I just ran across a paper I did Sr. year in college in a Catholicism class. I thought it was a pretty good summary of where I still stand on many issues and it gave a pretty good snapshot of the Church in the meantime…
It also has lots of big words which I probably don’t even know any more. I think I got dumber…
One part I bolded, because I think it is very important to understanding the Church and the proper place for dissent:
THE 457 – Professor McManus
Wednesday, December 12, 2007Our Catholic Church
Throughout the semester with help from several scholars, my professor, and my classmates, I have learned much about where the Catholic Church was in the past, is today, and should be in the future. With the help of a few of those scholars, including Lakeland, Gaillardetz, Hellwig, and Haight, (and if I may draw on another respected source, Kreeft) I hope to give a useful assessment of where I have developed to find the Church and where I believe it should be in the coming times. This assessment is a difficult one, for all of the issues and topics that it contains, but I intend to move through the topic chronologically as follows: Why the Catholic Church? What is the Catholic Church’s place in the world today? What purpose and use is an authoritarian body in the Catholic Church (including a brief nod to the problems it creates such as the abuse scandal)? To what degree should the needs of its followers push the Catholic Church to reform, especially on issues such as married priests, women priests, and the defense of those who can do little to defend themselves (such as those under oppressive governments or disparaging poverty)? With clear and concise argument and cited justification, I do hope that by the end of my paper, both the reader and I have learned a bit more about why and how we belong to the institution that is the Catholic Church.
Why the Catholic Church? Let’s start at the foundation: Jesus the Christ. Jesus Christ is the reason for all Christian religions and arguably the most important person ever to walk the earth. What we know of Christ through scripture is only the beginning of His mission. The Roman Catholic Church has often been referred to as Christ’s Bride, the sacred institution by which we as humans come to know Him more fully. The Church is the earthly fulfillment of Jesus’ mission on earth, seeking to unite the world in peace and love, while proclaiming the good news and possibility of salvation for all those who seek truth. Interestingly, the only reason the Church ‘exists [is] because the work of Jesus is incomplete.’ The Church has a mission to call people just as the early disciples did, giving the Church existence not for itself, but for the sake of the entire world. The goal of the Church therefore became to turn from human selfishness and push ‘toward authentic worship and community life for a common purpose’ (Hellwig, 121). The major reason we believe this goal is first, the actual main goal of the Church, and second, a goal that can truly be attained, is from the scripture concerning the idea of the Holy Spirit. In the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of how His Spirit will be sent out from the other side of death to empower those present. This can be taken to mean that the pouring out of Jesus’ Spirit (what we can also refer to as the portion of the Trinity as the Holy Spirit) was what actually gave the apostles and disciples the power to make a response in the world (Hellwig, 118).
In all of the aforementioned reasons why the Church exists and what its purpose delivered from Christ is, we find a meta-reason (a reason between the reasons) why the Church is the establishment that is the answer to Jesus’ calls. The Catholic Church walks a paradox that defines it immensely: an exclusive but completely open institution that exists in itself for all people. Incredible as a challenge, to say the least. Though one can belong to the Church exclusively, humanity is God’s Church, and God wishes us (the Catholic Church) to help the world understand that. This is a far cry from what most other common world religions seek to promote. The Catholic Church is therefore an allegorical portrayal of the Savior in itself. This whole, seemingly counter-intuitive paradox, can be seen applying to Jesus’ teaching ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ and themes such as forgiveness and ‘loving even thy enemies’. The Church’s mission, as Jesus’ was, is to show love, respect, and compassion to all, forgiving the failures humanity brings to the table and giving each and every person a chance at the redemption that only Christ can offer.
This leads us to the question: What is the Catholic Church’s place in the world today? In a world full of atheism, other religions, anti-institutional sentiment, and so many other views that seem to clash with the Church, it seems room in today’s society for an institution like the Church is getting smaller and smaller as we speak. How can we be sure the Church is taking the best route to fulfill its mission? The Church’s plan of redemption, as shown by Jesus, is to ‘convert or turn human persons to listen persistently for the sound of God’s voice among the confusing and distracting claims of a distorted world’ (Hellwig, 122). It is hard to tell what the appropriate push for converting others to Catholicism should take. We want a stronger, diverse, and more fulfilled Church by offering conversion and total acceptance of all, but determining how far we can travel down the line of ‘progress for the sake of progress’ without thinning out the tradition and powerful invitation that the Church contains is a difficult task indeed. Without resorting to some sort of half-hearted pluralistic view of the world, the Church must realize its goal of inclusion of the hearts and minds of all those present in life while maintaining the ethical, spiritually numenal (that of God’s realm), spiritually phenomenal (that of this world), and ever-pressing principles that define it as the institution of God on earth. Author Roger Haight sums it up perfectly:
‘Because beliefs express the faith of a community, they should represent the community’s action in society and to the world…What does the faith that is latent in church action say to the common concrete issues of our world today? To massive human suffering, to oppression, to hunger, to dangerous overpopulation, to the extent of human misery and death human beings inflict on other human beings socially, to the destruction of the earth itself, to the relation of this aggressive behavior against the planet to human social suffering?…These issues cannot be isolated or separated off from the interpretation of the object of faith…If [Catholic] interpretation does not respond to these issues, neither will it supply human life with comprehensive unity and meaning which faith purports to give…’ (Haight, 47).
What purpose and use is an authoritarian body or hierarchy within the Catholic Church?
The authority in the Catholic tradition has given it respect unparalleled by many other churches. But it creates a paradox concerning why a body of God’s people needs an institution of control and hierarchical structure. The answer is one of the things that is the beauty of the Catholic Church. Delving into that paradox concerning authority, it is clear in scripture that although the story of Jesus’ life finishes in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles explicitly creates an ‘eschatological tension’ that pushes the Church to a quest of ‘the realization of God in the world community.’ The main task of this mission is laid out in the Ascension story in which Jesus expresses that the task He has started is unfinished and ‘to expect great things from the power they will receive from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for it will make them witness to proclaim what they themselves have witnessed’ (Hellwig, 116).
Since the world is an imperfect reality, ‘unfortunately and inevitably a…governmental authority must exist to keep past sins from becoming present and future sins.’ It is of utmost importance therefore, for the members of the governing body within the Church to exercise qualities Christ outlined (honesty, obedience, etc.) in an even greater way than others, not only to set an example for other followers, but also in order to be a just authority. Obedience is intended, not as a childish way to avoid thought and examination of why rules exist, rather as both an extension of the abovementioned qualities Jesus stressed, and also as a collaboration with the historical Church not devoid of examination and critique (for throughout history we can plainly see mistakes in the Church’s views). The consensus of the local churches is mainly assumed, however, to be very similar due to the belief that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church at large (Hellwig, 134).
The structure consisting of pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, exist primarily to serve the laity through sacramental, administrational, and traditional leadership. Each of these offices is necessary. ‘The papacy is essential to Catholicism’ (Lakeland, 262). The pope is held to be the successor of Peter, not only in ceremony, but in authority. Various councils debated the infallibility of the pope, and today’s conclusion is that he is only infallible when the Church councils say he is (which is very rare and has only happened with great effect twice in the cases of Mary, Mother of Jesus’ Conception and Assumption) (Hellwig, 135). The pope acts only as ‘the servant of the servants of God,’ seeking to provide unity and a final word on Church teaching (Kreeft, 247). His position is one that exists to head the Church by seeking to be the holiest and serve with his entire life.
Bishops, who fall under the title ‘apostolic’ as bestowed by the early Church and apostles, work to is a line that
‘was never broken. For two thousand years, there have been apostles, and the Church will be apostolic until the end of time. Whatever changes may come, aposticity cannot change; it is a defined mark of the true Church (as handed down by Christ Himself). The pope may wander the earth barefoot, begging. The Vatican may move to Moscow. Protestants may unite with Rome. Priests may be allowed to marry. But there will always be bishops’ (Kreeft, 261).
Bishops have many ordinary responsibilities (Gaillardetz, 76). The basic consistency of these duties is tending to the flock through providing teachings pertinent to today’s world. He is not, however, a simple transmission of the pope’s words to the people. A good bishop should exercise clarity and profundity of the Catholic tradition that enables followers to become more with Christ (Gaillardetz, 77). This especially pertains to complicated issues from the world at large that may be difficult for a layperson to examine on their own in light of the faith. In complicated issues that may arise, the bishop should be the first and foremost person in the diocese to address the problems at large to enable the followers to live more fully in God. Contrary to popular thought, a bishop will rarely make a doctrinal statement that is to be followed unless he has been instructed to do so by the seat of Rome and it is a necessary adjustment to the diocese (which is very rare indeed). As extraordinary responsibility is concerned, a bishop may act as a part of an ecumenical council. In these cases, the Magisterium, consisting of bishops and theologians, has a duty to discuss and clarify issues in dire need of adjustment for the world in which we live. In these instances, each individual bishop is not infallible. However the conclusions and final decisions made by the council as a whole are believed to be guided by the Holy Spirit and thus free of detrimental error on terms of faith and morals. The pope has not this ability, nor do any of the bishops on their own. Politics, economics, science, or anything outside of faith and morals are to remain untouched by a council since those areas are not the expertise of the Church (Gaillardetz, 82-83).
The position and relevance of cardinals is a topic often disputed. Lakeland claims ‘there would not be a Catholic Church without bishops, but cardinals and the entire Roman Curia and Vatican city-state and the Vatican diplomatic service are expendable,’ (Lakeland, 262). This statement is a nonissue at best, and ridiculously ignorant at its worst. A cardinal is but a title bestowed by the pope on bishops, priests, and theologians that serves to honor him upon which it is bestowed. The title does not give the recipient any larger of a domain or realm, or much else but an honorary title and the exclusive rights to elect a new pope. The title cardinal is to bishop as monsignor is to priest. No additional power is suddenly vested upon a cardinal, the title exists to honor and commend the recipient and district he is from for service and extensive usefulness to the Church. Though power may not be a result of this title, responsibility is. Cardinals do have responsibilities that ensure that the Church continues its existence and expansion into hearts all over the world. In order to have any legitimate stance from which to speak out against corrupt nations in today’s world, the Church needs to have a body that possesses credibility. The credibility in today’s world is knowledge and counsel, a purpose for which the college of cardinals exist. The cardinals act as the cabinet to the pope, serving to represent the people and advise the pope on the world and Church’s conditions and needs. Therefore, the cardinals are not needed any more than the president’s cabinet is needed. But without the cabinet, the president would run into many problems. The same applies to the pope. No form of government can work without a staff. The ‘solution’ Lakeland presents of replacing the cardinals’ papal election with elected bishops is simply not an option, for there are too many bishops and too many issues to be consolidated and discussed for the pope to derive meaning out of them without a body between the pope and bishops. Besides this fact, the use of cardinals as diplomats for the Church is one that creates unity and fullness in the Church’s mission that could not be achieved without them. The Church is not a democracy, and thank God for it. Cardinals are the experts and we must have faith that the Church is being guided well by them.
It is ironic that those who preach liberation theology often condemn the office of the cardinal as a simple ‘position of power that leads to abuse and inappropriate hierarchical outlooks,’ just like the oppressive and hierarchical governments they condemn function. Even recently, cardinals have shown to be exactly the forces that these liberation theologians seek. Cardinals often act as emissaries to other religions or nations, especially those which oppress their people. In very recent times, one cardinal was asked to be involved in peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Another was asked to be an emissary to the Muslim religion in order to encourage dialogue and philosophy among a group who suppressed these things for a very long time. The Vatican needs diplomatic relations with the world in order to combat injustice and wrongdoing that liberation theology condemns. With cardinals, this is possible. The Vatican has more diplomatic relations with other countries than any country in the world, with about 139 (the United States has diplomatic relations with only around 100). This is why cardinals exist and why their office is so important for completing the Catholic Church’s mission of unifying the world.
At the same time that I promote cardinals and bishops as existing for a whole and fully functioning Catholic Church, there are drawbacks that are possible (of which Lakeland hits upon). The danger of fighting oppressive governments and inappropriate moral movements is a balance. Money and worldly power cannot be used to fight these battles:
‘We must do whatever possible without going beyond the boundaries of the divine principles. We cannot take up the weapons of evil to defeat evil. to do so, even in the defense of good, would be to be doubly defeated. I believe this is Satan’s ultimate objective. Why would a fallen angel want to kill six million, or sixty or a hundred million, or even the whole human race? What would that prove? That he is bad? He already knows that, and God knows it too. No, the prize he is after is no less than to seduce all of mankind into his rebellion. And to do this in the name of good. That would be his masterstroke.’ (Unknown)
The Church must never resort to political or monetary power when dealing with governments, moral decay, or conversion to Catholicism. Though commercialism and money-based tactics of spreading the gospel and liberating the world seem to be the easiest ways to win all for Christ, they are not the way it can be done. The Church therefore has a responsibility, as an authority on moral and theological issues, to be wholesome on an individual level, despite being human. Though this is a difficult task, it is necessary. With the example of the Pentecostal ‘going-forth’, the Church itself must be an example of a redeemed institution while holding no elitist views of itself. It is to be for helping others, not putting them under its own welfare. Through and through, however, as the Church is a human development, imperfections exist and the Church is not exempt from the spiritual striving that humans on an individual level must go through (Hellwig, 123). The abuse scandal attests to this fact. Those priests who engaged in sexual activity with those of their flock with which they were supposed to be guiding have committed serious crimes against themselves, the victims and those around the victims, the Catholic Church, and God Himself. The bishops who moved these priests have also committed serious errors. The damage done cannot be undone as of now, but the Church can be bettered. Although the improvement of the Church is a great undertaking with the damage that has been done, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit as Christ instructed and the hope for the future of those ordained, we must have faith that it is indeed possible and that nothing like this will ever happen again.
To what degree should the needs of its followers push the Catholic Church to reform, especially on issues such as married priests, women priests, jobs of the laity, and the defense of those who can do little to defend themselves (those such as the unborn and those under oppressive governments or disparaging poverty)? Above, we ran into a difficult task: ‘We want a stronger, diverse, and more fulfilled Church by offering conversion and total acceptance of all, but determining how far we can travel down the line of ‘progress for the sake of progress’ without thinning out the tradition and force that the Church contains is a difficult task indeed.’ When stated above, this sentence was used to examine how those outside the Church should effect changes that the Church undergoes. What needs to be addressed in an even more serious and tricky way is how reform should be done within the Church’s body and hierarchy to encompass the mission of the Church more fully. An important idea in the Church that has always been around is the idea of different vocations and the fact that each person is called to serve in a particular way. God’s multi-faceted nature could hardly be expressed by a simple creation of a single type of person, flora or fauna, or even state of matter. Creation reflects a bit of God’s creativity and revelation of Himself to us. This fact gives rise to tension between communion in the Spirit with spontaneity and simplicity vs. institutional strength and stability in the other. (The compromise that formed was the development of a hierarchical government within the Church in addition to the sacramental participation by laity) (Hellwig, 130). As I discussed above, the hierarchy that the Catholic Church possesses, though walking a dangerous line, is a necessary being within the Church. But what of the Body of the Catholic Church?
First, this gives rise to the question of what dissent is appropriate and justified within the Church. How far can one disagree without Church teaching and still call themselves Catholic? Although the hierarchy has seen much opposition, the establishment of Catholic Universities and colleges by the hierarchical Magisterium itself has provided a system that, with research and scholarly debate, helps keep the governmental Church in line on terms of appropriate religious belief (in addition to the laity and every member having a say in directional matters) (Hellwig, 131). This is territory where theologians come in. As far as what beliefs are appropriate to reject, there are also guidelines to four different types of Church teaching (Dogma, Definitive Doctrine, Authoritative Doctrine, Provisional Applications of Church Doctrine, Church Discipline, and Prudential Admonitions). In Church teaching, ‘dogmas are the most authoritative teachings for the simple reason that they facilitate divine revelation, the substance of God’s saving offer to humankind’ (Gaillardetz, 122). The assent by a believer to dogma is one done by way of faith and in order to be a part of the Catholic Church, one must accept dogma as right and true in reference to revelation. Failure to do so results in heresy and implicit excommunication from the Catholic Tradition (though not necessarily a push outside the realm of God’s saving grace). An example of rejecting dogma is rejecting the Incarnation of Jesus.
Definitive doctrine, the second type of belief, includes teachings that do not themselves mediate divine revelation, but are necessary to safeguard and expound revelation’ (Gaillardetz, 123). The Magisterium holds that the believer accepts and holds these tenets of the Catholic faith as true, and disagreement with these premises will not necessarily ever result in excommunication or formal heresy, but it is close. These principles of the Catholic faith are also very important and rejection of them can lead to inconsistency within the person’s belief. An example of this doctrine is belief in the communion of saints.
Next, we have authoritative doctrine. Authoritative doctrine is the giving of the laity of ‘a religious docility of the will and intellect’ to teachings of the Church concerning particularly the moral realms of life. These teachings are not infallible, but many follow them because they feel ‘right’ and truly the Christian way to do things. ‘The believer strives to assimilate a teaching of the Church into their religious stance, while recognizing the remote possibility of Church error’ (Gaillardetz, 123). Failure to abide by these premises is often believed to be sinful by the Church unless several criteria are met. The appropriate process for rejecting a particular belief that the Catholic Church holds to be true follows along a different set of guidelines in order to ensure rejection of a belief is true and appropriate. These criteria include (but are not limited to): willingness to engage in further research on the issue of contention, an examination of conscious to ensure the rejection is not for one’s own personal moral comfort, and finally, a consideration of whether the disagreement is really with the teaching or if it is simply a rejection of the teaching office of the Church (Gaillardetz, 125). If rejection of the authoritative doctrine is still an issue when these criteria are met, the rejection is not viewed as a blatant disobedience of the Church and therefore separation from the Church community is not demanded. An example of an authoritative doctrine is the idea that sex before marriage [or the civil recognition of gay marriage] is not morally acceptable.
The last type of belief in the Catholic Tradition is provisional applications of Church doctrine, Church discipline, and prudential admonitions. These beliefs vary from believer to believer, parish to parish, and country to country. These teachings include application of religious belief into other areas such as science or economics. ‘The believer obeys (in the spirit of) any church law or disciplinary action which does not lead to sin, even when questioning the ultimate value or wisdom of that law or action’ (Gaillardetz, 126). An example of this is a parish priest’s implementation of a certain program to help the poor. One is free to disagree with that program while still having a clear and intact conscience. Interestingly enough, though one may not agree with these beliefs, obedience is common, if only for the sake of obedience. I may obey the speed limit of my neighborhood though I think it too slow, because it is the law. In the life of the Church, I can disagree with laws like fasting and abstinence and still obey them (Gaillardetz, 125, 126).
Second, it is important to discuss what issues should be addressed in order to more fully encompass all believers in the Catholic Tradition. The Vatican II Council worked to change the Catholic Church into a more dynamic and applicable theology for the laity, but many believe that it was ‘outdated before it began’ (Lakeland, 262). Some of the changes enacted were ‘putting the liturgy into language that the people could understand, recognition that the Church was one among many Christian communities and one religion among many, and admission that the Church was not a perfect institution’ (Lakeland, 263). These were not enough for today’s laity. The fact that the laity of the Church is diverse on terms of calling and vocation leads to several other issues that the Church must address. One issue is the idea of married priests and women priests. These two issues do not fall directly under any of the above outlined teachings of the Church, rather they belong in a category of tradition and little else. I would contend that the issues of married or women priests should be changed, but only under a few conditions. The first of which being the way in which the issue is presently discussed. The idea of celibacy may not be the route for everyone, which is a granted in the diverse world we are in. The discussion then, needs to be guided toward chastity. All too often is the issue discussed without even mention of this virtue, which, if taught more fully to priests and laity, might have averted the abuse scandal altogether. However, in all of the literature that I read concerning the dissolution of vows of celibacy for priests so that they might live with a spouse, the idea of chastity was not once mentioned. And maybe it should be. Proper education is the only thing that will allow such a new and, from the Church’s perspective, radical change is education of those who minister in the world. Another thing that the Catholic Church could use is simply education in itself. ‘It is a truism that North American Catholic laypeople are collectively the best-educated laity in the history of the Church’ (Lakeland, 258). But this is not enough. Education in the faith, and of the importance of family is becoming increasingly important in this immoral, atheistic, and religion-hating culture we live in. The Church of Latter-Day Saints seems to do a much better job at emphasizing the importance of family and working to educate believers. We might take a hint from them at some point down the road. In another issue, as I described so vehemently above, I do not think that the hierarchy of the Church should be changed in any drastic way. Many disagree with me. Though there have been scandals in the past, the Catholic Church is the only institution who has survived by righting itself time and time again. Though the hierarchy at first acted to hide these scandals, eventually the hierarchy was the aspect of the Church who dealt with these issues. Perhaps in the future, a Vatican III will discuss these and other issues, but until then we must continue to abide gracefully and obediently in the Church’s arms.
After all is said and done, I am grateful to be a part of such a beautiful institution as the Catholic Church. How and why the Church functions is important not only to know as a semantic picture of the historical church, but also as a way to better faith and understanding of the world beyond this one. This is a great example of how studying tradition can provide many new aspects to a familiar subject and thus indicates the importance of studying the phenomenal to get a better grasp of the numenal.
Gaillardetz, Richard R. By What Authority? Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2003.
Haight, Roger. Dynamics of Theology. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001.
Hellwig, Monika K. Understanding Catholicism. New York: Paulist Press, 2002.
Kreeft, Peter. Fundamentals of the Faith. San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.
Lakeland, Paul. The Liberation of the Laity. New York: Continuum Press, 2003.
*Just a note pertaining to politics that I discussed earlier today with a friend: Abortion falls under the category of definitive doctrine. You cannot believe abortion is morally acceptable and fully remain a Catholic (Sorry Nancy Pelosi)…