Monday, November 05, 2007

Crisis? What Crisis?

Mary Hunt on the opportunity
facing the Roman Catholic Church

I find Catholic feminist theologian Mary Hunt to be an inspiring figure within the contemporary church.

The co-founder of WATER – the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual – Mary was a keynote speaker at the 2006 CPCSM/St. Joan of Arc Symposium, “Exploring Contemporary Issues Within the Catholic Church.” (For a transcript of Mary’s talk, click here.)

More recently, Mary was a key organizer of the 25th anniversary conference of Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of 36 Catholic-rooted women’s organizations in the U.S. and Canada.

During the conference, held August 17-19 in Chicago, Mary was interviewed by Rosemary Ganley of Following are brief excerpts from this interview.


Rosemary Ganley: Many Catholic reformers are saying that Vatican II is “over.” Do you agree?

Mary Hunt: I think it is simply ahistorical to claim that Vatican II is over. The Council has had a significant and lasting effect. It is not possible to erase the paradigm shift in Catholicism which it articulated. Even the virulent restorationist forces which seem to be ascendant in the Vatican today cannot do that.

The second reason Vatican II cannot be erased is that its ideas are remarkably similar to postmodern ways of thinking. These ways include the complete dismantling of hierarchical structure and power. The postmodern mind doesn’t cop to the older model. Then globalization with its powerful communication tools which show to the entire world both the interlocking systems of violence, injustice, and suffering, and at the same time the unstoppable human yearning for a sustainable livelihood and participation in all communities (including that of faith), makes top-down, men-only edicts from a central authority unacceptable.

Taking those things together there is really no rolling back the Council’s insights. The People of God, certainly those I see of the female gender, are going to act like the People of God.

Rosemary Ganley: Is there a crisis in Catholicism?

Mary Hunt: I am reluctant to describe the current situation as a crisis. I think it is a logical, if unintended consequence, of a system in urgent need of deep change. Frankly, I am not in crisis and most Catholic feminists I know are not in crisis.

I think it is a time when the North American Catholic Church is learning in the hardest possible way that it must become a faith community led by women such as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, and by men not bound up in clerical knots.

It is an opportunity, not a crisis, to re-think the basis and repair the damage. I am confident our faith can survive such scrutiny. If it cannot, we are in bigger trouble than we thought.

Rosemary Ganley: Is religion experiencing some kind of renaissance?

Mary Hunt: Young people are increasingly interested in religion. At WATER, our efforts to engage in inter-generational dialogue have yielded us a few clues. Some people have such a narrow vision of religion we do not recognize a religious question when it comes up. There is the frightening instability of the world; the degradation of the earth, the violence we now witness and perpetuate. All are urgently-asked religious questions.

And some religious practices just make good sense. Attention to food and friends, sharing and solidarity with others, taking Sabbath time and retreat weekends, fasting and feasting, all add texture and meaning to life.

Rosemary Ganley: Do you think it is important to consider one’s social location when doing theology?

Mary Hunt: Yes, very much so. Each one’s perspective is specific, limited. I am a white, North American feminist. I am committed, as are many others, to the creation of new structures that are egalitarian and democratic. We can see many interlocking ways by which injustice functions, and we can envision many interlocking ways by which justice can be done.

Finally, I believe, equality and mutuality will trump hierarchy and greed. Because being Church and doing justice are one and the same thing.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Beyond a PC Pope
What It Means To Be Catholic
It’s Time We Evolved Beyond Theological Imperialism
“Uncle Vince” Is At It Again
Listen Up, Papa!
Beyond Papalism


Dan said...

The second reason Vatican II cannot be erased is that its ideas are remarkably similar to postmodern ways of thinking. These ways include the complete dismantling of hierarchical structure and power.

Dismanlte the hierarchy? I know of places in the documents of Vatican II where this is flatly contradicted. For example:

This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God. (Lumen Gentium 18)

Curious that people who claim otherwise never give any justification from the actual documents of the council. Do you know of any, Mr. Bayly?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for stopping by.

First, I don't think Mary is saying that the documents of Vatican II explicitly call for the "dismantling of hierarchical structures."

Nevertheless, the "ideas" of Vatican II, chief among them that the Church is the People of God (a Church in which all the baptized are called to full participation), are at odds with other Vatican II statements, such as the one you cite, and which emphasize a top-down hierarchical institution controlled by male clerics.

For many Catholics, "Church as [hierarchal] Institution" and "Church as People of God" are, in many ways, incompatible. Yet both "models" of church are promulgated by various Vatican II documents - and in at least one case, the same Vatican II document. (I think it's "The Church in the Modern World.")

Clearly, this contradiction is still being worked out, and I for one appreciate the perspective offered by folks like Mary Hunt.

And I also appreciate your perspective, and thank you again for taking the time to leave a comment.



Michael J. Bayly said...

In my previous post, Signs of Hope and Creativity, I noted that:

In Holland, Catholic communities are exploring different forms of liturgy, and justifying their actions on their reading of a key Vatican II document – specifically, this document’s placing of the chapter on the church as the “people of God” before the one on the church as an “hierarchical organization.” The ordering of these chapters, the Dutch liturgical innovators insist, implies the replacement of a “pyramidal” Church with an “organic” Church, with the initiative belonging to the laity.



Dan said...

You make my point exactly. Where do the documents of Vatican II state the "idea" that all the baptized laity are called to "full participation" including all the sacramental and teaching authority of the magisterium?

Again, I notice that you fail to explicitly cite which paragraphs pit "Church as [hierarchal] Institution" and "Church as People of God".

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Dan,

Chapter II of Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) is all about the Church as People of God. It’s followed by Chapter III – “The Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular the Episcopate.”

This is the document that the Dutch liturgical reformers I referred to above, have used to justify their recent actions. The ordering of these chapters, they say, implies the replacement of a “pyramidal” Church with an “organic” Church, with the initiative belonging to the laity.

Is this a new understanding of church structure? I don’t think so. For instance, Fr. Joseph O’Leary notes:

“According to theologian Yves Congar, the greatest shift that Catholic ecclesiology has ever undergone occurred in the pontificate of Gregory VII (1073-1085). In the context of developments in canon law, Church and episcopacy, previously understood in symbolic, sacramental terms – as signs and images of God’s transforming presence – came to be understood juridically in terms of the possession and the exercise of power.”

Accordingly, recognition of this “shift” clearly needs to be kept in mind when considering “the debates through which the text of Lumen Gentium emerged.”

In other words, writes O'Leary, “the structuring institutions of episcopate and primacy being considered (in Chapter 3) in the light of a larger picture of a pilgrim people drawn through history towards God’s kingdom (Chapter 2) which, in turn, needs to be understood in the light of our meditation on the mystery of God’s redemptive gathering of humankind (Chapter 1) – may be considered as announcing the recovery, in Catholic Christianity, of a rich and ancient vision of the Church which had been largely overlaid, obscured from view, by the juridicism of intervening centuries.”

It seems to me that this “recovery” comprises, in large part, the “spirit of Vatican II,” a recovery that implies a far greater participation of the laity than I sense you are comfortable with.

Having said that, you are correct in saying that Vatican II does not call for the “full active participation of all God’s holy people” in, as you say, “all the sacramental and teaching authority of the magisterium.” Instead, Sacrosanctum Concilium (“Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”) calls for this type of participation only in terms of “liturgical celebrations.”

Yet is this the final word, or a form of that continuing “recovery” Yves Congar (and others) recognizes as an essential part of Vatican II?

It just so happened that this past weekend I heard Robert McClory speak at the annual Call to Action Conference in Milwaukee. His soon-to-be-released book, As It Was In the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church, documents how the Church, very early in its history, began to lose one of the basic gospel messages of Jesus – that being the participation of the whole people.

Ever since, there’s been an ongoing struggle to restore that particular characteristic, that “essential element.” Indeed, McClory insists that there are actually five marks of the Church, not four: One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Participative.

Perhaps Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, with its insistence on the “full active participation of all God’s holy people” in “liturgical celebrations,” can be understood as a small but significant step in the continuing recovery of that lost “essential element,” i.e., the participation of the whole people in the life of the community - including, in time, “all the sacramental and teaching authority of the magisterium.”

I believe this is the direction the Spirit is moving the Church.



Dan said...

Mr. Bayly,

You still make no reference to what the Fathers of Vatican II actually said. Certainly, the section "On the people of God" comes before the section "On the hierarchical structure of the Church." But please note that "people of God" is not equal to the laity. LG reads in Chapter II itself:

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

Both priests and laity are part of the one people of God, and we both participate fully in our own way. You seem to think there is a contradiction between "full participation" of the laity and the existence of a ministerial priesthood with unique authority and powers.

In the performance of a play there are many jobs: actor, director, stage manager, sound tech, etc. Does the stage manager participate less fully than the lead actress? Is his job any less important or dignified?

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Cor 14-27

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Dan,

You said: “You seem to think there is a contradiction between ‘full participation’ of the laity and the existence of a ministerial priesthood with unique authority and powers.”

Yes, that’s a fairly accurate summation of what I think. And, of course, I’m far from being alone in thinking this way.

For instance, I share Yves Congar’s concern about the “shift” that occurred in the eleventh century, one that ensured that the “Church and episcopacy, previously understood in symbolic, sacramental terms – as signs and images of God’s transforming presence – came to be understood juridically in terms of the possession and the exercise of power.”

Similarly, I lament the fact that the papacy has gone from being a symbol of unity to one of authority.

Are such concerns about the way the Church has developed merely the product of “modernity”? Hardly. So-called “traditionalists” like to believe that the monarchical structure of the Catholic Church has always been the case, always been the norm. Not so.

Look at Church history: “In a first post-apostolic phase [of the Church],” writes theologian Hans Küng in his book, The Catholic Church: A Short History, “local presbyter-bishops became established alongside [emphasis mine] prophets, teachers, and other ministers as the sole leaders of the Christian communities (and also at the celebration of the Eucharist); thus a division between ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ took place at an early stage [thus the beginning of the loss of that “essential element” of participation by all identified by Robert McClory and noted in my previous comment]. In a further phase the monarchical episcopate, of an individual bishop, increasingly displaced a plurality of presbyter-bishops in a city and later throughout the region of a church. [. . .] A monarchical episcopate can be demonstrated for Rome only from around the middle of the second century (Bishop Anicetus).” (pp.21-22)

Accordingly, says Küng, “the presbyteral-episcopal church constitution [in place today and which rigidly separates clergy from laity] is not based on any institution by Jesus Christ and can in no way be seen as absolutely intrinsic to Christianity, if one uses as a measure the words of Jesus himself, the earliest community, and the charismatic constitution of the Pauline churches.”

All of which begs the question: Has the development of the leadership model within the contemporary church been a mistake?

Not according to Küng. He is adamant that the presbyteral-episcopal church constitution “was not apostasy, and beyond dispute [was] of great pastoral use.”

“For good reasons,” he writes, “it became the norm in the early ecclesia catholica. All in all it was a meaningful historical development which gave the Christian communities both continuity in time and coherence in space, or as one could also put it, catholicity in time and space. So it is not to be criticized as long as it is used in the spirit of the gospel for the benefit of men and women and not to preserve and idolize the power of the hierarchs.”

“In a word,” says Küng, “the succession of bishops is functional rather than historical; the activity of bishops is rooted in the preaching of the gospel, and they should support the other charisms rather than quench them. In particular, prophets and teachers had their own authority.” (pp.22-23)

Your analogy of the performance of a play doesn’t quite work. After all, people participate as they feel called – as actors, directors, stage-managers, etc. Yet in the Catholic Church, many feel they have no choice as to the type of work they can do.

Yes, of course people have certain talents and charisms, yet surely the best person to recognize a charism, a calling, is the one who embodies it.

Yet where is the place within the contemporary Catholic Church for, say, the woman called to the priesthood?

Where is the voice of all members of “the Body of Christ” in the selection of leaders, and in the formulation of doctrine?

Where and how does the contemporary Church honor the “authority” of teachers and prophets?

Who are the teachers and prophets within the Church today?

I would argue that in many cases the teachers and prophets are those questioning and challenging the current structure of the Church.

Such a structure comprises a system that clearly “idolize[s] the power of the hierarchs” and thus fails to benefit men and women by the embodiment of the participatory, egalitarian spirit of the gospel.

And never doubt that one can be egalitarian while remaining respectful of the distinct charisms and callings of individuals and communities. Problems arise, however, when a system of power starts dictating where and when the Spirit can blow!

Vatican II partially addressed the problem of such a “diseased system” within the Church. It also began the process of recovering what McClory terms the “fifth mark” of the Church - the participation of all as they are called by the Spirit.

Yet Vatican II, with all its hopes and flaws, is not the final word. The pilgrimage, the reform, and the renewal of the Catholic Church continues.