Role Models of Remonstrance
Father Charles Curran
In an earlier post I wrote about Father Charles Curran:
One of the most refreshing books I've ever read on the state of contemporary Catholicism is Father Charles Curran's Loyal Dissent. The book's web page tells us:
The real lesson of Father Charles Curran lies not as much in his theological beliefs but in his willingness to pay a high price for challenging dogmas that often do not stand the test of time. Simply put, he steadfastly took on reactionary powers within the Vatican knowing full well that they could take away from him a position he worked very hard to attain - teaching theology at one of the most prestigious Catholic universities in the United States.
Father Curran is a clear example of a mainstream Catholic who backed up his convictions with action.
Father Geoff Farrow
On his web site, Father Geoff Farrow tells us about himself:
On October 5th of 2008 Fr. Geoff delivered a statement [for the full text, read the first post "How it all began"] at the end of the 11 AM Mass at the Newman Center at CSUF. In this statement, Fr. Geoff explained that he could not comply with a directive from his bishop to direct parishioners to vote "yes" on Proposition 8. This Proposition would remove the right of same sex couples to enter into civil marriage in the state of California. Later that week, Fr. Geoff was removed as pastor of St. Paul's by his bishop and suspended as a priest. He worked throughout the month of October with the "No on Prop. 8" campaign. Currently Fr. Geoff is engaged in public speaking to advance the cause of LGBT rights.
Father Farrow was immediately fired from his Fresno, California parish after preaching against California Proposition 8. The Los Angeles Times reported that "The priest also was stripped of his salary and benefits, and ordered to stay away from all church communities he had served." He is the rare Catholic clergy who was willing to pay a high price for his beliefs. But then again, as Father Geoff himself observed, "Jesus said, "The truth will set you free." He didn't promise that it would be easy or without personal cost to speak that truth."
The American Nuns
On July 1, 2009 the New York Times reported, "The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition."
In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.
What the Vatican did not count on was immediate non-cooperation from many of the good Sisters.
The brave nuns offered immediate remonstrance to the Vatican's heavy-handed tactics. Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, a professor of theology, has openly urged her fellow nuns to engage in a polite but limited cooperation. One nun I recently spoke with told me she tore up a questionnaire being passed out on behalf of the inquisitors.
An inquisition indeed! Again, as The Times reported:
The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that claims 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women's religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is best known as the entity that led the Inquisition: The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Cardinal Levada's immediate predecessor is the current pope.
Kenneth Briggs, the author of "Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns," (Doubleday Religion, 2006) told the Times: "For some in the leadership circles in Rome and elsewhere, it's a piece of unfinished business. It's an effort to bring about a re-establishment of a very traditional, very conservative set of standards for what convent life is supposed to be."
Why Pay the Price?
The Religious Right, especially its Catholic wing, sees any disobedience to authority; economic as well as religious; as sinful. Religious leaders are to be merely obeyed, not questioned. And if such teachings cause needless or on justifiable pain, their view is "so be it." Sadly, the antiquated notion that poverty and suffering as God's judgment is making a comeback among our more orthodox brethren. This is faith with the personal element removed. In other words, faith in the abstract, not faith as applied to healing people in pain.
Elements of the Catholic Right, such as Opus Dei, don't want mainstream Catholics to question their increasingly reactionary calls to "pay, pray and obey." To most of us this authoritarianism does not square with Christ's living example. After all, Catholicism is supposed to take its cue from a Messiah who is consistently described as taking on religious hierarchies, abusive wealth and the at-all-costs attainment of earthly power. And it was indeed Christ's challenges to the elites of his day that resulted in His crucifixion.
But beyond that we need to acknowledge to ourselves the outrage that our faith is so cynically being used for the preservation of political power of the few at the expense of the many.
As I've previously written, citizens who don't question paternalistic religious orthodoxy are less likely to question paternalistic political or economics orthodoxies. Thus, healthy dissent is increasingly equated by the hierarchy with behavior leading to eternal damnation. This powerful equation has not been lost on the powerful libertarian-minded industrialists such as the Koch family who fund religiously conservative think tanks or the Catholic GOP operatives such as Deal Hudson who make it their business to spin a connection between holiness and a platonically ordered society. It is nothing more than the abuse of religious obedience in the pursuit of laissez-faire economics and the preservation of the status quo for a select few oligarchs who benefit from its unfettered practice.
Mainstream Catholics have a decision to make. Will we challenge those Church hierarchs who align themselves with the rich and the powerful against the poor and the vulnerable? Are we willing to risk something valuable as Fathers Curran and Geoff and the American nuns have or will we remain silent and let the bullies have their way? A vibrant Church as well as a free society depends on how we answer these questions.
The average mainstream Catholic has far less to lose than a Father Curran, a Father Geoff or a Sister Schneiders. Yes, we can be excommunicated and denied the sacraments; a move designed to make more independently thinking Catholics walk away thus leaving the Church increasingly in the hands of economically and religiously reactionary hybrids such as Deal Hudson or Senator Sam Brownback (R-Ks.). Unlike us, however, openly dissenting clergy and theologians risk losing far more than the average American lay Catholic. Beyond possible excommunication, they risk prestigious position they've attained through much hard work and sacrifice. In essence, they are putting their life's work on the line.
And yet we need the Father Currans, Father Geoffs and Sister Schneiders of the world now more than ever to speak up for us. There are far more clergy like them willing to offer remonstrance if they know rank-and-file Catholics will more actively support them. So essentially it comes down to how much of a price we ourselves are willing to pay. In the final analysis, it will be the courage of our convictions that will determine whether both Catholicism and American democracy will be either enlightened and sturdy or strident and brittle.
Role Models of Remonstrance | 8 comments (8 topical, 0 hidden)
Role Models of Remonstrance | 8 comments (8 topical, 0 hidden)