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The Parallel Catholic Church

Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan praises a new HBO documentary, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," by Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") on the perpetration and cover-up of sex abuse in the Catholic Church that traces the corruption all the way to the Pope. None of this, I think, will be news to many of us who have been following this horrifying story for more than a decade, but Sullivan offers an interesting comment on how the loss of moral credibility among the hierarchy has created two parallel churches:

One feature of this last election was the complete failure of the Vatican hierarchs to dictate the vote to the flock. American Catholics voted for Obama over Romney. The docile fools in dresses - from Dolan to Chaput - were ignored as they now routinely are, and should be. They actually think they still have moral authority. But moral authority has to be earned with each generation, and the corruption in the Vatican is so deep and so rotten and so incapable of self-reflection it has effectively created two Catholic churches in America: those few in the pews who still listen to the bishops and those who exist almost in a parallel church, focused on their own parish, their own priest, and their own faith, which remains, for many of us, undimmed.

I have also found the idea of inhabiting a parallel Catholic Church to be one way of sustaining my own faith through the dark time of scandal, pastoral malfeasance, and political cynicism that continues to undermine the hierarchical Church. The wonderful community at my local parish and the excellent priests that serve us have kept me coming back every week in spite of the continual heartbreak that comes from seeing certain bishops and their friends take the public stage with a militant defensiveness, a hunger for power, and a litigiousness that seems to be the very antithesis of the Gospel's message of self-sacrifice, humility, and love. Now more than ever, I find that spending Sunday mornings in prayer with my spouse and our friends at the Church of Loretto is essential to sustaining a spiritual life away from the daily silliness that has become the public witness of institutional Catholicism.This is why I find Luke's post about a young man being denied confirmation at his Minnesota parish so depressing. Some conservative Catholics may applaud this move as an important catechetical moment on the way to preserving doctrinal discipline and the deeper edification of a smaller, purer Church. From the pew where I sit, however, it is a cold-hearted, pharisaical action that privileges the letter over the Spirit, which will only result in stamping out any meaningful future for this Church that so many of us love in spite of feeling unloved by it. Why a priest or bishop would deny the sacraments to an enthusiastic and independently-minded young person -- who has an obvious interest in practicing the virtues of love and justice (that he, no doubt, learned in the Church) in the public sphere -- and the family that raised him is beyond baffling to me. It is mean, plain and simple. Do we really have so many 17 year-olds seeking confirmation these days that we can afford to alienate those who desire the sacrament in good faith?As Sullivan points out, this case in Minnesota is made even worse by the fact that it looks like political retribution:

In Minnesota, where a third of the population is Catholic, the hierarchy insisted that the state amend its constitution to keep gay couples out of civil society and civil marriage. The hierarchy failed - as miserably as they failed in their trumped up "war on religion" nonsense. The Amendment didn't pass. [...] And so in Minnesota, a 17-year-old Catholic, Lennon Cihack, who goes to mass weekly, and who was diligently preparing for his confirmation, posted on his Facebook page a picture of himself and a poster opposing the Amendment. His mother is then called into the rectory by the local priest and told that the confirmation cannot occur. Then she is told that the entire family is now barred from communion.

Is it Sunday yet? I need to go to Mass.

About the Author

Eric Bugyis teaches Religious StudiesĀ at the University of Washington Tacoma.

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"The docile fools in dresses" - typical Andrew Sullivan charity.

Conservative Catholics may applaud this move as an important catechetical moment on the way to preserving doctrinal discipline and the deeper edification of a smaller, purer Church.That is not it at all, despite your crass attempts to politicize this while claiming to be baffled, as I explained in the prior post.As far as the sex scandal is concerned, and the attempt to keep that perpetually alive, since you claim to be concerned about it, what is your response to the favorable mention in these pages only a few days ago about Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who was himself involved in the scandal?

I'd simply add two adjectives so it reads "The docile fools in ecclesiastical granny dresses..."

Although I read it in an earlier thread, it just struck me that when the boy's parish priest said he did not bar the lad from confirmation, was this presbyter aluding to the "latae sententiae" form of excommunication. This was the ruse employed by Bishop Olmsted when he said that the Mercy sister at St. Joseph Hospital had excommunicated herself when she voted with the ethics committee to approve lifesaving intervention for the woman with a life-threatening pregnancy. Any canon lawyers here?

The bishops and Hannity, Limbaugh and co. are wounded animals. Why the high road when you can go after Susan Rice and try to deny that the country repudiated you?

Oh, and I thought patience and forgiveness were also virtues

Let me know when "patience and forgiveness" appear in a Commonweal thread. The mean-spiritedness from many people here is beyond obsessive. This is the "parallel church" that will usher in the love of Christ?

Bruce and Frank, this website is dangerous to your moral and spiritual health. You're not going to succeed in converting us heterodox. At the very least, you two are "playing with fire" and probably engaging in venial sin. Such being the case, you are jeopardizing your eternal salvation (just ask, no doubt, Raymond Burke et al). My suggestion: Leave while the gettin's good! Or you'll continue to be lured to damnation. I mean, Really.

Frank --Here's an example of forgiveness -- Archbishop Weakland has publicly repented for his sins, suffered consequences for them, is now an active member of the Church again, and he has been mentioned favorably here at dotCommonweal. That's the way it's supposed to be. One of these days when I have the time I'm going to re=post in caps the uncalled for nastiness in one thread here during just one day. Yes, some of the liberals call names too. But not nearly as many. Just look at this thread, and it's only just begun:"TYPICAL ANDREW SULLIVAN CHARITY" (conservative)"despite your CRASS ATTEMPTS TO POLITICIZE this while CLAIMING TO BE baffled, (conservative - 2 insults)"since you CLAIM TO BE concerned about it, (conservative)The docile fools in ECCLESIASTICAL GRANNY dresses" (liberal) "THE RUSE employed by Bishop Olmsted" (liberal)" Why the high road when you GO AFTER Susan Rice and TRY TO DENY that the country repudiated you?" (liberal -2)"LET ME KNOW WHEN patience and forgiveness APPEAR IN A COMMONWEALl thread. The MEAN=SPIRITEDNESS from many people here is BEYOND OBSESSIVE. (conservative -3)Note: the conservatives win 7 to 4.

Sullivan: "American Catholics voted for Obama over Romney." Yes, many US Catholics voted for Obama, but did not almost as many vote for Romney? Eric: "The wonderful community at my local parish and the excellent priests that serve us have kept me coming back every week in spite of the continual heartbreak that comes from seeing certain bishops and their friends take the public stage with a militant defensiveness, a hunger for power, and a litigiousness that seems to be the very antithesis of the Gospels message of self-sacrifice, humility, and love. Now more than ever, I find that spending Sunday mornings in prayer with my spouse and our friends at the Church of Loretto is essential to sustaining a spiritual life away from the daily silliness that has become the public witness of institutional Catholicism."I'm tempted to say, with regard to your first sentence, "Well, Duh!!" Of course, the life of the Church is in parishes and other small eucharistic communities. The obsession with bishops on this blog distorts the reality of the Church. I find it as silly as the criticized public witness. It should not be a surprise that a spiritual life can be nourished apart from what bishops--or, rather, what certain bishops--are or are not doing. Under present conditions, the Church is a voluntary community, and one of the meanings of this is that how much what certain bishops do upsets us is in great part our own choice.

This blog is a microcosm of Catholicism, a place where people come together from many different places, different political horizons, and different Catholic sensibilities. Bernard wrote a few days ago that he was hoping for universal salvation: imagine that perhaps some day the people commenting here will all be united in the arms of God! Obviously we're not there yet, and in fact, the prospect of being so intimately associated with one another, given our current relations, sounds more like hell than like heaven.How do we handle the diversity of voices? This blog shows a little bit of what happens when there is no leader such as a bishop to impose uniformity, and when Catholics can freely build the church of tomorrow. Sometimes I imagine it as an experiment in a church with a different, new form of government."There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus." All can speak up, all opinions can be expressed, and open conversation is the sole practical means towards unity. How could such a radical elimination of oppressive thought police work in practice? That is what we are working out right now.I read Ann's comment and can't help but contrast her quotes with the early Christian community that elicited the surprised reaction "Behold how they love one another!"

JAK --Is it really so unnatural that there is such interest in a Catholic blog in what the bishops do and say? The American Church is in terrible shape, and an even half-way objective eye can see that the bishops are in major part responsible for this sorry state of affairs. At the rate people are leaving, in 50 years there won't be a Catholic Church here. I say we MUST lament the bishops' contributions to this melt-down, beginning with the sex scandal that has not been adequately dealt even after 25 years, plus their generally letting the Vatican walk all over them, not to mention their refusing to even talk about the problems the faithful find most distressing, and perhaps most amazing, picking on the nuns of all people, plus assorted unwise actions such as engaging in strident politics. Think about it -- when you were 10 years old, could you have *imagined* that the nuns might all but vanish from the American Church? Granted, the bishops are not entirely responsible for that, but . . . see the LCWR.No, we're not obsessed. We care deeply, and we won't shut up. Times have changed at least in that a regard.

Is it really so unnatural that there is such interest in a Catholic blog in what the bishops do and say?

Yeah, I'd say so, Ann, especially when it's only the hated bishops that draw all the interest. Well, but no, not unnatural, of course - it's extremely human that people should hate so strongly. One of the most unpleasant characteristics of the human animal is its hunger for intense and enduring hate.

"Under present conditions, the Church is a voluntary community, and one of the meanings of this is that how much what certain bishops do upsets us is in great part our own choice."Joe: It is until it isn't. That's why I brought up the Minnesota case. Bishops and priests do have real administrative and spiritual power as well as a certain claim to the public face of the Church. I understand your point, and I agree with it to the extent that the whole idea of there being a "parallel church" at the parish level is predicated on there being spaces for fellowship and worship that are able to ignore this authority for the most part. It is still there, though, and it is being exercised. So, I think Ann is right that it is only natural those of us who feel invested in the Church would take an interest in what it is doing and saying at both the local and institutional level.David: I don't think that there's any reason to accuse anyone of "intense and enduring hate." Please, stop.

The horrifying thing about the Minnesota communion story, and so much else that falls under the umbrella of episcopal or clerical whip- cracking, is that it is excused under the idea that "if you want to be Catholic, you have to be 100% Catholic".Personally, while I value the parallel church in the pews, and all that is best in the Catholic tradition, I'd rather be 100% Christian (a follower of Christ) than 100% Catholic (a cheerleader for the Vatican and bishops).The most superficial reading of the Gospels makes it clear: Jesus' message was about inclusion for everybody, he warned strongly against any inclination to judge others, and his clear example was that love and service were immeasurably more important than adherence to religious doctrine and rules.

David Smith:"One of the most unpleasant characteristics of the human animal is its hunger for intense and enduring hate."Really? Is that your opinion or do you have results from a study that proves your statement?

Fr. Komonchak:The obsession with bishops on this blog distorts the reality of the Church. Can it be that the bishops have been more vocal and political than ever before?Speaking of obsession:It seems to me that a significant number of our bishops (and priests) are obsessed with the issue of religious liberty. In my opinion there was no need for an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. What really got my goat is the fact that at their November 2011 meeting the bishops overwhelmingly approved a 3% increase in their annual diocesan dues to the USCCB for the purpose of supporting the new committee. (I did not make this up. It was on the live stream of their meeting.) They are closing schools merging parishes, etc. and yet they have money to support this new committee. I want to respect, admire and be inspired by our bishops and priests. I truly do. Yet, when I hear that the USCCB June 2013 retreat (?) meeting will be in a Coronado resort in these tough economic times, I have reservations. They were told to wear casual attire. (Again, I did not make this up. It was on the live stream of their meeting.) I think maybe some should be wearing sackcloth and ashes. (Maybe, I will appear too strong in that opinion but then, I remember that Dante had a special place in Hell for a pope - Pope Boniface VIII.)I cannot get my head around the thinking of some of our bishops. For example, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap. seems to be doing some good things to clean up the mess he inherited in Philadelphia. This past Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C. he accepted the annual Meese Award from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which specializes in legal defense of religious liberty. This is what he said in his acceptance speech:Ed Meese, Robert Bork, Chuck Colson, Robby George all of these men whom the ADF has honored in the past are heroes to me. Im grateful to be included in their company.http://catholicphilly.com/2012/11/archbishop-chaput/homilies-speeches/fi...

The many 'us/them' threads at dotCommonweal leave me feeling profoundly alienated. The alternatives are presented as stark: 'they' align with the hierarchical church and 'we' with the parallel church. The wheat and the chaff. I don't dispute the existence of the two churches as Eric and Andrew describe them. Nor do I deny the loyalty church each elicits from its devotees. Indeed, engaged Catholics increasingly feel called to declare for one or the other and the identity is durable. Except that for some of us...perhaps very few, after all...the binary doesn't work. We grapple with ambivalence. We meander between, identify with both, and fit into neither. Ecclesiastically homeless, perhaps.I'm struck by unflattering similarities among the most intense devotees of each vision: the certainty that the contending view of church is illegitimate, the incapacity to acknowledge the shadow side of one's own vision and the wisdom of the other, the refusal to call out one's own, the schadenfreude, the flogging of the most extreme and grotesque positions taken by defenders of the alternate vision. Im struck by how deep the wounds go all around. It is exquisitely painful to experience your deepest beliefs subjected to ridicule and contempt. It is extraordinarily difficult to acknowledge that your own critique has inflicted such wounds, But most of all I'm struck by the depth of the mutual loathing and infrequency with which it is acknowledged. Michael Rubens, a former Daily Show producer, posted a brilliant riff on SLATE about encountering people whose views he detested. His conclusion: People are complex and can hold different views and still be moral actorsMaybe you already grasp that concept because you have good friends or loving relatives with beliefs that are wildly divergent from your own. But I tend to think my experience is more typical: I lived in a little bubble surrounded by people like me. And when I considered people with opposing viewpoints I would turn into a fublist, concocting an entire narrative of who they were and what they were like and what they were like was yucko. http://www.salon.com/2012/04/27/the_daily_show_guide_to_my_enemies/ Im inclined to think that a Catholic Centernot Center Left or Central Right mind youwould be characterized by a willingness to selectively affirm *and* selectively critique both the hierarchical church and the parallel church. That, and a passion for reconciliation. But Im left wondering whether centrist sensibilities resonate with any but a small fraction of engaged Catholics after forty years of polarization. Very much in the closet myself, Im also wondering how centrist Catholics might find each other to create an identity between the overpowering narratives of the hierarchical and parallel churches. Anybody out there?

HelenThanks for the link to Archbishop Chaputs talk. However, I do not understand your inability to get your head around the bishops concern over religious liberty given this, from your link:As a senior federal judge told me recently from his own case-load experience, key people in this administration simply do not seem to believe in religious freedom in the sense the American Founders originally intended it in other words, as a distinct human liberty and a priority human right.

Mike McG: I resonate to your sentiments, but I can't make them go anywhere intellectually. According to the Catholic Right, if you are not Right, you are wrong. Someone in the Center may be near to correctness but he or she might as well be Left because the Center is not Right. The Left in the Church is like the left in American politics -- all over the place but not especially coherent. A Catholic on the Left may actually feel like a centrist, as you do. But just as he is willing to live and let live with a 17-year-old Minnesotan who isn't fully formed in the faith yet, he will be informed by Higher Authority that this is not a case in which we can let live, at least it can't live within the loving arms of Holy Mother Church.(And, carrying on the impossibility of finding a place to stand in the center, someone with the credentials of higher authority will see you throw up your hands in disgust, and give you a knowing smile to try to convey that this, too, shall pass.)

In a recent Pew Survey, American Catholics indicated satisfaction with nuns, their parish priest, the Pope, and the American bishops... by large majorities. http://www.pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/Catholics-Share-Bishops-C... manifest flaws of particular bishop's statement, or the dumb actions of certain clerics (i.e. the MN case) should be evident to nearly all Catholics... and the fact that they are should be clear from the fact that a vast majority of bishops and a vast majority of priests DO NOT ACT THIS WAY. The concern that is rightly raised by Joe K. and Mike M. above is the easy slide to mass stereotyping, and to a rhetoric of crisis that can be pinned on the stereotyped group. Conservatives do this with their narratives that theologians and liturgists and liberal seminaries wrecked the Church. But really, isn't it clear that many of the above comments - and the really mean "docile fools in dresses" comment from Sullivan - reflect a parallel, oversimplified narrative of the situation of the Church, shot through with stereotypes?I don't mean to minimize the challenges the Church faces, and the problems it genuinely has. But the black/white polarizing narrative of "parallel church" is not only distorting - it doesn't actually reflect the pastoral reality of a laity overwhelmingly satisfied with its priests, nuns, and bishops. The "parallel church" is as imaginary as the "conservative church" created in some small, cramped quarters on the other side. Both are sectarian and ultimately destructive to the actual existing Church. I continue to regard Commonweal as the single best place for intelligent engagement in the richness and complexity of the Catholic tradition in America. But the uncritical affirmation of Sullivan's claim here is not an example of it. It is the caricature of the "Commonweal Catholics" that just fires up the other side.

...keep gay couples out of civil society...Can anyone explain what this even means, or is just typical hyperventilating, drama-queening from Mr. Sullivan?

For what it's worth, strictly speaking Dante does not put Boniface VIII in Hell, but that's only because Dante made his trip in 1300 and B. did not die till 1303. When Dante reaches the circle where are found the Simoniacs, Pope Nicholas III, who's already there, mistakes Dante for his successor and says, in effect, "What! You here already, Boniface? I didn't expect you quite so early." He then makes it clear that yet another pope, Clement V (elected thanks to the French king) will presently be displacing both Nicholas and Boniface when it's his turn. How many damned and how many saved popes Dante counts is a bit of an open question. Robert Hollander's edition of the Comedy suggests 9 or 10 definitely damned, and though there are some saved popes as well (starting with Peter, of course), the impression is that more wind up in Hell than wind up either in Purgatory, on their way to Paradise, or in Paradise itself. But the final count seems to lie with the reader.Were Dante alive today, his views might well align themselves with the un-bubbled "Catholic center" suggested above.

"The obsession with bishops on this blog distorts the reality of the Church."Perception is reality. To rephrase (and speaking only for myself), I trust my perceptions of what is --- and has been --- transpiring in the Church of Rome. It doesn't take a PhD in rocket science (or theology) for those of us of a certain/higher age to conclude that B16 has been hell-bent to bring back the old modus operandi of the Tridentine church. We see restoration of a medieval liturgy that clearly is the domain of the ordained. We witness a pope telling fellow bishops that they may not prohibit clergy from "saying" the old service. We learn of B16 firing a bishop because he expressed a willingness to discuss women's ordination if Rome were willing to do so. Then we see a "traditionalist" (Opus Dei-affiliated) bishop remain in office after being convicted of not reporting possession of child porn by one of his clerics --- and not a peep from Rome or the USCCB! We witness the Vatican bending over backwards to bring the SSPXers back into the fold even though they repudiate key teachings of Vatican II and likely hold the Jewish people in contempt for the crucifixion of Jesus. We see newer clergy over the past 15 - 20 years lording it over parishioners because these clerics believe they are "ontologically" superior to everybody else. It would be bad enough if all of these regrettable developments did not touch me. But they do, so much so that I finally had to leave the Church of Rome out of disgust. Fact is the bishops *do* exert real influence over their local churches. Laity for the most part are treated as kids to be ignored. Lay input is not welcome. Yet the bishops won't hesitate in many dioceses to take our money to support their local church newspapers.If the church is community, then we are interconnected whether we like it or not --- at least if we really care about the quality of community life. Even though I left the Church of Rome, I still care about the poor state of affairs within my former community. If there's any consolation, I know I am no longer giving my personal or financial support to the institution.

"As a senior federal judge told me recently from his own case-load experience'And who cares what one Bush appointed judge has to opinion-ate about.? 'As one priest told me about the local bishop'.......would never be used by a Lib in trying to make a point. [too many priests?] These complaints from the right on this post are coming from the frustration of losing the election, the no hope for the future, no conservative leaders in sight. etc. When the Grand Bargain is made in a few weeks 'this too will pass away' The 4.6% tax increase on over $250000 income will only slightly limit the liberty of the 3% to buy more stuff. (-: and will be a down payment on their families for ducking the 11 years of war they profited from.

The "parallel Church" troubles me deeply, I have to say. Partly it's because too often the public voice of the Church belongs to a small minority of extreme-right bishops, while the majority stay silent. I believe in the teaching authority of the bishops, (though I also believe it should be well-informed!) so when one faction only speaks, I'm left with an unhappy dilemma: do the silent bishops agree with their hard-right confreres, or are they too scared to speak? If the latter, where is their faith? Secondly, it is the continued presence of the parallel church in regular parish life that enables and empowers the hard right to claim to represent all Catholics. I trust that continuing poll data that show that the hard right bishops do not, in fact, speak for all Catholics will ameliorate this appearance, but it still seems to be the case that the extremists possess political sway (a different beastie than ecclesiastical authority,) because of the existence of the parallel Church that puts up little resistance to the excesses of one faction of the leadership. I am NOT advocating staying away from the sacraments--they mediate grace and Life, and those "safe" communities where parallel Church members sustain each other are important, I agree. But when all is said and done, the members of the parallel Church need to speak up or we'll be causing scandal by appearing to go along with the extreme right. So--where is our faith?If this concerned only small matters, then this would be a case in which the center and left should go along with the right for the sake of unity. We need not go to the stake for inclusive language, for example, though I think it is important--or, rather, the OPPOSITION to it is significant. However, matters of public policy on which the bishops claim to speak for all of us have big effects on people's lives in the real world. And exclusive versions of the message of Christ, ("You're not good enough to receive Communion," is a too-common refrain from leadership these days,) seem to warp the big-tent tradition of the Church. Too often, the parallel Church seems to me to be ostriching its way through hard times. I understand the impetus, and to some extent I share it, but it cannot be good for the tradition or the faith. Not to mention our own souls. At least, this is my worry.

"I dont mean to minimize the challenges the Church faces, and the problems it genuinely has. But the black/white polarizing narrative of parallel church is not only distorting it doesnt actually reflect the pastoral reality of a laity overwhelmingly satisfied with its priests, nuns, and bishops."David --On its surface the Pew survey does seem to reflect this, except that the survey was of Catholics -- it didn't include those who over the last 50 years have decided to leave the Church for one reason or many. So making your judgment on the basis of the Pew poll alone amounts to putting your head in the sand. If I remember the figure correctly, Boston just had to eliminate 164 parishes. How do you account for that?

To a foreign observer the incredible thing (even after 22 years in this country) is that US Catholic accept to be define in terms of categories (conservative vs. progressive) that are 100% defined by the secular culture, and mirror closely the political divison of the country. Meaning no offense, this reveals a serious inability to develop an original Catholic culture. Also, one thing comment about Eric's claim that the young man was pursuing the "virtues of hope and justice." It is very telling that Eric does not seem to consider the possibility that also the bishop was sincerely concerned about virtues, as if"love and justice" could be used to trump "truthfullness and chastity." This reminded me of a quote by the great Italian Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce:"The demonic always creeps in by creating an opposition between certain truths and virtues that, when they are separated, become errors. In the case at hand, charity and respect for the objective order of being.... [this is] the position of the Catholics who do not aim at reconciling virtues that until now were considered essential, but at replacing some virtues with others. In their view, ascetic Christianity, which was typical of bygone eras, today must be replaced by secularized Christianity, in which the fullness of the virtues destined to advance the human condition will wipe away the passive and mortifying virtues (which they consider repressive, even if they do not dare say that explicitly)."

Mark Proska: Here is what I meant:I can't get my head around Archbishop Chaput's use of the term "heroes" for the men he listed when we have so many true in our tradition. I just wonder why he said that. I guess he was trying to show his gratitude for the award. I still think it is weird.

Talk of a "parallel" Church distracts from the fact: there is only one Church, and its current hierarchy is dysfunctional. Sure, the laity and priests have their faults, but when leaders do not lead they ought to be criticized. By the way, if I were simply anti=bishop I wouldn't sing the praises of the bishop of my archdiocese when I was young. He was a great and holy man, and perhaps that is why I see some of the current ones so clearly for what they are -- disgraces to the Church.

"To a foreign observer the incredible thing (even after 22 years in this country) is that US Catholic accept to be define in terms of categories (conservative vs. progressive) that are 100% defined by the secular culture, and mirror closely the political divison of the country. Meaning no offense, this reveals a serious inability to develop an original Catholic culture."Meaning no offense, Carlo, I wonder, what do the European Catholics with their superior self-developed culture call the same differences when they occur there? And didn't we get the left-right shorthand from the French (in Europe, I believe)?

I still care Joseph,Please pardon my cheekyness, but your actions - no personal or financial involvement - say loudly that you really do not care.

It is not unnatural to focus on bishops who are powers unto themselves and have virtual unlimited power over the life of a parish, who will be assigned as pastor, when and if an interdiction may be imposed, etc. If people really didn't give a damn they would have been long gone. The only way that a large portion of U.S. Catholics can find it possible to remain is the manner that Eric has mentioned. The Europeans seem to have not cared enough to even bother with that, except in isolated instances.Would that this was true today:Nullus invitis detur episcopus, No bishop is to be imposed on an unwilling people. The consent and desires of the clergy and people must be sought out. The same pope (Celestine I) said that it should be very rare that a bishop is not chosen from among the clergy of the local Church, and that the local clergy had a right to refuse a bishop imposed from without. It was another pope, Leo I, no slouch when it came to defending papal and episcopal power, who made his own an axiom of Roman law: The one who is to preside over all should be chosen by all. And he gave a reason: No bishop is to be ordained for an unwilling people, who have not asked for him. Otherwise the city may either despise or hate the undesired one and may become less religious than it should because they were not permitted to have the one they wanted (Ep. 14; PL 54, 673).Joseph A. Komonchak, 9/18/2012, http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=20741#comments"Those called to serve the people of God as BISHOPS have to remember that they walk on feet of clay and rely on the power of prayer and sacraments to protect them from the dangers of earthly ambition and corrosive pride. Regrettably, some bishops fail to understand the shepherding nature of their episcopal role; they attempt to rule rather than lead the flock that has been entrusted to their care. That simply doesnt work, and it is regrettable that the bishop is often the last to notice." William J. Bryon, SJ, The church can learn a lot from 'servant leadership', NCR, Aug 21, 2010, http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/church-can-learn-lot-servant-le...

As long as we're bewailing narrow-mindedness we might want to look at experience in some parallel church institutions. Fordham University is part of the parallel church, I presume, but they are in the news because their big tent seems to be not so big. It can accommodate Peter Singer with nary a problem but not Ann Coulter."Does Father McShane believe that Ann Coulter is so diabolically clever that her use of 'disgusting' rhetoric and 'hate speech' will somehow fool Fordham students into believing what she wants them to believe? If so, he has a significantly lower opinion of the quality of American college students than I do."http://collegeinsurrection.com/2012/11/fordham-struggles-to-defend-conde... Fordham is pioneering a new form: the tangential church, 100% politically correct.

The retired Bishops who had the courage to speak their minds at the USCCB's meeting in Baltimore set a good example for their younger colleagues. Of course, they have retired, and so they might have less fear of professional retribution for breaking ranks with their colleagues. Or they might represent a different era in priestly education in which more talented applicants to seminaries were educated to a higher level, so that they spoke with greater confidence about the weaknesses in the document they were addressing. It is a pity that the active Bishops today seem so unwilling to disagree openly with their colleagues, even when their input might be helpful and even necessary. I can't help but think of the missed opportunity for real discussion when the Bishops were considering the changes in the liturgy. Poor Bishop Trautman made a brave stand, but a lonely one.

Let me suggest that all talk of "a parallel Church" is counter-productive. First, there is only one Church. To carve out of it some supposedly extra-Church entity by giving it a special name is in itself to disunify. It is related to calling the conservatives "the orthodox Catholics". (Liberalslike me think it's more accurate to call them "the pseudo-orthodox Catholics".) Yes, individual members disagree about some basic matters, but members on both sides are all members of the one Church. To call the liberals "a parallel Church" is to crown the conservatives as the winners in the liberal-conservative debates. Yes, some liberals "leave" the Church and still call themselves Catholics. But many more liberals have not in any sense of the term "left the Church". So if you insist on trying to contrast "the pew-warmers" v. "the parallel Church" bear in mind that there are liberals among those pew-warmers. Just look at the number who voted against the political bishops this time. "Parallel Church"? No way.

Ann, you wrote earlier today, "[The Pew Survey] didnt include those who over the last 50 years have decided to leave the Church for one reason or many."According to the Pew report linked above, "As might be expected, former Catholics are much less satisfied with Catholic leadership than are those who currently consider themselves to be Catholic. While most Catholics are satisfied with the leadership of the U.S. bishops and the pope, less than half of the former Catholics surveyed express satisfaction with the leadership of the U.S. bishops (31%) and the Pope (38%). The leadership of U.S. nuns and sisters is rated positively by 55% of former Catholics." I'm reminded here of Thomas Reese's analysis in NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER awhile back (http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/hidden-exodus-catholics-becoming-...). I assume that Reese, having a PhD in political science, is familiar with social science number-crunching.If the ex-Catholics surveyed had remained in the church but still felt alienated (for whatever reason) from the institution, might we not see a downward adjustment in the percentage of all Catholics who are satisfied with their church leaders' performance? I suspect we would. Perhaps the more favorable outlook about the bishops might be attributed to a church becoming increasingly conservative?

If I did not care, Bruce, you wouldn't be the target of my critiques :-)

I think it is foolish to assert that the irresponsible rhetoric of many bishops should not upset devoted Church going Catholics. We live in a divided Church, or a parallel Church and that is the sign of the times. Poll after poll attest to the large percentage of Catholics who disagree with many Church teachings at all cohort levels and degree of religiosity (e.g., weekly Mass attendees, those who won't leave, those that believe Church is important, and all Catholics). This does not mean that disagreement, even being upset about how bishops are managing and guiding their flock, discourage Catholics from building their relationship with Christ. Far from it. Most Catholics remain in the Church instead of leaving it. They work within the Church in their own way for reform. They focus on their relationship with Christ but they also voice their frustration as well. Most local parishes do not emphasize or publicly dwell on the divisive issues and decisions of some bishops. They don't want ripples in the water. They want people to focus of personal sanity and participate in the collective good works of their parish community. Even a parallel Church, one that is profoundly divided over many issues and teachings, will never diminish the call of the Spirit. Catholics don't based their beliefs on a philosophy of the future, in the hope that certain teachings will change. Most Catholics live in the present, but disagree for good and just reasons. Most are realists and they do not allow disagreement and outrage over Church mismanagement or teachings to discourage their acts of faith.There is far too much vitriolic discourse, on both sides. However, is it really surprising and unnatural for Catholics to react negatively when bishops, even the pope, proclaims that you either are a good Catholic, one who believes in all Church teachings or you are a dissenter, a cafeteria Catholic, a liberal and revisionist or you are invincible ignorant and infected with the ills of the Western secular world or you are a member of the culture of death? How do Catholics suppose to act when the book is closed on all teachings, especially sexual ethics? How does one supposed to act when the Church offers no intelligible and convincing moral theory in support of many of its disputed teachings? Catholics do not live in a bubble. Most are aware that there is a profound division within the theological community as well. Is it unnatural for them to challenge contradiction and inconsistency, unreasonable and even irresponsible answers to most of the problems facing Catholics and our Church today? The sexual abuse scandal and the recent pronouncements of bishops only adds to this frustrating realization. Consider the Phoenix case and the recent the Minnesota case...the list goes on. There is no one cause for such problems. However, one of the problems is that the Church has not implemented or embraced what was called for in Vatican II, namely, the definition of Church as the people of God and a true sense of collegiality. What we have is: a Church with a head without a body. There is no avenue or mechanism in the Church for the voices of the laity. The Synod of Bishops, and the regional episcopates have had their authority significantly cut by a more centralized Roman Curia that takes its direction and orders from the pope. The USCCB and other regional episcopates cannot issue definitive statements concerning any issue of faith, morals or the like, without Vatican approval. Priests who speak out for reform of any teaching or even hint of it are made bishops or occupy any meaningful office of authority. Bishops who do the same are reprimanded, often removed from office and their duties transferred to another bishop. There exists a fear that has silenced open dialogue among clergy, and the voices of the laity and theologians have no realistic role in doctrine formation or revision. Theological scholarship and new insights that hint of disagreement with teachings are often ignored by Rome. Catholics do not despair, but go on because of the love of Christ, their local parishes, priests and spiritual directors who continue to encourage them to love God, neighbor and do good works.

Michael J. Barberi:Thank you for articulating a sensible, hopeful approach to the current state of affairs in our Church.

Michael J. Barberi:Thank you for your reply. I think you wanted to say that "Priests who speak out for reform of any teaching or even hint of it are not made bishops . . ."

Michael Barberi:"Even a parallel Church, one that is profoundly divided over many issues and teachings, will never diminish the call of the Spirit. Catholics dont based their beliefs on a philosophy of the future, in the hope that certain teachings will change. Most Catholics live in the present, but disagree for good and just reasons. Most are realists and they do not allow disagreement and outrage over Church mismanagement or teachings to discourage their acts of faith."Thank you for this reality that most Catholics find themselves living. I do believe we are living in parallel churches because of the difficulties in sorting out church teachings. It certainly does not diminish my own personal faith. I'm wondering if this has always been a reality for the Catholic church? We will always have cafeteria catholics and I don't think that is a bad thing when done in good conscience and faith. The sex abuse scandal seems to have encouraged catholics to "make ther own way" when it comes to sorting out church teachings. As for the blog, it encourages freedom of speech which I thought was our right as US citizens.

Tom Blackburn:"Meaning no offense, Carlo, I wonder, what do the European Catholics with their superior self-developed culture call the same differences when they occur there? "Are you intereted in a discussion or just in being snarky?Anyway, the situation in every European nation is quite different, so I could not make any general statements.

"If the ex-Catholics surveyed had remained in the church but still felt alienated (for whatever reason) from the institution, might we not see a downward adjustment in the percentage of all Catholics who are satisfied with their church leaders performance? I suspect we would."joseph J. --That's exactly my point. I tried to find the Pew report these figures are taken from but couldn't. Would you have the name of the report? I'm quite sure that the proportion of conservative Catholics is growing as more people leave the Church. But I'm not at all sure how many "JP II Catholics" agree with everything that JP II taught. A huge proportion reject the teaching on contraceptives. Should they be called conservatives or liberals if that is all they disagree with?There are huge semantic problems in all of these discussion about "the Church", "the bishops", "some bishops" (how many is "some"), "the" conservatives, "the" liberals, etc., etc., . . . For convenience sake, I'd define "extreme conservatives" (i.e., "JP II Catholics") as those who accept all of JP II's teachings. The rest of us belong somewhere on a line from an end called "conservatives" to the other end called "liberals". Then there are "the pelvic issues Catholics" and "the social theory Catholics", and "the Spirit of Vatican II Catholics" (pro-married and women priests, etc.) . The latter, of course, overlap in many different ways.

Well, it looks like I was dead wrong about more liberals leaving the Church than conservatives! According to Fr. Reese and the Pew Report, more who leave join evangelical churches than non-evangelical ones. Since the evangelicals are so conservative, I assume the Catholics who join them are also conservatives. Fr. Reese mentions that one big reason the ex-Catholics-now-evangelicals say they're leaving is because they do not like the Catholic teaching about the Bible. They think that the Church is not literal enough in its interpretations. Hmmmmmm.

Rather than two parallel churches, I would say one bifurcated church, like a pickle fork. For though the two tines are separate, they emerge from a base of common faith and understanding that is greater than either. We focus on the differences because we are human and love drama and conflict. That is not to say that those differences are small and unimportant, much less that they should be ignored. But I suspect there have been disagreements and arguments and resentments in every century, because the person and the words of Christ appeal to a great range of people, all of them imperfect and not a few quite ornery and combative. It is not necessarily bad or unusual to hold strong views on what one considers vital.Like everyone else on earth, Catholics have been struggling for a long time with the wrenching changes of the modern world. It is a distributed world, respectful still of tradition and authority but less in awe of them, open to good ideas no matter where they come from, and believing that every person has a contribution to make. Some of us will be out in front, and some will be holding back. If that produces tension, it is probably a good thing.There will be developments in the Church as in the world. While we await them with eagerness or dread, we can call to mind something that should never change: by this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. I suppose that means even for docile fools, pew warmers, cafeteria Catholics, crypto-Unitarians, andbless us!bishops.

"Are you interested in a discussion or just in being snarky?"Carlo:I was being snarky, but I am interested if there is something to discuss. Most of what I see are American sources, of course, but I am not aware that any Catholics (north of the Alps, anyway) use anything but the tired, and admittedly partially inaccurate, left-right model. This is probably not the thread in which to have the discussion. But maybe you could enlighten me and possibly others by noting how French and German Catholics of the Steubenville and Collegeville, say, varieties talk about each other. In France, for instance, they can't still be using "integralist" after all the outrages with which it has been associated, can they?

Good points, John Prior, and those are my sentiments as well. Getting back to the young man who was denied Confirmation and the excommunication of his family; I'm certain he can find a priest or bishop who will confirm him. It is definitly an injustice to him and his family. I know that is not the point, but unfortunately that is the state of affairs in our church as well as our society. For instance, I voted for Obama even though I disagree with his stance on gay marriage. I believe gay marriage has nothing to do with governing. However I believe in all rights for gay people except marriage because I believe that is a sacrament reserved for the intent of carrying on the human race and nurturing the natural outgrowth of children which the love of the man and woman may bring about. Inspite of our divorce rate, I believe in the power of the family and its values throughout time.

I just recalled that last April I fantasized about possible nightmares. The first one went as follows: Imagine if the CDF was reading dotC comment boxes and lifting some choice quotes out of it. My goose would be cooked. One day my pastor (and yours) would suddenly say to me (and you), out of the blue: I received a letter from the CDF/the bishop. I need to talk to you. There are some serious issues. I would appreciate if you would refrain from coming up to communion until weve had a meeting.For the young man in Minnesota, it looks as though the nightmare has become true.

Claire--That is a real possibility and I hope bishops do not exercise their power in such an arbitrary way. However for those who make their living in the church, it is a worry. Though it is this freedom of speech and the tolerance of hearing different viewpoints that will help our church grow and become stronger.

Helen--I believe the gentlemen mentioned by Chaput were all previous winners of the award, so it's only natural that he would mention them specifically. I'm sure he has other heroes too, and probably many in common with you.

This may be merely semantics, but I don't think the locution "denied confirmation" is conducive to fruitful exchange. The pastor determined that the young man was not yet ready for confirmation--that he did not have a sufficient understanding of the teachings of the Church. Would you say an 7-year old was denied confirmation if a pastor determined he was not ready yet?Reasonable people may disagree with the pastor's approach, and whether it was sufficiently "pastoral", but let's call it what it is, so we can debate it on the merits.

Mark Proska:I was aware that the gentlemen were previous winners. At least, Arcbishop Chaput did not refer to them as saints.

John Page:Pickle fork! A good and apt image considering the fact that the Church is in a bit of a pickle today.

The "parallel church" Andrew Sullivan describes is very familiar to me. From my perch in my pew (usually in the balcony), the advent of a more democratic, more inclusive, less reactionary, more possessed of a vibrant humanity, couldn't come fast enough.The necessary reform and predicate has been before us for a long, long time: And inexorable evolution toward a Peoples Church has already begun. Like first century Christians we are struggling for a new enlightenment: LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, often forewarned us after our daily reading from the Lives of the Saints: "Christianity is not for sissies."Got to go ... Sunday Mass starts in an hour!

Just got back from Mass across the street from Eric's community: Same creed, same liturgy, priests in union wih the bishop and he, in turn, with all other bishops. One difference: we sang the ND Alma Mater at the end (after all, it is a Marian hymn) wich hapens on football weekends to make the alumni happy. Unity in diversity which is what catholcism is al about. Enough of that flabby "parallel church" talk.

I can only imagine the singing was most lusty today, after yesterday's events. I imagine the Crimson Tide is going to come rolling in but first, Southern Cal...

Claire's nightmare (7:51am) points to one fact that makes our era unique and calls for far better understanding in thinking about "the Church" as fractionated as described above and as it may evolve. How will "the Church", with whichever meaning you give the words, function in the real world recognizable today? Theses equivalents are hanging on cathedral-door equivalents in Austria and Ireland today. They can be read and further disseminated from URLs immediately available to you and worldwide. If language is an obstacle, Google will translate (poorly). The Austrian Pastors' site offers 10 languages at a click. It took 3 days this spring for the Pope to denounce the Austrian Pastors' call, Cdl. Schonborn to echo the Pope, and the Pastors' leader to reject the criticisms. A flip side of Claire's nightmare is that traffic to and from the CDF and internal and external correspondents may be accessible to a suitably adept and motivated network expert, inspired by the precedent of the Pope's pedestrian butler. Would the CDF survive a Net dump? We could hear and see 250 US Church leaders assembled last week to address pastorally the economy (too hard) and Sunday Homilies (limited importance since most Catholics seldom go where Sunday Homilies are spoken - see CARA). Reaction to the crime and punishment of Bishop Finn, sitting among them, was widely reported on (none). Complexities of increased modern transparency call for refined awareness by the USCCB if they hope to lead with effectiveness. Recent authoritative pronouncements from some bishops on the risk of eternal damnation from voting evilly, which might preferably be forgotten, can be promptly retrieved verbatim for comparison if the bishops were to bring up eternal damnation again in the course of teaching and sanctifying. Chair of the USCCB Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, Bishop Conlon of Joliet, famously reappointed a known hazardous priest to ministry with direct access to children at home. He reversed himself a week later after intense public outcry from Faithful and media. As with Boonesville, Minn (Pop. 2300), local matters relatively trivial on a grand scale don't stay local. Proportionality of attention is hard to find and impossible to impose. Merits aside, whoever hopes to lead parallel churches into the future must be able to function in an interactive environment never seen before.

Ann, Thomas Reese drew on Pew's "A Portrait of American Catholics on the Eve of Pope Benedict's Visit to the U.S." (March 27, 2008). Reese noted that almost half of ex-Catholics became Protestant and almost half of ex-Catholics became unaffiliated. He wrote that he was "leaving that discussion [about "those who become unaffiliated"] to another time." This would suggest at least the possibility, it seems, that perhaps more liberals than conservatives are leaving the Church of Rome. We just don't know, I suppose.The Pew report is at http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Catholic/A-Portrait-of-American-Cathol... your observations about semantics, Richard McBrien commented several years ago about "Redefining the Center" in Catholicism. To access:+ Go to http://richardmcbrien.com+ Click "Essays in Theology"+ Click "I want to search the archives"+ Enter "Redefining the Center" (w/o quote marks)He's also shared some thoughts about *fundamentalism* at his website.

Helen 11/17/2012 - 9:10 amDavid Smith:One of the most unpleasant characteristics of the human animal is its hunger for intense and enduring hate.Really? Is that your opinion or do you have results from a study that proves your statement?

"Unpleasant"is a judgement word Helen. It can be used only to express opinion.

Who excommunicated the young man's family ... the bishop? Why? Cannot a canon lawyer for the defense appeal this up the line? Has it come to this that parents can be excommunicated for actions of their children? How can that be, even with the teapublican eccleiastical superstructure that we are blessed with?

David Smith:You never cease to amaze me. that was a very good spin. :-)

"One difference: we sang the ND Alma Mater at the end (after all, it is a Marian hymn) which happens on football weekends to make the alumni happy."The alumni must be very happy this weekend, with ND # 1 in the football rankings for the first time in a long time. I have two siblings who graduated from ND and a nephew there now in the law school (he was also an undergrad at ND), and they're ecstatic, driving the non-ND members of the family nuts. ND...a parallel universe. ;)

"Vatican City State is governed as an absolute monarchy. The Head of State is the Pope who holds full legislative, executive and judicial powers."http://www.vaticanstate.va/EN/State_and_Government/StateDepartments/inde... Pope governs autocratically. Bishops govern autocratically, accountable to no one else except the Pope. Pastors function in effectively the same way. How in the world can the faithful expect that they will behave differently with this governance structure in place? Peter Steinfels said in his book A People Adrift that "The Catholic Church can succeed as an institution while failing as a church. But it cannot succeed as a church while failing as an institution." The world (aka God's creation) has come to understand and validate ideas such as democracy, transparency, accountability, evolved standards of justice, intellectual freedom, etc. etc. etc., none of which are compatible with autocracy. Until the faithful decide to use their education, voice and pocketbooks to do something about governance, the Church will inevitably continue to fail as an institution. I don't think, for the majority of the faithful, that nickel has dropped. But one day it will, and the sooner the better.

Essentially, I agree with Lawrence Cunningham.I'm not completely sure what is meant by "parallel Catholic church", as it may be used in different ways by different commenters. I take the meaning of that phrase to be, "two Catholic churches, one in communion with the pope and bishops, and the other not." I don't know of any Catholic *communities* like the latter (and I suppose that statement is tautological, as being in communion with the bishops is one of the creedal marks of Catholic faith). Well, I do know of some such communities, but they are far-right communities - SSPX and the like.Certainly, in the Chicago area, there are some Catholic communities with a substantial number of progressives, and some of those blocs are vocal and influential. But those communities still maintain communion: their clergy are in communion with their bishops, they administer sacraments in communion with the church, etc. I sometimes think we're more in communion than we realize.Even the constant criticism of bishops that goes on at dotCom (and it can be wearying) may presuppose that bishops are worth a respectful listen.

Joseph J.--Thanks for the addresses. Having computer problems, can't check them out.

Jim P. ---My biggest problems with the bishops are 1) they remain silent when they should speak out, and 2) they don't listen to the Faithful.

I consider myself a faithful Catholic to the bishops. But I was never more shocked when I heard a local parish priest all but say emphatically "vote for Romney" or you are not in communion with the church on respect life issues. My husband and I were taken aback, and I thought "this is not going over well with the parish." Fortunately this is not my home parish, however I thought the issues are so much larger and complex than this man is making them. Today I ran into the deacon of that parish and asked him how things were going at the church. He said the priest was alienating the parish. He keeps wanting to set up a meeting with the priest, but the priest says he's too busy. I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking this man was off base. Even the deacon thinks so. So the idea of parallel churches is not so far fetched when thinking of the issues and the need for communication from the Catholic Church.

I took the term "parallel Catholic Church" to be a take-off on the expression "parallel universe" meaning that people inhabit a thought world so different from each other that they really don't understand how the other could think that way. I'd just like to add one point that hasn't been raised yet: The first casualty of all the recent conflicts such as the one concerning the young man in Minnesota is, guess what? Discipline. Because we can't agree on right and wrong, we end up arguing that discipline itself is the problem. Frankly, I don't think that's fair.If the young man were part of a Neo-Nazi group and was held back from confirmation because he espoused violence and racism on Facebook, would we have the same problem with it? I don't think so. Let's be clear about what the issue is. The disagreement is over whether gay marriage is good or at least morally neutral, or evil and morally wrong. This is really not a conflict about confirmation polity.

If the young man were part of a Neo-Nazi group and was held back from confirmation because he espoused violence and racism on Facebook, would we have the same problem with it? I dont think so.Actually, I think I still would, although maybe I would be a lonely voice. After unexcommunicating the SSPX bishops, Pope Benedict said that, had he known Williamson's negationist statements, he would not have done it. I thought then that that didn't make sense because those statements (however false and ugly) were not linked to the excommunication. So in the present case it really is the unchecked arbitrariness of the sacramental punishment that bothers me. It reminds me of Mark 10:42.

Mike McG asks: Im also wondering how centrist Catholics might find each other to create an identity between the overpowering narratives of the hierarchical and parallel churches. Anybody out there? Others have expressed similar sentiments in this thread.There is in fact a Catholic organization whose overarching goals are the respectful consideration of opposing viewpoints and the search for common ground among those viewpoints. Founded in 1996 by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the Catholic Common Ground Initiative seeks to lessen polarities and divisions that weaken the communion of the Church. Father Imbelli and Prof. Kaveny are past advisory committee members of the CCGI, and Fr. Komonchak delivered the CCGIs annual Philip J. Murnion Lecture in 2003. While perhaps not as well-known within the Church after the untimely loss of its founder, the CCGI remains focused on bridging the gaps between Catholics on both prongs of the pickle fork, to borrow a metaphor from this thread. IMO, the CCGI should be revered for its goals and mission.Spend some time clicking around CCGIs website, and then make a gift to help keep this worthwhile organization going:http://www.catholiccommonground.org/content/about-catholic-common-ground...

Thomas Blackburn:I only should speak of the countruies I know well, the US and Italy. In Itay there is a spectrum of Catholic opinion that you could loosely define "left to right" but it is by far not as polarized as here. On the left you do not find anybody who passionately hates (or at least despises) the bishops as you can find among the commenters on NCR or (slightly less frequently) Commonweal. Moreover, nobody seems to let their political preferences shape their moral and cultural opinion as much as US Catholics ON BOTH SIDES do, in my honest, non-snarky assessment.

Thanks to Lisa, Larry, John Prior, Michael Barberi and others for their helpful comments, concerns, and corrections regarding the "parallel church" concept. I think that Lisa's concerns are well stated, and I hope that my continued participation in this blog among other things is evidence that I am not at all interested in using the "parallel church" as a cloister in which to seal myself off from engagement with the public conversation of the Church. I also agree with Larry that some of this can become a bit "flabby," but I did want to open a thread to discuss why Andrew Sullivan's use of the term resonates, especially when confronted with some of the silliness that has been served up from Church leaders during the recently and mercifully ended election cycle.I should say that it did not explicitly occur to me, when I posted this, that the parallel churches were liberal and conservative, certainly not in political terms. Rather, the divide seems to be between local communities, which I am happy to say feel themselves to be in union with each other more often than not (especially those that root for Notre Dame football!), and the hierarchical administrative and disciplinary structure of the Church, which often seems quite removed from the everyday life of those of us in the pews. This is to say that I feel more fully in communion with the most "conservative" person across the street than I do with most representatives of the institutional Church.So the "parallel church" worry is more of a base/superstructure disconnect than a different sides of the street divide. I should also say that I don't think that this disconnect is good, nor do I think Sullivan thinks that it is. I do think that it describes what is happening to Catholicism in America, though, and for many of the reasons mentioned in this thread, I think that it is something that we and the hierarchy should be interested in fixing. The last thing lay people should do is quietly retreat into marginal communities (or simply leave), just as the last thing the bishops should do is write off those communities as heterodox and therefore not really "Catholic" anyway.

Carlo - Just a "honest, non-snarky" question: Is it that Italians failing to connect their moral and cultural opinion to their religious and spiritual lives underlying why they are so apathetic and alienated from their Catholicism?

Carlo Lancellotti Perhaps, we in the U.S. expect more of our bishops.

"I should say that it did not explicitly occur to me, when I posted this, that the parallel churches were liberal and conservative, certainly not in political terms. Rather, the divide seems to be between local communities, which I am happy to say feel themselves to be in union with each other more often than not (especially those that root for Notre Dame football!), and the hierarchical administrative and disciplinary structure of the Church, which often seems quite removed from the everyday life of those of us in the pews. This is to say that I feel more fully in communion with the most conservative person across the street than I do with most representatives of the institutional Church."Hi, Eric, this is a helpful clarification. I believe that social research has supported this observation of the local / universal divide within the church for a number of years now. The priests, deacons and parish staff - not necessarily in that order - are the glue that connects the two worlds. They are supposed to take laws, rules and policies written on paper or computer screens in a chancery or in Rome, and humanize them for real people and concrete situations. Arguably, the laws, rules and policies themselves haven't changed. But the people in the parishes have changed significantly. The local ministry professionals need to recognize this and recalibrate their ministry approach accordingly. Personally, I believe that parish staffs need to focus much more on evangalization, initiation and formation than was the case during the 20th century. It can't be taken for granted that the faith is being passed from one generation to the next. That's the context in which I see this Minnesota confirmation incident: as one of evangelization, initiation and formation. It may be that this priest has upheld a church rule as it is written on paper or a computer screen (although I have serious doubts about this). But has he succeeded in evangelizing, initiating and forming this young man in the faith?

Jim P. --But what if it's the bishops, priests and deacons who need to change what they teach? I'm thinking about contraception, of course. Don't you admit that the clergy has been wrong in the past? And if so, that shows that it is possible for the clergy to be wrong. So how do you, a member of the clergy, find out when you're wrong -- that you have not been very well formed? We know that it is a principle in the Church that for a teaching to be authentic it must be received by the laity. But the contraception teaching over at least the last 100 years has been steadily losing ground to the point that now only about a quarter of the laity think the teaching is right. Given this diminishment of belief in spite of a great deal of preaching and teaching against it, shouldn't you wonder whether it's the clergy who have been ill-formed, not the laity? And if so, who needs evangelization?

Hi, Ann, sorry, I did not see this until today - I've been away for a few days.Yes, I'm wrong on occasion. But deacons and priests are different than bishops in this regard - priests and deacons don't possess teaching authority in the way that bishops do. I do have a responsibility to be formed in the truth and to pass it along to those whom I serve. But this process is a good deal more than simply parroting some document from a pope. I have to present teachings to specific people who live in a specific culture and have specific issues and problems.I'm not so sure about your principle that acceptance by the laity is a litmus test for teaching authenticity. Earlier this year, Cardinal George wrote this, in the context of the contraception mandate: " What isnt always understood is that the Bishops of the Church make no attempt to speak for all Catholics; they never have. The Bishops speak for the Catholic and apostolic faith, and those who hold that faith gather around them. Others disperse. That dynamic is clear in history and became clear also in the official visit to Rome that the Bishops of our region made this week."http://www.archchicago.org/cardinalsnetwork/archive.aspx?id=76Here is my view on the matter: the bishops possess teaching authority. The process of defining and refining a teaching may be lengthy (as in, it could take years or centuries of refinement), and a teaching may take different forms in different times and places. The church used to teach that taking any interest on a loan is sinful; now, it teaches that excessive interest on a loan is sinful. What is the core, the nugget, of that teaching? Whatever it is, it's more subtle than, "Thou shalt not collect interest on a loan".

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