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The Future of the Church in the US?

In a review essay in Catholic World Report, Russell Shaw quotes a strikingly pessimistic passage from former Commonweal columnist David Carlin:"Reviewing the evidence of decline in his book The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America (Sophia Institute Press, 2003), David Carlin concludes that the outcome of the crisis will probably be the de facto collapse of the Church in America and the retreat of Catholics into the status of a "minor and relatively insignificant sect." Traditionalists will have won the internal Catholic power struggle, mainly because the progressives will have drifted away. But in the end, the small band of traditionalists will find themselves isolated in "a new Catholic quasi-ghetto," with about as much influence on the culture as the Amish and Hasidic Jews have now."Is Carlin right?And if you read Shaw's review, it seems clear that his solution is more discipline --kicking more people out (or more precisely, telling them that their actions and beliefs have put them outside the Church). But won't this simply hasten the world Carlin predicts?

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A little study of the history of the Church would help. At the time of Constantine and his successors many [perhaps most] bishops were Arians. Study just the calls for reform - century after century, and the reasons for those calls. Same faults, time and again. Humans are not particularly imaginative. Perhaps it is a question of getting away from OUR attempts to rectify and reform and redo, and turn instead to the tried and true method. It is called prayer. It is the recognition that the survival and renewal of the Church is not up to us, nor have we the skill and the brains to do it. Rather let us reform and renew ourselves.

"And if you read Shaws review, it seems clear that his solution is more discipline kicking more people out (or more precisely, telling them that their actions and beliefs have put them outside the Church). "Where, oh where, does Shaw's essay say this? What I do read from Shaw's essay is not that the bishops should kick people out of the Church, but that the bishops should hold Catholic institutions accountable for institutional departures from Catholic doctrine and that preachers should preach unpopular doctrines on sex and gender (among other things) from the pulpit. In particular, Shaw advocates, among other things, priests preaching in favor of Humanae Vitae from the pulpit even if much of the laity become angry. How one derives "if you use birth control, you are outside the Church" or mass purges from that, I'm not sure. It may very well be the case that, if the clergy start preaching on unpopular sexual subjects, that hordes of Catholics will quit the Church in disgust as as consequence (a worse case scenario). But even a mass exodus of people from the Church of their own volition does not mean that the bishops have expelled such people from the Church either.As an aside, Carlin's worst-case scenario could easily take place if the State takes away virtually all of the institutional apparatus of the Church - universities, schools, hospitals, social service agencies, because the Church refuses to comply with the State's dictates on sex and gender issues. That is a FAR more likely outcome than Kaveny's fears of mass excommunications and purges.

First, thanks to Cathy for posting this. Several friends who I take to be knowledgeable continue to speak of the slow motion implosion of the Church here.I agree.While we say a few good things that folk might begin to listen to, we emohasize a return to pre-Vatican II in basic areas like liturgy.And educated Catholics don't beleive, as a rule, in going back.Going back is enclaving or folding the Church in on itself. Cardinal George's concern about "identity" might be nicely put in his intellectual readings, but the identity push is a push backward. If some kind of secularization is not such a dirty word and means engaging further with modernity and global shift and the more technical interrelated world, the push backward will fail to hold many close to the faith.I can't agree with Shaw's perscriptions that seem to leave little room for change in understanding teaching.That's another push backward. The valure of experience - there's that word and it doesn't mean narrative - is too keenly understood by the laity Shaw says the Bishops don't want to (are frightened of) hearing.If we get the"purer" remanant some talk about, it will be an enclave - I see it happening already to some dgree around me in a Church that thinks it's "better than" because it has all sorts of devotions, indulgences flourishing again .Talking about our young drifting off into materialism makes little sense to me as the Church here has goten much more materialistic and the bottom line has replaced service to the poor in many places. Talking about our young drifting off to hedonism doesn't ring true as we've done so poorly in coherently talking about issues of sex, geder and ,God help us, the status of women.What we get instead is a "new apologetic" which tends to debase the coin of intellectual honesty by dredging up whatever arguments it can in the face of criticism of current laws and non infallible pronouncements.Somewhere in another thread the notion of progressives drifting away, though, is met by the perception of many(progrssives) that the Church is at heart the Eucharistic people living out their lives as faithfuly as they can, often with great sacrifices That touches the disdain that some have acquired about the clergy who relish their clericalism - a criticism leveled particularly at the JPII priests.For this reason, I think the implosion wil be slow motion but I also beleive the prospects are rather dark.

I am worried about both prongs of Carlin's worst case scenario. And I see them as connected. And I just don't see how Shaw's approach will help.If the 95% of American Catholics who judge that contraception is not always immoral are told on the fairly frequent basis that Shaw seems to advocate that they are bad Catholics, likely in a state of serious (mortal) sin, likely to go to hell, my guess is many of them will quit the Church in disgust. From my perspective, that's functionally kicking them out, although not legally kicking them out. I did not use the more formal "excommunicate" on purpose.In any case, such people will not be likely to support the Church in its quest to retain its institutional apparatus if they believe it is both morally benighted and belligerent about it. Witness what happened in Massachusetts over Catholic Charities. The "State" isn't a nameless, faceless entity. In Mass, at least, there are a lot of Catholic legislators. They didn't help the Church retain its license as an adoption agency--they told the Church to obey the law as written.So, my question: how exactly is Shaw's proposal going to stave off Carlin's two-pronged worst case scenario? Why won't it hasten it?

I guess I'm a lot more sanguine than Carlin or Shaw. Of course things aren't perfect in the church! Yes, we have serious problems, problems that don't have a reference point in our living memories.But we also have the Gospel, if we're willing to preach it and try to live by it. We in the US also have continuing and incredible energy coming from immigrants and their children. We have faithful people who continue to fill our churches, in spite of everything we inflict upon them!Drumming people out of the church is not the solution! Calling people to repentence and conversion seems to me to the more authentic Catholic response. Isn't that what this holy season is about?If I could wish for one thing to make the church better for the next generation, it would be to reinvigorate the faith and fire of the tired, dispirited, despondent, demoralized, defeated professional class (clerical and lay) who actually run the church on a grass-roots level. If there is a general laxity in the church - if the bar is being set too low - then it is on their watch that it has happened, and it devolves upon them to fix it. They are the ones, istm who are most in need of conversion.Just some random thoughts.

Russell Shaw apparently measures the "highly educated and loyal Catholic Americans" by a 25 year old with six years of religious education who thinks the Da Vinci Code tells all kinds of truths the Church has hidden. But rather than wring our hands in despair at this, might we not do better in asking what kind of religious education this man had? Isnt it possible that he was being force-fed dogmatic definitions and the kind of doctrinal orthodoxy that might have passed muster a century ago, but isnt good enough any more? Was he, in any of his religious ed classes, ever given the opportunity to ask how the evangelists knew so much about Jesuss life? About when they wrote, and what sources they used? About how the Bible was put together the Gospel of Luke included, those of Peter and Thomas excluded, and why? Is he, in short, a victim of a kind of religious education that a) discourages the asking of questions, and b) claims that if unfortunately -- they are asked, then dont worry, because we have all the correct answers right here just give me a minute and Ill look them up and tell you..One more comment: this about Cardinal Georges upset at the disappearance of the American Catholic subculture, by which he apparently means the kind of ethnic Catholicism that was strong in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania in certain parts of the Middle West. But isnt that tantamount to saying that if Ms. X and Ms. Y are neither Irish, Polish, French-Canadian, Italian, or whatever, they have no real right to a real Catholic identity? If this kind of blinkered vision is coming out of the hierarchy, why should we trust their vision of the future? (This tie between ethnicity and Catholicism is one Ive also find in, Im sorry to say, Andrew Greeley, but then hes a sociologist, and we all know what that means!) Isnt Catholic meant to mean Catholic, rather than German-Catholic, Italian-Catholic, Polish-Catholic, Nicaraguan-Catholic, etc? Of course there are going to be ethnic and national differences; but if we see those as essential to identity, arent we in deep trouble?Russell Shaw would seem to be one of those advocating the reduction of the Catholic Church to sectarianism. Unfortunately, Im afraid hes got plenty of allies. And if it does become a mere sect, then yes, David Carlins prophecy (as I understand it from not having read it) will of course come true. And we will have only ourselves to blame.

Quite honestly, I've never seen much "good news" or Gospel in anything that I've ever read by Shaw. Can anyone point me to anything that contradicts this impression?

Cathleen, your argument presumes that, if only the Church ignores its teachings on sex and gender issues, the State wouldn't take Catholic Charities away, as it were. Unless the political structure of many states change, the state legislators and the executive branch will try to do so anyway. A contrary argument could be that a well-formed and disciplined core of Catholics willing to do battle against the State, and vote accordingly, would have more more success than the anemic nomical Catholic culture dominating such places as the Northeast. Now, that may not be the case in some states where, given the political machines, Catholic "social conservatives" would be disenfranchised or worse, no matter what. But, perhaps in some other places, with some shrewed coalition building, the impact would be greater that the status quo. I reject your contention that preaching on unpopular sex and gender issues, such that someone quits the Church is the functional equivalent of kicking him out of the Church, since doctrinally, it is the position of the Catholic Church that most "mortal sinners" are in fact not outside the Church, so long as they maintain Christian hope. There are lots of "more Catholic than the Pope" types who want to throw the sinners out of the assembly, but I (of all people) am not one of them, and I suspect Shaw and Pope Benedict aren't either. Nor do I read Shaw, for that matter, as advocating the preaching of the unpopular teachings in a hectoring or belligerent and confrontational manner. That truly would be disasterous in the sense of fostering a sense of hopelessness in much of the faithful, and I know for a fact that some enthusiastic and misguided priests do this, but the answer surely is not to pretend that the unpopular teachings don't exist or are irrelevant, as is the case in many parishes.

I'd never heard of Russell Shaw before this thread began. While it seems safe to say (there's a dangerous phrase) that Shaw is strongly opposed to cafeteria Catholicism and that most posters here would label him conservative--or, more properly, orthodox--I'm not sure that he is so easy to label. For example, his essay highlights what he sees as excessive clericalism in the Church, a position that would have support among several posters on this blog. I was confused by the following paragraph in his essay until I read other essays of his that are available on the web:"Sad to say, many good bishops and pastors seem to believe they have buried the last vestiges of clericalism by promoting lay ministries, including the work of salaried 'lay ecclesial ministers' who by an overwhelming margin are women. Twenty years ago, in Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II correctly pointed to the lay ministry craze as an expression of neo-clericalism. Few people paid attention then, and the craze persists. In commending the laity of the United States, as he will undoubtedly do, could Pope Benedict perhaps say a word about that? And also about personal vocation and its discernment as keys to finding the proper roles of all Catholics, but especially lay women and men, in the apostolate of the Church?"In his other writings, Shaw draws a distinction between lay ministry and lay apostolates; the former he sees as directly under the control of the ecclesial hierarchy, while the latter, which he espouses, provide a greater degree of control by the laity. Further, in an essay he wrote about Vatican II, I mistakenly prejudged that he would be opposed to the Council's reforms. While he doesn't discuss his personal position directly in the essay, he offered what I found to be surprisingly good practical advice: All educated Catholics should read, study, and discuss all 16 documents issued by the Council. (I'm sure that a VII expert such as Fr. Komonchak would second that advice.) Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems to me that Shaw isn't as pessimistic as Carlin is about the future of the American Catholic Church. Yes, Shaw would like the Pope to shake things up when he visits the U.S., but I don't think Shaw sees the sectarianism envisioned by Carlin as inevitable. I am happy to stand corrected, however. ;)

I think that one of the problems with being Catholic in America is that American religious consciousness is pervaded with the "you're going straight to hell" method of fraternal correction. As American Catholics we get it imho from three different sources: evangelical Christianity, which is dominant here, French-originated Religious, and Irish immigrant backgrounds. All three are religio-social groups that practice shunning and use "you're going straight to hell" rhetoric.That's where, I believe, fears of banishment (and calls for banishment) originate. Not in the teaching of most bishops, that's for sure. (I can think of one exception this side of Lefebvre.)Catholicism should be different from Montanism. "Repent and believe the Gospel," we say. Remember God. Be changed. Put yourself in this thing for the long haul, and let the good news happen to you.

"(This tie between ethnicity and Catholicism is one Ive also find in, Im sorry to say, Andrew Greeley, but then hes a sociologist, and we all know what that means!) Isnt Catholic meant to mean Catholic, rather than German-Catholic, Italian-Catholic, Polish-Catholic, Nicaraguan-Catholic, etc? Of course there are going to be ethnic and national differences; but if we see those as essential to identity, arent we in deep trouble?"Clearly something seems wrong and not just with Catholicism. I see a parallel decline Protestants all starting around the time of Vatican 2. Obviously their problems don't start with Vatican 2 (I would say, either). Catholicism as an "ethnic" subculture is collapsing along with all of the Protestant subcultures. We act surprised that so much of our identity was connected with these subcultures and some seem to think that if we could only get back to the way things were in the fifties we could all live in the fifties again. But we are secularizing and despite our claims to be part of our little church communities, these communities are not the kind of communities our parents and grandparents lived in. We are individualizing radically and this includes the "conservative" Catholics. It is true that the old communities were bound by rules, but these rules are not the kind of rules that Shaw seems to talk about.

I am afraid that the leadership tends to forget what the masses of Catholics find to be true. H. L. Mencken gives us truth in a nutshell: The Latin church, which I constantly find myself admiring, despite its frequent astounding imbecilities, has always kept clearly before it that religion is not a syllogism but a poem.Then there is this, which currently seems to be dismissed: Jesus founded a church, not a school or a magisterium, and he organized a college of apostles, not of rabbis, and he proclaimed love, not torah. (John McKenzie, S.J.)Churches prosper, not because they get responses to invitations or because they issue invitations. They prosper because the faith of members deepens as they articulate it. Can the Catholic Church claim that she has fostered this deepening of faith today? Or is she simply prepared to "do" something rather than to "be" something?

I'm never one who thinks that going backward helps anything. It may satisfy a small group of people who always resist change. It may also satisfy some who want to say "I told you so," but I never think it's a good idea. Would it not pay for the Church with its educated theologians, scholars, and saintly lay people, to reexamine the sources of our faith. Scripture and Tradition and find out what is the core of our Faith. What can be truly said to be the teachings of Jesus and the apostles? What are the disciplines that must exist in the light of modern study of scripture? The church is too hung up on being afraid to change disciplines it taught a century ago, because it may have to admit it was wrong. I think this is a false fear. The Old Testament allowed polyamy, we don't allow it now. The New Testament and the Church didn't condemn slavery, but it does now. Things do change as societies change. That doesn't make the past wrong. It just makes the past the past. I know I propose a momumentous task -- reexamining the sources of our faith in light of the knowledge and the societies of the 21st century. I think this would be an vibrant task that would reach out to the young and the old of this world.

Prof. Kaveny,Your posts regularly include hand-wringing over the fact that some number of people might leave the Church if the Church maintains some unspecified teaching or practice. But for several decades now, the Episcopal Church has followed roughly the path that you seem* to recommend for the Catholic Church -- it has changed its teachings to accord with a more modern approach while retaining a liturgical service that presents the trappings of traditional religion. Have its attendance numbers increased? * I say "seem" because at least around here, I can't recall that you've actually taken a forthright opinion on what the Church positively ought to teach . . . . instead, it's usually oblique criticisms of what the Church already does teach, couched in terms of how popular those teachings are.

I hasten to add that I'm not addressing the point whether the Catholic or Episcopal Church is actually correct as to any area in which they disagree. What I'm addressing is this unspoken and (to me) odd notion that we should decide (or even take into account in any way whatsoever) whether or not a church should profess certain moral beliefs based on whether or not those beliefs would win a popularity poll.** What's more, a poll conducted amongst people who, on average, are hardly well-versed in moral reasoning, or any kind of reasoning.

" ...religion is not a syllogism but a poem.Then there is this, which currently seems to be dismissed: Jesus founded a church, not a school or a magisterium, and he organized a college of apostles, not of rabbis, and he proclaimed love, not torah. (John McKenzie, S.J.)Religion is not a syllogism but a poem. Good old Mencken. Did he ever get it right!! Poetry is in Paul finding time to persuade, gently prod, plead, suffer and loving his sisters like mad, spending sleepless nights, shipwrecks, false brethren...Paul was a leader. And these worthless bishops say: "Consultation takes too much time." Tell those lazy good for nothings to read Paul who left it all out there with every inch of his being. Poetry is not Eugenio Pacelli and Francis Spellman carving up the church and securing influence for themselves. There is poetry and it is in so many Catholics who go all out for one another and others. Meditate on Mckensies words above. ABove all, the bishops should get out of the sexual advice business. Regulation of marriage is a more of an Augustan idea rather than Peter and Paul. And they should look at Paul again in how to work with and regard woman. What bishop ever gave such eminence to women as Paul did at the end of Romans.The Episcopal Church failed because it got too elitist. What is nice about Catholics is we will not tolerate our clergy becoming elitist as much as they have, do and will try. The bishops complain that we shut them out. Maybe if they spent some more time with God's people, get their hands dirty, etc. they will approach the Master's example.There is plenty of the life of Christ in the Catholic world. Sadly, very little is in Rome and the diocesan leaders.

Catholic World Report, Ignatius Press, Sophia Institute Press: what can you expect from such sources?

Stuart. There is an enormous literature in both the secular and theological moral literature about the role of human experience in interpreting a moral norm, in revising a moral norm. It's not just polling data. It's for example, whether people think the Minority Report or HV is more persuasive. Which arguments seem sound? It's of particular interest to Catholics, because we are indebted to a natural law approach to morality. Read John Noonan's latest book, a Church that Can and Cannot Change. It's not merely that people "don't like" the discipline of holy mother Church--they think the norm is incorrect and b) harmful to human flourishing. People have reasons for disagreeing --they don't merely disagree. Now we can give up paying any attention whatsoever to human experience, to the judgment of others, etc. In my view, then, you functionally give up a natural law morality. We can do that. Protestants have done that too. But that will entail becoming a sect (we will give up, systematically, the opportunity to make claims to other people with a straight face based on human reason and common experience.) Will this save Catholicism--I don't' know. Shaw seems to regret Vatican II--before that time, Catholics were all good, loyal citizens--graded for their conformity. But we can't recreate that world on anything other than a tiny level now. Not simply "can'"t --we don't want to, except at places like Steubenville, etc. So, I think if you went Shaw's way, you would end up with Carlin's world sooner.Is there another way? Well, I would suggest, on ethics, reading John Noonan, and on doctrine, Francis Sullivan, SJ. Both have academic control over many languages, the sweep of doctrine and the tradition, and argue on behalf of a learned, controlled development of the tradition. Rather like Newman. Rather like V2 itself purported to be. Rather like the common law.

Cathy,In my reading of Church history, I've noticed that there is almost always an unfortunate lag time between the promulgation of a discipline or point of doctrine and the careful exposition of its rationale. Obviously "because I said so" is not a deeply satisfying reason for, eg, denying artificial birth control to married people. Especially when it would often seem that human flourishing is on the side of using birth control. The question is, what do we do in between the time that a discipline is imposed and the time its reasons are thoroughly understood? What I'm suggesting is that ethicists who want to guide the teaching of bishops may not have all the tools at their disposal that the bishops have, namely, the governing charism that is proper to the episcopacy and "just knows" that some ways are not good for the flock. That's not in and of itself an expository charism. But I still think it's worthy of respect and, actually, obedience.

Its not merely that people dont like the discipline of holy mother Churchthey think the norm is incorrect and b) harmful to human flourishing. People have reasons for disagreeing they dont merely disagree.What people are you talking about? It seems rather fanciful to suppose that more than a handful of people have "reasoned" out a position on "human flourishing." Instead, people decide what they want to believe based on their gut feelings, their instinctive desire to avoid difficult moral commandments, their emotional experiences, the fact that they've had a good friend (or a hated enemy) who believed a particular way, and a bunch of other non-rational factors. Most people stop there. A few educated professionals write long books and come up with so-called "reasons" after the fact, as a way of justifying what they had already decided to believe. But the reasoning is post hoc. (Occasionally it's not -- occasionally one does come across someone who really did reason his or her way to a particular political or religious belief, but who had no pre-existing desire to believe that way and may even experience the belief as uncomfortable. Genuine examples of this are rare.) One famous example is C. G. Lord, L. Ross, and M. R. Leper, "Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization: The Effects of Prior Theories on Subsequently Considered Evidence," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37:2098-109 (1979). As Daniel Gilbert describes their findings:

In one study, volunteers were asked to evaluate two pieces of scientific research on the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent. They were shown one research study that used the "between-states technique" (which involved comparing the crime rates of states that had capital punishment with the crime rates of states that did not) and one research study that used the "within-states technique" (which involved comparing the crime rates of a single state before and after it instituted or outlawed capital punishment).For half the volunteers, the between-states study concluded that capital punishment was effective and the within-states study concluded it was not. For the other half of the volunteers, these conclusions were reversed. The results showed that volunteers favored whichever technique produced the conclusion that verified their own personal political ideologies. When the within-states technique produced an unfavorable conclusion, volunteers immediately recognized that within-states comparisons are worthless because factors such as employment and income vary over time, and thus crime rates in one decade (the 1980s) can't be compared with crime rates in another decade (the 1990s). But when the between-states technique produced an unfavorable conclusion, volunteers immediately recognized that between-states comparisons are worthless because factors such as employment and income vary with geography, and thus crime rates in one place (Alabama) can't be compared with crime rates in another place (Massachusetts).Clearly, volunteers set the methodological bar higher for studies that disconfirmed their favored conclusions.

Gilbert adds:

It is no consolation that in subsequent studies, both established scientists and scientists in training showed the same tendency to favor techniques that produced favored conclusions. See J. J. Koehler, 'The Influence of Prior Beliefs on Scientific Judgments of Evidence Quality,' Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 56: 28-55 (1993).

More recently, Taber and Lodge have found similar results:

We propose a model of motivated skepticism that helps explain when, how, why and under what conditions citizens are prone to be biased political information processors. We report the results of two experimental studies that explore how citizens evaluate arguments about two political issues affirmative action and gun control to test hypotheses predicting motivated reasoning. As predicted, in situations where participants (Ps) are presented with a balanced set of pro and con arguments, we find strong evidence of a prior attitude effect such attitudinally congruent arguments are evaluated as stronger than attitudinally incongruent arguments. When reading the pro and con arguments, Ps counter argue the contrary arguments and uncritically bolster supporting arguments, evidence of a disconfirmation bias. We also find a confirmation bias the seeking out of confirmatory evidence when Ps are free to self-select the source of the arguments they read. Both the confirmation and disconfirmation biases lead to attitude polarization the strengthening of their t2 over t1 attitude especially among those with the strongest priors and highest level of political sophistication.

In other words, people who were the most politically sophisticated were also the best at cherry-picking the evidence to support their prior beliefs, and nit-picking any contrary evidence to death. It's not that they reached their beliefs based on reason; it's that they produced what looked like "reasoning" as a post hoc way of justifying their prior belief. I could easily give examples from various bloggers and commenters on this site, but I'll just offer myself as an example -- however much I try, I'm sure that I haven't quite risen above this universal human tendency.

Stuart, if this is what you really believe about moral reasoning, you're not even operating within the broad, Aristotelian-Thomsitic framework that the Church has long employed. Functionally you are employing an emotivist moral theory. Moral arguments are simply a waste of time, window dressing, rather than something which have the power to shift practical deliberation. It seems to me that you don't even believe in practical deliberation. The Church's role, in your framework, wouldn't be to help people engage in proper moral reasoning. What follows? Augustine's treatise on lying--wasted ink. The casuistical tradition's attempt at careful distinctions between the finis operis and the finis operantis--window dressing. The Challenge of Peace attempting to grapple with how to think about nuclear deterrence-delusion. Germain Grisez trying to argue that in some cases a crainiotomy doesn't morally count as a morally prohibited abortion--idiotic and emotional self-delusion. The entire moral psychology that the church uses--which depends upon the capacity of the human mind to deliberate, guiding the choice of the will, based on reasons--up in smoke. I don't believe that. I believe moral deliberation is possible. I believe legal deliberation is possible. More importantly, the Church teaches and believes that too. And in my view, commitment to the larger method of moral reasoning is far more important and crucial than commitment to any one conclusion about the remote applications of the principles of natural law.If this is really your view of moral reasoning, than what follows? It seems to me that what follows is that the Church is simply an instrument for you--a method of social control--a big stick to control the masses, to give them a different set of motivations for doing what you want them to do.

Kathy, let me see if I get you right. Jesus was not an official of the current hierarchy, the Scribes and Pharisees. Yet the "charism" of the leaders did not help them. In fact all that "glory" seems to have hurt them as the constant criticisim of Jesus shows. Vatican II resurfaced the piercing truth that the Spirit will go where it wills.We will not understand true charism in the church until we are aware that too often than not the bishops are the "Scribes and Pharisees."

Stuart,It seems to me--without citing any scholarly research or any deep theories about how these things work in the Church--that if the vast majority of otherwise good and faithful Catholics don't find a particular teaching convincing, there may very well be something wrong either with the teaching or the way it is taught. Just how much is a person expected to do before following his or her own conscience? Is a couple who wants to limit the number of children they have obliged to practice Natural Family Planning until they get their PhD's in moral theology so they are qualified to make an informed decision . . . and then doubt that decision because of the research you present?And doesn't the research you cite also undermine the popes, bishops, and priests who formulated the "rules" in the first place? If the most sophisticated are "also the best at cherry-picking the evidence to support their prior beliefs," then why should we go by what the "experts" say? I am sure you will say they have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but they are also celibate and consequently their views on sexuality might very well be different from those of married people for reasons other than divine guidance.I think there is a lot to be said for gut feelings. Don't we admire Huck Finn precisely because he has a good heart and goes with his gut feelings even when he is certain (mistakenly) he is doing something bad?

I'm quite content to be a cafeteria Catholic and here's why: if there is a literal judgment day and we have to defend our beliefs and actiosn before God I'd much rather do so because the actions I took and the bliefs I held were really, truly my own, based on the God-given ability to reaosn and think for myself ... i would NOT want to say: "Well, I did THAT or I believed THAT because the Church told me it was true--even though I personally didn't agree ..."

But I don't want to defend my proofreading:Im quite content to be a cafeteria Catholic and heres why: if there is a literal judgment day and we have to defend our beliefs and actions before God Id much rather do so because the actions I took and the beliefs I held were really, truly my own, based on the God-given ability to reason and think for myself I would NOT want to say: Well, I did THAT or I believed THAT because the Church told me it was trueeven though I personally didnt agree

I dont believe that. I believe moral deliberation is possible. I believe legal deliberation is possible. I believe it's possible too; I wouldn't go so far as a Posner in dismissing moral philosophy entirely. But in the real world, it's rare for anyone to really change their beliefs in a fundamental way because of deliberation. Instead, most "deliberation" or "reasoning" is, in fact, a way of bolstering what you have already decided to believe. It seems to me that what follows is that the Church is simply an instrument for youa method of social controla big stick to control the masses, to give them a different set of motivations for doing what you want them to do.I never said anything implying that. The Church doesn't "control" people -- it offers a set of teachings that people can believe or not believe as they choose. Some people will find those teachings believable, some will not. Out of the first category of people, a relative handful will go on to read encyclicals and the like, and will be able to come up with sophisticated-sounding reasons for their beliefs. Out of the second category of people, a relative handful will go on to read or write works of moral theology explaining why the Church is wrong; for them too, the reasoning is post hoc. At the same time, within both categories of people, there may be a very tiny few who had no pre-existing desire or inclination, and who were not swayed by non-rational factors, but who really were convinced by the process of moral reasoning. This does happen. But not often, which is why anyone (including me) who vaunts themselves as "deliberative" should do some serious self-examination once in a while.

Stuart,So what you are saying, in a nutshell, is that almost everybody goes by their gut feelings. Believers either believe because of their gut feeling and leave it at that, or they believe and then find ways to rationalize their beliefs. And nonbelievers disbelieve because of their gut feelings, with some going on to rationalize their disbelief. And you seem to be saying the only people who make a rational choice are the people who are totally neutral to begin with.Part of me thinks you may be correct, but it's the part of me who looks forward to reading The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner (see the book description from Amazon, below), and I don't see how it fits into Catholic thought.

Book DescriptionSelected as a Finalist in the category of Psychology/Mental Health in the 2002 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs) presented by Independent Publisher Magazine., Silver Award Winner for Philosophy in the 2002 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards. and Selected as an Outstanding Academic Book for 2002 by Choice MagazineDo we consciously cause our actions, or do they happen to us? Philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, theologians, and lawyers have long debated the existence of free will versus determinism. In this book Daniel Wegner offers a novel understanding of the issue. Like actions, he argues, the feeling of conscious will is created by the mind and brain. Yet if psychological and neural mechanisms are responsible for all human behavior, how could we have conscious will? The feeling of conscious will, Wegner shows, helps us to appreciate and remember our authorship of the things our minds and bodies do. Yes, we feel that we consciously will our actions, Wegner says, but at the same time, our actions happen to us. Although conscious will is an illusion, it serves as a guide to understanding ourselves and to developing a sense of responsibility and morality.Approaching conscious will as a topic of psychological study, Wegner examines the issue from a variety of angles. He looks at illusions of the will-those cases where people feel that they are willing an act that they are not doing or, conversely, are not willing an act that they in fact are doing. He explores conscious will in hypnosis, Ouija board spelling, automatic writing, and facilitated communication, as well as in such phenomena as spirit possession, dissociative identity disorder, and trance channeling. The result is a book that sidesteps endless debates to focus, more fruitfully, on the impact on our lives of the illusion of conscious will.

If the church "imposes a discipline" (as stated above) it does indeed attempt to control people, particularly those who have been led to believe that Roma locuta, finita est (or however it is stated).

David,So far you've congratulated Huck Finn for acting against his conscience, and called into question human freedom.Do you really think you're on the right track in developing a moral system?Jimmy Mac,Isn't it possible to see teaching as a God-given help to true happiness, rather than in Machiavellian terms?

David -- I'm very cynical about how often we human animals actually reason our way to a conclusion. Sure, if the question is which refrigerator is a better deal, we can make a list and line up the pros and cons, etc. But for most subjects that have a lot of emotional importance to people -- politics and religion, for example -- people are a lot less affected by reason than they'd like to think. Think of it this way: Have you ever tried to reason with a star-crossed lover and explain why his or her choice of a partner was a huge mistake? Did it work, or did they just come up with reason after reason as to why you were wrong? What was really driving them -- the star-crossed feeling, or the "reasons" that they came up with in response to you? I'm suggesting that most people "reason" about most political and religious issues in the same way.

I see we're back to debate with the uusal suspects chiming in.I do say bless you, Andrew, for noting fear of change is a big problem.The difficulty is cutting into that fear.I'd like to susggest two vital aspects of doing that:1)"balance" a balance not unlike that suggested by the late cardinal Bernadin but beaten down by the likes of Law and others who now emphasize identity (including the current head of the USCCB,)2( Hope. BXVI devoted to an encyclical about it, but the basic imagination needed to bring that hope to life is deadened by those who only cast their eyes upward (to Rome) or downward to folk.The divide needs bridiging not by disciplinary impostion but real dialogue -a word many disdain.But, if it becomes possble, let's think about Andrew's project.

So far youve congratulated Huck Finn for acting against his conscience, and called into question human freedom.Do you really think youre on the right track in developing a moral system?Kathy,As one of my old bosses used to say, "I'm just thinking out loud."But as for Huck Finn, I am not sure he acted against his conscience. He followed his heart rather than his head, and acted out of love for another human being instead of acting according to what he had taught (and believed intellectually) to be true regarding slavery and race. Would you make moral criticisms of him for that? It could be argued that he argued according to his conscience and against what he had been taught. Is conscience always rational and intellectual? I don't think so. Regarding human freedom, I think that sometimes there is definitely an "illusion of conscious will." The question is, under what circumstances and to what extent? What are we to make of St. Paul saying, "Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if (I) do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me." Or what did Jesus mean when he said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"?

RobertI admire your Judgment Day courage, I really do, but being something of a coward at heart, let me offer an alternative JD encounter.In Fides et Ratio, one of JPIIs most challenging and interesting encyclicals IMO, JPII spends a long, long time explaining that there will always be a dynamic tension between faith and reason, but that there need not be a rupture between them. He also reminds us that it has to be faith seeking understanding and not the other way around. Im simplifying greatly, but thats what I see as the essence of the encyclical.While on earth, Christ gave the Apostles the authority He had exercised (e.g., whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven, etc.) and the guarantee that the Holy Spirit would ensure lack of error on the essentials of the faith. We know that there have been successors of Peter who were grievously flawed individuals, yet the Holy Spirit has always been just around the corner, so to speak, protecting the fallible beings who lead the Church from falling into error on matters concerning the deposit of faith.The magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church, and it decides what the essentials of the faith are. The magisterium may be right or it may be wrong as to what constitute the essentials and what they meanand I dont agree with the magisterium on several issuesbut wouldnt the fail-safe testament before Christ on JD begin with I disagreed with the magisterium on some issues after reasoned consideration of the issues, but I nevertheless recognized the magisteriums teaching authority and followed its pronouncements. Im not saying that Im entirely prepared to make such a testamentI have an unfortunate question authority streak in meor that there isnt a role for a testament on JD that is based on an informed conscience, but it seems to me that the burden of proof for convincing Christ that I should spend eternity with Him would be much higher if I were to rely on my reasoning powers in taking a position that is contrary to that of the magisterium. As I get older, and I become more acutely aware of my finite nature, I confess that the fail-safe testament has increasing appeal.

Stuart,I am not sure I disagree with you, except to say that in buying a refrigerator, the decision may not be all that rational either. If advertising did not work, appliance manufacturers would not spend millions of dollars on it, and advertising rarely is targeted at our rational side. I don't know how well this can be reconciled with Catholic thought and moral responsibility. Although I do note that the book description above says, "Although conscious will is an illusion, it serves as a guide to understanding ourselves and to developing a sense of responsibility and morality [emphasis added]."

The last time I thought about it, "teaching as a God-given help" is NOT the same as IMPOSING a discipline.Teaching imparts knowledge. Imposition does nothing to impart knowldge, only to control people. As John Paul II put it: "Always propose; never impose."

William,Thanks for your interesting comments. And I must admit that I am not sure exactly which church teachings are specifically part of the magesterium and which mightn not be (or whether everything the church leaders say is part of the magisterium), but I do know this: I do not believe in a God who actually cares one way or the other whether you missed Mass on Sunday (certainly, not one who cares enough to punish you for it in the afetrlife, though I suppose I can accept a God who missed having you visit his "house" on Sunday) or whether you ate meat on a Friday during Lent, or took the Eucharist at a Protestant church (or allowed a non-Catholic to take Communion at a Catholic wedding), or used artificial birth control or infertility treatments to have a child (treatments that did not invovle harming or discarding any embryo), etc., etc. Yet all of these things are against the church's teachings.Moreover, I cannot believe that someone who supported Franco's dictatorship in Spain--as did the founder of Opus Dei--can be considered a saint or exhibited the qualities that God actually wants us to have, yet the church says that such a man is a saint, which makes it impossible for me to accept the church's teachings aboutof sainthood ... the list could go on. Thus I will rely on reason--at least that is something I can defend.

Bill Collier:I have three questions for you.First: why is it unfortunate to have a question authority streak? Id say such a streak is healthy, and should be cultivated. Second: If you believe that the magisterium may, in some cases, be wrong as to what constitute the essentials and what they mean, why would you, in those cases, recognize [its] teaching authority and follow its pronouncements? Third: What if after youd carried out the reasoned consideration of the issues you spoke of your conscience dictated that you take a course of action opposed to the one called for by the magisterium? (Maybe this overlaps with the second question; or maybe its the same question, formulated in a different way.)Of course, anyone else who has thoughts on this is welcome/invited to respond.

I believe in the power of binding and loosing that Christ gave to the Church.I know that, while I am reasonably bright, I'm not the very smartest person in the church built of living stones, particularly in regard to spiritual matters. For this reason, I am prone to suspect that, when I think I know better than the Church, it is hubris on my part.I also believe that there is spiritual benefit in submitting to just authority.Also I am of the opinion that keeping oneself habitually at a critiquing arm's-length distance from the church is a path fraught with great spiritual danger. It's endemic in our culture today, and largely accounts for the collapse of faith and discipline in the church.None of the above should be taken to indicate that I am able to accept wholeheartedly and without reservation everything the church proposes. In many areas, I struggle.

"First: why is it 'unfortunate' to have a 'question authority' streak? Id say such a streak is healthy, and should be cultivated."Shaw and others suffer from an American-centric mindset, thinking that declines in some outward American Catholic appearances, if they happened at the same time as Vatican II, must have been caused by them. The truth is that Europe was on the decline before that, and no wonder: look at the bequest of European political and military leadership on that populace since 1870, and certainly since 1914.What would have inspired Catholics? Leaders who led, maybe like they did at the Council. What do we have instead? The promotion of the sanctity of a WWII pope, who may well have had the opportunity to demonstrate true sanctity, but instead is propped up by apologists and targeted as symbolic of what was wrong with religious leadership in the 19th and 20th centuries."I also believe that there is spiritual benefit in submitting to just authority."True, no doubt. The trick is to convince Catholics that their bishops are just. Again, a group that attempted to lead in the 80's, though not without controversy, and a group that today, suffers from a serious lack of credibility. No matter. The SCGS* ultramontanists practice their own brand of cafeteria: adhere to the bishop when they agree, dismiss him as a heretic when they don't, and appeal to the pope as the only one who really matters. I suppose it's as indicative of a Catholic education as anything else.Sadly, the real hope is in parishes. But the more parishes succeed independently of the poor leadership of bishops, the more congregationalism is emphasized in practice.Meanwhile, enough of taking this MaChurch punditry too seriously. There's no magic in the leadership of the Catholic Church that's going to save them and/or the rest of us. If they were serious about diagnosing and fixing the Church's problems, they'd do more than call a meeting of talking/writing heads at CWN/Ignatius/Sophia while they congratulated themselves over brandy and cigars on Vatican II dismantled.* Small Church, Getting Smaller

If I had a million years to consider and read, I would try to understand how divine, human, and natural causalities interact. I believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Pope and the college of bishops. It's a mystery to me, though, how that works. I don't think there's a one-to-one relationship between whatever the bishops decide to order for dinner and what I should obey. I don't think God causes people to be his puppets. But I do believe that somehow God is able to burden human beings with divine oracles.

Stuart, if you believe nothing else I say, believe this: the Catholic tradition of moral theology is every bit as complicated and nuanced as any bit of law that you studied at Harvard. Aquinas does have a complicated theory of how untrammelled desire can corrupt choice. The point of temperance (and associated virtues) and fortitude (and associated virtues) is precisely to limit, if not to control, the concupiscible and irascible appetites, which can deeply affect our capacity for practical reason. Aquinas's action theory (and tacitly) the action theory of the manuals of moral theology that dominated moral theology since the time of Trent to the Second Vtican Council presuppose the possibility of moral judgment going horribly awry. At the same time, Aquinas recognized the best we can do in practical matters that are disputed is to rely upon the judgment of prudent people. We ask virtuous people for help in practical moral decisions; they are the best guide we have. What about the Church? What about authority? First, it's not an undifferentiated thing. The Catechism is like a hornbook--it compiles authorities of very different levels. Furthermore, there is a complicated system (very analogous to the system grading legal authority) that grades the deference due to ecclesiastical pronouncements. Some authorities are graded higher than others, both by virtue of who issues them and what they say. There is a lively debate about whether or not a pronouncement on natural law can ever be infallible, as opposed to a matter of doctrine). The Aryan controversy does not depend of factual premises to the same degree that propositions about the proper role of women, say do. It is an interesting, lawyerly debate. One question which arises is this: to what degree do shifting factual premises change one's moral conclusions? If one thinks the sperm is a "homunculus" --a little man-- and one bases one's teaching that we ought not to use condoms on that belief, then if the best secular judgment about the sperm changes, we need at at least to rethink the teaching. And the point ought to be to rethink it--not merely to shove arguments under it to maintain it. One of the reasons that people I've talked to are so skeptical about natural law arguments is that they think they are shams-- lawyerly constructs to support a position already decided upon.The proper virtue that is involved is also interesting --LG 25 requires "obsequium"--does that mean blind assent or obedience, or serious attempt to follow (obsequor) the teaching before deciding otherwise? No one--absolutely no one- denies that one has to follow one's conscience. No one--absolutely no one--is advocating blind obedience. The question involves what constitutes responsible formation of conscience. Interesting debates here, too.

I am coming to this conversation awfully late, and my first reaction was hit by Stuart above - adapting teachings to modern sensibilities sure hasn't helped the Episcopal Church, or the Unitarians, or the Methodists etc. etc.But fundamentally, who cares? If the Church is the True Church, why should I care if it is a billion or half a million people, except to the extent that I want everyone to participate in Her? Also, where does God's grace fit in all this?

The true church is wherever a person follows Jesus. Augustine, Ignatius and the rest wanted control and did wrong things in exercising their power. We naturally form into organizations and at the beginning of every religious order and the times of Paul, there was tremendous spirit. Usually after 10 years (within St Francis lifetime) the jurors come in. The faith is a terrible thing if one wrangles and splits hairs when the abundant of life in the Spirit if offered and all there in the Sermon on the Mount. One who follows the beatitudes will do the Will of God. But I do not fault moralists and lawyers. Because many times they were able to argue for confused people who naively believed strange stuff. These people saved many people from insanity. Scruples is the ultimate result of false rules.But if our stress is not on the freedom of the Children of God as Paul says, woe are we!By the way, Shaw, quite unjustly and ignorantly condemns the Land of Lakes agreement with Catholic universities whose main architect is the peerless Ted Hesburgh. If it were not for Hesburgh we would all be wallowing in the madness of the Roman Curia. And there is not a person in the last century that is a better Catholic Christian than Ted.

GeneBefore I attempt to answer your questions, let me first say that perhaps I was somewhat inexact in my use of the word magisterium. Cathy Kaveny understands these issues much better than I do, and she is correct that the concept of magisterium is complex.Richard Gaillardetz book Whose Authority Is It? is a good primer on the magisterium, and I draw the following from it. (Any errors are the result of my misunderstanding of Gaillardetz explanations.) In general, the authority of a teaching from the magisterium turns on what kind of magisterium issues the teaching and what the substance of the teaching is. There are three types of magisteriums (magisteria?): (1) An ordinary magisteriumcomprised of an individual bishop or group of bishops. Teachings that originate with an ordinary magisterium are non-infallible; (2) An extraordinary magisteriumThis teaching authority comprises either (a) the college of bishops gathered in an ecumenical council issuing certain types of teachings, or (b) the Pope as the head of the college of bishops issuing certain types of teachings ex cathedra. Pronouncements from this type of magisterium are infallible in certain circumstances; and (3) An ordinary universal magisteriumreflecting the common judgment of the whole college of bishops, dispersed throughout the world and in union with the Pope, as to certain types of teachings. Pronouncements from this type of magisterium are also infallible in certain circumstances. There are also four levels of teaching from a magisterium:--Dogma: These require an assent of faith from the believer that the substance of the teaching is revealed truth from God. Rejection of the teaching would be heresy. An example would be the creedal formulations in the Nicene Creed.--Definitive doctrine: These require firm acceptance by the believer that the teachings are true. An example would be the decision made by the Council of Trent as to what books constitute the canon of the New Testament.--Authoritative doctrine: These require a religious docility of will and intellect as the believer strives to assimilate the teaching into his or her religious convictions. (The quoted language is from VIIs Lumen Gentium.) An example would be a conference of bishops teaching that targeting civilians in warfare is immoral. --Concrete applications of Church teaching: These require that the teachings be considered seriously by believers, but it is possible to disagree with the teachings in good conscience. An example would be bishops specific policies for alleviating the plight of the poor.So magisterium carries much more connotation than my earlier usage might have led some to believe.As to your questions:# 1 I used unfortunate in an apparently failed attempt to be ironic. I think constructive questioning of authority is a good thing. In the context of the magisterium, I believe that VII reaffirmed that theologians and the magisterium should always engage in constructive dialogue about the teachings of the Church. I dont know how much that is observed in practice, however.# 2 Remember that I posited a hypothetical fail-safe testament for a Judgment Day encounter with Christ. It seems inconceivable that Christ would penalize a believer who deferred to the magisterium even if the believer thought the magisterium was wrong. If an extraordinary magisterium or ordinary universal magisterium had issued a teaching that was dogma or definitive doctrine, then by definition the teaching could not be in error, however. I admit the fail-safe testament has some attraction to me, especially as to teachings that would be dogma or definitive doctrine. # 3 I noted that I wasnt discounting informed conscience, only that it was a tougher position to take on JD than resorting to the fail-safe testament. As you know, informed is an adjective with a lot of religious baggage. The CCC (section 1783) states that [c]onscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. In section 1785, the CCC states the following:In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lords Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church. [G]uided by the authoritative teaching of the ChurchDiscerning that teaching and explaining it to Christ on JD seems much harder and more fraught with difficulty, to me at least, than defaulting to the fail-safe option. But Im just a guy in the pew, and if anyone has further thoughts on this, I, too, would like to hear them. (Also, my apologies for the length of this post.)

Bill,You are aware that St. Paul excommunicated someone for sexual immorality?

In the light of Christians standing by, and the magisterium, while millions of Jews were killed just for being Jewish, we must learn to discern the will of God better than those whose loudest appeals are for the Cardinal's Appeal which we are now going through in the annual excruciation. Five millions children still do not make it to the age of five every year, lacking just basic food and medicine. There is the very loud mandate which Matthew 25 shouts out to us. One can see the agony of the pastors as they react to pressure from the chancery for the annual appeal. Would that the pastors would have that much passion the rest of the year.

Bill:Thanks very much for this. Its very helpful, and I appreciate the time you took to write it up. Dont apologize for the length; Im glad that it had so much good material.

Thanks, Gene, but I need to correct the title I listed for Gaillardetz' book. It's "By What Authority"?I hope dotCommonweal posters took the time to view tonight's total lunar eclipse. I always enjoy such heavenly displays.

"Obviously because I said so is not a deeply satisfying reason for, eg, denying artificial birth control to married people. Especially when it would often seem that human flourishing is on the side of using birth control."Agreed." The question is, what do we do in between the time that a discipline is imposed and the time its reasons are thoroughly understood? "Paul VI did not impose a discipline; he proposed a moral viewpoint, and he stressed its non-infallibility. The conscience of the Catholic world found that the viewpoint was impractible and eventually decided that it was mistaken. So the question is, what to do between the point at which a mistaken moral doctrine is issued and the point at which everyone recognizes that the doctrine is a dead letter and now feels free to discuss the issues anew on sounder premises.There are two possibilities:1. say nothing. This is the path taken by the majority of the clergy, and which many laity see as a betrayal of them in an hour of confusion and suffering. But the silence of the clergy gave tacit consent to the laity not to worry about the matter. And in the confessional, as well as in the statements of several Episcopal Conferences in 1968, positive encouragement was given to the laity to exercise their own judgment on the question.2. Build up a new reflection on the issues, ignoring Vatican strictures.

Kathy,You said:

You are aware that St. Paul excommunicated someone for sexual immorality?"
Paul said:
"I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people, not at all referring to the immoral of this world or the greedy and robbers or idolaters; for you would then have to leave the world. But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person. For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within? God will judge those outside. "Purge the evil person from your midst."

Jesus said:

"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye.

Some questions: Is excommunication the right word to describe what Paul did? Can the sayings of Jesus and Paul be reconciled? Is a "drunkard" the same thing as an alcoholic? Suppose your mother or father is an alcoholic. Should you shun them? Aren't many of us a little greedy? Don't many of us enjoy gossip (making us slanderers)?

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