it isn't that the Church doesn't want to ordain women as priests, but rather it's because the Church feels it doesn't have the mandate from Christ to do so. If time proves that John Paul was mistakened then I'll correct my conclusion correspondingly, because we do want  to honor the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, always.

It may also be interesting to note ecumentically, that once in talking to an Orthodox priest he told me one of the greatest hinderances towards unity between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Christianity, is the presence of women in the sanctuary, laymen too, and not even liturgically garbed in some manner. I'm against special garbing for extraordinary ministers of any function, as we are lay people, not clergy. Interesting isn't it?

What I have no trouble accepting right now, assuming a restructuring of Church law, is the admission of women into the College of Cardinals, (lay men too) where they would serve as principal Papal advisors and Papal electors. If I remember correctly the last layman to be appointed Cardinal was Antonelli, Secretary of State to Pope Leo XIII, but he had to accept Holy Orders.

Finally let me focus again on Mary. I believe that her ordination by the Holy Spirit happened at the Annunciation, her "fiat" constituting her First Mass. the words of cosecration spoken, "His is my Body (Jesus's) His is my Blood," Mary's Mass, the very source of Eucharist. And this priestly function is shared by all women by gender association and passed on to men together with women through Baptism, the root of our priestly Church in a manner intended by Christ. At least, this is how I see it, perhaps poorly said. I wiish someone would say it better!

Again, Deacon, thanks for your feedback. Ordinarilly I try to avoid Post convestation but sometimes exceptions prove the rule I guess. This is one of the exceptions. God bless you and pray for my wife, our children, our grandchildren, for my family and friends and also for me. 
 
ROBERT KILLOREN | 9/13/2010 - 8:05pm
Dear Bruce,
 I am glad that you persevered in your attempts to get your message posted. The song you mention kept running through my mind as well. And I also like your description of Mary's role in the church, the first one to make the body of Christ available to humankind. What  I have difficulty trying to grasp, however, is the insistence that the cultural attitudes of the first century in Galilee and Palestine all through those of the Middle Ages regarding the superiority and dominance of the male over the female should be used as the only model acceptable in the 21st century.

The other evening I watched a program on PBS that I think was called Jews in America. One of the things that came through loud and clear was seeing among the religious Jews the great diversity along a spectrum from ultraconservative to ultraprogressive in tradition. But what really struck me was that within one of the more conservative branches of Judaism there are now women rabbis. When I first heard the story of that first woman who felt so called to study the Torah and to teach it, I thought, “How short sighted that that congregation would not open up the Scriptures to this woman and allow her to teach as a Rabbi.” And then it struck me that this is exactly what the Catholic Church is doing in denying the most important and intimate experience one can have in the Body of Christ to someone who just happens to be female. But more importantly the fact that church rules may in fact be thwarting the will of Christ through the Holy Spirit to use these persons to draw others closer to Christ in the most intimate way possible. The doctrine of infallibility and what it really means seems still very much to be in debate. And while it was proclaimed that the Pope may act individually with infallibility, that Pope may not be infallible in a decision to exercise that infallibility. I believe that this may be why the doctrine of infallibility emphasizes the need to have the concurrence of the college of bishops. In times past there was a church rule that a man who lacked a thumb or index finger could not be ordained because he could not properly hold the host. This was surely a case of form over substance, but can we be sure that excluding women from the priesthood is not likewise a decision of form over substance?People have asked, “Where is the Holy Spirit in the lack of vocations?” Some respond, “The Holy Spirit is calling but young men are not listening.” But could it be that what the Holy Spirit is actually doing is forcing us along the path that Christ wants for his church at this time in history, and that is opening the priesthood to married men and women? To say that this matter is infallibly fixed seems to deny the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Church is the living body of Christ and thus must grow. No one should attempt to cryogenically freeze it in doctrine or mores. 
6466379 | 9/13/2010 - 12:21pm
Following the mysterious gobbling-up by my computer of an initial  post on "How Will They Know?" I promised myself not to try again. But I've become so antsy about what I want to say that, I've decided to try again!

There's a hymn we sing in Church that says, "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know that we are Christians by our love!" But how will they know, when a full page inditement and excommunication of a Sister by the Vatican, who promotes the ordination of women to the priesthood also equates her "crime" with the abuse of children and child pornography! "WWJD?"

Let me say up front I don't advocate ordaining women as priests, but I do advocate charity and the Vatican should be in the forefront of showing charity in word and deed, not sometimes, but constantly! It's also worth noting that women have always aspired to the priesthood, women like St. Therese of Lisieux, who openly admitted it. Church history also attests that in 494, Pope St. Gelasius I, had to put a stop to the ordaining of women as priests, a practice that had crepted  into the Church in Southern Sicily. Note too, that Canon XI of the fourth century Laodicean Council not aspiring to the ministerial priesthood as many do today.

Regarding women priests, allow me to say give this opnion. By Christ's design, men may become a vicar of Christ, a successor to an Apostle, deliver to God's People the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sin. But it was to a woman and only to a woman that was given the highest honor and ministry in the Church, the honor and dignity to be Mother of God, in the person of Mary, a dignity and honor  shared by all women through gender and especially through Baptism. in which resides the priesthood of the laity and  in which men too share through association with women, especially with  the Mother of Jesus.  Mary, along with all women are Mothers of the Church - they and they only nurture Christ the High Priest and and through them and in Him they nurture the priesthood and all priests, without whom neither could exist!

Women therefore,  already have the "top job" in the Church! Can there be a higher gift, a higher ministry, than to be sharers with Mary in the maternity of God? I don't think so! This is where I stand on the ordination of women as priests. They already have it, in a unique and singular feminine God-intended way!

Regarding another aspect of "How Will They Know?"namely. the "humanity" of the Church as a human  Institution subject to sin and error, while not forgetting its Divine origin , I think that the famous writer, Carlo Carretto may have said it best as follows, "How much must I criticize you, my Church. And yet how much i love you! You have nade me suffer more than anyone, and yet, I owe more to you than to anyone.I should like to see you destroyed, and yet i need your presence. You have given me so much scandal, and yet you alonehave made me understand holiness. Never in this worldhave I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous, more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like leaving you, my Church;and yet every night I have prayed that I might die in your warm Loving arms!"

Yes, our wonderful, wonderful Church - a beautiful flower, but a flower that sometimes give off an unpleasant scent! This unpleasant scent happens when the light of love grows dark and people are forced to ask as Professor Kavanaugh so ably suggests, "How Will They Know?"


Patrick Veale | 9/12/2010 - 11:00am
The focus in this article, the institution of the Church is spot on.  However, I do not think it goes far enough. It kind ends in a sputter about love.  This is typical.  I do not mean that everyone who writes about this issue must appear like a wild eyed radical, yet that is what is required.  We need Jesus on the floor of the Church crying out for reform in a magnificent institution that has lost all moral authority.  Where has the institution been in the face of the mosque disputes?  Muttering behind closed doors.  Where is the Church as an institution when it comes to the Hispanic issue.  Muttering behind closed doors.  What do we have a National Council of Bishops for if it does not take up national issues?  If its only job is to channel "nothings" from the Vatican plus its basic dogmatic faith that they have renedered lifeless, and above all else, guarantee america's contribution to the almighty Rome.  The history of true reform in the Catholic Church has been a critical history, sometimes ones that have had terrible consequences, such as Luther's defection.  He was right.  The Church needed a total overhaul.  But no one responded, EVEN THOUGH MANY AGREED.  This was proved by the belated and draconian reform that centralized all power in Rome.  Unfortunately this is a trend that has simply been exacerbated 'till we arrived at the point where Papal statements, such as women shall not be ordained seem to have taken on the cloak of infalibility.  The very life of the Church, its Church communities that should envigorate it with living  faith, not abstract faith written only in encyclicals, are blocked, their theologians are silenced, their liturgical needs are smothered.  Look, if the institution is the problem, then let us reform IT, not bang up on the little ones among us, which is what the Papacy does today. 
Kay Satterfield | 9/11/2010 - 7:28pm
I believe that God can make good of all of this.  However, I also believe that some people are called to the uncomfortable role of prophet.
3613382 | 9/11/2010 - 4:26pm
Thank You, Thank You for articulating my own concerns for the church I love. It is true that as members of the Body of Christ "We are all the church". When I agonize over my differences with the Catholic Church and my frustration with so many non-negotiable issues, I remember that I am also the church. I hope that my own attempts to witness to my faith honestly and openly (even when I am at odds with church teachings) will encourage others and show that Catholicism has many faces.

We are all called to be faithful and obedient - to Christ - but we must recognize that his church, made up of imperfect human disciples, will and should continue to grow in understanding. Trust in God is not the same as blind obedience to an earthly instituion. The latter would be shirking our personal responsibility to keep our church honest and faithful. We are each responsible for forming our individual consciences, courageously living out our faith in the Gospel, and doing our part to ensure our community continues to be a reflection of Christ. The Catholic Church has always been my spiritual home and the Sacraments a life-line. I believe we can preserve the true essence of our faith while lovingly meeting the challenges of our times.

However, I realize, I too could be excommunicated any day now ......
Rafiqur Rahman | 9/10/2010 - 5:58pm
Dear Father,

I realize the world and the Church is not perfect ... I furthermore respect your views because I believe you are a representative of Christ & that means a heck of a lot to me ... having said that, I have alway admired Jesuits because they are singularly distinguished by their obedient nature ... Jesuits seem to practice the vow of obedience out of love of God ... per John O'Malley, SJ in The First Jesuits - the Jesuit vow of obedience assumed "... the Pope had the broad vision required for the most effective deployment in the vineyard of the Lord ..."

Father, is it possible that all of us Catholics (priests & laity alike) must place our complete trust upon Christ? ... that somehow through our obedience to both the Magisterium & His Holiness - we trust God will "see us through" as Catholics ... is not your vow of obedience as a Jesuit a direct sign of your sacred covenant with Him? ... thank you Father for your thoughts 

Bene Vale
J B | 9/10/2010 - 11:25am
I am among those who have left - three years ago, when I was 59.  With no voice in the church, I could no longer sit in the pew and write the checks that support the hierarchy, and all of its misdeeds. I realized that I - and every other Catholic who obediently writes those checks - was an enabler.   If there had been even one sign from Rome that bishops would have to be accountable and responsible for hiding the criminal acts of sexual predators, there would have been some hope.  However, those who live in luxury in Rome and chanceries around the world clearly have far more concern for their own power and lifestyles and protecting the members of their exclusive club than they did for children and teen-agers preyed upon by priests under their supervision. The Daneels tapes are a perfect illustration of this.  Since their concern was for themselves and the institution they run, rather than for innocent lives destroyed by their priests, far more young people became victims than would have if these bishops and Benedict had stopped them in their tracks.  This is a church that has some of the most powerful teachings out there on social justice, and yet when it comes to themselves, it's all empty words.

I have realized since attending an Episcopal Church for three years now how much the church loses by keeping women out of the priesthood (women have insights that men often lack) - it loses on so many levels. The Roman Catholic church has literally chosen to operate with half-a-brain, and is paying the consequences of clinging to the not-so-sacred Tradition of patriarchy.  I have also realized that the Episcopal Church far more closely models the early church than does the Roman Catholic Church - all members of THE church have a voice in their own church-not just calling their own priests, but in the selection of their bishops. 

Was I sad to leave the Catholic church as an active participant - yes, of course.  But, my conscience would no longer allow me to sit in church on Sunday and write the checks that, added to millions more, support those who seem to have totally lost sight of even a most minimal sense of right and wrong, who have lost sight of the gospels while supporting all the materialistic values that those in the hierarchy seem to put as their first priorities.  Some observers summarize these as power, prestige, and possessions.
Kay Satterfield | 9/9/2010 - 11:58pm
I have felt similar sentiments recently as the Illinois judge; but where would I go?  The Catholic church has such richness, such maturity.  As Fr. Kavanaugh stated our church is really about love. Jesus died naked on a cross out of love, Jesus taught love, Jesus lived love.  There is no power there, only humility.  Our church community should be where we grow and are encouraged in that love.  As Roman Catholics our spiritual center is the Mass.  Even with all the controversy and frustration, as a female Eucharistic Minister  I see people lining up for communion every Sunday with their hearts and minds searching, desiring God. We all need our church. 
I am hoping/praying that our next Pope will be a good servant leader that can bring us as gracefully as possible into something new.  I don't want there to be a split where there is a conservative Catholic church and a liberal Catholic church on the same street like some Protestant churches.
Even with our differences, our Mass is the one thing that pulls us together having a meal together like a family. It sets a right spirit, a right tone. I think this idea of thinking of our church as a family where we can be very different but there to worship our same loving God should be embraced.  Also, like in some families, there is a need for help in bridging communication gapes, in confronting and not enabling destructive and domineering behaviors and in really listening.  A female voice is wanting to be heard.  
john fitzmorris | 9/9/2010 - 5:43pm
That was one courageous article and so true that it pains my heart. I have a sick and uneasy feeling about the Church's future because of the venality of the current shepherds.SHepherds? Sheep?  Maybe it is time to bury that metaphor. The shephers do not seem to be doing much leading except causing people to leave.
The current flock of bishops seems to be more interesting in playing up to their Roman masters by repeating verbatim as many times as they can the Roman line which is get in line.The sheep, well the sheep aren't sheep any longer and they know tomfoolery when they hear it. As for the equation of women priests with child molestation - really? The ancient purity codes still hold sway within the Vatican. Congratulations John Kavanaugh I hope you suffer no repercussions 
ROBERT KILLOREN | 9/9/2010 - 3:54pm
Fr. John, it is still a pleasure to hear your thoughts, even after 40 years. You were upfront, honest, faithful and trustworthy back then at St. Louis University and you still are now. Ii think that some people see you as a wild-eyed liberal, but you were one of the first and strongest Church voices who spoke out after Roe v. Wade against abortion and could explain why we theologically, philosophically, and morally must be anti-abortion. And you have not changed on that; your thoughts on the issue that when legitimate medical treatments are performed that are intended to save the life of a mother do not constitute sinful abortion even if the baby dies as a result of the procedure, are consistent with what you taught back in the 70s.

I am greatly distressed by those who equate Church or Magisterium with the Roman Curia. The disagreements concerns I am having over church (lower case) policy are with certain members of the Roman Curia whose true motives are suspect. I mean no disrespect, but human beings have weaknesses, and chief among them are the seven deadly sins which seem to plague the powerful (the devil's favorite target - even in Dante's writing) more than the weak. I also think that the current hierarchical structure of the church (lower case) is not Magisterial but Oligarchical. The historical revisionists want to forcibly reverse the Voice of the Holy Spirit that clearly spoke through the Bishops gathered for the Second Vatican Council to take us back to a time when the Roman Curia ran everything. The people who still believe in that authentic Voice are now called "Protestant Catholics" and are told to get out of the Church if they don't like these holy ordained and infallible proclamations of the church bureaucracy located in Vatican City. If people are fleeing the church-oligarchical for theological and philosophical reasons, they are not necessarily fleeing the Church (upper case) but the church-oligarchical and may be more authentically Catholic that the self-named Orthodox Catholics. And to those who think that Vatican II was the cause of the mass exodus of the faithful over the past 40 years, think again. It wasn't Vatican II but the capitalistic, individualistic, materialistic, free-market consumerism that has propelled Western culture toward the cliff. Jesus' teachings from the Sermon on the Mount would remedy that. Matthew 25's parable of who will be saved in the final judgment should be our true compass - not a list of sins like talking about the women priesthood or married priests or the way the new English translation of the Liturgy weakens the mystery, power, and majesty of the Liturgy.
Julett Broadnax | 9/9/2010 - 1:53pm
I like your thinking, Claire.  And I feel much more hopeful for the church when priests like Fr. Kavanaugh have the courage to speak their mind/opinion inspite of Rome's edict that we are not to "discuss" some issues, much less criticize them.  Someone in the above comments seem to equate "Church" with how we become spiritual.  On the contrary, I feel as though I am seeking spirituality (better relationship with God) in spite of the "church" when Rome is defined as church.  Lay women and men are now "permitted" to lead Eucharistic Prayer Services when a priest is not available - and we can give a reflection on one of the readings for the day - but are instructed to never refer to the reflection as a "homily."  I too remain a member of the Catholic Church, for it would break my heart to practice my faith in any other way than the celebration of the Word and the Eucharist in our mass.  I know men and women who have left the church but have not left the practice of their faith.  A wise Franciscan told me "the church cannot make you love Christ, but the love of Christ can help you love (and pray for) the church."  Being age 78, I may not be around to see the transition of the church toward full equality towards all of its members, but I will pray with my last breath that the grace of the Holy Spirit will finally open the eyes of the male, celibate heirarchy to the wisdom and guidance she is trying to offer to them.  And yes, I agree - power rather than loving service seems to be uppermost in their mind at the present time.
CLAIRE BANGASSER MS | 9/9/2010 - 9:38am
I have the feeling that the pyramid of the Catholic Church with the Vatican at the top is turning upside down with us in the pew taking Rome's place. This is where love is, with service, presence, care, welcome, inclusion. This is where love is because so many of us women are there. Of course, there are also good men, lay and clergy as well.
But I see a distancing of our hierarchy from the pews. That is fine. We are learning to live and pray and celebrate without them :-) We are truly going back to the early Church's ways. This delights me.
Lori Amann-Chetcuti | 9/8/2010 - 2:19pm
According to Catholic Greta, looking beyond the Pope and the Magesterium for wisdom is at best a waste of time, at worst a terrible sin (or at least a sure pathway to sin).

But the Pope and the Magersterium are only human beings.  Only God is God.  And he lived the life of a carpenter, not a king or a cleric.

How can we "bring souls back to Christ" if we equate questioning of doctrine with the abuse of children?  Surely those "lost souls" will think us mad. 
Greta Green | 9/8/2010 - 2:18am
Wow, another priest who simply does not understand the basics of the Roman Catholic Church.  Last time I looked, the Magesterium was in agreement with Pope John Paul II statement that there can never be women priests and that the Church does not have the authority to change what jesus established and he said this as a definitive statement.  Last time I looked, the Roman Catholic Church said that homosexual acts are gravely disordered and a grave sin.  We are to love the homosexual as a person, but to never accept the gravely disordered acts.  Last time I looked the Roman Catholic Church clearly stated that marriage is only between one man and one woman.  Last time I looked, the Roman Catholic Church said that those who support abortion should not be invited or honored by Catholic institutions such as universities. 
There is not as much love as those who do not agree with these statements and yet want to stay in and try to convert the very teaching of our faith would like to receive.  In areas where we are called to believe and follow Church teaching and believe in the Magesterium of the Church, it might not seem to indicate love when we speak out in the defense of the Catholic Church being abused by those who have vowed obedience, but it is a greater love for we hope to bring these lost souls back to Christ.  What greater love can there be than to try to reunite lost souls to Christ?
Eric Bergerud | 9/7/2010 - 11:15pm

In the world of American Catholics in the upper fringe, especially if associated with the academy, people attempting to explain the woes facing the Church look almost entirely to the inside. This misses the point almost entirely of course. People are leaving the Church not because they perceive it as interested in power and not love. They are leaving because they are leaving institutions entirely. They are leaving because in a world of extraordinary wealth, people don't need people the way they did in the past. They are leaving for the same reason that families do not form in the numbers that they did - family commitment interferes with self-fulfillment. The Pope knows this - remarkably many American Catholic leaders seem not to. (This also makes people like Father Kavanaugh remarkably bad historians. The Church faced the real blow of our era during the 1970s and it had nothing to do with ordaining women.)

The dialogue between the Church and the outside world and the dialogue inside concerned Catholics inside the Church has helped keep the Church alive 2,000 years. But it's crazy not to see that portraying the structure of the Church as the problem, instead of a kind of two thousand year solution, is only going to weaken the allegiance of thousands of the faithful already facing the furious secular wind that threatens Christianity in America.

Disagree with Church policy by all means. But, I beg, do so with sympathy. Do not issue ultimatums. Do not suggest that the Church is in error because it seeks power for its own sake. This is poison. This is music to the ears that scorn the Word. There is something wrong when an issue of America sounds strangely like the kind of Berkeley dinner party where trashing faith is fun and easy. (I know what they’re like – I live there.) Instead be proud that the Church requires the subordination of the self. Be proud that in this way, the oldest teachings of the Church offer more than ever to a society where, as Robert Putnum observed, people chose to bowl alone. Be proud that the Church stands for the proposition that spirituality thrives inside religion and will ultimately die outside of it.

As for concerns about the male priesthood and other externals of Church practice, the Vatican is not deaf. And the Vatican will respond to demographics just as every institution does. However, I think that day will come more quickly if criticism of Mother Church is proceeded implicitly with the declaration that “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;”. Because make no mistake, the people who leave the Church will leave behind the worship of Christ.

The Church and the Word will survive because they have truth. Yet there's no guarantee that millions of American souls will never the wisdom and comfort of the Lord because of the hubris and blindness of those inside the Church who do not understand the difference between looking in the mirror and throwing a rock at it. 

Eric Bergerud

Paul Leddy | 9/7/2010 - 10:48pm

Help me out on this, because I’m going around in circles trying to get a clear picture of your intentions in this article.

You, a cleric, are criticizing the hierarchy for not showing the love; but the ones in this category: “To be sure, there are armies of known and nameless Catholics who powerfully witness to love” don’t weigh as heavily, I think is your opinion, as the hierarchy.  And, then to further marginalize “them” you note: the “devoted clerics and vibrant parishes and spiritual movements.” The vibrant parishes are the Church, the body of Christ; but I feel you’re giving them short shrift.

It is easier for me to put a face on the hierarchs and clerics in your article, but the laity seemed to be glossed over as a great undistinguished, un-named mass of humanity with a well intentioned heart.

Having a male, celibate clergy isn’t more important than the liturgy, but that’s an odd comparison to hang your argument. What sacraments may be administered only by a priest, or a cleric, or a deacon, or the bride and groom?  This aching question of yours belies your own locked-in assumption of what you believe are your “rights” as a priest.  When are you a priest and when are you “clergy?”

I don’t find it amusing any more when I read yet another article by a priest bringing up the point that celibacy may be a problem, the problem, an unnecessary and artificial “burden” to those who are or might be a priest.  You left out the “surveys” of priests who favor ending celibacy as though the survey ever matters. There are very good arguments for ending celibacy for the priesthood, but those arguments stop dead at the door of the laity who happen to be gay.  For every good point to end celibacy is attached “except.”  To be gay in the Church is to be celibate; which isn’t a bad thing. And no survey in the world will ever change this.

Your article is a small examination of changing a culture, but it’s from a short sighted view point.

Edward Visel | 9/7/2010 - 7:54pm
Ah, I never cease to enjoy your writing, Fr. Kavanaugh. And yes, if these things came about, I would certainly be a more enthusiastic Catholic, rather than one perpetually uneasy about the words and actions of those who are supposed to guide me.

However, optimistically, I am looking forward to being a happy Catholic in 500 years or so; perhaps longer if the current self-reinforcing system of governance is not jettisoned.
KEN CHAISON | 9/7/2010 - 5:30pm
Unfortunately, your hoping will not make it so.  The retreat from Vatican II, the loss of collegiality and subsidiarity, along with the gradual consolidation of all power and control in Rome will eventually cause a schism in the church.  The Vatican is pursuing a course that screams, "We (the Vatican) are the Church," not "We are all the Church."

And that may be OK, for what is Rome anyway.  Jesus was not from there.  He did not start His ministry there.  The church was not born there.  Rome became the seat of Catholic Christianity because an emperor in early times made it the official religion of the empire.  Well, the Roman Empire no longer exists, but the church hierarchy still functions as if it did.  The Vatican is closing in on itself and, if it continues to do so, the Catholic Church as we know it will eventually die.  It may take another century, but it is clearly on a path to arrogant destruction.

And that may be God's work.  Someone wrote, It is not important if the Catholic Church survives.  It is only important for the work of the church to survive.

The death of an old church structure that has gotten away from the people might give birth to a new Catholic Church, modeled after the early Church, with apostolic sees in various major capitals of the world and where people have actual input in choosing its leaders and communicating with them without fear of being excommunicated for having an opinion or following one's own informed conscience.  It could be a church that finally accepts all people equally as Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

That would be a true Catholic (universal) Church.
Joan O'Briant | 9/7/2010 - 4:58pm
Thank you for this article; it has stated my concerns exactly. As a woman who has considered leaving the church ,I will continue to pray and hope that change will come, but after 70 years it would indeed break my heart to leave.
James Collins | 9/7/2010 - 3:50pm
Very well said Father Kavanaugh! Might I add one more. The church always stresses the principle of subsidarity when talking about the poor. Yet the isntitutional church does not apply that principle to the laity, or the clergy for that matter, when it comes to the governance of the church.
C Walter Mattingly | 9/7/2010 - 3:45pm
I demur when Fr Kavanaugh, along with others in previous postings here, suggest that the church, in deeming that both the one who usurps the power to ordain priests from the church and the one who commits child abuse guilty of "grave crime," "appears to assert a strange moral equivalence" between the two.  In Dante's Inferno, Paolo and Francesca, blown about by eternal winds for their illicit affair, and the homosexual friar, pattering about for eternity, are nowhere near the level of suffering and Dante's condemnation as are the sexual predators; indeed, Dante is quite sympathetic to the scholar friar whose sexual affliction seems to dog his academic profession even as he blasts the predators.  But it would seem they are all guilty of grave crime: they are all together in hell, after all.

For a more contemporary analogy, consider the public school teacher who is terminated because he refused to obey the dress code requirement  because he felt it infringed on his right for self-expression, along with the teacher who is terminated because he sexually abused a student (actually, as Charol Shakeshaft's study makes clear, the abuser might be more likely to be kept on). Both have committed offenses grave enough to be terminated, although I doubt many would equate the two. Although many might     quarrel with where to draw the line on these matters, the school board or church leaders must do so at some point.  It is their responsiblility to do so.
Personally I look forward to the day that women are ordained as priests in our chuch. I have considered that a done deal ever since I saw the first altar girl decades ago, something unthinkable to me as a teenager.  Was it Hopkins who wrote, patience, hard thing!
Mike Evans | 9/7/2010 - 2:39pm
We are apparently afraid of open and enlightened discussion. For example, there is no reason not to discuss the possibility and desireability of women as deacons. From there, with a little experience, the resistance to considering women as priests does not seem to be so stringent. I have worked with women clergy from many faiths and find that they are both inspiring and extremely competent leaders. Meanwhile, our church begins to experience such extreme shortages of clergy and religious that the people are unserved, neglected, and ignored. 
Catherine Jayjack | 9/7/2010 - 2:32pm
i would add, that those who answer question like the ones presented, or even bitter complaints and howls of anger, with some variety of "If you don't like it, get out" are not showing the love we need to show.  If people were indifferent, they wouldn't care.  They become enraged when the Church does or says something so different from what it could and should be because they feel betrayed by that disparity.  We need to acknowledge that pain, and help our members to continue to experience what is true and good in the Body of Christ.  Blaming everything on "the media" or on red herrings like homosexuality only postpones true reconciliation.

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