CPCSM had invited Hunt to the Twin Cities for the three-part symposium, “Exploring Contemporary Issues Within the Catholic Church.” Her February 17, 2006, presentation was entitled, “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: An Ecclesia for Our Children and Ourselves,” and envisioned the kind of church “we want to pass on to our children in light of the current institutional scandals, the increasing pluralistic religious setting in which we live, and the demands of justice in the midst of war, ecocide, and greed.” To guide her analysis and visioning, Hunt relied on the traditional “marks of the church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.”
In the previous Wild Reed post, Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”, I shared the bulk of the transcript of Hunt’s talk. Today, I offer those excerpts from this same talk that I think are relevant to the recent discussion concerning the Ecumenical Catholic Church and thus the marks of Catholicism.
[The] struggle between those who want an open and participatory church which would be quite diverse and those, including Pope Benedict XVI and other conservatives, who believe that a smaller, more homogeneous church would be better—what I have come to think of the leaner/meaner style—is a struggle that forms the context or the backdrop for most of our contemporary experience of church.
. . . I call this our Stonewall moment. The Stonewall was a gay bar in New York where, in 1969, patrons resisted arrest during one of the police’s regular gay-bashing raids. Rather than acquiesce to the harassment that kept up a “neurotic minuet” (a wonderful phrase from the theologian John Frye) between police and bar patrons, courageous lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people stood up, spoke out, and resisted. They probably surprised even themselves at the power of their own righteous indignation.
I believe that Catholics should respond to the latest Vatican bullying of seminarians the same way. After decades of the Vatican implementing a system that takes authority away from local communities and presumes to impose its will on Catholics who can think for themselves, it is time for Catholics to stand up, speak out, and resist not simply on issues of sexuality and reproduction, but on war, ecology, race, poverty, and the many justice concerns about which the [Vatican] has little credibility left to speak.
Evidence suggests that American Catholics do not support many of the narrow-minded tenets of our church. In opposition to the male hierarchy’s belief that ordaining women priests is theological treason, more than 60 percent of American Catholics say they would support women in the priesthood, according to the most recent Zogby/LeMoyne poll. Another poll, conducted by the Boston Globe in the Boston Archdiocese—where the incidences of sexual abuse by priests were among the worst—finds that nearly 60 percent of Catholics oppose a ban on gay priests. Combine this with American Catholics’ clear disregard for the church’s medieval views on marriage, divorce, and birth control, and increasing numbers of Catholics who think abortion is morally acceptable under certain circumstances. Then it becomes obvious that we find ourselves in a church that does not speak to our everyday concerns in any meaningful way, much less exert any effective leadership on issues of war, racism, economic injustice, or ecological destruction.
The Vatican, in its patriarchal echo chamber, continues to portray Western values of tolerance and equality as the fallen morality of a secular society. In so doing, the institutional church treats millions of faithful Catholics in America not as spiritual adults, but as perpetual adolescents in need of guidance from on high. The time has come for American Catholics to claim our full baptismal citizenship and publicly call for changes in church policies on sexuality, ordination, relationships, and ministry. Considering the enormous economic and political influence of the American church, if Catholics here really stood up to their bishops, loudly and in numbers, the Vatican would have little choice but to listen.
There is increasing evidence that despite the dissembling of the hierarchy, American Catholics are refusing to let the institution scapegoat gay priests, feminism, and modernity for the Vatican’s outmoded theology. For example, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the leaders of the U.S. men’s religious orders, announced plans to send a delegation to Rome to oppose the anti-gay policy. In a welcome response to an inflexible Vatican regime, the superior of the New York Province of the Jesuits, Fr. Gerald J. Chojnacki, wrote: “We know that gay men…have served the church well as priests—and so why would we be asked to discriminate based on orientation alone against those whom God has called and invited?” This is a question that could be asked about women and married men as well.
The Stonewall moment we face is not simply on the matter of sexuality. Rather, sexuality in all its grace opens the community to some new choices. The alternative is to struggle endlessly over the wrong issues—homosexuality rather than heterosexism, ordination of women rather than new models of ministry, power rather than cooperation.
Other religious groups have come to this kind of juncture where seemingly irreconcilable differences prevail. Protestants have a long and proud history of forming new denominations, and we can learn from them. Jews have figured out how to group themselves according to beliefs and practices that unite them as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist and to still all be Jews. We can learn from them as well.
Catholics, on the other hand, strive to keep ourselves in one organization, a goal that may prove to be beyond our ability this time. Of course we have the Old Catholic Church, and the American Catholic Church, and several other groups [such as the Ecumenical Catholic Church] that signal their connection to the Catholic community without wanting to affirm their Roman ties. I understand their reasoning. But I think the power of the Vatican—its financial resources, its communications advantage, and its symbolic capital—is touched very lightly by such groups it brushes off as apostate or otherwise trivial.
I suggest there is a need for structural change that implies “claiming the center” as feminist theorist bell hooks described the task of those who are marginalized. The move from margin to center does not mean replacing one pope with another, one curia with another. Rather, it involves rethinking the center so that the many people who are now on the margins are taken more seriously as the whole configuration of church changes from a top-down to a horizontal model of interlocking communities. Pie in the sky, you may think, but let us explore this possibility, imagine and revel in the energy such changes would unleash before we capitulate to the current forces.
[At the same time] I think there is a value in maintaining ties to our tradition, indeed, claiming that who we are and what we believe is central to the community’s life and well being. This is what Catholic feminist theologians have done; rather than leave the church we claim ourselves church. . . . I find it difficult and uncharted to do so, but I think spiritual integrity requires we do what we can. Otherwise I would opt for the Protestant approach which I respect, or the Jewish model which seems to work nicely for them. As a Catholic I want to keep trying without sacrificing my own integrity.
I may come to see the error of my ways, but for now I suggest we rely on the traditional marks of the church, that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic as we outline some parameters of a church we want to share with our children today as well as when they are celebrating in memory of us.
Hunt then proceeded to outline these “parameters of a church we want to share with our children” by discussing each of the four traditional marks of the church. To read more, click here.
See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Crisis? What Crisis?
Image: Michael J. Bayly.