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A Strategy for the Center-Left?

John Allen has posted an intriguing column on the future of the center-left within the Catholic Church in the United States. He notes that there are a large number of American Catholics who, while not enamored of recent positions taken by the U.S. bishops, are nevertheless committed to working within the system so to speak. Allen suggests that the center-left could build stronger relationships with the bishops by offering, for example, strong public support for the bishops position on the HHS definition of a religious employer.As he often does, Allen had me nodding along thoughtfully until I came to his penultimate paragraph

Once upon a time, when the tone-setting camp among the bishops came out of center-left circles, it was the conservatives and the center-right that had to be intentional about building relationships. Today the shoe is on the other foot, and showing "surprising support" at least seems a possibility worth pondering.

Allen seems to be suggesting that, once-upon-a-time, conservatives were able to expand their influence among the bishops by building relationships. This is, to put it mildly, a curious reading of history. I think a more accurate assessment would be that conservatives expanded their influence by openly opposing center-left bishops where they could, going around those bishops to Rome where they could not, and doing everything they could to ensure that future bishops would be center-right if not simply right.Consider the debate over the U.S. bishops two major pastoral letters of the 1980s, The Challenge of Peace (1983) and Economic Justice for All (1986). Did conservative opponents of these documents confine themselves to offering surprising support for certain elements while critiquing others? They did not. In addition to complaining bitterly to anyone in Rome who would listen, conservatives also organized public opposition. In response to Economic Justice for All, for example, Michael Novak and Bill Simon drafted (and convinced a number of business leaders to sign) The Lay Letter, which accused the bishops of having an inadequate grasp of the principles of a market economy.The recent debate over the new English translation of the Roman Missal is another case in point. Opponents of the 1998 ICEL translation did not simply dialogue with the bishops who favored it. They went around them, lobbying bishops who were on the fence, encouraging opponents to write letters to both U.S. bishops and various officials in Rome. They supported the work of Vox Clara, which at the time of its formation was an explicit effort to weaken the control of the liturgy committees of the individual episcopal conferences, which were largely center-left in orientation and supportive of the ICELs work.The long-term strategy, of course, has been to replace center-left bishops with men of a more conservative stripe, rendering dialogue unnecessary. At one point, this meant the replacement of center-left bishops like Terrence Cooke with center-right bishops like John OConnor, who combined staunch pro-life advocacy with an equally staunch support of organized labor. The recent trend of appointments is toward even stronger conservatives and may reflect the influence of the American cardinals on the Congregation for Bishops: Law, Stafford, Burke, and Rigali.My point in recounting this history is less to criticize the center-right than to correct Allens misreading of recent ecclesiastical history. The uncomfortable truth is that no-holds-barred theological conflict is a recurrent feature of church history. Am I suggesting, then, that center left Catholics should adopt the bare-knuckled tactics of their conservative counterparts rather than the dialogue favored by Allen?I am not, for the simple reason that I cant imagine it being effective. Nor, however, can I imagine Allens approach yielding any substantive benefits for the center left. The truth is that, like the South after Gettysburg, the left has been defeated and little is left but to negotiate the terms of its surrender.In the 1980s, center-left bishops had to listen to the center-right because they had the ear of Rome. The center-left has the ear of no one. They have nothing that the bishops really need and probably nothing that the bishops want. They have no leverage.Allen suggests that center left probably describes the majority of American Catholics and perhaps a super-majority of those working in Catholic institutions, such as chancery offices, Catholic Charities, etc. This is true, but it is changing. We have had a fair amount of episcopal turnover in California in the last few years, and the trend is unmistakable. Older, largely center-left staff are retiring or leaving and being replaced by younger, more self-consciously orthodox Catholics.Its true that the majority of rank-and-file Catholics are probably center left in orientation. But what of it? Younger Catholics, for the most part, are simply not attached enough to the Church as an institution to think institutionally about their theological commitments. Communal dialogue is something you engage in because you have a community. The majority of younger Catholicslike a majority of younger Christiansare spiritual consumers. If they are dissatisfied, they will choose exit rather than voice.But surely, I hear some readers suggesting, the drifting away of millions of American Catholics will cause the hierarchy to sit up and take notice, in the same way that the loss of the working class in 19th century Europe galvanized the forces of reform within the Church of that time.Perhaps. But that was a different time. Those bishops were living at the beginning of the collapse of European Christianity. Todays bishops are living the aftermath of that collapse. They have no illusions that the faith is Europe and Europe is the faith as Hilaire Belloc once put it. They are fully prepared to see the Church in West decline in size, both relatively and absolutely. Do they truly wish for this outcome? I do not believe that they do. But they do not believe (nor do I, for the record) that any liberalization of the Churchs contested teachings will arrest that decline.Do I mean to suggest that the center-left has no future, that it is, to use Cardinal Georges description of liberal Catholicism, an exhausted project? I do not believe that either. Theologically, the left is that portion of the Church that asks the question is the Gospel being heard? just as the right is that portion of the Church that asks the question is the Gospel being heard?" It goes back to Paul and James and the Council of Jerusalem and the tension will be with us always.In the short term, though (which for most of those reading this means the rest of our lives), those of a center left persuasion within the Church will need to take a very long view. They will need to be able to work creatively in an environment that may well become almost as hostile to them as the anti-Modernist era was to an earlier generation of reformers. It will not be work for those unwilling to suffer under ecclesiastical discipline or for those who take refuge in easy optimism. Anything put forward must be both deeply grounded in the Tradition and intellectually rigorous. Ultimatelyand most importantlythe work will require a deep trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.


Commenting Guidelines

So lets be clear; modern or progressive folks have been tearing at the fabric of church and society since the 1960s, sneering at and mocking almost all tradition, and Now some like Ann are surprised the young folks do not have deep faith and for all that they blame traditionalists; traditional Catholics and Popes John Paul II and Benedict, all the way down to the likes of American cardinals and/or bishops like Rigalli and Chaput? Wow - what a whopper! By the way, is the USA really the center of the Roman Catholic world? I think not.My brother in-law (about same age as I) is a good example. He was raised in Minnesota and recalls in the 70s and 80s his CCD classes, where they just were told to be nice, that Jesus loved them, the church was decorated with butterfly-decorated banners, and they all sang Kumbaiya and various folks songs. The result was he knew not much about Church doctrine or the Trinity, hardly ever prayed the Rosary, did not know much of Fatima or Lourdes. He knew nothing of transubstantiation, and had never heard of Our Lady of Guadalupe.When he married my sister, their local priest happened to be the type who focused on doctrine and Jeff found (and still finds) all of that very helpful.

Eric: How does God's having made creatures who can sin yield a right to sin?

Ken, The butterfly is a symbol of new life, especially appropriate in banners for the Easter season. That is, if the banner makers understand the meaning of Easter. I can assure you my CCD kids did (and they didn't make banners because my wife and I are craft project-challenged)

And when you are organizing group activities, singing is always helpful, whether it is "Pack up Your Troubles" (which used to be big at Rotary) or yes, "Kumbaya." The latter is an easy three-chord selection for challenged guitar players. And I am getting very tired of seeing it used as a scarecrow for everything that allegedly went wrong in the '70s and '80s (when someone elected Nixon, Carter and Reagan all in a row, and none of them ever sang "Kumbaya").

Joe: Rights in the legal sense are simply permissions. So, the law recognizes a right to act freely to the extent that your freedom does not infringe on the rights of another legally recognized person. This is all that the law can do. It makes no moral judgment as to whether what one does with his or her freedom is right or wrong. My only point was that one could hold that an act was sinful and yet a person still has a right to choose whether or not to do it (e.g. drink excessive amounts of alcohol). There might even be good moral reasons to do so: if morality tracked one-to-one with the law, then no one would be free to sin or be virtuous, because all of their actions would be coercively prescribed. I think something like this intuition often lies behind the preference for faith-based philanthropy over government welfare: People don't want to feel like their charity is coerced by the government. It seems to me that there is also something of this intuition at work in understandings of why God allows sin. God "thinks" that human freedom is necessary for human rectitude. Virtue wouldn't mean anything without the possibility of sin. The question is: If the law took away that possibility would it also undermine our claims to virtue? Hence, a right to sin.

"The result was he knew not much about Church doctrine or the Trinity, hardly ever prayed the Rosary, did not know much of Fatima or Lourdes. He knew nothing of transubstantiation, and had never heard of Our Lady of Guadalupe."Ken, You are under a grand illusion if you think the church was better before the 60s. Stay with your church of dogma which murdered those who disagreed and retreated in fear when dictators, who murdered millions, came on the scene.

Eric ; we have the freedom to sin but that is not necessarily the same as the right to sin.Though sometimes it is [if you believe that divorce is a sin say, that does not negate ones right to a divorce -in a secular society.]But there are certain sins we don't legally have a right to commit. We don't have the right to kill people after they're born and countless other acts or sins are crimes.So the issue regarding abortion is and remains whether killing unborn human life should be a crime or should be allowed.And to take a position that though I myself believe killing human fetuses in the womb is abhorrent because it is the taking of a human life- -you have the right to do so, denies any rights to the unborn life -which is the issue at hand in the controversy about abortion.Where does that leave the unborn life?Either it's inherently wrong to kill fetuses in the womb [abhorrent] or it is not.If it is inherently wrong then it does not matter who is doing the killing-you or me.

Ken --Almost every single thing you said in your last post was either inaccurate or gravely wrong. You have an inflated conception of the power of liberals to influence the course of history. You seem to think that liberals all agree about everything in the first place, and, worse, you seem to assume that liberals have been in charge of the Church and the US since Vatican two. But simply opening your eyes will show you that during almost all that time the Church was led by an arch conservative (JP II) and then followed by another super-conservative, Benedict. The U.S. government since 1963 has had Democratic presidents during only 28 of the last 49 years and during some of the other years the purse strings were held by Republicans in the House. No, Ken since 1963 this has been a predominanly conservative show.Yes, JP II was fine in opposing the Communists, but his actions within the Church have been disastrous. He was a pig=headed old man who was capable of resisting evidence that all but bit off his nose -- I mean Maciel. OK, so he meant well, and was even holy. But he was a disaster as pope, and Benedict has not picked up the pieces. In the 49 years since 1963, Republicans administrations have been in power 28 years to the Democdrats' 24, and one of their presidents had to be driven from office he was so bad. The last one was so farcically incompetent that the Republicans can't even risk having him address the Republican convention. During those years the REpublicans vastly outspent the Democrats on wars that weren't necessary, wars which weren't even really won and which disillusioned the young, all the while *claiming* they were against government spending!!!! What a crock. Worst of all, the unjustified wars demoralized the young, (That is what unjust wars regularly do to young people. Check out any history book.) The Republicans have neglected education (except for Dubya, God bless him), and have given us an economy with no hope of better times for either the young or middle-aged, stubbornly pretending to themselves that supply-side economics is self-corrective. Even Alan Greenspan, acolyte and bosom buddy of Ayn Rand, no longer believes that, but he's one of the few Republican exceptions. (See unagidon's last post about Stockman, the original supply-sider -- Stockman is at least honest like Greenspan.) Try harder to see what is actually there -- an enormously complex world that cannot be described by simplistic statements that in the end might make you feel better but don't change a thing -- either the facts or the future.

Ken,Your note is such a good example of "sneering at and mocking" tradition, I wonder if you intend those words to be insult or praise. Is that what you learned in CCD, sneering and mocking?There is more to our faith than "doctrine". Anyone who comes out with knowledge and has no love is like bells jangled and harsh. I would rather have a Church of loving people than a church of sneering people who know what transubstantiation is.

Oops == that's 21 years since 1963 that the Dems have had the presidency.

@ Tom Blackburn: Actually, on closer reading of the early written record reveals considerable tension, much more than you seem to acknowledge, around the leadership of the emerging faith community following the death of Jesus. We are left with fragmentary evidence of different focuses of leadership that included Jesus brother James in Jerusalem, Paul among the Greeks and later along with Peter in Rome, and Mary Magdalene. The gospel of Matthew, from which you draw the famous Tu est pretrus quote (Mt 16:18), was written at least a decade or more AFTER Mark, and almost a generation after Pauls early writings besides, Mt 16:18 was most likely amended/edited to the text when Constantine ordered the NT written down in manuscripts (almost two centuries later). The point is TB: The NT version of the early churchs leadership is problematic, and definitely more complicated, than your simple and easy assertions about the primacy of the Petrine ministry. Be careful about swallowing all that triumphal ideology proffered by the hierarchs about how their authority flows directly from Jesus and the apostles. TB, I would like you to consider the story of Joachim of Fiore.Giacchino da Fiore (c.1135-1202) was born in the same Calabrian village of Celico, from where my grandparents immigrated to the US. There is a small chapel [all boarded up] in Celico commemorating Giacchino's birth in the village. Apparently he came from a prominent family and he was educated.Remarkably, Giacchino escaped torture and execution for his ideas by the Inquisition - probably due to his obvious holiness, erudition (more esoterist, really), teaching and his exemplary life as a monk [an abbot, at that!] in Cistercian communities. Giacchino's prophecies were so threatening to the church: Giacchino prophesied of an age to come in church history when the hierarchy would no longer be NEEDED. Dangerous ideas in the Catholic Church, then and now.Giacchino theorized the dawn of a new age, based on his interpretation of verses in the Book of Revelation, in which the Church would be unnecessary and where infidels would unite with Christians. [All of which, of course, was considered heresy.] Some Franciscans of the period acclaimed him as a prophet. Despite his revolutionary and, really, subversive ideas, Giacchino's popularity was enormous during the 12th century. There are records of stories that even Richard the Lionhearted [who is recorded to have been in Calabria and Sicily on his way to the Holy Land] wished to meet Giacchino to discuss the Book of Revelation before leaving for the Third Crusade.It should be noted that as recently as 2009, the Preacher to the Papal Household, Raniero Cantalamessa, gave a lecture to B16 and all his household restating the view that Giacchino da Fiore was STILL a heretic: Go figure! What a surprise!The story of Giacchino da Fiore informs me that the Holy Spirit has been inspiring and fomenting ideas of a "post hierarchal church" for now many, many centuries. The fact that my ancestral roots and Giacchino's both spring from the same Calabrian village, to me means that I am in good company.

Ken said: " --- I like how popes John Paul II and now Benedict, have so thoughtfully considered the Second Vatican Council, that they see Church history as a continuum and how they stress that Vatican II was not a rupture with the past."Open thine eyes that thy may see *: Massimo Faggioli, "Vatican II: the Battle for Meaning" (2012)* a variation of

Ann said: Most of the young have left or are leaving to join the ranks of the unchurched, and they wont be back to this particular version of the Church.What a large number of them are doing is joining burgeoning, vibrant, welcoming, attractive churches and church-like organizations such as this:|newswell|text|Neighborhoods|p&nclick_check=1Its interesting that this particular group has bought and revitalized one of those old, downtown parishes that died from lack of attendance.I know a former Catholic who goes here ( and she tells me that a large portion of the members are former RC. Ditto for this place: and this one: places do NOT fit the mold that most posters here would consider church, but they are attractive to so very many younger former Catholics.The truth shall make one free, but no one said that it wouldnt be painful.

This is a better linkage for the first citation above:|newswell|text|Neighborhoods|p&nclick_check=1

Jim - None of that changes the fact that the Roman Catholic Church teaches the truth passed down from Christ to us through Peter and his successors. No matter tha some do not like it, Jesus said; "You are Peter; upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it".

Thomas Farrell; I get and appreciate how you framed the left right controversy; those who value doctrine over faith vs. those who value faith in God and spirituality over docrine.The problem with trivilaizing doctrine is that over time if doctrine is lax and of lesser importance -over time you can end up with a catholic church that proclaims that Jesus Christ was an alien or that he never existed but he's an archytype-or that killing innocent people [abortion] is not just acceptable but good; it's good for society when we're in economic hard times say!].Or someone can come along proclaiming a newer more relevant "revelation" [mormonism].If all or any of these positions are acceptable then yes preoccupation with dogma seems rigid and lacking in spirituality -more like a symptom of a neurotic love of authoritarianism or of a fearful rigid tradtionalism then a genuine love of God.If however you believe that Jesus Christ founded a church to ensure that the good news of God's love and salvation is known to all throughout time-then it indeed matters what the doctrine is and that it be preserved as it is passed from generation to generation.It's a delicate balance for the church as the holy spirit moves through time and people to give new insights but i'm glad there is a propagation for the doctrine of the faith even from the stand point of one human life span it drags its feet.

Dear Stuart Buck, In one sense, you are quite right that there is no necessary link between the left/right divide and the liturgical translation. In fact, two of the more trenchant critics of the new "translation", including one brave bishop, were very conservative on other matters. But as a practical matter, it seems to me important to face up to the fact that conservative forces within the Church have chosen the liturgy as one of their chief weapons against progressives (i.e., the center-left and beyond). What evidence is there to support this contention? A few suggest themselves: - The statement by a Roman official that, once the new "translation" was in place, Catholics would no longer be confused because they were using the same texts as Protestants. (In fact, Rome had exercised perfect perfidy by unilaterally abrogating bilateral ecumenical agreements which we had made, post Vatican II, in good faith with a number of Protestant Churches to use common texts. For that reason, quite apart from matters of translation strictly speaking, I will not sing or say the Gloria, the Creed, the revised Sanctus, or much less, "And with your spirit".) - The lies, strong-arm tactics, and probably illegal-under-American-law intervention into the internal affairs of ICEL which preceded the "translation" and its imposition. This is all carefully documented by John Wilkinson, late of The Tablet, London. - The additional lies, misrepresentations, and rejection of solid scholarship and principles of translation which ensued, particularly in the process of "selling" the so-called translation. - The overt propaganda (available on YouTube) by Cardinal Burke and others pushing the Tridentine Mass, and their constant talk of "abuses" -- which means, simply, anything they personally don't like. The clear purpose is to undo Vatican II as much as possible, and especially to attack its principles of liturgical reform. So, very sadly, we are now burdened with this use of the sacred liturgy as a weapon. I have conceded elsewhere that, in part, this may be "payback" for the way in which the vernacular liturgy was introduced ("OK. Altogether now, on the same day....") However, it is still a very unfortunate thing which tears at the very heart of Catholic spirituality. I belong to a parish which accommodates a range of liturgical tastes from traditional to modern (without offering Tridentine liturgies); in fact, even the music at one liturgy may span that spectrum. And I know of a few others, as well. There is no reason we cannot do it; but there is also no reason to have a miserable so-called "translation", we pray, foisted upon us "like the dewfall".

Ken,Amen!And in line with the profound connection between truth and beauty, I offer this as proof in support of your argument:

rose-ellen:Thank you for your response to my comment and want you to know that I am giving your thoughts serious reflection.With respect to your response to Thomas Farrells comment (and I am sure that he can speak for himself):As I read his words, he did not write that those who do not over-value doctrine trivialize it.You lose credibility when you make exaggerated statements like:The problem with trivilaizing doctrine is that over time if doctrine is lax and of lesser importance -over time you can end up with a catholic church that proclaims that Jesus Christ was an alien or that he never existed but hes an archytype-or that killing innocent people [abortion] is not just acceptable but good.

Thank you Helen;and you're right he did not say anything about trivializing doctrine-that was my quick to respond interpretation of what he was saying.

(In fact, Rome had exercised perfect perfidy by unilaterally abrogating bilateral ecumenical agreements which we had made, post Vatican II, in good faith with a number of Protestant Churches to use common texts. For that reason, quite apart from matters of translation strictly speaking, I will not sing or say the Gloria, the Creed, the revised Sanctus, or much less, And with your spirit.)Mr. Cassidy --you are obviously speaking from some deep-seated issues with the Catholic Church and with the Roman Missal itself, rather than with the current more-accurate translation (indeed, you say that you don't object to the translation as such). But in any event, I think it's important, just as a matter of clear thinking, not to confuse liturgical issues with the political left/right divide. There's no logical connection whatsoever between one's political opinion and one's opinion of translating the Roman Missal into English in a manner more like the translation into Spanish (i.e., not taking quite so many liberties with the text).

Re: my previous postI "miswrote": It's John Wilkins. The reference is "Lost in Translation: The Bishops, the Vatican & the English Liturgy" published in COMMONWEAL (Dec. 2, 2005).

Let's try this a different way. My last post (but one) used the liturgy debacle as an EXAMPLE of what J. Peter Nixon described in his original post, above. While I, too, was intrigued by John Allen's article, and my initial reaction was positive, I am having a difficult time seeing how to operationalize the "surprising support" idea in an atmosphere which is so desperately polarized. For example, a long, thoughtful (I hope) letter to my bishop about the coming liturgical crisis, sent more than a year before the implementation date, received NO answer, not even a form "thanks for sharing" reply. (To be fair, things may have since improved. A recent epistle, the first since the liturgy piece, received a fairly lengthy reply from a staffer, though not from the bishop himself. The letter, unlike my earlier one, may even have had some practical effect.) As an urban planner, I've been educated to at least try to see things in the long view. Some years ago, a very interesting book appeared, and it seems suggestive for this discussion. It's called Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The basic thesis of the book is that, in American history, there is a consistent 4-generational cycle in politics and public opinion which has repeated even from before the beginning of the Republic. Their theory is that each generation belongs to one of four types, and that these types repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern. Is there a similar pattern in the history of the American Church? So far as I know, no one has researched this question explicitly; however, it seems likely to be true, given that a subset of the same American population is involved. As for the Church at large, that is a separate, if interesting, question. Of course, the crucial question is, "Are the authors correct?" Are they really onto something, or are they selling snake oil? You'll have to read the book and decide for yourselves. However, based upon their theory, the authors have presented some predictions (which were still in the future when the book was written, but are now part of history). Their batting average on these predictions looks quite good. My conclusion? If the authors are correct, and if their theory applies to the American Catholic Church as well as to American society as a whole, then there is at least some hope for the medium term -- before some future generation (or Rome or its surrogates) louses things up again, or until the Lord comes in glory. For the near term, as someone approaching 70, I don't hold out much hope of seeing improvement in my lifetime, unless the Holy Spirit chooses to act sooner rather than later. Prayer is indicated. Come, Holy Spirit!

@ Ken (8/15/12; 5:43 PM): Re "Tu est pretrus" attribution: Your putting those actual words in Jesus' mouth is highly suspect. Almost no NT exegete, except for the most Roman of reactionary ideologues, would ever argue that Jesus ever actually said those exact words, and then was able to have the Matthean author(s) dutifully record them - highly unlikely. That scripture reflects the intense political struggle within the early church for primacy in defining Christian origins and theology.Matthew's gospel, written at least a decade after Mark, originated most probably in Roman Syria. The author drew from a number of sources besides his own experiences, including Mark's Gospel, the "Q" source, and material unique to his community. The name " The Gospel According to Matthew" wasn't even begun to be added to the manuscript until the end of the 2nd century. Text analysis reveals that those words (You are Rock) were amended long after Jesus and the first witnesses were dead - when later church hierarchs were pushing an agenda in exerting a political hegemony over church.It's an axiom of politics and power that the victors get to write the history.

Mr. Jenkins - you might find this research article - twelve sections - to be interesting - on papal primacy: this argument to a conclusion..."Despite scholarly awareness of 'word-play' as a literary phenomenon in ancient Near Eastern literature, the claim by advocates of Papal Primacy (and others who have little or no knowledge of these literary devices) that Peter himself is the rock is allowed to stand virtually unchallenged, or else challenged for the wrong reasons. Those who make the claim lift this statement out of its context within Hebrew 'rock-stone' imagery and ignore the comprehensive New Testament application of this imagery to Jesus.The advocates of Papal Primacy based on the 'rock = Peter' argument are not only guilty of 'cherry-picking,' i.e. lifting verses out of context, but also are the butt of what must be the greatest cosmic joke in history Jesus' thoroughly Jewish love of 'word-play' or 'punning,' a classic display of which we have seen in Matthew 16:18."

The former St. Vincent de Paul Church, now the Sojourn Community Church, is directly across the street from the Maloney Center, home to several Louisville archdiocesan offices including THE RECORD weekly newspaper. On a different matter, the reference in Mt 16:18 to "church" is most likely (as others have noted) an interpolation, i.e., something added to the narrative years after the fact. Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and Jesus died a Jew. Furthermore, the Christian churches did not come into being until after the resurrection. Even Paul wrote that had there been no resurrection, there would have been no reason for Jesus' disciples not to return to their previous labors --- fisherman, tax collector, etc. It was the resurrection that lent credibility to Jesus' earthly ministry, that served as the impetus for spreading the "good news".As for Peter somehow being the (quote)first pope(endquote), consider:"Not until the pontificate of St. Pius I in the middle of the second century (ca. 142 - ca. 155) did the Roman church have a monoepiscopal structure of government (one bishop as pastoral leader of a diocese). Those whom Catholic tradition lists as Peter's immediate successors (Linus, Anacletus, Clement, et al.) did not function as the one bishop of Rome. (The succession lists were passed down by St. Irenaeus of Lyons...) The Roman community seems instead to have had a corporate or collegial form of pastoral leadership. Those counted among the earliest popes, therefore, may very well have been simply the individuals who presided over the local council of elders or presbyter-bishops. Or they may have been the most prominent of the pastoral leaders of the community. In any case, the popes of the first four centuries --- that is, until the watershed papacy of Leo I in the middle of the fifth century --- functioned with relatively limited authority beyond Rome and its immediate environs" (Richard McBrien, LIVES OF THE POPES. HarperCollins, First Edition, 1997, p. 25).The late scripture scholar Raymond Brown offers some insight into Peter's identity vis-a-vis the power to bind and loose:There are debates about what is meant by this binding/loosing [in Mt 16:19]. Is it the power to forgive/not forgive sins (as in John 20:23) or to teach what must be observed, with the result that Peter is the chief rabbi? That this section follows a warning against the teaching of the Pharisees and Saducees [Mt 16:5-12] may tilt the odds in favor of the latter, and notice that in [Mt] 23:13 the scribes and Pharisees are criticized for locking the kingdom of heaven to human beings." Brown reminds us that Jesus later tells Peter, Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way [Mt 16:23]" (Raymond Brown, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT. ABRL/Doubleday, 1997). It would appear that Jesus is telling his disciples --- Peter included --- to be careful in what they present in his name, lest they lead their listeners astray. Whenever I see somebody defending traditional teaching against known facts, e.g., that St. Peter was our "first pope", I'm reminded of Joseph Ratzinger's acknowledgement more than 45 years ago: "[F]acts, as history teaches, carry more weight than pure doctrine" (THEOLOGICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF VATICAN II, Paulist Press/Deus Books, 1966, p. 16; reprinted 2010). When official teaching contradicts actual history, the latter must prevail in the interest of doctrinal and intellectual integrity.

Ken: " -- from Christ to us through Peter and his successors."If you look at the history of the papacy, defining which are the "successors" of Peter gets a bit dodgy during times of multiple papcies at the same time. There were lots of antipopes between 1000 and 1500. The line seems to have gotten diluted at best and questionable in reality:

From Peter' s (Nixon, not the first pope :-)) post:"Allen seems to be suggesting that, once-upon-a-time, conservatives were able to expand their influence among the bishops by building relationships. This is, to put it mildly, a curious reading of history. I think a more accurate assessment would be that conservatives expanded their influence by openly opposing center-left bishops where they could, going around those bishops to Rome where they could not, and doing everything they could to ensure that future bishops would be center-right if not simply right."Three comments about this analysis: (1) Hasn't it been ever thus - this business of American bishops and their influential allies going around local prelates to get Rome to pull strings for them? If it seems that, historically, conservatives have tended to to this - well, perhaps that is a reflection of the orientation of the Holy See's string-pullers. I guess my point is that when Rome appointed Cardinal George to read ICEL the riot act, or when Mother Angelica went to Rome to complain about Cardinal Mahony, those are not tactics that Right-leaning prominent Catholics invented 20 years ago; they were treading a well-worn path(2) In talking about "conservatives" in this analysis, I note that you've more or less set aside Allen's intentional taxonomy of Left/Center-Left/Center-Right/Right - you seem to be lumping the "Right" and "Center-Right" categories into a single blob called "Conservaties". If we overlay Allen's taxonomy over the instances you seem to have in mind (or that I have in mind - perhaps you're thinking of other instances), then perhaps those who circumvent local officials by going direct to Rome, are, almost by definition, not the members of either of the "Center-" parties. Those who are near the center are those who are willing to work within existing centers of influence and power.(3) I am not certain how the events of the sexual-abuse crisis fit Allen's taxonomy. Then-bishop Wilton Gregory, as president of the conference, and whom I would classify, using Allen's taxonomy, as Center-Left, was the one who took the issue to the Holy Father. I am not sure if that is the same sort of instance as you have in mind in your analysis - as president of the conference, surely it was appropriate for him to go to the Holy Father, so it is not as though he was circumventing the conference, but I think it was rather extraordinary - but it did shake up the status quo. But John Paul himself was Center-Left in some ways, Center-Right in some ways, and Right in some ways (and on some social justice issues, possibly Left). Cardinal Law himself, surely a member of the Right party (as Allen would have these things) was permitted by Rome to step down, after the open revolt of his own priests, whom I assume were Center-Left and Left. Diarmud Martin seems Center-Left, and he has had some success in bridging Rome and the Irish conference.

The truth of the claim that the Church, Vatican Curia and pope, is prepared to accept a smaller Church in the West rather than change any of its doctrines misses a most important fact.What is missing in the above assertion, and its fundamental philosophical underpinnings, is the fact that most Catholics "who attend weekly Mass over the past several decades" disagree and have not received certain Church doctrines. Hence, this smaller Church is not a Church where the faithful are center-right or right. Far from it. They are center-left on many sexual ethical teachings and center-right on most social ethical teachings, as are many priests and bishops who are part of the silent pulpit.Based on CARA Reports and Surveys of the Catholic University of America, most priests and bishops know that most post-Vatican II Catholic cohorts (who attend weekly Mass) disagree on many sexual ethical doctrines. Those in child-bearing years stand in line each week and receive the Eucharist without ever confessing the so-called sin as contraception. Most of these Catholics also do not believe that terminating a pregnancy when the fetus threatens the life of the mother (and the fetus cannot survive under any circumstances....e.g., the Phoenix case) is a mortal sin. Also, most Catholics who attend weekly Mass do not believe that in vitro fertilization between spouses is a mortal sin as well. The list goes on.To assume that a smaller future Church in the West, the laity, will somehow experience an epiphany is simply unrealistic because it is not based on any realistic evidence in support of it. The reason: the Church has failed in making what is invisible, visible, what is counter-intuitive, intuitive, and what is unintelligible, intelligible. It has not been able to offer a convincing moral theory in defense of many of its sexual ethical doctrines. We need to remember that doctrines not received have always been reformed and a Church divided cannot stand. Solidarity may take decades or even a century but it will eventually happen. Christ promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church (laity, theologians and clergy). He did not promise that all papal teachings will be infallible or the absolute moral truth. History has taught us that this fact is the truth.

@ Michael J. Barberi:My own understanding of the evolutionary forces at work these days in the Catholic Church are about to give the hierarchy very painful lesson in the true meaning of the SENSUS FIDELIUM.

Jim:" when Rome appointed Cardinal George to read ICEL the riot act" -- Really?---For about three and a half decades after the Council, the bishops of the US were very concerned to act collegially and to support their elected leaders. That one or other bishop went behind the back of the conference and its officers in that period, I don't doubt. There will always be outriders, even in the ecclesiastical system. But by the 1990s those exceptions were becoming more and more the rule.By mid-decade, the careful courtesy that had always characterized discussions during the bishops' plenary meetings began to fray, at times rather shockingly. And it was at that time, encouraged by statements of the Roman authorities, that various bishops began to question the role of the conference itself, seeing it as an obstacle to the exercise of the authority of the local bishop in his diocese.Certainly a very telling instance of this fraying, as Bill deHaas has pointed out, was the Atlantic coast cardinals' very public and dismissive response to Cardinal Bernardin's Common Ground Initiative. I have to say that I found your analysis a little confusing, and your assigning of positions (left, right, center, and the various shades in between) a bit too neat.The passage from Cardinal George, to Mother Angelica, to Cardinal Mahony, to Bishop Gregory, to Cardinal Law, to the priests of Boston, to Archbishop Martin left me somewhat breathless. There are an awful lot of apples and oranges in that melange. Maybe some pears and bananas too.In time the documents will be available, and detailed histories of these events, singly and generally, will, I hope, be possible.

"It has not been able to offer a convincing moral theory in defense of many of its sexual ethical doctrines."Because there is none.As John McCain's Mistake said: that's like trying to put lipstick on a pig.

Orthodox bishops, the "minority group" at Vatican II, were constantly going behind the backs of the "majority of bishops" and straight to the pope and the prefect of the Holy See (now the CDF) in order to undermine any sense of reform. For a real insight into the politics of Vatican Ii and it real meaning read "Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning" by Massimo Faggioli. We also see this same non-collegial bitter minority strategy at work in the after math of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission. The minority group consisting of four theologians (out of a total commission of 72 members) joined Cardinal Ottavianni, the prefect of the Holy See, in a campaign to convince the pope to embrace tradition and reject the Majority Report. History is replete with bitter politics between the minority orthodox, and their supporters, and any group who represents the majority on important matters for good and just reasons. It is not "the orthodox, conservative, faithful, and the enlightened group" VERSUS "the liberal, unfaithful, individualistic and relativistic group". I would describe it as "the tradition-minded group" VERSUS "the less-tradition minded group". This does not mean that the less-tradition-minded group does not respect tradition. They simply don't embrace tradition without remainder.

"I have to say that I found your analysis a little confusing, and your assigning of positions (left, right, center, and the various shades in between) a bit too neat. The passage from Cardinal George, to Mother Angelica, to Cardinal Mahony, to Bishop Gregory, to Cardinal Law, to the priests of Boston, to Archbishop Martin left me somewhat breathless. There are an awful lot of apples and oranges in that melange. Maybe some pears and bananas too."John - the "assigning of positions" - the taxonomy - isn't mine, it's Allen's. The thesis that the right runs to Rome rather than working within the system seems to be Peter Nixon's. The point of that part of my comment was to wonder whether that taxonomy and that thesis align. If you disagree with some of my assignments of individuals to pigeon-holes in that taxonomy, then of course I will defer to your superior knowledge of the principals involved. If you insist that pigeon-holing of this sort doesn't do justice to complicated human beings, then I would agree (where does John Paul II get compartmentalized?) but that at some level, perhaps a very simplistic level, it is sensible and true to refer to someone as a "conservative" or a "progressive", and if that sort of assignment is valid, then I don't know why Allen's wouldn't be.The point of Allen's column - a point that deserves a good deal more serious consideration than it has received in the comments in this thread - is that there are ways that the left can find to build stronger bridges to the powers that be (who, it is true, are in power at least in part because they out-generaled - routed - progressives), and that it would be prudent to do so. That's been my consistent view in regard to the LCWR and the CDF.

Thank you, Jim, for your kind and full reply. I think my disagreement is more with John Allen than with you. But again, there is a lot of history here. Perhaps I have been too close (well on the sidelines) to a good part of it for making objective comments. It needs an essay, at least.Alas, when the histories are written, I won't be around to read them. Good reading! Cardinal George is in my prayers.

John, thank you. For my part, I apologize if I've dredged up topics or memories that are very painful for you.