The Church, the Council and the Unconscious:

How Hidden Forces Shaped the Catholic Church

by James Arraj

Part 4



It would be possible to build a case that John Paul II was another of the counterreactors, and it would go something like this: Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, came from a conservative and defensive Polish church and did his doctorate at the Angelicum in Rome under the direction of Garrigou-Lagrange in the years leading up to the condemnation of the nouvelle théologie. But as a young bishop at the council he met and was inspired by men like de Lubac and Congar, and impressed them, in turn, and worked on the schema on the relationship between the church and the world that was to become Gaudium et spes. Later, however, he was to become disenchanted, and at the extraordinary synod that he called in connection with the twentieth anniversary of the council, he was to say that it was not the teachings of the council that were up for discussion, “It is the postconciliar period that has to be revised.”1 A little later he would elaborate: “In the present day Church, it must be admitted with realism together with a deep and sorrowful awareness, that a very great number of Christians have become troubled, disoriented, perplexed, and even deceived; ideas which are in disaccord with that revealed truth taught by the Church since apostolic times, are currently widespread: veritable heresies have even flooded the fields of dogma and morals, giving rise to doubts, confusion and rebellion.”2 But this portrait of John Paul II as a member of the counterreaction fails to hold up under scrutiny. His actions paint another picture in which his progressive tendencies are firmly rooted in a very traditional view of the papacy and the church.


The Story of Humanae vitae continued


Hans Küng’s dossier at the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith had grown weightier with the fallout from his book, Infallibility, but when he wrote the preface to August Bernhard Hasler’s How the Pope Became Infallible in February, 1979, his troubles with the Congregation began to reach the breaking point. Noting the new pope’s recent trip to Latin America, he had concluded his preface: “Is it hoping for too much, then, to expect him to take a decisive step towards clearing up this vexing question of infallibility – in an atmosphere of mutual trust, free research, and fair-minded discussion?”3 But Küng was not done. In the New York Times on Oct. 19, 1979, and later in Le Monde and the Frankfurter Allgemeine, he made his criticism more pointed, asking whether the new pope, “the darling of the masses and the superstar of the media” was “truly free from the personality cult of former Popes, for example Pius XII.”4 The pope’s response was not long in coming. In December, 1979, Küng was declared to be unfit to be a Catholic theologian. The pope was beginning to clean house, and one of the centerpieces of his papacy was going to be a rigid insistence on obedience to Humanae vitae. On May 15, 1980 the pope wrote to the German Episcopal Conference about the Küng affair, and said that infallibility was “in a certain way the key to the certainty with which the faith is confessed and proclaimed, as well as to the life and conduct of the faithful. For once this essential foundation is shaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down.”5

At the September 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family, the Archbishop of San Francisco, John Quinn, questioned the “intrinsic evil of each and every use of contraception,” and called for a world-wide dialogue on the issue. The next day, however, Quinn told the Synod, “There is no doubt the teaching of Humanae vitae on contraception is authentic teaching of the Magisterium of the Church.”6 What caused this turnabout? The most likely explanation is that much like the Suenen’s affair at the council in which the cardinal had been called in and admonished by Paul VI, this time it was John Paul II doing the dressing down of the Archbishop.

Joseph Ratzinger, now the Cardinal Archbishop of Münich, in connection with this Synod, wrote a letter to the diocesan pastoral leaders in which he said about Humanae vitae: “in the case of the alternative between natural methods and contraception we do not have a morally meaningless question of different means to the same end, but that there is an anthropological gulf between them, which for that very reason is a moral gulf. But how am I to indicate this in a few lines when our common consciousness simply bars the door to understanding?… With the pill a woman’s own sort of time and thus her own sort of being has been taken from her… All this and much else has, as we all know, led to a weariness with the pill that we should look upon as a chance for reconsidering the whole subject.”7

June 5, 1987. The pope asserts, “What is taught by the church on contraception does not belong to the material freely debatable among theologians.”8 

The pope in an address to the fourth International Congress for the Family in Africa and Europe, meeting in Rome, talks about Humanae vitae being “permanent patrimony,” and how arguments “can lead to doubt on a teaching which for the church is certain, obscuring in this way the perception of a truth which cannot be discussed.” These comments turn out to be warning shots heralding the battle to come or what could be called the offensive of 1988, the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Humanae vitae.


The Offensive of 1988


Feb. 14, 1988. Álvaro del Portillo, head of Opus Dei, tells a crowd of 4,000 in Chicago that Christian parents have the duty to bring as many children as possible into the world. If couples have only one or two children, “it will be difficult to have vocations and we may have to close all the seminaries.”9

March 17-20, 1988. Three hundred people, mostly connected with charismatic renewal, meet under the auspices of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, headed by Carlo Caffarra and the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Germain Grisez tells them, “that for couples who justifiably decide not to have additional children, “the choice is to abstain from intercourse…””10 And Janet Smith says, “Critics assume the question is settled.” But in reality “the defenders’ of church teaching are winning. They are more serious and more honest.”11 Steve Clark of the Word of God community says strict rules are needed to protect the traditional family: “Unmarried men and women should not touch one another, except to shake hands.”12

Summer, 1988. Michael Jackson, a city council member of Alexandria, Virginia, is attending Mass, but when he approaches the altar to receive Communion, the pastor of the church refuses him the Eucharist and later calls him “a public and obstinate sinner.” His crime? He had voted for a clinic where teenagers could, among other things, receive information about contraceptives, as well as the  contraceptives, themselves.13

August 7-12, 1988. A “Trust the Truth” conference of Humanae vitae by its supporters is held at Princeton, New Jersey. Cardinal Edouard Gagnon of the Pontifical Council for the Family tells them that the night before the release of Humanae vitae Pope Paul told him, “Don’t be afraid. In twenty years they’ll say I was a prophet.” This sentiment the audience enthusiastically embraces, seeing it fulfilled by the devastation caused by the sexual revolution. Among the sponsors of the conference is Opus Dei.14

Nov. 7-9, 1988. These events have served as the warm-up for two back-to-back conferences. In the first, the Pontifical Council for the Family hosts about 60 bishops in support of Humanae vitae. Then on Nov. 10 – 12 the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and family, under the direction of Carlo Caffarra and Opus Dei’s Roman Holy Cross Theological Academy, sponsor a meeting of 300 like-minded moral theologians. The pope addresses both of these conferences. Among the Opus Dei members at the second conference were the Americans Russell Shore, Carl Anderson and Lorenzo Albalete, as well as the Swiss Martin Rhonhei Mer, the Chilean José Ibañes Langlois, and the Spanish director of the Holy Cross Academy, Ignacio Carrasco de Paula. For Caffarra any exception to Humanae vitae is anti-life, anti-human and anti-God, and it would be opportune to return to the condemnation of contraception as homicide. If men, according to Jesus’ saying, can commit adultery in the heart, contraception is “homicide in the heart.”15 In a puzzling and yet somewhat frightening statement he said, “Once man has reached the ethical state, he is no longer interested in the slightest or ultimately by the possible historical consequences of his acts; he is above any such calculations.”16 Caffarra was to gain a certain notoriety when at an AIDS conference, he stated that if one spouse has AIDS, then the appropriate course of behavior is total abstinence, but if that would lead to adultery they may have unprotected sex. Caffarra apparently served as the pope’s ghost writer for speeches in the area of moral theology, including the one that the pope gave at this conference. In it the pope said, “This moral norm does not allow of any exceptions: no personal or social circumstance has ever been, is, or ever will be, able to make such an act rightly ordered… In reality what is called into question by the rejection of this teaching is the very idea of the holiness of God… it has been inscribed by the creative hand of God and has been confirmed by him in revelation… To call it into question is thus equivalent to refusing to God himself the obedience of our intelligence… Because the Church’s Magisterium has been instituted to enlighten the conscience, any appeal to this conscience in order to contest the truth of what has been taught by the Magisterium involves the rejection of the Catholic concept of both the Magisterium and of the moral conscience.”17

The pope’s speech sent a wave of dismay through the European Catholic community. Bernard Häring wrote to John Paul II on December 1, 1988, reasoning with him and forthrightly stating: “For if the pope is directly drawn into intransigent interpretations and the most shocking kinds of argumentation, then we are all plunged into a crisis and are compelled by our loyalty to the Church to express our distress and agony.”18 The Italian publication Il Regno published both the pope’s and Caffarra’s addresses on January 1, and Häring, having received no answer from the pope, responded in the January 15 issue of the magazine with the hope of stopping “catastrophic polarization” and theological “intransigence” leading to “psychological schism,” and he urged the pope to reopen the debate on birth control. When Häring tried to draw the attention of the hard-liners to the pastoral problems created by such statements, to his mind, they responded: “But that doesn’t mean a thing to us. Our business is to halt the silent and sometimes explicit lapsing from the Church that is a result of an emotive and almost incurable anti-Roman feeling.” At the last minute, he also signed the Cologne declaration in which 163 German-speaking theologians objected to the pope imposing Joachim Meisner as archbishop of Cologne, and the excessive papal statements on birth control. They were later joined by 130 French theologians, 60 Spanish, 63 Italian, and 431 members of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Feb. 15, 1989. L’Osservatore Romano states that the problem of contraception “is not a theological opinion open to free discussion.” Walter Kasper of the International Theological Commission is quoted as saying that the church’s teaching “is a doctrine founded on tradition and no one can put it into doubt.”19 A subcommittee of the International Theological Commission with Carlo Caffarra on it was created to prepare a document on the crisis of moral theology. This special commission sent out seismic shock waves in front of the actual document, which was to be finally published as Veritatis splendor.

July 12, 1990. Apparently rumors are already circulating that the pope’s forthcoming encyclical letter will declare the doctrine of Humanae vitae infallible. Twenty-two mostly German-speaking theologians, including Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx, signed a document “for freedom in the church” at Tübingen saying that presenting birth control as infallible would lead to “catastrophic” polarization.

In the summer of 1991 Karl Lehmann, head of the German bishop’s conference, comments that the pope says ‘no’ about birth control, but is “not concerned with the consequences.”20

Retired Cardinal Franz König, in a debate with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger which appeared in the periodical Jesus in May, 1992, says the question of world population cannot be ignored, and complains about the “irritating” distinctions between natural and artificial birth control, “as if from the moral viewpoint what is important is the “trick” of cheating nature.”21

Cardinal Ratzinger, himself, gives an interview to Die Welt, and says about birth control, ““There will have to be a development in our thinking to get to the kernel of the problem.” He also said the distinction between artificial and natural birth control was confusing and has obscured the “real problems.””22 

August, 1993. The rumors reach a crescendo. Newsweek reports that working versions of Veritatis splendor have been circulating for weeks. It also goes on to say that inspiration for the document came to the pope during a vacation in the Dolomite Alps where he came back from an all-day walk declaring that he had been “inspired to publish a major theological investigation that would confirm the often discredited arguments underpinning Humanae vitae.”23

Veritatis splendor is finally released in October 1993, and Ratzinger’s remarks are recalled and provide a slender basis for some to believe that he had doubts about Humanae vitae, and the failure of Veritatis splendor to make it infallible is attributed to his moderating influence, something he later denies.24

Germain Grisez, not untypically, comments: “The rejection of the pope’s interpretation is… inconsistent with any Catholic conception of divine revelation and its transmission.” Those who disagree with the pope have three choices: “To admit that they have been mistaken; to admit that they do not believe God’s word; or to claim that the pope is grossly misinterpreting the Bible.”25

Nov. 5, 1993. Bernard Häring, after reading Veritatis splendor, suffers long-lasting brain seizures. The document contains some beautiful things, he says, but is “directed above all towards one goal: to endorse total assent and submission to all utterances of the pope – and above all on one crucial point: that the use of any artificial means for regulating birth is intrinsically evil and sinful, without exception, even in circumstances where contraception would be a lesser evil.”26 Häring goes on to contrast it to the attitude of Albino Luciani who had suggested a change in the doctrine about birth control before the appearance of Humanae vitae, and when he had become John Paul I had intended to make a review of the matter. “John Paul II’s mentality is different. His starting point is a high sense of duty, combined with absolute trust in his own competence, with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit. And this absolute trust in his own powers is coupled with a profound distrust toward all theologians (particularly moral theologians) who might not be in total sympathy with him.” The pope, without consultation, had introduced into the new code of canon law of 1983 a canon that criminalized dissent. He had also attempted central control of theologians and of bishops, and required “wholehearted assent to non-infallible (that is, fallible) papal teaching and a particular oath of fidelity towards the supreme pontiff. The Acta Apostolicae Sedis says this measure was approved by the Sanctissimus (Most Holy). The text speaks of the pope as beatissimum (most blessed). Should one see some special significance in that? Do not these titles given to the pope sacralize his authority unduly?”27

If the pope had to choose between Häring and Caffarra, apparently he had no hesitation. It seems Caffarra had made a smart career move by becoming the pope’s man on the matter of contraception, no matter how intemperate his remarks. His presidency of the John Paul II Institute was to become a stepping stone to becoming the Bishop of Ferrara. The pope went on to promise him the cardinal’s hat, and honored that promise by elevating him to the cardinalate see of Bologna. However unwillingly, we are led to the conclusion that Caffarra’s overheated rhetoric met a need in John Paul II.

1997. In November a column appears in the Southern Nebraska Register of Fabian Bruskewitz’s Lincoln diocese in which an unnamed priest writes about Patricia Crowley describing her as “a very old degenerate who roamed about promoting sexual immorality. Nobody pays much attention to what she says, except perhaps some depraved members of the Call to Action sect. Her views deserve no consideration whatsoever.”28 It is hard to imagine that the bishop of Lincoln had no knowledge of this beforehand.

Feb. 17, 1997. The Pontifical Council for the Family in its “Vademecum for confessors concerning some aspects of the morality of conjugal life” seems to present Humanae vitae as infallible: “The intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful” is “to be held as definitive and irreformable.” The “irreformable” is language close to or equivalent to saying that it has been infallibly taught.29

What was the practical result of John Paul II’s efforts which included a multitude of papal talks on human sexuality? In 1993 Peter Steinfels conducted a survey for the New York Times, and found that eight out of ten Catholics disagreed with the statement, “Using artificial means of birth control is wrong”; and nine out of 10 said that “someone who practices artificial birth control can still be a good Catholic.”30 The figures have remained steady since then.

That same year Avery Dulles spoke frankly to a gathering of bishops held in support of Humanae vitae on its twenty-fifth anniversary, and described the negative effects that this decision had caused in the church. It had affected the appointment of bishops, the candidness with which parish priests felt they could talk to their parishioners about sexual morality, the relationship of theologians to bishops, and bishops to the pope, and he recommended that Humanae vitae not be used as a litmus test for church office.31 It is hard to avoid coming to the same conclusion we came to in regard to the forces that shaped Paul VI’s decision in Humanae vitae. Despite John Paul II’s deep interest in women and human sexuality, a genuine discussion of birth control could not be permitted because the matter had already been settled by papal decrees which he, himself, had reaffirmed over and over again.


The Ordination of Women


The debate over the ordination of women under John Paul II became another, albeit smaller, Humanae vitae affair. Pope Paul VI had made negative comments about the possibility of women being ordained, and Inter Insigniores issued by the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith on October 15, 1976 has set forth a variety of reasons to defend his position. The discussion, however, continued.

But John Paul II, quite in accord with his view of papal authority, did not hesitate to try to settle the matter once and for all. He “told a group of cardinals and bishops whom he had invited to lunch that he had been thinking about the debate and had come to a conclusion. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger later recalled, the Pope said, “I must speak about this. I have the responsibility to clarify this and to clarify it in a definitive way.””32 On May 22, 1994 in his apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, he swept aside the bit of nuance and room for maneuvering that had existed under Paul and wrote: “Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Instead of his words settling the matter, however, they have had the opposite effect. Polls have shown that the number of Catholics in favor of women’s ordination actually rose after the pope’s pronouncement. It was as if people said to themselves: “How can the matter be decided and the debate closed before I have even begun to think about it? And now that I am thinking about it, no reason occurs to me why women can’t be priests.”

The theological world had a more elaborated response which came to the same conclusion. Rome, however, was not used to being told “no,” and on Oct. 28, 1995 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a response to the question whether this teaching was to be held definitively as belonging (some translated it as pertaining) to the deposit of faith, and said: “This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2)

Once again our intention is not primarily to weigh the theological issues at stake, but rather to look behind and below them, to try to sense other more human and less conscious factors at work. In this regard the insistence of the infallibility of the ban on women’s ordination is interesting. It is infallible, we are told, not in virtue of an ex cathedra, or formal declaration by the pope, but in virtue of having been taught by the bishops of the world both now and through the centuries. The pope, therefore, is simply relying on this kind of episcopal infallibility that was clarified by Vatican II’s Lumen gentium. But this argument is not as solid as it first might appear because it is necessary to actually demonstrate that the bishops now and before taught this doctrine and also taught it was something that was to be definitively held. Instead, they may have, for example, held it in a rather passive and material way like we often hold unexamined opinions. Or they may have taught it, but not as something they insisted upon as belonging, or pertaining, to the deposit of faith, as well as something to be definitively held. There have been wide-spread theological opinions in the church before about all sorts of matters that later turned out not to be true. It was widely taught, for example, that there was no salvation outside the church, and when this doctrine was finally examined at Vatican II, it was seen not to mean what it had been commonly understood to mean. Further, to make this matter of determining, if something is taught by the universal magisterium of the bishops, more complicated, it is the question of the bishops’ freedom to teach. If Rome imposes certain litmus tests on the selection of bishops and imposes silence on their discussing certain matters, and controls the synods held by bishops, then it is harder to turn around and say that the episcopate is unanimous in its teaching of a certain position.

Even the way the pope made this judgment about the ordination of women was problematical. It is not as if he was polling the bishops of the world, compiling the data of the history of episcopal teachings, and consulting the theologians and the faithful so that he could finally articulate the consensus that he discovered. Rather, as Francis Sullivan puts it, the declaration of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith for this matter: “marks the first time, to my knowledge, that an authoritative document of the Holy See has specifically declared that a particular doctrine has been infallibly taught in this way.”33

Richard Gaillardetz makes a similar comment: “It is under the pontificate of John Paul II that we have witnessed a vast expansion of official claims for the exercise of the ordinary universal magisterium.”34 What we are faced with in Ordinatio sacerdotalis appears to be a particular way of looking at infallibility, itself. The three traditional ways in which something could be taught infallibly were through an ecumenical council, by an ex cathedra pronouncement of the pope, and by way of the teaching of the universal episcopate as described in Lumen gentium. But is the pope really making use of the third way, or is he pioneering a fourth? Certainly the pope thought the matter could be spoken about infallibly. According to one report, when he consulted with top-ranking bishops about his letter, he wanted to use the word “irreformable” that would have pushed this pronouncement strongly in the direction of an infallible statement, if not made it one.35 He was discouraged from doing so, but his appeal to the universal ordinary magisterium allows him to get his way. But the danger is, as Gaillardetz puts it, that by doing so he is transforming the ordinary papal magisterium “into a second papal mode of exercising the ordinary universal magisterium.”36 In short, the non-infallible teaching of the pope converts itself into an infallible one by asserting that it is articulating the teaching of the ordinary universal magisterium of the bishops, and this is done in such a way that the complex and delicate task of deciding what the ordinary universal magisterium is saying risks becoming short-circuited. Along with this way of making the pope more infallible, we can discern a parallel movement in which the scope of the matters subject to infallibility becomes broadened. The secondary objects of infallibility, that is, those things that could be declared infallible prior to John Paul II, were described in terms of things necessary to safeguard and expound the faith, but with his pontificate they have become morphed into a much broader category of things connected to divine revelation by logical and historical necessity.

The end result is to intensify the aura of infallibility surrounding the pope, and we cannot avoid asking whether the theology presented to justify such a move is being moved from below by the very fallible human factors that we have been charting. Further, is it possible that the pope was locked in hidden combat with a feminist world of excessive reactions and dissent? The year before the pope’s letter came out, for example, Women-Church held its third conference in New Mexico and, as Peter Steinfels writes: “appeared to have abandoned anything resembling traditional Roman Catholicism except, perhaps, its taste for ritual, now transposed into an inventive New Age key.”37 There were more than 30 Sunday services, including Sufi dancing and a Native American pipe ceremony, but no Catholic Mass. The conference presented itself as rooted in Christianity, “but not committed to remaining Christian.”38 And the prayers were focused on what one reporter called “an undefined deity.”39 Just who made up the audience? It was largely a white, middle-class affair of women in their 50s and 60s with Catholic backgrounds, and included a significant number of sisters and ex-sisters. What we are faced with is another example, albeit a rather extreme one, of the kind of Vatican II reactions that we have encountered before, and Steinfels points to one of the real challenges facing Catholic feminism in general. “Today Catholic feminist theology remains fluid, amorphous, and unfixed. That is significant because it would be disingenuous to ignore the radical nature of some feminist theology and the difficulty of reconciling it with anything remotely continuous with Catholicism and maybe of Christianity, too. Much Catholic feminist thought is relatively uninterested in the whole question of differentiating what is compatible with Catholic Christianity from what is not, and at present under-equipped to do so. To many feminists, that question seems at the very least premature, if not a downright preemptive move to quash threatening ideas. Their energy has gone into exposing the feminism-adverse elements in Catholicism, not the Catholicism-adverse elements in feminism.”40 Steinfels is right on target here, and we would need only to change his language slightly to apply it to other areas of modern Catholic theology which, themselves, have been shaped by the old and not so old waves of repression. Despite how easy it is to be sympathetic to those who have suffered under these kinds of repressions, it is not possible in the long run to overlook the critical issue of whether what is being brought forth is a counterfeit, or a genuine reflection on the faith, an issue we will return to in the next chapter.

I certainly wouldn’t want to claim that there was some sort of direct connection between the Women-Church meeting and the pope’s letter, but only the possibility there was a deeper, less conscious one. They are locked together in a struggle that generates more and more extreme positions on both sides. The one insists, with increasing rigidity, on the faith, and the other insists on the freedom to leave the faith behind.


The Mystical Intuitions of John Paul II


The pope’s experience of the church under Communism had not fostered collegiality. “The Polish Bishops Conference met every two months behind closed doors. No whisper of dissent or clash of opinions ever leaked out. In the face of relentless pressure from an atheistic state, the bishops presented a front of total unanimity. Above them all, Primate Wyszynski reigned like a monarch.”41 Even his exposure to the great intellectual ferment of the council had not led him to bring that kind of open discussion back home with him. At a time when criticism of the church was widespread he did not countenance it. “I remember very well,” recalled Karol Tarnowski who had been one of the young people who had surrounded the future pope in earlier days, “that he didn’t approve of my – or anyone else’s – critical attitude toward the Church.”42 Later Tarnowski had argued with the pope about contraception, and the pope had told him, “I can’t change what I have been teaching all my life.”43

The experience of the council hadn’t transformed the pope’s attitude toward the synods of bishops. When Cardinal Villot had asked him early in his papacy, “Is Your Holiness thinking of giving permanent representation to the Synod Council?” that is, delicately asking whether it would have any deliberative power, the pope had no hesitation saying: “No, that would be a synod in the style of the Eastern Churches.”44 This response was not only in line with his earlier experience of how the Polish episcopate worked, but with his temperament, as well. Wojtyla came to the papacy with well-developed ideas that he had formed over a long period of time, and while he would listen and read, that does not mean that his ideas would substantially change. Even someone like Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka who admired the pope’s philosophical acumen and worked to make him better known, and had collaborated closely with him in rewriting his The Acting Person, when asked whether he ever changed his mind, responded: “I have the impression he does not. He’s very interested in new ideas. He’s open to new ideas when they are consistent with his. He is a very systematic person. This is not a man who acts by trial and error. He’s not experimenting. He entered the papacy as a mature man in possession of a system. The rest of his life is about implementing it.”45

The future pope had made a favorable impression at the Vatican Council and afterwards, an impression composed of an almost charismatic openness and physical vitality, but it is unlikely that the cardinals who elected him really knew what they were getting. One conclave member is reported to have approached Cardinal König after the election, and asked him, “Who is this?” And the pope, himself, commented early in his reign, “They don’t know who they elected.” In short, John Paul II had been at the council, but his conception of the papacy was much closer to that of Pius XII than John XXIII.

There certainly was an attractive side to the pope’s personality. He resolutely opposed the denial of human rights by the Communists in Poland and the rest of the Soviet empire and helped to bring about its downfall. He wrote penetrating critiques not only of state socialism, but capitalism, as well. But while the pope has spoken eloquently and incisively about the faults of these major institutions of our times, he failed to see how the same analysis could be applied to the mega-institution which is the church, itself. His critical powers seem to fail when it comes to the faults of the present church structures, and the papacy, itself. He was a man who instinctively understood authority and obedience, and comfortably sat on the throne of a highly centralized papacy that has grown up, especially in the last 150 years, and while the pope wrote clearly about the principle of subsidiarity in society, it didn’t occur to him to see that the kind of papacy he inhabited impeded a deep thoroughgoing subsidiarity from taking root in the church. Instead, we are left with the pope and his initiatives backed up the curia. In response to criticism of the curia, the pope reportedly said: “The curia is the pope.” In short, the pope had little visible hesitation of making the church over in the image he thought it should have.

While it is difficult to discern interior states in outer deeds, John Paul II left the impression that he had a sense of communing with God, and being guided by Providence so that the ideas he brought to the papacy and had while being pope were somehow divinely sanctioned, and therefore he was compelled to act accordingly. 

The American theologian Ronald Modras felt that the pope did not believe “God had chosen him to change his mind, and therefore he was stubbornly ideological rather than pragmatic. He did not read the signs of the time.” On the Sunday before John Paul issued his first encyclical (Redemptor Hominis, 1979), Modras said, the pope declared, “God has chosen me and my ideas. He’s chosen me for this universal pulpit to proclaim these ideas that I have had for some years.”46

Anthony Kosnik, an American Catholic priest of Polish extraction, who had known the pope when he was the Archbishop of Kraków and had been disciplined by the Vatican for editing the Catholic Theological Society of America’s study on human sexuality in 1977, had come to similar conclusions about how the pope operated. “The way (Wojtyla) arrived at the truth – he didn’t read a lot, he didn’t seem to have time for it – was to take his ideas into prayer every morning. There’s no question he was a very prayerful man. He spent his first hour at a daily meditation before Mass, and he came out of that convinced that through that kind of process the truth is found. If you’re speaking for God, God is inspiring you, there’s no opposition.”47

Peter Hebblethwaite extends this kind of analysis and approaches the kind of inner dynamics that we have been trying to examine. The pope, he felt, believed his election was providential. He had known the poem of Roman Slowacki that predicted a Slav pope, and the failed assassination attempt in 1981 increased this sense of providence. Hebblethwaite comments: “What all this means in practice is that John Paul has been increasingly confined within the private world of his own mystical intuitions… The problem is that the sense of personal mission can threaten to engulf and overwhelm the primary and essential papal ministry. Its essential function is quite clear. It is to express and embody the unity of the church.”48 The point that Hebblethwaite is making is crucial. If the pope mistakes his personal feelings of messianic mission for what his office demands, then in what way will he be different from the genuinely holy people who believe that their visions and revelations are somehow sanctioned by God? What happens to the petrine ministry, Hebblethwaite continues, “if the pontiff’s unargued personal opinions are allowed to become the norm of Catholic doctrine?” “It remains to ask the most redoubtable question of all: What does “the providential meaning” of a given pontificate really entail?”49

This can perhaps be illustrated by the strange case of the beatification of Pius IX. We could be excused if Pius IX does not readily come to our minds as a candidate for the canonization whether because of his alleged personal eccentricities or his anti-democratic attitudes, or his handling of Vatican I and the issue of infallibility. But although two previous attempts of his canonization had failed, John Paul II in 1985 approved his heroic virtue, and a year later a miracle wrought by his intercession, clearing the way for his beatification. But even then apparently the political problem of how this was to be received in Italy still posed a daunting obstacle, and the pope created a secret commission to advise him on its “opportuneness.” Carlo Snider, a Swiss layman, had been appointed in 1975 to defend Pius IX against the criticisms that his process had subjected him to. Kenneth Woodward in the course of the research for his book, Making Saints, managed to get a hold of a copy of this positio. Some of its arguments make interesting reading, and possibly shed light on why John Paul II would be interested in promoting a cause that appears so out of harmony with the contemporary world. Snider saw a providential design in the fact that Vatican I was cut short because “it actually reinforced the universal prestige of the mission of the pope as a necessary condition for the life of the church in the course of history.”50 And he applied this same kind of reasoning to Pius IX, himself, as if he, too, somehow served God’s providential plan and was thus sanctified by it. “One has to ask oneself,” he writes, “whether as a matter of fact the doctrine of papal infallibility was not of incalculable importance for the future history of the church, (an event) in which is seen expressed the supernatural and historical reasons for Pius IX’s pontificate.”51 In this way Pius IX’s unacceptable behavior in the management of Vatican I is transmuted into sanctity because he is wittingly or unwittingly serving God’s plan, and perhaps John Paul II could relate to those sorts of providential musings. He beatified Pius IX in 2000. All this is not a way of implying that there are no grounds for the petrine ministry, or infallibility, but only to indicate that it is important not to confuse the human limitations of the pope, and even the pope’s inspirations, with his office.

The same kind of “providential meaning” may have propelled the pope to institute Divine Mercy Sunday in which the devotion to divine mercy found in the revelations of Faustina Kowalska was imposed on the universal church. Sr. Faustina had died in Kraków in 1938 at the age of 33, and the city had become the center of her divine mercy devotion. The future pope’s former teacher, Fr. Ignacy Rózycki, had done the first scholarly analysis of her diary, and Wojtyla, as the Archbishop of Kraków, had defended her orthodoxy when it had been questioned in Rome, and had promoted the cause of her beatification. As pope he felt, “very near” to Sr. Faustina, and had been “thinking about her for a long time.”52 He was to beatify her in 1993, and canonize her in 2000, saying in his homily, “By divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century, the century we have just left behind.”

In terms of “providential meaning,” the pope, himself, had said in regard to his elevation from the archbishopric of Kraków to the papal throne, that because of his “confidence in the Holy Spirit, who was calling to the See of Peter a cardinal with this experience, with this background,” therefore “this background is useful for the universal church.”53 It is reasonable, then, to assume that in the case of Sr. Faustina a similar logic was at work of the sort that said, “God knows my devotion to Sr. Faustina, and has chosen me to be pope, and therefore it is my providential duty to promote the cause of Sr. Faustina and her Divine Mercy devotion.”

But this kind of reasoning can easily blur the distinction between the pope’s private devotions and what is appropriate for the entire church. It is somewhat disconcerting to see, as it sometimes is done, the prayer of Sr. Faustina recited within the Mass, itself, and interspersed in the recitation of the rosary elsewhere. This prayer reads: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

We have only to recall Karl Rahner’s interpretive principle for revelations to see how problematical the use of such things are in general, and Sr. Faustina’s prayer proves to be no exception. It is identical in substance to the one that Sr. Lucía of Fatima learned from an angel, making us wonder where Faustina got the prayer. Sr. Lucía’s appears to reflect the Portuguese or Spanish catechism where it was answering the question, “What is the consecrated Host?” But more importantly, the prayer of Lucía is, according to Rahner, because of its offering to God the Father the divinity of Jesus, “theologically impossible.”54 When Sr. Lucía was questioned about this, she replied that perhaps the angel had not studied theology.

What is the result, therefore, of the pope’s “mystical intuition?” Do we now have people all over the world reciting at Mass and when they say the rosary a theologically impossible prayer? The point of this story is not to belittle the genuine piety of Sr. Lucía and Sr. Faustina, still less of John Paul II, but to see the difficulties that arise when even genuine faith becomes mixed with its human counterparts. We can go on and wonder whether John Paul II’s ideas about Humanae vitae, as well, underwent the same sort of process of sanctification when he was elected pope, leading him to feel that God in this way was speaking to him about the rightness of his views on this matter.


Joseph Ratzinger: From Counterreaction to Restoration


Was John Paul II one of the counterreactors? No. He was very much at home in the world of papal centralism we have been seeing. But Joseph Ratzinger was very much part of the counterreaction, and we need to understand the role he played in the restoration as the head of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith. We will look at the actions of the Congregation in the next chapter, but here we want to try to understand something more of his inner evolution, a task all the more important since his election as Benedict XVI. We are faced with a genuine theologian who has published in many areas of theology, including an extensive study on eschatology.55 Particularly important have been his reflections on the limits of the historical-critical method, and the deformations that theology undergoes if this method is taken as the only way to know about revelation, as we saw before. Without the church, he tells us, the scriptures, themselves, disintegrate into a collection of historical sources that one draws upon to try to find some contemporary application.56 When an excessive dependence on the historical-critical method invades New Testament exegesis, then it sees its job as peeling back the layers of the text and identifying “the truth with the conjectured antiquity of origin.”57 Then “the image of Christ is progressively impoverished until in the end nothing is left but a few hypotheses.”58 In this context he sets forth a lofty spiritual view of the teaching authority of the church: “The essence of the Magisterium consists precisely in the fact that the proclamation of the faith is also the normative criterion of theology: indeed, this very proclamation is the object of theological reflection.”59 

There is much to admire in these kinds of reflections, and focusing, as he has done, on the crisis of faith in the postconciliar church is of the greatest importance. But when it comes to addressing concrete pastoral problems, his lofty understanding of the spiritual nature of the church seems to impede him from focusing on the serious faults that exist in the institutional church, and he leaves the impression that he must defend the church’s current practices lest somehow the sublime spiritual nature of the church as the body of Christ be called into question.

When it comes to the question of contraception, for example, he admits in his Report that at the time of Humanae vitae, “the demonstrative basis of the theology faithful to the Magisterium was still relatively slim.”60 But now “it has been broadened through new experiences and new reflections so that the situation is beginning to reverse itself.”61 Yet while he makes the important point that in regard to sexual morality after the council “personalism began to be understood in opposition to ‘naturalism’,”62 he leaves the deeper questions about the morality of contraception untouched. Elsewhere he will talk somewhat abstractly about the value of the child, the separation of sexuality and procreation, and the need to keep people human, that is, not to have their morality dictated by technology. But an exchange he had with Peter Seewald shows him not to be completely closed about the matter of contraception itself. Seewald asked: “The question remains whether you can reproach someone, say a couple who already have several children, for not having a positive attitude toward children.” And the cardinal replied: “No, of course not, and that shouldn’t happen, either.” Then Seewald responds: “But must these people nevertheless have the idea that they are living in some sort of sin if they…” And Ratzinger answers: “I would say that those are questions that ought to be discussed with one’s spiritual director, with one’s priest, because they can’t be projected into the abstract.”63 

In regard to the remarriage of the divorced, and their reception of the Eucharist, despite earlier statements he had made in which he saw a possibility of change, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith he talked around the subject without truly coming to grips with the pastoral implications of this enormous problem. He will say, for example, the remarried are not under penalty of formal excommunication, and they ought to feel like they are accepted by the church, or even that they bear witness to the uniqueness of marriage. But still and all, the judgment that they cannot communicate holds “definitively.” He does, however, hold out one possibility: “perhaps in the future there could also be an extrajudicial determination that the first marriage did not exist. This could perhaps be ascertained locally by experienced pastors.”64 But this solution by local annulment is but a stop-gap measure that does not come to grips with the problem, theologically or pastorally.

Unfortunately, we recede farther away from genuine pastoral engagement when the cardinal looks at the link between celibacy and the priesthood. He feels bad when people talk about compulsory celibacy, for haven’t priests taken this burden freely upon themselves? Further, giving up celibacy “basically improves nothing; rather, it glosses over a crisis of faith.”65 One can’t make an argument for the abolition of celibacy simply by pointing to the Protestant clergy or the priests of the Orthodox Churches, and the argument he makes in this regard is worth reading closely: “In the Orthodox Churches we have, on the one hand, the full form of the priesthood, the priest monks, who alone can become bishops. Alongside them are the “people’s priests,” who, if they want to marry, must marry before ordination but who exercise little pastoral care but are really only liturgical ministers.”66 And when asked whether the church will have married priests in the future, he answers: “At least not in the foreseeable future. To be quite honest, I must say that we do have married priests, who came to us as converts from the Anglican Church or from various Protestant communities. In exceptional cases, then, it is possible, but they are just that – exceptional situations. And I think that these will also remain exceptional cases in the future.”67 These are rather remarkable responses, for the church has always had married priests in the Eastern rites, as the cardinal well knew, as a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches.68 While it is true that Eastern rite married priests were at times treated like second-class citizens,69 it has to be asked whether this was the result of them being in some way inferior priests – which unfortunately the impression that Ratzinger’s remarks leave – as if their ordination had imprinted less well on their married souls than it would have if they were celibate, or are we looking once again at the inability of the celibate clergy to see clearly when it is a question of marriage and women.

When Ratzinger is asked whether mandatory celibacy should be dropped in order that there would be more vocations to the priesthood, his response here is not very pastorally inspired, either. Vocations are down, he tells us, because families have less children and different expectations for them, and thus “the main obstacles to the priesthood often come from parents.”70 Perhaps we have been looking at the shortage of vocations from the wrong perspective. “Looked at relative to the number of children and the number of those who are believing churchgoers, the number of priestly vocations has probably not decreased at all.”71

What is going on as the counterreaction meets the restoration? The British theologian Adrian Hastings thought that Ratzinger’s “road back to traditionalism could appear the only way to escape a theological disintegration which threatened not just Vatican I, but Chalcedon and Nicaea as well.”72 Hansjürgen Verweyen – one of Ratzinger’s earlier progressive students in contrast to later more conservative ones – felt that his teacher’s “moderately progressive position at the council lost its constituency in the years afterward, as the culture, inside and outside the church, moved toward the left. People like Ratzinger and von Balthasar thought they had nowhere to go but into the traditionalist camp.”73 

When the cardinal talks about the new movements, this distance from pastoral realities takes a particularly acute form. He sees them as one of the bright spots in the bleak landscape of the postconciliar church: “What is hopeful at the level of the universal Church – and that is happening right in the heart of the crisis of the Church in the Western world – is the rise of new movements which nobody had planned and which nobody has called into being, but which have sprung spontaneously from the inner vitality of the faith itself.”74 He goes on: “Here new vocations to the priesthood and to the religious orders are now growing spontaneously. What is striking is that all this fervor was not elaborated by any office of pastoral planning, but somehow it sprang forth by itself… They don’t fit into their plan. Thus while tensions rise in connection with their incorporation into the present form of the institutions, there is absolutely no tension with the hierarchical Church as such.”75

It is hard to imagine the ex-members of these movements, whose lives have been severely disrupted by them, agreeing with this assessment. The new movements from the perspective we have been taking are the farthest thing from something “nobody had planned,” and instead of having “sprung from the inner vitality of the faith itself,” strike one as a counterfeit of it. Elsewhere Ratzinger compares the movements to the rise of the mendicant orders in the Middle Ages, and writes that they “cannot be reduced to the episcopal principle, find their theological and practical support in the primacy, a proof that it continues to foster living and fruitful pluralism in the Church precisely by making ecclesial unity a concrete reality.”76 This puzzling statement comes into sharper psychological focus when we see it as a recognition of the common characteristics shared by the movements and the papacy, but far from them validating the movements, should make us question, as we have been doing, the modern shape of the papacy.

From our own perspective we can ask whether Ratzinger’s counterreaction, and even more, his taking a leading position in the restoration, did not blur the distinction between the faith and the current positions of the institutional church. A determined defense of the substance of the faith is an admirable and necessary thing, but here it seems to have been taken up within the deeply traditional vision of the papacy and infallibility of John Paul II. When we recall the Cardinal’s remarks to the effect that the permanent structure of the church is not democratic, but sacramental, consequently hierarchical, and this view of the church is linked to obedience to the legitimate ecclesiastical hierarchy,77 we can be pardoned if we wonder if this is not another potent mixture of faith and things less lofty. Even the nouvelle théologie that had inspired the council could be taken up after the council into the old church structures and coexist with old patterns of repressive behavior.

As the pontificate of John Paul II developed, even some moderate men were disturbed by his conception of the papacy. Bernard Häring, for example, writes of the hope that sprang up in his heart for a renewal petrine ministry with the installation of John Paul II, but 20 years later his feeling is quite different. “An increasingly uncompromising Vatican centralism, together with punitive control mechanisms, have dashed my expectations.”78 The church has taken on over the course of history “monarchical – even at times absolutistic – structures, worldly trappings, triumphalistic pomp, and ridiculous titles of honor.”79 The pope, for example, “calls himself “My Holiness”!”80 “Many people believe that the Catholic church, in view of its ecumenical commitment, should courageously reconsider the two dogmas defined by Vatican Council I, namely, infallibility and papal primacy. In my considered opinion this is not necessary. It would suffice – and be universally useful – if the entire church, and in particular the pope, realistically recognized the principle of subsidiarity.”81

Cardinal Franz König, a leading light of the council and an important supporter of John Paul II’s election as pope, dared to break the code of silence among high church officials and speak of Rome’s “inflated centralism.” “In the postconciliar period… the Vatican authorities have striven to take back autonomy and central leadership for themselves… The style of leadership of the universal church which is being practiced today is not entirely in keeping with the council’s intentions.”82 

The conclave of cardinals that elected Benedict XVI had been the focal point of the world’s attention. Would they elect a pope who would continue the conservative restoration, or even intensify it, the media speculated, or would they choose someone who would recapture some of the openness of Vatican II, or at least someone who would be conciliatory and attempt to heal the divisions of the church? But if we reflect on the conclave in the light of the cult of the pope, then the central issue is not really who will be elected. What the real issue is is the papal centralism that has inflated the papacy all out of proportion to the rest of the church as if what was at stake during the conclave was the election of a new absolute monarch, a new holder of the power of infallibility.



Chapter 11

The Dynamics of Dissent


The Roll Call


The Holy Office plied its trade throughout the course of the first half of the twentieth century and right up to the eve of the Second Vatican Council. After the council it got a new name, the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith, (CDF) and new regulations. It was quiescent during the papacy of Paul VI, but in John Paul II’s pontificate and with his appointment of Joseph Ratzinger as its Prefect, it regained its high profile and busily set about correcting the abuses that both the pope and the cardinal saw in the postconciliar period. A long line of priests and religious, both men and women, have been subjected to its none too kind attention. Hans Küng, August Bernhard Hasler, Paul Collins and Leonardo Boff all came under scrutiny for their incisive analyses of topics like the papacy, infallibility and the structural faults of the institutional church. Küng could no longer teach as a Catholic theologian, and Hasler, Collins and Boff all left the priesthood. Others were censored for venturing into politics like Ernesto Cardinal who became Minister of Culture in the Sandanista government of Nicaragua, and resigned from the priesthood to continue at his post, as well as religious sisters in the U.S. like Mary Agnes Mansour, Elizabeth Morancy and Arlene Violet, all of whom resigned from their religious orders to continue their government work. Then there were those who were called on the carpet for their teaching in the area of morality: Anthony Kosnik for Human Sexuality that came out under the aegis of the Catholic Theological Society of America; Charles Curran for his dissent to a variety of moral teachings starting with contraception, but to his mind because he championed the right to dissent to non-infallible teachings; John McNeill, Robert Nugent and Jeannine Gramick over their views on homosexuality, with McNeill expelled from the Jesuits, Nugent silenced, and Gramick switching orders; and Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey for their support of abortion rights, and who eventually left their religious order.

There were also a number of high-profile cases: Edward Schillebeeckx questioned about his views on Christology and the virginity of Mary; Bernard Häring for his dissent to Humanae Vitae, and Jacques Dupuis for his Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, all of whom endured extensive bouts with the CDF, yet remained in the priesthood. Even bishops were not exempt, for example Raymond Hunthausen in Seattle, Pedro Casaldáliga in Brazil, and Jacques Gaillot in France. The roll call goes on and on: Matthew Fox for his views on original sin and pantheism – Fox decided to become an Episcopalian; Eugen Drewermann expelled from the priesthood for his views on the virgin birth and the resurrection; Reinhold Messner censored for his ideas on liturgical history; Luigi Sartori restrained from teaching at the Lateran University after being denounced to the CDF by the Padua branch of Communion and Liberation; Willigis Jäger, priest and Zen master, silenced for his understanding of the relationship between spiritual experience and doctrinal statements; Josef Imbach suspended from teaching because of his book on miracles; Thomas Aldworth, censored for a number of positions he advanced in his books for a popular audience; Lavinia Byrne in hot water because of her book on women’s ordination written before John Paul II’s Ordinatio sacerdotalis; Ivone Gebara for her views on abortion and later for her theological writings, and Tissa Balasuriya whose case we will examine in a bit more detail in order to begin to come to grips with what is going on.


Tissa Balasuriya: A Case Study


Balasuriya, a Sri Lankan theologian belonging to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, had a deep interest in interreligious dialogue, as well as liberation theology in service of the poor. After a long process he was excommunicated for his views on original sin and Christology expressed in Mary and Human Liberation, and then later the excommunication was lifted.

Balasuriya had attended the Gregorian University from 1947 to 1953, studying philosophy and theology. At the time of the council he wanted to “look critically” at the Thomism he had been trained in, and spent time in 1963-64 at the Institut Catholique in Paris. “By 1964 I was writing in favour of openness to other religions. In a sense, I and others had already moved beyond Vatican II, although that was the source of much of our hope.”1 This kind of  intellectual trajectory is by now familiar to us, but it holds the risk of becoming excessive. Here is how he frames the issue of salvation outside the church that got him into trouble first with the Sri Lankan bishops, and then with the CDF: “Many Christians in Asia are increasingly unable to think of salvation exclusively in terms of the Church, or as only mediated by Jesus Christ. We have come to realise that such a view would imply that the vast majority of the people of Asia were not saved. The point has slowly dawned on us that this is not acceptable. Vatican II pointed to some openings concerning the salvation of non-Christians, but even in the 1970s the leadership of the Church in Rome was retreating into itself. The more I studied the issue of salvation, the more I was impressed with the serious inadequacy of the Church’s doctrinal thinking. It gradually became clear to me that what we have presented for a thousand years as dogma and doctrine is not really from Jesus Christ. Certainly Catholicism and Vatican II have clearly said that the Church is not the sole means of salvation. The real problem is that the Church usually denies this in practice and acts as though you need to be baptised in order to be saved.”2 

He felt that the only way to solve this problem was to change the doctrinal foundations upon which such a view rested. “By 1990 I had realised that the idea of original sin was basic to the concept of salvation, and that once you posit the idea that original sin infects everyone, some form of universal redemption is required.”3 Here his story, like the stories of many of the people examined by the CDF, becomes a mixture of doctrinal issues and how he was treated by church authorities. In fact, the way he was treated was to overshadow what he was saying. Balasuriya complained of a whole series of abuses that marred his chance of getting a fair hearing. “The burden of proof is always put on the accuser,”4 he tells us, and he complains that his views were distorted, his words mistranslated, and continues with a litany of abuses of due process and human rights that has become familiar in such cases so that any new case is seen against this wider background and evokes feelings and memories that stretch back the length of the twentieth century.

We need only recall the pain of someone like Leonardo Boff who was censored for his Church: Charism and Power to see how destructive such procedures are. Boff’s own process lasted on and off for some 20 years, and when he left the priesthood it was to escape a pressure that he described “like an ever-tightening tourniquet rendering my work as a theologian, teacher, lecturer, adviser and writer almost impossible.” “My personal experience of dealing those last 20 years with doctrinal power is this: It is cruel and merciless. It forgets nothing, forgives nothing; it exacts a price for everything. To achieve their end – the imprisonment of theological intelligence – the doctrinal powers take all the time necessary and use all the means necessary.”5

Therefore it is not surprising that the news of Balasuriya’s excommunication was immediately met with an outpouring of support for him. Charles Curran, for example, wrote a warm letter of solidarity with Balasuriya in the National Catholic Reporter, and while saying that doctrinal matters were important, concentrated on the issues of due process, and admitted that he had not read Mary and Human Liberation. In all probability the vast majority of Balasuriya’s immediate supporters had not read his book, either. Certainly it is possible to distinguish the process of due process from that of the truth or falsity of what is being said, but it is symptomatic in the context of the repression-reaction cycles we have been seeing that the doctrinal issues at stake are often pushed far into the background. This attitude is partially unconscious, and engendered by the repression wrought by the imposition of elaborate conceptual structures imposed as if they were the only way to express revelation. The result of the work of the CDF has been to create a theological climate in which it becomes more difficult for theologians to examine objectively and critically those who stand accused. They are understandably reluctant to criticize the work of their accused colleagues for fear they will be seen as condoning the way the CDF has treated them. Therefore, one of the very roles of theologians becomes subverted. They are meant to serve the church community by attempting to explore the Christian mysteries and to point out, as well, what goes against the church’s self-understanding.

But on the other hand, what Balasuriya is saying is important to understand. Edmund Hill sums up Balasuriya’s position in his introduction to Mary and Human Liberation and the ensuing controversy. Balasuriya’s general argument runs like this: the old classical theology is “patriarchal, male dominated, and governed by Western, Greco-Roman cultural presuppositions.” And so we ought to turn to a “new feminist, liberation, inculturation dialogue theologies.”6 There is certainly a sense in which it is easy to agree with this, but of course, the issue is to determine just what that sense is. Balasuriya eloquently argues that Mary needs to be seen in solidarity with the human race, to be seen as a real woman, a woman of the Gospels, and not just raised above everyone else. But the road he takes to do this is fraught with difficulties. He argues that at the heart of devotion to Mary are qualities attributed to her, like the Immaculate Conception, but these qualities are, in turn, based on the qualities we attribute to Christ, especially in terms of redeeming us from sin, and in this way he is led to deal with the question of original sin.

This is a doctrine that he thinks lacks internal coherence, and “is based on unproved and unprovable assumptions.”7 But such a comment immediately raises a theological red flag. In just what way can we expect the Christian mysteries to be provable? Are they provable in some historically verifiable way? Or are they provable because they are found in full form in the Scriptures? Or are they provable because they psychologically resonate with us, or say something about how we should treat each other?

There is no doubt that the question of original sin poses a great challenge for contemporary theology, and Balasuriya touches on some of the elements of this question that need to be examined: the traditional link between original sin and sexuality, the injustice of punishing all people for the sins of our first parents, the apparent injustice of God towards the unbaptized, and so forth. But he doesn’t really deal with them. Instead he will say: “the whole doctrine of original sin is built on the assumptions of a particular medieval Western European philosophical understanding of the human person, nature and the supernatural, which is not necessarily valid for all times and places.”8 If he had said that the Church’s teaching on original sin was heavily conditioned by the historical circumstances within which it arose, one could only agree with him, but there is an overemphasis here that is disturbing.

  The question of original sin becomes a springboard to the issue of the role of Jesus in the salvation of the human race. “Such dogma of original sin implied that Jesus, the universal savior, conferred the graces merited by him, through the Church which he founded.”9 But Balasuriya, apparently motivated by a desire to enter more deeply into dialogue with other religions, questions this. Even if salvation came through Christ, he tells us, that does not mean “…Jesus Christ wanted a Church – say the Catholic Church – to be the mediator of that salvation.”10 This, to his mind, reduces the chance for salvation of people of other religions, or no religion at all, and is therefore unacceptable. What he is going to do is remove this problem by transforming basic Christian doctrine. It is as if he does not see the basic Christian mysteries as the foundation for all theological activity, but rather, as humanly conceived doctrines that can be altered. He will write: “Traditional theology has defined Jesus as one person having two natures: the divine and the human. This is the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon.”11  But then he comments: “Yet, who is able to know these things with any degree of acceptable certitude?”12

A final example highlights this misunderstanding of the nature of theology. “If the doctrine of original sin and its consequences are questioned, then the concept of redemption is also questioned. If we do not understand human nature as essentially fallen, then there is no need of an ontological redemption by Jesus Christ…”13  And Balasuriya appears not to shrink from accepting such a line of reasoning under the guise that it is necessary for interreligious dialogue: “The traditional understanding of redemption, in which Jesus Christ is considered the unique, universal and necessary redeemer in an ontological sense which transforms fallen human nature, is one which it is not possible to use in our multi-faith context, as well as among secular people.”14

What is taking place here is that a genuine desire for openness in dialogue is obscuring the true nature of theology and leading to unacceptable transformations of the Christian mysteries. Do we really need to do this? Even more critical is the question of whether faith itself is being lost in various instances of this kind of reaction theology.

The dynamics of dissent unfold within the larger dynamics we have been seeing. Doctrinal repression in the preconciliar church gave rise to a variety of theological reactions, some of which went off the rails. The demolition that Cardinal Döphner spoke about was not just in his imagination. The same image came to mind when I examined the postconciliar theology of original sin. There, after the demolitionists had leveled the old theology of original sin, they left to ply their trade elsewhere, but the builders never arrived.15 In Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue I examined much of modern Catholic thought in regard to dialogues with Buddhism and Hinduism, and allowed myself to raise questions about what, for example, Willigis Jäger or Anthony DeMello, among many others, were saying, not because they had been censored by the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith – both sections were written before that happened – but because it was clear that there were doctrinal questions that could be raised about their writing. It dawned on me that what could be found in the world of East-West dialogue was part of a larger reaction theology, that is, a theology that has been shaped by the reactions to the repressions that have taken place both before and after the Second Vatican Council. Therefore, concentrating on doctrinal issues, I looked at the work of Ivone Gebara, Tissa Balasuriya, from which part of the present section was taken, Michael Morwood, Diarmuid O’Murchu, Daniel Maguire, and John Dourley.

Much of this book focuses on what could be called the unconscious attitudes of the right, while Christianity in the Crucible looks at the defects of a reaction theology, but concentrates more on the objective content of these reactions rather than their subjective roots. But a largely unconscious atmosphere, however difficult it is to articulate, infiltrates progressive theology as well. In the field of East-West dialogue we see an excellent example of this phenomenon. Its Catholic participants set off on an exciting adventure, immersing themselves in Hinduism and Buddhism, but there existed within this adventure a mood created by a reaction to the old narrowly drawn theological categories of the past which, by way of reaction, sometimes led to these pioneers reinterpreting Christianity in Buddhist or Hindu categories. The case of Abhishiktananda comes readily to mind. If here I have left the impression that I have been harder on the conservatives than the progressives, this chapter and the reading of the Crucible will redress the balance.


The State of Our Theological Conversations


If the council can rightly be said to be the council of the nouvelle théologie, and even the realization of the legitimate aspirations of the modernists, and if both Montini, Wojtyla and Ratzinger cannot be called rigid Thomists of the old school, then we are faced with a puzzle. This council, instead of ushering in a long and glorious era of theological peace and prosperity, appears to have led to yet another cycle of repression and reaction under John Paul II. But this cycle cannot be blamed on Thomism which had been swept aside as a punishment for its sins. Therefore, we need to take a look at Thomism after the council, and then, at this latest cycle, to try to discover what drives it, although the answer is by now becoming quite familiar to us. 

Thomism after the council, when it did not simply disappear, again showed a variety of faces. It sometimes became a historical Thomism compensating for the ahistorical Thomism of the past, but this turn to history went hand in hand with a turn away from a properly philosophical Thomism.16  It is as if Thomism had lost its philosophical self-confidence which would have allowed it to tackle pressing contemporary questions, and it retreated into its history. But Thomism, itself, is not bound by nature to either an ahistoricism or an overcompensating historicism.

Another face of contemporary Thomism is one in which it seems unable to profit from the lessons of its own past, and so it continues to ally itself with Roman authoritarianism and right-wing politics. It has not profited from Maritain’s move from an unreflective alliance with the Action française to a consciously articulated social philosophy independent of the political passions of both left and right.17  

Thomism had been pressed into service as an instrument of repression, but this latest cycle of repression under John Paul II demonstrates that it was not an intrinsic element of these cycles. Thomism as a whole paid dearly for a certain complacent acceptance of its privileged institutional position, and for the actions of those Thomists who exploited that position to oppress their opponents. The good news, however, is precisely this distinction between an institutional Thomism and Thomism, itself, which means that if Thomism could shed these previous historical incarnations and reimmerse itself in its fundamental intuitions, and use them to engage the pressing problems of the day, it could rise again.

If Thomism is not the culprit in this latest cycle, then what is? We might argue with considerable justification that in the postconciliar period the council fathers went home, and the conservative element in the curia did what they could to hold and even reverse the process of renewal. But what I would like to look at are the energies that drive this latest cycle. Our latest cycle is certainly shaped by the past ones, but it has its own unique characteristics. The turn to the modern world and the use of the historical-critical method, so much at stake before, succeeded in gaining a certain measure of official acceptance, but at the same time vast reservoirs of repressed thoughts and feelings began to vent themselves. And because they were the products of repression, these thoughts and sentiments sometimes came out in rebellious and/or doctrinally questionable ways. This outburst alarmed church authorities who, in various ways, tried to put the lid back on the boiling-over pot, an exercise of the old style of control they were used to, but this time it proved impossible to do. The very basis of their control in the way the members of the church perceived Roman authority had shifted. Time could not be turned back to the old patterns of authority and obedience, so instead of another old style of repression and reaction in which the reaction remained subterranean, biding its time, an open polarization appeared between the Roman authorities and a conservative minority on one side, and on the other, a more progressive theological community. The pontificate of Pope John Paul II illustrated these new dynamics well. Despite the pope’s forceful insistence on any number of issues, and the punitive actions of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the result has not been the same as in the days of Pascendi and Humani generis. Therefore, the polarization that we have been living with for more than 40 years can be looked upon as a kind of stalled cycle of repression and reaction. The old style repressive attempts have failed, but the cycle, itself, is still with us.

Let’s look at each side of the cycle because each one hinders theology in its own way. On the repressive side, a certain authoritarianism emanates from Rome and elsewhere that quickly recalls to the long and sensitive theological memory of past repressions like the one that we saw Yves Congar so graphically describing. This authoritarianism is often short on dialogue and due process, and even when it makes what could be called an accurate doctrinal judgment, it can do so in a language that tends to alienate, and in a maladroit manner that further alienates it from the theological community. Its disciplinary actions may succeed on the surface, but it is much less successful in winning minds and hearts.

The other side of this cycle, that is, the reactive element, is much less remarked upon. What is repressed can be by that very fact radicalized and take a negative and combative form. Put in another way, creative theological activity can be twisted out of shape by the reactive emotions of the theologian who has suffered repression. Then repression in the name of doctrinal correctness, even when it is valid, can actually foster the kind of extreme theological statements it most fears. The breaking of this cycle is a difficult challenge that would demand much from either side. Roman authoritarianism is outmoded. This certainly doesn’t mean that Rome doesn’t have a central role to play in safeguarding the faith, but rather, the form of doing this needs to change. Even on pragmatic grounds, calling a long line of theologians onto the carpet has yielded little fruit unless we want to count the chilling factor it has had on the public discussion of many issues.

There is a reactive side, as well. It is entirely possible that previous repressions, even if not directed specifically at Balasuriya, helped shape some of his expressions that appear hard to defend, and they, in their turn, drew down upon him a heavy weight of direct repression. A tremendous amount of energy was surely expended by Balasuriya and his superiors, as well as his interlocutors in Rome, but we would have to be quite optimistic to believe that the issue was genuinely resolved.

There are many stories like that of Balasuriya in which repression in its various forms leads to reaction, and sometimes inadequate theological formulations, which in turn lead to direct and explicit repression, and more reactions so that repression and reaction are locked in a spiral that generates an atmosphere in which theological conversations – which certainly ought to include Rome at some stage – become more difficult. If Rome ought to reflect on how it can enter into these conversations, the theological community needs to look at the reactive side of the equation. Despite repressive measure that draw the lines of doctrinal correctness too narrowly, there is still the issue of good theology and bad, true theology and false, despite how difficult it might be to consider those qualities in the current theological climate.

Roman authoritarianism is rooted in an elaborate institutionalization of the primacy of Peter, and an excessive centralization of church administration in the curia. These kinds of institutionalizations tend to turn in upon themselves and blend with a conservative attitude that Étienne Borne once summed up in regard to the attitude of the integralists by saying that they confused “devotion to the past with fidelity to the eternal.”18 The result is a certain sacralization of human arrangements as if they were of divine origin, and so those who theologically challenge the way things are are not only disruptive and disturbing of good order, but are tinged with an aura of evil. Thus, even the nouvelle théologie, or any theology, when put in that setting begins to exhibit the traits so despised in the old neoscholasticism. What is needed is a thoroughgoing de-institutionalization of the church from Rome on down, but that, however urgent, will be a long and difficult process. Institutionalization goes hand in hand with a desire for power and control, which in turn breeds repression, and repression breeds reaction. And a theology that is colored by this kind of reaction can become so sensitive about its freedom that its powers of self-criticism begin to be clouded.

The case of Roger Haight gives some hope that the polarization between the CDF’s high-handed ways and the theological community’s reluctance to admit, at least in public, that things are being said that with the best hermeneutic will in the world appear contrary to the understanding of the church community, might be lessening. Haight’s book, Jesus: Symbol of God, presents a Christology from below that not only the CDF has problems with, but some of his fellow theologians, as well, and they have not been afraid to state their reservations in public. Gerald O’Collins, for example, of the Gregorian University who had defended Jacques Dupuis, called Haight’s book a “triumph of relevance over orthodoxy,” and went on, “Dupuis took Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, and for him that was not debatable… That Christ rose from the dead was nonnegotiable. This isn’t the case with Haight.”19 Hopefully this willingness of the theological community to speak up will be met with a willingness of the CDF to modify its procedures.


The Education of the Laity


The subjective attitudes we are exploring are to be found not only in Rome or the theological community, but in popular theological education, as well. Jeannette Cooperman, for example, in a column for the National Catholic Reporter, “Going beyond the kiddie version of God”20 described the stir created by a scripture scholar connected to the Jesus Seminar when he raised all sorts of provocative questions about the infinite nature of God and the divinity of Jesus in front of a theologically unsophisticated audience. Half of the listeners left angrily, but Cooperman was exhilarated and decided she needed to learn more about the Jesus Seminar. But when she read a remark by Marcus Borg that such questions had been commonplace in Protestant seminaries since the 1950s, she recounts, “I felt my face go hot. Words gathered in the back of my throat and flew out unchecked: How dare they? I envisioned clergy all over the country whispering the latest thinking to each other but never raising their voices loud enough to carry to the pews.”21 She felt that people were “sick of being patronized, patted on the head and told the kiddie version.” Upon further reflection she realized the serious challenges that these kinds of views posed for Christian faith, and she resolved to take responsibility for her own education in the matter. But the disjunction between the emotions and the rational response is significant.

Cooperman’s initial emotional response is analogous to the responses to the CDF of the sort “How dare they abuse the rights of Tissa Balasuriya,” which then often continues, “Why haven’t I heard about him before?” which leads to “Let me put him on my reading list.” (In fact, most of these condemnations seem to boost the book sales of those condemned.) Or, “Let’s invite him to address our group.” And finally, if we are not careful, to “This must be the latest theological breakthrough.” If we arrived at this final conclusion we would be attributing to the CDF a kind of reverse infallibility of the sort, if they say it is bad, it must be good. Actually, the judgment call about some of the statements made in this atmosphere of reaction theology does not call for rocket science theology. The errors are visible to the theological community if it cares to look, but after a century of theological witch-hunting by the Vatican, it is understandable if it is inclined not to say anything.

It is precisely the lack of theological education on the part of the laity that can make some mediocre theology, especially if it comes wrapped up in adolescent rebellion, seem attractive. One of the saddest aspects of the great exodus of religious and priests after the council is that some of them, having been force-fed Catholicism in rigid institutional forms, when they rejected the forms they rejected the faith as well. In an allied phenomenon there were people teaching in Catholic institutions, or having some sort of official position in the church, who underwent the same kind of reactive loss of faith, but remained at their posts, broadcasting a corrosive rejection of the faith. What drives this kind of project, which goes beyond the inertia of finding another job, might at times be the feeling that, having been abused at the hands of the institutional church, this is a way to strike back at it. On one occasion I heard a noted Catholic theologian describe how he would enlighten his young theologically unsophisticated students by telling them about all the dying and rising gods that inhabited the Middle East at the time of Jesus, the point of which appeared to be that Jesus was one of the crowd. Not only was this a quite problematical view of history, but it was said with a breath-taking, but perhaps unconscious, negativity of feeling, and it resonated with many people in the small audience who laughed knowingly. This kind of enantiodromatic reversal of belief is not a rare phenomenon. Colman McCarthy, for example, who directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington and writes rather belligerent columns for the National Catholic Reporter, in one of them commented on the policy of some bishops to refuse Communion to Catholic pro-choice politicians. His disapproval of such a policy became a springboard for venting his feelings about the church and those who have remained in it: The refusal of Communion “would have been enough to get me rushing to leave the church. Except that I departed decades ago, and without a day of regret since.” The communion-refusing bishops are right, we are told: “Obey or go.” “Instead of a faith-based life, I’ve tried to live a peace-based life. No doctrines, no dogmas, no credos, no artificial ties to a headquarters, no “one true church” smugness. Questions about God’s existence or nonexistence are irrelevant: In our daily lives, what would we do differently if we knew one way or another?” McCarthy is friends with Catholics, and admires some, he writes, but is puzzled. “How they square their spiritual fidelity with theological dissent is, to me, beyond understanding – another mystery of faith, I suppose.”22 But the real question here is why he feels compelled to spend his energy attacking Catholics who, according to him, haven’t had the backbone to leave the church yet. Perhaps this is another instance of outraged feelings seeking expression. Another question is why the National Catholic Reporter invites him to abuse its readership.

It would be a sad occasion if someone were to come to the conclusion after much thought and soul-searching that the Catholic faith in its essentials doctrines was simply untrue, and they could no longer be part of the Catholic community. But it is quite another matter that, having been mistreated by the institutional church – which, itself, confused the substance of the faith with its human forms – to keep that confusion intact and react to this abuse by leaving both the old forms and the substance behind.


The Reaction


A similar pattern of reaction shows up in the field of Catholic theological studies. In preconciliar America, Catholic colleges often looked to neoscholastic philosophy for the centerpiece that would give their students a unified Catholic outlook. Theology was something done in seminaries, and made its appearance in the colleges as an occasional course in religion which served as a kind of advanced catechism. The whole Catholic college world was sustaining serious criticism by the mid-1950s. Catholic intellectual life, according to John Tracy Ellis, “could barely be said to exist and had no discernible influence whatsoever on American culture in general.”23 In the Catholic intellectual world there was, to his mind, a “self-imposed ghetto mentality.”24 According to another critic Thomas O’Dea, Catholic tradition suffered from formalism, authoritarianism, clericalism, moralism and defensiveness, all qualities that not surprisingly remind us of those applied to scholastic philosophy, itself, the criticism of which had also begun in these preconciliar years. The advent of the council accelerated the whole process – whether in regards to scholastic philosophy or the Catholic college world – of breaking out of this Catholic ghetto. The beginning of the council had given a strong impetus to the formation of college theology departments, and in some places doctoral programs of theology. But this world of academic theology was to be carried along by the same kind of reaction to the liberating event of the council that we have been examining. Frank Shubert, for example, depicts its trajectory like this: from 1955 to 1965 there existed what he called the Catholic sacred order, or a sense of Catholic identity that expressed itself in courses on essential Catholic themes like the Trinity or the sacraments. From 1965 to 1975 Catholic identity gave way to Catholicism as one among many points of view with courses on ecumenism or comparative religion. From 1975 to 1985 the majority of courses were not directed to any sacred order at all. They went not only beyond Roman Catholicism, but theism, itself. There was a movement, Shubert believed, at least at the particular Catholic universities he was examining, that Avery Dulles sums up as “from theology to religious studies and beyond.”25

If the general lines of such a trajectory can be said to be true, then we are faced with another example of a reaction theology, that is, a theology reacting to the Catholic ghetto in which it lived that becomes a theology in dialogue with other religious traditions, and then a rather amorphous religious studies program. Maritain no doubt would see here another example of what he called kneeling before the world. Even in places where things did not reach this kind of extreme, Catholic theology could suffer from a number of potentially debilitating paradoxes. Many future Catholic scholars, for example, having done their undergraduate work in Catholic institutions, for variety and economics turned to non-Catholic universities for their post-graduate studies. This left a smaller number of Catholic students to do their doctorates in Catholic universities which ended up teaching many non-Catholics and people from abroad. Students, however, trained outside of Catholic schools, faced a job market which funneled many of them back into teaching at Catholic institutions which was something their graduate training had often not directly prepared them to do.26

What is at the heart of the question of Catholic theological identity is the nature of theology, itself. If we model theology as another subject, searching for academic excellence, then theology will be judged by the customary norms of the academic world. Then it becomes entirely possible to have non-Catholics and even non-believers teaching in Catholic departments of theology, not to mention Catholics who disagree with the fundamental doctrines of the church. But this view of theology is already a major departure from the traditional one in which the theologian’s task is to reflect about the faith of the church that he or she possesses, and the results of that reflection are put at the service of the church and judged by it.

In an interesting talk, Joseph Kunkel, at the time of his retirement from the department of philosophy at the University of Dayton, illustrates the problems involved. Like so many others, he moved from a Thomistic orientation to addressing more contemporary issues. While he agreed “that Catholic universities to be Catholic need to maintain a Catholic identity,”27 he was unsure what that meant and how to achieve it. He contrasted the attitude of some bishops to whom Ex Corde Ecclesiae, i.e., the process of a theologian securing from his or her bishop a mandate to teach, means holding to a whole catechism of views to the prevailing attitudes about tenure and academic freedom. One administrator summed up the latter point of view as it existed in 1967 by saying: “the professors could teach as they see fit as long as they pay due reverence to the Magisterium and their competence is attested to by their colleagues.”

Should a professor have to get a new mandate whenever his or her state changes, Kunkel asked? What happens if some of the faculty members come as Catholics and become agnostics, or as priests and get married? “Our competence as professors,” he tells us, “is not supposed to be judged by these types of changes, but by the quality of the teaching and research that we do.”

It would be unfair to single out Professor Kunkel as holding extreme views in these matters, but let’s look at the consequences in terms of his own career. He, himself, came to hold for reincarnation, and the illusory nature of the ego. “Is there a God?” he asked. “Yes. God is that Absolute Consciousness of which we all partake… We achieve absolute consciousness to the extent we remove egoic attachments… When they are all gone nothing of separate substance remains.” And he goes on to argue, “This may not sound like the stuff of which a mandate is made, at least not as interpreted by some of our conservative bishops. But whether I am right or wrong I think it is important in Catholic universities to allow theologians and philosophers some room within which to develop their views on the nature of soul, afterlife, wisdom, and God.”28

While we can appreciate Kunkel’s candor, we can certainly wonder about a philosophy, and especially a theology, taught in a Catholic setting that has all the appearances of being difficult to reconcile with the Catholic faith. Someone might, indeed, come to teach as a Catholic theologian at a Catholic university, and decide that they no longer believed in some of the essential teachings of the faith, but then does it really make much sense to continue teaching in that setting, tenure and academic freedom not withstanding, if we understand theology as a reflection on the faith of the church? Nor is it readily understandable why someone would want to continue teaching in such a position which is somewhat analogous to a priest who no longer believes but who desires to continue to administer the sacraments.

Peter Steinfels paints much the same picture, that is, the preconciliar roots of the problem followed by a movement to join the larger academic world that meant leaving the old distinctive Catholic identity behind. “Nostalgia for a supposed Golden Age,” meant in the eyes of many Catholic educators a return to “a defensive, isolated ghetto Catholicism.”29 This reaction, much like the other reactions we have been charting, was at times excessive. Catholic candidates for positions in Catholic schools were sometimes almost, or, in fact, were actually, at a disadvantage. This was particularly true where philosophy departments “at many Catholic schools felt pressed to distance themselves from any religious coloration that might threaten their academic respectability – some of them to the point, I was told, that anyone with a background in Catholic philosophy was at a positive disadvantage in seeking a position.”30 The result was not only a loss of the old Catholic identity, but a certain loss of Catholic identity in itself, leading the students, not surprisingly, to a counterreaction of their own in which they complained about the weak training in the faith they had received with a refrain that went: “Teachers aren’t prepared.” “Nothing in depth, just Jesus is love.” “No content; touchy feely.” “A baby-sitting session.” “Emphasis was on social issues.”31


Theological Orientations


I have insisted that our proper focus was the discovery of the hidden dynamics surrounding the topics we have been examining. It is only fair, however, to look at some of these issues briefly in themselves to illustrate, I hope, that once the passions of reaction and repression have quieted, it would be possible to resolve these contentious issues. 

Thomism. Thomism has paid heavily for its privileged position in the preconciliar church and its alliance with the forces of repression. Unfortunately it often makes its way today as if there is a natural alliance between it and conservative theology and right-wing politics. This kind of Thomism has nothing to do with Thomism in itself, and could certainly limit its appeal in the future. Thomism has great reserves of creative energy waiting to be tapped in regard to dialogues with Hinduism and Buddhism, paleoanthropology and quantum physics, and many other areas. The fact that it has not made much recent headway in doing so is due to the past burdens it still carries.

Birth Control. Could the church actually change its mind on this matter? Yes. The tradition of the church on the use of the marital act is much richer than is usually supposed, and could accommodate such a change. Humanae vitae was a tragedy for the church for all the reasons that Avery Dulles enumerated, and for the fact that it closed the doors of hope that the council had opened, and solidified the polarization that had already begun. This tragedy was made even sadder because it was unnecessary. The church’s position on contraception had already substantially changed in 1950 with Pius XII’s approval of rhythm. Unfortunately, the deeper implications of this change seemed to have usually gone unremarked upon, but there had been exceptions. One of them was Charles Davis who, while attending the council as a peritus in an address to the council fathers from England and Wales, told them that this change had not been a minor point, but “a profound change in the theology of marriage…”32 But this issue was never aired at the council, itself, for it had been forbidden to discuss birth control. Nor does it seem to have played a central role in the deliberations of the Birth Control Commission, yet it held the key to answering Pope Paul’s major preoccupation with the continuity between any change and the statements of his predecessors. The Birth Control Commission, as well as the bishops of the commission, had voted in favor of the proposition that contraception was not intrinsically evil, for they realized that if they said it was, the doctrine could not be changed. But what if they had been asked whether married couples could in certain circumstances make use of the conjugal act and not intend to conceive new life? This is the question that Pius XII had answered back in 1950, although it does not appear that he saw the full implications of what he was saying. In making this decision about rhythm, however, he drew on a whole tradition that had allowed the old and the sterile to make use of the conjugal act even when there was no hope of conception.33

The condemnation of contraception has a long and venerable history in the church, but it represents just part of the total tradition. The other part about the use of the marital act without the intention of procreation is equally if not more ancient. The decision whether to permit certain non-abortive contraceptives was seen by the conservatives and the pope only against the background of that part of the tradition that condemned contraceptives. The other part of the tradition was ignored. If the import of what Pius XII had done had been recognized, then the way would have been open to show how a change in the church’s teaching, while certainly in discontinuity with one part of its tradition, was in continuity with another.

Once contraception was condemned, then it was inevitable that this decision would be in tension with the decision of Pius XII to approve rhythm, and so an enormous effort was going to be expended to show how rhythm was not the same as other non-abortive forms of contraception. This led to all sorts of semantic contortions, and the results were unworthy of the esteem reason should have been accorded in this matter. In other words, people out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to the pope tried to do the impossible in regard to natural family planning, which was to show how a person might make use of the marital act, intend to avoid conception, and still claim that the act was, indeed, open to conception. No wonder Cardinal König had talked about “this irritating distinction.”

Does changing the church’s position on contraception mean giving up infallibility? No. But it does mean distinguishing between the genuine reality of infallibility and the very human conceptions of it. As immense as the problem of birth control is, especially considering its ramifications for questions of world population, and its effect on the rate of abortions, it is rivaled by the great difficulty couples have in staying together. The pastoral question of divorce and remarriage rests on this larger issue, which in turn is related in part to the unconscious dynamics that profoundly influence the relationships between men and women.

 Infallibility. Infallibility as we know it now is encrusted with outmoded historical forms and deformed by unexamined psychological forces, and it needs to be freed from these burdens and resituated in regard to what could be called the ways of knowing by faith. These ways of knowing by faith fall into two broad categories: the personal and the ecclesial. The personal ways of knowing by faith include our individual acts of faith, theology as a reflection on the mysteries of the faith, and mystical experience which comes about through the illumination of faith by love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The ecclesial ways of knowledge by faith include biblical inspiration, canonicity, that is, the way in which the church decided what writings were the primary expressions of its self-understanding, and doctrinal development. Infallibility finds its place among the ecclesial ways of knowing. It is a quality that belongs first and foremost to the church as the mystical body of Christ which cannot be the church if it does not have a true and certain knowledge of Christ. The certainty that this fundamental knowledge of Christ engenders in it is expressed in a variety of ways: by the teachings of the ecumenical councils, by the ordinary magisterium of the bishops of the world over time, by the solemn statements of the pope, and by the sense of the faithful. But all these ways of expressing certitude need to be examined carefully in the light of our understanding of revelation, itself. We can certainly do damage to a genuine sense of revelation if we subordinate it to the methodological limits of the historical-critical method, as Joseph Ratzinger indicated, but we can do harm, as well, if we take the infallibility of the pope, materialize it, and separate it from the knowing church, turning it into some sort of oricular form of inspired speech in which we blur the distinction between the pope expressing the consciousness of the church, and the pope being bathed in a personal aura of infallibility, receiving inspiration from on high and letting the rest of the church know what God’s will is.

In summary, on the progressive side, theological speculations were put forward that were incompatible with the faith. This must be admitted even though some of these formulations were the result of, or were sharpened by, the reactions to past repressions. Further, the same climate of reaction to repression made it more difficult for theologians to criticize those of their colleagues who had fallen into conflict with the authorities. Finally, in its more virulent form, repression, masquerading as a defense of the faith, having deeply wounded theologians, helped give rise to a desire in them to strike back at the faith, itself. In short, we are not going to be adequately able to face up to the problems that divide the church today if we refuse to see that there is a doctrinal dimension to them. All too often, on the other hand, a praise-worthy conservative insistence on preserving the treasures of the faith sometimes miscarried into a refusal to frankly admit past and present repressions, and the reactions they called forth, and went hand and hand with a narrow conceptual expression of the faith which was put forth as identical with the faith, itself, and in an all too human invocation of authority, presenting itself as if it were of divine origins, a process we need to continue to examine.




Chapter 12

 Sheep, Shepherds and Systems of Perfection




When Rome in 1997 issued new norms about lay ministry called, Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest which said that lay people should not have the title of chaplain or coordinator, wear priestly garb or make priestly gestures, be trained in seminaries, etc., some observers predicted it would have little practical effect on the U.S. where lay ministry was firmly in place. Perhaps they were right. But it is a telling document because of what it says about how the lay person in seen by the highest reaches of the hierarchy, for it was signed by eight Vatican offices and specifically approved by John Paul II.

Lay ministry is a threat to priestly vocations, the Instruction seemed to say, by spreading a misunderstanding of how the “common” priesthood of the faithful differs from that conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders. Thus, lay people should not be given titles or act in ways that will confuse people about who is an ordained priest and who is not, nor should lay people on diocesan and parochial councils actually expect to have a deliberative vote, an attitude anticipated by the U.S. bishops’ conference which excluded all non-bishops from voting a few months previous to this Instruction. Hardly a coincidence.

Even the authors of this document seem to realize how it would be received, and tried to provide damage control before the fact by concluding: “It should also be understood that these clarifications and distinctions do not stem from a concern to defend clerical privileges but from the need to be obedient to the will of Christ, and to respect the constitutive form which he indelibly impressed on his church.”1 Yet they still issued it. Why? Was it because lay people are forgetting who the parish priest is? No. Rather, it could be better seen as an indication of how little genuine energy Rome can muster to deal with the problems at the heart of the vocational crisis to the priesthood, and so it projects the blame for it on the laity. Then it invokes the “will of Christ” as if that will silence any objections.

Reinhold Stecher, Bishop of Innsbruck, some ten days before his retirement, commented on this decree in which he saw a refusal to recognize the actual pastoral situation of the church where in many places people go without the sacraments for want of priests, a scarcity due to insisting on celibacy. “Problems inevitably arise,” he wrote, “when we ignore God’s desire for universal salvation, and the most profound theological and sacramental reality, in order to absolutize human regulations. The decree on lay ministers is concerned entirely with defending the rights of the ordained. It shows no concern for the health of the community… Everything is sacrificed to a definition of church office for which there is no basis in revelation.”2

Jacques Maritain in an article called, “A propos of the French School,” examined the seventeenth century spirituality of Cardinal de Berulle that was so influential in the formation of priests. Berulle, he felt, confused the sanctity to which the priest was called with the state of life that came to him in ordination. “The belief that “God took on flesh” is absolutely and strictly the very same thing as “God made Himself a priest”; the belief that the priest is a superchristian, and even more than that; the belief that he is a conjoined instrument of the Savior; that he enters into His divine Person; that by his ordination he is constituted in a state of perfection and sanctity; finally the belief that through this very state all those things that he happens to do in the exercise of his functions are marked with the seal of the sacred.”3 The result is a kind of sacred clericalism in which whatever the priest does is somehow holy in virtue of his ordination. And it does not take much for this kind of attitude to be transmuted by unconscious psychological forces into a feeling that says God has given his graces and powers into my priestly hands, and it is my job to govern the church.

This view of the church in which the higher we are on the clerical ladder the closer we are to God breeds a certain passivity in the laity so that we end up with hundreds of talented people sitting in the pews, listening to the often uninspiring sermons of the priests, and having no real say in how the parish is run. Or we are told about the need for vocations for the priesthood, but this means that the laity should encourage their children to leave their own world and become part of a more exalted clerical one. So ingrained is this kind of ecclesiology that the hierarchy continues to cling to it even when it is clear to an objective observer that it is not working. Parishes experience Massless Sundays, or they close, or priests are brought in from foreign lands so that the system can limp along like before.

The formation of the Voice of the Faithful in 2002 in the wake of the latest round of reporting on the sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. illustrates how even in the face of something as serious as this crisis, an ingrained clericalism can persist. The Voice of the Faithful had as its stated goals to respond to victims of abuse, to be supportive of priests of integrity, that is, the priests innocent of these crimes, and to work towards the structural reform of the church. The reasoning behind this third goal, which was the one that was to get them into trouble with the hierarchy, read: “With the laity involved in the decision making of the church – with mothers and fathers playing an active role – the sex abuse scandal would never have happened. It could happen only in a culture of single males who believed that they were superior to their flock; who believed covering up crimes by priests to protect the reputation of the church was more important than protecting children.”4

The laity had grown up with a belief in the church in which human faith mixed with the divine, and this had come out in a blind trust that made it unthinkable to them that a priest would abuse children, or that bishops would cover this abuse up. The tremendous impact of the sexual abuse scandal fragmented this belief, but it still came as a shock that in the midst of the crisis the clergy clung to its old vision of the church. When the Voice of the Faithful, for example, which was trying to act by consensus and had considered but rejected calling for Cardinal Law’s resignation, met with one of the Archdiocese of Boston’s auxiliary bishops, he told them: “You had no business even considering the question.”5 Nor did they have the authority, they were told by a young clerical aid to the bishop, to raise money to make up for the shortfall of donations to the Cardinal’s Appeal. At another meeting, another clerical assistant told them “that God was revealed primarily through the hierarchy and the hierarchy was in a position to translate revelation to lay people,”6 which is, of course, another version of the “will of the superior is the will of God” principle of the old-style religious life, and we can see the belief in such a principle as creating the psychological conditions that made the laity trust the clergy in such an uncritical way.

Thomas Doyle, addressing a Voice of the Faithful convention, talked incisively to them about “the fallacy of clericalism:” “The primary symptom of this virus is the delusion that the clergy are somehow above the laity, deserving of unquestioned privilege and stature, and keepers of our salvation and the guarantors of our favor with the Lord. The deadliest symptom, however, is the unbridled addiction to power…”7 And he calls “for all Catholics and indeed all Christians to abandon the magical thinking about the hierarchy and clergy that sustains the medieval paradigm.”8 This magical thinking is no different than the unconscious emotional forces that we have been examining that prey on genuine faith.

It is unlikely that the hierarchy will rush to address this issue, for it is the equivalent of asking them to distinguish in the view of the church they harbor the part that is of faith, and the part that they unconsciously imagine to be of faith. Their inability to address the abuse crisis is a gauge of their ability for self-reformation. Donald Cozzens, who attended meetings with church leaders before the 2002 crisis writes: “I recall no thoughtful discussions about the causes of the problem, its meaning or implications. Attempts to do so were often met with a suspicion that a certain agenda was at work.”9

What is likely in this climate are more attacks launched at the laity similar to those that the Voice of the Faithful has suffered. They have been forbidden, for example, to meet on church property in some places. One auxiliary bishop wrote: “the activities and promotion of the Voice of the Faithful must be curtailed in order to avoid further scandal and polarity among our parishioners.”10 And when the director of the Voice of the Faithful entered the press room of the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting on sexual abuse in Dallas, a nun working for the bishops’ public relations department physically restrained him, and threatened him with hotel security if he didn’t leave.




Rome too often commingles infallibility, the ordinary magisterium, and an unexamined clericalism to come up with a potent mixture that says to be a good and loyal Catholic you should do what we tell you to do because we know God’s will. This attitude then flows from Rome to even the more remote parts of the church. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, for example, felt justified in excommunicating members of Call to Action. Happily, this way of proceeding was not imitated by his fellow bishops. But this mentality was not without repercussions elsewhere. Robert Vasa, the vicar general of the Lincoln diocese, was appointed bishop of Baker diocese in an extensive but lightly populated area in eastern Oregon. He reportedly greeted the people gathered to welcome him to his new position with the statement, “Baker diocese, get in line with Lincoln.” And later he issued a pastoral letter, “Giving Testimony to the Truth,” in which he imposed on the lay ministers of the diocese an “Affirmation of Personal Faith.” In his letter he drew a parallel to the clergy sexual abuse scandal, and said he would be remiss if he allowed lay ministers who did not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist to distribute Communion to children, or failed to “hold interior dispositions consistent with Church teachings.” The bishop’s action did not appear to be in response to actual problems, for example, lay ministers denying the real presence, and looking at the faith of the laity was not the most obvious inference to draw in the face of the sexual abuse crisis brought about by clerics and covered up by the hierarchy. The bishop wrote: “Bishops are now severely criticized for their failure to hold priests to a strict and appropriate code of conduct. Some suggest that the widespread legitimization of dissent from Catholic teaching plays a part in this scandal. This is an opinion with which I would agree.”11 But again, it is hard to see how dissent on the part of the laity played a role in this scandal.

But the whole matter becomes clearer when we look at the issues that capture the bishop’s attention, which are moral rather than doctrinal ones. “Catholics espousing seriously immoral propositions or living lives clearly contrary to the teaching of the Gospel while claiming full union with the Catholic Church are certainly a cause of confusion to the faithful and especially to the Church’s ‘little ones’.”12 In the “Affirmation of Personal Faith” it is not one of the ancient credos of the church that takes pride of place, but sexual matters: abortion, contraception, sex outside of marriage, and homosexuality. They are followed more briefly by the real Presence, Mary, hell, and purgatory. The bishop states he does not want to publicly embarrass anyone, and the oath can be taken in private with the pastor of the parish. Clearly, though, it is hard to see how the disappearance of lay ministers from their accustomed roles would not be a public event. Those who dissent from church teachings, the bishop tells us, cannot expect to hold a public position in the church, which is a reasonable enough statement on the surface of things, but the bishop’s view of conscience is more problematical. “No one can claim a legitimate right to follow a conscience which is clearly not formed in a fashion consistent with the very clear teachings of the Catholic Church. The following of one’s own conscience is a strict moral obligation but that obligation is preceded by the obligation to assure that the conscience one is following is properly formed. When that conscience leads to judgments which are diametrically opposed to the clear and consistent teachings of the Catholic Church then the conscience has established itself as a new and individual, infallible personal magisterium which far exceeds the definition of conscience.”13 The impression this leaves is that although one must follow his or her conscience, this conscience must be erroneous if it does not agree with the teachings of the church. The further implication is that a conscience that disagrees with the teaching of the church therefore cannot be followed in good conscience, but is somehow blameworthy.

This all becomes more concrete when we look at the least defensible part of the bishop’s Affirmation of Faith when he says, following the catechism of the Catholic Church: “I affirm and believe the Church’s teaching about the sinfulness of contraception. I affirm, in accord with the teachings of the Church that “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2370) Are we to conclude that disagreement with this teaching of the church disqualifies one from lay ministry? This is certainly the bishop’s position. Would he logically extend this position and say that every priest, theologian, religious and bishop who disagrees with this position is thereby disqualified from ministry? What would he say about the statements of the various episcopal conferences we saw commenting on Humanae vitae? And must we say that they are somehow culpable in conscience in behaving this way? What will be next? The bishop states, “An inability to make this Affirmation does not necessarily exclude someone from the possibility of receiving Holy Communion but it would indicate a need to look at his or her own life more carefully and consider, before God, the acceptability of his or her moral status.”14 Is some bolder bishop somewhere going to insist that each one of the faithful makes an affirmation against contraception in order to receive Communion?

Bishop Vasa’s letter raises any number of questions. When he says, for example, that he needs to know that the lay ministers “hold interior dispositions consistent with Church teachings,” he leaves unexamined the question of whether it is possible for a Catholic to dissent in good conscience from authoritative but non-infallible teachings, and take into account the hierarchy of truths, that is, that a truth such as the church’s teaching on contraception doesn’t stand at the same level of importance, or require the same assent of faith as do the central doctrines of Christianity.

Unremarkably, the bishop’s action called forth a counterreaction in which members of the diocese protested to the CDF, and two dozen lay ministers at the largest parish alone in the diocese withdrew. An Oregon chapter of Call to Action was formed, and held a meeting in Bend, Oregon where the diocesan offices were located.15 

This affair also points to the much larger problem of the current practice of selecting bishops in which conservative U.S. bishops, in concert with Rome, selected candidates and imposed them on local churches without concerning themselves about the wishes of the people and priests involved. The same kind of imposition has taken place in Europe and Latin America, and these bishops from above are then free to dismantle the work of their predecessors, as has happened, for example, on the retirement of Helder Câmara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife. José Comblin, a Belgian theologian working in Latin America, said, “The repression by the present archbishop was very heavy, very violent, very visible. He expelled 14 priests, those who were working on social problems. He dissolved the Pastoral Land Commission, he dissolved the Human Rights Commission, closed the regional seminary. He took a whole series of quite aggressive measures that provoked opposition.”16 


Conflicting Ecclesiologies


By now we have seen over and over again how underneath the divisions in the church there are strikingly different ecclesiologies, and it is worth making this point a final time while we ask ourselves whether these ecclesiologies, themselves, are the reflections of the hidden dynamics we have been examining. In What Went Wrong with Vatican II in an exercise of what could be called a traditionalist ecclesiology, Ralph McInerny, an American Thomist philosopher, wanted to “give the very deepest answer to that key question.”17 The golden age of American Catholicism was, he felt, quite golden, and it was not the council, itself, that caused the subsequent decline of the church. Whatever debates took place in the council, it was the Holy Spirit that spoke in the council documents The real crisis came in 1968 with Humanae Vitae. The pope in the encyclicals spoke clearly, but dissident theologians refused to listen, and they set themselves up as a competing authority to the magisterium of the popes and bishops. Lay people, lacking the training to follow the theological arguments involved in the birth control controversy, were thrown into confusion and pulled in different directions by these two conflicting authorities, that is, the genuine teaching authority of the church, and the spurious authority that the theologians took upon themselves.

For McInerny the choice of who to believe is obvious. One need only read the council’s Lumen gentium: “The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head, whose primatial authority, let it be added, over all, whether pastors or faithful, remains in its integrity. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as the Vicar of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”18  He will even quote rather unilateral views on obedience to the pope to make his point. Michael Lawrence, for example, an editor of Triumph magazine, said that those who thought that conscience could balance what the pope was saying in Humanae vitae had a Protestant view of conscience: “a Catholic does not have a free conscience.”19 And he will add to that the sentiments of Germain Grisez: “The thing that is peculiar to Catholics is that we are papists. I think that the decision is undoubtedly a very hard one, and many people will have to decide whether they want to be papists, that is, Catholic, or not.”20 In short, Catholics have no choice but to obey what the pope said in Humanae vitae, or in a certain fashion they cease to be Catholics.

For McInerny, himself, the Catholic teaching on conscience says: “that, while each person is obliged to follow his conscience, a person with a wrongly formed conscience may, in following his conscience, perform an evil deed. In such a case, he is responsible for not having properly formed his conscience. As a Catholic he can have a badly formed conscience only by ignoring the clear and reiterated teaching of the Magisterium.”21 While the language is somewhat nuanced, we are left with the final impression that it would be very difficult to be in good conscience while opposing what the pope said so clearly in Humanae vitae. For McInerny the issue is straightforward: “The choice is not between arguments. The choice is between authorities.”22 The pope must be obeyed because he is the vicar of Christ, and obeying the pope in the matter of Humanae vitae is obeying God. Lay people who dissent are not basing themselves on rational arguments, but are accepting the word of the dissenting theologians. So can someone disagree with Humanae vitae in good conscience even if it is not an infallible document? McInerny seems to be saying no, and thus conferring at the very least a certain kind of practical infallibility on Humanae vitae. This kind of ecclesiology is the result not only of a certain theology, but is driven from below by a process that generates a certain unquestioned and rather monolithic view of papal authority.

Another kind of ecclesiology focuses on the faults of the institutional church. There is no large institution in our modern world that has not reached the point in its growth and complexity that it has not begun to hinder the very purpose for which it was established. Thus, we have schools that begin to extinguish the love of learning, hospitals that spread disease, and governments that impoverish and restrict the freedom of their citizens. Why would we expect the Catholic Church as a human institution to be an exception? It isn’t, and thus it is reasonable to look for ways in which it hinders its stated purpose, which is to help people come to know and love God. While this is dramatically evident in something like the crisis of sexual abuse, it has many other manifestations, as well.

To repeat, it is a simple fact that large institutions at a certain point in the trajectory of their growth reach a threshold beyond which they begin to defeat the very purpose for which they were established. They focus more and more of their attention and energy on their self-preservation, perpetuation and adornment, and less on their mission. Along with this ossification goes a certain blindness to their faults. Reform becomes a tinkering with this or that detail, or demands for more money or personnel rather than a radical rethinking of the existing structures in the light of their purpose.

The Catholic church has crossed the threshold and become another one of these ossified institutional dinosaurs. It has, for example, conditioned its members to see the church as primarily its hierarchical members instead of the community of the faithful, itself. It has created a centralized authoritarian papacy with its attendant bureaucracy, and imagines that this centralization is due to the will of Christ alone.

We have already seen the incisive criticisms leveled by the Leonardo Boff and Paul Collins against the institutional church. Charles Davis who, as we saw, left the church in 1967, gave us as a farewell testament a frank exposition of his reasons for leaving in A Question of Conscience, and much of this book centers on a similar analysis of the faults of the institutional church. He asked himself “bluntly whether I still believed in the Roman Catholic Church as an institution,”23 and answered in the negative. He saw it as an impersonal and unfree system whose institutional claims rested on inadequate biblical and historical foundations. He felt the need of shaking off “the irrational grip and emotional conditioning caused by my envelopment since childhood in a powerful authoritative system imposed with divine sanctions.”24 We have already seen how Pope Paul’s “no doubt” speech about contraception had proved the final straw that precipitated Davis’ break with the church. He was displeased, as well, by Veterum sapientia which came out under Pope John XXIII’s signature, and it led him to reflect on the use of language in the Vatican, an analysis that could certainly be applied with more reason to what we saw about the writing of Humanae vitae: “What is aimed at with the general public is to have an aura of supreme, unquestionable authority around all documents from the Holy See, so that, whether infallible or not, whether important or secondary, they are all regarded as the voice of the Holy Spirit. What happens behind the scenes is not a patient search to discern the mind of the Church and give due weight to the signs of the Spirit in the whole Church, but the intrigues of differing groups of officials, countering or supporting hidden pressures from various circles abroad.”25

  But it is possible to criticize the institutional church while at the same time believe that it is the church of Christ. This, in fact, was the position taken by Gregory Baum in his response to Davis in The Credibility of the Church Today. All institutions, he tells us, are vulnerable to becoming sick, to suffering from pathological disorders. “Institutions created to express and serve the life of a community can be drawn into irrational behaviour by forces of which those responsible for institutions are hardly aware.”26 It is worth listening to Baum about how institutions go bad. “The service for the sake of which the institution exists becomes secondary; primary importance is given to promoting its own survival, its own interests, its own power. By a curious inversion of the real situation the institution then comes to look upon the people it is meant to serve, as being there for its own sake.”27

Our task, I believe, is to steer a path between a traditionalist ecclesiology and one that no longer believes in the church, but that path allows, even demands, that we subject the institutional church to incisive historical, theological and psychological criticism. We can do this with the hope that the church will shake off its institutional paralysis, but perhaps more importantly, that we can awaken to our own identity as the church. 


Young “Orthodox” Catholics


The counterreaction/restoration has not been limited to an older generation. When Willard Jabusch wrote an article in America describing a new world of young “orthodox” Catholics, the last thing he expected was to be attacked by progressives as if he were somehow responsible for it. “The mere fact that I brought this up – it was heresy,” he said.28 The world of these fervent young Catholics has been described by people like Colleen Carroll in The New Faithful, and in Thomas Rausch’s Reconciling Faith and Reason. Young people, sometimes complaining of their wishy-washy substanceless catechetical training in the post-Vatican II Church, connect deeply with the faith, as well as the beauty of the Latin Mass and Gregorian chant, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and the rosary. They discover Thomas Aquinas and long to live out their faith both in the public arena and by joining strictly, more “orthodox” religious orders, which orders, therefore, have vocations, while the more liberal orders go begging.

It is easy enough to imagine the feelings of the Vatican II generation who suffered under the old ways, worked hard for change, and saw some of these changes take hold, but now feel like some of these advances are being squeezed between the old conservatives and the new. Jabusch is not alone when he says in regard to the new orthodox, “I find it all rather bizarre, because it’s a nostalgia trip that I don’t want to take.”29 But it is not a nostalgia trip for the young people. It is something new for them. It is the discovery of the inner world of faith as expressed in its traditional forms like Gregorian chant, Eucharistic adoration, and Thomas Aquinas, but seen now all new and fresh with dew, as Maritain put it when he was discovering St. Thomas himself long ago. And their complaints about the post-Vatican church cannot be swept away without examination: that the catechesis of the young was sometimes unsubstantial, or they were confronted with various proponents of what we are calling a reaction theology, a theology that sometimes appears to depart from genuine faith. But it is easy for this reaction to harden. Then the upholding of the church’s official position is not simply recognized as true in itself, but becomes mixed with loyalty to the pope. For example, the desire to have large families is not simply inspired by the love of children, but becomes debased with “hoping to outnumber the opposition.”30

We can see this kind of hardened attitude in a letter that one young conservative wrote to the National Catholic Reporter saying that she was “sadly amused… at the sappy over-eulogizing of the former bishop of Saginaw, Michigan., Kenneth Untener … And what is so visionary,” she writes, “about a man whose ideology and vision has not been replicated anywhere and will die with his generation because it is not being widely replicated with my generation?” And she gives a capsule description of her generation, that is, “embracing a much more dynamic John Paul II-esque interpretation of Vatican II, which includes liturgical fidelity, attraction to Christ-centered (and habit-wearing) religious life, and not only an acceptance of but a love for the church’s teachings on the all-male priesthood and the immorality of contraception.”31 Perhaps her youth can excuse her lack of historical perspective, but she is giving an accurate description of that young conservative world.

An about-to-be ordained Jesuit of 36 says, “I entered to help support the direction that Pope John Paul II has given the church.”32 Another 30-year-old Jesuit describes two extremes among the young men in the Order: “either they are ‘50s romantics and highly clerical, or they are shocked that they have to represent an organization and ideology bigger than and different from themselves. The latter is the bigger problem.”33 Dean Hoge in a study of newly ordained Catholic priests found distinctly different ecclesiologies between the diocesan clergy and the priests of religious orders, with the young diocesan priests less inclined to optional celibacy, and more favorable to the view that ordination gives them a “new status” which makes them “essentially different from the laity,” and a “man set apart by God.”34

A young diocesan priest tells of the impact the pope and World Youth Day in Denver had upon his vocation. He found seminary courses an exercise in dissent, which he countered by citing the pope, Balthazar and Ratzinger. His class was a real surprise to the rest of the seminary. “Well, you see, our class was sort of a shock to them because we were the first orthodox class. We loved the Pope, we prayed our rosaries, we couldn’t wait for the new catechism to come out. The Universal Catechism. We wanted John Paul canonized while he is still alive. They had had an occasional orthodox guy, but that was the first time it happened in such numbers.”35 “…(T)he older students would say, “They don’t know what to do with you guys.” And every class after us was the same. Orthodox. I think it was just fifteen years of Pope John Paul paying off more than anything. It’s amazing how many incoming seminarians list specifically his papacy in some way as what brought them to think about the priesthood… Everyone in our diocese is very nice to one another. But I think we essentially belong to different religions in a lot of ways… Are the differences differences in essence? I think, yes, they are… I would like to spend some period of my life in an environment where being faithful to the Church is what is expected of you rather than something that is held as suspect and forces you to the margins. Maybe in one of the new religious orders… Give people Catholic piety again. Have the humility to learn from the places that are thriving. Lincoln, Nebraska, is thriving, whether you like Bishop _____ or not. Legionaries can’t build their seminaries fast enough.”36

Bishop Álvaro Ramazzini described the new priests: “They seem to have a greater sense of authority. They come out much more authoritarian, too sure of themselves. Often they don’t want to work in pastoral teams, especially with religious sisters. I’ve talked with other bishops about this and it seems to be a general concern. We’re talking about how we need to investigate what kind of criteria are used in their formation.”37

Some observers point to the changes in seminary life that Rome insisted upon as a cause of this phenomenon. Seminarians, for example, in Brazil were forced to leave the urban settings and university classes where they mixed with all sorts of people, and go back to the old seclusion. In San Salvador in 1995 the new archbishop, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle, placed people from Opus Dei in charge of the seminary. According to one critic their attitude was: “Let’s create a new clergy in our image and likeness, and we’ll leave all the other progressives to grow old and die.”38 This kind of trying to out-wait the opposition is found on the progressive side, as well. An older Jesuit says, “The Society of Jesus today is caught up in nostalgia for the Second Vatican Council, Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, and Father General Arrupe. Almost all of its leaders were shaped by those experiences and values. A small minority are enthusiastic about the vision and values of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger; the rest are waiting for a new pope, who they hope will restore the dynamism and direction of the council.”39 Clearly, if there has not been a hardening of attitudes on both the conservative and progressive sides since the time of the council, there is not much sign of a softening, either, and therefore of a promise that the polarization in the church will be moderated any time soon.

The new conservatives will naturally tend to look at the old conservatives as mentors and guides and join hands with them over the heads of the Vatican progressives, but the danger is to be swept along by this new reaction and never really ask about the faults of the preconciliar church or the psychological dynamics involved. Thus, for example, when it comes to a question of religious life, the young conservatives will be quick to point to the fact that the conservative religious orders and dioceses have more vocations than the progressive ones, but they need to go on and examine the deeper questions of what was going on in the old preconciliar religious life and is still going on in the new movements.

The Church certainly does need a new generation of fervent and orthodox Catholics, but they should not be blind to a whole psychological side of the expression of the faith, and thus confuse the accidental with the essential, and they certainly don’t need to wrap their genuine faith in an atmosphere of triumphalism, elitism, intolerance and political conservatism which have nothing to do with the faith, itself. Clearly, to ask that the young “orthodox” Catholics have this kind of insight is to ask for something that their elders have not been able to achieve. But what is needed is true doctrinal orthodoxy not burdened by narrow-mindedness, an orthodoxy which joins hands with a keen awareness of the institutional faults of the Church and the need to act to correct them.


Systems of Perfection


If a system of sanctity of the sort that Maritain talked about is supposed to produce perfection, and this premise could not be questioned, then it is very difficult to deal with imperfections, still less manifest illnesses and immoral actions. They had to be somehow conjured away. They could not be thought about, only banished from sight. Within this kind of setting even egregiously abnormal or morally reprehensible conduct cannot be adequately dealt with.

In this regard a story told by Karen Armstrong is very revealing. A priest who was celebrating Mass at her convent was calling for her to come and visit him, but was making improper advances. Finally she brought the matter to her Mother Superior whose reaction typified the kind of inability to confront psycho-sexual issues that we are going to examine here: “She looked at me and flushed. Her long aristocratic Roman nose curled, the nostrils distending as though she were smelling something unspeakable. Then click. I heard her mind switch off and she gazed back at me calmly. For a moment she had understood, completely. She’d seen the ugliness. The complications, having to tell Father’s superiors, having to talk, to think about it. And she’d turned her mind away. Stopped it working. As she’d been trained to do so often in her religious life.”40

A system of perfection in the broadest sense means an institutionalization of a quest for union with God. We saw it exemplified in the old-style religious life that enshrined in a concrete way the principle that the will of the superior is the will of God. We saw it, as well, in the new movements in which the leader illuminated from on high becomes the channel by which God communicates to the members, and we saw it in the apotheosis of the pope.

“The will of God” is one way of expressing the goal of union with God, but it needs to be safeguarded from a materialization by which it becomes identified with someone’s very human will, and prey to an extrinsicism that imagines that people ought to be subjected to an ever more complex grid of rules and regulations, all in the name of God and for their own good. Such a way of thinking is readily corrupted by a conscious or unconscious desire for human power.

Systems of perfection reduced the vital question of how we can draw close to God to all too human answers that urge us to look outside ourselves instead of starting with the gifts of mind and heart that God has given us. They ask us to obey other people who often have no real knowledge of who we are, and sometimes don’t even care to know because they see perfection, instead of welling up within, as coming from without as we subject our will to the will of God as shown in the will of our superiors. 

The story of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the U.S., and elsewhere, has filled the media, especially from 2002 with no end in sight, and much of the anger generated by this scandal has been focused on what Donald Cozzins has called “the incomprehensible bungling of numerous bishops dealing with local scandals,”41 which led to “reassignment of abuser priests – sometimes with positive testimonials – to unsuspecting parishes and dioceses; secret cash settlements with broken promises by church officials not to give abuser priests access to minors; and hardball legal tactics against abuse victims by diocesan attorneys.”42

In one notorious case John Geoghan, a priest in the archdiocese of Boston of the class of 1961, left in his wake a trail of abused children from 1962 to 1995 when he was finally removed from ministry, but only after being sent seven times to new and unsuspecting parishes where he claimed new victims. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team wrote: “Why did it take a succession of three cardinals and many bishops years to place children out of Geoghan’s reach?”43

Catholic commentators close to this crisis have attempted to answer this question. Thomas Doyle, together with Michael Peterson and Ray Moutin, had tried to warn the U.S. bishops of this disaster in the making in 1985. In 1992 Doyle, addressing a group of abuse victims, asked: “Why the inaction? Why the denial?”44 His answer? “To acknowledge the problem in its fullness would open the whole (clerical) system to critique… It would weaken the presumed power base and strength of the hierarchy… “We are somehow different, apart and above the laity.””45

Eugene Kennedy in language that we have heard over and over again in other contexts clearly points to the underlying problem: “Church leaders at every level were conditioned to believe that, by virtue of their office, their own words and actions incarnated the will of God. Their subjects were trained to hear God’s voice in that of the bishop or the abbot and to forsake their own feelings and judgment if they conflicted with those of the superior class. To this day, many bishops firmly believe that their ordination grants them a share of the infallibility attributed to the pope.”46

Once we enter this kind of system of perfection, a system that claims to perfect us by the very fact that we belong to it in virtue of our ordination or vows, then we are less able to deal with our very real imperfections, still less with sexual acting out and outright crimes of sexual predation. This inability is intensified when the system of perfection is connected with a system that promotes a lack of psycho-sexual maturity. Then what we are faced with is not the theology or spirituality of genuine celibacy for the kingdom of God, but once again a counterfeit that generates a magical kind of thinking that somehow imagines that the taking of the vow of celibacy for lofty spiritual motives will supply for a lack of development and education in this area. It doesn’t, and what happens instead is a kind of interior averting of the eyes, as well as actual repression of those things which are glaringly out of harmony with the goals of the system of perfection. This neglect only intensifies repressed sexual energies which then seek outlets often in more or less distorted ways. These outbursts from below lead to further conscious insistence on the rules and regulations that are meant to govern conscious behavior. But the origin of much of this immoral behavior lies in a murky underworld which drives the abusers to their dark deeds, while at the same time cuts them off and depersonalizes their behavior that is so out of line with the conscious system of perfection they belong to.

Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine priest and psychotherapist, based on extensive research and experience came to the conclusion that at any one time half of Catholic priests were sexually acting out. Of this 50%, 30% were involved in heterosexual relationships, 15% in homosexual behavior, and 5% in other forms of sexual involvement like pornography. Of the 50% practicing celibacy he felt that 2% had actually achieved a full and healthy celibate adjustment, while another 8% had drawn close to that goal, and the remaining 40% struggled to achieve it.47 Sipe asked the same sort of question that we saw Doyle and Kennedy posing before. “Why has the church been so aggressive, sensitive, and proactive in response to dissent about church teaching, yet so blind, defensive, and reactive when it comes to questions of sexual abuse by their own?”48 And he finds an answer to it under the heading of “ecclesiogenic pathologies”49 which are “those mental and emotional aberrations that are induced or fostered by church teaching or practice.”50 He comments: “It is daunting to address a system as pathogenic or dysfunctional – the generator-participant in abuse. Nonetheless, these terms do apply to the church.”51

Sipe is not calling into question celibacy, itself, but the whole culture of psycho-sexual immaturity and sexual acting out that hides behind a curtain of secrecy, not only from the eyes of non-clerics, but from the clerics, themselves. What is unthinkable behavior somehow can’t exist.

Given the phenomenal power human beings have to rationalize their behavior, it is not surprising that priest abusers would cloak their behavior with spiritual language and gestures. Somehow their abuse was for the victim’s own good, and sanctioned by God, and therefore not really a sin, but a blessing. One priest abuser put it like this: “I didn’t know how to get the right thing the right way. These were romance and intimacy for me, as I saw it. These were relationships! In that perverse state when I became a perpetrator, I was sure I was giving a great deal of pleasure. I thought I was giving them the gift of love – a priest who really loved them… I thought the way a fourteen-year-old does, so I reverted to the age of fourteen in my behavior.52

But this kind of self-deception becomes a wider ecclesial phenomenon when the abusers’ religious superiors cannot really look at what is going on, either. When Cardinal Law, for example, talked to a man who had been abused by one of the archdiocesan’s priests, and this victim brought up the fact that the church had failed to exercise proper oversight of this abuser, the cardinal finally had enough of the conversation and said, “I bind you by the power of the confessional never to speak about this again.”53 Not only did this not make any theological sense, for it is the priest who is bound not to reveal the sins he hears in confession, not the one who confesses, but it is almost as if the cardinal is symbolically transferring the fault to the victim because he was unable to adequately deal with the abuser. At the very best we can read it as an overpowering desire that the whole terrible mess go away.

Lay people are beginning to move from passivity to taking responsibility as adult and equal members of the church along with the clergy, but to do this they will have to be able to distinguish between their genuine faith and the many counterfeits with which it has become encrusted. This will not be easy. The mother of a reporter, who wrote an early article on Cardinal Law and the abuse crisis, told her daughter she didn’t want to read her article: “You don’t blaspheme God, and the cardinal is a manifestation of God.”54 In a similar vein, the founder of Faithful Voices, a conservative reaction to Voice of the Faithful, said: “Voice of the Faithful wants the doctrine to come from the people and go up to God. No. Doctrine comes from God and you accept it.”55

The abuse cases in the United States appear to have peaked in the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, and this timing may be significant as another expression of the postconciliar outbursts that we have been charting. The figures given in percentage of total abusers by decade of ordination from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Report make interesting reading: 1930-1936, 6.1%; 1940-1949, 12.4%; 1950-1959, 23.1%; 1960-1969, 25.3%; 1970-1979, 19.6%; 1980-1989, 8.4%; 1990-2000, 2.3%. We can read these figures as a reaction set off by the Vatican council, but while the high point was between 1960-1969, it was almost equaled by the number of abusers in the preconciliar decade of 1950-1959. Could that represent an indication that an intolerable pressure had been building up in these men in the years preceding the council? A breakdown year by year would perhaps clarify the matter.56

Priests formed in the old preconciliar system which operated without careful psychological screening of candidates and had little sense of how to deal with their psycho-sexual development were released on the world of the Catholic laity at a time when the culture at large was experimenting with sexual freedom, and the old church constraints were breaking down with disastrous results. We have, for instance, the notorious class of 1960 at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, which had among its members Paul Shanley and Joseph Birmingham. Nine of the seventy-five members of this class, or 12%, were later to be accused of sexual abuse of minors.57 

 Why did the rate of abuse fall off in the mid-1980s? It has been suggested that one of the key factors was a greater openness in seminaries to discuss sexual matters, and if this opening did not resolve the issues of psycho-sexual formation, it was enough to bleed off the pressure that formerly had led to abusive behavior.58 The tentative conclusion we can draw is that the abuse crisis can take its place, along with other things like the heterosexual experimentation of priests and religious at the time of the council, as another one of these action-reaction movements with sexual repression under the guise of the spiritual perfection of celibacy leading to sexual acting out.

The same kind of dynamism might be behind one of the salient characteristics of the abuse crisis, which is that most of the abuse was directed towards young teenage boys rather than children. While this has been connected with a homosexual orientation in the abusers, it may represent something more general, that is, a certain arrested psycho-sexual growth in the abusers who are then attracted to boys at the beginning of their sexual development, for that is where they are, themselves. In any event, what we are faced with is not simply a few bad apples to be statistically compared to the rate of pedophilia among other groups, but a wider systemic problem.



Chapter 13

Faith and its Counterfeits


We have seen the forces and counterforces that have shaped the life of the church, but now we have to attempt to go deeper and try to see more clearly how these forces intertwine with the life of faith, itself. More than 400 years ago John of the Cross wrote a poem called, “On a Dark Night,” in which he used the language of human love to describe the soul’s search for God. He also wrote a commentary on this short poem that stretched for hundreds of pages describing how faith is the proximate means of union with God, but this is a faith that is continually trying to purify itself from the less lofty things. What he had in mind were not only extraordinary spiritual experiences like visions and revelations, which because of the impact they have on our senses and imagination we value highly, but also the very thoughts and feelings that during the first stages of our journey to God were genuine means by which we progressed. God, St. John tells us, used those thoughts and feelings and suffused them with a delectable attractive force to detach us from the things of this world, but we cling to them even when their time is past, when we need, instead, to go towards God by means of a purified faith.

We have been following a similar journey here in which even genuine spiritual impulses can become infected by less spiritual energies. The will of God becomes materialized in the will of the superior, or the belief in the movement leader takes on qualities that belong to faith in God, alone, and so forth.


The Psychological-Critical Method


Underlying the analyses that have been unfolding here is a certain view of the interaction between the psyche and the realm of grace, and it is time to look at this matter more formally by reflecting on what could be called the psychological-critical method.

But the employment of this method requires that we safeguard it as much as possible from theoretical and practical deformation. If, for example, we enter into our inquiries with the unshakable conviction that the Holy Spirit is continually and directly working in our lives in events like the speaking in tongues, then we will certainly not be inclined to see any use in such a method at all. Psychologists become the godless enemies to be avoided at all cost lest they put their profane hands on sacred things.

But these deformations are operative, as well, at the opposite end of the spectrum where we find a priori insistences that we can explain virtually all spiritual experiences in purely psychological terms. An example will illustrate this type of mentality. Michael Carroll in The Cult of the Virgin Mary: Psychological Origins and in Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry sets forth with considerable erudition the history of both subjects. Therefore it comes as a rude shock to realize that what drives the interpretive side of these projects is an unabashed Freudian reductionism. What, for example, is the root of the devotion to Mary? “Hypothesis 1. Fervent devotion to the Mary cult on the part of males is a practice that allows males characterized by a strong but strongly repressed sexual desire for the mother to dissipate in an acceptable manner the excess sexual energy that is built up as a result of this desire.”1 If such an explanation still retains any whiff of the ethereal, that is dispelled when Carroll tells us that what is behind the praying of the rosary is the child’s desire to play with one’s feces.2 

Alongside this kind of Freudian reductionism we could place various forms of Jungian reductionism, often more subtle, but in final analysis just as destructive to any genuine inquiry about the interplay of the human and the divine. I have examined some of these Jungian versions elsewhere, as well as how they find justification in Jung’s own epistemology of the psyche.3 

Here we can come back to the cycles of action and reaction that we have seen over and over again, but in this case in regard to our attitude about psychology. In the earlier preconciliar phase of the cycle there was a wide-spread ignorance of the psyche sometimes mixed with a certain fear and loathing of it that created an atmosphere in which psychological explanations could not be considered. The interior things that happened to us, therefore, could only be addressed in the spiritual categories and language that we had at our command. A temptation, for example, could not be viewed as a possible reflection of a dimension of the psyche that had been neglected and repressed, and therefore activated, but rather, it was seen as the work of the devil, or a trial from God. Those who were mentally ill, even when their illnesses had been caused, or at least intensified by the religious institutions they were members of, were treated by exhorting them to exertions of will-power and virtue.

By way of reaction, this ignorance and oppression of the psyche led in the postconciliar upheavals to a certain “therapeutization,” or “psychologicalization” of the spiritual life in which the rather general psychological ignorance of the church in the past, particularly those engaged in spiritual direction, lead to the conclusion that it is the psychological professionals who are the ones who really know what is happening in us. We can get a sense of this kind of world in the misgivings of a 35-year-old Jesuit who sees it as a problem: “indicative of not only the Society but also of the Catholic church in the United States and even of American culture in general. I would describe it as the gradual displacement of religion and spirituality by psychology. More and more of our purportedly religious language and thinking is couched in terms of self-fulfillment, dealing with my issues, empowering myself, claiming and owning my weakness, getting in touch with who I am, etcetera. I don’t have any hard statistical evidence, but after almost ten years in the Society I would be willing to bet the farm that the vast majority of scholastics have been in therapy for at least one extended period during their time in the Society. In fact I think it is fair to say that therapy is an expected part of Jesuit formation these days. Therapists are accorded a kind of authority and deference that was once reserved for spiritual directors and superiors. The number of scholastics who have been on medication for one kind of psychological difficulty or another during their time in the Society is astounding and, to me anyway, troubling. I sometimes think that Prozac and Zoloft are for my generation what scotch was for the generations before mine.”4 He goes on to articulate his concern that this psychologicalization undercuts the apostolic effectiveness of the Order as a whole, but nothing prevents us from seeing it as a mirror-image of the kind of psychological ignorance that dominated old-style religious life.

If we imagine that spiritual realities are unknowable because what we know directly are the concepts of our minds, or its categories which structure reality, we end up with a Kantian-style philosophy of the kind that influenced Jung’s particular spiritual reductionism. But in admitting the existence of genuine spiritual knowledge does not mean going to the opposite extreme and imagining it as a pure knowledge unaffected and unreceived by the knowing subject. Just as Maritain spoke of a critical realism, that is, a realism tempered by a reflection on the nature and limits of our knowing, so, too, it is possible to talk about a psychological-critical method that would preserve genuine knowledge of spiritual reality while examining how this knowledge is shaped by the intrinsic structures of the psyche. More concretely, as we saw in the case of Marian apparitions, a genuine grace can reverberate through the psyche and clothe itself with various images and affects which can be seen as the results in part of the underlying psychic structures, or archetypes, that generate various kinds of psychic energy. Therefore, when we face the spiritual, we face it not only with intellect and will, but with this scarcely visible unconscious psyche which shapes how we receive and know these spiritual realities.

The psychological-critical method can be compared to the historical-critical method. The battles of modernism and the nouvelle théologie had to do with the proper recognition and employment of the historical-critical method, but now that has to be joined by the psychological-critical method. The historical-critical method in a theological context is the use of history in the modern sense of the term with its complement of analytical techniques to look at the object of theology and to realize that whether it is the case of the scriptures, or fathers, or theologians, or the pronouncements of the councils, the spiritual message is of necessity expressed in human language which is shaped by past events and present culture so that the result is something that at once attempts to express the substance of the faith, but in a particular form. To identify the form with the substance is to try to shield it from time and change as if it could be exempt from history, itself, and the human condition, and at one extreme this ends up with an essentialism, that is, a certain kind of identification of a particular form with the spiritual substance, itself.

The historical-critical method, however admirable and necessary it is, is subject to all sorts of distortions coming from the underlying and not always conscious philosophies of those who employ it, and these philosophical distortions are paralleled by the psychological forces that we have been examining. The psychological-critical method means becoming aware of the nature and dynamics of the psyche both conscious and unconscious, the different psychological proclivities we possess, the archetypes and their interconnection, and the energies that they generate, and all this not only in a theoretical sense, but with the skill to practically recognize how these forces in a particular case receive and condition our spiritual understanding.


The Mechanisms of Belief


Even mature priests of considerable intellectual achievement are not exempt from the powerful attraction of what Jung calls the anima, that is, the feminine dimension deep in a man’s psyche that plays a powerful role in his relationships with women, especially by means of the magic of falling in love, and they are as disarmed as the rest of us in the face of these forces. In 1966, for example, in the space of a few days Thomas Merton, some 25 years a monk and hospitalized for a back operation, fell in love with the student nurse who was taking care of him. And he acted in a way typical of those in love – finding excuses to be with the person he loved, driving his friends to distraction and worry, and bending all sorts of monastic rules. He was swept along by his love to the point of considering leaving his monastery.5

In 1962 when Karl Rahner was 58, he fell in love with the German novelist, Louise Rinser, and suffered the whole gamut of emotions from joy to jealousy that are often the lot of those in love. In the early years of his relationship with Rinser he would write her as many as three or four times a day.6

These events would have gone unremarked upon except for the fact that the men involved were vowed to celibacy, yet they hold important lessons. The vow of celibacy does not make the ability or the inclination to fall in love disappear, or to put it in Jung’s language, every man has within himself a feminine archetypal side that plays a powerful role in his relationships with women. This archetype is activated or constellated in falling in love, and then acts like a partial, albeit unconscious, woman which because it is unconscious is projected on the woman who is loved. In short, the man is carrying on a relationship with a real woman of flesh and blood, and with the archetypal woman within. Women undergo a similar process. All this could be called the psychological mechanism of falling in love, but because it is unconscious, the magic of love is often followed by the tragedy of the disintegration of the relationship, with the people involved barely aware of the hidden dynamics involved.

Analogously to falling in love we could say there are other psychological mechanisms which can do us great harm if we cannot recognize them, for example, what could be called falling into belief, that is, the natural unconscious archetypal forces that spring into act when it is a question of religious belief. This does not mean that faith is reduced to these forces any more than falling in love means that there was no conscious genuine love in the relationship. But the mechanism of belief can lead us astray. We have seen over and over again how genuine faith becomes prey to human substitutes and counterfeits, and an examination of this mechanism of belief can allow us to glimpse why this happens. Trust in other people is a natural and normal human attitude. We literally go through our whole lives trusting other people with our lives, and so we are naturally inclined to do so when it comes to religious matters. But there is more going on in what we have been seeing than a misplaced human trust. There is, we could say, an archetype of belief which Jung called the Self. The Self in this sense means that there is more to us than ego-consciousness, and so we strive for completion and wholeness. In a religious sense the archetype of the Self generates god-images in the psyche which move us to try to find ultimate meaning and purpose in our lives. Our souls are stamped with a desire for God, and go about looking for a way to fulfill that desire. But this mechanism of belief can be triggered by things that promise God, but deliver materialized counterparts to genuine faith.

Thus, a young person, considering membership in one of the new movements, is motivated by faith and a genuine desire to draw closer to God. And the movement expends great energy in presenting itself as the way to fulfill this desire, but the genuine drawing of the heart by God to faith can become mixed with all too human counterfeits when the mechanism of belief is triggered by the movement and carries with it the decision to believe that takes place in genuine faith. The result can be two “faiths” extremely hard to distinguish from each other, and to extricate oneself from the counterfeit and keep the genuine faith intact.


Towards an Adult Catholicism


We have been exploring a spiritual paternalism and authoritarianism that confuses faith with its counterfeits, and by its very nature must try to keep the rest of the church in a child-like state. This paternalism breeds reaction after reaction, some of which are of an adolescent variety, proud to be rebellious even when it is a matter calling into question fundamental doctrines of the faith. The future that the movements present is a return to childhood. The future of the extreme progressives flirts with a loss of faith, and thus the disappearance of Christianity, itself. Neither is appealing. What is needed is an adult Catholicism eschewing the extremes on both the right and the left, and this is what I believe the large majority of Catholics long for.

This adult Catholicism would be characterized by two major objectives. First, it would be an open Catholicism reaching out to others, especially those in need, and it would not shrink from a searching analysis of the mega-institutions that dominate our lives and attempts to create more human alternatives.

Second, it would strive to attain a deeper understanding and practice of the faith. Is it possible, for example, in the light of the findings of modern science and history to believe in the fundamental mysteries of Christianity? (In this connection it is interesting to note that a survey of American Catholic laity in 1999 found a remarkable degree of agreement that statements like, “Jesus physically rose from the dead,” and “belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist” were central to their faith, thus indicating a foundation for reflections of this sort.7) In Can Christians Still Believe? The Beginning of the Universe, Evolution and Human Origins, Original Sin,  and The Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith I have tried to show that belief in God as the creator of the universe and the human soul holds up quite well in the light of scientific cosmology and evolutionary biology. Further, the doctrine of original sin is far from needing to be abandoned, nor must we go about fearful lest history will somehow erode away the Jesus of history so intimately connected with the Jesus of faith. To raise such questions is not to imply a denial of faith, but to realize that a thoughtful reflection on faith, done in the right spirit, strengthens faith. This kind of contemplation of the mysteries of the faith is at the heart of theology, and it goes hand in hand with attempts to renew the life of prayer and rediscover the wisdom of the Christian metaphysical and mystical traditions.

For Christians to deepen their faith by reflection, study and prayer, and to reach out to those in need, and to work for the radical reformation of our social structures, are all intertwined, but it would be, I think, a serious mistake to imagine that we somehow need the permission of the hierarchy in order to do these things, or that the institutional church has to change before we can proceed. However understandable, to think this way is a result of the old top-down ecclesiology, and it will only lead to discouragement. The Voice of the Faithful, for example, on the occasion of its first national meeting, was already trying to address the problems of the flattening of its membership, the frustration of its members, and the burn-out of its leaders. People say, “I joined because I wanted to see change, but nothing has changed.” But if the goal is to seek structural change “in an absolute monarchy,” as one person put it, frustration is guaranteed. Anne Burke, a former member of the National Review Board, overseeing the bishops’ handling of the sexual abuse crisis, addressed the convention and asked, “Why is it whenever we seek to do something good for our church we come away frazzled, spent, wiped out and questioning our own sanity?”8 The answer is that the institutional church is so wrapped up in itself and its unconscious identification with the church of Christ that it is severely hindered in mobilizing its energies to deal with the true work of the church. But the laity, not to mention the countless priests, religious, bishops who are frustrated with the present state of affairs, instead of imagining that they must change the institution before they move on, should break their own unconscious bonds and realize they are free to go forward and deepen their faith, and let that faith inspire them to serve those in need, and to reform social structures in the light of the Gospel. They don’t need the hierarchy’s permission. They already have God’s.


These brief reflections are certainly not an essential part of this book, but they allow the interested reader a glimpse of the matrix of experiences from which it was born.


I am a small boy in a large tent in Queens, New York City, lost in a sea of people attending Mass. The parish church is being built, part of a complex of church, school, convent and rectory that will eventually cover almost an entire city block. In this preconciliar world there is the pastor, his three curates, the nuns, benediction, novenas, confession on Saturday afternoons and release time on Wednesday afternoons when we public school children go to the Catholic school to get a dose of the Baltimore catechism.


I am a Melkite following the rite of my father, but a Melkite of the diaspora, the Melkite immigrants scattered in a Latin-rite world, and I have little appreciation of my Eastern-rite heritage. When it is time for my confirmation, no one realizes that I had been confirmed at baptism according to the Melkite tradition, and so I am confirmed again.


I can’t say that my childhood Catholicism, golden or not, made much of  a conscious impression on me. I graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, amidst thousands of boys studying science and mathematics, and was heading off to college on a scholarship to study physics. But I was asleep, simply drifting on with no real sense of who I was and what I wanted to do. My life truly began one summer’s day when I came back to my summer job at a restaurant  on the boardwalk on Rockaway Beach, and a new girl arrived to work there. During that summer I fell in love with her, and struggled to reach out to her. But while this was happening, I felt compelled to ask myself why I was so deeply attracted to her, and I asked that question over and over again. Was it because of how she looked, or what she said and did? I sensed that it went beyond that, and slowly I began to perceive that I was drawn to her by the very fact that she existed. It was as if she was illuminated from within by a light that irresistibly attracted me to her. But this light was not her personal possession. She did not know how lovable she was by being bathed in that light that came from somewhere else.


After a while it began to dawn on me that this kind of musings sounded something like religion, but it was not any religion I knew. My Catholicism had never been very personal. How could it have been, if I was still asleep? But loving this girl was very personal, and yet paradoxically, the most real thing about her was that light that came from somewhere else. If she was lovable, what must that light be like? By some strange quirk of fate, this all unfolded right on the ocean close to where my mother had been born in the long-vanished Oriental Hotel.


This initial experience opened up two roads for me. One went in the direction of trying to understand the intimate structure of things and their relationship to the light. This was the road of metaphysics, and it was to be a number of years before I was in a position to travel down it. The other road presented in an immediate pressing and often painful way the question of faith. If this light truly existed, and must somehow be personal and loving to be the source of the lovableness I found in my friend, then was it possible to enter into a loving relationship with the light? And what would happen if I took the Jesus of my childhood Catholicism seriously as an embodiment of that light?


My years in college were consumed with this question, and I soon saw that studying science was not for me. I finally made an act of faith. I would go off to church to pray during the day, and was alone there except for the old pastor reaching the end of his life.


I am frequently going to daily Mass, and reading Thomas Merton. I join the Legion of Mary which is animated by the true devotion to Mary of St. Louis de Montfort. The Legion is mostly composed of young, attractive women, which certainly doesn’t hurt its appeal. I am often paired with one of the few guys and we go up and down the streets doing the parish census. I am struck by how many Catholic couples we meet who no longer go to the sacraments. The reason? Birth control. It never occurs to me to wonder about the church’s teaching.


I want to travel down the interior roads opened up by my conversion, and so I ask myself who would know about them? Surely, I thought, priests must know about these kinds of things, and I decided to join the Montfort Fathers and become a priest. At 19 with no Latin I am considered a  delayed vocation, and I spend a year at the Jesuit school of St. Philip Neri studying Latin in a novitiate-like setting.


August, 1962. On the eve of the council I fly out to Indiana and enter the novitiate of the order, another of those last of the preconciliar novices. The life of the novitiate was filled with obligatory religious exercises: meditation and Mass, the recitation of the Divine Office in common, 15 decades of the rosary, and so forth, and is carried out in typical preconciliar fashion. Television, radio and newspapers are forbidden, and visits and leaving the grounds restricted. While my fellow novices and I struggle to comprehend the Latin of the divine office and walk up and down the driveway saying our rosaries, the council has opened in Rome. The atmosphere says that holiness comes through conforming our will to the will of God. The question then became, how do we know the will of God? And the answer put forward, but never formally reflected upon, was that we knew the will of God because it was expressed in the teaching of the church, the pronouncements of the pope and bishops, the directives of the general of the order and his provincial, and the commands of our local superior. In essence, we discovered the will of God, and conformed ourselves to it, by obedience to our religious superiors. By the end of the novitiate I was beginning to have questions about this. One day, for example, the superior has decreed that all the dandelions in the lawn must go. It is a rare free day and he goes off, never to mention his inspiration again, and the rest of the novices drift away. I am there alone with the dandelions stretching out in all directions. Is this how I should spend my day? But this atmosphere never reached the intensity that we saw surrounding the young women in Chapter 3. As the novitiate ended I was still happy to go forward and take my temporary religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. During the time of preparation for the profession of these vows, while I was pondering what they meant, I asked myself if we, no matter what our calling in life was, had to love God as much as possible, then what could the vows add to this? I saw that the answer must somehow lie in the distinction between obligations that flowed from our very natures as human beings, and the concrete state we find ourselves in. Our natures remained the same, but the state they were in could change. This was the seed of what I was later to call existential morality, and see it as a key to understanding the debates about birth control.


I arrived at my first year of philosophy with a deep thirst to study metaphysics. Our professor, a lively person who had learned his Thomism by reading the Summa at the Angelicum, faced the unenviable task of directing our philosophical formation with Josephus Gredt’s Elementa philosophiae Aristotelico-Thomisticae that Maritain had likened to an aerolite fallen from heaven, since it bore no trace of its terrestrial origins. It was to make my fellow students gnash their teeth and learn to hate Thomism. But it didn’t bother me because I paid little attention to it. While they were in their rooms studying, I would go off to the basement classroom, put Beethoven on the record player, and plunge into Jacques Maritain’s The Degrees of Knowledge: To Distinguish in order to Unite. Not that I understood it, but I did understand that the failure came from me, and not from him. I slowly began to realize that my experience of the light was not really very different from what Maritain called the concrete approaches to the intuition of being, an insight into how the limited being of things points to the fullness of existence that is their source. It was this insight that was at the heart of Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of our metaphysical knowledge of God. Maritain became for me the gateway to a living metaphysical wisdom tradition that stretched back some 700 years to St. Thomas, himself, which had its roots in the Christian, Islamic and Greek philosophers who had preceded him. This was not metaphysics as an academic subject, a kind of distillation of the history of philosophy, but rather, was rooted in the living fire of being. I became a Thomist á la Maritain, and was to remain one in spite of Thomism’s outer collapse.

I finished the course in philosophy, and went on to study theology in Litchfield Connecticut in 1964. By now the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council were making themselves strongly felt within the order, but my focus was primarily on my own inner journey, and it was there I met another student whose name was Joseph who had undergone an extraordinary conversion that had brought him to Catholicism, and then to religious life, with whom I could finally discuss my deepest spiritual interests. What was happening in the classroom became the backdrop to our own endless conversations as we walked up and down the long driveway of the extensive grounds, and tried to work out the nature of the act of faith and its relationship to theology. My own perception of theology had already been strongly influenced by a book I had discovered while studying philosophy. It was Emile Mersch’s The Theology of the Mystical Body, and it gave me a sense of a theology that was a deep contemplation of the central Christian mysteries. This was a theology meant to illuminate and to nourish faith, itself.


I had started studying theology when debates about contraception filled the air. It was an issue I had never thought about, and began to study the question myself, but soon reached an impasse which I could not overcome until I remembered the insight from the novitiate about existential morality. This seemed to me to provide the key that could open the way to resolving the debate. I wrote up these thoughts and made some attempts to make them known, but nothing came of it.


In the classroom things were not nearly as interesting. The old theological manuals, akin to the old philosophical ones I had studied, had been swept away. That suited me just fine, but the resulting vacuum had to be filled with something, and quickly, and the nearest thing at hand was academic religious studies. This meant creating a kind of smorgasbord of theological views, but how they fit together receded into the background, and what connection they had with the life of faith was obscured.


The house in Litchfield became a model for the liturgical changes taking place in the church, and drew people from all over the region to its noon-time liturgies. It also became deeply involved in ecumenical activities and ministries to the inner city. One summer six of us set up an apartment in a poor part of Waterbury, and worked on projects ranging from liturgical renewal at the Puerto Rican parish to the city’s housing problems.


Both Joseph and I were becoming increasingly restless in religious life. I began to reflect about its nature, and the questions that it raised starting from the novitiate. While I could certainly accept that our holiness was a matter of our will being in conformity with the will of God – not that I was inclined to put it in that kind of language, but rather to say that our goal was union with God – the heart of the matter centered on how we discover God’s will for us. The way the answer was presented, that we discover it by being obedient to God’s representatives, seemed much too external. Did my religious superiors actually know best, and if they didn’t, did God supply for their lacks so we couldn’t go wrong doing what they said? What about following our own insights and conscience? Looking to others seemed to foster a certain kind of psychological and spiritual immaturity. Religious life was like a mixture of genuine faith and human institutions with the lines between them not nearly drawn fine enough. I began to feel more confined, and dreamed of wandering the world. Both Joseph and I left religious life before our ordination to the priesthood, and soon found ourselves on retreat, camping in the sand dunes of the central California coast, and going on other adventures. Leaving religious life was not traumatic. I felt I was simply pursuing the same path that had brought me there in the first place, and was now leading me elsewhere.


After the sand dunes we went to live with Jim Flanagan’s Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in Kansas City, Missouri. This was a new religious community composed of priests, sisters, and lay people, both single and married, with a remarkable openness. Fr. Jim took in hoboes, ex-convicts, and us, and all of us strays lived in the classrooms of an old parochial school.


A little later I worked for several months at the Joseph House in Baltimore’s inner city. It had been founded by Mae Gintling, a former sister, and a group of  young people lived there with her and did emergency social services, trying to help some of the people who had fallen through the cracks of the usual government social services. The people would come in and be interviewed to see if their claims were legitimate, and then we would give out bags of food, or write small checks for past-due utility bills, and things of that sort. Mae went on to found a new religious community devoted to working with the poor.


I visited Emmaus House in New York with Mae, and by chance Leo Alting von Geusau had been there asking about someone who could do research on the experimental communities appearing everywhere. I went to work for Leo in Rome, and one of the great side-benefits was a desk that overlooked Bernini’s fountains in the Piazza Navona. Leo, perhaps in his own reaction to the institutional church, was to become an anthropologist and work among the hill tribes in Thailand.


Later I am studying at the Gregorian University in Rome while my wife and I live in a Volkswagen bus and a large tent in a campground that had once been a park belonging to the king of Italy. We have discovered Jung’s psychology in a deeply personal way, and are struggling to relate it to our Christian faith. My dissertation, St. John of the Cross & Dr. C.G. Jung, however, is rejected out of hand, but we continue to travel down that road.


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