Defending the indefensible? Why the Catholic Church wants no talk of women’s ordination

Despite Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s hardline response to Josepha Madigan this week, there is every reason to question masculine dominance of the Church

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin

By Sarah Mac Donald

‘If priests disappear, then Masses will disappear and if Masses disappear, the Church will disappear.” That was the stark warning of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in response to the furore over Minister Josepha Madigan’s involvement in a communion service at her local parish and her subsequent call for the Church to ordain women and permit priests to marry.

Members of the ACP know the reality of the priest shortage first-hand. The Association, which represents over 1,000 Irish priests, most of whom are over 65, has been highlighting for years that priests in Ireland are having to work longer hours, do more work, and retire later due to the decline in their numbers. With so few priests under 40, the future looks bleak.

The robustness of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s response to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s comments surprised many.

The no-show by the priest assigned to say Saturday evening’s Mass in the parish of St Thérèse in Mount Merrion created a dilemma for the parishioners and particularly those like Madigan who are involved in the parish’s Ministry of the Word or the Ministry of the Eucharist.

Rather than send everyone home, they decided to hold an ad hoc service of prayer and distribute pre-consecrated Communion, as is done in many other parishes in Ireland and remote mission parishes around the world. When interviewed about the service, Minister Madigan availed of the opportunity to highlight the shortage of priests and call on the Church to change its teaching that women cannot be ordained priests.

Survey after survey has shown that the vast majority of Catholics in Ireland believe women should be ordained and that priests should be allowed to marry. So there was some bafflement that the archbishop should describe Josepha Madigan’s call as “bizarre”.

Minister Madigan gave voice to a question vexing many of the faithful – why is the Vatican so determined to quash calls for women priests even if it means sowing the seeds of the Church’s extinction? The fact is, this issue has not been aired and debated in the manner it needs to be because of the stricture imposed by the late Pope John Paul II in his 1994 Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which forbids Catholics even discussing the issue of women priests. Now, that is bizarre.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI elevated the ‘crime’ of ordaining women to ministry as one of the most serious, putting it on a par with paedophilia. Those who defy this edict are liable to be excommunicated, those who question it, if they are priests or religious, are liable to be censured by the Vatican and removed from ministry, while lay people working for church organisations are liable to lose their jobs. That is a sufficiently strong deterrent to ensure very few Catholics give the issue of women’s ordination any thought. Furthermore, there are signs of a hardening of attitudes even on the issue of women deacons.

The diaconate is an ordained ministry. But a deacon cannot perform some of the ministries that a priest can. For instance, a deacon cannot consecrate the bread and wine. This week, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF), the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, told reporters that while women deacons existed in the early Church, they were “not the same” as their male counterparts. Cardinal Luis Ladaria said the commission on women deacons, of which he is president and which was set up by Pope Francis two years ago to look at the issue, was examining women deacons’ historical role in the early Church rather than whether women could once again be ordained as deacons in the 21st century. Many will see this as a fudge and contradictory, and perhaps even a little bizarre.

Soline Humbert is one of many Catholic women who feel called to priesthood. “I was 17 when I first felt called to be a priest; 34 when I told my bishop; 37 when we founded Basic (Brothers And Sisters In Christ) to campaign for women who feel called to ordination. (There weren’t even altar girls at the time); and 48 when I met Archbishop Diarmuid Martin about it.”

Sense of calling

The 61-year-old French-born Catholic says there are “other women who have a sense of calling but not to the present broken clericalist model with compulsory celibacy.”

In her opinion, Archbishop Martin’s kneejerk reaction to Minister Madigan is probably due to the fact that “Ireland and Dublin are in the spotlight because of the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit. Archbishop Martin cannot afford to be seen as not fully in charge of a properly functioning diocese – hence his comment on there being no shortage of priests. All cracks have to be plastered over…”

According to Humbert, even though lay-led Communion services are common in Ireland and throughout the world, she has heard that “they are not encouraged” in some Irish dioceses. “The Archbishop would have preferred if the gathered congregation had gone home.” She also believes that one of the main factors for Dr Martin’s antagonism was Minister Madigan’s role in the Yes campaign in the recent abortion referendum and also because her role at the Communion service was headlined as ‘saying Mass’.

“It was all too much. I think the Church authorities are trying to stop the unstoppable, and delay the unavoidable: the Spirit-led gospel equality of women and men. John Paul II tried to forcibly close the discussion in 1994 and Diarmuid Martin and others are feeling more and more under pressure to defend the indefensible on women’s ordination – what Mary McAleese has called ‘codology’.”

Last week, the retired bishop of Middlesbrough in Britain said the time was ripe for the Church to re-examine “the key theological premises regarding the exclusion of women from the priesthood”.

In a letter to international Catholic weekly, The Tablet, Bishop John Crowley said that “as far back as 1965, I had sensed on a purely instinctive, subjective level, that whether someone was married or single, male or female, should not be determinative in admitting someone to the priesthood.”

However, it was made clear to him that he should not express his views publicly. Now that he is retired and has no public teaching role in the Church, he feels able to do so. According to Bishop Crowley, “a growing number of theologians” and “a number of bishops … would want this burning issue to be at least looked at again in a calm, open and public discussion within the Church” in a debate which “is already manifestly happening around the world among many lay people and some priests.”

Chris McDonnell, secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy, agrees that there are many who wish to have this discussion. “Just to say ‘it can’t happen’ is not good enough, the position requires greater justification than that,” he wrote last week in an article for the Catholic Times newspaper.

Furthermore, he believes the oft-quoted argument used to challenge the validity of women’s ordination, “that priesthood was conferred initially on 12 men sharing a Passover meal doesn’t hold water. It is more than likely that other women were present; nowhere in the Gospels is ‘priesthood’ claimed as an exclusive male prerogative. Only through time and custom has that come about.” He believes that the Church “cannot continue to support equality if, within our own community, the Roman Catholic Church, we maintain masculine dominance in a core aspect of our teaching”.

For Soline Humbert, there is an irony and a sense of the Spirit whispering in all that has happened in Mount Merrion. “The parish church is dedicated to St Thérèse. She is the unofficial patron saint of women priests because of her stated desire to be a priest…”

Complete Article HERE!

A New Path for Catholicism?

By Tom Shacklock

With 66.4% of voters saying yes to abortion  in Ireland’s referendum, the Catholic Church has felt its significant political influence over the Irish population diminish. This referendum repeals a ban dating back to 1861, reinforced by the 1983 referendum instituting the constitution’s Eighth Amendment. The changes for Catholicism can be seen further in recent comments from Pope Francis. He assured a gay Chilean and sexual abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz that God made him and loves him the way he is. Thus, May 2018 appears to be another turning point in the Catholic Church’s global influence.

The repeal of the Eighth Amendment marks a progressive step forward in the recognition of women’s rights and respect for the LGBTQ community. In Ireland’s referendum, those who voted yes to repeal the Eighth Amendment included those of all ages and genders, many of whom would have once opposed abortion. For example, two elderly ladies stated, ‘The church always told us what to do and now it’s time for us‘. They rejected a law that has caused numerous Irish women needing abortion to travel to the UK, where abortion is legal, or face serious medical situations, such as in the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar’s death in 2012. The health-based pro-choice arguments have thus outdone and delegitimised the pro-life arguments driven by religion.

This a victory – or rather a relief – for women and families previously neglected by Ireland’s conservative legislation, but it should not be something to lament for the Church itself. The Irish population has not abandoned Catholicism as a religion, as 78.3% of Irish people still identified themselves as Catholic in 2016. Catholicism, as a religion and a culture, still runs in Irish people’s blood. The nation’s Catholic institution should not feel bound to retreat into the shadows of modern secularism. Rather, it needs to accept a change in its role, priorities and identity. The May referendum simply shook the Catholic Church as an institution of power. Catholicism in Ireland can now serve less as a tool to control people’s lives, and more as a system of faith and worship.

A leading figure advocating this modern outlook on the Church’s role in Ireland is Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin. He has recently expressed progressive views on a number of social issues, including the need to accept same-sex marriage in 2015. Regarding the abortion referendum, he acknowledged that the church had been seen as ‘weak in compassion’ by the Irish public. However, he has added to his criticism a suggestion of a new path for the church in Irish society. This entails a different interpretation of the Christian concept of ‘pro-life’. He appropriately argues that ‘pro-life’ means supporting marginalised, impoverished and suffering people. His approach could positively revive the role of the church in Ireland, if other priests and bishops are willing to follow his steps.

When the church expresses its dismay over the legalisation of abortion and same-sex marriage, it forgets its main purposes in society. As Archbishop Martin indicated, this purpose should be to actively provide support and charity when people want and need it, and to guide those who have invested strong beliefs in God on a deep, personal level. If the majority of the Irish public have stated, with their conscience, that abortion is no longer a sin worth worrying about, the church needs to accept this reality. The majority of the Irish public is as Catholic as the priests and bishops running the Church. There is no reason, when this same public demands that abortion be legalised, why abortion should undermine the many other, more meaningful values of Catholicism.

The Pope increasingly recognises this necessity to change the church’s mentality. Unfortunately, his acceptance of homosexuality is not all that progressive, since he has not really endorsed homosexual activity. However, his comments signalled the Catholic Church’s step back from criticising its followers for matters that not even the most conservative of religious figures should consider to be as grave as real global problems today. Following these developments this May, the more religious institutions accept progressive ideas, the more they can restore the image of themselves as bringers of hope and good.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis’ cunning long game

By Damon Linker

Pope Francis’ stealth reform of the Roman Catholic Church shows no sign of slowing down — and may even be accelerating.

Stealth is key here. If the pope had declared earlier this month that henceforth the Roman Catholic Church would authoritatively teach that homosexuals should be happy being gay, that God made them homosexual, and that God himself (along with the pope) loves them just the way they are, it would have been a massive story in the history of Catholicism — and one that quite likely would have precipitated a major schism, with conservative bishops and priests (mainly in North America and Africa) formally breaking from Rome.

But because word of the pope saying these things comes to us second hand, in a report of a private conversation between Francis and a gay man named Juan Carlos Cruz who is also a victim of the clerical sex abuse crisis in Chile, the utterance will go down as just the latest example of the pope making unorthodox statements in settings in which he has plausible deniability and in which he can claim he was speaking as a pastor rather than as an expositor of the church’s official dogmas and doctrines.

Most popes view themselves as caretakers of the church’s authoritative teachings on faith and morals. When it comes to homosexuality, they would therefore be inclined to reaffirm the position laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which clearly states that homosexual desires are “intrinsically disordered” because they are not oriented to the end of procreation. (The same is true of masturbation and other non-procreative sex acts.)

If Pope Francis were a straightforward reformer, he would seek to change church doctrine regardless of the potentially dire consequences for church unity. But Francis is well aware of the limits of his power and the danger of pushing too far too fast. So he has set out on a different, and distinctive, path.

We first saw it early in his pontificate when the pope spoke to reporters about his views on homosexuality. In contrast to Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), who declared in a 1986 letter to the bishops of the church that same-sex desires aim toward an “intrinsic moral evil,” Francis told the press that “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

It continued in September 2014 with a marriage ceremony over which Francis presided at St Peter’s. Some of the 20 couples involved had been previously married, while others had given birth to children out of wedlock or lived with their fiancées before marriage. That prior behavior placed them firmly out of step with the requirements of Catholic doctrine, and yet the pope participated and blessed the marriages.

And on it has gone, through the notorious footnote in the apostolic exhortation that was published at the conclusion of the 2015 Synod on the Family, seeming to give priests the pastoral leeway to offer the sacrament of communion to parishioners who have been divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment of their first marriages. It has made headlines most recently when an elderly Italian journalist asserted that in an interview with Francis the pope had denied the dogma of hell.

And now there is Francis’ apparent elaboration of his latitudinarian beliefs about homosexuality.

What unites all of these examples is a distinctive approach to church dogma and doctrine. Instead of acting as an expositor of these core teachings of the church, the pope selectively diverges from them in his actions and statements without deigning to change the teachings themselves. The implicit message is the same in every case: The pope himself thinks it’s possible to be a member of the church in good standing while failing to abide by all of the institution’s rules.

This is significantly different than the pope acknowledging that everyone is a sinner and will therefore break the rules from time to time. That standard view presumes that the divergence from the rule is a failing that requires repentance and reconciliation (the sacrament of confession), along with the intention on the part of the sinner to do better next time. Francis’ position is different — implying that the lack of conformity to church teaching is acceptable, requiring no change or improvement in behavior.

Juan Carlos Cruz is gay, that’s how God made him, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But of course church teaching contradicts this. Which puts Pope Francis in the position of effectively promulgating two truths — implicitly affirming the official, harsher doctrine while subtly undermining it with a less stringent pastoral teaching. Instead of seeking to change the underlying rules, which would risk divisiveness and even schism, he shows that it’s perfectly alright for a priest or layperson to diverge from or ignore the rule in the name of welcoming as many people as possible to Christ’s church.

Conservative Catholics like Ross Douthat (the author of a new book on this very topic) worry that Francis’ fudging of doctrinal truth will have bad consequences for the church because it simply defers a necessary debate about what the church actually believes. Better to have the argument sooner rather than later.

But I think the pope’s strategy for a longer game displays greater psychological acuity — and Machiavellian cunning. Francis may be betting that once the church stops preaching those doctrines that conflict most severely with modern moral norms, the number of people who uphold and revere them will decline rapidly (within a generation or two). Once that has happened, officially changing the doctrine will be much easier and much less likely to provoke a schism (or at least a major one) than it is in the present.

That’s the great advantage of pursuing a strategy of stealth reform: The seed planted now with a minimum of conflict bears fruits in the future with even less.

It’s never been more obvious that this is precisely what Pope Francis has in mind.

Complete Article HERE!

Appalled by what Catholic Church has become, I am walking away

Bishops touch the head of three newly ordained bishops as Pope Francis celebrates a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in March.

By MARYANNE MCNEIL

I am voting with my feet.

As a 62-year-old practicing Catholic, one would think my religious adherence has been well and truly set. To an extent, that is correct; I love my church’s rites and, most especially, the beautiful sacraments that have helped to sustain me throughout my life.

I appreciate the redemptive power of confession, when used in appropriate circumstances and with the freedom of surrender.

Despite this deeply felt connection, I have concluded my only way forward is to turn away.

For many years, I have been disturbed by the Church’s failure to connect with real people seeking solace of a loving Christ. I’ve been appalled by widespread pedophilia and more appalled by callous cover-ups of those ruinous crimes against children. It seems this Church has forgotten the warning of Jesus against anyone who would harm a child.

Despite the soul-sickness of knowing the depravity to which Church Fathers had descended, I stayed. There was hope of genuine remorse and healing. There was hope this enormous scandal would serve as a clarion call to a transformative renewal.

Instead, after great resistance, grudging admissions were made and cheques were written. There was no renewal.

Still, I lingered, unable to tear myself away from a Church that was seared into my heart. One day, perhaps, I thought, it will come, even as I listened to priests, bishops and cardinals preach against same-sex unions. These men were clear about the sins of those born with bonds of attraction for their own gender, yet they mired themselves in the muck of tepid excuses toward Church child-sex offenders.

Any respect I had for Rome disappeared under the weight of disgust at this hypocrisy.

My heart breaks to think my Church denied millions of African women (along with all the rest of us) permission to use “artificial” birth control methods that could have saved thousands of lives and transformed many thousands more. Even in situations of dire poverty and the subjugation of women to the role of breeder, the Church chose to tote the old adage that “unnatural” birth control was against God’s plan.

The Vatican only recently began to loosen (slightly) this evil edict that consigned so many to misery. That was how African women were thanked and honoured for their great devotion.

I began to think I must leave. My heart still couldn’t quite give up on this institution that, while gripped by systemic corruption thirst for power, still had capacity to instill awe and wonder.

The Second Vatican Council disappeared like a blip under conservatives who now held command. I suffered as the Church’s doors clanged shut and the air, for a few precious minutes fresh with promise, became stale again with the musk of the power lust of the world’s most elite Old Boys’ Club.

I halfway convinced myself I could ignore the foolhardiness of Rome and concentrate on my own little parish, where I felt at home and loved. How could I leave this small congregation that held my heart? It was like a family to me.

Then Pope Francis was elected. A light shone through the cracks to illuminate the darkness, just enough to awaken hope once more. Here was a Holy Man. Here was a follower of the Jesus I perceived when I read His words. Here was the Church’s future, her chance at renewal.

It could have been the beginning of something truly beautiful. If the power brokers had held true faith, they would have knelt before this man of God and followed him to the ends of the Earth. They would have seen he understood the message of Christ and was touched by His love.

Instead, they worked against him and have effectively shrunk his influence. His voice, at first so clear and strong and shining with humility, has been muted. His intentions have been sabotaged. The Club remains untouched and, sadly, seems intractable.

I have loved Pope Francis but I no longer expect he can lead the Church to the kind of renewal so desperately needed. Given his refusal to grant a simple apology to our devastated First Nations for the Church’s large role in the horrors of the residential schools, it is clear he cannot rise above the wagon-circling of the hierarchy. If he cannot prevail against the forces that hold this Church in thrall, then who can?

A priest I respect refused my request that our church bulletin announce a social action walk in support of diversity that some of our local high school students were organizing. “What kind of diversity?” he wanted to know with knitted brow.

Our youngest priest recently said the Church would never allow women priests because “there were none at the time of Christ.” Of course there were none at that time, but there were slaves and horrible executions and all manner of unjust practices, so where is the valid comparison in this line of thinking?

There’s also the issue of celibacy. In North America, churches are closing, not just for lack of parishioners, but also for a dearth of priests. Few men are able to accept a doctrine that denies them the comfort of a family and of a healthy, sanctified fulfilment of their sexuality. While the Church lauds “the sanctity of marriage,” it taints the idea by requiring those who administer sacramental duties to refrain. Such doctrinal ambiguity is leading the Church to self-destruction.

I have come to the point where hope has died. I cannot ignore Rome, for she reaches into my own parish. Her power permeates every nook and cranny of Catholicism. If I stay, I am complicit. If I take my spot in the pew and put my money in the collection, I perpetuate the rot.

I have a daughter and a granddaughter. I cannot bear what my staying would say to them. I can’t stand to know I have modelled a belief that women are secondary humans who have no place as decision-makers or teachers and aren’t equipped to be shepherds in the name of the One we love.

I feel great sorrow in having to accept my Church has deviated far from the simple, loving path of my Saviour. If, as I continue to hope, the great heart at the core of “Mother Church” remains pure, then the power brokers have shut that heart away from her people. The holiness of that heart is love. And love has too seldom guided decisions and doctrines of the Church, a momentous tragedy.

To whom shall we turn when our Church obeys the dictates of power-seeking men rather than the love-giving of God? The answer, for me, cannot lie in accepting the status quo any longer.

At age 62, therefore, I have finally and sorrowfully accepted that my Church will not listen to my voice or the voices of countless others in similar distress. She will not bend her rigid preconceptions, even in the face of precipitous decline. Under her present masters, she is blind and, though I tremble to write it, no longer worthy of loyalty. As the only self-respecting option left to me, though it tears my heartstrings, I am going to vote with my feet.

Complete Article HERE!

What a debate about Pope Francis’s supposed liberalism says about the future of Catholicism

Ross Douthat and Massimo Faggioli argued over Francis’s legacy last week.

By

Two high-profile Catholic thought leaders duked it out last week in a debate over the five-year legacy of Pope Francis — and what his papacy means for a church in crisis.

Longtime intellectual rivals Villanova professor Massimo Faggioli and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat engaged in a conversation on Pope Francis, hosted by Fordham University in New York. The debate ultimately developed into a far broader question: How far should the church change in dialogue with modern sexual ethics when it comes to issues like women priests, divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage?

And — perhaps even more importantly — the conversation turned broader still, as both participants asked if change should be seen as a theologically necessary part of the Catholic tradition.

Faggioli, a self-professed liberal Catholic, and Douthat, a conservative, have long expressed differing views on Francis’s papacy, and on the trajectory of the Catholic Church more generally through bold rhetoric on Twitter.

Since the beginning of Francis’s time as pope, much secular media attention has focused on what, to non-Catholics, have appeared to be relaxed stances on usually taboo issues for Catholics. Francis’s papacy, while changing little in terms of Catholic doctrine, has nevertheless made welcoming those who fail to follow that doctrine (whether on abortion, LGBTQ issues, or divorce) into the Catholic community a priority.

For example, Francis opened a temporary window for women who have had abortions to seek forgiveness from the church in 2015. One of his most famous early statements may have been asking “Who am I to judge?” when it comes to homosexuality, although Francis has elsewhere maintained traditional Catholic doctrine.

Douthat, a Catholic convert, has frequently been critical of what he deems Francis’s divisive tactics, including using unofficial or “leaked” communications to the media to informally express more controversial views. He also opposes a willingness to, in his view, upend church tradition for the sake of pacifying liberal attitudes and retaining church membership.

For his part, Faggioli, an admirer of the Francis pontificate, has frequently condemned Douthat as an intellectual dilettante, criticizing his lack of formal theological training and what he sees as Douthat’s partisan perspective on church issues.

Their personal disagreement masks a wider debate, not simply between “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics, or between “progressives” who want to change the church to fit contemporary cultural mores and “traditionalists” who want to preserve the church exactly as it was.

It’s a debate between those who see a degree of dynamism as already part and parcel of what it means to be Catholic, and those who see it as an exterior, dangerous force.

The debate on Francis is also a debate on the aftermath of Vatican II

Although Faggioli and Douthat’s debate was about the pope, it wasn’t just about the pope. Central to their disagreements were their perceptions of the effects of Vatican II (formally known as the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965), which explored if and how the church should adapt to a changing world.

At that point, Catholics the world over were still responding to the aftermath of World War II, and the Holocaust in particular, leading some Catholics to question the language and tone with which the church approached interfaith issues.

Those changes under Vatican II included an increased focus on ecumenical relations, and on Catholic-Jewish relations. But the relative liberalization of Vatican II (for example, eschewing Latin during Mass) has often been seen by later critics as paving the way for an acceptance of more extreme elements of “modernity,” such as the sexual revolution. That movement challenged the formal Vatican positions on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce, and premarital sex more generally.

Official church doctrine has never changed on any of these positions (nor, should it be noted, has even the “liberal” Pope Francis ever sought to change them).

Still, the “spirit of Vatican II,” or its overall ecumenical ethos, is cited by proponents and critics alike to refer to post-Vatican-II liberalizing tendencies that exceed the remit of Vatican II’s more narrow reforms. To Vatican II’s critics, a broad definition of this spirit is responsible for a more general “liberalization” in the church.

The subsequent half-century or so of the Catholic Church has been marked by various popes’ differing responses to and reckoning with Vatican II, its spirit, and the question of what “moving forward” even means within a Catholic context. That brings us to the current debate — last week’s and among Catholics in general — around Pope Francis’s somewhat lax views.

Faggioli and Douthat’s debate reflected broader divides

Douthat, a perhaps more natural debater, took a more aggressive approach, referring to a coming “schism” and a “civil war” in the church, and saying that Francis’s approach risked fomenting a “crisis of papal authority itself.”

Speaking specifically about Francis’s opening to providing communion to remarried couples, Douthat warned that, by relaxing rules around communion, Francis risked promulgating the idea that “the papacy allows for changes around these contested issues of sexual ethic,” and thus challenging the idea — central to Catholic theology — that the church’s continuity on issues remains unchanged.

Faggioli, though, rejected Douthat’s very premise. Focusing on continuity as a metric for a “good” pope, he says, and “looking at Catholic doctrine in terms of continuity or discontinuity, in my mind, assumes one thing: that Christianity, at some point … was complete.”

Furthermore, Faggioli said his assessment of Francis’s perspective centered not on doctrine but on pastoral care. The church need not change its teachings, he said, but rather ask itself, “What can the Catholic Church do to make the faithful able to receive sacraments?”

For Douthat, Pope Francis represents a break with tradition so profound that it risks rendering a fundamental principle of Catholic thought irrelevant: the idea that the church exists in continuity with its past traditions and perspectives.

Citing the case of allowing parish priests license to grant communion to remarried Catholics, which Francis has quietly campaigned for, Douthat argued that such a procedure would, in practice, vitiate the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage (because, in Catholic tradition, marriage is seen as an irreversible sacrament between the couple and God, divorce is not seen as legitimate).

It is, for Douthat and other Catholic conservatives, a back-door form of Catholic-sanctioned divorce. By advocating for it and similar reforms, Francis, in Douthat’s view, represents a dangerous figure for the church: one too willing to cede ground to modern liberalism.

Faggioli, though, argued that Douthat’s perspective — of “continuity” and “discontinuity” within church tradition — was flawed and ahistoric. He pointed out that Francis is not seeking to allow divorce — something that would be a striking change in church teaching — but only advocating that divorced and remarried couples be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion — and thus participate fully in church life.

Instead, Faggioli said, Douthat’s view failed to reflect the way in which Catholic tradition has long existed in dialogue with itself, and how interpretations of Scripture have consistently grown and developed over time. The Catholic tradition, Faggioli said, “is not a mineral, it’s an animal. It moves. It adapts. It grows.”

Decades after Vatican II, the church faces demographic and social upheaval

While Douthat and Faggioli differ on the degree to which the Catholic Church is in danger, it’s fair to argue that it is — if not in crisis — at least in flux.

Decades of sex abuse scandals have eroded public trust in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Mass attendance has drastically fallen in America and Europe, especially among young adults. There is an increasingly severe shortage of Catholic priests. And the face of Catholicism is changing, too. Catholicism is in decline in Western Europe and America, but drastically on the rise in Africa. Like it or not, the church is changing in demographics if not doctrine.

But the question remains: Where do we go from here?

The debaters’ differing perspectives may be as attributable to their methods as their politics. Douthat’s interest lies in the church as an institution; the questions he asks focus on that institution’s survival and transformation.

In many of his columns, as well as in his forthcoming book, To Change the Church?, Douthat approaches the church as a political scientist might, looking at how different conservative or modernizing factions have jockeyed for support and survival. His questions of “continuity” and “discontinuity” are questions one asks of an institution, rather than a faith.

Douthat comes to the study of the church as a zealous outsider, and that perspective — one that tends to see the church as a holistic, uniform body that, while sometimes under temporary threat, nevertheless remains intact — suffuses his work. That Francis seems to endanger that perceived unity makes him a threat.

Frequently during the debate, Douthat warned of the potential of a schism within the Catholic Church as a result of Francis’s developments: “Things can break … there is a deep conflict.”

Faggioli, however, is both a church historian and a trained theologian, whose concern is both with the church as an institution and with theology as a living, dynamic body of discourse, constantly being shaped by new questions and voices both inside and outside the academy.

As a theologian, he appears more comfortable with the often-murky process by which the exploration of ideas — theological debate — becomes calcified into church doctrine, and the way in which these ideas morph and change over time. Rather than arguing whether or not the church should adapt to shifting culture, he argued that a degree of dynamism is part and parcel of church tradition and always has been.

The Catholic Church’s priority should be on finding ways for the faithful to remain within the church, not expelling those who do not follow its teachings, he says. (And it’s important to stress, in this debate, neither Faggioli nor Francis is necessarily saying that its teachings should change. Faggioli’s point is about access, not ideas).

Both Douthat and Faggioli ask vital questions. And Douthat’s challenge — how does an institution address cultural change without losing its founding principles — is completely valid. Any answer that does not take seriously that for faithful Catholics, the doctrine being debated is a matter of weighty metaphysical truth, not just politics or optics, fails to appreciate the gravity of the question being asked.

Faggioli’s response — that “in order to get close to Jesus, there has to be some kind of discontinuity” — may provide “liberal” Catholics a viable alternative to Douthat’s reactionary historicism, and a way forward for a church that is both weighed down and grounded by its past.

Complete Article HERE!