In Formation

Friday, July 19


Another view of the NAC

Yesterday, I posted some comments by Todd Reitmeyer that addressed his experiences at the NAC. Today, Father Jim Tucker offers a different view.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/19/2002 |

VOTF and McBrien's version of Vatican II

For some in-depth analysis of the selective quotation Rev. Richard McBrien employed in his Tidings essay, see Summa Contra Mundum.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/19/2002 |

Keeping the faith, changing the Church

Fr. Richard McBrien, in today's Tidings, offers a review of Vatican II documents that seem, on their face, to demand the sorts of changes in Church governance (and discipline and teaching?) advocated by Voice of the Faithful. The problem with his piece is that it assumes that the initiatives for lay involvement envisioned at Vatican II have yet to begin.

Whether Voice of the Faithful or any similar lay initiative will continue to flourish as a pastorally-effective force in the church long after the current crisis disappears from the media's radar screens is something that no one can predict at this juncture.

What one can safely predict, however, is that the hopes of Vatican II will never be fulfilled without the direct and meaningful involvement of laity in the life and mission of the Catholic Church.

Fr. McBrien makes it seem as if the Vatican II Chuch has been waiting (thus far, in vain) for some group, like VOTF, to jump-start the changes the Council envisioned. But, of course, much has already been done along those lines. Admittedly, much work remains to enact Vatican II, but the work differs markedly from the agenda VOTF has set for this weekend.

The motto of VOTF is "Keep the faith; change the Church." Their focus, obviously enough, is changing the Church. But the problem we face is surely with the former. The scandal was not caused by bad Church structures, but by the failure of laity and some clergy to keep the faith. Many of those who are agitating for change would prefer to keep the focus on others. They'd rather change Church teaching and disciplines than conform their lives to the Gospel.

We must not deceive ourselves that the problems with the Church are primarily structural. The problems that caused this scandal lie in the human heart. We (the members of the Body of Christ, the Church) have been insufficiently attentive to the Spirit, we have failed to live the Gospel life, we have forgotten about sin or have wanted to define deviancy down, we have often failed to live our baptismal call to work for the coming of the Kingdom.

Regrettably, the VOTF conference this weekend distracts us from what we all--lay and clergy alike--should be about. The profound need at the present is not the reformation of Church structures, but the conversion of hearts to Jesus Christ. Yes the Church needs to change, but what is needed is a different stance toward the world not a different structure.

In short, we need the Church to unapologetically proclaim the Gospel, for the Truth we preach is the one that sets us (and the world) free. Oh, yes, and we also need to live that truth transparently, as witnesses of the power of the Paschal Mystery. Let's get to it, Church. If we do that, we'll be sure to keep the faith.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/19/2002 |

Wednesday, July 17


Defenders of Michael Rose

Two men from the North American College in Rome have come out in defense of Michael S. Rose and his Goodbye, Good Men. On several occasions, Fr. Bryce Sibley of A Saintly Salmagundi fame (and NAC grad) has defended Rose against what I (and other bloggers) consider quite reasonable critiques of Rose's book.

Then yesterday, in comments he placed on a post by Fr. Sibley that included the complete text of Rose's response to the "OSV attack," Deacon Todd Reitmeyer (current NAC student) said this:

I find it amazing that people are attacking Rose. I am a current seminarian at a great seminary but even I have seen evidence during my time of the things he mentions. Also the reputation of many of these places is as he reports it amongs other seminarians.

The orthodox persecution is accurate. Seminarians pick and choose professors based on it.

The Gay Subculture is accurate. I have never been surrounded by so many effeminate men in my life and this is even at a good seminary. Not to mention I have been told to keep my opinions on homosexuality and the priesthood to myself because they could cause me problems. I have been propositioned and had people attempt contact with me while I was in the seminary.

If you react they call you homophobic. I am sorry but I have never been afraid of a homosexual or effeminate man in my life. I don't like being around them though and I especially don't like living with them. However if you don't dance or at least don't make waves your in for some trouble.

Some seminarians may have been bad choices. Mr. Rose can't control that. He just reported the facts. His conclusions about the underlying issues and there presence is right on though.

The problem with Todd's remarks, like the defenses offered by Fr. Bryce Sibley, is that they tend to confuse criticism of Rose's method with "attacks" on Rose's person and his thesis.

Admittedly, many trustworthy men and women have come out in defense of the basic thesis of Rose's book. But that does not mean Rose wrote a good book or did a good study. On this score, it is important to note that Rose created his own problem. He published a book that employs profoundly weak methodology. And that gave easy ammunition to those who want to challenge his thesis. Had Rose done a better job with his research, we wouldn't be drowning in his self-defense.

I also have some major concerns about the way Todd is making his argument in these comments. He reports that some of the problems in Rose's book are present at the NAC. Then he makes a problematic leap. He assumes things must be worse at other seminaries. Of course, what he assumes may be true, but his assumption does not prove anything.

Furthermore, he defends Rose's thesis by drawing on his own experience and what he has heard about other seminaries. And that, of course, is the problem. Rose reports reputations. His book is full of anecdotes and horror stories from mostly disgruntled former seminarians.

Now, if what Rose reports is true (today) of the seminaries Rose paints pink with his broad brush, then those issues need to be addressed. But, as I have said before, we need a better study than Rose's to prove the point.

For now, I simply invite the kind former and current NAC men to refrain from giving Rose their Nihil Obstat and imprimatur until they have talked with a few more seminarians like myself. If they think things are worse at other places just because things are (evidently) bad at the NAC, they are simply revealing their bias and their pride in their alma mater.

Be that as it may, it is interesting to note what counter-intuitive conclusions we might draw about the NAC and Mundelein if we based them on the anecdotes of St. Blog's two seminarians. Specifically, on those measures of concern to Michael S. Rose and his defenders, the NAC would seem to be in much worse shape than Mundelein. Interesting, eh? I wonder what Michael Rose would think of that.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/17/2002 |

Lost and found vocations

A couple of months ago, I asked for prayers for a fellow-seminarian, one who was (naturally) overwhelmed by scandalous news from his diocese about the "Situation." At the time, I said he is one of the "good ones." He was (and is) among the best seminarians I know. Because of what he was experiencing in his diocese, though, he began to seriously question his vocation.

This past week, he flew to Chicago to witness his good friend take final vows at Marmion Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery not far from here. While he was in town, he, another seminarian, and I had a chance to enjoy a great meal and conversation at an open-air restaurant in Lincoln Park.

The conversation was great (as were the food and drink). We each talked about our summer assignments and the things we've been learning about ourselves, ministry, and the priesthood.

The other seminarian recently returned from Mexico with reports about all he had learned and how much he had grown to love the Mexican people and culture. I described my own valuable experiences learning about African-American ministry here in Chicago. Best of all, though, was what our friend who had been seriously questioning his vocation told us. "I'm back," he said. And he's excited again about becoming a priest. It is obvious that he will return next month to the seminary with a greater zeal for the gospel and a renewed commitment to priestly ministry.

Then, at the end of the evening, he thanked us for our support and prayers during his "vocational crisis." He said it was the strength of the Body of Christ that pulled him through. And I know he's right.

Because you are members of the Body that sustained (and continues to sustain) him, I thank all of you for your prayers. For a while this summer, my friend's vocation was "lost." But because of the prayers and encouragement of men and women like you, he "found" it again. That's reason enough for rejoicing, but there's more. The power of the Paschal Mystery made his resurrected vocation stronger than ever. So, he's not just "back," he's wiser and more loving because of the suffering he endured.

I said in my blog two months ago that this seminarian's vocation might be an unfortunate casualty of the crisis. But because our God is so good, I can say that his vocation is stronger because of the pain and suffering he endured these past months. Of course, it's also stronger because of the love and prayers of men and women like you. So I just want to add my voice to that of the Heavenly Host: Alleluia! And thanks for praying!

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/17/2002 |

Overdue update

A few weeks ago, I asked for prayers for a fellow-seminarian, George, who underwent surgery to have a valve replaced in his heart. With gratitude to God, I can report that George is well on his way to recovery. He's been at the rectory for a couple weeks now, and is doing very well. Thanks to all those who joined me in praying for him. He thanks you too.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/17/2002 |

Another (counter-cultural) Christian priority

This time, it's excellence over effectiveness, nicely diced by Professor Karl Schudt with some help from Alasdair MacIntyre, who (I learn today) has become a Catholic.

Did Jesus propose goods of effectiveness or excellence? It is clear that Jesus proposes a virtue/excellence morality: we are to be perfect, as our Father is perfect. Jesus tells us to be good, he doesn't tell us to be successful. So folks like Rupert Everett, Andrew Sullivan, and many squishy bishops who propose that moral rules be changed, either to prevent the spread of a disease, to reduce shame, to increase collections, or to make the churches full again, miss the point completely. We are to do good no matter if the mountains fall, not because by doing good we will accomplish great things, but because by doing good we are acting like God. We may never achieve victory in this life. But we can do better. We can become Christlike.

Hmmm. Not a bad goal, that.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/17/2002 |

Another salvo in the war of Rose's book
A Saintly Salmagundi posts Michael S. Rose's denunciation of Our Sunday Visitor's "attack" of his book, Goodbye, Good Men.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/17/2002 |

Tuesday, July 16


Tough talk from Bishop-watcher Keating

Whatever one might say about Governor Frank Keating, he is no patsy. In today's Tribune, he confirms that he is a man on a mission. If negative reaction to his earlier words about the bishops was intended to temper his tone, he seems neither to have noticed nor cared.

His spirit of independence may prove, in the end, to be problematic, but cover-up will not be among the problems in his wake. He is on a personal mission to "shout the sins from the housetops." But, more than anything else, he wants to clean up the reputation and the ranks of the priesthood. And there can be little doubt that there are plenty in the pews and the priesthood cheering him on.

Priests who ask the Vatican to overturn their banishment from the Catholic altar are "shameful" and violating the spirit of the zero-tolerance policy for sexual abusers, unless they are adamant about their innocence and not merely challenging the strict order, said Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who is leading the church's inquiry into the scandal.

"If the reason they are appealing is because they didn't do it and they are unrighteously accused, then they are absolutely right to appeal," he said. "But on the other hand, if they are appealing simply because they want to delay it, they want a technicality to get their collar back, I think that's shameful."

Keating, a lifelong Catholic serving his final year as Oklahoma's governor, was selected to oversee the review board because of his penchant for speaking his mind. The question of appeals is the first of many controversies Keating expects will arise in his new assignment, which also will include the task of challenging the country's most powerful bishops who are closely tied to Rome.

"I'm very independent. I don't genuflect or apologize to the prelates. My Catholicism is my Catholicism," Keating said. "A predator priest should be prosecuted. A bishop who transfers a priest from child to child should resign and perhaps even be prosecuted. I don't have any sympathy for this kind of reckless, sinful, criminal conduct."

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/16/2002 |

Monday, July 15


Youth, joy, and dissent

Sad, sad news from Toronto about a counter-conference during the World Youth Day event.

A group called Challenge the Church has organized a five-day program that includes mass said by a woman and a mock trial charging a church leader with "hypocrisy, secrecy, mistaken teaching and suppression of dissent."

It will run concurrently with the massive World Youth Day event, which will gather young Catholics from around the world in the last week of July. Speakers at Challenge the Church will endorse ordination of women and a reformed church in which not only bishops but the Pope himself -- or maybe herself -- is elected.

"I hope this will be a joyful experience and we can blow the lid off," said Sister Veronica Dunne, one of the organizers. "This will be a real expression of faith and of God transforming our lives, and will highlight God's presence in the community."

Challenge the Church members say World Youth Day will offer only a top-down, male-dominated view of Catholic faith and that controversial issues such as women's role in the church, birth control, married clergy and sex-abuse scandals will not be addressed.

The organizers say they hope it will be a joyful experience, but the event will focus on all they say is wrong with the Church. It will be driven by the negative energy of frustration, anger, bitterness, and perhaps even hate. That doesn't sound like a recipe for joy to me.

(Thanks to Kathy Shaidle for the link.)

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/15/2002 |

Voices of the Faithful

A fascinating commentary by a Presbyterian pastor on potential costs of giving the laity more control in the Catholic Church (Thanks, Amy, for the link).

Along with institutional unity [of the Catholic Church] comes remarkable moral clarity, which has important political impact and often shapes civic life. Whether or not you agree with him, John Paul II is clear about where he stands: He is pro-life; pro-celibate priesthood; anti-contraception; anti-ordination of women . . . . Catholics have a clear sense of which direction their moral guidepost points. And Christians and non-Christians alike often look with admiration on such clarity in today's relativistic world. Just consider the way Catholic teaching about the sanctity of life has affected health care delivery, especially at the end of life. Catholic hospitals have led the way in providing palliative care for dying patients.

We Presbyterians, by contrast, have trouble coming to a clear national consensus about some controversial issues because there are 3 million of us holding 3 million beliefs. With regard to abortion, for example, the church has been basically pro-choice, although pro-life Presbyterians have pushed to modify the policy over the years. We now oppose abortion as a means of birth control and gender selection, affirm adoption as preferable to the abortion of unwanted children, and consider the "intact dilation and extraction" procedure (also called "partial birth abortion") a "matter of grave moral concern."

I don't know about you, but I'd take our struggles over theirs any day of the week. The Catholic challenge is not figuring out the truth, but living by it. They have both challenges, and no way to resolve fundamental disputes about divergent beliefs and still retain the unity of the Body of Christ. What a gift we have in the Magisterium!

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/15/2002 |

Having ears to hear

In the July 19 National Catholic Reporter, Sr. Fran Ferder & Fr. John Heagle offer some advice to the bishops. It's time, they say, for the "bishops to listen [and] take ordinary Catholics seriously."

. . . zero tolerance for abusing clergy is not enough. Nor is a panel of lay experts to oversee the process. We need more than zero tolerance; we need a spirit of "abundant listening." If the bishops are serious, they will begin developing structured, ongoing ways to listen more effectively to all of God's people. It is time for the "teachers of the faith" to learn from the people about those dimensions of their lives that, in the words of the bishops, "affect their well being."

Their advice to the bishops to listen to the wisdom of the laity is fine, as far as it goes. However, anyone who reads the National Catholic Reporter and the National Catholic Register can see that the "voice of the faithful" is anything but univocal. What they really want is for the bishops to listen especially well to Catholics like them, the ones who embrace the agenda of Call to Action.

In fact, they seem to believe that whenever "ordinary Catholics" differ from the Church in matters of faith and morals, the problem lies with the teachers and the teachings, not with the dissenters. And their solution is to have the bishops change Church teaching and disciplines so they conform to the beliefs and practice of the people. In essence, they want the bishops to replace the Magisterium with the voice of that portion of the faithful with whom they happen to agree.

The fundamental problem with their suggestion is their assumption that the faithful should be teachers of the "teachers of the faith" (i.e., the bishops). Consider Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew 13:1-23. Based on what Jesus says there, the first question dissenters should ask themselves is whether they have the eyes to see or the ears to hear.

13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.' 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

There will always be those who don't have ears to hear, whose hearts have grown dull. So, when people disagree with Church teaching (as these commentators do), there is a need for listening, but it's the bishops who need to do the preaching. And the Holy Spirit promised that the Church (through the successors of the Apostles) will speak the truth, not some culturally conditioned substitute.

For Catholics, the bishops are the teachers of the faith. In union with the Pope, they form the Magisterium. Teaching is their proper charge, one of the charisms of their office. Naturally, good teachers take their students into account. They listen to them. But good teaching is never based on what students want (or are "able") to believe. Instead, all good teachers, like Jesus, give students what they need. And what the world always needs is the Truth.

Because many today have dull ears and blind eyes, the bishops need to proclaim the (often "unacceptable") message of the gospel more clearly than ever. Though it may be tempting for bishops to change the message to make it more popular, the truth has never been popular. Part of their vocation is to preach the (unpopular) Truth. If they abandon their charge, the world will seek in vain for the Good News, the only truth that has the power to set persons free.

posted by Fr. Steve | 7/15/2002 |