Friday, August 6, 2010

Not Really a Big Deal

So, there has been a lot of conservative uproar over this video posted on a parish website by a priest in Nashville describing what he sees as the major problems in the Church today. Personally, I think his analysis is realistic and pragmatic, but there is now a lot of drum-beating about him being prosecuted for heresy. He has already been "silenced" before, in the early 90's, even about the merely disciplinary (and thus debatable) question of ending mandatory celibacy in the priesthood (and it does need to be ended). That's absurd.

First, though I think he probably does hold liberal positions on these issues based on his statements about conscience and obedience...if you actually listen to the video, he never really does advocate divorce and remarriage, nor women's ordination to the priesthood. He simply says these are issues that divide Catholics in the pews, that many Catholic disagree on, which the bishops refuse to even discuss, and which have caused many people to be driven away. And they are. Whatever you believe about these issues, that's just a sociological fact; those issues are major issues for people in the Church and need to be addressed more effectively than they have been, though I don't think that has to involve changing teachings. But if they want to face the massive collapse the Church is facing right now, they can't be in denial over the fact that the problem exists.

His only explicit dissent is, later, when he says the Pope should apologize for the teaching on birth control (advocating deaconesses is not heretical; the Orthodox, in fact, treat the question as a non-issue in certain contexts). But, again, that the reiteration of the teaching on contraception in Humanae Vitae (as prophetic as it was) drove people away and was part of the huge breakdown of Catholic unity and the facade of institutional simply a historical fact.

And he's likewise spot-on about the crisis of leadership, lack of accountability and initiative among the bishops, the major problems with mandatory celibacy, the problems with authoritarianism and hyper-centralization in Rome, and the dysfunctionalism among current seminarians and the seminary atmosphere. But no, "good Catholics" aren't allowed to discuss any of those things. We're just going to pretend those problems don't exist and defiantly stay the current self-destructive course...

Like I said, I would bet my life this priest does hold liberal positions, but he was very careful; he never explicitly advocated for any of them except perhaps contraception. And if he were smart, he'd point out to whatever inquisitors decide to come after him that he could have just been talking about the Vatican's specific casuistic (and therefore debatable) policy as regards the availability of condoms in the fight against AIDS in poor countries among people who are already promiscuous, or something like that.

And if you went after every Catholic or even priest who didn't fully accept the teaching on contraception...well, it would be a minority in the Church prosecuting a majority (though I'm definitely not saying that makes the majority right). For the most part, though, he didn't advocate for these positions...he merely said these areas are a problem for many of your average Catholics, and that's just the truth. It's like the bishops and self-proclaimed orthodox want to live in a world of denial about it.

Though I don't like heresy or liberalism, I think if Catholics simply refuse to have these conversations or discussions and continue a regime of groupthink conformism, the Church is going to continue to stagnate. This priest's analysis is honest and realistic. And even if I can't support the solutions he probably imagines...there is no denying the problems that need to be dealt with. Shooting the messengers is never a good sign.


sortacatholic said...

I agree. Fr. Breen's keepin' it real with his observations on the state of the American Church. He'll be the canary in the coal mine because of it. He has the guts to say to the camera what many priests would never dare to say in public. I don't agree with everything he says, but at least he's forthright. He also sounds just like Johnny Cash, which is cool and weird.

I'm completely on board with his petition for married priests. Nothing heretical about that. He's also 100% right about the state of the seminaries and the intellectual abilities of seminarians. A LOT of Catholics are in big time denial about that last point, but in private priests often criticize the seminaries.

His bishop is in a bind. Muzzle Fr. Breen, and the laity will cry foul that the bishops shuffled abuser priests around only to quickly silence a elderly outspoken priest. Laicize him, and expect a national uproar. The conservative/fundamentalist Catholics don't realize that the sex abuse crisis has empowered the "lower clergy" and the laity to speak their minds on almost anything. The old methods of censure and defrocking will backfire.

Michael D said...

I will say this about Fr. Breen: he's certainly got a lotta chutzpah, and probably hit the mark when discussing clerical abuses and institutional impotence.
However, I cannot bring myself to agree with much of what he said, nor with your opinion, A Sinner, that he cleverly disguised it.

If he was trying to equivocate, then he didn't do a very good job. At one point, he in fact claims that birth control would help parents be responsible. This is true, if by "responsibility" he means lacking an appreciation for the totality of sexual relations, and setting an example for your children of the kind of self-gratifying behavior that characterizes the MTV culture; very responsible.

I'm curious if Fr. Breen would plotz if he discovered these people weren't even using the biodegradable condoms, after all, it's crucial we all think about something other than ourselves, and make the responsible choice for the environment (what kind of mint?).

Furthermore, not only does Fr. Breen say there should be an apology on the matter of birth control, but also that there ought to be an apology for a past in which women were not allowed to be deacons! I mean, offer the argument that women should be allowed into the deaconate, but by what right does he dare demand an apology on behalf of the past in that regard?

Finally, and also on the topic of ordaining women: he claims that "we believe in justice", (The gist being that supporting women deacons in the short run would in the long run lead to the equality of ordaining women priests.) Then he elaborates further with, "women should have the same rights as men." Well, they do, but that's not what's at issue. Ordination is not a matter of justice. None of the sacraments are a question of justice; no one can lay claim to any sacrament as a right. No one deserves to be ordained (albeit certain individuals within a culture of clerical abuse and entitlement might have a pridefully convinced themselves differently); sacraments are a matter of divine grace, not of justice – God does not owe any of us (men or women) a right to be ordained.

Huh, that was a lot more invective than my usually reserved self would put it. Maybe my narrow-minded and unprogressive comments will spark the kind of dialogue Fr. Breen keeps harping on.

A Sinner said...

"However, I cannot bring myself to agree with much of what he said, nor with your opinion, A Sinner, that he cleverly disguised it."

I never said it was "cleverly disguised." I was merely troubled by the way so many conservative commentators jumped on this video as if it were merely a blatant 14-minute heresy fest. As if this guy was just an irrelevant old hippie who didn't realize that the younger Catholics are orthodox and traditional, etc.

But are they? The ones who are involved, possibly. But the video was mainly about the question of lapsed Catholics. About how many Catholics simply no longer practice because the Church seems irrelevant to THEM.

Really, his point doesn't seem to be to push his own heretical opinions (though he makes them clear a few times), but merely to discuss the fact that so many Catholics have left the Church or no longer find it credible because of these same teachings.

The thoughts he expressed are precisely the thoughts of many or most lapsed Catholics...and, though he made it clear he shares such thoughts, his personal opinions really weren't the point as all the conservative bloggers seem to be portraying it.

His point, I think, was an attempt to show empathy with the lapsed Catholics and to present these ideas as the thoughts of many lapsed Catholics.

And they are. That's just a reality that can't be denied. How we deal with it is up for debate, but I think he and I would agree: the solution can't just be saying "Good riddance!" or shaking the dust off our sandals anymore.

The hierarchy has failed in the areas of these teachings, not because the teachings themselves are wrong, nor even because they have done a bad job at presenting the arguments for them on an abstract theoretical level. If this was a fair competitively judged debate...the Church would clearly win.

But it's not. Most people are not going to be concerned with such abstract theological arguments where these teachings are some sort of intellectual construct. Religion and morality for most people are a much more visceral phenomenon, and while the Church has been fighting for the Minds of the faithful, they've let their Hearts be ensnared by the World.

Look at how successful groups like the Mormons are at gaining and retaining members and having them be orthodox. Let me tell you: it's not because they make a very convincing argument on the intellectual level.

A Sinner said...

And that goes for these teachings too. People who can look at things objectively like you or I can understand that ordination isn't a right and see the symbolism of an all-male priesthood, etc. But most people do not really believe things because of some abstract intellectual conviction. It is very hard to remember, "Do as they say, not as they do" and to remember the abstract theory about the sacraments not being a right...when there is a culture of clerical privilege instead of service, and the obvious dysfunctional sociological dynamic in the all male priesthood, in the concrete, on the practical clearly one of misogyny, patriarchy, closeted homoeroticism, cronyism, etc.

Most people are going to have a hard time swallowing the idea that they have to forget reality and remember the ideal. That they have to ignore the questionable motives of the messengers in favor of the message.

There's also the fact that the hierarchy has largely sold out to notions of classical liberalism, Western individualism, and other fundamental ideas of the current culture...but then tries to maintain a veneer of these teachings which are native to a different cultural mindset. And, in that sense, there is a contradiction, and we can't blame people for pointing it out.

It's like the gay marriage question. We look rather hypocritical now trying to fight this one idea as if in a vacuum...when we long ago seemingly acquiesced to the idea of marriage as about romantic love and individual fulfillment rather than as a social duty determined by the community, arranged by families, etc. The whole cat needs to be put back in the bag, or else there is an inconsistency.

Anonymous said...

I don't think this guy is particularly dangerous. I've heard this old liberal prattling before from priests, it isn't anything groundbreaking. Raising a stink over his commentary would only give him undue attention and there are far too many priests and laymen of that generation that share his opinions.

As to discussion, some of these things are just dead horse issues. The ordination of women, even to some sort of deaconess role, signing petitions to Rome, etc. all seem like a massive waste of time or are very inopportune considering the state of affairs.

As to the Church loosing people's hearts, this is the problem with people following after their "feelings". What you say is true about the average person's positions on religion and morality, it is usually an emotional and/or visceral response. If they let their emotions and passions do their "thinking" there is no way we can compete with the World. We can't sink to the world's level in appealing to bestial instinct.

A Sinner said...

"What you say is true about the average person's positions on religion and morality, it is usually an emotional and/or visceral response. If they let their emotions and passions do their "thinking" there is no way we can compete with the World. We can't sink to the world's level in appealing to bestial instinct."

That attitude is simply not traditional, though. Do you read "Reditus"?? I may not agree with him about everything, but on this point he is spot-on.

The modern American self-proclaimed guardians of orthodoxy want everyone to have this deep intellectual commitment to the Faith.

But, the fact is, throughout history, Faith has not been for most people the abstract philosophical exercise many modern conservative Catholics want it to be. Some sort of thought-out logical systematic thing.

People believed because of signs and wonders, or because of fear and guilt, or because of spiritual ecstasies and beauty, or because of family expectations or social conformity, or because they needed structure and discipline, or change in their lives, or hope, or inner peace, or community, etc ad infinitum.

By concentrating on just the intellectual "apologetics" approach...the Church will win the battle but lose the war. Will win the debate, but lose the audience.

Anonymous said...

What does St. Thomas say concerning an act of Divine supernatural faith? It is an act of the intellect owing to the movement of the will which is itself moved by grace.

That said, what you say is also true. My own faith has not been built solely on the acceptance of first principles and intellectual truths. The Improperia, for instance, is theologically rich but the chant and the emotion it engenders is much more powerful and moving than that theological content alone. Also, I for one have never argued someone into the Faith. Bringing people to witness the beauty of the traditional Mass (for instance) has done much more than any of my arguments. Plopping the Summa Theologica down in front of a C&E Catholic and telling them to read it is probably not going to do much to help them out.

We need both aspects though and both in such a way that neither absolutely overshadows the other. An overemphasis on the intellectual engenders rationalism while going the other way we have fideism, superstition or other such things.

As such, what are we to do? Some think we need to ape the tactics of some Protestant sects who work to appeal to the emotions (i.e. in Charismaticism or in the various 'youth group' projects that are popular now). This is toted as a way to "meet 'em where they are at" yet it seems that there is not much effort put forward at taking people beyond the emotional sugar highs.

A Sinner said...

"What does St. Thomas say concerning an act of Divine supernatural faith? It is an act of the intellect owing to the movement of the will which is itself moved by grace."

True, but several points.

One, an "act of" Faith is potentially different than having Faith, which is an INFUSED virtue that even baptized infants have. Reducing Faith to "belief" (ie, mentally holding an idea to be true) is a notion I associate with sola fide Protestantism.

Second, I'm not saying people shouldn't submit their intellect to assenting to the doctrines of the Faith. I think they should. My point was that their motive for doing so doesn't need to be having been intellectually persuaded, doesn't have to be a syllogism.

As you say, it is ultimately a choice, an act of the WILL. The occasion of grace that moves it MIGHT be an apologetics type rational argument...but, for the vast majority of humanity, the grace for choosing to assent to Catholic dogma is much more likely to take the form of one of those other things I listed.

"I for one have never argued someone into the Faith."

Well, exactly.

I may have succeeded that way once or twice, actually, because there is a type of person (including myself) for whom the rationality and intellectual consistency and truth of it all are, in fact, the primary appeal.

But for the most part, for most people...the apologetics "debate" approach...doesn't seem to be terribly effective, at least in my personal experience.

And why should it be? Different people are made different ways. I think it is one of the great pastoral failures of modern Catholicism (and this goes back some time now) that we concentrate so much on that "convincing mentally" aspect, to the exclusion of all the other forms that grace and conversion can take.