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James Martin, S.J.July 08, 2010

I've been thinking a lot about Bishop Kevin Dowling lately. As you probably have seen in the past few posts, Dowling, an outspoken South African bishop, gave a frank talk to a group of lay leaders in Cape Town in June. Yesterday a friend sent me a link to his thoughtful address, posted on Independent Catholic News, parts of which I posted here on this blog.  Many read it, and other sites subsequently picked it up.  Then--mysteriously, it seemed at first--it was removed from ICN. Then, as Kevin Clarke noted below, it was posted again. (As it turned out, this was due to a glitch involving some incorrectly deleted words, the website's editor explained in an email.)  Subsequently, the National Catholic Reporter reported that the bishop intended the alk to be off the record. "Given the fact that it would be a select group with no media present, I decided I would be open and honest in my views to initiate debate and discussion," he said.

But why wouldn't a bishop want such a carefully crafted, well-thought-out talk disseminated widely?  Why not be "open and honest" with everyone?

Bear with me.  For I've been thinking about his talk not so much to unravel the twisted skein of the on-again, off-again posting saga, but to meditate on what it might say about the church.

Bishop Dowling's blunt address was not only about what he called the “dismantling" of Vatican II, but about something else: the "pressure to conform.”  And here’s the irony: the one speaking out about speaking out did not feel that he could speak out, at least not broadly, or at least not to everyone, or at least not publicly.  His desire not to speak more publicly on the topic effectively proved his point. 

None of this is meant to be a slight against the bishop, who I've greatly admired for some time.  He is a terrific leader, a wonderful teacher and, in many ways, a real prophet.  What a bishop should and could be.

But neither is this surprising. We live in a church where almost any disagreement to almost any degree with almost any church leader on almost any topic is seen as dissent.  And I'm not speaking about the essentials of the faith--those elements contained in the Creed--but about less essential topics.  Even on those topics—say, the proper way to deal with politicians at odds with church teaching, new translations of the Mass, the best way for bishops to deal with complicated pastoral issues, and so on—the slightest whiff of disagreement is confused with disloyalty.

Certainly disagreement with any statements from Rome, even on non-dogmatic or non-doctrinal matters, is seen as close to heresy. As Bishop Dowling said:

What compounds this [frustration over the church’s unwillingness to be critiqued], for me, is the mystique which has in increasing measure surrounded the person of the pope in the last 30 years, such that any hint of critique or questioning of his policies, his way of thinking, his exercise of authority etc. is equated with disloyalty. There is more than a perception, because of this mystique, that unquestioning obedience by the faithful to the pope is required and is a sign of the ethos and fidelity of a true Catholic. When the pope's authority is then intentionally extended to the Vatican curia, there exists a real possibility that unquestioning obedience to very human decisions about a whole range of issues by the curial departments and cardinals also becomes a mark of one's fidelity as a Catholic, and anything less is interpreted as being disloyal to the pope who is charged with steering the bark of Peter.

Even for bishops! Kevin Dowling is, for Pete's sake, or for Christ's sake--and I mean that literally--a bishop.  A teacher.  A successor to the apostles.  Not simply a branch manager of the Vatican's main office.  Not some lowly functionary.  Not a cog.  But a teacher in his own right.  And even he feels the "pressure to conform."

What does this engender? It engenders a fear-based church.  It creates clergy and religious frightened of speaking out, terrified of reflecting on complicated questions, and nervous about proposing creative solutions to new problems. It leads to the laity, who have a hard enough time getting their voice heard, giving up.  It causes the diminution of a thoughtful theological community.  It muzzles what should be a vibrant, flourishing, provocative, innovative, challenging Catholic press. It empowers minuscule cadres of self-appointed watchdogs, whose malign voices are magnified by the blogosphere, and who, with little to no theological background, freely declare any sort of disagreement as tantamount to schism--and are listened to by those in authority.  It creates fear.

Now, does this seem like what Jesus wanted to establish on earth? It doesn't to me. I thought he said "Fear not!" And I thought St. John said, “There is no fear in love." And "Perfect love casts out fear." But perfect fear casts out love, too.

Sometimes when I'm writing or speaking, even to small groups, I find myself thinking not "What would God want me to say?" But “Will this get me in trouble?”  Again it’s not surprising.  Occasionally, during my talks I’ll spy a humorless man and woman furiously taking notes.  The other night it happened during a talk on a particularly controversial topic: joy.  Ironically, I am probably one of the most theologically conservative Catholics you'll ever meet. You may not believe that, but it's true. Every Sunday, when I say the Creed, I believe every single word of it.

Bishop Dowling is right. There is a "pressure to conform." And it is intense, particularly official church circles. Sadly, this is the last thing that the church needs right now. In the midst of perhaps one of the worst crises ever to face the church--the sexual abuse scandals--what we need is not fear-bred silence, but a hope-filled willingness to listen to any and all voices. Because the Holy Spirit works through all of us.

What's the alternative? Well, for an answer I’d like to turn to Pope Benedict XVI.  I've been making my way through his book Jesus of Nazareth, which I'm enjoying very much. At the beginning of his book the pope says something surprising.  The pope says that the book is "absolutely not" a work of doctrine, but the “expression of my own personal research." “Consequently, everyone is free to contradict me. I only ask the readers that they read with sympathy, without which there will be no comprehension."  That seemed eminently sensible, completely humble and absolutely right.  How much easier it is to listen to someone who invites, rather than commands.

And how wonderful if everyone in the church could be afforded that “sympathy.” Then we could listen to the voices of all sorts of people who have much to offer the church, by way of their own "expressions" of their "personal research"--that is, the experience of their lives as faith-filled members of the Body of Christ. The pope’s approach in his book--about Jesus, hardly an insignificant topic!--is the way to go.

Another irony: I'm sure that even writing this blogpost will lead people to think I'm a dissenter--even though I've not dissented from any teaching. I'm sure that out there in the blogosphere are those same self-appointed guardians ready to pounce on any whiff of disagreement or critique and somehow twist it into disloyalty.

Well, they’ll do that anyway, so why not say what I have to say?

James Martin, SJ


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12 years 1 month ago
Is it ironic that our Church encourages us to be ''counter cultural''  for Christ- that is not give into society's '' pressure to conform''? May we practice what we preach.
As for you Father Jim, reading your essays and your books, it is easy to believe that you are ''one of the most theologically conservative Catholics you'll ever meet''. May I add ''authentic, loyal and inspiring '' as well as theologically conservative?
Thank you for this necessary post. As for any feedback from 'the usual suspects', do recall that when your getting the most flak, that usually means your directly over the target!
12 years 1 month ago
Thanks, Jim - I agree with all of the quotes you provide.
My point is that progressive clericalism is JUST as prevalent (esp. at the parrish level) as conservative clericalism and that it is hypocritical for Fr. Jim and America Magazine to carry on about one form of this disorder but not the other.
I think Mark Shea's essay does a good job of covering both sides of the issue.
Benjamin Alexander
12 years 1 month ago
Brett and Maria:
I don't know what your posts added to any of the conversation here. The problem Fr. Martin seems to be addressing is how to speak up about matters in the Church while doing so faithfully. You both intimate it's not even possible. 
But that's strange indeed, because it would suggest that all of the revisions or developments in Church teaching came from only one source-the Pope himself-without any input from brother bishops, priests, theologians, or lay persons. And history teaches otherwise.
So how would you all encourage conversation, discussion, and debate on matters that are foreclosed to debate by the hierarchy but which demand debate? It's no use calling everyone a progressive individualist, just as I'm sure neither of you want to embrace traditionalism or obedience merely for their own sakes. That position would have us burning heretics or enslaving infidels, still. 
12 years 1 month ago
Jim Martin has posted a very perceptive blog, one that I hope every bishop will read, but know the odds for happening are zero.  Authority/power has been abused for some time, and it has been tolerated, to the detriment of all of us in the Church.  WE now have "popeolatry," an idolatry as destructive to understanding to reality and God as were the golden calfs of ancient times.  It seems to me, thanks to the work of biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, the only legitimate uses of power/authority are three: 1) Liberation or freedom-giving-setting people free from sin and all that oppresses them and impedes full human development. 2) Hospitatlity or home-bringing-working to give a place at the table to everyone, making people feel at home and note exiles in a foreign land. 3) Life-giving-as God gives life and restores life and enables resurrection from all that is lethal and destructive, so we should be enabling that life-giving work to continue in the lives of individuals and communities. 
That has not been happening in the Church, and we are being destroyed by the fear that has been permitted to reign and bring death to the community.
My two cents.
Molly Roach
12 years 1 month ago
The fear in this church is so thick it smells to high heaven.  Simple conversation about the abuse scandal is impossible-it's polarized with each "side" perceiving the other as "wrong" or disloyal.  People and issues have been silenced. This "leadership" reminds me of nothing so much as the soviet commissars whose aim was control and not responsible leadership.  I am happy to hear from Bishop Dowling and sorry as hell to hear that he's afraid.  The commissars need to be put on notice that Christ is the center of our church, not THEM.
12 years 1 month ago
A great post, Fr. Martin.
A Protestant friend asked me once if a person was considered a "real" Catholic if they disagreed with the pope.  Being a convert, I wasn't actually sure so I looked around online and found a past article from US Catholic -  "Catholic dissent - When wrong turns out to be right"
It mentions guys like John Courtney Murray SJ and John Henry Newman who were really in the doghouse for some time because of dissent but who were eventually proven to be right.  As the article states ...
"Almost everyone is aware of the strong dissent Saint Paul expressed toward Saint Peter's position on regulations for Christian converts, as noted in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians. Paul publicly "withstood to his face" this first pope "because he clearly was wrong" (Gal. 2:11), and Peter eventually reversed his position and concurred with Paul in the dispute."
I appreciate and respect that you speak out  on issues that are touchy and that you aren't afraid to be honest.
JoMarie Thomson
12 years 1 month ago
The fear-based church is painful at a parish level.  The only way I've been able to step away from the snarkiness is to pray for St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus's intercession.  She often had to pray for those petty persecutors who made her life complicated.  Usually though I just volunteer for more thankless tasks and do my very best :-)
Dale Rodrigue
12 years 1 month ago
It's all about the next conclave, that's where it will count.
Bishop Dowling isn't the only one fuming.  But good company men know their place.
Many, perhaps most cardinals are dissatisfied.  Many in Europe are grinding their axes. 
They know what needs to be done and will do it.  B16 will go down in history as one of the worst, a ''mistake'' in a misguided attempt to keep JPII's version of Vatican II alive.  
12 years 1 month ago
Progressive clerics, such as Fr. Martin or Bishop Dowling, have their own "clericalism" to confront, so it is bit hypocritical for Fr. Martin to continue to vaguely post on the subject as though it were a problem only for "traditionalists"...
Mark Shea has a good comment to this effect:
"Clericalism, it turns out, is an equal-opportunity sin. It’s not reserved just to conservatives. Some of the most clerical people I know have been staunchly “progressive” dissenters and despisers of Church teaching who use their office to muzzle any attempt to question them when they “renovate” a Church, improve the liturgy into a festival of St. Narcissus, or transmute RCIA into a cell group for chanting slogans against the Magisterium on their favorite pelvic issues.
For such people, the watchword is “Question the Tradition, but don’t you dare question me!”
It is worth reading the whole thing:

12 years 1 month ago
Please check your facts, Joe.  It is clear as day that arguing for the normalization of homosexual lifestyle and for its acceptance within the Church is NOT going against modern sensibilities - if anything, it is acquiescing to the current popular culture! 
As GK Chesterton said: "The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice."
Counter culture these days is advocating for tradition and community (as opposed to progressive individualism).  Don't believe me, just check out the latest ruling in Christian Legal Service v Martinez... 
Stephen SCHEWE
12 years 1 month ago
Thanks for your thoughtful meditation.  Unfortunately, fear appears to be at the heart of the governmental structure of the Catholic Church.  I hate to break it to you, Father Jim, but for example, the trolls you referenced are not self-appointed.  From paragraph 184 of Redemptionis Sacramentum:
“Any Catholic … has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop … or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.”
Fear of being snitched on is built into the current “reform of the reform.”  If a newly promoted bishop goes beyond his “branch manager” functions (particularly if this is reported to Rome), his first posting becomes his last posting; Bishop Dowling, for example, has been in Rustenburg since 1990.  In turn, the theologians are controlled by the mandatum.  The same pressures arise among priests fearful of getting an unfavorable assignment by their bishop, or lay staff fearful of getting fired by their priest.  The only people who seem truly unafraid of the pressure to conform are out on the periphery of power (like the ones Nick Kristof has celebrated in recent columns) or in the religious orders.  Renouncing ambition to lead seems to be the one cure from fear of being passed over or fired.  “Whoever will lead must become the servant of all,” right?
Maybe Brett is right, and fear would be equally problematic if progressives held power.  I don’t know how to shape the path to get there, but returning to direct election of bishops based on the precedents from the early Church, combined with a reasonable episcopal term limit like 10 years, would rebalance the centralization of power and cult of personality that Bishop Dowling critiques.  Some dioceses might become more conservative, others more liberal.  You can see from the experience of the Episcopalians that a reformed polity isn’t a cure-all, but it’s easier to govern people who’ve consented to be governed, and there’s less fear for everyone when power has been decentralized.
Tom Maher
12 years 1 month ago
Unfortunately the church is a hugh, worldwide organization which often has a disturbing self-justifying life of its own. As a human organization the church has the very same organizational behaviors, for good and ill, as other large bureaucracies such as the State Department, General Motors, the Post Office, the phone company, the United Nations etc.

Bureaucracies want to control the message in the field they operate in. This is why so much money is spent by modern organizations on public relations. The church being a much older organization, of course, sometimes atempts to do message control the old fashion way by suppressing information. In a medeval era, where there was no mass media to deal with, message supressing or censorship was effective. Why debate an issue when you can just make an issue disappear? Information suppression, if effective, is the easy way out with nothing to explain or debate. But nowadays, in an internet age where the smallest things are noticed and reported on by numerous outlets as this article demonstrates infromation suppression is not effective. The message gets noticed when the intent is for the message not to get noticed.

Openness is now required because information does get out in a modern world. And people do notice attempts at suppressing infromation and wonder what is the church doing?
12 years 1 month ago
''In the midst of perhaps one of the worst crises ever to face the church-the sexual abuse scandals-what we need is not fear-bred silence''
I am not sure this is even close to correct.  Not that I am belittling what happened because it was horrendous but doesn't Martin Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII, Avignon, Multiple Popes calling multiple councils, schism with Constantinople, the over run of two thirds of Christendom by Islam, The Borgia's, assassinating and chasing popes out of Rome and several other truly low lifes who inhabited the papacy ring a bell.  
By this statement I assume that sexual abuse was never a major issue in the previous 1900 years.  What changed to cause it to be such an issue?  I would be focusing on that.
''but a hope-filled willingness to listen to any and all voices''
Certainly this cannot be feasible.  I personally have my opinions but I never expect the formal Church to listen to them let alone many here.   I may take my thoughts to a local priest but I would not enter the town square and get up on a box.  Sounds like Protestantism to me where if you do not get your way, it is off to your own path to God and the latest edition of the religion of the month club.
''Fear Based Church''
There is the implication that there is a fear to dissent within the Church.  I do not see that fear expressed on this website or at Jesuit institutions.  In the last 10 years I have seen more dissent within the Church then I ever saw before in my life time and after going through several histories of the church in the last few years I can't remember a time when there seems to be more expression of dissent.  Certainly the avenues for dissent are everywhere as the internet opens millions of doors to express what ever one wants to say.
The Church has always been an authoritarian organization and will always be one as it governs close to a billion people.  It has to be to survive and I assume the Holy Spirit works within this structure.  So I do not buy the sudden intense pressure to conform with the millions of counter examples and as people here condemn those who do conform.  It is like there is intense pressure for some other type of conforming, namely not to conform to the Church.  It is like the hippie in his tie died shirt, peace emblem and jeans with holes carefully cut out screaming at those who wear a suit.
12 years 1 month ago
Brett- Always happy to check my facts. I am but a simple accountant- not a trained theologian like my friend Father Jim or a learned bishop.
But, alas, I find no reference to homosexual lifestyles in the essay or editorial I was commenting upon. And I was not commenting on some other essay or some inferred opinion or other unstated agenda.
So I will stick with my post as it is written . cheers. Joe
12 years 1 month ago
Joe, thanks for the reply. 
Your post inferred that the progressive agenda suscribed to by Fr. Martin, Bishop Dowling and America Mag is "counter-culture" - not this is simply not true due to the fact that liberal progressive individualism is the ideology of our times/mass culture.
To be truely part of the "counter-culture" today, one would have to subscribe to the traditionalism that the progressive ideology looks down upon...
Franz K.
12 years 1 month ago
Amen Father Jim!  Unfortunately, far too many people involved in parish life will immediately recognize the culture of fear and pressure to conform of which you write.  How many of them are able to express any of their concerns without fear of being labeled and dismissed without real dialogue?  How many more, as you say, are discouraged altogether?
Jim McCrea
12 years 1 month ago
Brett - re:  clericalism (and note the the first 2 are far from "progressives"):
“The problem of clericalism is composed of several problems.  It is the problem of a caste that arrogates to itself undue authority, that makes unwarranted claims to wisdom, even to having a monopoly on understanding the mind of God.  The consequence is the great weakening of the Church by denigrating or excluding the many gifts of the Spirit present in the people who are the Church.  The problem of clericalism arises when ‘the church’ acts in indifference, or even contempt, toward the people who are the Church.”    
Richard J. Neuhaus, June 1989.
 “By clericalism I mean an elitist mindset, together with structures and patterns of behavior corresponding to it, which takes it for ­granted that clerics—in the Catholic context, mainly ­bishops and priests—are intrinsically superior to the other members of the Church and deserve automatic ­deference. Passivity and dependence are the laity’s lot. By no means is clericalism confined to clerics themselves. The clericalist mindset is widely shared by Catholic lay people.”
Russell Shaw, ''To Hunt, to Shoot, to Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity''  (1993)
“These factors – secrecy, ambition, the remnant of feudal nobility, the temptation to idolatry – have shaped the mindset of not a few archbishops and bishops. The same factors can also be seen as fibres holding together what is now understood as clericalism, the nadir of the priesthood and episcopacy. Clericalism, like pornography, is difficult to define but we tend to know it when we encounter it. It is the sense of “not being like the rest of men”, a sense of preferment, exemption and privilege. It is a culture of privilege and betrays a marked absence of authenticity and integrity.
Clerical culture, the ecclesial world in which priests and bishops live, is a natural enough phenomenon. However, when it breeds clericalism, as it often does, it takes on a destructive force that compromises honest and effective pastoral leadership and ministry. Moreover, clericalism closes clerical eyes to the Church’s ongoing need for renewal and reform. In this sense, clerical culture is a culture of secrecy and denial. Once drawn into its web, a cleric finds it is difficult to keep his priorities straight. He becomes like the storied medieval cardinal who bragged: ‘I only lie in the best interests of the Church.’ ”   
 Donald Cozzens, “Culture that Corrodes”, The Tablet, 5 December 2009
Brett - re: clericalism:
John McCloskey
12 years 1 month ago
Fr. Jim, this is a fine and needed essay. When Peter addressed the Sanhedrin, he said that 'we must obey God and not men.' But all too often Catholics, especially clergy, do ask the question "will this get me in trouble" rather than "what does God want me to say?" Part of the issue is exemplified by the comments here, where some commentators have criticized you, not for your essay, but for a world view that they assume you favor. They have unwittingly proved your point. For to have any opinion other than the most reactionary is to become suspect.
If anyone doubts that the clergy is controlled by fear, they simply have to attend a deanery or vicariate meeting. Men who have for days complained to each other about this or that policy suddenly turn silent, mendacious, and acquiescent. Let me make clear that I am not talking about any doctrine here. I'm talking about fear to raise questions about diocesan policies about money, employees, or anything else. I can't tell you how many priests I know who are disheartened because they dare not speak to their bishop about what is on their hearts.
This timidity and fear exist in the larger Church too, but it is in the level of the dioceses that it has its most pernicious effects. When a leader does not listen to the wisdom and experiences of those he leads, he will make horrible mistakes. A leader does not have to follow the suggestions of those he leads, but if he does not listen, he cannot lead from a well-informed position. An no leader, even a divinely appointed one, can listen to what he does not hear.
The religious orders are not in a much better position, although the context is different. Religious too are subject to caprice, pride, an unwillingness to consider options, and all the other foibles of humanity. 
Finally, let me respond to the commentator above who challenged your statement about the gravity of the sexual abuse crisis. This is, in my view, at least as serious as the Reformation. We have no kings, princes or rulers who are taking people out of the Church, as we did in the 16th century. Instead, people are leaving as individuals and families. An attrition rate of 3 to 8 percent a year is, over a decade, costing more souls than the Reformation did. In Europe, the numbers are decreasing. In the US, the numbers are increasing only because of immigration.. In the Reformation we lost ground kingdom by kingdom. In the present age, we are losing ground family by family. In the Reformation, when people left the Church, they at least did not leave Christianity. In the present age, when people leave the Church, they are as likely as not to leave Christianity entirely. 
12 years 1 month ago
Fr. John ? (last name are required to post, btw)
You write:  "Part of the issue is exemplified by the comments here, where some commentators have criticized you, not for your essay, but for a world view that they assume you favor. They have unwittingly proved your point. For to have any opinion other than the most reactionary is to become suspect."
I assume this statement is directed at me.  In any case, it is incorrect: all posters on here know the progressive ideology of Fr. Martin - not to mention that he publicly stated this fact on a recent video posted on this blog.
PS - that is an ad hominem on your part Fr. John - I am not a reactionary.  I do not belong to the Society of St. Pius X, nor do I call for the repeal of Vatican II.  I am faithful to the Church and call out the machinations of both those on the far progressive left and the far right.
Both seek power in the Church and both are guilt of clericalism.
12 years 1 month ago
PS - Slapping the "reactionary" label on those who voice opposition to progressive clerics is a form of intimidation or "fear-tactics" - is it not, Fr. John?
Was this not the very tactic that the article was speaking against? 
Denis Lynch
12 years 1 month ago
Fr. Martin, what you write is right. I wonder, though, about the implication that this insistence on loyalty is anything new. As I listen every day to the Saint of the Day podcast, it's impossible not to notice how many saints were excommunicated (or excoriated) during their lifetime. Even Thomas Aquinas had a rough go of it. You wrote a blog post a year ago about Mother Mary McKillop who was removed from her community in 1871 and is now on her way to canonization.
This is a timely lesson. I am increasingly dismayed by political positions the Church takes. The history of beleaguered saints is a reminder that it is a noble thing to persevere within the Church. History will determine whether the human institution was wrong - or I was. Meanwhile, both the institution and I can only follow the Way as it is revealed to us.
12 years 1 month ago
I am a Catholic from the United Kingdom.
I fully support you in this Fr. James and it needs to be said by other priests, Bishops and other lay people. This issue is vital for people to be heard - the hierarchy are losing their grip on all the old unhealthy privileges that enabled them to undermine evolutionary progress and suppress healthy life and debate  in the church.
Stanley Kopacz
12 years 1 month ago
The appeal to counter-culturalism or culturalism to justify arguments is of no value.  The culture is not always wrong.  As far as I know, it is still accepted that 5+9=14.  If they say otherwise, I will be then be counter-cultural.  And painting Fr. Martin as clericalist is untrue and uncalled for, but Mr. Joyce is always generous with the paint can.  Ad hominem is his forte.
The monarchical model esteemed by Mr. Cosgrove is obsolete as far as human development is concerned.  The main problem is that absolute power eventually stifles communication which a living system needs for survival.  America magazine still speaks out, but not with the freedom it had before Fr. Reese was dealt with.  America used to provide both sides to the argument on matters relating to homosexuality and otherwise.  It is to be assumed that both sides were assured of the strength of heir arguments.  Resort to raw authority to suppress viewpoints is seen by democratic peoples as evidence of fear that their arguments cannot really hold up.
12 years 1 month ago
''The monarchical model esteemed by Mr. Cosgrove is obsolete as far as human development is concerned.''
I never mentioned a monarchical model and I have never esteemed such a thing.   The Church is an authoritative system and has to be one and it does celebrate its current leader at any moment in history because that leader represents the successor of the direct appointment by Christ on earth to lead his Church.  
The military is another organization that must be authoritative to successfully survive but it allows a lot of flexibility at even the trench level to make independent decisions.  In fact it is expected and my experience with the military is that to be successful it must listen to information that originates from below.  In fact it seeks it in the sense that it needs intelligence and tactics and methods that work.  That does not mean that every beef by a private or seamen has merit.  Similarly in the Church, I am sure the bishops, cardinals and popes listen to lots of input from below.  They have to sort out what might be productive and what is not.  There is no way the Church could be run by listening to every complaint or suggestion that a member brings up.
What is obvious when reading this site is that a lot of people think their beef's are more important than others and because the Church does not respond to them in the way they want, they state that the Church does not listen.  I have seen this behavior a lot of other places in life so it is nothing new.  As I said before this site is mainly a place for disgruntled Catholics.  There is a lot of interesting discussions that take place but there is also a lot of people venting including the authors many times.
12 years 1 month ago
I found this post excellent.
One part of the problem is that the push to "govern" by our Church hierearchy is seen as both inept in the actions of governance and the system of governnace itself, often criticized as still in the middle ages.
The issue of fear is particularly present to those under some form of church control, like the Bishop cited, but also priests, religious and employees of the Church. "Visitations" and comisions operate with less than transparency and accountability as organs of power and control.
I think it interesting that those who argue for the current beaurocratic structure go on about "counter culturalism."
I think we should havehad enough of semantic mantras also used as a power tactic -we"ve had enough already of that in the world of politics.
12 years 1 month ago
What the Dowling speech on NCR revealed to me is how oppressive the Vatican behavior has grown since JP2. The RCC is not a fun place to be for homosexuals and feminists. It does not seem to be a fun place either for people with a conscience...
Suppressing news is a totalitarian approach but then the RCC has never been a democracy.
What struck me most in Dowling speech is the fact that Vatican II was decided by all the bishops of the time. Since JP2, the decisions have been taken without consultation with the bishops at large. This is not good.
Basically the top of the Catholic hierarchy has no trust in the Holy Spirit... It's pathetic when you think about it.
Of course, for many of us it means a progressive alienation from Rome, not the Church, because WE ARE THE CHURCH...
charles jordan
12 years 1 month ago
''Well, they’ll do that anyway, so why not say what I have to say?''
Yup, 'Fear Not', does not mean don't live in fear. It means act with the courage God's love gives each man or women of good will.
Funny thing about priest and bishops being afraid to speak up is that they, thanks to chaste celibacy, have nothing to loose.  Perhaps the ground of their fear is the loneliness that would be a consequence of speaking for what is right or at least against that which is wrong with the institutional church. Many laity will tell them that lonliness is also where God keeps company.
Tamzin Simmons
12 years 1 month ago
Thank you, Fr. Martin, for your insightful post.
I was particularly interested to see that you propose the reasoning behind Pope Benedict's preface to Jesus of Nazareth as a possible solution to the Church's current problem about openness. Yes, it would be wonderful if everyone were given that sympathy and space to be themselves.
I note that there have been many posts above about the fear-filled Church and world we live in, I can only say with great sadness that I agree with you; there is that fear and it is slowly impoverishing our very humanity.
In a specifically Catholic situation, it can also impoverish faith. If a person who is struggling intellectually or practically with either a point of doctrine or merely an aspect of 'policy' doesn't feel that they can share that struggle and resolve the issue for fear of being labelled a dissenter, then any kind of growth will be stunted.  It shouldn't cost too much for the institutional Church to listen in charity and presume good intentions from those within her who voice opposition. It doesn't mean the deposit of faith (if we understand that term correctly) has to be altered.
I think there's also a semantic problem with the word dissent (it can mean either disagreement or rejection of doctrine...)
James Lindsay
12 years 1 month ago
One can be authoritative without being authoritarian. Indeed, Christ condemned authoritarian leaders who lord their positions over their followers and did not want the Church to emulate them. Of course, putting these words in Christ's mouth is likely an indication that this was a problem in the early Church.

Additionally, there is no requirement that there be one Church with a billion people. Jesus did not say "create a monolith" he said, "Baptize all nations.." The Roman Church could easily break into national or linguistic great Churches without it being a scandal. I suspect that this will actually happen by the next conclave - turning that conclave into a rump session and Peter the Roman to an anti-pope.
ed gleason
12 years 1 month ago
Recently Cardinal Schonborn Vienna critiqued Card. Sodano, and also said the Church should take another  look at celibacy and the church's  homosexual notions. He is will to press his mentor BXVI.
While not being not  a fan of aristocrats one has to admire how some like Washington,, both Roosevelts do come aid of the people at the right time ... being motivated by noblesse oblige'?? 
So where does that kind of courage come from? His aristocratic backround and raising trained him in having the self worth to not to be intimidated by bureaucratic hacks. take a look at the digs he came from ...
 Maybe in the coming conclave we will have a man walking in who has an 800 year backround that is willing to confront change.
Josephine Siedlecka
12 years 1 month ago
I published Bishop Dowling's article on Independent Catholic News and I removed it for a couple of hours because I made a mistake and left out the introductory sentence which explained that the first few paragraphs were a quote from elsewhere.  When I got the additional words I posted the piece up again. 
Bishop Dowling gave me his permission to publish the piece - but I had a duty to do the job properly.  I love the Church and I am not afraid of it. 
we vnornm
12 years 1 month ago
Father Jim is a not only a breath of fresh air, but an entire springtime of good thoughts and love for the Church. And I think his departure from the business world after earning blue-ribbon credentials was an incredible sacrifice and a model for many of our top young people. I could say much more-much, much more.
But methinks JR Cosgrove brings good points here. If you work at Apple Computer, try writing a blog on your own time about the benefits of Microsoft. Or if you work in a school district, try going against the educational fad of the moment. Lots of other examples...the peace movements certainly have many in-house discussions that aren't proclaimed. Even book publishers have in-house meetings.
I worry...95% of AMERICAs readers are under 44 years old. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the 60s (which I loved) again.
Many times we want the "heirarchy" to listen more to us....are we listening to the many other voices in the Church around us, ones younger and possibly wiser? 
Remember how so many of us under age 30 complained about "people over 30 and the 'Establishment'" not listening to us?
Beth Cioffoletti
12 years 1 month ago
That bishop Dowling also promotes condom use in his AIDS ravaged diocese which shows that he is a bad man.
Angela Murphy
12 years 1 month ago
Thank you for the this post Father Jim.  I believe that "perfect fear casts out love" is the real root of the problem. Whatever happened to Jesus command to love.  His whole life, ministry and his death and resurrection are about love.  Perhaps what the Catholic  Church needs is to show more of Christ's love to the world.  The church bureaucracy needs to focus not on the preservation of power but on the love of Christ. 
Pearce Shea
12 years 1 month ago
I will say this and then disappear: the clericalism and ultra-orthodoxy that seems to be growing both within the upper echelons of the church and the laity these days did not just appear out of thin air. We would be better served by trying to figure out what this stuff comes from, giving the benefit of the doubt to our ultra-orthodox brothers and sisters (something beyond, "they are afraid of change") than by griping about it. We also would be better served by fleshing out the term "culture of fear" because it's so vague as to be useless. It sounds rather like an extension of early complaints here (put to bed, largely, I think by the "late" MSW) that we aren't talking about things civilly in America (the country, if not the comment section of the blogs here). There is objective truth and it matters deeply what is true and what is not; what is right and what is wrong have not only life and death consequences, but, even worse, as the soul is eternal, deep consequences for our spiritual health as well. We ought to argue. We ought to shout the truth. And, frankly, we ought not be afraid. We are surrounded by martyrs in our prayer life, our spiritual life, when we go to Church. We honor those who died for the simple truth of Christ's divinity. To paraphrase my great-grandfather, "we didn't beat the Germans by complaining about how they were trying to kill us."
none none
12 years 1 month ago
Silly!...you are not a dissenter...you just wish to grant everyone the ability to dissent and still be in communion with the Word that became flesh.  Christianity is a revealed religion.  It is not gnosticism where we all just follow the spark within and then make Jesus our faceman.  The same Jesus who, according to you, invited everyone to dissent by saying "be not afraid'...also prayed "that they might be one..as the Father and I are one"....he also commissioned the disciples that whoever "hears you, hears me." 
What is the benefit of this desire to dissent?  Is there any benefit to unity?  And if not, why did Jesus pray for it the day before He died?  And what do you know about Jesus that you didn't learn from the Church...what St Paul called the BODY of Christ.
John Siegmund
12 years 1 month ago
‎"If you love me keep my commandments." Obedience to God's Law is conformity, Obedience to sin is conformity, Selfishness if conformity. Paying your taxes is confromity. So why is conformity to the Church and its teachings, which is the Law of God such a problem? I would argue this is an issue of weak faith not a problem with the Church. The clergy who are Judas' will be taken care of, please read you Bible and you will see that. Our whole duty is to "Fear God and keep his commandments"!!!!!
robert hoatson
12 years 1 month ago
Fear God and keep HIS commandments.  First of all, God is not a HE!  God is all.  Secondly, fearing God is what created a neurotic flock that had the chance to "heal" as a result of Vatican II.  We were on our way to healing the flock from "nuttiness" when John Paul and Joseph Ratzinger took over.  Combined, they have destroyed any hope of Vatican Council II being the healing experience it could be.  Too bad.  The Catholic Church is as "dysfunctional" nowadays as it has ever been. 
John McCloskey
12 years 1 month ago
The whole point is to fear God, love God, and do his will. But things sometimes get muddled. I was at a presentation by a theologian whose "money line" was: "I am supposed to fear God and I do. I am not supposed to fear the bishop, but I do."
Jim McCrea
12 years 1 month ago
Those who wax euphoniously about "conformity" to the church's teachings usually fail to distinguish between teachings on creed, code and cult.  For them there is NO hierarchy of truths.  Proper priestly attire is one the same belief plane as the Nicene Creed.
It's a variation on the old fundamentalist manta:
The bible says it.
I believe it.
That settles it.
Scott Johnston
12 years ago
Fr. Martin says he has never dissented.  Hmmm.  Not in public maybe.  But I would ask him to consider the possibility of dissenting from the "teaching" that excommunicates a Catholic who has divorced and remarried.

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