Let A Billion Vatican II Blossoms Bloom

July 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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The following article appeared in current issue of EqualwRites, the newsletter of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference. It was originally titled “The Death of Vatican II,” but given the title of the piece I posted last week, I thought something more upbeat might be in order.

There’s nothing original about arguing that many of the hopes generated by the Second Vatican Council have been dashed. Leonard Swidler speaks of the “devastating disappointment” of the Council. Rembert Weakland observes in his 2009 memoir that the decision not to ordain women meant “the loss of the future.” Indeed, papers recently released by the Catholic moral philosopher Germaine Grisez reveal that even before the end of the Council, Paul VI indicated that he would do what he would do regardless of what the bishops had decided.

All this notwithstanding, recent developments suggest that the Vatican and the US bishops are now intent upon bringing the Vatican II era definitively to a close. These efforts began, I would argue, with the 2002 command that the faithful return to the (literally) medieval practice of kneeling during the canon of the Mass. Even as I regret the sexism of Mark Massa’s The American Catholic Revolution, I agree with his observation that for most US Catholics, Vatican II began with the renewal of the liturgy. I can still see the nun who taught religion at my Catholic girlsʼ high school during Vatican II, Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Marcella Marie Missar, explaining joyously that “we stand during the canon out of respect for the dignity of the human person.” I wish I could believe that we have been ordered to fall to our knees once again to increase our respect for God rather than for the male leaders of the church.

If kneeling during the canon was one step in the Vaticanʼs campaign to bring the Vatican II era to a close, the “new” translation of the Roman Missal is clearly another. That the translation is ugly, wordy, cumbersome and inaccurate is only part of the story.As the once-conservative Benedictine liturgist, Anthony Ruff, argues, another purpose of the Vatican veto of the translation the bishops had already approved was to show the entire community of English-speaking liturgists that their work didnʼt matter. Nor, apparently, do the beliefs of the English-speaking Catholic laity, who took from Vatican II the bizarre notion that they share some kind of equality with the clergy. “And with your spirit” reminds us, however, that the ordained possess a sacred quality the rest of us do not.

Another discouraging effect of the “new” translation is that before it was promulgated, a number of main-line Protestant denominations shared with the English- speaking Catholic Church certain responses and other fixed parts of the liturgy, for example, “And also with you.” Many of us considered these shared liturgical passages a foretaste of the eventual reunion of Christians–a foretaste now eradicated.

Recent doctrinal statements issued by the Vatican and the USCCB manifest another break with Vatican II. Unlike the previous twenty councils of the church, Vatican II defined no doctrines and issued no anathemas. It was a truly pastoral event. Documents like the recent Vatican assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the USCCB condemnation of Elizabeth Johnsonʼs Quest for the Living God show that the men in power are accelerating the new era of anathema begun in 1968. “The joys and hopes, the griefs and sorrows” of the men and women of this age recede precipitously as doctrinal truth becomes, once again, the center of the Catholic faith.

In the face of these attempts to move the church back to the First Vatican Council, and especially the vile CDF attack on the Catholic sisters who embody the faith for many of us, itʼs tempting to give up on the whole sorry business. To decamp to the Unitarian Universalists, or the United Church of Christ, or the Episcopalians, whose stances on women and gays and peace and justice are vastly more inspiring than those of our own church seem to be.

As I argue in a post on Religion Dispatches, however itʼs likely that this is exactly what the Vatican and the USCCB have in mind—to drive out the “Vatican II Catholics” and cut back to what Pope Benedict XVI has called “the church of the little flock,” the smaller, purer Catholic Church that tolerates no dissent, no theological development, no renewal.

In the face of this attempt to eradicate the most powerful manifestation of Vatican II—the people of God—I urge us all, myself included, not to take the bait and give up. Instead, let us continue to identify ourselves as Catholics in whatever ways our consciences allow—as members of parishes where the leadership clearly does not support Vatican repression; as members of small faith communities who ordain their own celebrants or celebrate the eucharist communally; as ordained or lay participants in an RCWP congregation; as members of Independent Catholic churches; as leaders and activists in a wide range of Catholic reform groups like SEPA-WOC and Call to Action and Dignity and Voice of the Faithful. And let us invite younger Catholics, gay and straight and Black and white and Latino and in between to join with us in these efforts.

Letʼs collaborate and speak out and publish and resist the death of Vatican II to which Rome and the bishops seem committed. Let a billion Vatican II blossoms bloom.



“Infallible” Teaching on Gay Sex

September 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments
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A couple of weeks back, I posted an article about my letter to the Tablet, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, in which I suggested that the bishop would do better to address the harm effected by the increasing wealth gap in this country than to fixate on gay marriage. This week a reader, Dan, posted a comment in response to that blog. I don’t get many comments, so I thought I’d paste it below and then reply. (I’m putting Dan’s comment in italics so you won’t confuse it with my response.)

Do you accept the infallible Catholic Church teaching that homosexual acts are gravely sinful, Marian?

As a Catholic, you are required to.

Just a friendly reminder ;-)

In Christ,

Dear Dan:

Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate feed-back.

I have a feeling you’d like a yes or no answer to your question, but I’m afraid the issue is more complicated than that. From your photo, I’d say you’re a good deal younger than I am, so our experiences are different. And I do sympathize with your desire for something like the morality of homosexual acts to be clear and unambiguous; the world is in a terrible mess, and a person needs something to hang onto.

Unfortunately, for me, growing up before Vatican II, there were lots of things the Church taught, and that I therefore assumed I was required to believe, that then changed. And it was a good thing, because some of them they were mean and hurtful. For example, priests and nuns regularly told us that all Protestants were going to hell–kind of a problem for me, since one side of my family was Protestant . And that the “perfidious” Jews were, too, for being Christ-killers. And before that, back in the 19th century, the church taught that advocating the separation of church and state was as serious a sin as abortion.

This, and a good deal else, changed with Vatican II.  Another thing that happened at the Council was that the church acknowledged human freedom of conscience in a way it never had before. So since 70% of American Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, and since we have seen so many other absolute truths change, myself, I’m betting that eventually the church will see the error of its ways on this one (and on the ordination of women as well).

My second rejoinder has to do with your use of the word  “infallible.” I hate to have to break this to you, Dan, but “infallibility” applies to very few teachings of the Catholic Church. The institution is pretty careful not to declare too many things infallible because if such teaching changes, it undercuts the church’s authority. In particular, most theologians agree that no specific moral teachings have been taught infallibly. If you doubt what I say here, feel free to read the work on infallibility by Catholic University of America moral theologian John T. Ford SJ in The New Dictionary of TheologyBut quite apart from that, according to Catholic canon law, if it isn’t clear that something has been taught infallibly, then it hasn’t. You don’t have to take my word for this. Consult the entry on  infallibility  in Beal, Green and Coriden’s New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.

So I guess before I accept that Catholic teaching on the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts is infallible, you’re going to have to refer me to the official declaration that says it is. Till then, I’m going to continue to honor the freedom of conscience of my gay and lesbian sisters and brothers and argue that the US bishops ought to spend more time  focusing on the extreme injustice of the gap between the rich and the poor.

Response to Brendan Foley

March 21, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Since I don’t get too many comments about my blog posts, I thought I would express my appreciation to Brendan Foley for his response to my March 9 entry, “The Rupture of Inculturation?” by writing back. 

Brendan suggests that I don’t seem to know very much about Vatican II, and mentions that he himself took a course on Vatican II with Joseph Komonchak. Komonchak, as I mentioned in an even earlier blog, co-edited the great five-volume history of Vatican II, along with Giuseppe Alberigo.  Since I certainly did not take such a course, it seems likely that Brendan knows more, perhaps even a good deal more, about Vatican II than I do.

Brendan, as I read him,  doesn’t understand my criticism of a talk given at the 2008 Stonehill Conference on Religious Life in which Franc Cardinal Rode,  the prefect of the Vatican congregation on religious life, argues that there is a right and wrong interpretation of Vatican II.  Why, Brendan wonders, do I think that Rode’s condemnation of the “wrong” hermeneutic  is aimed at Komonchak’s reading of Vatican II as an event. Komonchak himself would say that some readings of Vatican II are wrong–those of the Lefebrvists, for example. I must admit, I hadn’t thought of the Lefebrvists. Brendan has a point here. I should have said I’d never heard any of the progressive Catholics I hang out with use the word “rupture” to characterize the Council.

All that notwithstanding, I want to assure Brendan that it isn’t the Lefebrvists that Cardinal Rode is addressing in his Stonehill talk. It’s the “Bologna school” historians who advanced the interpretation of Vatican II as an event (and US women religious).  John W. O’Malley SJ introduces his chapter in Vatican II: Did Anything Happen?  (Continuum 2008) with the details of a presentation by another Vatican official, Camillo Cardinal Ruino. In this presentation Ruino welcomed a new book on the Council as a counterpoint to–“indeed, the polar opposite”–of the interpretation that had previously monopolized conciliar historiography. As such, the new book would move the church on to a “correct” interpretation of the Council. In this presentation the Cardinal singled out the Bologna school as the principal and most influential creator of this incorrect understanding (52-53). O’Malley continues:  

“…the Bologna school and especially Alberigo are being singled out as the great propagators of a history of the council that badly distorts it and that must be opposed. Other scholars are being criticized for a similar approach, but Alberigo and his colleagues are the ones most often mentioned by name…

O’Malley then elaborates on these attacks:

“I do not see that Alberigo and others who have used ‘event’ as an instrument to interpret the council have given it the radical meaning that their critics attribute to them…Nowhere in the Alberigo volumes is there the slightest suggestion that “new beginning” meant in any way a rupture in the faith of the Church or a diminution of any dogma” (54-55).

And while O’Malley does not mention Komonchak by name at this point, the volume begins with Komonchak’s Henri de Lubac lecture given at St. Louis University in 1997, “Vatican II as an Event.” Komonchak knows that since he is Alberigo’s co-editor, the “wrong” interpretation of Vatican II–Vatican II as rupture– is being projected onto his work.

Lastly, let me respond to Brendan’s observation that if I were to learn more about Greek philosophy, I would realize that some things really are either right or wrong. Perhaps, Brendan; perhaps. On the other hand, pre-Enlightenment philosophy may not provide the most effective tools for understanding as massive and complex an event as the Second Vatican Council. Almost twenty years ago the historical sociologist Gene Burns published a penetrating study of Vatican II, The Frontiers of Catholicism (Princeton 1992). In it he argues compellingly that the legacy of Vatican II is  ambiguous. And indeed, here we are, still fighting about what it means, almost half a century after it ended. Perhaps while I’m boning up on the Greeks you should take a look at Frontiers.

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