Role Models of Remonstrance
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Feb 26, 2010 at 06:59:00 PM EST
I recently called for mainstream Catholics to offer remonstrance -- an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition or grievance against the reactionaries now fomenting schism within the Church.  Today, I will discuss some living role models.  
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:

In this poignant and passionate memoir, Curran recounts his remarkable story from his early years as a compliant, pre-Vatican II Catholic through decades of teaching and writing and a transformation that has brought him today to be recognized as a leader of progressive Catholicism throughout the world.

Father Curran is valuable because he is a Catholic theologian who has fought the reactionary forces that now control the Vatican. Among other things, he has argued on theological grounds against the Church's opposition to birth control and homosexuality. For his principled stand, in 1986 Father Curran was removed from his position of teaching theology at the Catholic University of America, a move primarily orchestrated by then-Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict.)

Even in losing, Father Curran showed us how to argue more effectively. Instead of resorting to rank demonization, he argues from religious principles to effect necessary change.

Using the doctrine of stance -- or historical consciousness, Father Curran argued that present realities constantly shift thus requiring that we also reappraise certain moral teachings. In a 1988 essay, he explained:

Historical consciousness is often contrasted with classicism, which understands reality in terms of the eternal, the immutable, and the unchanging. Historical consciousness gives more importance to the particular, the contingent, the historical, and the individual. ... The Catholic theological tradition has recognized historicity in its rejection of the axiom, Scripture alone. Scripture must always be understood, appropriated, communicated, and lived in the light of the historical and cultural realities of the present time. The church cannot simply repeat the words of Scripture. Catholicism has undergone much more development than most people think. Creative fidelity is necessary for any tradition, and such fidelity is consistent with the philosophical world view of historical consciousness.

Father Curran currently teaches at Southern Methodist University.

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."

This should not be a surprise coming from a current Vatican hierarchy obsessed with ressourcement -- the restoration to something of a more a pre-Pope John XXIII faith. As The Times further observed:

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.

Some sisters surmise that the Vatican and even some American bishops are trying to shift them back into living in convents, wearing habits or at least identifiable religious garb, ordering their schedules around daily prayers and working primarily in Roman Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals.

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.

If these living examples of remonstrance will lay it out on the line for us, don't we owe it to them to support them by taking action ourselves?

The Church won't change for the better by walking away, but by taking a page from the Religious Right's playbook and becoming involved in day-to-day Church operations and governance.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri Feb 26, 2010 at 07:04:45 PM EST

Frank, the examples you gave are the sort of people (and stories) that help me remain Christian, in spite of all of the hate and attempts at control/coercion I experience from the other "Christians".  I agree very strongly with Jesus fighting against "the powers that be"- and like I've tried to get people to understand locally: why focus on a few "gotcha" lines of scripture, when there are literally thousands denouncing the rich/powerful for their mistreatment and abuse of the poor?

I dream of a day when Christianity truly follows the teachings of Jesus- when it's not about hierarchy and power, but about how one treats one's neighbor and others.  When people can truly say of Christians that they are known by their love (contrary to my experience of modern Christianity in this area- where Christians are known by their attempts to coerce others!)  When what one BELIEVES is less important than how one TREATS OTHERS.

When the "Other" is appreciated for his or her difference, rather than persecuted for being strange!!!

Isn't it strange how Jesus admonition to his followers that if they would lead- they must become servants, has been twisted into the present power structures we see today???  The RR hierarchy claims to be "servants" as Jesus ordered: to which I reply BULL**!!!

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 09:52:55 AM EST

Just follow the Golden Rule - in politics as well as in faith.

As Hillel reminded us, "...all else is commentary."

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 07:46:59 PM EST

I have Curran's book-I thought it was excellent. I also admire Fr. Geoff Farrow and the sisters refusing to respond to the visitations.

by khughes1963 on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 09:44:04 PM EST

Protestant, Catholic, mainstream, independent or Orthodox, there is a political undercurrent which designs to hold authority and power in the hands of an elite, highly controling their leaders to keep the masses in line. Many a protestant pastor has lost his position/reputation/career to the vote of a congregation or high provile leader in the congregation. With a priest and the directive coming from higher power source the warning is much greater to others in similiar positions. When progressive's fly under the radar to keep their position, it allows those seeking greater control more access to power. Sadly we forget that the power always arises from the people, and top down control, harsh and abusive as it may be, always depends on the willingness of the mass population to submitt.

by chaplain on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 08:45:26 AM EST
It's hard to resist when your choice is submission or death- or worse, the death of your family.  (I'm thinking of the slow death of starvation/privation.)

Otherwise, you're absolutely right.  They've got us by the short hairs because they've got us divided- and a good portion of the citizens in this country bamboozled.  When people realize that the top .5 percent (or less) of this country control most of it's resources and pay far less in taxes percentage-wise than most of the rest of us (I'd have to dig out the research articles on that, but it's documented)- then those individuals start getting angry.  

However, that anger tends to fade in the face of (the danger of) unemployment or homelessness, and is watered down by the propaganda constantly bombarding the people in this country.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 12:10:16 PM EST

rather, the religious right has always used times of economic upheaval to their advantage, and less strident followers aren't as blind in their allegiance, so fear-mongering intensifies as more and more of the middle-class is caught up in the fight to keep their heads financially above water, and the ideologues have more potential adherents listening to their version of "us vs them".

I've read some treatises on how the militia movement, Christian Identity, etc. became much more agitated and vocal during Clinton's terms, and their similarities to today's incarnations/re-awakenings, but there is one big difference; Clinton had the Internet bubble to hide his disastrous trade policies and his complete disavowal of unions. Obama has no obvious funding bonanzas in his future, and in fact, admits that the social safety net is in for more alterations. The hate-mongering and divisiveness is only going to accelerate.

by trog69 on Tue Mar 02, 2010 at 08:59:43 AM EST
The solution is also fairly simple, although the rich won't like it.

Their taxes has been reduced to a fraction of what it was in the 60's and 70's- when we had the highest standard of living.  As they get away with paying less (and the burden is shifted downward), our standard of living plummeted.  If they'd eliminate all of the Bush-era tax "breaks" (read wealth transfer UPWARD rather than sharing the burden) and raise taxes on the very rich just a little so it's a bit more equitable, the rest of us could breath a little easier.

That and start regulating business like they should have been doing all along.  Big Business now rules the roost- and we're feeling the effects.


by ArchaeoBob on Tue Mar 02, 2010 at 12:47:15 PM EST

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