Monday, February 11, 2008

The "Underground Church"

A four year-long study by Regis College professor Kathleen Kautzer
reveals new insights into the “underground church” movement
– a movement embodied by Eucharistic communities and parishes
that have intentionally moved beyond the institutional structures
of Rome so as to create and sustain Catholic communities
of vibrancy and authenticity.

I’m a member of a Catholic parish in the Twin Cities that, along with a number of other “progressive” Catholic communities, has recently been ordered by the archdiocese to conform its liturgical practices to the rubrics of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM).

I’m sure that for many Catholic parishes, the rubrics of the Roman Missal serve well to express and reflect their faith and community life. Yet for the past 30 years, the parish to which I feel blessed to belong has developed its liturgy in ways that beautifully reflect the presence of the Spirit as discerned in the unique gifts and needs of its members and in our shared lives together. This development has been a very intentional and faith-filled embodiment of Vatican II’s call for the “full and active participation” of the laity in “liturgical celebrations” (Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), 1963). Yet many feel that now, in one fell swoop, this embodiment - along with the Spirit that nurtured and inspired it - has been discounted by the archdiocese’s demand that it be abandoned for the rubrics of GIRM. It seems that in this situation, the “form,” which Jesus said “profits nothing,” has been elevated above the “Spirit” which gives life.

According to Catholic theologian and author Richard McBrien, those ultimately responsible for demanding this type of Spirit-denying conformity comprise “a small but powerful and determined group within the Vatican who have never accepted the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI.”

The resistance of this “small but powerful” clique to these reforms (and to subsequent Spirit-led innovations within Catholic parishes and communities from the
Netherlands to South Minneapolis) is, insists McBrien, “at root ecclesiological in nature.” What they oppose is the “de-clericalization of the liturgy” and that “full and active participation” of the laity mandated by Vatican II.

In the minds of those resistant to such participation, writes McBrien, “the Church is identical with the hierarchy and the priests who serve under the bishops. The laity, on the other hand, are simply the beneficiaries of the sacramental ministrations of the clergy, in a process ultimately controlled by the Vatican. The problem for the resisters is not so much that the Mass was put into the vernacular, but that the laity could now fully understand it and actively participate in it. . . . It is [the] underlying ecclesiology [of Vatican II] that is rejected, and not simply the changes in language and rituals. What the resisters oppose is the very idea that the Church is the whole People of God, laity included, rather than the hierarchy and clergy alone.”

Inclusive welcoming, participatory liturgies, and democratic governance

The recent efforts of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis to enforce strict liturgical conformity, along with its efforts to promote the pseudo-science of NARTH, forbid dialogue, and ban certain speakers, have left many experiencing feelings of deep frustration, sadness, loss, and anger. Such responses, coupled with McBrien’s observations regarding the rejection by many in the Catholic hierarchy of Vatican II ecclesiology, bring to mind Kathleen Kautzer’s comprehensive study of the “underground church” movement, and specifically this movements efforts to move beyond the institutional structures of Rome so as to create and sustain Catholic communities of vibrancy and authenticity.

Kautzer is an associate professor of sociology at Regis College, a predominately all-women’s Catholic college founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Weston, MA. She teaches courses in peace studies, women’s and children’s issues, social movements, and spirituality. For the past four years, Kautzer has traveled the country studying the Catholic reform movement and, in particular, the emergence and growth of Eucharistic communities and parishes that operate outside Vatican control. Her study, soon to be released as a book entitled The Underground Church, drew on theories of nonviolence and social movements to interpret and evaluate the Catholic reform movement.

Last November, Kautzer spoke at the annual Call to Action conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As part of her presentation, entitled “The Underground Church: Nonviolent Alternatives to Vatican Empire,” Kautzer shared photos and descriptions of “Vatican II-styled communities marked by inclusive welcoming, participatory liturgies, and democratic governance.” She noted that “some are within, others outside the institutional structures of the Roman Catholic Church.” Many of the Catholics that comprise these “resistance communities” no longer find dialogue with the hierarchy constructive. Accordingly, they are proactively creating, discovering, and employing “a range of nonviolent strategies to preserve or create vibrant communities that fit their vision of a just Church.”

Kautzer defines the “underground church” as the movement to reform the Church structurally. The term encompasses a range of Vatican II-styled parishes and reform groups, from Voice of the Faithful to Call to Action.

Generally, all such parishes and groups are working for four basic reforms:

1) A formal role for laity in decision-making.

2) Fiscal transparency and accountability (an important issue, says Kautzer, given that a recent study found 85% of the dioceses looked into had serious problems of embezzlement).

3) An inclusive priesthood - one welcoming of married clergy, women, and gays.

4) A commitment to renewing and expanding the direction of Vatican II.

Kautzer chose the term “underground church” in part because it parallels Elisie Boulding’s concept of the “underside of history,” which Kautzer explains is the idea that “in any society, even if the dominant culture is oppressive and hierarchical, there is always an underside where people try and practice cooperation and nonviolence.”

Although the scope of Kautzer’s four-year study was limited to the U.S., she notes that there are similar “underground church” movements underway and flourishing in other parts of the world. Perhaps the most well known of these is represented by the liturgical reforms being carried out by the Dutch Dominicans.

“Above-ground communities”

Kautzer organized the communities she studied according to the different forms of non-violent resistance they embody. Many Vatican II-styled parishes, for instance, along with the reform group Voice of the Faithful, comprise the “lightest form” of non-violent resistance. These “above-ground communities” often employ the “insider tactics” of “protest and persuasion.” They attempt to work “within the system” and, in the case of Voice of the Faithful, avoid “controversial” issues such as female ordination.

“Borderline communities”

“Borderline communities,” says Kautzer, are those engaged in “a little stronger form of non-violent resistance” than the “above-ground communities.” They sometimes engage in the “insider tactics” of protest and persuasion, but more often than not engage in the “outsider tactic” of non-cooperation. Some examples of borderline communities include:

1) Convents in which Catholic nuns perform their own liturgies (including Eucharist) and new types of rituals.

2) Eucharistic communities that are at least tolerated by the hierarchy and rely on “insider priests” (i.e., priests recognized by the Vatican) but engage in church reform work.

3) Vigiling Parishes that are resisting closure orders and conducting their own rituals (e.g., St. James the Great in Wellesley, MA, which is part of the Council of Vigiling Parishes).

The “underground church”

The “underground church” is defined as groups, parishes, or networks of parishes that operate outside of Vatican approval or control, and work for church reform. They tend to employ the “outsider tactics” of non-violent intervention and the creation of parallel institutions. Examples of the underground church include:

1) Catholic reform organizations such as Corpus, Women’s Ordination Conference, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Catholics for a Free Choice, and Dignity, which, unlike the others, says Kautzer, “has no choice but to operate as an underground church because of the Church’s punitive policies towards homosexuals.” (In most dioceses, including the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, Dignity is banned from meeting on church property.)

2) Eucharistic communities that are not approved by the Vatican, rely primarily on lay persons or “outsider” priests (i.e., priests who have married, resigned, or been defrocked), and engage in church reform work. For example: Community of God’s Love in Lowell, MA.

3) Parishes that are not recognized by the Vatican, but retain the “Catholic” label and engage in church reform work. For example: Spiritus Christi in Rochester, NY, and St. Stanislaus Kostka in St. Louis, MO.

4) Communions and/or networks of parishes that are non-Roman yet identify and are recognized as Catholic, and provide governance structure and support services for “underground” parishes. For example: the Old Catholic Church (for an extensive interview with Rev. Robert Caruso of Cornerstone Old Catholic Church in St. Paul, MN, click here), the Reformed Catholic Church, the National Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Catholic Communion. This last group has developed a constitution based on the Association of the Rights of Catholics in the Church. Among other things, this constitution expresses welcome to all “regardless of race, national origin, religious affiliation, gender, or sexual orientation,” and mandates that people within parishes vote on policy and elect their priests.

Disadvantages and Advantages

Kautzer acknowledges that the underground church communities are labeled “schismatic” by the Vatican. Others dismiss the movement as being like a modern-day Protestant Reformation. “It is in a way,” says Kautzer, “but the difference is that people aren’t creating new denominations. They’re saying, We are Catholic, but we’re just going to do it without Vatican approval.”

There are, of course, some potential pitfalls – including the ongoing struggle for funding and membership, and the potential for cult-like and/or unqualified leadership. However, it’s not as if qualified leadership is guaranteed by reliance on the Vatican, notes Kautzer. In addition, the Vatican itself encourages cult-like organizations, for example, Opus Dei. Many of these organizations, says Kautzer, are documented in Gordon Urquhart’s book, The Pope’s Armada: Unlocking the Secrets of Mysterious and Powerful New Sects in the Church.

Advantages of the underground church include not being restricted by Vatican pronouncements – many of which reflect a narrow and impoverished theology, especially around issues of gender and sexuality. As a result, the underground church, says Kautzer, “challenges dualistic categories that separate laity/clergy, men/women, celibate/married, the sacred and the profane, thereby embodying the notion of the priesthood of all believers and the sacred dimension of reality.”

Impediments to Reform

As to why so many Church hierarchs are resistant to the type of change heralded by the underground church, Kautzer suggests that one factor is that many of them, especially those within the Vatican, “tend to be isolated and surrounded primarily by like-minded colleagues selected precisely because of their conformity and subservience.”

Drawing on the theories of human consciousness development pioneered by Ken Wilbur, Kautzer notes that the current pope, like his predecessor, operates primarily from a “traditionalist philosophical framework” – one that is highly authoritarian and dismissive of alternative perspectives and views. Most Catholics, Kautzer contends, operate from a “post-modern or even integralist framework” or worldview. Within Wilbur’s model of human consciousness development, these are two stages beyond where the vast majority of Vatican officials are. “This gap in worldviews,” says Kautzer, “makes it difficult for people to communicate.”

Kautzer also draws on the insights of psychotherapist Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, author of Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, when she describes many Catholic hierarchs as “narcissistic,” a state that Frawley-O’Dea maintains is “reinforced by the highly deferential treatment of unchecked power.”

In light of all of this, Kautzer, paraphrasing Gandhi, insists that: “We must be the change we want to see in the Church.” “If ‘We are the Church’,” she says, “then we don’t have to sit back and wait for the hierarchs to make decisions.”

Status and prospects of reform

The hierarchs, however, are making decisions – ones that many Catholics find, at the very least, problematic, and, at most, intolerable. It’s too early to say how my Catholic community or others within the Archdiocese of St.Paul/Minneapolis will respond to the latest demands to conform. My sense is that the “insider tactics” that many have embraced for years are rapidly losing their appeal.

Perhaps the abandoning of such tactics is long overdue. After all, during her talk at the 2007 national Call to Action conference, Kautzer could give “no substantive examples” of successful insider strategies (i.e., of people working, protesting, and attempting to persuade authority figures within the system) bringing about reform. For substantive change to occur, she declared, outsider strategies must be employed.

“There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in the underground church,” said Kautzer. But within reform groups focused on insider reform, great difficulties and obstacles – including financial – are being encountered. Voice of the Faithful, for instance, is experiencing a “funding crisis.” People seem to be giving up on insider reform, she said, and are “tired of having the iron thumb of the hierarchy on their back and saying that you can’t talk about this, or think that, or do this.”

“The prospects for reform are dim if we rely solely on insider tactics,” said Kautzer. This is especially true given that the new priests coming into the priesthood tend to be very conservative and authoritarian; that Vatican II priests, bishops, and cardinals are either “dying off or being forced out”; and that Pope Benedict XVI has stated publicly that he wants a smaller, purer Church, and that he wants reformers to leave unless they can support everything the hierarchy teaches. “[The pope] doesn’t care if you leave,” says Kautzer. “He’s happy to push you out the door.”

This isn’t true, however, of all cardinals and bishops, many of whom are not as isolated as the pope. They are acutely aware of what such an exodus would mean financially for the Church. Even some conservative Catholics are worried. Writing in the February 2008 issue of the Catholic World Report, Russell Shaw refers to David Carlin’s book, The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, and notes that: “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.”

Movement of the Spirit

I’m not interested in living in any type of ghetto, yet that’s what Pope Benedict XVI seems intent on creating for Catholics. I’m drawn to a Church open to the Spirit, a Church that recognizes and celebrates itself as the Risen Body of Christ, alive and afoot in the world; a Church unafraid of journeying and engagement, of growth and change. My sense is that the birthing and rising of the “underground church,” as described and documented by Kathleen Kautzer, is the movement of the Spirit, seeking and finding welcoming and fertile soil beyond the fortress-like walls of the Vatican’s current state of rigidity and its fearful retreat into conformity.

I cannot help but think that Kautzer’s study validates Rosemary Radford Ruether’s observation that the more the hierarchy stagnates and retreats, the more numerous and freewheeling the creative initiatives that spring up on the ground.

I do not believe that such initiatives herald the destruction of the Church or it’s collapse into insignificance. Rather, I believe that the initiatives that comprise the “underground church” are, in fact, the hope of the Church, and herald its transformation into the fullness of new life.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to Be Catholic
Beyond Papalism
Uta Ranke-Heinemann on the Future of the Catholic Church
Crisis? What Crisis?
An Australian Bishop’s “Radical” Call for Reform
“Uncle Vince” is at it Again!
It’s Time We Evolved Beyond Theological Imperialism
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
Chris McGillion Responds to the “Exacerbating” Actions of Cardinal Pell
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
Paul Collins and Marilyn Hatton
Listen Up, Papa!
In the Garden of Spirituality: Ron Rolheiser
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome


Unknown said...

Now we're getting down to brass tacks.

I’m a member of a Catholic parish in the Twin Cities that, along with a number of other “progressive” Catholic communities, has recently been ordered by the archdiocese to conform its liturgical practices with the rubrics as stated in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal.

I would be extremely interested as to know what is so offensive about the General Instructions of the Roman Missal and why you object to having to "Say the Black and Do the Red."

We're not talking about beliefs here. We're not talking about morals. We're talking about procedures. Most organizations have rules of procedure that must be followed.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Ray,

Thanks for stopping by.

In response to your questions I've added a new second paragraph to my post. I hope it clarifies the situation for you.



CDE said...

I’m sure that for many Catholic parishes, the rubrics of the Roman Missal serve well to express and reflect their faith and community life. Yet for the past 30 years, the parish to which I feel blessed to belong has developed its liturgy in ways that beautifully reflect the presence of the Spirit discerned in the unique gifts and needs of its members and in our shared lives together. This development has been a very intentional and faith-filled embodiment of Vatican II’s call for the “full and active participation” of the laity in “liturgical celebrations” (Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), 1963). Yet many feel that now, in one fell swoop, this embodiment - along with the Spirit that nurtured and inspired it - has been discounted by the Archdiocese in its demand that it be abandoned for the rubrics of the Roman Missal. It seems that in this situation, the “form,” which Jesus said “profits nothing,” has been elevated above the “Spirit” which gives life.

It has always seemed to me that the tendency at Saint Joan's is to favor the community's self-expression at the expense of communion with the universal church, which is precisely what happens in schismatic communities.

Nothing has happened in "one fell swoop" -- Saint Joan's has been drifting for years. The only thing that has happened suddenly is that Saint Joan's has been asked to embrace its identity as a community in communion with the larger church. Perhaps this should have happened years ago, as to avoid the impression that a Catholic community could continue its ecclesiological self-implosion without conseqeuence.

It would not be difficult to argue that the ecclesiology at Saint Joan's is deeply unfaithful to the Second Vatican Council. Lex orandi, lex credendi is an important principle... stated negatively, as we fail to pray, so we fail to believe.

The full and active participation of the laity, as interpreted at Saint Joan's, seems to me a new form of hyper-clericalism (i.e. the function of the ordained is seen as more valuable than the function of the laity). This does not reflect the ecclesiology of Vatican II.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for stopping by The Wild Reed.

I'm not a member of St. Joan of Arc parish and, in my fourteen years of living in the Twin Cities, never have been.

The community I refer to as my parish in the paragraph with which you take issue, is not St. Joan of Arc.

You've made that assumption and, as a result, expressed your negative opinion of St. Joan's based on a description of another parish altogether.

Indeed, you seem awfully quick to assume and pass judgment. This, in my mind at least, puts your whole diatribe (and the motivation behind it) into question.



kevin57 said...

I have severe difficulty with the rigidity and implicit ecclesiology of much of the GIRM and accompanying "directives" out of Rome. At the same time, I think progressives in the Church need to acknowledge that in the aftermath of Vatican II there were many liturgical celebrations that were banal at best and farcical at worst. Helium balloons on the altar and Father dressed up as a clown mitigated against a sense of the transcendent that the liturgy should embody and what the Lefevbrites wish to restore (albeit quite inappropriately for our times).

I think that progressives ought to acknowledge that in Catholic universities and even some seminarians there was a liberal "fascism." I know, I went to one such seminary and any defense of anything the magisterium ever taught was treated with suspicion and even contempt.

I sometimes become weary because in our Church debates we fall into warring camps and each side is unwilling to confess sins its side has committed or is committing. I also weary that so much of our division stems from "internal" issues. Christ entrusted to us a mission to the world, not to splitting hairs over who purifies the chalices when and where.

That said, let me enter some more into the internal issues...

The relentless and steady drift towards a restorationist model of Church is doomed to failure. The stated goal is to reconcile with traditionalist schismatics. One, that won't happen. The sedevacantes and their ilk want nothing other and nothing less than a complete repudiation of the spirit and letter of the entirety of Vatican Council II. McBrien is correct, however, in asserting that there is a cadre of hierarchs in the Vatican who think that the reforms of Vatican II, especially in the liturgy, have been an abject failure and they are trying to turn the clock back. A passing acquaintance with history reveals that the clock is never turned back, and attempts to do so lead to nothing less than divisions.

As to this author's contentions about the underground Church. I totally agree that no "constructive engagement and dialogue" with the bishops will reap positive benefits. The most that will be accomplished might be a minor "concession" here and there.

To get results, the options are to do exactly what the Lefebvrites did: a formal split. However, until or unless at least one bishop joins the battle, that won't be taken seriously. What gives the boys in Rome nightmares are bishops running around creating not just priests, but more bishops. That establishes a separate Church (with a hierarchy and valid sacraments).

The other option is to continue working with Catholic laity OUTSIDE the circle of progressives. I draw hope from the results of that recent survey of young EVANGELICALS who are turning away from their ministers on the question of homosexuality. Those pastors are worried because they know their flocks will just dismiss what they're teaching.

Progressives, work patiently and lovingly with the ordinary Catholics in ordinary parishes. Don't ghettoize yourselves! As Joe Bluecollar and Susan Soccermom see how "normal," "loving," and "committed" you are to the faith, they'll simply ignore the hierarchy's teachings on homosexuality. It will become as dead a letter as Humanae Vitae's is on artificial contraception.

K.'s contention is correct. The bisohps here are much, much more sensitive to their flock's reactions than the debutants in Rome. That's why they don't push Humanae Vitae. That's why the Roman directive on the catholicity of Catholic Universities is all but a dead letter. That is why most will also ignore the recent directive about not admitting gay students to the seminary. The bishops here (in general) know it won't work. There is still much adherence in the real world to how a teaching is received by the faithful...the sensus fidelium.

--Fr. Chris

Anonymous said...

specifically this movements efforts to move beyond the institutional structures of Rome so as to create and sustain Catholic communities of vibrancy and authenticity

Those communities already exist. They're called "Protestantism", which is exactly what you're suggesting. Take a deep breath and either accept that homosexuality is a disorder, women will never be priests because the Church has no authority to make them so (not to mention that it would split the Church in half and destroy any future chances of Communion with the Eastern Churches), and that Catholics follow a certain standard of worship. We are not the Universal Church of the Zeitgeist or the United Congregation of Me that you seem to want. We'd love to have your vibrancy be part of the faith, but that means accepting the eternal truths of our faith and not attempting to warp those truths because of the influence of modern culture. Stop trying to remake the Church of Jesus into an image of you, and remake yourself into an image of Christ.

Walter said...

Please take your "underground church" and go and leave the real Catholic Church to those who wish to obey Christ and live by his word. You obviously wish to be protestant and not Catholic. Those of us who love Christ, the Pope and the Magisterium will stay here in the Church created by Christ on earth.

Deo Gratias

Chris Lewis said...

Sounds like these parishes have been Protestant for a long time. And I am all for it. God willing, you'll never be able to "negotiate" the Catholic Church into changing core moral teachings - something about the gates of hell not standing against her. It's wiser to go form your own church like the protestants you are than to try to damage the Church Christ founded.

And, the word is not "progressive," it's liberal.

Chris Lewis said...

Father Chris probably ought to take another look at that whole vow of obedience thing...

Anonymous said...

The underground church folks are trying to redefine Catholic to mean whatever the "spirit" tells them their little local congregation should be. Problems with this are:

1. Who tests the "spirit." Is it real or delusion?

2. If they are so sensitive why are they denying faithful Catholics the right to practice the faith as expressed in the dogma, doctrines, and rubrics of the Church? This is the ONLY church where they can do this. The undergrounders don't like the pope, have no need for clergy, like to make things up as they go, have options. There are a lot of folks at any of 27,000+ protestant Church my way denominations who will take them in. Odds are there is a Church that fits them just right. But no, they are not happy to be intellectually honest and realize that they no longer beleive the tenets of the faith. No, they have insist on destroying what they cannot accept. It is they, not the faithful Catholics and clergy, who are intellectually dishonest with themselves and others and who ultimately lack compassion because they would deny others the right to practice the faith in accordance with its 2000 year old traditions. They would turn it upside down only to find that they were in reality Protestants. The CATHOLIC Church would cease to exist if they achieved their personal nirvanas. That essentially is the problem with Protestantism and why there are 27000+ denominations -- folks do not like when their faith challenges their personal theological utopias. So when Protestants faith challenges them too much, protestants create a new faith with new rules that fit a new personal utopia.

Catholics instead have faith in Christ and have enough faith to remain one in Christ no matter whether their leaders are sinners or saints. And they do this because their faith is in Christ and not in their neighbor or themselves. Even in this situation...for how many years did the Church bear with these all but in name separated brothers and sisters? And what is their reaction when finally pressed? Mosey on down the street. Church on my terms only. No trusting Christ to make things right over time. No trusting Christ enough to entertain the idea that perhaps they have gone too far. For them, Christ doesn't have that kind of power. Only they do. The power of their priesthood resides in them not in Christ.

Anonymous said...

You know Michael, I've been wondering something that this blog post mentions about younger priests getting more conservative and authoritarian. Doesn't that basically guarantee future failure for reform movements within the Catholic Church? If the up and coming clergy won't be on our side, then who will? If we eventually lose our Vatican II priests, what then? It might be a good idea for progressive Catholics like myself and others to consider what we'll do in the face of this disturbing trend. I can only hope and pray that God's will shall be done in the Church, whatever it may be.

necronomipod said...

I find it sad that something like "communion with the universal church" and "oneness" is interpreted as follow ritual procedures. This is so contrary to the message of the Jesus in scripture did not act as man bound by rubrics but as a man who loved his neighbor. Isn't this the image of Christ we called to be? Isn't this what makes the Body of Christ?