Bishops Are Behind The Curve

The Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) people might want to stock up on throat lozenges. The organization of reform-minded Catholics will need to stage regular public readings of documents from the Second Vatican Council that make the case for a broader role for laity in the church. It can no longer assume that U.S.bishops have read them; and it might well presume that it could take decades for these bishops to read and digest their meanings.

This week, in an extraordinarily delayed reaction, the U.S. Conference of Bishops declared that it is theologically unsound for Catholics to try to convert Jews to Christianity. The principle that Judaism has not been supplanted by, but coexists with, Christianity was first expressed almost 40 years ago in Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), a Vatican II document that explored the relationship of Catholicism to other religions.

Noting "the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews," the synod urged "mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit above all of biblical and theological studies and brotherly dialogues." The council instructed further that "Jews should not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from Holy Scripture."

That a restatement of a 1965 pronouncement was deemed newsworthy and even hailed as cause for celebration by Jew and gentile alike hints at just how low are our expectations for change in the Catholic Church.

To be sure, the statement was issued jointly by the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs and the National Council of Synagogues. But when was the last time that Jews targeted Catholics for conversion? The very need for such a statement is an acknowledgement of the failure to build on the challenge of Nostra Aetate to advance "the day known to God alone when all peoples will call on God with one voice and serve God shoulder to shoulder."

From the Crusades through the Inquisition to the Holocaust, Catholicism has been complicit in or indifferent to the persecution of the Jews. Pope John Paul II has built impressive bridges to the Jewish people across that historic divide. But for the U.S. bishops to announce in 2002 that the Church finds no theological basis for trying to baptize Jews hardly seems a major step toward the ecumenism that Pope John XXIII envisioned.

If such is the pace of reform in the Catholic Church, the Voice of the Faithful should steel itself for years of incremental gains on behalf of a disenfranchised laity. Never mind that Vatican II specifically authorized the laity to claim the leadership role it is being denied by the more conservative hierarchy that followed Pope John XXIII to power. "By reason of their knowledge, competence or preeminence which they have, laypeople are empowered : indeed sometimes obliged : to manifest their opinion on those issues which pertain to the good of the church," the council taught.

Clear enough. But such was the trepidation of the VOTF leadership that it tried to stave off official rebuke of its national convention in Boston last month by soliciting in advance the signatures of theologians who endorsed their right, under canon law, to meet. More than 60 signed on. It is unlikely that any number of theologians signing on would quiet the opposition of Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island to the Voice of the Faithful.

Last week, Murphy ordered a local pastor to prohibit a Voice of the Faithful chapter from meeting in a parish hall, and said his ban will apply to all parishes within the diocese. Such a heavy-handed effort to quash a movement by committed Catholics to reclaim their church is antithetical to both the spirit and the letter of the Second Vatican Council. Maybe in 40 more years, the bishops will get around to reading those conciliar documents that make it clear that it is the people, not the "princes", who are the church!

Commentary

Rev. Francis F. Baiocchi

Eileen McNamara's article hits the nail right on its head! The U.S. bishops and their Vatican counterparts lay claim to following the principles and spirit of the Vatican Council while their very behaviors contradict those same principles and spirit. Meanwhile, the ultraconservatives among their number are trying to rewrite and reinterpret the conciliar documents much as some civil governments have attempted to rewrite and reinterpret their nation's history books.

It is a fact that in many seminaries throughout the United States and the world at large, candidates for the priesthood are discouraged from reading the actual documents of Vatican II. They are permitted to read and study only the "approved" commentaries on these documents. Guess who "approves" these commentaries?

Today's bishops and cardinals, with few exceptions, have thoroughly undermined much of the charter documents of that same council. They have done this with the approval of Pope John Paul II, who by his words and actions, has pulled the carpet right out from under the Spirit-driven Council of 40 years ago.

For instance, Vatican II empowers the laity to voice their concerns over issues of importance to the church. Yet church bureaucrats refuse to listen to them, oppose them at every turn, and even ban them from meeting in the very church buildings the lay people have so generously built!

Vatican II stresses the principle of collegiality that values the importance of dialogue and consensus-building before important decisions are made. Yet church bureaucrats continue to exclude competent people from having any input into decisions affecting their lives.

Rules and policies matter-of-factly emanate from the secrecy of Vatican chambers, bishops' palatial houses and chancery offices without any significant dialogue with anyone except a handful of like-minded people who are far removed from the realities of modern life.

Vatican II emphasizes the principle of subsidiarity that states that decisions affecting people should be made by those closest to and most familiar with the people being affected. Yet the church's officials in the Vatican continue to attempt to micro-manage Church affairs all across the globe, appropriating bishops' rights and responsibilities in the process, and making bishops into little more than Vatican puppets at best!

Vatican II claims that we are indeed at our core a Eucharist people, and that the Eucharist is the center of our spiritual lives. Yet under the present governance of the church, literally thousands of Catholic parishes are disappearing and millions of Catholic people are being systematically deprived of this Eucharist experience because this pope and his loyal bishops refuse to change a man-made mandatory celibacy rule for the ordained priesthood.

Just who gave permission for these church leaders to contradict the Catholic charter given us at Vatican II? That council was by far the most comprehensive and inclusive council of the modern era. It was Spirit-driven! Its documents were intended to give our church the impetus and direction it needed to be a significant force for good in the world and a significant source of spirituality for Catholics and others of good will for a long time to come.

What happened? Our church leaders lost their nerve! They simply don't have the courage to follow in the footsteps of the conciliar giants who, led by the Spirit forty years ago, fashioned and formed these documents in open debate. People in power don't like to lose the power they have. Vatican II calls for a sharing of power that challenges these ecclesial powerbrokers. The ol' boys club continues to circle the wagons. Once again, our leaders : especially the U.S. bishops : are proving they are more concerned for their church careers than for promoting the Gospel of Jesus and the principles of Vatican II.

Putting it bluntly, these bishops simply don't have "balls"! What a different church we'd have if they did!

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