THE VOICELESS LAITY
Massimo Faggioli's otherwise sensible evaluation of the value of the institutional church (“Reform or Dismantle the Church?”) suffers from two weaknesses. The first, telling though less important, is the identification of EWTN as a “newer institution” that “is on the rise.” While EWTN would love to be thought of this way, it is most definitely not an institution of the church, unlike the seminaries with which Faggioli contrasts it. It is a highly funded anti-Francis ultra-conservative pressure group (see Heidi Schlumpf's four-part article in the current National Catholic Reporter), and has no official standing in the church. Imagine the outcry if I named Voice of the Faithful or Call to Action as an institution of the church! But the more damaging issue is that while Faggioli is right to identify the destructiveness of the anti-institutional argument, he nowhere notes that the way the church is currently structured, no one except the hierarchy is anything other than powerless to effect change. Because the laity have no official voice, it is perhaps not surprising that exaggeration may be one of the few avenues by which to get the institution's attention.
Director, Center for Catholic Studies
Massimo Faggioli’s article is excellent, and just what disaffected Catholics need. I belong to a parish that is currently involved in a capital campaign and I have been struggling greatly with whether to contribute financially.
I’ve been an active and very supportive member for over forty-two years and feel like I’m at a crossroads. I stay very involved with our food shelf which has won national recognition, but I can no longer support the school—which my four children attended—until the Catholic Church reforms their theology of human sexuality. It just creates sideways pain and dysfunction in so many areas.
But my dilemma is this: If I do not support the physical structure and community, then what will replace it? The school also teaches moral responsibility, kindness, involvement outside of your own needs, in the world. It also teaches you how to pray and how to have a relationship with God through prayer and loving your neighbor.
I have struggled greatly with this and Mr. Faggioli’s article helps confirm what I have always felt: that the church, and by extension a particular parish and school, are worth saving and reforming.
NOT SO SLIPPERY
I am a man who sees a fundamental connection between “choice” and the rights of women, the half of humanity that has endured the dictatorship of men since the dawn of civilization. I am also an avid Commonweal reader, although I am wary of articles on the subject of reproduction. Despite my views, I was truly impressed by your editorial (“Strutting and Fighting,” June 14) for its thoughtfulness and its concern for both sides of the issue, and for professing the hope that a compromise is not only possible but may also be the only way to put the controversy behind us. I can't wait to see letters in future issues chastising you for being soft on pro-choice rhetoric.
Achieving middle ground will not be easy. Extremists on both sides view any concession to their opponents as a slippery slope. In fact our political discourse is suffused with slippery slopes—on immigration, gun control, socialism. affirmative action, and any other issue that divides us.
Forty-six years after Roe v. Wade, the record is clear. The dramatic reduction in U.S. abortion rates has been overwhelmingly due to birth control and sex education while the prolife movement has had minimal impact.
The only objection I have to your excellent editorial is that you described certain people as “abortion's most vocal advocates.” No one advocates abortion. They advocate choice.
Lake Oswego, Ore.
Emma McDonald has put her finger on one of the main causes of the disconnect between the Catholic faithful and the church's moral doctrine concerning human sexuality and reproduction (“Listening to the Laity,” July 5); namely, the lack of education that has resulted in widespread ignorance about what the church actually teaches, and, perhaps more importantly, the moral principles that underlie those teachings. The laity cannot be expected to conform their lives to the pertinent ethical norms if they are not even aware that such norms exist.
On the other hand, the author says, “the fact that more than half of American Catholics see IVF as either not a moral issue or as morally acceptable suggests that this teaching [the condemnation of IVF] is falling on deaf ears.” Is it not rather because in most cases the teaching is not even reaching the ears of those who are open to listening? McDonald goes on to cite the theologian Margaret Farley, who “has suggested [that] the teaching of the church on reproductive issues fails to respond to the lived experience of the laity.” Does McDonald mean to imply that the church should conform its moral doctrine in this area to the “lived experience” of the Catholic laity rather than vice versa? If so, what possible meaning can be assigned to the "living teaching office of the Church...exercised in the name of Jesus Christ" (Vatican II, Dei verbum, paragraph 10)?
El Paso, Texas
EMMA MCDONALD REPLIES:
Ronald Dubson asks whether I intend to imply that “the church should conform its moral doctrine in this area to the ‘lived experience’ of the Catholic laity rather than vice versa.” In my view, the relationship between magisterium and laity is not a question of one entirely conforming to the other. Instead, both have an edifying role. As the International Theological Commission noted in its 2014 document “Sensus fidei in the life of the Church,” the Second Vatican Council “clearly taught that the faithful are not merely passive recipients of what the hierarchy teaches and theologians explain; rather, they are living and active subjects within the Church” (67).
In the realm of reproductive technologies, a field which involves constant innovation in technique and possibility, the commission’s understanding of the sensus fidei seems particularly relevant. The sensus fidei, says the ITC, has the “capacity to listen discerningly to what human culture and the progress of the sciences are saying.” The faithful can thus provide “an intuition as to the right way forward amid the uncertainties and ambiguities of history” and can “animate the life of faith and guide authentic Christian action” (70).
Like Dubson, the ITC laments those instances in which “the majority of the faithful remain indifferent to doctrinal or moral decisions taken by the magisterium or when they positively reject them.” However, the ITC sees two potential causes for the weak reception of a particular teaching. First, it could “indicate a weakness or a lack of faith on the part of the people of God, caused by an insufficiently critical embrace of contemporary culture” (123). This seems to be what Dubson sees as the fundamental issue with the laity’s overwhelming lack of “conformity” to magisterial teaching in reproductive technologies. The ITC offers another possibility, however: sometimes, the lackluster response of the faithful “may indicate that certain decisions have been taken by those in authority without due consideration of the experience and the sensus fidei of the faithful, or without sufficient consultation of the faithful by the magisterium” (123). In my view, this observation adds a helpful balance to Dubson’s suggestion. As he notes, more could be done to communicate the teaching of the church to the laity. But as the ITC suggests, the conversation flows two ways: the magisterium should consider whether it has sufficiently consulted the faithful considering how church teaching on reproductive technologies has been received.
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