Great to hear from Fr. Reese again!
Apparently, he’s not worried about the “big chill>” in Catholicism.
(I wonder if any of his clerical colleagues who’ll be commenting on BXVI’s visit and its aftermath might have that concern.)
I think Greeley has argued most successfully for this kind of reform – viz. that the current curial structure is not only out of date but inefficient.
Yet Benedict seems to have “given up” on curail refrom – in other words, don’t hold your breath.
I appreciate the historical perspective on current practices. The configuration we have now is not inevitable. At the same time, Reese’s final comment is quite candid. Are any of these men going to give up their power? Not likely. What saddens me is that our Christian faith isn’t about holding on to power, it’s about self-emptying. And if we are not modeling this attitude at the core, we compromise the very witness the Church exists in order to make.
No wonder he was ousted from editorship of “America!” Speaking truth to power is not exactly one of official Catholicism’s cardinal virtues.
The problem of clericalism is composed of several problems. It is the problem of a caste that arrogates to itself undue authority, that makes unwarranted claims to wisdom, even to having a monopoly on understanding the mind of God. The consequence is the great weakening of the Church by denigrating or excluding the many gifts of the Spirit present in the people who are the Church. The problem of clericalism arises when “the church” acts in indifference, or even contempt, toward the people who are the Church.
Richard J. Neuhaus, June 1989. (I wonder if RJN still supports these thoughts?)
Tom Reese has outlined the history of governance in the church pretty well. One would think that there is widespread agreement that policy in the church leaves much to be desired. As far as I can see, practically everyone on this blog sees the need for common ground and dialog. Can we start with seeking some kind of consensus on the subject put forth by Reese. Or are we just content to talk past each other?
Bill may be right that almost all on this blog see a fierce need for Church governance reform. But the ‘powers that be’ won’t make any changes that they think will ‘diss’ previous leaders. Even manatory celibacy can’t be changed because predecessors spoke so fondly of that out moded mandatory disipline.
Up to now they closed a thousand altars in the USA alone rather than make a start on that one reform. They ‘hire’ priests from priest-short poor countries faster than Silicon Valley CEOs hire software workers from India.
Fear trumps the sacraments. Even one million articulate Catholics in the USA can’t seem to be heard. We need to find a lever.
Church governance has always evolved. It will need to evolve again because the Church is failing at its core mission. I think the solution will come through lay-run organizations – Commonweal is one – that are loyal to the Church but outside the hierarchy’s direct control. Free exchange of ideas, a spirit of innovation and enthusiasm can flourish more easily in lay-run organizations.
Great to have Father Tom Reese writing for Commonweal!
Tom Reese better be careful or he will be characterized like us VOTF folks – dissidents out to destroy the Church. Bishops elected, civil political structures as models of participation, checks and balances. Water in the desert!
Bravo. My heart sings.
I must adopt that cultivated optimism of, not to worry, it’s going to happen anyway, no matter what current power centers do. I believe the priest shortage is a gift of the Holy Spirit that will force obvious changes that need to be made. They would not happen otherwise. So, relax, She blows where She will.
Reese gives us a remarkable vision of the future. I won’t see it, but my grandson might. Even the thought is energizing. More room to breathe, please.
Tom Reese makes several good points in his article, particularly concerning the shortcomings of the international synods of bishops, as well as the institutional and sacramental problems created by ordaining as bishops those who will have no pastoral responsibility for a diocese.
On a related matter, Richard John Neuhaus’ ability to defend himself is never in doubt, but perhaps the following lines from his essay on clericalism in the March 2008 issue of First Things might be apropos to a previous comment on this thread:
“[Those] laypeople who decry the evils of clericalism put the Church in their debt. They are not anticlerical. They want priests and bishops to be the shepherds they are ordained to be. They are rightly disappointed and rightly outraged when clergy act like petty tyrants or sputtering bureaucrats defending their institutional turf. They are scandalized when, in response to the sex-abuse scandal, bishops treat their priests as expendable temporary employees. One bishop under legal and financial pressure infamously described his priests as ‘independent contractors.’
“[…]The Church is the People of God and the clergy, from the pope to most recently ordained deacon, have no reason for being other than to serve the People of God in their ministry of service to God and his world. Asked by a bishop what he thought about the laity, John Henry Newman replied that we clergy would look pretty foolish without them. To which it needs only be added that the laity are not there to prevent the clergy from looking foolish.
“[...] The problem is perennial. Clericalism is the shadow side of the glory that is the Catholic priesthood. The best we can hope for is priests and bishops who in every circumstance emulate the young Father Joseph Ratzinger who [during days-long hometown celebrations of his priestly ordination] whispered to himself, ‘This is not for you, Joseph, this is not for you.’” [but was instead a celebration of Christ and the ministry of his Church.]
Is it a stretch to suggest that the older Joseph Ratzinger will be saying the same thing to himself in the coming days in the U.S.?
What a welcome piece. Fr. Reese as usual has given us a lot to think about, and hope for. His six suggestions for reform are sketched out lightly here, though. I note that a longer version of this article will appear as part of a collection. Perhaps Commonweal could persuade Fr. Reese to do a series exploring the need for some of those reforms in more detail? What a book that could be. . . .
Fr. Reese makes excellent proposals for reform, and he grounds them solidly in history. Every sensible person, everyone with a sense of history and reality, must be grateful. Unfortunately I must also agree that, while as Christians we may hope and must hope, we must not expect that these or like proposals will be easily effected.
There are two great obstacles to reform. One of these is almost universally part of the human condition. People do not much like to give up power. This is true in most spheres of activity. The Vatican bureaucracy is hardly an exception.
The other is more particular. There is a school of thought in the Church that holds that reform is impossible because there can be nothing to reform. The Holy Spirit guides the Church, they would say. Surely the institutions of the Church are as they have always been, established under divine direction. How can there be any institutional flaw that might call for reform. That such a view of the Church finds no substantiation in the historical record bothers not in the least those whose history is all too unhistorical. Those with such a mindset will have concluded that the Second Vatican Council reformed nothing, even if some may have mistakenly thought otherwise. All proposals for reform are for those with this mentality proposals to deform and distort what the Spirit has ordained, to be opposed directly when possible, by indirection if necessary, but for ever and ever to be opposed. This, I think, is the greatest difficulty.
Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, as I gather, thought that the earth did not move, because he was sure that the Holy Spirit had said so. (When he suggested that someone might prove him wrong, he was only being polite.) Nevertheless, Doctor of the Church though he is, he was mistaken, as most will now admit. Those who deny that change is desirable or reform possible will resort to the same authority. They, lesser mortals, are also mistaken. We may well hope that truth will yet come forth and dispel the darkness.
“There is a school of thought in the Church that holds that reform is impossible because there can be nothing to reform. The Holy Spirit guides the Church, they would say. Surely the institutions of the Church are as they have always been, established under divine direction.”
Indeed, Professor. And it seems obvious that that school includes the Vatican. It seems to me that the basic assumption of that school is that the hierarchy knows that their judgments are true because somehow or other the Holy Spirit whispers in their ears the answers to vexing theological and moral questions.
The Church needs a more highly developed epistemology of theology and morals. Biblical scholars have developed powerful methods for interpreting Scripture, and the popes are learning to take advantage of those methods. But as I see it there is still no adequate theory of *how* the hierarchy (not to mention the other People of God) should go about finding answers to the vexing theological and moral questions which face the Church. Surely, the Holy Spirit doesn’t whisper in the bishops’ ears? So how are the bishops supposed to go about finding the answers?
As long as the whisperings hermeneutic prevails there will be no peace within the Church.