The Vatican and LCWR
For some years I’ve been saying and writing that there will be no genuine reform of the Catholic Church without major and open questioning of doctrine and the understanding of “God” and Jesus that underpins the doctrine I have in mind. This includes anything to do with:
• the incarnation of a heavenly god-figure in order to mend a supposed rupture between a heavenly god and a fallen race of people, •the idea of a heavenly god who has opinions on a whole range of topics and makes his opinions known to a chosen group, •any claims to have unique access to where this god lives, •any claims to represent this god on earth or claims of being “mediators” of this god’s graces or favors, •“revelation” being understood primarily as a heavenly god intervening and manifesting “himself” to a chosen group, • anything to do with making people dependent on middle-management for this god’s presence in their lives, •Jesus setting up a new religion with “Apostolic Succession”, and •so distorting the message and character of Jesus that he is turned into a heavenly figure intent on getting people into heaven rather than an earthly, human manifestation of the Divine who focused on life here on earth and on the need for humans to get their act together and make “the kingdom of God” evident in how we interact at all levels of engagement.
In From Sand to Solid Ground, I wrote:
“Any close examination of the system of Church governance, the secrecy and the lack of accountability, would inevitably lead to an examination of the theology that transports some bishops into a rarefied ecclesial world adrift from the people they are supposed to serve. Aloof in their theological mind-set and in their security as “princes of the Church” these bishops let it be known they have no intention of allowing a lay voice to have a significant influence in Church governance. They also made it clear they are not answerable to the lay faithful.” (p152)
“Ultimately, belief in where and how God’s presence and “voice” are active in the Church has become a doctrinal issue.”(p153)
The Vatican has entrenched itself in a theological mind-set constructed in and on an outdated worldview and religious imagination. It really believes this is what “Church” is about. This theological mind-set supposedly gives Vatican officials supreme authority over Catholic thought and action – and supposedly the power to suppress anyone or any thinking not in agreement with the theology that grants such extraordinary authority. What is at stake here has nothing to do with open, honest, scholarly theology exploring the mystery of God and how Jesus reveals “God” in our human endeavor. It is closed, outmoded, dishonest thinking (it should not be called “theology” any more) that protects unique institutional identity and power
Not surprisingly, the Congregatio Pro Doctrina Fidei ‘s Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious asserts the authority and the closed mind of this thinking. Doctrine has long ceased being an expression of honest exploration; it has become a closed book, a weapon with which to club people into submission. It is a method of thought and behavior control. So the Assessment puts “allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops” in its opening paragraph as a major cause of concern.
Here’s the picture according to CDF: Jesus set up a Church with Apostolic Succession. He even “structured sacramental life in the Church” (Yes! That’s in this document, would you believe – and religious sisters dared to question it!). The Magisterium’s task is to safeguard the “faith” revealed by Jesus and handed on through the centuries “under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium” and taught in the catechism of the Catholic Church. This deposit of faith makes the Church uniquely what it is as an institution so cannot and must not be questioned.
It’s like we have a package of faith that is unchangeable and will shape the Church’s institutional identity for all time. This package of truths cannot be questioned or changed apparently because “the Church’s Magisterium” (set up by God Himself) has safeguarded its integrity. The safeguarding, however, has been by a process of making sure the package of faith is never, never open to scrutiny, never to be exposed to new thinking and data as the centuries go by and people find themselves in a completely different worldview. So the role of the Magisterium is what …
bring an understanding of God and Jesus that is Good News and relevant to the modern world…
or stay entombed in a theological worldview that gives the institution unique identity, power and authority?
This Assessment clearly gives the answer – even to the point that the CDF appoints an archbishop to control and veto speakers to make sure no one will ever step out of the tomb and bring insights and scholarship and new life to a world desperately seeking it.
So, instead of the timid, let’s be careful and not upset anyone attitude that has prevailed in Catholic circles, where is the reform group or movement willing to stand up publicly and declare: we have serious questions about the theology that underpins your power and authority; we have serious questions about doctrine, even?
It was inevitable that the need would arise for some group to stand up and be counted and give leadership on this important issue. The American Catholic Council would have nothing to do with it. Voice of the Faithful intentionally distanced itself from it. Call to Action has at least provided a platform for speakers on the topics, but has not fully embraced it as an issue for thorough and open discussion. I don’t see the movement for women’s ordination openly tackling this issue apart from questioning the theology of priesthood. Yet I believe that most members of all these groups would be in agreement with everything in my opening paragraph – as are many, many Christians not formally attached to a reform group or movement.
The CDF, with its tactics that remind one of Nazi Germany, has shrouded the Catholic Church in an atmosphere of intellectual fear and dishonesty. It has been able to insist that scholars, even national groups of theologians, and religious congregations bow to obedience and show that what is being said or written can be in tune with what the Vatican dictates is the only truth: what accords with doctrine or the teaching of the Magisterium. And what happens again and again? Groups roll over or bend over to show that they are not really in discord. And underneath, people are fuming because they have to play out this dishonest, intellectual charade.
So I welcome the Vatican’s investigation of LCWR because I have high hopes these women will do what needs doing: call into question the theology that gives the Vatican the right to dismiss their integrity, their scholarship and their voice in the Church. I have hopes they will give voice to all of us wanting our Church, as an institution, to regain intellectual rigor and openness and respect for scholarship.
I long to see the day in the Catholic Church when a powerful, respected group will say to the Vatican and to bishops: As a matter of fact we are in serious disagreement with you on some doctrinal matters. We cannot, in all conscience, bend our minds and scholarship to conform to the narrow theological parameters in which you insist we stay enclosed. We cannot deal with the major spiritual questions of the 21st century staying encased in doctrine giving answers to questions that are not relevant anymore. We cannot stay in the understanding of reality that ground much of Church doctrine when we know and understand reality differently. We believe that “truth will set us free” and we want our Church to be seen as a Church open to truth. We do not and will not accept any decisions imposed on us that do not respect truth, freedom of scholarly enquiry, the right to be heard, and integrity.
I hope to see that day soon!