A Neo-Orthodox View of Christian Unity.
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 02:01:17 PM EST
Below is a timely repost from last summer. My column will resume next week.

Last week I discussed the Vatican's recent decisions that will take the Catholic Church in entirely different direction from the tolerant spirit of Vatican II.  The objective observer must ask what is the ultimate goal?

I'll hazard a guess: the neo-orthodox Catholic version of Christian unity.

But this is not the ecumenism of Yves Congar, the twentieth century Catholic theologian who proposed healing through (as Pope John XXIII described it) "a gentle invitation to seek and find that unity..."   It is instead one where Protestant denominations make gradual de facto submissions to Catholic dogma.

In its July 10, 2007 pronouncement, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," the Vatican stated:

The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. "Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all - because of the apostolic succession - the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds, they merit the title of "particular or local Churches" and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.

"It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature". However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches

The independent National Catholic Reporter offered this interpretation of the above:

"In a brief document, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation reaffirmed that the Catholic church is the one, true church, even if elements of truth can be found in separated churches and communities.

Touching an ecumenical sore point, the document said some of the separated Christian communities, such as Protestant communities, should not properly be called "churches" according to Catholic doctrine because of major differences over the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist."

Over the last generation, certain neo-orthodox Catholics have been building bridges to evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants. But this "bridge-building" is increasingly accomplished with roadways to the most rigid forms of Catholicism. And while some Catholics have yielded to fundamentalists opposition on the theory of evolution, socially conservative Protestants seem to be increasingly amenable to Vatican notions of natural law principles that appear in their united opposition to abortion, end of life issues and stem cell research.

Neoconservatives more than willingly help their theoconservative brethren as it helps them achieve an ideal orthodox society. To this end, their think tanks such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), seek to eviscerate non-orthodoxy in contemporary Christianity, often employing a very efficient media machine, as part of a carefully designed political program; as John Dorhauer concisely explained, citing the IRD's own game plan:

"Even in the churches most dominated by liberalism, there are fresh troops appearing.... The battle is clearly joined. Now, more than ever, it is necessary to redouble the IRD's efforts.... Beginning in 2001, we will emphasize training conservatives and moderates for the debates on marriage and human sexuality. We intend to conduct invitation-only training seminars covering biblical, theological, scientific, psychological, and sociological aspects of human sexuality.... It has proven most effective for the IRD to organize, recruit members, and conduct fund-raising through denomination-based programs. Within key mainline denominations, the IRD conducts the following: ... organizing and training of church activists." (italics added for emphasis)

It is no accident that Catholic Right neoconservative and IRD Member Emeritus and Board of Director member George Weigel wrote back in 1989 in his book, Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy that Catholics were called "to make America Catholic." (i)

It can be argued that both Jesus and the neo-orthodox Catholic Right are radical. But that is where the similarity ends.

Jesus was radical in the sense that he challenged the individual. He never advocated an infiltration of either the major political institutions of his day, the Sanhedrin or the Roman Empire. Jesus sought to change society one person at a time, beseeching them to "do unto others" as they wished to be treated. For Christianity's founder, it was a matter of free will.

But today's Catholic Right is radically different. They share that anti-liberal, Communist-era, Kremlin-like distrust of average people. For all their populist rhetoric, these neo-orthodox actors believe that the masses have to have their choices made for them by a religious elite, and that our government should be the enforcement arm of their often highly subjective morality.

Jesus taught that people can only be shown the moral choices, but not forced to accept them; and, by parables such as the Good Samaritan, that illustrated that the highest forms of morality may come even from those we vilify as innately immoral.   The neo-orthodox who invoke Jesus in support of their program, seem to deny His teaching that belief and morality are matters of free will, not social or governmental coercion.

The Vatican seems to be seeking to close the refreshing era signaled by Pope John XXIII when announced his intention to have a Second Vatican Council, saying: "I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in."

But the question must be asked: If so many mainstream Catholics are opposed to this lurch towards religious supremacism -- who is moving the Church in that direction?  That will be the topic for next week's piece.

Endnotes.

(i) Linker, Damon, The Theocons, page 67.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli




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To me, the most telling thing  about the present pope was his choice of name, "Benedict XVI." To me, this was a sign of a wish to return to the past.

My question, is just how many Catholics have become so disgusted by the retreat from Vatican II that they have given up on the Church?

I look forward to next week's column.

Kathy


by khughes1963 on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 09:57:46 PM EST


For all of its faults, Protestant Christianity did break the stranglehold that the Roman Catholic Church had over the faith.  I have always considered the historical trend away from centralized authority within Christianity to have been a positive step, and consistent with the teachings of Jesus who did not call for the establishment of an orthodox church nor for Christians to take secular power for themselves.

The Roman Catholic Church will indeed try its best to hang on to what influence it still has and will definitely try to reclaim much of the ground it has lost over the past few centuries.  But it is surprising to me that the Catholic Church would make such inflammatory statements towards Protestants if they sincerely wish to bring Protestants back into the fold.

The immediate response from most Protestant Christians to the assertion that their churches "should not properly be called 'churches' according to Catholic doctrine."  The Vatican seriously underestimates the amount of anti-papal sentiment inherent to Protestantism - particlarly in the United States.  Rather than bringing Protestants and Catholics together, such language will drive the wedge even deeper between the two camps.

by jpopphan on Mon Aug 04, 2008 at 10:16:03 AM EST

Your points are well taken, and as a Catholic, I agree that Protestant denominations have every right to themselves churches. They are in fact churches, and the Vatican lost that particular fight in the 16th and 17th centuries. The other thing that amazes me is that one of the 19th century popes claimed the right to pronounce upon the canonical regularity and licit status of Anglican holy orders. Excuse me, but didn't they lose that fight in 16th century England? Anglicans have every right to establish their own criteria for their priests and bishops.

The problem you have a church that has publicly modernized in the last 40 years, but which can't let go of the monarchical governance and clericalism that has defined it for over a millennium. Frank has noted that there are lay Catholics like ourselves who are not thrilled with the hierarchy's clericalism and heavy-handed conduct over political issues, and who tried to conceal sexual abuse scandals that have cost the faithful billions.. Unfortunately, I also often see the single-issue ("pro-life") Catholics regularly, and the wingnuttier faithful, like Bill Donohue, Opus Dei priest Fr. John McCloskey, and the ever shameless Deal Hudson get trotted out before the TV cameras as though they are official spokespersons for American Catholics. Those of us who speak against this crap are lambasted as "situational ethicists," unfaithful and "bad" Catholics, and disrespectful to boot. Then to top it off, the professional Catholics ally themselves with the Republican party and give the unsubtle hint that faithful Catholics vote Republican. Well, I am one Catholic who's never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, and I am not about to start now.

My apologies for the rant-it's just you touched on hierarchical behavior that make me hot under the collar.

by khughes1963 on Mon Aug 04, 2008 at 10:28:46 PM EST
Parent



that the RCC 's main concern is the accumulation of power and authority. The Vatican rep saying "the Church of God is built up and grows in stature" tells me all I need to know.

by Laurel on Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 11:35:37 AM EST


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