If you’ve followed Congress at all recently, and who hasn’t given the freak show that it is recently, then like most Americans, you probably hold a pretty low view of the legislative institution. Now if you’ve had some interaction with your own member of Congress, you probably view that person in a better light. This is the paradox of American federal politics: we hate “Congress,” but love our own Representative. It’s one reason, albeit a small one, that there is such little turnover in the House. Throw the bums out, we say, but let us keep our own.

With the rancorous debate over the extension of the payroll tax cut over the days leading up to Christmas, Congress and this great cognitive divide was on my mind, including when I read about Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George not so subtly comparing gay rights advocates to the Ku Klux Klan (covered by Kevin Clarke here).

When I read the Cardinal’s comments (defended here), my initial reaction was to roll my eyes and lament “the Church.” Another example of “the Church” being out of touch with its flock, failing to address the real life issues affecting human beings, and creating another baffling media misstep. George’s comments seemed so bizarre that I felt real anger at “the Church” for making such a wild and hurtful claim. This was Thursday night.

Come Saturday evening, I was preparing for a family Christmas party that would culminate with midnight Mass at a parish near my childhood home, St. Michael in Lowell, MA. My younger sister and I have attended Mass here on Christmas Eve for the past several years, and though we lack a formal connection to the parish, we appreciate the diverse congregation, the avuncular pastor, the thoughtful decorations, the talented choir, and the general sense of welcome and joy that the parish emulates each year. I left Mass with an appreciation for my faith, a better understanding of the consequences of Christmas, and a sense of peace to carry me through the holiday.

I’ve spent some time thinking of my anger toward “the Church” against my experience at Mass. I recognize the dissonance, and I think the Congressional paradox applies to my own feelings about “the Church.” I hear “the Church” compare gay rights advocates to a vicious hate group, but the pastor where I attend Mass regularly speaks eloquently about the radical inclusivity of the Gospel. “The Church” shouts “religious persecution” when it is deemed ineligible for taxpayer money for adoption services because of discrimination, but my parish holds a meanigful candlelight vigil on World AIDS Day. And “the Church” refuses to offer a message of hospitality if it coincides with gay pride week, though the pastor preaches passionately that all are welcome in his church.

Do you have moments like this? Do you cringe at “the Church,” but happily attend Mass and volunteer at your parish? Is this a “liberal/conservative” issue, with progressive Catholics disagreeing with a seemingly increasingly rigid hierarchy while still being able to find spiritual homes that they find welcoming or accommodating? Does the power that bishops hold unfairly make them “the Church,” inviting anger and disappointment from certain Catholics? If so, does this damage Catholicism’s “brand” both in the US and around the world? And with the looming demographic crisis the church will face in this country, with today’s young adult Catholics denouncing their allegiance to both religion and the institutional church, including foregoing involvement in parish life, what will neutralize the negative feelings toward “the Church” to these young people?  

Comments

PJ Johnston | 1/2/2012 - 11:31am
Amy,

Thanks for the recommendations!  The Minneapolis/St. Paul area is roughly a 4 hour drive.  Coralville is a suburb of the town I teach in, but it's two hours away and I'm not there on the weekends as I've been taking Greyhound to commute to/from work and sleeping on the couches of other graduate students during the work week as rent in the area is too high to stay there all the time.  I found evidence of a welcoming parish in Ames (??http://staparish.net/belonging/resources.php) which is much closer, but that's still a 45 minute drive and my vehicle gets 8 mpg, and (as you can probably tell from the fact that I commute two hours to/from graduate school to save money) I'm dirt poor.

I did track down what happened to the liberal base of the local Newman Center when the bishop and the new campus minister priest killed it.  They split off and formed their own parish which meets near my home, and it's full of prominent Catholics I know from my university days, the local peace movement, Catholic Worker, etc.  Website:  http://dmiec.org/  I visited yesterday and felt very welcome but I'm torn because they're not in communion with Rome.  It does seem like a lot of the members have a regular Catholic parish they go to along with this one, so maybe I too could do both too.  The question is, is that a disloyal thing for a Catholic to do?
Jack Barry | 1/2/2012 - 10:17am
Countless times, one hears ''They just don't get it'', with the implied hope that they could and would if only the right approach were found to ''move the conversation forward'' or ''get the hierarchy to listen''.   Continuing strong evidence suggests that, except for a handful of noteworthy men, the individuals of the hierarchy constitutionally, essentially _cannot_ “get it”, no matter what.   It’s not that they will not but that they can not.   More than enough motivation has been available for years.  
Many causes of the phenomenon could be considered – vocation selection processes, education and mis-education, formation,  tradition, solemn oaths, esprit de corps, deep fear of authority, or some combination.   A contributing factor is that the episcopal ensemble is created in its own image, self-reproducing.   Whatever the causal explanation, the persistent externally observable effects seem clear.
To the extent that this immutability applies, most of the ongoing multinational turmoil is readily understandable but pointless.  The answer to the two excellent questions posed by Michael B. and Ken L. is the same: They can't.   An alternative path that doesn't depend on the hierarchy ''getting it'' needs to be laid out if progress through today's morass is to occur.  
Mary Sweeney | 1/2/2012 - 9:04am
Recently I came across the term ''mindblindness'' which is a theory referencing those who suffer from autism/Asberger's syndrome. It names their difficulty in identifying the feelings of another. If one watches Parenthood, one has some sense of it. In researching it, admittedly in Wikipedia, I came across a variant — empathizing–systemizing (E-S) theory. In reading about both I could not help but be struck by the parallels with our Church hierarchy: an affinity for systematizing, an inability to emphathize, unusually narrow interests and highly repetitive behaviors, also called 'resistance to change or need for sameness'. Behaviors which are rewarded are reinforced. Is our leadership on an autistic pathway? Remarks like ''they just don't get it'' reflect the perception of so many of the laity. There is this sense of a great divide in perception. It would be very interesting if someone did some research on this measurement with respect to the clergy.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 1/1/2012 - 7:05pm
@PJ, is Minneapolis too far to drive? (it looks like it'll be a warm winter.) St. Frances Cabrini is said to be friendly and it's in communion with Rome. New Ways Ministry also mentions St. Th. More in Coralville, IA. God only knows where Coralville is.

Happy Caucus!
Anne Chapman | 1/1/2012 - 12:46pm
Ken, you are reading a great deal of intent into my post that is not my meaning. Please do not put words in my mouth. Perhaps this is a very sensitive nerve, however, and if so, is worth some reflection time.  

I am neither judging nor indicting - I am looking for understanding - trying to understand others as to how they handle this issue. This is because one day I was hit with a terrible insight, one I fervently wish I had never received - by donating money to the church - even just at the parish level - I was supporting a corrupt structure that has led too often to a corrupt hierarchy and I had no way to stop enabling this unless I stopped giving money.  I was literally sick to my stomach as I thought about the implications of supporting a structure that has not changed and shows no sign of changing. It took me several years to finally follow through on what my conscience was saying. I did not want to go and I kept hoping for some slight sign of true repentance, true reform among those at the very top of the hierarch. It has never come.

It's been more than 10 years since we learned of the scope, the breadth and the depth and the pervasiveness of the sexual abuse scandal in the U.S.  and then in Europe also, as well as scattered reports from other areas of the world - a scandal that is less about the crimes committed by the priests (as we are often reminded, sexual abuse of the young occurs throughout  society, tragically), but those committed by the bishops who permitted the priests to continue to abuse by protecting them from the civil authorities.  Although 50 by then, I was naive enough to believe that the pope would demand resignations from the most culpable bishops (such as Law) and would immediately set up a group to develop policy to guide bishops in the future and would define the consequences for bishops who failed to take responsibility for their priests and turn it over to the authorities to investigate. As we know, it has never happened. Instead, even now, some bishops continue to protect priests at the expense of children. As we know the pope and his predecessor have ''rewarded'' some like Law who put the institution ahead of the young.  The personal disillusionment and heartbreak grew as the years went by. Instead of accountable, responsible, and moral behavior,  the hierarchy  did everything but - including Rome. They blamed victims, they blamed greed, they blamed parents of victims, they resisted ever just saying ''mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa'' and then demonstrating that they meant it by resigning.  I realized that I was enabling it - the worst realization of all.  And in good conscience, I could not do it after years went by with no sign of change. Even those parishes that are in debt, struggling to meet their payrolls and expenses are forced to pass on some of their collection to the chancery - bishops close schools, parishes, and other services, but, with the exception of O'Malley in Boston, they do not give up their own luxerious lifestyles - the mansions, the cars, the fine wines and oriental rugs and original oils.  
I know that much of the laity is totally unaware of the breadth, depth and international scope of the sexual abuse crisis. I know that most of them haven't a clue as to what has gone on and is going on in Ireland, in the Netherlands, in Kansas City, in Philly, and other places today. They don't know the brutal tactics the church's lawyers have taken and continue to take against victims in courts, how the bishops fight to keep their records secret, with one taking it all the way to the Supreme Court of the US.  They are ignorant - and blissfully so. I envy them in a way.

But, among those who do know - how many have thought about the enabling issue? I find very few have - it's never crossed their mind in spite of a lot of discussion of the dysfunctional church. I know from friends with family members who have addictions of various kinds that they are often advised to step away and let go of their enabling of their loved but dysfunctional family member, because it often takes that to force the addicts to confront themselves and make a decision to change. There is nothing to force the hierarchy to do that - unless the money is somehow cut off. The hierarchy does not seek the ideas of the laity, it does not listen to the laity and has no desire to listen. But it does ask for the laity's money. I would like to hear of a different solution, so that Catholics who don't want to enable don't have to and can stay in their parishes. Personally, I would like to see each parish set up an outside, independent non-profit organization that would collect money and pay the parish bills directly - that would be its purpose. This would permit the parish to continue to function and send a vey strong message to the chanceries and Rome who would be unable to ''tax'' this organizations money.  But, it seems unlikely that enough Catholics in the pews know enough, nor care enough about the untold damage to tens of thousands of young lives to take such a step.

I had to follow my conscience on this and others have to follow theirs. I would just like to know the reasoning. I wish I didn't have to follow what my conscience condlued - I wish I could find a way around it, and that is why I am asking the people here how they work through these issues in their own consciences. No offense is intended, but perhaps it will cause someone to think who is more creative than I am, and perhaps a different and more positive solution that the only one I can think of could be developed by someone.
Anne Chapman | 12/31/2011 - 5:01pm
Many good and thoughtful replies.  Like Crystal and others, I discovered the Contemplative Prayer movement years ago, and it became the primary source for spiritual nurture and companionship for me.  Like Ken in #46, I stayed for years because of THE church - the millions of good Catholics who do so much good in the world.  But, the contemplative prayer movement, and access to groups practicing various spiritualities (Ignatian, Benedictine, Franciscan etc) is not limited to the Catholic church. Every contemplative prayer group I know is ecumenical, with members from many denominations. Lay groups working to integrate Benedictine spirituality into their lives are especially active outside the Catholic church, with most hosted by Episcopal parishes.   One does not need a Catholic parish to pray, to have spiritual community, to develop a relationship with God, to have support in spiritual practices. And there are millions of people who are not Catholic who work to be God's hands and heart in the world - not only Catholics. Jesus is present to all who seek him - he did not start an exclusive country club.  I continue to contribute to those who help the poor and troubled in the world - the refugees, the homeless, etc. But, I do not send that money through a parish or a chancery that skims money off the top. I don't want to pay to support mansions and limosines for bishops. I send it directly to organizations, including Catholic ones such as Catholic Relief Services.  

But, none of this addresses the enabling issue. By staying, by paying, Catholics in the pews enable the hierarchy who has yet to take responsibility for the evil done to tens of thousands of young people, many of whom had their lives ruined by the evil done to them by priests who were protected by their bishops. Some eventually committed suicide. By enabling this to continue while knowing that nothing has been done to change the structures that bred this evil, one risks becoming a passive participant in the sin and so may share in some of the guilt.  Catholics have no voice in the church that they identify as themselves - since they have no voice, is ''the church'' really what we like to believe - US - or is it really a relative handful of men who live in Rome and chanceries around the world? As a practical matter, it seems that we ordinary Catholics are in denial - we say that WE are THE church, but are we when we have no voice? When we cannot demand that bishops resign because of the evil they have facilitated and not yet repented for?

This is not your ordinary venial sin we're talking about, ordinary fallibility to which we are all prome. The sexual abuse of children is a horrible evil that was permitted to flourish in the church by a hierarchy that put an institution ahead of people, a hierarchy that dares to claim that it is literally God's voice on earth.

But nothing has changed except at the very lowest levels of the church - the laity who work or volunteer for the church, the lower clergy like deacons are now subject to background checks, fingerprinting and training. The pope has yet to hold bishops accountable for their enabling of these heinous sins against the young, nor has Rome defined and policies that would impact bishops who protect perverts in the future. Cardinal Hoyas still holds his prestigious rank and perks, as does Cardinal Law and many others.  The pope talks a lot, but his actions do not match his words.

So, even after so many thoughtful posts, I am still wondering how people deal with the enabling issue in their own consciences. 

david power | 12/30/2011 - 3:40pm
Jim,

What you wrote is true and also very interesting. If you have the chance read "Augustine" by Peter Brown.
http://www.amazon.com/Augustine-Hippo-Biography-New-Epilogue/dp/0520227573
It is a real walk through Roman North Africa of the late fourth and early fifth century.
The Pope is absent and in fact the Bishop is only coming into being with Ambrose and Augustine.Ambrose was a bishop before he was baptized.Take that Santo Subito!
Augustine was afraid of going to the catholic days of procession as they were notorious for wanton temptation of the flesh and Augustine did not suffer from a low libido ...
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/when+in+rome+do+as+the+romans+do

The above element is brilliantly covered in the book.The phrase itself places at least 2 church doctors on your side.
Brown is a masterful scholar. 
   
JIM MCCREA | 12/30/2011 - 3:15pm
I would add, "a way of life."

For some.  And for many it is a way of persecution, disenfranchisement and spiritual death.

That is why so many of us have wiped the dirt of Catholicism from our shoes and have moved on into what I call adulthood.
JIM MCCREA | 12/30/2011 - 3:10pm
Bill@31:

Do you have any parishes in the San Francisco Bay Area?

Thanks
JIM MCCREA | 12/30/2011 - 3:07pm
"  How can 'micro'-Catholics who love the church at the parish level, who love what it does for them ignore the dysfunction and the harm caused by the dysfunction of the hierarchy - how can they ignore the macro-church and the harm done to tens of thousands by a leadership they continue to support? "

Simple.  Acknowledge being what most of Catholics really are - congregationalists.

If all church is local, all the rest is, at best, an annoying accretion that can be accepted or rejected at will. 

For the first few millenia Catholicism existed at the most local of level for all intents and purposes.  Bishops, Cardinals and Popes were, at best, remote figures that had little to no impact on churches, convents and monasteries.  Catholicism needs to seek its roots once again.

Call that cafeteriaism if you will, but dining at a cafeteria allows one the option of taking what is good for you and rejecting the bad things out of hand.
Bill Freeman | 12/30/2011 - 2:01pm
@ex-cath - your point is well taken and really the heart of the matter.  In my own spriitual journey (which has been long and rocky and continues), I am where John arrived at the end of his life: God is love and whereever love is, God is.  

I do believe that the love shared between people is most definately and divinely God. I also belive that this collective love is a God who is all love.  Many Christian chruches have totally lost this important fact - or have so clounded it by a religion of "making and breaking a long list of rules" that it can't be recognized.  From where I sit, your wonderful questions are part of the journey and maybe the most authentically spiritual thing is to leave the church with big questions that matter in order to seek better answers.  I wish you peace on your journey.
Kevin Callahan | 12/30/2011 - 1:20pm
All of this is a very interesting discussion, but an assumption is made about why people leave the Catholic Church. The assumption being made here is that people who leave the church cannot abide the''dichomtomy'' of the local community which is accepting and understanding with the apparent contradiction of the hierarchy that appears to to setting itself apart.

That may be true for many, but there are also those out here who leave the Catholic Church not out of a sense of conflict with the hierarchy, but because they do not believe the basic doctrines of the Catholic Church. Here, I am not quibbling about virgin birth, but pointing out that there are those who, after carefully considering the teachings of the church, and reading the works of different theologians decide that they do not believe the basic doctrines and therefore cannot remain members of the institution, be it a local parish or the universal church.

I can easily accept that there is a human element to the church, and that the human element frequently makes mistakes. Humans do. What I do not accept is the divine element of the church, that there is a God out there who activley particpates (or not) in the daily lives of people.

For those who have found a parish or other place where they feel at home (such as Anne-#7), I would ask: what is the difference between that place and any other place of worship? It is the people that make a difference. Is God really a superior being that steps into our daily reality, or is god (in lower case on purpose) really found in the relationships that we develop with each other?
david power | 12/30/2011 - 5:19am
Happy New Year to you Frank and the Peace of Christ!
Norma,

I agree with most of what you wrote but the concept of sanctity should be clarified.
Christ is a fact.One of many facts before us but for the Christian he is the most important fact/factor in reality and also the most decisive fact in history is that Christ was born.More important than the death of Caesar or the end of World War 2.
I think that the person who makes space for the fact of Jesus Christ is a Saint in the Pauline sense.
We may not have the prettiest or tidiest house but there is always room in it for Jesus.The idea that moral performance is somehow indicative of catholic Sainthood is abhorrent.
The most moral person I know is a Hindu.Nor should  it be  a mixmatch between performance and a belief in Christ.
We should encourage each other as Chris did to think more of Jesus and remember how loving he is and how nothing but his friendship can make us holy.    
Liam Richardson | 12/29/2011 - 10:20pm
Actually, it seems the bulk of American Catholics are simply becoming more like, rather than less like, Roman Catholics. More and more American Catholics are understanding in practice (if not in theory) that the Roman legal culture has historically not blinked much of an eye at a huge gulf between notional ideas and real life. It's the American Catholics who insist on a high degree of correlation who are more "American" than "Roman".

This development might be called mirroring . . . . 
Frank Gibbons | 12/29/2011 - 8:36pm
David,

I wouldn't have said it if I wasn't sincere.  Peace.
david power | 12/29/2011 - 7:41pm
Thanks Frank,

I wish you the same and with the exact same sincerity .:) 
david power | 12/29/2011 - 6:11pm
Good point David but I think that it is one that poses more questions than gives answers.The Papacy has been viewed very differently through different periods of history.
The modern papacy has done a splendid job of making us think that every catholic breath until now was vatican sanctioned,but it ain't so.
Celibacy in the Priesthood is a novelty and not as traditional as married  Priests .Within about 20 years Pope Paul the sixth will no doubt make it licit again.  
The Papacy is a monster.We have seen giants like Roncalli and Pecci but also deviants and charlatans like Borgia and Wojtyla so we know that the papacy itself reforms.
It is not history that dictates what the Church is at the Church at the end of the day but God .If he decides for an overhaul then he will have it.
If we had said 100 years ago that Popes would no longer be crowned they would have laughed themselves silly.
Catholicism as lived in well-read cultures like North America and Europe think of catholicism but southern cultures feel it.I spent four years in Latin America and believe  that the people there are not so het up on ideas of heterodoxy etc.It is more natural and devotional.The present Pope is right when he says that it is the Saints who truly reform the Church.  
david power | 12/29/2011 - 5:24pm
There is despair.We are all in despair at all times and anybody who doubts it should read Kierkegaard in Sickness unto Death.
What to do with the Church ,with us?
I think that those like Crystal who have their path should follow that and those like Maria who have another should follow that.St Ignatius and St Francis were pretty individualist in the "catholic" church.The Church is capable of embracing every fabric of Being there is and we should love it so.
It seems contradictory that the Jesuits were both known as laxists and as Papists.How could this be?They were open to the Holy Spirit at various junctures of history.They "discerned".
The Church will rumble on as it always does and those  who seek truth amid the darkness of this veil of tears will most surely do battle with the whore of Babylon herself.
Chris Sullivan says it right when he says that we should focus on Jesus.There is a source of inexhaustible wonder.Jesus is trying to reach out to each of us.
Nothing human is alien to Christ as Charlie Sheen said.It is becoming a personal response to Christ for all of us.The Church was closed down for many years.Not open for business, not open to the wonders of life.The Church from 78 on was only a heap of exclamation marks in a world that had discovered the beauty of the question mark.But if we can turn the tables and place the question mark there then the world will struggle for an answer.A true answer to the human thirst that we see everywhere including here.Be a traditionalist like Ignatius and Francis and find god in the least expected places.He is rarely found elsewhere.       
NORMA NUNAG | 12/29/2011 - 3:53pm
Right on, Chris #19.  I wholeheartedly agree with you.  I remain in the pew because that's where the Faithful (ordained priest and the rest of us, the lay people)gather together to offer the same Sacrifice that Jesus offered to Almighty God the Father on the cross.  If we truly believe in the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e. we are Jesus' body and blood, guts and all, on this planet today and tomorrow until the end of time, then we should not be surprised to meet the same challenges, problems, apathy, oppositions or contradictions from some of those given the authority to minister the rest of us, that Jesus Himself suffered through, and for which He offered to the Father.  During His life time on earth, these challenges were called paganism and the unfaithfulness of those who were supposed to minister to the chosen people, the Israelites, to remind them of the Mosaic law, but instead...well, you know the rest.  Today we call these same challenges secularism, materialism and the abuses of those who should know better.  Even though we have been redeemned from original sin, we remain human beings, subject to limitations.  We remain the wheat and the weeds growing together in the field of planet earth until the end of time when we will be finally separated.  But that's Almighty God the Father's job,  definitely not ours.   Jesus reminded us of that.
  And I continue to contribute to the parish collection box and diocesan funds, because if I don't I would only be punishing the poor, the marginalized, and maybe myself too, who knows?  Life is unpredictable.
  And so I suggest we incarnate our knowledge of theology to our guts where it hurts.  Let us immigrate our Catholic theology from the head to the heart.  Then we really mean business when we say our AMEN at the Liturgy of the Mass.
Frank Gibbons | 12/29/2011 - 2:44pm
Hello Beth,

You wrote that -

''... Catholic means all of us - no one can be excluded (or kicked out).''

I think that in very rare instances, for the good of the person's salvation as well as for the well-being of the faithful, one may be justifiably be ''kicked out'' of the community of believers.  I'm thinking in particular about the segregationist political boss, Leander Perez, who was excommunicated by Archbishop Joseph Rommel in 1962. Here is a brief entry from Wikipedia:

“In the spring of 1962, the Archdiocese of New Orleans announced its plan to desegregate the New Orleans parochial school system for the 1962–1963 school year. Perez led a movement to pressure businesses into firing any whites who allowed their children to attend the newly desegregated Catholic schools. Catholics in St. Bernard Parish boycotted one school, which the Archdiocese kept open without students for four months until it was burned down. In response, Archbishop Joseph Rommel excommunicated Perez on April 16, 1962. Perez responded by saying the Catholic Church was ''being used as a front for clever Jews'' and announced that he would form his own church, the ''Perezbyterians.''
Perez also described himself at one point as ''a Catholic, but not an Archbishop's Catholic.'' He eventually reconciled with the church before his death after issuing a retraction and received a requiem mass at Holy Name of Jesus Christ Church at Loyola University in New Orleans.” 
In excommunicating Perez, Archbishop Rommel was not only protecting the faithful from being scandalized, but he was telling the larger community that Perez does not represent the Body of Christ.  I don’t deny that the Church might have acted much earlier on racism and segregation; nonetheless, Archbishop Rommel’s action was a needed corrective action in a terrible situation. 
Peace and Happy New Year.

Anne Chapman | 12/29/2011 - 1:46pm
David (#16), the issue is deeper than authority v. anti-authority. The issue goes to the very definition of the church.

 Vatican II affirmed what Newman and others said - the Holy Spirit speaks through the church - and the church is NOT simply the pope, the curia, and a few thousand bishops. THE church is nominally composed of more than 1 billion people. Yet the few thousand claim absolute authority over the 1 billion.  These few refuse to ''consult with the faithful on matters of doctrine'' (see Newman), nor on anything else. This was not true of the early church - the church of the first followers of Christ where all members had a voice, could be listened to. The bishops of the early church were selected by the members of the church and served only with their ''permission''.  As the church grew, it became more centrqalized, more hierarchical, until finally it seemed to forget much of the gospels in its quest for secular and material power and wealth. The few thousand have abused and misused their authority. They forget that they are to be servants, not princes.

It is unlikely that there will ever be a formal schism. It is more likely that those who cling to the church now by seeking out and finding parishes or communities that are sympathetic and share a specific vision of church and spirituality will eventually find it harder and harder to find those parishes and communities.  The characterisistics of the younger priests do not encourage hope for a servant-leader priesthood in the future, but signals a return to imperial models.  A few months ago there was an extensive thread related to a priest in Arizona's decision to ban girls from altar service, a trend that is growing around the country. That priest is in his late 30s, and most of the priests who are embracing a return to the cultic model of priesthood are also relatively young. The more ''progressive'' priests, the ''Vatican II'' priests are dying and retiring and in 20 years they will be gone.  What then?

 
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/29/2011 - 1:37pm
Yeah, but David, Catholic means all of us - no one can be excluded (or kicked out).
KEN LOVASIK | 12/29/2011 - 12:45pm
Kevin (#10), what you describe is what I, too, am experiencing, and it sounds like the adventurous first years of the Christian community described in the Acts of the Apostles: something is being re-born and renewed ... from the heart of the Community it will radiate, eventually, to the whole Church ... as the Spirit always does.

David (#11), there is no "schism".  Mother Angelica and the folks at EWTN having been saying that for years!  Nobody, who really cares about the Community of Faith, is leaving ... many who are apathetic are leaving ... many who have been hurt by the institutional Church are leaving ... but most of us are not leaving.  As Beth pointed out so eloquently, "this not a club, it's truth" and I would add, "a way of life."

If I am not mistaken, I read a post by you yesterday about Pope John's announcement of Vatican II in Commonweal in which you wrote that Pope John XXIII was too optimistic!  Hmmmm....  I'll take his optimism over the mess we're in today!
MATTHEW NANNERY | 12/29/2011 - 11:51am
If there's a public face to this issue, it's Anne Rice:
??http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0GU1YdxFr4
KEN LOVASIK | 12/29/2011 - 9:52am
These are trying times for us Catholics "in the pews."  The dichotomy between the hierarchy and the People of God has grown more and more evident.  Our leaders - for the most part - from Rome to the local parish communities seem increasingly 'out of sync' with the People of God.  When that happens, what is intended to be a prophetic voice becomes a shrill demand for blind obedience and conformity.  As some of you have pointed out more eloquently than I, there are enough exceptions among us, whose voices are truly prophetic, to keep our hope alive and our faith growing.

The vitality that I see today in our Catholic community lies in the rich spiritual practices offered to us in Ignatian spirituality, Centering Prayer, and elsewhere, which are increasingly being led by the laity.  The spirit that will eventually revitalize us, as a Church, is being re-born at the heart of the Church as the quantum leap in spirituality that we are experiencing.  These gifts, once found only in convents and monasteries, are now available to all, and I believe that they are the Spirit "renewing the face of the earth."  These spiritual practices are inclusive and available to anyone moved by the a thirst for a deep inner life.  As Beth has pointed out, everyone is welcome. no one is excluded or kicked out!  As Our Lord said to Nicodemus, "The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is goes; so it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (Jn 3:9)

I stay "in the pews" because this Community of Believers is home to me.  For those who have discovered the riches and deep inner life of the renewal movements at the heart of this Community, the "externals" (the dysfunction of the Community) is not nearly as important as the rich inner life which is its heartbeat!
PJ Johnston | 12/29/2011 - 9:22am
Thank you for this reflection, Michael.  I haven't found a local parish I'm confident is all that welcoming yet, but there are a number of good signs, and (as for you) midnight mass was one of them.  Researching popular Catholicism both in Asia and the US and how it differs from official, magisterial Catholicism helps a lot, and I see this as a similar kind of reflection.  Tom Beaudoin's pieces on popular theology are often very helpful, as is this magazine in general.

Though there's a lot of comfort to take in the disconnect you mention (and for that matter, in the disconnect you get between hardline official teachings and pastoral sensitivity even from the most conservative priests in the confessional), there are still some troubling issues that are left untouched.  As far as I can tell, it's not so much that a hardline hierarchy and more inclusive local church communities really disagree all that much about e.g. sexual morality.  For example, while it's common knowledge that the vast majority of the laity dissent from every single aspect of the official teaching on sexual morality, it's less publicized that the clergy dissents from it in nearly equal numbers, both in theory and in practice (see the research of Richard Sipe on priestly sexuality for documentation of this).  I suspect that your average prelate who is vigorously anti-gay in public probably has been in a consensual same-sex relationship at some point in the past.  It's not treated as very serious matter for a lay person in the confessional of any of the conservative Catholic churches I've attended, and we learned from the clergy sexual abuse that the clergy is especially generous in dealing with the sexual sins of brother priests, so it's probably even less of a big deal there.  So it's not necessarily a disconnect between hiearchy and laity per se but between official teaching and actual belief/practice across the board.  A liberal might say that the disconnect means official teaching needs to change and a conservative might say that the disconnect is just a matter of the Church finding a way both to preserve a challenging moral teaching while treating real human beings with pastoral sensitivity and kindness so nothing has to change.  I confess I take some comfort in either scenario.

It's really not enough though.  For one thing it's very bad for the looming demographic crisis you mention - Americans generally expect rules to be something people can keep and no rule that cannot be kept to remain a rule, differing (perhaps) from a European Catholic expectation that you set challenging rules no one can keep and then treat people with sensitivity when they break them.  We don't hear the official teachings on human sexuality and think if we know we can't keep them "Well, the Church is setting a high standard here, and if I can't meet it I'll still be considered a good Catholic and the priest will almost certainly consider it a venial sin at worst".  Americans don't do casuistry.  We think this is the real rule everybody is really expected to keep and if we can't keep it, we're necessarily in mortal sin and there's no way to be good Catholics.  So gay Catholics, divorced-and-remarried Catholics, sexually active single Catholics, etc. leave the Church in droves thinking that's exactly what the Church wants and expects from them.

And this also puts the burden of guilt and pain and failure almost entirely on the honest and above-board and scrupulous, rather than on the duplicitous and hypocritical.  If you're a gay Catholic - even a gay Catholic prelate - who can remain in the closet and have affairs and mouth the official teaching in public while seeking absolution in private, you have pretty much full acceptance.  You can get promoted.  If you're a traditionalist theologian and you've gotten a divorce through no real fault of your own but cannot remain celibate, you still have the ear of the hierarchy if you hide the fact that you're no longer living with your husband or wife and treat your current lover as your beau or mistress (with no commitment or public recognition).  In either case, the Church will more-or-less indulge you if you are careful and discreet and occsionally makes motions of penitence.  Only the people who can't compromise their conscience because they're clinically scrupulous or just conscientious or boorish or whatever end up suffering from the current teachings, so they never change.  We are called to be people of truth who live in the light, but we seem to reward lip-service and clandestine dealings.
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/29/2011 - 9:22am
I hear you, Anne.

Tell you the truth, I don't know whether I'm in or out these days.

Many years ago I quit belonging to the Church - as in a parish or club.  It was too difficult, I felt too conflicted, pretending to something that was at great odds with my sense of what church/spirituality/religion was all about. 

Yet there was a wisdom and treasure there from which I was drawing via the Catholic writers I was reading - Merton, Lax, Dorothy Day ...   I knew that I needed (and wanted) to stay connected to that source.

I have resolved this for myself by seeking out liturgies that are off the beaten path - college campuses, hospitals, monasteries.  I even attend a noon Mass at the local Chancerry Office when I am in town.  Other than for family functions, funerals, or holidays, I steer clear of the Sunday Mass crowd.  I do regularly attend a weekly Centering Prayer group at a local parish Church, though.   And I go to confession a couple of times a year.

Occasionally I attend Mass in a setting that feels "right" to me - the community around Barry University in Miami, or St. Louis Univeristy (or the little cathedral parish in Juneau Alaska) - and if I lived near I would probably be able to become a part of those parishes.  But the politics and extreme conservatism that I find in most other parishes feels so childish and even superstitious to me that I can't bring myself to become a part of them.  I've even tried, but invariably I come away with the sense that I can not spiritually survive there, and I can't get away fast enough.

It's all a bit sad, but it's the way things are. It seems that there is an UNDERGROUND Catholic Church happening now.  I run into people all the time who are in "exile" like me.  I don't know where it is going, but it does feel vibrant, strong, and Spirit-led.
Anne Chapman | 12/29/2011 - 8:56am
The church is often described as a dysfunctional family - in this and countless other Catholic forums. Most who participate here continue to stay in the pews - paying, if not obeying.  When I finally chose to stay away from Catholic pews - stop paying - it was because I felt my presence and the cumulative total of our individual small contributions enable the sins and corruption so evident in too much of the hierarchy.  I have known some whose biological families are ''dysfunctional'' and who have been through counseling and therapy and various programs. They are often advised to stop those activities that enable the dysfunction.  So, even though family, sometimes it is best to walk away - at least for a while instead of continuing to enable the dysfunction. 

I too loved my Catholic parish - it was vibrant and has a great pastor.  It was hard to leave. But, I did, because I felt by staying, I was supporting the structures that have fed the dysfunction - ''the church'' - the ''institutional'' or ''teaching'' church or whatever name one chooses to define it will not reform itself. It is clear that 10 years of ongoing revelations of sexual abuse of children that was faciliated by bishops around the world protecting sexual perverts have led to no real change of heart in the hierarchy. Bishops do not resign, Rome does not kick them out as it does priests like Fr. Roy Bourgeouis - instead Rome rewards them for their sinful loyalty to ''the church'' instead of to THE church - the people of God.

I would be interested to know from David, Beth,, Crystal, Norma, and John how they resolve this difficult moral issue in their own consciences - because those who stay (and pay), they are passively participating in the enabling of the dysfunction.
 
We are frequently reminded that the Catholic church is not a democracy - we have no vote, we cannot remove evil bishops from office, we cannot influence Rome who has no interest whatsoever in the people in the pews unless the money stops flowing.  How can ''micro''-Catholics who love the church at the parish level, who love what it does for them ignore the dysfunction and the harm caused by the dysfunction of the hierarchy - how can they ignore the macro-church and the harm done to tens of thousands by a leadership they continue to support?  Is it all about us as individuals? Or do we have a moral responsibility to take whatever measures we can to remove outselves as passive participants in the continuing dysfunction? 

I have yet to be find a satisfactory answer to these questions. I feel that if I am a member of the body of Christ I can't enable the structures that have caused so much harm to so many when there is no sign whatsoever of genuine reform. If there had been any sign at all of true recognition of the depths of the sins of the hierarchy and their relationship to the intrinsic structures of the hierarchical church, I could have stayed. But I have no seen any true remorse, true contrition, true change of heart - cardinal Law was rewarded, other bishops were promoted to head their own dioceses. The pope has said thousands of words, cried lots of crocodile tears for the world's media, but has done nothing in the way of action to hold the bishops accountable for their role in enabling tens of thousands of children to be molested and raped. The pope has only forced out one bishop - one who suggests considering ordination of women and non-mandatory celibacy. 

How do you stay in the Catholic church, my friends? Do you simply go to mass and not give to the collections? How will honest and genuine reform ever come about in a church where THE church, the people of God, have no voice at all?  Cardinal Newman noted that the church ''must'' consult THE church in matters of doctrine. He outlined how very wrong the institutional church can be. Vatican II has been called Newman's Council because it recognized the truth of what he said. But, most Catholics have remained totally passive as Rome, step by step, has turned back the clock in order to infantalize the people of God, to return THE church to a state of total passivity, to recreate their preferred model of princely hierarchy, and peasants in the pews. How do the people in the pews change this? Is it possible? It seems that until the people stop supporting the status quo and the corruption it breeds, they enable the ongoing dysfunction.  Is there a different solution?
 I would love to hear all of your ideas, including those of any of the editors who are interested.
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/29/2011 - 6:52am
There is the hierarchical, institutional Church, and there is the people of God. 

To be a member of the people of God, all you have to do is acknowledge - know - it: "I am a member of the people of God".  Nobody can kick you out.  This isn't a club, it is a reality, a truth.

The institutional Church exists to serve the people of God.  To hold them together and to nourish their individual and collective knowing of who they are.
david power | 12/29/2011 - 5:31am
I once spent an evening in Rome decrying the Church to a friend of mine who is a Priest.
I gave him a million and eight examples of corruption and sin that not even the media had cottoned onto yet.
He (my friend) is a very thoughtful person with a great capacity to listen and not get ruffled.
When I had finished he did not counter with errors in my attacks or anything of the sort.He simply said in the Church "C'e tutto" that is to say there is everything.
I have known the Church on four continents and it is very true. 
St Ignatius lived in a very difficult period too and as a layman formulated the Spiritual exercises.There is for every demogogic pope or off-cue cardinal a few saints lurking somewhere.We must treasure the true Saints and especially those that are in our own lives.
Find God in all things the man said.
NORMA NUNAG | 12/29/2011 - 2:30am
I suppose you could say that we are facing a mystery here.  Recently I read that the Mass is a play without an audience, for we are all the players.  In the Mass we gather together as a community of the faithful who have been transformed (''divinized'' if you will, for Christmas is the birth of Jesus in our humanity and the birth of our humanity in God, i.e. we became children of God and the brothers and sisters of Jesus).  The Mass (Liturgy) is a public prayer (as opposed to a private..meaning an individual prayer).  It is an activity, a ritual, that we, the Mystical Body of Christ or the Church do to worship and give glory to Almighty God.  It is the same sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross... which now as members of His Mystical Body, we are offering together with the ordained priest who consecrates the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ,  and our, the faithfuls' Amen.
 And then there is the teaching Church,  the magisterium.  I think this is the subject that seems to cause a lot of questions, even confusion to many of us.  So we need to update or continue our religious education beyond our eight grade CCD (for a lot of Catholics religious education ended after Confirmation, or after high school if they went to a Catholic school.)  There are many resources available today.  We should take advantage of them  It is also good to read different theologians, because there are various approaches or methodologies they use in explaining religious teachings and issues.
  The New Year is coming,  let's remember that we are all in the family....every family has their wheat and  weeds.   Weeds are not necessarily bad, you know.  Dandelions are considered by many as weeds, but to me they are just beautiful!  And they make good vegetables too, believe it or not!
John Barbieri | 12/29/2011 - 2:05am
Thank you for your thoughtful article!
As far as the hierarchy is concerned, their behavior indicates what they really believe.
''Cafeteria Catholicism,'' like it or not, is what is keeping the church going. 
At some time in the far future - probably when most of us are gone - the ''institution'' will catch up with the laity who simply will not let the hierarchy drive them out.
We're a dysfunctional family, but we're still a family! 
Happy New Year!
Anne Chapman | 1/2/2012 - 11:16am
Thanks to Mary, Linda, Ken, Michael and Jack - it is likely that you have all identified aspects of the core problem - the individuals who make up the hierarchy - the human beings - are simply unable to ''get it'' - for whatever reasons. Since there is such a high number of them in the hierarchy, it seems the problem arises from the very structure of the church's clerical system. Is it in the selection process? The formation process? Or a cumulation of removing men from normal human interactions with women and with children - isolating them from normal human feelings?  Most likely it is all of the above. Few members of the hierarchy, including the pope himself, have much (if any) pastoral experience. They are fast-tracked as academics and administrators.  We all know priests who are good, compassionate, empathatic, generous human beings - they are, in a word, pastoral. These priests seldom become bishops. And, if the reports and studies of younger priests today and current seminarians are true, it seems that few young men with naturally pastoral and empathetic qualities are joining the priesthood. Too many are attracted by externals - the clothes they can wear, the insistence that they be called ''Fr. Lastname'' to distance themselves from the people in the pews, the smells and bells, the outward piety and devotion to devotions - love does not seem to be a motivating factor for these men, who seem more attracted to the theatre of the church, where they stand on the altar as the star.   This does not bode well for the church.

Crystal, you too have identified a disturbing aspect of the church in America today - too few are willing to speak up. I may not agree with all our govt does (who does?) but I have a voice - and we have seen many times that the people turn out politicians who are not responsible and responsive, sometimes repeatedly.  The last two elections have resulted in widespread changes in the legislative and executive branches and the next one may also. Politicians in Washington engage entire staffs to respond to citizen concerns - they are not ignored as are letters and phone calls to the chancery.  This is the critical difference between ''citizen'' dissatisfaction with Congress/Washington and with Rome - we do have a voice, we can kick out our political representatives, but we have no voice at all in the church that we claim to be US.

 But if enough of the Catholics in the pews spoke up, if there was an outpouring of letters, phone calls and withheld checks for the annual bishops' and Peter's Pence appeals, they eventually might have to take notice. Law's resignation in Rome wasn't accepted until after the donations to the annual Cardinal's Appeal and the donations in the pews dropped by more than half - millions and millions of dollars. Of course, Rome also seemed very anxious to remove him from any further engagements with the American judiciary - truth and justice seem to be of little concern to Rome.
Livia Fiordelisi | 1/2/2012 - 10:49am
Mary,

Your comment is very interesting. I agree - our religious leaders seem unable to "get it". I've also noted how the behaviors of many conservative young Catholics who are so deeply invested in rubrics and ritual are similar to young adults diagnosed with Asberger's Syndrome (including my nephew). Use of elevated language, narrow interests, preoccupation with fantasy, lack of empathy, the struggle with connection and human relationships. Generalization no doubt but interesting.
KEN LOVASIK | 1/2/2012 - 8:39am
Thank you, Michael, for your comment,  The Italians would say Ben detto! (Well said!)
I have learned in 39 years of teaching that listening is as vital to the art of teaching as is speaking.  The challenge that you point out - staying and working for reform within the Church - although it is a daunting one, is something I take very seriously.

At the present time, there is no doubt that the leadership is 'out of sync' with "the faithful" and I suspect that has caused some to vote with their feet and simply leave.
Some have found new communities of faith, but others have given up any active practice of faith.

The leaders of the Church seem to have amnesia when it comes to the ancient tradition in the Church of the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful), the idea that if the faithful throughout the Church believe something to be true, that sense is to be taken seriously.  The majority of the faithful's response to the Church's teaching on contraception has been to ignore it.

But ... how do we get to the hierarchy to listen?  That's the question!
Michael Barberi | 1/1/2012 - 9:14pm
The question is how can the individual and collective voice of the laity on sexual ethical issues be heard by the heirarchy and not become irrelevant?
How can we encourage and ensure that the heirarchy open itself to dialogue with the laity and theologians on the issue of Humanae Vitae and stop falling into the pit of exaggerated fear wherre it is believed that to reform Humanae Vitae will cause the pillars of magisterium authority to come crumbling down?. If they would open their eyes wider, they will see that such an act will strengthen the credibility of their authority and bring millions of estranged Catholics back to the Church.

If you ask most Catholics what they think of the Church's teachings on sexual ethics, especially contraception, they will likely give you a big "ho-hum". They have made up their minds based on their informed consciouses and human experience. The consequences of practicing contraception that were dogmatically asserted by John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, and his earlier work as Cardinal (i.e, Love and Responsibility), is in tension with the experiences of millions of married couples. A careful reading of these works give pause to most couples day when a pope dogmatically asserts that contraception destroys love, treats the spouse as a sex object for pure enjoyment without remainder, and spouses will love their children only to the extent they give them pleasure. To most Catholics such statements are not only unreasonable but clearly not based on realism. This philosophy and theology on marriage and procreation is metaphorical speculation and is a narrow view of marriage and the role and purpose of every act of sexual intercourse.
The Theology of Reception may be a working of the Holy Spirit who guides all members of His Church to the truth and the good. So, the answer does not seem to be to walk away from the Church, but to work within it for reform. This will require both individual and collective efforts to move the conversation forward.
Crystal Watson | 1/1/2012 - 5:13pm
About enebling   .....    If we are citizens of a country with a corrupt leadership that has injures others, most of us would want to remain Americans but most of us would also at least feel the need to speak up about that in some way, write to our representatives, protest, and of course vote for other leadership.  In the church we can't vote, but we can speak up.  Maybe I'm being unrealistic or  sanctimonious or hypocritical, but to remain a member and not protest in some way, however small, does seem to indicate that people just don't care that much  about the harm done by the church to others.  I know many people just want to concentrate on their religious lives and not get involved in "politics"  but often these are the same people who hate the idea that the church seems not to have a place in the public squae anymore - if it's worth speaking up about perceived badness in secualr society, from immigration reform to the rich-poor dichotomy, isn't anti-semitism or sex abuse or money-hoarding or unfairness to gays/lesbians and women  in the church also worth speaking up about?
KEN LOVASIK | 1/1/2012 - 3:12pm
I sincerely apologize, Anne, for reading more into your remarks than you intended.
You make a good case for bankrupting the Church - indeed, for leaving it - and with that, I think it's probably best for you and I to agree to disagree.  I certainly respect your position, even though we differ. 

Although I don't think it's purely a semantic problem that separates us, I think you would find Fr. Komonchak's post on today's www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog interesting, if you haven't already read it.

I enjoy reading your posts, both here and on the Commonweal blog, because they are always thought-provoking.  I wish you a blessed New Year, Anne.
KEN LOVASIK | 1/1/2012 - 10:00am
Your expression of wonder about how we who choose to remain in the Catholic Church deal with the enabling issue in our own consciences troubles me.  Your words trouble me because your wonder contains - whether intended or not - a sweeping indictment of millions of faithful Catholics.  And that is unfair.

There is no way of escaping the fact that the Catholic Church in America suffers from a gaping wound because of the dishonest, underhanded, and unfaithful actions of some, but certainly not all, of its leaders.  We still don't know how many young lives have been scarred because of the crimes committed against them by perverted men whom they trusted.  The response of the Church's leaders has been half-hearted at best and downright dishonest at worst.  There is no disputing the facts.

But to blithely indict all of us who choose to remain in the Church is unfair, if not  insulting!  I have, long ago, ceased looking to the American Church's leadership for direction or inspiration.  Most practicing Catholics that I know relate, basically, to their local parish community.  In most cases, even the local bishop is a distant figure, not a vibrant presence in the life of the local parish.  Most of us, where financial support is concerned, support our local parish, and most of our parishes are in debt.  We support our parishes "to keep the lights on", and most of us do not contribute to "second" collections that go beyond the parish.

If you have chosen - or are choosing - to leave the Catholic community, Anne,
I understand.  I, like you, do not believe that institutional Catholicism has a monopoly on Christian life in the world (or that it is a shining example of Christian life, for that matter), and I recognize the vibrant spiritual renewal happening in other Christian communities.

Believe me, Anne, when I say that I do struggle with my Church, and I carry within me personal pain and scars, if you need proof.  A beloved Franciscan confrere, who listens patiently and compassionately to my disappointment with the institutional Church, quietly but consistently reminds me of AA's Serenity Prayer - "God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.  If the philosophy behind this Prayer can rebuild millions of lives wrecked by addiction (and it has!) ... then, maybe I too have a chance!

I know that I personally - and we as a Catholic community - are wounded by the terrible evil that has happened in our Church ... so how about a little more compassion, and a little less finger-pointing.  I suppose you think that the widow in the Gospels who put her pittance in the synagogue collection - and was praised by Jesus - was complicit with the Jewish leaders struggling to maintain the status quo.
Really?
PJ Johnston | 12/31/2011 - 3:44pm
After a day of careful research, I thought I finally found a LBGTQ-friendly Catholic parish I could attend regularly when I remembered that most of the Catholics in the religion department at my alma mater went to the Newman Center.  Then I discovered this:

http://dayofwrathdiesirae.blogspot.com/2010/01/interesting-article-about-transgendered.html

Basic story:

The Newman Center had a transgender Catholic support group (something I would very much benefit from) meeting there with the approval of the liberal old priest, who retired and was replaced by an archconservative young priest who discovered the support group and got the transgender woman leading it fired by the diocese.  All the liberals left.  As far as I can tell, there are no longer any liberal or LBGTQ-friendly parishes anywhere in town.

I'm beginning to completely despair about the possibility of ever finding the welcoming side of the Catholic Church.
KEN LOVASIK | 12/31/2011 - 7:41am
Jim (#48), Your comment, including words of Hendrick Hertzberg, resonates within my own heart and I am grateful for it ... and for your willingness to express it.  I cannot deny a syllable of it.  It is an apt decription of the fallibility and human sinfulness of the institutional Church.  That said, I want to say that I still love the Church ... because I see not only a fallible, sinful - and at times, insensitive and cruel - institution, but moreso I recognize the Living Body of Christ in the world, the People of God.

In no way do I want to deny the failings of the institutional Church, but I must recognize the goodness, the energy - the Spirit of God - present in all of us who
ARE the Church.  As others have noted on this blog:  WE are the Church.  The Church is in US. One of my Dad's gifts to me was his uncanny ability to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty...even when it was difficult, if not impossible, to see. 

And so, when I think of the Church - and love the Church - I do not see hierarchs in their magenta and lace presiding in pomp and circumstance, seemingly unaware of the thoughts, the feelings, the hopes of the people they claim to shepherd.  No, I see millions of ordinary Catholics - like us - trying to live the Gospel in ways, often unseen, unheard and unnoticed.  I think of 48,000 American religious women - some of whom have played (and still do!) a life-giving and life-changing role in my life - who live the Gospel, every day, with courage, imagination, and panache.

And so, while I feel very deeply what you are expressing, Jim, I choose not to focus on the all too obvious failings of the Church as institution, but but rather on the living witness of the vibrant people who live at its heart.  And I do so, Jim, simply because I recognize that I am a microcosm of what I can so glibly criticize:  I, too, have all-too-obvious fallibility and sinfulness ... but also in the deepest part of who I am, there is a heart trying to respond to the presence and call of God. 
JIM MCCREA | 12/30/2011 - 3:41pm
If being authoritarian is the reason that Catholicism has survived, then it deserves to die sooner rather than later.

I think is happening on a faster scaled these days because the "sheople" of the past are less and less willing to go along with whatever bit of nonsense is sent their way by men who, in many cases, are less educated and intelligent than the folks in the pew.

A pretty dress with a festooning of lace curtain does NOT grant authority, no matter what some people think. As someone has said: Isn’t it odd that Catholic clergy have to dress like mother in order to act like father?
“ The Catholic Church is an authoritarian institution, modeled on the political structures of the Roman Empire and medieval Europe. It is better at transmitting instructions downward than at facilitating accountability upward. It is monolithic. It claims the unique legitimacy of a line of succession going back to the apostolic circle of Jesus Christ. Its leaders are protected by a nimbus of mystery, pomp, holiness, and, in the case of the Pope, infallibility—to be sure, only in certain doctrinal matters, not administrative ones, but the aura is not so selective. The hierarchy of such an institution naturally resists admitting to moral turpitude and sees squalid scandal as a mortal threat. Equally important, the government of the Church is entirely male.
It is not “anti-Catholic” to hypothesize that these things may have something to do with the Church’s extraordinary difficulty in coming to terms with clerical sexual abuse. The iniquities now roiling the Catholic Church are more shocking than the ones that so outraged Martin Luther. But the broader society in which the Church is embedded has grown incomparably freer. To the extent that the Church manages to purge itself of its shame—its sins, its crimes—it will owe a debt of gratitude to the lawyers, the journalists, and, above all, the victims and families who have had the courage to persevere, against formidable resistance, in holding it to account. Without their efforts, the suffering of tens of thousands of children would still be a secret. Our largely democratic, secularist, liberal, pluralist modern world, against which the Church has so often set its face, turns out to be its best teacher—and the savior, you might say, of its most vulnerable, most trusting communicants. “
“Indulgence” by Hendrik Hertzberg

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/04/19/100419taco_talk_hertzberg#ixzz0nl32PxeX
NORMA NUNAG | 12/29/2011 - 10:39pm
And David #29, the saints were sinners at first, then they reformed themselves and what followed was that  the whole Church was reformed too.  So really if we want the authentic Church, then we should begin with ourselves.... (after all we are the church too), and not wait for somebody else, like our pastor, bishop, or the Pope to start the ball rolling (reforming).   This is just plain science, really!   It's been talked about among scientists that human beings have mirror neurons located on the frontal lobe of the brain, and  that whatever is exposed to them would mirror them.  I suppose it's really true that what monkeys see, monkeys do.   Jesus understood this when He said to challenge violence with non-violence.....''if someone strikes you, turn your other cheek''....... meet violence with non-violence, stop the cycle of violence with non-violent means. Jesus taught us how to live, act and behave as children of God.....living and doing it is what we want to be mirrored and emulated by others, including some of the bishops and members of the hierarchy.   It's easily said than done of course, but it seems to be the only way to get the result we want, an authentic faithful Church   But complaining about the failures of some of our religious leaders seems to only multiply the resentments, frustrations and problems facing us today.  What we need I believe is encouragement from one another and heeding Chris's #19 suggestion.
  
Frank Gibbons | 12/29/2011 - 7:30pm
David Power -

It's disappointing to say the least to read that you think PJII is a a deviant and charlatan.

God bless you and may His peace be with you throughout 2012. 
Bill Freeman | 12/29/2011 - 6:33pm
Let us remember that “the catholic church” is a reality far larger than the Roman Church.  The American National Catholic Church is part of the “independent catholic” tradition tracing our origins to the 1850s solidified by a break from the Roman Church over papal infallibility.   Independent Catholic Churches are Christian denominations with apostolic succession - continuous lineage directly from the Apostles - performing valid sacraments but not in union with the Vatican, nonetheless valid.  Independent churches are worldwide and in nearly all languages.
We inherit and continue a rich tradition of grace-filled sacraments and a lived commitment to social action.  In parishes and prisons, in hospitals and hospices, the American National Catholic Church is daily witnessing to the redeeming love of a welcoming God – a God whose love is beyond our wildest imagining. 
We believe in a congregational or shared model of leadership where our parishioners join with locally-called clergy in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  This is decidedly different than the hierarchical model demanded by the Roman Catholic Church.
Like others in the Independent Catholic tradition, the American National Catholic Church is built on the admonition of Christ to love one another.   From this flows an inclusive ethic.  For example:
Women Clergy: We embrace the wonderful gifts of women.  While the Roman Church earlier this year removed an Australian Bishop for daring to even entertain questions regarding women’s ordination, we welcome the movement of God in the ordained ministry of women.
Married Clergy: We welcome married clergy and know that their lived experience provides an invaluable gift for ministry.  The Roman Church has forever closed the option of married clergy with its claim of divine intention.
Divorce and Remarriage: We empathize with the pain of a failed marriage and receive our divorced and remarried brothers and sisters as full members into our Church.  The Roman Church maintains that marriage is indissoluble.
Family Planning:  We support a couple’s decision regarding family planning believing that they are in the best position to decide their most appropriate option.  The Roman Church only permits natural family planning.
Gays and Lesbians: We affirm the dignity and worth of our gay and lesbian members recognizing in them unique gifts particular to our time.  We are honored to officiate at sacramental gay marriages.  The Roman Church teaches that homosexuality is “objectively disordered” and all same-sex acts as sinful.
We invite all who may be seeking a contemporary and inclusive expression of the best of an ancient Catholic tradition to find in the American National Catholic Church a welcoming home.  For further information: www.TheANCC.org

Rev. Fr. Bill Freeman
Vicar of Communications and Development
The American National Catholic Church
www.TheANCC.org
Need Prayer?  www.ANCCPrayer.org
 
Crystal Watson | 12/29/2011 - 4:07pm
Anne,

Maybe because I wasn't raised a Catholic I do not feel, like some others here, that the church is my family and that I should stick with it as one would with a dysfunctional family.  I don't think people *should* stay in dysfunctional families. I grew up in a dysfunctional family and still bear the scars.

I don't go to church anymore, I don't contribute financially to the church.  I do practice the Ignatian spirituality I learned from Jesuits, from books,  and a retreat.  And I have a blog (http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/) in which I write about what I do like about spirituality and about what I think the church is getting wrong.  Maybe partly why I haven't completely given up on the church yet is because I think the church and the people who belong deserve to have some members who aren't in agreement with the policies.  At times, though, I fear I'm being complicit just by remaining.  At the end of the day, I think of myself as a Christian more than a Catholic.
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/29/2011 - 3:04pm
While the Churches are emptying, the retreats and classes for seekers of spiritual wisdom are filling up.  Retreats at a Trappist monastery for 10 day silent retreats are filled a year in advance (I know, because I've been trying to get to one).  And these seekers are not just old fogies, but YOUNG PEOPLE!

Even the popularity of Yoga is indicative of a thirst for authentic spirituality, I think.

I have mixed feelings about the young priests.  The imported ones (from India, Africa) seem to me to more open and less dogmatic than the American-born ones, who have a more traditionally conservative (imperial, as Anne said) mentality. 

It also seems to me that a truly vibrant faith community would generate her own priests (rather than having to import them).

Dunno, Anne.  When all the Vatican2 priests die off and we're left with just the young cultic priests to tell us what to do and believe, I suspect it will be up to the people who are young now to shape what will become of the American Church. And they don't look to me like they are flocking to conservative Catholic Churches.  But they are seeking.

Like others here, I see the contemplative side of the Church coming of Age and the vision of Vatican 2 finally seeing the light of day in the not too distant future.  Sometimes seeds have to be planted and lay dormant for awhile before they sprout.  That's Vatican 2.
KEN LOVASIK | 12/29/2011 - 2:58pm
Chris (#19), you've said it well and succinctly:  "the Church is IN us."  We ARE the Church ... Church is not simply a matter of choice ... we ARE, ALL OF US, the Church ... warts and all!

David (#16), I feel very much as you do, but I - and maybe it's a question of semantics - would say we have 'factions' in the Church ... different viewpoints on things, but so far we are able to co-exist as one Body.  Like you, I don't know where the trajectory will lead us, but my experience at least has been that we are able to put our eucharistic unity ahead of our differences.  To me, the word "schism" connotes a complete split, and I don't think we're at that point, and I hope we will never be.

I think what a number of us are saying in the above posts is that we have found in the spiritualities emerging from their monastic enclaves in the Church a deep source of life that enables us to transcend whatever seems to separate us and to realize it is Christ living in our midst that binds us together into one Body.  I have no desire to leave the Church ... and I will not accept an ultimatum from anyone.  This is my home; this is my family!

Our contemporary ecclesial situation reminds me of the early Church in which the "Jerusalem Christians' were in a tug-of-war with the 'Gentile Christians' ... and Paul was at odds with James and Peter ... but they were always one Church, which led Paul to write, "In Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female ...."  If you and I, David, were not concerned enough to talke about it, then I would worry.....

Joshua DeCuir | 12/29/2011 - 2:31pm
"“The Church” shouts “religious persecution” when it is deemed ineligible for taxpayer money for adoption services because of discrimination, but my parish holds a meanigful candlelight vigil on World AIDS Day. And “the Church” refuses to offer a message of hospitality if it coincides with gay pride week, though the pastor preaches passionately that all are welcome in his church."

May I commend the author's attention to this thoughtful post on Mirror of Justice?

http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2011/12/separate-but-equal.html

"If our focus is - as I think it should be - on ensuring access to goods and services deemed essential by the political community, there is no reason to force every religious child welfare agency to include same-sex couples in its pool of prospective foster care and adoptive parents.  The dignity-based harm that discrimination causes - and if there is no real threat to access, that is what we're talking about - is a dangerous foundation for the state's intrusion into religious associations."

The breezy dismissal of the concerns of some of us (NOT just the Bishops "shouting") evidenced in the author's quote above is unfair to the legitimate concerns we should all have as we seek to be Church together.
Chris Sullivan | 12/29/2011 - 2:05pm
Some great comments above.

"The Church" is us, the 99%, the 1 billion Catholics.

It is much more important to focus on Christ, on the Gospel, on the poor and on building up spirituality thru contemplative prayer, Mass etc.

God Bless

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