Update: I asked Brother DeThomasis, through his publishers, whether he was worried about the Vatican's response to his book, particularly since he is speaking against the official teaching on women's ordination. He replied: "Of course, given the recent punitive actions by some Church prelates against those seeking open discussion on topics that they deem inappropriate, a certain amount of human fear is inevitable. However, the true tradition of the Church calls upon the faithful to follow their conscience and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Magisterium with free, candid, respectful and open dialogue. To suppress questioning and insist that some topics are forbidden to be discussed certainly is not what I believe the Catholic Church supports. The Church prides itself in its rich academic and intellectual tradition. Therefore, I believe each faithful Catholic must be prepared to expect recriminations from those in authority who have become ideologues rather than loving pastors supporting and leading the faithful as we all seek Jesus and his Gospel in our transforming world."
The original post follows.
Brother Louis DeThomasis, FSC, a Christian Brother for 40 years and the president of St. Mary’s University in Minnesota for 20, currently runs the Christian Brother Investment Services Global. He has written a new book in which he calls for, among other things, the ordination of women as part of an overall metanoia (change in consciousness) that must, he argues, be brought about in the church. “Is the institutional church dying?” he asks. “Yes, fortunately.”
“It is fortunate because this death can be the occasions for a metanoia in the church,” he writes in Flying in the Face of Tradition: Listening to the Lived Experience of the Faithful (Acta). “Sexual abuse, corruption, authoritarianism, lack of transparency, and cover-ups have all been collapsing into and on top of the institutional church….The 'tipping point' has been reached, and the moral authority, honor and respect that the institutional church once elicited from most peoples and secular institutions around the globe no longer exists.”
Brother DeThomasis, now 70, views this as a positive spiritual development. “However, if there is metanoia and transformation within, then there will and can be a 'resurrection' for the institutional church." His brief book (102 pages) touches upon what he calls the “subversion” of Vatican II, the proper use of tradition and what is bound to be the most controversial topic: the ordination of women. “After listening to the arguments put forth by the institutional church that Jesus would demand anything other than the full complete and total equality of all persons in his church and finding those arguments completely unpersuasive and often silly," he writes, "we the faithful believe that the ordination of women not only should take place, but must take place soon."
What is perhaps most surprising about this book is not simply that Brother DeThomasis is challenging church teaching on certain matters (e.g., the ordination of women) or even strongly criticizing the hierarchy in general, but that he writes from within the heart of the institutional church, as a member a large religious order, after many years in a leadership role (he served as president of St. Mary's from 1984 to 2005) and still in active ministry; he works and lives in Rome. (Acta is also a well-known lay-led Catholic publisher, which publishes books and offers parish resources on church history, religious education and prayer. One of the books it distributed last fall was Pope Benedict XVI.) Apparently, Brother DeThomasis is not cowed by the prospect of running into someone working in a Vatican dicastery on the street: "The amateurish solutions proffered by the institutional church in response to the current crisis to lead anyone with a modicum of common sense to question the presence of the Holy Spirit in Rome or in most chancery offices today." Here are a few more quotations from Brother DeThomasis's book:
The leaders of the institutional church do not really believe in the Catholic concept of tradition, properly understood. They are in effect flying in the face of tradition.
The recent efforts of a few bishops in the United States to regulate and withhold the cup from most Catholics most of the time is an example of an effort at control that has run amok.
In more than thirty years serving in Catholic education, both on the secondary and university levels, I have seen the church lose many generous young people because the institutional leaders do not give them the “spiritual space” to question, dialogue, doubt, and challenge.
The institutional church is dying, not the church we Catholics belong to.
Many church insiders, as they increasingly feel themselves under siege, are now saying that the church will have to get smaller and only allow the “true” and “faithful” (in their minds) followers of Jesus to remain. This type of argument does not come from the Holy Spirit.
No one, no authority and no institution, can prevent or stop people from seeing the facts before them and using their rational abilities to seek the truth of the reality they perceive.
The institutional church is no longer representing its Good News to a docile and receptive audience that is passively waiting to be told what to think and do.
It is unjust for anyone to judge that we who are not in lockstep with all the outward signs of behavior that the church prescribes are therefore “less Catholic.”
We'll be curious to hear what some of his Roman neighbors have to say about his book.
James Martin, SJ