The National Catholic Review

This is not a local story, but one that represents larger trends in the church—in the priesthood, the liturgy and in the role of the people of God. Recently Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, Ariz., changed its policy on altar servers. From now on only boys may serve; girls may apply for jobs as sacristans. Why? The rector of the cathedral told The Catholic Sun that the cathedral is not alone in making this regulation. A parish in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., he argues, have found that replacing girls with boys as servers leads to more vocations to the priesthood.

These moves to limit laywomen’s access to the altar threaten to drag the church back into the pre-Vatican II world. One wonders if next the altar rail will return, another barrier between the priests and the people.

According to the rector, people who are upset about this decision concerning Mass servers make a mistake in considering it “a question of rights,” as if someone’s rights were being denied. But, he says, no one has a “right” to be a server or even more a priest. One must be “called” to any church office. When the secular world comments on who should be an altar server, he says, it has only an emotional view, unguided by the light of reason.

The key issue is the status of the baptized: that the laity may be called by the Spirit to offer their talents in various roles. The rejection of altar girls disregards the counsel of the Second Vatican Council that the charisms of the baptized “are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation.” By virtue of baptism, the council reminds us, “there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus.” There is “a true equality between all with regard to the dignity and activity which is common to all the faithful in building up the Body of Christ” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Nos. 12, 32).

That this call should be fully welcomed does not appear to be a priority in Phoenix. Yes, the Vatican instruction “Sacrament of Redemption” (2004) allows women servers, but it leaves the decision to local bishops. In Phoenix the bishop leaves it to the pastors. This pastor did not consult the parish council, he says, because its members are not theologically trained.

Another issue is the image of the priesthood today. Is it wise to re-enforce the sense of the priesthood as a clerical caste? Is the acolyte supposed to be like the page who serves Sir Galahad until King Arthur dubs him a knight? In a culture where parents want their daughters to have the same opportunities as their sons—in co-ed Catholic colleges, in the armed services, in athletics, in employment—the church can look irrelevant, even foolish, in shunting them aside. The more the priesthood is presented as an exclusive club, the smaller and more remote it will become. Those who put up barriers between themselves and the people should, using modern parlance, recall Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Look, how many times do I have to tell you? You are here to serve.”

Inevitably the issue of women’s roles in the church raises the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood. Recently a cardinal in Lisbon and some bishops in Brazil, among others, also raised the question; but since Pope Benedict XVI, despite continued agitation, has reaffirmed the policy of John Paul II to allow no discussion of the topic, the matter of altar servers must be considered a separate and independent issue.

In no way should policies imply that women are second-class citizens—welcome to tidy up the sacristy, arrange flowers and clean linens but not to set the gifts at the altar or hold the sacramentary or censer. Rather, they must be welcomed into every service and leadership role, including catechists, lectors, chancellors and general secretaries of bishops’ conferences. (The diaconate for women remains an open question and ought to be explored.) Churches that invite all their people to bring all their talents to the welfare of the congregation will thrive. To tell a young woman that she may no longer pour the water on the priest’s fingers at the Lavabo looks like sexism. If the ban in these dioceses continues and spreads, perhaps women and girls will consider withholding their other services to the parishes, and men and boys, in solidarity with their sisters, will decline the honor of acolyte.

Having girls share serving opportunities with boys is an expression of their equality in Christ. Parishes must create a variety of social and service activities. A distinguishing characteristic of today’s young men and women, even when they are not “devout” in the usual sense, is their rejection of discrimination in any form. They are highly sensitive to any hint of exclusionary policies in organizations. Perhaps if more young people believed they could continue that commitment to equality as priests, more would be ready to follow a priestly vocation.

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Patricia Munyan | 11/17/2011 - 7:05pm

Thank you, Rick, for once again being the voice of reason. I am one of those who cannot fathom that the Church hierarchy honestly believes that God could not or would not call women to the clergy. It has been a disappointment to me for the past few years that I cannot serve my Church as a Deacon. I feel that this is a calling for me. To preach the Gospel, witness marriages, baptize babies (I know, I know...I can do that in case of emergency), and serve my Church more deeply is denied to me. If we are truly created in the image and likeness of God, why cannot I not serve in this way?


Keep fighting the good fight.

Marybeth Kearns-Barrett | 11/15/2011 - 9:16pm
As women we already are second class citizens in the church, barring girls and women from serving as acolytes sounds perfectly consistent to me.
ED SALVA | 10/30/2011 - 3:06pm
Thank you for this well written article and for publishing it so other people could read it.  God bless you. 
C Walter Mattingly | 10/25/2011 - 8:31pm

Comparing the populazr assessmenty of Princess Diana with that of Pope John Paul II is akin to comparing the popularity of Mother Theresa with Oprah. John Paul took a bullet in the gut from those who opposed freedom for his people and went right back out to face potential murderers again, stopping long enough to visit his attempted assassin in prison to speak with him and forgive him. If you don't see the difference, I won't argue with you.

According to figures cited in USA Today, Church membership grew 1% in 2009. In Europe there was significant decline in membership (along with the collapse in population growth, perhaps, in a secular culture which has more completely moved from sexuality as an essentially procreative, family culture to one bordering on sexuality as a recreational culture.) Elsewhere the Church has mostly seen some growth, resulting in the overall small increase.
Awakening Grace, an Episcopal publication, in a 2010 article entitled "Episcopal Church Decline," cites Episcopal Church demographic studies which chronicle a rate of decline of 11% over a ten-year period. It concludes, "Therefore, if trends continue, the Episcopal Church will cease to exist as an organization somewhere around 2070. But will it make it that far? Probably not," citing the demographic fact that today half the Episcopal Church membership is 50 or over. 

I cite the Episcopal Church because you have singled it out as a paragon of a church that has moved in the progressive direction you advocate: divorce, abortion (?), women priests, openly gay priests, sacramental diminishment such as the nature of the Eucharist, and so forth. So the point remains, undiminished: such churches which made such reforms as you advocate have, on the whole, experienced a disturbing loss of membership. The most valid poll of church vitality is the same as that of any organization: the vote of the membership by their feet.
Michael Barberi | 10/25/2011 - 7:57pm
@Anne Chapman:

I dont'disgree with you about the value of JP II's papacy. However, I do believe that JP II was a symtom of the problem, which IMO is the theology of the magisterium. The pope became the only measure of the truth since Vatican I.

As I said, I was being "kind" in my description of JP II. Who can really say who is blessed and holy, or not. I would argue that all who try to love Christ with all their heart, mind, soul and strength; and their neigbor as themselves, are blessed and holy in the eyes of God. There will always remain the question of degree. The disheartening thing about JP II's legacy was his leadership style. He ruled the Church with an iron fist and his papacy was characteriized with more power. He instituted policies and wrote encyclicals to ensure that his teachings would be free from revision.

The exaggerated fear of going against tradition, as the absoute moral truth on every moral issue, and the lack of a solution to the profound disagreement within the Church today on issues ranging from sexual ethical teachings to ecclesiology, the unmoving and orthodox theology of the magisterium will continue to be the problematic.
Anne Chapman | 10/24/2011 - 10:21pm
Actually, Michael, you mis-read me.  I corrected Walter, who thought I called John Paul II anti-semetic.  I do not call him that - his promotion of ecumenism, and especially his actions to apologize to the Jewish people were admirable. However, that is pretty much the only thing about him or his papacy that I found admirable.

I do not think that he is either holy or blessed. I think his papacy caused great long-term damage to the church. During his almost 30 years in the papacy, he presided over the most dramatic loss in priests and religious membership as well as over the loss of tens of millions of Catholics.  His teachings about women may be the worst thing he did - he set the church back decades and contributed to the acceleration of women leaving the church. He was a celebrity pope, good at attracting crowds who enjoy being around celebrity happenings,  but there was no depth, no long term positive impact. He was "loved" by millions in the same way Princess Diana was.

 However, his successor may be causing even more damage to the church than did John Paul II.  It is hard to separate them in a way, since the current pope was so intimately involved in the course of the previous papacy.  Together, they have destroyed Vatican II and driven tens of millions in Europe, North America, and now Latin America out of the church. As they accelerate the return to the pre-Vatican II church, the exodus also accelerates. Beginning with Paul VI,  the birth control decision that simply ignored the sensus fidelium to cling to a misguided older understanding of the role of sexual love in marriage caused the break-down of trust in Vatican understanding of the human condition; this was exacerbated by the continued moves towards the past during the last 30 years - the retreat to the past is costing the church its future.
Michael Barberi | 10/24/2011 - 8:49pm
I agree with Anne Chapman, that JP II was a holy and blessed pope. He contributed much to the Church and was loved by millions. His philosophy and theology on marriage and procreation was clearly pre-conciliar and orthodox. It reflected his profound belief that it was the Divine Truth, which her rigorously defended throughout his papacy (this is a kind description of his determination and dogmatic rule).

The issue and problematic is not JP II but the theology of the Magisterium. The papal encyclical, without remainder, has become the Magisteriium. Most importantly, the Divine Truth rests with the pope, and those bishops and theologians that agree with his philosophy and theology. It is NOT reflective of a cross section of ecclesial thought. Consider the following paradox and contradiction. The reason Paul VI gave for not accepting the Majority Report of his Pontifical Birth Control Commission, the fact that there was no complete agreement among the members, was as a principle violated in contradiction when he accepted the Minority Report and the One-Country conclusions of Karol Wojtyla's Krakow commission (1966-1968). Hence, the 75% opinion of 72 members of his PBCC, representing 5 continents, and a wide cross section of theologians, bishops and the latity, was put aside for the conclusions of a highly limited, narrow opinion of the few. 

As for the young Jewish boy, the pope kept him in the Vatical until adulthood, where he received an thoroughtly Catholic education and become a priest. During this time, the protests of his parents, the leaders of the Jewish community in Italy and many officials from Governments around the world, including the U.S., did not persuade the pope from his decision.
While the issue of a skrinking or growing Chruch has some importance, it is the profound moral dilemma that many Catholics must deal with respect to sexual ethics in its general description. Most Catholics choose to ignore these teachings and the authority of the papacy. Theologians that disagree with the Church, are called dissenters, unfaithful servants of Christ and his Chruch. This means the majority I may say. We have a divided Church and a Crisis of Truth. The tragedy is that most of laity do not attend Mass, and treat the complexity of the theological debate as a big "ho hum".  The Vatican have become irrelevant but the impact is much deeper than that.

Anne Chapman's wise conclusion that Vatican II has become a "interpretation gone astray, a big misunderstanding of what the council meant, evidence that we will not see any reform for many years. However, there is hope because that is what Christ and His Spirit has given us. You only lose the battle when you give up. So, we respectfully move the conversation forward as best we can.
Anne Chapman | 10/24/2011 - 6:38pm
Walter, I forgot to say this. You say you are concerned because if there are losses it indicates the church is dying. It is dying in the west, and is also starting to die in Latin America, home of half of the world's Catholics. Once African Catholics (where there is growth) reach the  education levels and stage of economic development that now characterizes the western nations and much of Latin America, it too will peak and begin to decline.  Education level especially seems to be highly correlated with willingness to swallow everything Rome and many bishops are trying to force on the church these days.

Those of us who actually believed in Vatican II are keeping a deathbed vigil at this point and there seems to be no hope for a recovery.
Anne Chapman | 10/24/2011 - 6:31pm
Walter, I have little respect for John Paul II, but I do not think that he is anti-semitic. Pretty much the only thing he did that I admire was his honest apology to the Jewish people for how Christianity in general and the Catholic church in particular treated them. I don't recall him reaching out to Pius X either - if I recall correctly, he was the one who threw them out to begin with.  However, he was very instrumental in beginning the return back to the 19th century, he was very anti-woman, and he centralized power to the papacy even more than it had been, shoring up its imperial structure.  

His successor has turned back the clock on Christian-Jewish relations however, bringing back some very offensive language into the liturgy, authoring that awful letter before the previous pope died that gutted ecumenical relationships in general,  and he is the one who is doing handstands and somersaults to try to bring the Piux X folks back.  He is accelerating the return to the pre-Vatican II church, returning the laity to their prior status of mindless sheep whose only role in the church was to "pay, pray, and obey",  and he continues to the shore up of the imperial church. However, as the head of this imperial church, he seems concerned only about bringing back or in those who share his dislike of the novus ordo and  his love of the TM, and also those who are as terrified of women as is Rome (the Ordinariate) - who, together, are a small group of people.  He does not want to talk with nor listen to the tens of millions who have already left, and who, according to all the data, are continuing to leave in ever greater numbers, especially the young adults.

A smaller church - definitely on its way if trends continue. A "purer" church - not likely. 
C Walter Mattingly | 10/24/2011 - 4:28pm
I think whether a church is consistently growing or consistently losing membership is a valid measure of whether a church is living or dying. It's mathematics. If you continue to lose 2% of your membership for 30 years, you have lost half your church. Another generation, well, so it goes. But this does not mean at the expense of the church being true to itself, and it is only in that limited context that I would agree with Benedict's willingness to accept a smaller church, although I doubt that's what he would prefer.

I simply disagree with your assessment of John Paul II, who held office for the great majority of the 35 years you refer to, as an anti-semite or one not devoted to Christ's church. He probably had the most impact of freeing peoples from political and social domination and servitude of any pope in modern times. In my opinion, and the opinion of most of the world's Catholic and noncatholic population, he was as sincerely devout in his devotion to Church, gospel, and Christ, even heroically so, and as much in touch with his flock, as any pope of modern times, his mishandling of the abuse issue not withstanding. The outpouring of love from the young and admiration of the secular as well as the Christian world at his death says more than I can. 
Norman Costa | 10/24/2011 - 4:11pm
@ Msgr. Richard Siefer:

Please, don't just stop after those few words. I believe all of us would like to hear more commentary, and more depth from our clergy on all sides. You are teasing us. Please go on.
FR R SIEFER | 10/24/2011 - 3:42pm
Thank you for addressing this issue. I was beginning to lose" faith" in America magazine, but it has been restored at least for this moment. I could hardly believe my eyes when I first read about this issue and now they are eliminationg the cup from the assembly. It seems to be "de ja vux all over again" to quote one of my favorite philosphers, Yogi Berra. With all that has happened and is going on in the church, they have to concern themselves with these issues. No wonder so many are heading for the mega-churches or not going at all. As another favorite philosopher, Ron White, says "You can't fix stupid." I wonder what the pastoral council has to say about this. However, they have probably been sworn to silence.
Anne Chapman | 10/24/2011 - 3:24pm
Walter, may I ask a question?  Why are you concerned with "growing" the church?  

The pope seems totally unconcerned about it, with the occasional exception of attempting to woo the ultra-right wing Pius X group and a few others?  Somehow he thinks that a group of anti-semites who totally reject Vatican II are worthy of his extraordinary efforts, while he simultaneously dismisses the exodus of tens of millions of Catholics who have left the church in the USA, in Europe, including Ireland, and inceasingly in Latin America.  Since he has expressed his willingness to let all of these tens of millions go in order to have a "smaller, purer" church, why do you worry about "growing" it?

It really doesn't seem that many people are actually worried about the "growing" the church bit - but many are very unhappy that during the last 35+ years, the church has become increasingly about ecclesial monarchy, about ostentiations displays of wealth and power,  about unquestioning obedience to human men, and seems very little about the gospel and about Jesus.  They know that Vatican II has been subverted, they feel betrayed, and they refuse to worship an institution and its hierarchy instead of God.
C Walter Mattingly | 10/24/2011 - 2:45pm
Norman, Michael,
Years ago I read a novel, I believe the title was Michael, Michael, that must have been inspired by the kidnapped Jewish boy, who was snatched by his French nursemaid who then baptized him, leading to a terrible Canon law/sacramental mess. I believe the author was a professor or romance languages out of Columbia U. It pictured the French bishop, acting under the influence of the Pope, as the image of a Church dying under the weight of its legalisms. (The Church is always dying, it seems.) At the end a Jesuit priest out of the Basque region finally realizes his humble service is actually prideful and gets the child back to his Jewish family, who are far preferable to any Church members in the book. At least that's how I recall it.
Thanks for the input on logical positivism, etc. Positivism (illogical perhaps?) was around with the moral philosophers, seen especially in the briilliant early English atheist David Hume, who, I am glad to report, had a happy, if not blessed, temperament. What I was really trying to get at is the larger question that seems to concern most of us here: what is going to grow the Church? Most of the reforms called for here by most of our more liberal commentators have been taken, for example, by the Episcopal church, but that church in America, as Tom Piatek pointed out and most of us likely already knew, has for decades now been hemoragghing membership. I personally look forward to considering some of those issues myself, but this experience of the mainstream Protestant churches, it seems to me, suggest that whatever their merits per se, those reforms are not the answer, indeed have resulted in greater defections. What, then, is the cause? Only after determining that can we conceive of effective responses.
john fitzmorris | 10/23/2011 - 1:30pm
The mindset of the rector is why the insitutional church is growing day by day more irrrelavant to the lives of younger Catholics. It is also downright irredemably stupid as the comment from Adenauer says so eloquently
Norman Costa | 10/23/2011 - 2:05am

@ Michael:

I'm glad you brought up the Jewish boy that was kidnapped and adopted by Pope Pius IX. Indeed it is very telling of the state of mind of Pope Pius IX, at that time.

As a father and grandfather, I found this episode utterly horrible. The Pope was protected by the Church laws governing the Papal States. It shows Pius IX, and the Church itself, exercising temporal power that was devoid of heart or empathy for the boy and his parents. While locked in a theological and canonical straight jacket, not to mention narcissism and afraid of losing power, common sense and compassion went out of the window. 

Michael, perhaps you should finish the story and tell what eventually became of the relationship between the parents and the boy. I'd do it, except I'll start banging on the keys with rage. If this were to happen today, the Pope would be arrested and charged with, among a number of crimes, child abuse. Imprisonment would be a certainty.
Michael Barberi | 10/22/2011 - 6:35pm
I can only conclude that the Editors of American Magazine do not like my recent commments, because they were not posted.  Let me try again.

I believe that social history played a big part in the formation of the Doctrine of Infallibility:

1. The Doctrine of Infallibility come in the same time period as Darwin's 1850 theory of evolution and the 1860 Italian Revolution. The former was consider a threat to Catholic theology, the later an assult on the power and authority of the Church (they lost the papal states).

2. The First Vatican Council was plagued with controversy. For the first 1870 years there was not such thing as papal infallibility. This does not mean it was not debated, but rather this idea never reached the level of doctrine. 

3. Pius IX responded to these events and threats by issuing the infamous Syllabus of Errors. Many of thess so-called errors were seriously in tension with much of thinking at that time. This speaks to the mindset of the pope and the Church at that time.

4. Pius IX with good intentions and the belief at that time, kept a young Jewish boy from his parents and confined to the Vatican until adulthood. This was based on a belief that when a child/baby is baptized by a mid-wife (because of a suspicion about the possibility of birth death), he/she becomes a Catholic. This case as points to the mindset of Pius IX at that time as well. 
Norman Costa | 10/20/2011 - 1:04am
@ Walter:

Logical positivism really didn't formulate itself until the early 20th century, and had a good run through to the 1960s and 1970s. While there were variations within the 'movement' it was predominately an era of finalizing a philosophy of science, not a theology of faith. The last element to take hold was the concept of falsifiability in scientific theory. Ain't nothin' true 'less you can tell how it could be falsified. I think the philosopher was Popper.

Sience is both method and content. As method, science is AN approach to understanding nature, including ourselves, based upon observation and the recording of data. As content, science is the collection of data from observation into an organized body of knowledge. Is there a reason why a Pope would want to counter science as method and content, by creating doctrinal infallibility?

A huge number of bishop departed early from Vatican I, in disgust, over the way discussion on the matter of infallibility was going. A majority of the remaining bishops voted with Pius IX. And don't forget the escape clause.

The Pope's armies had just been defeated, and the Papal States seized by the new unified Italy. Church doctrine insisted that the Religion of Islam, (er uh strike that) the Religion of Catholicism must be at the core of the establishment and conduct of the State. It must be stated so in a Charter or Constitution, or whatever. A State is not a State, unless it is a religious State. There is no concept of separation of Church and State.

Pius IX was stripped bare, except for the postage stamp area of the Vatican. The Vatican did not give up its claims for more than 50 years when it was compensated by Fascist Italy.

The only power left was a moral power, and the doctrine of infallibility was a desperate attempt to say, "I really mean business," when the Pope chastized secular governments and excommunicated those who sided with them. These anti-secular actions by the Popes led to reactions by secular governments (like France) to counter with anti-clerical legislation.

In the end, the Doctrine of Infallibility created a near impenetrable barrier to any real unity with the rest of Christianity. As to the Marian pronouncements, I never understood why doctrinal infallibility had to used, and used almost immediately. But, I am not in a position to analyze or critique the matter.
ed gleason | 10/19/2011 - 10:44pm
Walter; you say "the rise of logical positivism, which as you know claimed that the only truths are those which can be verified with the senses, and the accompanying acceleration of secular humanism." is the reason for the declaration of infallibility..??
To say that infalliblity was declared to counter some  notions popular at that time, intellectual fads, has got to be the saddest argument I ever heard on the subject. That's like saying
" let's nip this discussion in the bud by stopping/forbidding the discussion and search' 

Wow... we hear that again.... maybe that's all they got so they keep throwing that pitch..
C Walter Mattingly | 10/18/2011 - 5:40pm
I think you oversimplify and miss the main reason the Church proclaimed the Immaculate Conception as dogma and papal infallibility in the late 19th century: the rise of logical positivism, which as you know claimed that the only truths are those which can be verified with the senses, and the accompanying acceleration of secular humanism. Since not only Transubstantiation, but also the Resurrection run counter to that disposition, all Christocentric churches had a big problem. Mystery, the basis of our and other faiths, gave way increasingly to rationality, and to absurdity and uncertainty in later years. The Church, confronted such skepticism and attacks on all sides such as those you articulate in your commentaryin #201, responded by being true to itself, that is, its testaments and its traditions, and exaggerated, perhaps unfortunately,  that response with the infallibility ruling. One argument that this general response on the whole might not have been imprudent, as opposed to a broad accommodation to its traditions, is noting that those more accommodating traditions such as the Episcopal Church are today suffering a greater loss of membership than the Church here in the US and elsewhere.
Michael Barberi | 10/18/2011 - 2:37pm

I don't disagree that there are many issues that have diminished the authority of the Magisterium. Some of these issues, such as the one Lisa mentioned, namely evangelization and the two you raised ecumenism and papal infallibility, demonstrate the fact that the Church can err.

For example, Vatican II called for ecumenism but little real progress has been made. The joint statement issued between the RC Church and the Angelican Church was a great leap forward. The statement proclaimed that each Church takes into account all the right factors in making moral judgments concerning moral teachings. The statement did not condemn the 1930 Angelican Church's teaching allowing artifical contraception. It was just a matter of a different judgment involving all the right factors. However, when the press confronted the Vatican about this statement, the CDF said that the Catholic Church possessed the whole truth, not part of it, impying that the Angelican Church was not as perferct as the RC Church. This arrogant assertion contradicted the joint statement that took years of preparation. Just when we took one step forward in a spirit of ecumenism, we suddenly took two steps back.

Anyone who studied the political drama under which Vatican I took place would not be so quick to agree with the doctrine of papal infallibility. Keep in mind that ex Cathedra has only been invoked twice. Both had to do with Marian Doctrine, something that cannot be proven. It is by faith we accept this doctrine. For every other moral issue, the truth has the papal encyclical. Starting in the late 19th century, the papal utterance has replaced ecumenical councils, synods of bishops and pontifical commissions. In other words, the papal encyclical has become a one-man Magisterium, nowithstanding those who agree with the pope.

Having said all of that, I do agree with Lisa Weber that the general laity (and theologicans and many priests) do not have a voice in our Church. The fact that 97% of Catholics don't abide by Humanae Vitae, and that most Catholics believe that it is morally right to save the life of the mother when a pregnancy threatens her life and the fetus cannot survive under any circumstance, are just two examples.

An individual can err. However I am not certain that most theologians and Catholics, and many bishops and priests can err collectively. The collective disagreement involves sexual ethics that started in 1968. Since then, contraceptive couples are forbidden from receiving Holy Communion but most do anyway. Divorced and remarried Catholics cannot participate in the Eucharist, but some do anyway. Homosexuals and serodiscordant couples must practice celibacy, but most do not. The sacramental and penitential law of graduation for habitual sinners is applied discriminantly. There is much confusion over this specific issue, yet the Church will never debate it.  Catholics that cannot have children because of a fertility disorder cannot use in vitro fertilization. The list goes on. The explanation from the Vatican: these Catholics are invincibly ignornant, victims of the secular age, or they possess a distorted reason. The Catholic Church must stand firm as the authority on faith and morals. There will come a time when the truth will penetrate the minds of these Catholics. If not, there is nothing wrong with a smaller Church. End of discussion.

Norman Costa | 10/18/2011 - 2:03am
I think Lisa makes a very good point about evangelization and Church teachings. Let's change the concept from evangelization to ecumenism and see how Church teachings aid or hinder Christian unity.

In my view, the declaration of Papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870 has done a great deal to alienate the Roman Church from other Christian denominations, not to mention other religions and secular institutions. Papal infallibiliy has an escape clause that states that if a Pope should demonstrate ex cathedra fallibility, then he would cease, at that very instant, to be Pope. The whole thing makes no sense. The Pope is infallible except when he makes a mistake, in which case he is no longer the Pope. 

The only sense I can make of Papal infallibility is that it was, and still is, a desperate attempt to preserve authority when the Church could no longer claim to be the arbiter of truth in science and secular matters, the Church was losing all material assets in the Papal States, it could no longer raise an army, it could no longer legislate and enforce secular matters, and the Church lost all prerogatives to execute people under Church law.

What the Church is left with is a near impenitrable barrier to real union with other Christian communities. If one believes in the guiding power of the Holy Spirit, then why limit the functioning of the Holy Spirit to a Declaration of Infallibility with a silly 'crossed-fingers-behind-your-back' escape clause?
Michael Barberi | 10/17/2011 - 5:17pm

I apologize that I do not understand your perpective. Perhaps I have not been clear myself and have contributed to some misunderstanding. Let me clarify what I believe is the confusion.

1.  You stated "To say that married women have not received the teaching leaves out the fact that most couples agree on contraception". The term "not received" is used by the Church to mean that Catholics do not agree with the teaching. The reasons that a teaching has not been received vary.

Therefore, the statement you made does not make sense to me. If a teaching is not received, it cannot mean that most couples agree with the teaching. It is just the opposite.

2. Evangelization is certainly a goal of the Catholic Church but the Church has many goals. I am not familiar with any argument or statement of purpose that a Church teaching should be changed because it interfers with evangelization. I am familiar with a heirarchy of truths, but not with a heirarchy of goals, or if one goal is superior to other goals or should one goal be sacrificized for the benefit of another.

I am open to further dialog if contributory.
Lisa Weber | 10/16/2011 - 8:40pm
@Michael Barberi
I understand that opinion polls are not the basis for theological arguments, but when 97% of married couples ignore a church teaching, the church logically should address the issue in a more reasonable way.  To say that married women have not received the teaching leaves out the fact that most couples agree on contraception.  Presumably, 97% of married men also have not received the teaching.

The church says it exists to evangelize - certainly a reasonable statement.  If a particular, possibly wrong, teaching interferes with evangelization, then it stands in direct opposition to the reason for the church's existence.  In that case, lack of transparency about the teaching is probably a matter of putting evangelization at a higher priority than the teaching.

Being everyone ignores the church's teaching on contraception anyway, it probably isn't worth discussing further.  I do appreciate your thoughts on the subject, though.
Michael Barberi | 10/16/2011 - 6:49pm

@Lisa Weber:

You are correct, but that was not my point. According to the Chruch, disagreement with a Church teaching proves nothing theologically. So, while I agree that opinion polls should be taken seriously, these are not considered factors in the formulation of Doctrine or for revisions in teachings. However, the fact that 97% of married women have not received Humanae Vitae, should open the debate on this subject, which is closed at the moment.

With respect to your wise opinion, my point is better understood as: Should embracing, implementing and teaching a norm be based on economics (the closing of parishers due to less parishioners and inadequate weekly contributions) or on moral principle and obligation?

If priests would speak honestly from the pulpit about contraception and the norms of receiving Holy Communion, or at least post a sign in the vestibule of the Church
to bring clarity to these norms and teachings, we would have a more transparent and effective teaching Church. Consider what would happen if you found a sign on the wall as you entered your local Church that said:

"According to the USCCB Norms for the Distribution of Holy Communion, Catholics who practice contraception, and are not absolved from this sin, should not partake of the Eucharist. This would be a sacriledge. The exception is the judgement of your informed conscience, that can easily err, and would be in contradiction to the Divine Wisdom of the Holy Father, the Pope. Guidelines for an informed conscience is in the box in the vestibule."

Yes, there would be a fire storm of catastrophic proportions, leading to a much smaller Church, which B16 is perfectly comfortable with, and the closing of many parishes due to a significant erosion of weekly contributions and parishioners.

It is not about effective evangelization but about moral responsibility. Acts of omission are just as serious as acts of comission.


Lisa Weber | 10/15/2011 - 10:18pm
Thank you for your reply.  What I find amusing about the story of Martha and Mary is that it is still forbidden (by women) for a woman to sit in the living room with the interesting guest while another woman cooks and serves.  Martha complains to Jesus and he affirms that Mary has the better part and it shall not be taken from her - this is a radical stance even today.  Much of the lack of progress in the church is due to what happens, or doesn't, on the feminine side of the church.

Michael Barberi,
If 97% of the married women in the church disagree with a church teaching, church leaders should consider the possibility that they are wrong.  Natural family planning works well for the celibate, but not for the vast majority of married couples.  Another thought here is that the church can't afford to deny the Eucharist to those who don't abide by the church ruling on contraception.  They would have to close 97% of the parishes.  That would hardly be a part of effective evangelization.

Thanks to all for an interesting discussion.
Michael Barberi | 10/15/2011 - 8:52pm
Thanks Paul for bringing up this important issue.

IMO, the real issue is whether the bishops will truly implement all the norms for the distribution and reception of Eucharistic Communion. For example, Catholics are forbidden to receive Eucharisitic Communion, if they practice contraception. I also believe, but cannot be certaint, that priests are forbidden to distribute the Eucharist to Catholics if they believe to be practicing contraception and have not confessed this sin and received absolution.

The contradiction is the fact that every priest knows that few, if any, Catholics confess contraception as a sin. For those few that do confess contraception as a sin, they receive absolution under the principle of graduation for habitual sinners. In other words, these Catholics receive absolution without a firm purpose of amendment. The theory goes that these Catholics will eventually have an epiphany and change their sinful sexual behavior by frequent use of the Eucharist, Mass, and prayer. Yet, other habitual sinners, i.e., the divorced and remarried Catholics and homosexuals do not receive absolution under the principle of graduation.

This issue becomes acute since most priests know that 97% of married women practice a form of contraception condemned by the Vatican as intrinsically evil, and these same Catholics stand in line every Sunday to receive the Eucharist.

How is the picking and chosing of some norms while ignoring others, not a dilberate willful act in contradiction to a moral obligation?

Paul Hursh | 10/15/2011 - 12:40pm
I am not surprised - This is the same diocese that is eliminating Communion in both species.  See below...

PHOENIX (Sept. 21, 2011) — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix announced today its intentions to implement new norms for the distribution of Holy Communion under the forms of bread and wine that are in keeping with new universal Church standards for the distribution of Communion.
The new norms will promote unity in the celebration of the Eucharist all around the world, and come from the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd Edition, together with the final edition of The Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds for the Dioceses of the United States of America, published in June 2011.
The priests of the Diocese of Phoenix recently discussed the new norms and a provisional text for its local implementation. At the present time, these diocesan norms, together with a time frame for implementation in the Phoenix Diocese, are under preparation and should be completed within the next few months.
Since the 11th century, the Latin Rite Catholic Church distributed Holy Communion to the faithful under the form of bread. At the end of the Second Vatican Council, the Fathers of the Council directed the Sacred Congregation on Divine Worship to provide for occasions where the practice of distribution and reception of Holy Communion under both kinds to the laity could be restored. In the Roman Missal (1975), 14 instances were provided when the chalice could be offered to the Laity.
From 1975 on, the United States, United Kingdom and Oceania were given experimental privileges for the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds. These privileges expired in 2005 and were not renewed by the Holy See. The new norms issued in June 2011 are what guide the liturgical practice today and in the future.
These universal norms for the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds greatly expanded those times when the chalice could be offered to the lay faithful for most of the Catholic world (since in most countries their practice was virtually non-existent). In the Diocese of Phoenix, like other places where the practice of reception from the chalice became frequent or even commonplace, the new norms call for the practice of less frequent distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds than the faithful may have been accustomed.
Though these norms are for the universal Church, latitude is given to the local bishop to apply them for his particular diocese. In the Diocese of Phoenix, the norms provide for the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds for special feast days and other important occasions (e.g, the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, the Feast of Corpus Christi, retreats, spiritual gatherings, weddings, and more).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in paragraph 1390, "Since Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species, communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of the Eucharistic grace."
Martin Nicol | 10/14/2011 - 8:50pm
Its a boys club. They have set the rules and they decide who gets into leadership roles. If you say something they do not like, they silence you. If they do not like what you do, they condemn your behaviour as absolute evil and exclude you. Can't we see that having girls sitting up there near the really important seats, is all wrong???

Girls have their place, they can clean churchs and control little children but they must be kept right away from priests, you know, because promoting an image of normal human relationships, might threaten their club houses - church property.

Cardinals want to control life, rather than to serve people in their relationship with God and each other. Life is very messy, with lots of different voices.  A smaller purer church, just like Pope and cardinals, think it should be, that is what is being encouraged. Surely God will be happy with that, surely God doesn't want everybody in his kingdom.

Michael Barberi | 10/13/2011 - 4:20pm
Thank you Walter, and Norman, et al., for your kind words.
C Walter Mattingly | 10/13/2011 - 1:26pm
And if you attended parochial schools, you could probably add a few dozen nuns to your list. Thank you too for your regular attempts to keep the conversation open to all points of view. Also note the heartening comment of Sarah Neitz on why she is a faithful Catholic: because of her devotion to the Eucharist. A good example of the benefit of the Church being true to itself against fervent attempts by earlier reformers to dissolve the Eucharist in the form it was known to its believers. Had that reform succeeded, we would have no Sarah.
Michael B,
Even more than your generally well-informed and balanced point of view, I especially value the devotion and love of the Church which underlies all your calls for what you consider to be progressive reform. No desire to attack the Church or ill will in your posts that I can see. For those reasons I am especially drawn to your comments.
In an earlier thread you asked what actions we as laity could take that might more effectively move the Church in a generally progressive direction. My thought would be to pick and choose what you support carefully. Following are thoughts on that which have made sense to me.
First, go for the low-haniging fruit, ie, choose a path that does not call for the Church to be untrue to itself and is most easily supported. As you know at its best the Church has long built upon two foundations, the Biblical testaments and Church tradition. In that light the case of married priests, for example, is a promising subject. There is both the testament of the Apostles and a limited tradition of married priests to build upon. In addition, Pope Benedict has recently accepted into the Church married former Anglican clergy. It evidently occurred in a special exceptional format, but nonetheless it has an impact: married priests in the Church.So this is a promising place to concentrate upon.
The case of women in the priesthood is, I think, a more difficult one. Unlike the married apostles it has no direct counterpart in the NT, while the case for its presence in the tradition of the Church to a large extent is yet to be formed. This is why the altar girl issue is a vital one: it begins to build a Church tradition. And the concession of Pope John Paul II to permit altar girls at the discretion of the bishop is a done deal and no small step. That might best be approached most effectively from building a base of tradition rather than an all-out push which might be premature. Consider too that a married priesthood would almost naturally introduce the influence of the spouse into the experience of the Church that would also prepare a tradition of further association of women with the priesthood. So it goes with the possibility of introducing birth control to shape rather than deny the families of the married, as opposed to advocating abortion/adultery (which I hope would never come in to the Church.)  It all would take time, generations perhaps. The best and worst thing about the Church is that it is slow to change. Steadfastness supplemented by patience is required. So is love of Christ's Church in itself.
Anne Chapman | 10/13/2011 - 1:22pm
Thank you, Norman.

And I would like to thank you and  also the more than two dozen other men who took the time to post on this thread who do "get it."  It will take a while for the last remnants of patriarchy and misogny to finally be obliterated in the church. But, since the church does have men who are not threatened by women, there is at least a chance that someday the hierarchy of the church will realize that it is a sin to continue to choose to operate with half a brain.
Norman Costa | 10/13/2011 - 11:32am
On behalf of my daughters, granddaughters, and the women in my ife, I would like to say thank you to all of the women who participated in this discussion.

Sister Charlene, and
Anne Chapman | 10/13/2011 - 10:29am
Lisa,  Jesus clearly did not want to restrict or limit women's roles in the church. Jesus  was very open in teaching that women were not to be limited to roles defined by men - that women, as fully equal human beings made in God's image, must claim their right and responsibilities to work as equals to men in building the kingdom.

 The meaning of the story of Mary and the empty tomb is so glaringly obvious, that only those totally deaf and blind (due to having spent their lives internalizing the patriarchal mindset that has characterized most cultures of the world up to the 20th century) can fail to get the message. And yet many of the men among Jesus's own followers at the time, products of a patriarchal system that did not understand women to be fully human, missed Jesus's meaning over and over again. This is clear if you start listening with unplugged ears and open eyes.  For example, several years ago, I heard the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes for the first time.  I had listened to the story countless times without hearing it. The evangelist unconsciously reflects the patriarchy of his culture - the bottom line is always that Jesus fed 5,000 (or 4,000 depending on which gospel) with a few loaves and fishes - AND also women and children - who did not figure in the 5,000 head count (of full human beings).  The men of 2000 years ago missed Jesus' point in his teachings and actions (they missed a lot, actually). What is truly sad is that the men who run the Roman Catholic church two millenia later are still missing the point. The Holy Spirit has been banging their heads against the stone walls of the Roman fortress for decades now.  Yet John Paul II tried to even stop all discussion of the fullness of roles women should play in the church - by fiat.  Well, it seems that this hasn't worked - perhaps because it's tough to silence the Spirit?

Jesus many times teaches the full equality of women in how they can serve God's kingdom. One favorite story is Jesus's visit to Mary and Martha, which provides a powerful message to both women and men.  Jesus and his male followers came to their house, dusty and dirty, after being in the desert. They were also hungry and thirsty.  Women were normally denied formal religious education in that era - they participated in the worship and prayer life of the religious community, but were not students.  Martha automatically assumed the traditional female role - in the kitchen, cooking and serving - she did not join the men to listen and learn from Jesus as a student.  Mary, however, broke with the cultural norms and remained with the men to listen to Jesus teach - to learn.  Jesus did not tell her to leave the gathering, which would have been the "expected"  thing - a woman did not remain in a room ordinarily if she was the only woman among a group of men and wasn't serving them in some way. It wasn't "done". But Mary stayed, Mary listened and Mary learned - claiming for herself the role of a religious disciple.  When Martha complained, Jesus told her that Mary had done the right thing.  In this story Jesus not only teaches men tthat women are fully equal to men in the community, made in God's image, it also teaches women that they must claim their rightful leadership roles in the community - as equals to men - to go out and teach the good news.  Jesus gave the men a powerful message through his explicit approval of Mary joining the gathering as an equal instead of staying in the kitchen - the only "proper" realm for women as defined by men .Through his words to Martha, he told women that they should not remain passive and that there are no limits on which roles they should play in the community - according to their individual gifts. There are many gifts and many roles, and none are barred to women.

Mary claimed her full equality - some of the men may have protested along with Martha because they didn't understand what Jesus was doing. Jesus was once again turning everything upside down - the cultural and religious norms that defined and limited women to certain roles.  Two thousand years later, many men still don't get it (as evidenced in this thread).  But, it took the world, including the church, more than 1900 years to finally "get" that slavery is evil.  The Catholic church, as is too often the case, lagged both civil society and other christian churches in asserting that slavery is evil.  It is much the same in its teachings about women.  The church that should be the beacon, lighting the way for the world, is too often found bringing up the rear instead.
Lisa Weber | 10/12/2011 - 11:39pm
@ D. Morgan in 174.  "If Women want to more fully follow Christ, I suggest there are numerous methods and services than can be rendered that do not include serving at Alter."
My experience with this line of thought is that the suggested ways women can serve are in ways that render them invisible and are no intellectual challenge.    
Michael Barberi | 10/12/2011 - 1:57pm


Clearly 'some' of the comments in this blog are emotional. However, many are based on solid philosophical and theological reflection.

I agree we all should live as Christ did. However, this does not mean that when the pope and bishops shout "jump", we shoudl all ask "which way, on the way up".
You can disagree with Church teachings (if you follow the process the Chuch outlines for those whose conscience is in tension with a teaching) and still be a faithful Catholic. Not everyone who disagrees is emotional, unfaithful, dissenters, invincibly ignorant, mislead by the ills of the secular world or members of the culture of death. Such descriptions divide us futher. We all are faithful to seeking the truth and living a life as Christ did. However, as Mary Sweeney and others have pointed out, our Church is not a perfect reflection of an institution that Christ founded in terms of how it should function and be managed today.

Christopher Conant | 10/11/2011 - 11:24pm

 This arguments in this article are emotional and they do not pierce the core of the matter. 
Why does a pastoral decision in Phoenix Arizona at one parish, lead the Editors of this magazine to seek justification for women ordinations?

The tradition of the Church is not something made up to make people feel good at any point in history.  The Church holds that all participate in the life of Christ by conforming their lives to Christ, who was both Priest and Victim! This participation does not take place in a Cathedral or Church, that is the sacramental duty of the ordained priest. In reality if people want to actively participate in the life of the Church, then it is time that we stand up for Christ and His Church, preach that Gospel and prepare ourselves to suffer as Our Lord did. Please, enough with these childish arguments, for its is time that we all live as Christ did. We all should pour out lives so that others may live!

Christopher Conant | 10/11/2011 - 11:22pm

 This arguments in this article are emotional and they do not pierce the core of the matter. 
Why does a pastoral decision in Phoenix Arizona at one parish, lead the Editors of this magazine to seek justification for women ordinations?

The tradition of the Church is not something made up to make people feel good at any point in history.  The Church holds that all participate in the life of Christ by conforming their lives to Christ, who was both Priest and Victim! This participation does not take place in a Cathedral or Church, that is the sacramental duty of the ordained priest. In reality if people want to actively participate in thelife of the Church, then it is time that we stand up for Christ and His Church, preach that Gospel and prepare ourselves to suffer as Our Lord did. Please, enough with these childish arguments, for its is time that we all live as Christ did. We all should pour out lives so that others may live!

Norman Costa | 10/11/2011 - 10:41am
@ Michael:

Thank you for sustaining this thread with clear and cogent discussions. I learned a great deal. Your characterization of the one-way street Vatican is spot on. 
Michael Barberi | 10/10/2011 - 8:02pm

Mr. Morgan;
You indeed have a right to be obedient and I respect your faith and obedience. It is not my style or approach, but I criticize you not. My objections had to do with other statements and issues you raised that I hoped would benefit from my own opinions. I enjoyed the exchange.

Mary Sweeney:
A Synod of Catholic Bishops would not be a Vatican III because a Vatican III would be an World-Wide Christian Ecumenical Council. I don't believe we will see any such thing for a very long time. It is true that the criteria for appointing bishops during the papacies of JPII and B16 is only to appoint orthodox priests to such positions. However, just as there are "silent pulpits", so are there "silent episcopates". Most priests and bishops don't speak their mind in fear of the CDF or pope. If a Synod of Bishops, was to be constructed along the lines suggested by Germain Grisez, I believe it would produce much needed results. However, I am not naive or idealogical enough to believe there would be an ephiphany.

In the past, such as the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family, JPII allowed debate, but he had no intention of accepting any disagreement with orthodox teachings, especially Humanae Vitae. This is a kind description of his style. The issue we have been facing for the past 50+ years is a one-way street Vatican.  The only issues discussed are subjects of their choosing. Unfortunately, the closing of debate on issues that divide us is exactly the debate the bishops of the Church need to have without ecclesiastic bullying, limitations, or second agendas. Mary, you make a wise contribution when you say "Jesus did not found an institution as such; that is the way out of the corner". Thank you.

Mary Sweeney | 10/10/2011 - 4:23pm
@ Michael J. Barberi I think what you describe in your 3rd sentence of paragraph one would be called "Occupy Vatican City":). I do believe it is coming. As for the special Synod, I guess that would be Vatican III. The odds of that having any positive effect, however, are very small because of the criteria used to appoint Bishops over the past two Pontificates. The institutional Church has painted itself into a corner. It has been about job security, maintaing the party-line so as to "advance" — not terribly inspring when compared to the sayings of Jesus. But then, Jesus did not found an "institution" as such. He called us to follow Him. That is the only way out of the corner...
D Morgan | 10/10/2011 - 11:39am
Mr. Barberi. you commented: 

"Opinion polls are never a reason for doctrine formation or revision. Nor are they a litmus test for our faith. However, when you have such a profound division within the Church itself, it is called a Crisis of Truth. The 176 blog comments covered many issues. But one theme that is clear is hat the Magisterium is not doing anything about our profound lack of solidarity. One such cause of this crisis of truth is called ecclesiastic positism."

You needed to stop before the "However". I do acknowledge that The Church has changed her positions during the ages on several issues. and as I stated earlier, although i do not always agree, I give obedience to The Church on these issues. I have to. The Faith is entrusted to the Holy Father, the Magesterium and The Church By our Lord Jesus Christ. Who am i to challenge the collective wisdom and insight of them? I am dust. I defer to The Church, Pray for Her constantly, and attempt to live as prescribed by Her. That is all we have. To trust in our own wisdom is folly, and from the evil one. Does the Hierarchy make mistakes? Yes. Does that give us the right to pick and choose? NO.

Sister Kostuk, It is an Altar, not a table. Big difference, in both actuality and theology.

Pax Christi
Norman Costa | 10/10/2011 - 10:24am
Well said, Sarah Neitz. 
Mark Wonsil | 10/10/2011 - 8:43am
If a "cafeteria Catholic" is one who picks and chooses what they believe then wouldn't the opposite be called a "Jenny Craig Catholic"? One who eats only what's spoonfed to them? Just wondering...
Sarah Neitz | 10/10/2011 - 2:09am
Thank God I was an altar server!  As a 21 year old, I still serve as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and I can say definitively that my devotion to the Eucharist is rooted in my experience as an altar server.  We need women and men who are devoted to the Eucharist!  Altar serving is an awesome way to let girls and boys experience the Mass in an important way, to realize that communion is about giving as well as receiving.  It would be detrimental to the life of the Church to not allow girls to experience the source and summit of Catholicism in this way.  I haven't chosen to be a Catholic because of my devotion to the male priesthood; I'm Catholic because of the Eucharist!
Michael Barberi | 10/9/2011 - 6:47pm
Bravo Sister Charlene. An wise epigram of wonderment

 I also have wondered if the threat of holding back financial contributions and other fund raising work, will work. Perhaps Catholics could also protest collectively and demand that the pope heal our divided the Church. Envision one morning the pope walking onto his balconey over-looking St. Peter's square and seeing a million Catholics from around the world calling for immediate action to address the issues of discontent, the loss of credibility of the Magisterium, and a Church that has lost its ability to listen and learn. Would it not be the Spirit of Christ blowing through St. Peter's square if B16 suddenly announced that he had a dream the previous night, to call for a special Synod of Bishops to address our profound crisis of truth.  A proclamation that all members of the Body of Christ will participate in new process of healing. A process that will be without prejudice or exaggered fear of outcome. One that will be inclusive of theologians, religious, clergy, bishops and the general laity. A Synod that will not shy away from controversy but will seek a better understanding of the truth. A Synod that will be open to all issues and debate and be brought to consensus by B16 himself.

It is funny that one of the most orthodox of Magisterium theologians, Germain Grisez, wrote an essay in 1986, entitled "How to Deal with Theololgical Dissent". It was common knowledge that long before 1986 our Church was in a crisis of truth, a Church ruled with authoritarian vigor by the papacy, a Church that could only offer moral absolutes as solutions, and a Church characterized by entrenched poisitions. Grisez's solution? He proposed a special Synod of Bishops to heal a Church divided. To bring theologians back into their sacred role as consultants, researchers and educators. A role that the hierarchy needed. Today, theologians are separated from the Body of Christ, much like the laity is separated. The only part that seems to be intact is the head. Grisez's dream was solidarity.

Well, I can dream and pray as well, perhap with those like Sr. Charlene, that someday this will happen, maybe not in my lifetime, but maybe in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren.
7557017 | 10/9/2011 - 8:45am

I am a post Vatican II vocation, fostered and enriched by inclusively and accessability to the table; "All are welcomed". With the current liturgical changes and improvements to that which is and for some of us, was, the sacrament of life, I wonder what the American Catholic Church would look like if the women of our parishes and dioceses would boycott the collection, the work of fundraising and the education of the youth? I wonder. I bet that the patriacharchal church would only realize that abuse settlements would not be met.....

Michael Barberi | 10/8/2011 - 4:53pm
Dear Mr. Morgan:

You misread my commentary. The use of the word "relative" in the sentence you are referring to is not relativism. With a little discernment, it should have been clear that I was not suggesting that the tenents of our faith, that we hold to be the absolute truth, is being relativized. Rather, some complex moral issues, i.e., many sexual ethical teachings, is simply not a matter of blind faith, but something that must ring true to our minds, hearts and souls. If there is tension between a Church teaching and one's reason, the Church has also been explicitly clear about how a Catholic should proceed. I mentioned some of the things all Catholics should consider before they follow their informed consciences.

You assert the Truth is constant. In terms of faith issues, I agree. In terms of "some" moral issues, I do not. However, you confuse the definiton of truth with all papal encyclicals, teachings, proclamations and whatever the Papal Magisterium says is the truth, without remainder. Consider:

The Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX.
The three Papal Bulls condemning usury.
The changing definition of the ends of marriage from Augustine to John Paul II.
The different poisitions of the Church over the centuries on slavery and capital punishment.

For centuries, sex was only for procreation, sex during mentrual periods was a mortal sin, sex during pregnancy was forbidden and sex had only one licit position. These were the opinions and teachings of theologians and bishops that are now abandoned. Is our understanding of the truth about contraception more clear, more compelling, more universal than these older teachings? 

Being obedient to every teaching of the pope and the Church. does not make such teachings right and the absolute moral truth. But, to criticize those who follow their informed conscience on certain Church teachings as unfaithful, disrepectful and reflective of individualism or relativism, is a form of extremism and emotvism. As I made clear, if there are legitimate philosophical and theological reasons that are in tension with a Church teaching, following your informed conscience is a "moral obligation".  To follow a Church teaching and go against your informed conscience is a grave sin.

If you truely open minded, and want to read an essay that illustrates ambiguity and contradiction regarding the philosophical and theological arguments about contraception, I will be happy to send you a paper that is currently being reviewed for publication. You may be surprised that their is legitimate reasons for disagreement. You are correct in being skeptical, and we all should have a healthy skepticism. However, when it comes to certain moral issues, it is not a matter of being obedient or recalcitrant, as you assert.  Nor is everyone who disagrees with a Church teaching a victim of the secular world or invincible ignorant. Nor do these Catholics necessarily have a distorted reason. 

An individual's opinion is one thing. However, consider that certain teachings, i.e., contraception, is not received by 97% of world-wide married Catholic women, the majority of theologians, 40% of priests and many bishops. Opinion polls are never a reason for doctrine formation or revision. Nor are they a litmus test for our faith. However, when you have such a profound division within the Church itself, it is called a Crisis of Truth. The 176 blog comments covered many issues. But one theme that is clear is hat the Magisterium is not doing anything about our profound lack of solidarity. One such cause of this crisis of truth is called ecclesiastic positism.

I wiish you the best. When we all get to heaven, we will all know the truth.
D Morgan | 10/8/2011 - 8:25am
Mr. Barberi, with all due charity your discussion smacks of relativism.
 You state:"It is not a matter of blind faith, but the convictions of ones heart, mind and soul that should determine the truth, not relative to the desposit of faith, but relative to complex ethical issues where their is legitmate philosophical and theological arguments for thinking differently."

 This interpretation on discerning truth is addressed numerous times by Church Doctors and Popes. Free will as given us by Almighty God is a double edged sword. We have the choice to either accept the teachings from The Church or reject them. We cannot role out our own flavor de jour to fit that particular day's moral and societal impulse. The Truth is constant. It has to be. God cannot lie, and when our Lord gave "the Keys to the Kingdom" to Saint Peter, and his desendants, he also gave them Binding and Loosening powers. I Trust the Holy Fathers in all things pertaining to Dogma and the Faith. I may personally wonder why a decision is made, but it is not my place to question said decision. And as long as a position is not heretical i extend the same level of trust to my +Bishop and Priests. Relativism is a cancer used by satan to divide and destroy. I again point to the Encyclical from His Holiness +Pope St. Pius X on modernist errors. This document transends time to speak to both the issues facing The Church in His day and our current situation as well. Just because a teaching is old,does not render it antiquated and worthless.
 We in the west have an ideology that requries "rights". We tend to desire to bend and shape to our own whims and wishes. We lack the Faith of the Saints to submit to the Church and Her Teachings. Everything must be shiny and new and modern. No dust, smells and bells for us! This mindset went ballistic after the second Vatican Council and the damage is plain to see. If the Church is to survive in the west we must seek to return to a belief structure of obiedience rather than "rights". Of Faith rather than questioning every aspect of the Church. Of yielding to the Will of God rather than our own whims. and of accepting the admonishments, teaching and wishes of the Church Hierarchy.
  I discussed the Faith with an unbelieving co-worker. He thinks my Faith is a joke and a crutch. He does not understand my willingness to believe and remain Faithful to the Teachings of the Church. My answer was simple: If I am wrong and everything that I believe is a sham, I am only loosing out on a hedonistic lifestyle. If you are wrong you are in danger of loosing your Eternal Soul. I choose the former.

Pax Christi
Michael Barberi | 10/7/2011 - 10:12pm
D. Morgan:

It is a tiring exercise to beat a dead horse. But, this is a simplistic metaphor that is not appropriate for such a complex subject. By complex subject I don't mean to limit it to alter servers, but to a mindset of the Church that influences its formaluation of doctrine, and pastoral theology. It is not, as you assert, the dissenters who want to mold their own brand of Catholicism. It is much deeper than that.

As I mentioned earlier, as member of the Catholic Church, no Catholic has a right to disagree with a Church teaching or pick and choose what teachings are true and not true, what teachings will be followed and those that will be ignored. However, every Catholic must never go against his/her informed conscience. A conscience that is not a knee-jerk reaction to a teaching or practice of the Church, but a conscience informed by facts, prayer, and a constant questioning until all questions are answered. The issue must be serious, and in tension with one's reason. One must be respectful of the Church's teachings, and use every means possible to understand the complexity of issues. Given that, one must understand philosophy and theology in order to be able to argue on a theological basis, with indifference and not based on emotivism.  

It is true that a teaching that is not receive can be true, but it is also true that a teaching not received possesses not power to change behavor. The Church has changed many of its teachings and has erred. So do millions of average Catholics. It is not a matter of blind faith, but the convictions of ones heart, mind and soul that should determine the truth, not relative to the desposit of faith, but relative to complex ethical issues where their is legitmate philosophical and theological arguments for thinking differently.

The issue of female alter servers and the justification by using a theory of physical differences, minimizes the body-spirti unity. You cannot separate the physical from the spiritual. In heaven, there are no female or male. A male does not serve God any differently than a female. God love us all as an emspirited body and an embodied spirit. If millions of the Catholic laity and theologians, and many priests and bishops do not receive a teaching, it is cause for the most profound reflection and action.


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