Saturday, May 03, 2008

Robert McClory's "Prophetic Work"

Earlier this evening, CPCSM hosted a small and informal reception at St. Martin’s Table Restaurant and Bookstore for journalist and author Robert McClory and his wife Margaret.

McClory will be the keynote speaker at tomorrow morning’s Second Annual Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice. The title of this year’s prayer breakfast is Here Comes Everybody: Democratizing Catholicism in Challenging Times.

The wise and gentle McClory is the perfect choice for keynote speaker at this year’s prayer breakfast, as not only is he a respected writer on the role of the laity throughout the church’s history, but his latest book is entitled As It Was In the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church.

Following are two reviews of As It Was In the Beginning. The first is by William Droel and was published in the April 21, 2008 issue of America magazine. The second, by Thomas Groome, is taken from the latest issue of the National Catholic Reporter (May 2, 2008). Groome begins his review by describing McClory’s latest book a as “prophetic work,” in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets who “protested the present more than foretold the future.”


In Pursuit of Participation

A review of Robert McClory’s book
As It Was In the Beginning
The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church

By William Droel
April 21, 2008

“There is,” writes Robert McClory, “a democratic dynamic in the church’s self-awareness.” No dogma is not subject to a vote. Yes, the church must assert its teachings, popular or not. Yes, a certain hierarchical structure is part of the church’s unity. At the same time, the church stays most faithful to its dogma and is most effective in its mission when all its members respectfully listen to one another, breathe together and act together. McClory, a retired journalism professor at Northwestern University and the author of Faithful Dissenters, describes in detail how authoritarianism conversely leads to heresy or scandal or declining members – or all three at once.

As It Was in the Beginning has three sections: the past (six chapters), the second half of the 20th century through today (six chapters) and the future (one chapter). McClory employs many fascinating examples to support his argument and bolster his hope.

Following the Council of Nicaea, for example, many Catholic bishops campaigned against the correct teaching on Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Instead, they told people to accept heretical Arianism. But the laity did not listen, and 56 years later the correct dogma was reiterated at the Council of Constantinople. Cardinal John Newman later wrote about the incident: “The Nicene dogma was maintained during the greater part of the fourth century . . . not by the unswerving firmness of the Holy See, Councils or bishops, but . . . by the consensus fidelium.”

The author also describes an early 15th-century council that in asserting “that the ultimate focus of authority resides in the whole body of the church” solved the situation in which there were three undesirable claimants to the papacy. Had Catholics responsibly hung onto the council’s principle of conciliarism for another 100 years, McClory speculates, the Protestant Reformation might not have been necessary.

McClory provides several examples of “reform from above.” He highlights the openness of Bishop John Carroll in the early days of the United States, including Carroll’s support for the separation of church and state, the use of English in the sacraments and a lay trustee system to manage parishes. McClory describes the Asian Bishops Conference, an umbrella for national conferences, in its deliberate inclusion of lay people in the implementation of the Second Vatican Council and its dialogue with Asian cultures, even around the sensitive topic of Jesus Christ as the only savior. McClory cites Pope John Paul II’s encyclical That All May Be One, which opens the door to a more collegial way of understanding the papacy in order to remove ecumenical roadblocks.

Our U.S. bishops’ scandalous mismanagement of personnel has cost our dioceses $1.073 billion in settlements alone over the past four years. Is it that some bishops lost sight of Jesus, that they failed as the Lord’s stewards? Or is it possible that some bishops did something even worse? Is it possible that some bishops in their authoritarianism abetted child abuse?

McClory includes Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s story of the Grand Inquisitor as a motif in As It Was in the Beginning. The Inquisitor did not forget Jesus’ teachings. He knew Jesus very well. However, the paternalistic Inquisitor deliberately asserted his own authoritarian approach over Jesus’ way of grace and sin.

Without drawing an explicit comparison, McClory reports on the prepared remarks of a prominent, moderate United States bishop several months after the current scandal attained worldwide attention. We must be cautious about accountability in the church, the bishop said. “We do not vote or take a headcount to determine what we should believe or how the church should be structured.”

Some fair-minded Catholics are tempted to cynicism or despair upon hearing what they perceive to be an arrogant comment. McClory urges patience and hope. Similar situations in the past have been tempered and even overcome. Openness and reform are part of the essence of the church, gifts of the Holy Spirit. Even in this dark time, “the courage, skill, and persistence of those laymen and laywomen who are sensitive to the signs of the times” can restore credibility to our church.

William Droel

Above: Robert McClory (right) chats with Fr. Marty Shanahan
of Spirit of Hope Catholic Community at St. Martin’s Table
and Bookstore, Minneapolis - Friday, May 2, 2008.

Changing a Feudal Church

A review of Robert McClory’s book
As It Was In the Beginning
The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church

By Thomas Groome
National Catholic Reporter
May 2, 2008

In the tradition of Hebrew prophets who protested the present more than foretold the future, Robert McClory’s As It Was in the Beginning is a prophetic work. The author is hopeful, present evidence to the contrary, that the democratization of the Catholic church must surely come, like the triumph of truth, no matter how delayed.

Mr. McClory is certainly not naive about the challenges. He sees the Catholic church as “the last deeply rooted feudal system in the Western world.” And yet he is fully confident that the original vision of an inclusive and participative community of all the baptized “presses on to fulfillment.” He is consoled that “fierce resistance to change is often the last hurrah of a faltering regime.”

A fine journalist, Mr. McClory doesn’t pretend to be a theologian or church historian. He has read the scholars, albeit selectively, and mounts his argument from scholarly resources. They convince him that Pope Pius X’s infamous statement that the laity “are to be led like a docile flock by their pastors” was an aberration, though a long-standing one, to what should be the modus operandi of the church.

The foundations of Christian faith, especially its theology of baptism, call us to function as a participative democracy instead.

In reviewing “The Past,” the first six chapters of his book, Mr. McClory finds warrant for ecclesial democratization in the inclusivity and empowerment of people reflected in Jesus’ public ministry and in the egalitarian spirit of the first Christian communities. He raises up episcopal and papal models like Cyprian of Carthage (died 258) and Pope Gregory I (died 604); both championed a “non-monarchical” approach to church leadership and insisted on consulting the laity because “what touches all must be approved by all.” The author points to times when the very orthodox faith of the church was saved by its sensus fidelium -- sense of the faithful -- as in the Christological controversies when its leaders looked as if they would default.

Alas, the monarchical structure came to prevail -- and still does -- with lots of champions. The author cites Pope Gregory VII, who died in 1085, and Pope Innocent III, who died in 1216. The latter summarized that the pope is “lower than God but higher than man, judging all and judged by no one.” Yet though the church embraced what the author terms “a monarchical feudal system of governance,” he finds resistance in the conciliarist movement and its insistence “that authority resides in the whole body of the church, not exclusively in its papal head.”

To support his argument from “The Present,” which occupies Chapters 7 to 12 of the book, Mr. McClory places front and center the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and can cite copious quotable quotes. In many ways the council’s whole agenda was to reclaim a radical theology of baptism -- as if it must be taken seriously by individual Christians and their communities. However, the council’s vision for the laity having their say has not been realized -- yet -- but is mired in a mighty struggle between “progress and backlash.”

Mr. McClory believes that we are in a new moment, prompted mainly by a “convergence of crises,” the clergy sex abuse scandal leading the way. This gives him hope for “the collapse of the [church’s] feudal system” and its democratization instead. He finds signs of hope both “from above” (for example, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences) and “from below” (for example, lay movements such as Voice of the Faithful).

In Chapter 13, imagining “The Future,” Mr. McClory offers some scenarios for how democracy will gradually emerge in the church. I found this to be the weakest section with little by way of real strategies to get there from here. But perhaps such practicalities are not the strong suit of prophets.

I was surprised that the author does not make more of the image of church as the body of Christ; to me this is ever the defining vision for how the church should function. He never lays out how real democracy in the church might work and yet retain the Petrine and episcopal offices that are central to Catholicism. And, of course, one could take a counter position to his and find the quotes to support it. Yet I don’t know how anyone could argue convincingly from the Gospels for a monarchical feudal system. In fact, Jesus warned disciples at least six different times, one way or another, that they were not to “lord it over” their people; they should function as servant leaders instead.

Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. McClory or assign him to the wishful thinking category, As It Was in the Beginning is an exhilarating read. The writing is what one would expect from a veteran journalist, an engaging narrative that reads like a novel. It renewed in me the élan of those heady days in the aftermath of Vatican II when we really thought we were about to “cross the Jordan” on many issues that cry out for reform and renewal. Mr. McClory also brought me back to Paul’s counsel that hope is most a virtue when “evidence” for it is in short supply (Romans 8:24).

Thomas Groome is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College and currently serves as director of its Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. His most recent book is What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for Life.

For my April 2008 interview with Robert McClory, click here.

To read Robert McClory’s April 13 Chicago Tribune commentary, “Ghostwriting for the Pope,” click here.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

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