Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Catholic Challenge

As a “progressive” Catholic, i.e., a Catholic drawn to highlight and participate in the Church’s capacity to develop and change, I am often told by those resistant to reform and renewal: Well, if you don’t like what the Church teaches about homosexuality, just leave.

William D. Lindsey (right), who maintains the excellent blogsite Bilgrimage, was basically told the same thing when a recent visitor to his blog wrote:

If you don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality, fine. Start your own church, or associate with one that teaches what you like, or forget about church altogether.

I appreciate William’s calm yet firm response, excerpts from which are reprinted below.


I’m of a mind to stay – though I stay as a faithful dissenter who refuses to lend energy to structures that, in my view, sorely need to implode, so that something vital and new (and at the same time, firmly rooted in tradition) can grow up in their place.

. . . I really have never quite grasped where Catholics who taunt others to leave the church are coming from. Taunts like this are so deeply antithetical to everything I understand catholicism to be about, that I wonder what kind of theological foundation those issuing the taunts can possibly think they have. It is certainly not a catholic theological foundation.

Catholicism is either about inviting everyone to the table, or it’s not catholicism. It’s not about weeding out, driving away, doing God’s work of sorting the righteous and unrighteous prior to the eschaton. It’s about welcoming and affirming everyone, inviting everyone, making room for everyone.

And this means that catholicism needs – positively demands, if it hopes to remain catholic – alternative points of view, including dissenting ones. Without alternative points of view and faithful dissenters, the catholicity of the church is imperiled.

Those who are certain that they and they alone own Catholicism, truth, tradition, do a tremendous disservice to the church they claim to love. Without careful critical thought that applies the traditions of the church in new ways in new cultural settings, the church stultifies and dies. Without careful critical thought that applies the traditions of the church in new ways in new cultural settings, tiny groups within the church end up proclaiming themselves as the exclusive owners of Catholic truth and tradition, when they are, in fact, merely representatives of an exclusive (and hardly catholic) group within the church.

When a tiny group within the church, no matter how powerful, believes that it and it alone represents Catholic truth and Catholic tradition in toto, the catholicity of the church is undermined.

As my postings in recent days have been emphasizing, and as the postings you’ll be seeing in the days ahead also note, one of the primary problems the church grapples with at this point in history is the claim of men – of heterosexual or heterosexual-posturing men, and often of white men, at that – that their viewpoint and their grasp of things represents Catholic truth and Catholic tradition in toto.

Until that claim has been vigorously opposed and finally overthrown by dissenters whose dissent is firmly rooted in viable catholic traditions ignored by the minority who hold all power in their hands, the future of the church is in peril.

The challenge today is not to drive people out. The challenge today is not to coerce everyone to toe a patriarchal line and call that line the gospel.

The challenge today is to invite in, and to make room for those who seek to hold the rich, diverse traditions of the church in dialogic tension with each other, as we build a church for the future that will welcome everyone to the table.

To read William response in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to Be Catholic
Rosemary Haughton and the “True Catholic Enterprise”
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Beyond Papalism
“I Love the Radical Catholic Church”
Tips for Thinking Catholics
Many Voices, One Church
Mary Hunt: “Catholicism is a Very Complex Reality”
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs
A Time to Re-Think the Basis and Repair the Damage
Preparing to Claim Our Place at the Table
The Emerging Church
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)


Fran said...

I loved that post when I read it earlier today and commented on it.

As I said there, it is about as un-Catholic as you can get when one tells you to leave.

You, Colleen, William - you are all lights for me. I have such hope for our faith, despite all the reasons to sometimes think otherwise. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that "progressive catholic" is not an oxymoron (which I insist it is, as does Galileo), one has to address the issue of "revelation," which The Wild Reed refuses to do. Why?

Are the scriptures totally corrupted and to be disregarded? Are they lies, that people should "know better," by some other measure of insight or divine revelation? Or, is the Torah's Levitical Code of Purity pure bunk (as I happen to think)? If so, what about the Epistle to the Romans? Was Saint Paul's encounter with the "risen Jesus" on the road to Damascus also pure bunk? Or did Jesus, in those three days of hallucination, actually inform the non-apostle Apostle?

First of all, Paul is NOT an apostle, as only TWELVE MEN were apostles, and Matthias replaced Judas. Paul makes THIRTEEN. Does this lead to the obvious conclusion that Paul was a loon, thinking himself an apostle, when NONE of the TWELVE thought him as such? The Wild Reed never addresses this question.

Secondly, if Paul is not entirely a fraud, WHO DECIDES where, when, how, and why he might be right or wrong? This question is central to the entire Christian tradition. Either Paul is a freak, who acted on his OWN authority, OR he acted on behalf of Yahweh.

IF PAUL acted in accordance with Yahweh, then Paul's utter condemnation of homophilia in Romans 1 cannot be dismissed as "anthropologically" stupid. Nevermind that it is also philosophically and logically incoherent, viciously circular, and absurd; BUT God can be anything he wants to be, and the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam insists homophilia is not only "unnatural," but the WORSE FORM of IDOLATRY. As an androphile, my worship of Beloved surely CONVICTS me of Paul's claims.

BUT, Paul makes an even stronger claim: God has ALREADY "given us [gay men and lesbians] up to [our] degrading passions . . . [with] men committing shameless acts with men and [having ALREADY] received in [ourselves] the DUE PENALTY FOR OUR ERROR. Not only do we VIOLATE NATURE, according to Paul, we commit the sin of IDOLATRY, worshiping our BELOVED above the God we cannot see, so "that God gave [us] a DEBASED MIND to do things that SHOULD NOT BE DONE." I happen to disagree.

OUR GUILT, according to Paul, is the SOURCE of "all kinds of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice, craftiness, full of envy, murder [as in AIDS] strife [as in ACT-UP queers] as slanderers, gossips, GOD-HATERS, insolent, haughty, boastful [e.g., Gay Pride], inventors of EVIL, rebellious toward our parents, FOOLISH, FAITHLESS, HEARTLESS, RUTHLESS." Paul concludes, like the Torah, that "such things DESERVE DEATH -- YET [WE] NOT ONLY DO THEM BUT EVEN APPROVE AND APPLAUD OUR [PHALLUS AND MAN] WORSHIP." (Romans 1, Michael, lest you don't know the source.) All versions of the Bible contain Paul's complete and total condemnation of homophilia, not only our ACTIONS, but that our ACTIONS proceed BECAUSE GOD HAS ALREADY ABANDONED US "to debased thinking." [op. cit.]

Anonymous said...


So, His Holiness Michael Bayly must DECIDE whether Paul lies, or whether God revealed a truth His Holiness rejects tout court, BECAUSE His Holiness Michael knows better than the REVEALED WORD OF GOD. By definition, Bayly has committed IDOLATRY.

BUT, If Paul is WRONG, as SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY INSIST he is, then his moral condemnation cannot be taken as epistemologically, axiologically, and praxeologically true. Of course, GOD IS NOT beholden to philosophical or logical TRUTH, much less a pluralistic sense of JUSTICE, CLASSICAL VALUES, or RIGHT ACTION that is ALREADY morally suspected NONSENSE. According to CATHOLIC teaching, believers are BEHOLDEN TO REVELATION, not to the axioms of facts, values, and actions by the PAGANS (e.g., the GREEK wise men), lest standards become equivocated. To believe OTHERWISE, claims Paul, CONFIRMS homophiles' debased way of thinking.

Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Ambrosiasterm Acacius of Casesrea, Apollinaris of Laodicea, John Chrysostom, Constantinus, Ambrose, Augustine, the Didache, Theodoret of Cyr, Gennadius of Constantinople, all agree with the "Apostle" Saint Paul, insisting that "the righteous live through faith," -- NOT by reason, NOT by logic, NOT by sociology, NOT by anthropology, NOT by biology, NOT by "truth of facts," BUT ONLY BY FAITH in the nomadic tribal deity that slaughters Palestinians in defense of Judaism. Faith, of course, is the assurance of claims hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (Heb 11:1), NOT the approval of things by MAN, but by the edicts, pronouncements, and revelations of GOD.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, If PAUL is WRONG, then what is true? If PAUL is WRONG about Homophilia, despite his strongest CONDEMNATION, despite homophilia's obvious IDOLATRY, is Paul right about ANYTHING? WHO DECIDES? Michael Bayly OR CHRIST'S Bishop of Rome, the Universal Pastor, and ALL THE ROMAN PONTIFFS that GOD has chosen to lead his Ark of the New Covenant through the College of Apostles? Was Michael Bayly elected to the Supreme AUTHORITY by the College of Apostles, or is he, as the Epistle to the Romans insists, "debased," "given up by God," "unnatural," and "deserving death?" Perhaps His Holiness Michael Bayly should read the SECOND CHAPTER of the Epistle to the Romans, in which Paul CONDEMNS ALL who would question god's authority as self-evidently an IDOLATER, esteeming HIMSELF above the God of Revelation. Jews may call this "chutzpah," but PAUL calls it IDOLATRY, violating ALL PRECEPTS of the TORAH.

In conclusion, I concede I too think as certain individuals think, write, and establish CLAIMS of AUTHORITY, but NOT because they think they are god, but because the CLAIMS are either epistemologically TRUE or FALSE. NOT because the demigod Michael Bayly has set himself apart from the GOD of the Old, New, and Reformed Testaments, and opposed to the THIRTEENTH APOSTLE (Jesus chose only TWELVE), so apparently Peter, Matthias, Judas, or one of the other nine APOSTLES LIED, but the one from Down Under KNOWS BETTER THAN ALL OTHER CHRISTIAN testimony from the BEGINNING.

Hail, O god Michael, who knows better than the WORD OF GOD, THE SUPREME PONTIFF, to whom the Keys to the Kingdom, who speaks with AUTHORITY, who CLAIMS he, and he alone, knows the TRUTH that 2,000 years of pretentiousness by men who think "god" are thought "queer. Pray for us, Most Holy and Divine Michael, now and in the hour of our death, save us from final damnation, and number us among YOUR elect. We pray in YOUR NAME.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thank you, Fran, for your kind words and positive feedback.



William D. Lindsey said...

Michael, thank you for linking to my posting. I'm glad you found it helpful. I agree with Fran very much when she says that your blog and Colleen's provide much light for many of us. Blessings on your ministry here.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Gay Species,

If I didn't know you better I'd say you've been on the sauce.

But seriously, for the life of me I can't figure out why someone like yourself - living in San Francisco with a partner - wastes precious time responding to a blogger whose religious ideas/beliefs/whatever you can't stomach. Man, if I was in your position I think I could find much better things to do with myself (and my partner).

Still, I try to do my best to model Jesus' "radical hospitality." Accordingly, you and your comments are always welcome at the table of The Wild Reed.



P.S. Actually, I like to think of myself more of a faerie prince than a "demigod"!

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, William.

Blessings on your important ministry work too.



Anonymous said...

Logic leaves some people in the dust.

The question is: WHO IS GOD? You? Or the figures of biblical testimony, affirmed by Church Fathers, conciliar patrimony.

Since YOU make up your own rules IN OPPOSITION TO GOD's, the answer is evident, and Paul's words apply.

Anonymous said...

Don't change the subject. The questions raised MUST be answered. You repeatedly refuse. And, using as hominems (e.g., sauced, must have better things to do than include me) are hardly hospitable. They are the stock and trade of Rush Limbaugh.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Okay, so if the answer's evident, Gay Species, then I guess that's that in your mind. I see no point in attempting to refute your charges - and actually have no desire to do so. Largely because I just can't take them seriously.

I mean, by your analysis, modern theologians of the statue of, say, Hans Kung, Francis McCormick, and Edward Schillebeeckx, - indeed, any Catholic throughout the ages who has questioned or challenged the papacy in one way or another has, in your view, made themselves into a "god." I'm sorry, but I don't buy that.

The bottom line is that you seem to take issue with the very Catholic notion of "faithful dissent." If that key piece is missing from your (or anyone's) understanding of Catholicism than it seems rather pointless to attempt dialogue with someone like me (not to mention the theologians cited above) who do factor it into their understanding of God's presence and action within and among us.



Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the general sentiment expressed by William. It is generally a weird thing for someone to claim Catholicism and then tell others just to leave if they don't like it. All people should be invited to stay, but there is a caveat. And it is here that "The Gay Species" has something of a point, though very crudely delivered. Do we really, truly believe that Paul and for that matter all the writers of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit? If we do, then we can't just dismiss the passages against homosexual actions as being "unenlightened". If we don't believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, then are we really, authentically Catholics? This issue of homosexuality and all of the other "hot button" issues really boils down to a question of authority and trust. A basic Catholic premise is that Jesus will lead his Church into all Truth as he promised in the Gospels. If the Church has been so completely wrong about her moral teachings on homosexuality, contraception, etc for almost 2000 years that would mean that Jesus lied to his followers and left us on our own to flounder about. So, which is it? Do we believe in the promise of Christ? Or not?

On a related note, I am always struck by the cognitive dissonance of the phrase "faithful dissent". What is faithful about dissent? And how could someone who dissents be considered faithful?

The dictionary defines "the faithful" as: the body of loyal members of any party or group OR the believers, esp. members of a Christian church or adherents of Islam. "Dissent" is defined as: to disagree with or reject the doctrines or authority of an established church.

It would follow from these definitions that it is an oxymoron to use the term "faithful dissent". How can one be a "loyal member" or a "believer/adherent" to the Catholic Faith and still "reject the doctrines or authority" of the Faith? One thing to struggle with certain docrines. Quite another to outright reject them and still try to pretend one has some element of "faithfulness". And yes, I have read your posts on faithful dissent. To be honest, I find the comments by Mr. McClory protestant in both their ecclesiology and theology. They certainly aren't Catholic, especially the outright falsehoods regarding history. As the famous philosopher Stephen Colbert once remarked, "People these days don't just want to be entitled to their own opinion, they want to be entitled to their own facts!"

All that said, I would encourage you and all others of your line of thinking to stay in the Church and be converted. Jesus never kicked anyone out, he just said "Go and sin no more".

colkoch said...

I don't claim to be my own God, but I do claim to be confused about Paul and Peter. If Jesus gave Peter the keys why did James run the Jerusalem church, and if the original twelve had all of Jesus's revelations, why the need for Paul?

Did Jesus decide His original apostles were slacking off, reverting to their usual gutless elves, or what? How come Paul rates so much of the New Testament when he was never pope, nor much appreciated by the other apostles.
Which leads one to wonder who actually wrote Paul's epistles.

It could be a lot of his story is one big inventifact, a deus ex machina added by later generations who needed to appeal to first generation authority. Who knows the real true and untold story.

It sure is fun to speculate. And in any event the Scriptures are supposed to be read for personal insight. I don't expect Pope Benedict to get the same insights I do. The papacy should return the favor, then there wouldn't be all these idolatory issues. We'd just all be unique and equally loved in the eyes of God.

I say Kumbaya and let the good times roll.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Anonymous, I disagree with your assessment of McClory. Also, the Spirit inspires through people conditioned and limited by their time and culture. Accordingly, the Church rightly teaches against biblical literalism.

One can acknowledge inspiration, or perhaps better said, degrees of inspiration, without taking everything the Bible says literally.

How do we gauge "inspiration"? The two major events of the Bible - the Exodus in the Old Testament, and Christ's death and resurrection in the New Testament - are all about liberation and transformation. These are, if you like, the overarching themes of the Christian Bible. Not everything in the Bible, lives up to these themes.

From my perspective, if a biblical text (or any text, for that matter) conveys these themes and/or facilitates the movement toward liberation and transformation, than I would not hesitate to name them as sacred texts. The texts in Leviticus, used to condemn what we understand today as homosexuality, clearly don't make the grade. I'm sure you can think of others as well.



Michael J. Bayly said...

Anonymous writes that: "A basic Catholic premise is that Jesus will lead his Church into all Truth as he promised in the Gospels."

First, I think as Catholics we need to remember that "the Church," is and has always been bigger than the Bishop of Rome and the hierarchy.

Second, most biblical scholars would say that Jesus' "promise" is that the Spirit would always be with us as a seeking and believing community.

Now whether or not we bother to seek to attune ourselves to the guiding presence of the Spirit in, say, the lives women or the lives and relationships of gay people, is another matter entirely.

It seems to me that the problem isn't with Christ, his promise, or the Spirit, but in our willingness to look beyond the human-constructed frameworks and categories (such as patriarchy) that we've created and allowed to blinker and blind us to the Spirit - one that blows were it wills.



crystal said...

If you don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality, fine. Start your own church, or associate with one that teaches what you like, or forget about church altogether.

I'm so tired of this attitude - it's not just homosexuality but any dissent against Church reaching. One friend has stopped coming to my blog because he now sees it as "anti-Catholic". I hope things do change for the better.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reply and I appreciate your respectful disagreement. I'm sure you'd agree that much of what passes as "debate" these days is usually nothing but ad hominems and the like.

That said, I'll leave the McClory issue aside and focus on first on your assertion regarding inspiration. You are indeed correct regarding biblical literalism or fundamentalism as my graduate school profs called it. My point of divergence from you is when you seem to assert that only certain parts of the Bible are "sacred texts" and the parts you don't agree with are not or at least are of "lesser" inspiration. I must point out that is exactly the line of thinking of Martin Luther. He either removed or "downgraded" certain books he felt weren't fitting with his theology. Please correct me if I am misunderstanding your position but it seems your thought is much more classicaly Lutheran than Catholic. I'll address your 2nd reply in my next post.

Anonymous said...

I again won't take umbrage with your comment that "the Church" is bigger than the hierarchy. You are quite correct, especially from a biblical standpoint, that all of us make the Church or the Body of Christ. Where I think you go off the tracks, from a authentically Catholic viewepoint, is your underlying premise that somehow the "hierarchy" and the "bishop of Rome" don't hold a special place of authority in said Body of Christ (the Church). That has been the constant teaching since the days of the Apostles. I don't have the quotes in front of me but Pope St. Clement in the late 1st century and St. Ignatius of Antioch in the very early 2nd century would provide two easy examples of this.

You also state that "most biblical scholars would say that Jesus' "promise" is that the Spirit would always be with us as a seeking and believing community.

Would that be most biblical scholars you agree with? I could easily name a large group of respected scholars who have a vastly different viewpoint. In the end, both of us have to remember that theologians are not the Magisterium.

Your conclusion here seems to be that man-made constructions in the Church have kept the power of the Holy Spirit from truly working for almost 2000 years. That would make us pretty powerful, to obstruct the Spirit for that long. I would ask you to honestly consider that perhaps the Spirit has and is blowing, just not where you would like it to.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Anonymous writes: "You seem to assert that only certain parts of the Bible are 'sacred texts' and the parts you don't agree with are not or at least are of 'lesser' inspiration. I must point out that is exactly the line of thinking of Martin Luther. He either removed or 'downgraded' certain books he felt weren't fitting with his theology. Please correct me if I am misunderstanding your position but it seems your thought is much more classically Lutheran than Catholic."

Hmmm, well then, I guess the Roman Catholic Church has become a bit more "classically Lutheran" over the centuries too. I mean, it clearly doesn't put the same degree of emphasis on the Book of Leviticus' prohibition on, say, eating shrimp, as it does on a "man lying with another man."

Has not the clerical caste of Roman Catholicism, in its own way, "downgraded" in terms of sacredness certain aspects of Scripture and elevated others so as to support its theology?



Donna said...

I'd bet anything that those who are most threatened by the thought of centuries-long screw-ups in interpretation and implementation of biblical texts are those who most benefit from said screw-ups, i.e., white men - most likely firmly entrenched in that "clerical caste system" Michael identifies. The rest of us - especially women, people of color, lgbt folks - are all too aware of how prejudices, bigotry, ignorance, and injustice can and have been codified and deified within and by man-made systems of order and control.

And nevermind the shrimp, members of that "clerical caste," along with most of us Christians have "downgraded" for centuries Jesus' call to "sell all you have and give to the poor." This particular example of selective picking and choosing is even more glaring given the glided and palatial living arrangements most members of the Catholic clerical caste chose to live in.

And wasn't Luther a Catholic when he criticized and challenged the papacy? He died thinking of himself as a Catholic, which suggests to me that what he was on about was a legitimate Catholic way of thinking. I'm not surprised it continues within the Church.

William D. Lindsey said...

Anonymous, you ask, "What is faithful about dissent? And how could someone who dissents be considered faithful?"

These are questions that preoccupied John Henry Newman in the 19th century. As a theologian deeply rooted in tradition, he was intrigued by the fact that the official teachers of the church were wrong about what became the orthodox interpretation of Christ's nature, while the faithful were right.

It was the understanding of the faithful--the sensus fidelium--that prevailed at Nicea and that got written into the tradition as "the" orthodox definition of christology.

Because of his recognition that powerful (and prevailing) groups in the church, including its official teachers, can often be spectacularly wrong, while groups with dissenting views within the faithful can be right, Newman taught that the church needs inbuilt tension and balance--between priests, prophets, and kings.

The tradition is not univocal. Seeking to find some authoritative stance outside the multivocal nature of the tradition is, it seems to me, futile. You speak as if the church has always and everywhere condemned contraception and homosexuality.

Yet there are abundant and venerable strands within the catholic tradition that either entirely ignore those issues, or that move in directions different from the one now taken by the magisterium.

It's also important to recognize that artificial contraception--as in the case of birth control pills--was condemned by the magisterium only recently. This technology did not exist through most of the church's history.

And none of the traditional sources addressed homosexuality in the contemporary sense of the word--as an innate predisposition to erotic attraction towards members of one's own gender. They couldn't have done so, because the concept and a word to describe it weren't even coined until the end of the 19th century.

Paul and other scriptures didn't condemn homosexuality. They couldn't have done so. That word and the concept behind the word did not exist in the historical milieu of the writers of the scriptures.

We need faithful dissent, as Newman recognized, because without it, one group (e.g., the kings or the priests) will prevail and suppress the contributions of other groups in the church, and the church will then become anti-catholic rather than catholic.

Anonymous said...


My observation is that you are all dissent, without an iota of orthodoxy. I've read Hans Kung, Francis McCormick, and Edward Schillebeeckx, -- everything they wrote -- and they are more orthodox than you. Do you even believe in the Trinity? In the Divinity of Christ? In the Nicene Creed?

DO YOU EVEN KNOW: Canon Law? The Bible? The Catechism of the Catholic Church? The Natural Law Theory? The Documents of Vatican II? Or do you just wing it, preferring to dissent en masse rather than evangelize the Gospel? I could not find ONE Christocentric post on your blog. I'm not even Catholic, but I've read all of Augustine, Chrysostom, Aquinas, Vatican II, john Henry Cardinal Newman -- in addition to Gregory Baum, Avery Dulles, St John of the Cross, St Theresa (both of them), the Rule of Saint Benedict, Rule of Saint Augustine, the excellent biblical exegesis of Fr. Raymond Brown, the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, most of the Early Church Fathers, all of the ecumenical councils, The Study of Spirituality, The Study of Liturgy, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Jaroslav Pelikan's excellent five volumes of The Christian Tradition, the 27 volumes of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture,and all papal encyclicals in print.

So, I know my enemy. I also know enemies of Christianity, of which I am one. I am not sure of what you claim to know.

By contrast, you seem to pick and choose the most radical dissent, for no other reason than to DISSENT; you give no good reasons for being a Roman Catholic -- much less for witnessing to a Christ-centered life -- and seem wholly without a knowledge of your traditions that you DISSENT from. While you are certainly free to dissent, it is hollow without (1) an identify of what you dissent from, (2) why you dissent from traditions and their rich history, and lacking (3)most importantly faith statements to support of justify your point of view. Do you even have any?

(cf., Garry Wills.)

As a voluntary organization, the Church REQUIRES your assent to its "houehold of God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth," (1 Tim 3:15) each time you receive the Eucharist, the Ministry of Reconciliation, Confirmation, or any of the other sacraments. You don't even believe in the Holy Orders, which Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans do.

Between celebrating my 27th anniversary with Beloved, I read the majority of your previous posts, nearly all of which are DISSENT. You don't believe in Holy Orders. You don't believe the Church was founded by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. You dissent from every document of Vatican II. And yet you still claim to be Catholic? No you don't. You only claim to DISSENT from it.

I won't bother to write again. But I think I am not alone in finding your tactics and approach thoughtless.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your response. I assume you are referring to Newman's "Historical Sketch on Arianism of the Fourth Century". It is true that many, if not most, of the bishops were tainted by some form of Arianism. But...Arianism was never became "official" dogma of the Church thanks to Pope Sylvester I and St. Athanasius. A bunch of bishops with personal opinions does not a dogmatic teaching make.

Regarding the historical teachings of the Church, you state that contraception and homosexuality weren't always condemned. I would submit that is a false assertion. The language or words used to describe certain acts may have changed but the underlying teaching has not. To state that Paul wasn't condemning what we currently refer to as "homosexuality" is an outrageous example of eisegesis. And do you really believe that the idea of artificial contraception had NEVER been thought of or addressed until 1968? Sure, the pill didn't exist prior but the teaching does all the way back to the Old Testament. Can you cite examples throughout history of official, dogmatic Church teachings to back up your claims?

I'm still hoping you can clear up the main question: How can somone be considered "faithful" if they "dissent" from many of the teachings of the Faith? Wouldn't a person who openly contradicts settled teachings of a given faith just be considered a dissenter? Or a member of another faith?

It seems that your general position is "the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same." If I'm unclear on this, please correct me. Otherwise, the proper term is not "faithful dissent", but heresy.

William D. Lindsey said...

Anonymous, I'm not exactly sure where to begin with a reply to your questions and observations.

I think that first I'd want to say that I find the preoccupation of some groups within the church with the authority issue, as the overweening issue to be considered, perplexing. It has always seemed to me that faith validates itself through practice, primarily, and not through an authority that stands over against faith.

That does not mean that I reject the attempt to establish communitarian norms to describe what is or is not authentic faith. It does mean that I would emphasize the problem of arriving at an authentic practice of faith far more than I would the problem of arriving at authenticating norms.

And in my view, built into the definition of what it means to be catholic is a communitarian understanding of how those authenticating norms are established. I think the church suffers and its catholicity falters when we leave the task of establishing authenticating norms for the practice of faith exclusively to a clerical elite--and that's where much of the contemporary concern with authority heads (that is, it heads to defense of the views of the clerical elite who imagine that they control the church).

I think that posters in this thread who point out that those preoccupied with questions of authority often happen to be those who benefit from deciding what is authoritative or not are on the right track. In my experience, the question of authority looms far larger for clerics (which is also to say, for men rather than for women) than it does for many laypersons in the church. And to say that is also to say that this question preoccupies a minority within the church at the expense of many of the faithful--and in this way, denies and invalidates the graced experience of many of the faithful.

On another point, I don't know what it could possibly mean to say, "The language or words used to describe certain acts may have changed but the underlying teaching has not." How can we possibly have any access to the "underlying teaching" of the church without language and words?

And when the language and words we're using aren't reflected in any way in the (verbal) teachings we want to regard as authoritative, on what basis ought we to make those teachings and their verbiage sacrosanct?

It's outrageous eisegesis to take our contemporary preoccupations and contemporary language and read them back into texts whose authors did not share our preoccupations or have our vocabulary to discuss those preoccupations. If the concept of homosexuality and language to describe that concept dates from the 19th century, then it seems clear that those who find "homosexuality" in the scriptures are reading into the text their own modern preoccupation.

Where you see clarity and uniformity re: contraception and homosexuality, I see multiple and often murky traditions that are hardly patent. I also see many more venerable traditions re: sexual morality than those comprised by the contemporary magisterial statements about both topics--traditions ignored by the magisterium, on whose basis one may faithfully dissent from magisterial teachings . . .

teachings that do not in any shape, form, or fashion touch on what must be believed in order to attain salvation . . . .

kevin57 said...

I am enjoying this conversation about what "faithful dissent" may mean from a dogmatic perspective. I would suggest, though, that "dissenters" could find refuge from "purifiers" within the Church by looking to the very authorities whom purifiers so exalt. In other words, has Pope Benedict XVI in any way, shape or form told dissenters to leave the fold? How about JPII? How about Paul VI? In other words, purifiers can be more catholic than the pope! Until such time as a bishop or the bishop of Rome formally declare dissenters to be "heretics," it seems to me they are free to discuss, present and argue their position. I would submit that Anonymous et al. represent a strain of the Church that sees the Church as a "society of saints," a 'faithful' few who stand over and against society and the 'sinners' who are trying to corrupt it. Historically, the Church has rejected that position many times over the centuries.

Anonymous said...


Thanks again for your response. First, just to be clear, let me state that I am not a bishop, priest, or deacon. As a member of the laity, albeit with graduate level training, I am not part of the "clerical elite" you refer to. In my experience, it would seem that it is those who dissent from Church teaching who are most preoccupied with the authority issue. In general, they are typically railing against it.

Two phrases you use, "faith validates itself through practice" and "graced experience of the faithful" stand out to me as an overemphasis on "experience" being the highest criteria for what constitutes truth. This is the problem that has arisen in the Church over the last 40 years for many people. Transcendent truth has been abandoned and replaced with "personal experience" as the "real" understanding of the Faith.

In regard to the terminology issue, I was merely referencing the fact that the specific terms "homosexuality" or "contraception" might not have been used to describe those acts in the past. It doesn't matter what some people currently define "homosexuality" as. It's a red herring argument as the specific issue is that sexual acts performed by members of the same gender have always been condemned by the Church. That's the problem of ignorning revealed truths in place of so called "experience truths". I ask, can you point to any Magisterial teachings in history saying otherwise? What are some of these so-called "venerable" traditions you speak of? It all sounds like you are a protestant who just hasn't recognized it yet. I know, I grew up protestant and thought my personal opinions and/or readings of the Bible were always right and any other group, especially the Catholic Church was stupid and ignorant to think otherwise. Your last comment makes it clear that YOU get to decide what teachings are required for salvation and which aren't. That isn't the way Jesus worked and it has never been the way the Church has worked. How do you know which things are required for salvation? Did the Holy Spirit reveal it to you? Or did you just decide on your own?

I still encourage you, Michael and others of your thinking to remain in the Church and not "get out" as some would tell you. But I'd still issue the challenge I did to Michael: Would you ever consider that the Holy Spirit has and is blowing in a direction you just don't like and doesn't fit with your lifestyle? I pray for your ongoing conversion, to become a member of the faithful without the "dissenter" label. One who, like all of us, recognizes his sins, repents of them and strives to overcome them.

Anonymous said...


I think you have misintepreted my position. I certainly do not consider myself a "purifier" and do not view the Church as a "society of saints". All of us in the Church are sinners to greater or lesser degrees. Now of course, the goal is to strive to grow in holiness but we are all affected by original and actual sin.

My concern is with those who have decided, in their own personal opinion, that certain sins are actually virtues. Again, it is one thing for each of us to acknowledge our sins, repent and try to avoid those sins in the future. Quite another to openly and willingly reject certain Church teachings because they don't fit with our personal opinions. The Church has historically referred to those who reject teachings on faith and morals as either material or formal heretics. One doesn't have to be officially declared a heretic to be one. A material heretic is simply one who holds a position contrary to the Catholic faith (note that this person is not guilty of sin). A formal heretic is one who is aware that his/her belief is at odds with Catholic teaching but obstinately and willfully still clings to that belief (this position is sinful).

So regardless of any "official" declaration, those Catholics who obstinately hold positions contrary to Church dogma are in fact formal heretics.

That doesn't mean they should be kick out and shunned forever. Actually, the rest of us should do our best to invite them to conversion.

I hope that clears up your misconceptions about my position.

Michael J. Bayly said...


You're conflating (and confusing) beliefs, dogma, and doctrines. As I'm sure you are aware there is a hierarchy of truths held by the Church. The Church's teaching against non-procreative sex is not at the level of dogma.

In his book, By What Authority: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful, Richard Gaillardetz observes that there is a “tendency among some today to artificially elevate all church teaching to the status of dogma” – teachings found in the basic creedal statements of the church and concerned with such central aspects of the faith as the divinity of Christ and the bodily resurrection. “These teaching,” writes Gaillardetz, “are held to be irreversible in character.” Issues such as contraception and same-sex relations are not in this category of irreversible dogma.

Neither are they in the next lower category of definite doctrine – a category that includes teachings that are not divinely revealed but nevertheless irreversible as they are necessary for safeguarding and expounding divine revelation. Gaillardetz notes that one example of a teaching often placed in this category is the Council of Trent’s determination of the books included in the canon of the Bible.

A third category of church teaching is authoritative doctrine. It is within this category that moral teachings such as the immorality of directly targeting civilians in an act of war or the prohibition of certain reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization are found. From my study of Gaillardetz and others, it seems clear that the Church’s prohibition on same-sex relationships would also fall into this category , one in which teachings are proposed authoritatively yet which, says Gaillardetz, the Church’s teaching office is “not ready to commit itself irrevocably to them.” This means that, “practically speaking . . . there is a possibility of error with respect to these teachings.” In other words, the Church is teaching with authority, but that authority does not exclude the possibility of error. Gaillardetz likens this to going to a doctor when experiencing chest pains: “I recognize that there is a remote possibility that the doctor will misdiagnose my condition,” he writes. “[However] I still grant the doctor authority even though I know her authority is not infallible. . . . My recognition of the remote possibility of error is not an impediment to acknowledging her authority.”

Finally, a fourth level or category of teaching exists, one that includes “any of a variety of teachings that, technically, would fall short of formal, authoritative doctrine.” An example that Gaillardetz gives of this category of teaching is the American bishops’ condemnation of first use of nuclear weapons. With regard to this issue, the bishops distinguished between “binding moral principles and concrete moral applications about which Catholics could disagree in good faith.”



colkoch said...

I too have followed this discussion on faithful dissent with a great deal of interest.

Anonymous you say that " A formal heretic is one who is aware that his/her belief is at odds with Catholic teaching but obstinately and willfully still clings to that belief (this position is sinful)."

I wonder what your position is on a faithful dissenter like Franz Jagerstatter. In his case his immediate teaching authority stated his duty as a Catholic was to submit to his being drafted by the Nazi's. He refused and paid the price. He also was informed that his higher duty was to the safety and well being of his family. Both of these 'duties' and his obedience to these duties are part of Church teaching.

He is now a saint because he chose to follow his own conscience which was grounded in what he saw as the higher calling to Christian non violence.

There is a hierarchy of dissent, or sin if you will, and that may be where much of the conflict lies.

I dissent on church sexual morality because the hierarchy of sinfullness seems very skewed. Homosexual behavior is far less damaging to the common good than the prevalence of adultery and serial heterosexual monogamy.

Adultery is adultery in both our modern and biblical sense and is mentioned far more in the bible than homosexual acts, and yet homosexuality is presented as the evilist of all sexual evils. Incest and rape, in my dissenting view, is far more evil than gay sex between consenting adults, but in Church teaching they are less evil because they are open to pro creation.

If our sexual teachings were derived from notions of exploitation rather than pro creation we might see some very different hierarchies of evil.

But hey, under your definition I'm a heretic, but then was Franz Jagerstatter.

Anonymous said...


I am actually quite unconfused when it comes to doctrine, dogma and beliefs. I have read and researched my share of theology and particularly this issue, enough to actually earn both a BA and MA in the field.

You are correct in that there are 4levels of authoritative teaching, some of which are infallible and some of which are not. But, you have your facts wrong on which area this issue falls into. That doesn't surprise me as you are relying on Gaillardetz as your source. Gaillardetz doesn't even get the distinctions between the 4 levels right! Not the most reliable source on Church teachings.

The highest level would be the Extraordinary Universal Magisterium. This is divided into two sections. The first in when the Pope speaks Ex Cathedra in defining a matter of faith or morals. The second is when all the bishops, together with the Pope, are gathered in Council and solemnly define a matter of faith and morals. Both of these instances are infallible.

The 3rd form of teaching authority is the Ordinary Universal Magisterium. This is when the Pope, a bishop, or a Council simply teaches what has always been taught from Sacred Scripture and Tradition regarding some matter of faith or morals. It doesn't have to be solemnly defined again. This level is also infallible.

The 4th area is the Ordinary Magisterium. This level is the regular, everyday pronouncemnts and teachings of a local bishop or the pope. These can be fallible but are owed obedience unless they lead to sin or spiritual harm.

Though I'm sure you, William and others of your ideology will disagree on the facts, the immorality of homosexual acts or "sodomy" in traditional theological language has always and everywhere been condemned in offical Church teachings. That would place this teaching definitively in the area of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium and thus infallibly protected by the Holy Spirit.

If you can produce any official Church documents from throughout history to prove that sodomy or homosexual acts were ever either approved of or considered neutral, I will recant all my statements on your blog.

Anonymous said...


Blessed Franz Jaggerstatter was in no way a heretic. He was also not a "faithful dissenter". I find nothing about him where he obstinately refused to assent to a settled teaching on faith or morals of the Church. I perhaps have missed the infallible teaching that all people must join their national army.

I would take issue with your "hierarchy of dissent". Now this is my personal opinion, but I would NEVER say that homosexual sex is worse than rape, adultery or incest. And I'm fairly certain that the Church doesn't teach that either. The reason you don't hear as much about those other issues is that both rape and incest aren't considered virtues and openly applauded in society today. Adultery, though to a lesser degree, isn't celebrated either.

And, to be honest from your statements, it unfortunately does appear that you are a formal heretic. I hope that you take time to reconsider what the Church teaches and pray about it.

William D. Lindsey said...

Anonymous, thank you for your reply. You don't seem to be understanding what I'm saying.

I don't say that faith experience validates itself. In fact, I spoke explicitly about the need for authenticating norms to decide what faith experiences are valid and what faith experiences are not valid.

What I am saying is that the overweening concern with issues of authority baffles me. The primary concern ought to be, it seems to me, with the experience of faith first and foremost. We don't even need to consider authenticating norms unless that experience is first.

And when we begin to formulate norms to decide what is or is not an authentic experience of faith, we need to do so dialogically and inclusively, if we hope to remain catholic.

Michael's response to you explains in far greater detail (and very convincingly, to my mind) another point I was making. This is that not all teachings of the church function at the same level. Not all are central, requiring our adherence as necessary salvific truths.

In my view, some of the truths the magisterium teaches function much more at the level of discipline than of salvific truth. I'd put most of the sexual teachings in that category. There has been tremendous diversity and development in those teachings over the centuries. And I see no reason to imagine that there can't continue to be such diversity and development in the future.

When I hear you saying that the church has "always and everywhere" condemned homosexual acts, what I really here is a quite modern preoccupation read back into a tradition that has not been uniformly preoccupied with homosexuality. In fact, in many places and many times the church has simply ignored the question of homosexuality, implying (it seems to me) that this is not the central moral issue on which everything hinges.

At the same time, the church, throughout much of its history, did uniformly condemn usury, and cast doubt on the right of people to hold private property, particularly in societies in which wealth was so unequally distributed that some people were in dire need.

Despite that longstanding and uniform teaching about usury and private property, which was far more prominent in Catholic tradition for many centuries than any sexual teachings, the church changed its mind.

I don't hear those who now want to make a sacred shibboleth of the teachings about sodomy central to the tenets of the faith raising a great hue and cry about the desuetude of the teachings on usury and private property.

Why the double standard, I wonder? And wouldn't it be better to admit that church teachings change, and that there are many different strands in our tradition that ought to be held in tension, to serve the catholic impulse?

There were several distinct ecclesiologies in the New Testament communities, including Paul's own communities. It seems to me that the New Testament witnesses to the need for and the value of multiple traditions which, held in tension, enrich Catholicism.

kevin57 said...


I disagree with your description of that 3rd level of teaching authority, specifically that it is covered under the rubric of infallibility. Please cite in a dogmatic declaration by a Church Council where you get this from. Like canon law, declarations about infallibility need to be read in the strictest and most limited way, not in an expansive way. As William points out, if Level #3 is truly infallible, then we have a problem. Usury definitely falls/fell under this category and we see where that has gone.

Anonymous said...


I'd be happy to cite declarations from Church Councils on the matter. See below.

1. First Vatican Council: Conciliar Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius (April 24, 1870) Chapter 3, paragraph 8

"Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium."

2. Second Vatican Council:
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (November 21, 1964) Chapter 3, paragraph 25 (excerpt)

"Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.(40*) This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith. And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded."

Also, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #892 (note footnote 422 which refers back to Lumen Gentium 25)

"Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"(422)which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it."

You can also look up in the Code of Canon Law #749 part 2 and #750.

As you can see, there is defined such a thing as an ordinary universal magisterium that is considered infallible on matters of faith and morals.

On the matter of usury, there is no problem from the Church's perspective. It is still considered a sin. See first Catechism #2269:

"The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offense. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them."

and then the Compendium to the Catechism, Question 508 (What is forbidden by the 7th commandment?):

"Also forbidden is tax evasion or business fraud; willfully damaging private or public property; usury; corruption; the private abuse of common goods; work deliberately done poorly; and waste"

To further understand the situation on usury, see:

Sorry for the long reply, but there you go.

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for your detailed responses. When discussing these matters I think it's important to keep in mind the insights of Philip S. Kaufman, author of Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic (Crossroads, 1995). He observes that infallibility of the ordinary, universal magisterium has been taught only since 1862. Furthermore, it has never been defined. Also, no solemn conciliar decrees or solemn definitions by popes on moral issues exist.

Theologian Daniel Helminaiak similarly notes that: no Catholic ethical teaching is defined infallibly. Certain beliefs have been proclaimed infallibly, but never an ethical teaching. The Catholic mind is smart enough to know that right and wrong often depend on concrete circumstances and limited human understanding.

Kaufman also points out that Pope John Paul II’s claim that the ordinary, universal magisterium “is truly considered as the usual expression of the Church’s infallibility” is without basis in any Church tradition before the middle of the last century. No exercise of the ordinary, universal magisterium can be cited that meets the necessary conditions for infallible teaching. This, like Cardinal Ratzinger’s rejection on theologian Charles Curran’s distinction between infallible teachings and teachings not infallibly taught, are prime examples of creeping infallibility.

Catholic scholar Margaret O'Gara contends that part of the confusion about infallibility stems from insufficient clarity on the topic at the First Vatican Council. Apparently, while the council said the Pope can sometimes teach infallibly on faith and morals, the council did not define what it meant by morals.

Furthermore, Catholic theologians disagree about how, if at all, infallibility could be exercised in the area of concrete moral questions.

In a 2007 article, O'Gara noted that there’s a tendency for people to wrongly view all papal statements or teachings as being infallible.

She believes that this is the result of people confusing the notion of papal infallibility with “papal primacy,” a doctrine dealing with the jurisdiction of the Pope, who is also Bishop of Rome, over congregations in the dioceses of other diocesan bishops.

“I think misunderstandings about infallibility are really linked to this pattern of a centralized and sometimes top-heavy exercise of papal authority by the Pope in his everyday governing decisions, his encyclicals, his ordinary theological opinions,” O’Gara said.

Paraphrasing Klaus Schatz, another theologian, O’Gara said that over time the primacy of the Pope has become “ersatz infallibility.” And the style of papal governance hasn’t helped clarify which papal teachings are based on a position of infallibility and which are not.

“Sometimes the Pope acts as though he speaks infallibly on many changeable, moral or doctrinal questions – even when he does not,” O’Gara said.

Finally, O'Gara notes that there some theologians who argue that the reception of a particular teaching by the entire church – not only Roman Catholics – is part of the process called infallibility. This makes alot of sense to me.



Liam said...

There is an less noticed underside to this discussion of authority. To the extent one argues the bishops don't possess a charism of infallibility in the manner outlined here, one must also accept that none of the faithful - individually or in mere subgroups thereof - would have it either. Therefore, while it's one thing to question under this hermeneutic of authority the truth and binding nature of a teaching proposed by bishops, there is no basis thereunder for individuals or subgroups to declare a teaching as a truth binding on the rest of the faithful. In practice, it seems many Catholics have a hard time with this: the urge to question and disagree soon devolves into an urge to counter-pontificate, as it were. Resisting that urge at all turns is probably necessary to initiate and sustain dialogue that is meaningful and productive.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Liam,

Thanks for your comment. Here are my thoughts as I process what you've said.

What I and many other Catholics have discerned (through either direct or observed experience) is that by accepting and expressing their sexuality, the vast majority of LGBT persons experience wholeness, love, and deeper connection with self, others, and God.

Put another way: LGBT people, along with heterosexual people, can and do experience sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love.

These, of course, are all observations, not teachings. Yet shouldn't such observations (along with the finding of science - both "hard" and "soft") inform our collective wisdom ("teaching," if you like) on human sexuality? Are we to rely solely on scripture and tradition to inform our understanding of gender and sexuality?

Until human experience is respected; until the corporate body of Christian wisdom on sexuality is acknowledged and integrated into the institutional church's "teaching," I fail to see how anyone can take seriously the so-called infallibility of the institutional church's limited (I'd even say impoverished) perspective on sexuality. Can you provide one reason why I or anyone else should take such a perspective seriously?

I take the current teaching seriously only when I step back and view it as the point where the institutional church is at in its ongoing journey to awareness and understanding of human sexuality. I do not take it seriously as the unchanged and unchangeable "truth" about all matters sexual.

The big difference, of course, between my perspective and, say, the perspective of Anonymous (and perhaps yours, Liam), is that I view revelation in this area as ongoing - not as something stagnant, over and done with. Life/God is still unfolding the truth for us about human sexuality.

Accordingly, in many ways, infallibility in this matter remains on the horizon. But we are moving toward it. And it seems clear to me that the path we're taking, the path the Spirit is leading us on, has more to do with acknowledging, accepting, and incorporating the observations I cited above than it has to do with uncritically propping up and defending the already supposedly infallible teachings on sexuality that the institutional Church refuses to relinquish (and for reasons, I believe, to do with perceived power). Not authority, but power.

With regard to the institutional church's perspective on sexuality, I do not believe it possess or demonstrates genuine authority. As Carter Heyward says: "People who have to make us do something through rules, punishment, threats, or intimidation may exercise force in our lives, but they hold no real authority for us. Because authority is that which (or those whom) we can trust to help us become more, not less, ourselves."

And by "ourselves," I believe Heyward is referring to our deepest, truest selves - that sacred part of us where we and God are most intimately connected. At this deepest level we can clearly discern that each one of us is a unique, living, relational embodiment of God’s transforming love. Neither this embodiment or this love can be restricted to straight people or straight sexual relationships. This is as clear to me as the beautiful summer morning outside my window.

Genuine authority, as Heyward notes, recognizes and respects this type of embodiment, and encourages us to always trust and embrace it. Presently, this is not the case with the institutional church and LGBT people. It neither trusts us and our experiences nor embraces us as fully embodied and thus relational people. I continue to hope (and work) to see this changed.



Mark Andrews said...

Part I: "Can you provide one reason why I or anyone else should take such a perspective seriously?"

I can. It is a counter to "observations ...based on direct or observed experience." The human capacity for self-deception and self-justification is vast.

This statement:

"Put another way: LGBT people, along with heterosexual people, can and do experience sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love." Is an assertion at best and wishful thinking at worse.

People say "institutional Church" likes its a bad thing. Human beings are social beings. Human collectives are societies. The collective creative output of a society is it's culture. Institutions are at once a living organ of human society as well as a part of its culture.

A social purpose of institutions, analogous to organs in a living creature, is the performance of some necessary function without which that being - without which a society - cannot function. We have public safety institutions, public transport institutions, corporate institutions, service institutions, health care institutions - and religious institutions.

Without giving up my personal responsibility for my actions, choices, thoughts and all associated consequences, the so-called "institutional Church" is a place where I can check my head. I can check it against something (critical phrase here) other than my self.

Perhaps a physical analogy is more illustrative. What is a meter? About 3 feet, right? What's a "foot?" The length of my foot? Barak Obama's foot? Whose foot? Well, by common, international assent, a meter is (thank you, Google and Wikipedia):

"More recently (1984), the Geneva Conference on Weights and Measures has defined the meter as the distance light travels, in a vacuum, in 1/299,792,458 seconds with time measured by a cesium-133 atomic clock which emits pulses of radiation at very rapid, regular intervals."

THAT is a meter.

Mark Andrews said...

Part II: So, what, in Catholicism, or better yet, where and who, is the custodian of the key facets of divine and Catholic Faith? The Roman Catholic answer to that question is the Roman Pontiff and the bishops round the world teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, together constituting one college, if you will. I don't look on these folks as kings (or, heh, queens), monarchs, or people who delight only in having and exercising power over others (as if those can't also be found among progressives).

Before the were cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, clerics and religious, the were, are and remain members of the People of God, children of God through Baptism, and my brothers as fellow human beings. And their function, in that that human institution we call "Church" is to help me clarify my Faith in Jesus the Christ, and decisions stemming from my Faith in Jesus the Christ, when the way forward is not so clear. That's all.

As for the continuing revelation thing, about sex, sexuality, gender or anything else - the price of fish, motor oil, the existence of water on the south pole of the Moon - the Catholic view is that Revelation was completed in the person and ministry of Jesus. Jesus Himself is the entire Deposit of Faith to which the People of God and, yes, their "institutional Church" bear witness. Our understanding of that final, complete revelation can and does grow and change. But the most recent, definitive, Roman Catholic statement on the matter is here:

The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new
public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13). (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum 4; Vatican II).

Some denominations assert that "God is still speaking." Yes, God is still speaking, but the words have not changed. If I believed in continuing revelation I'd be Mormon. Or a member of the United Church of Christ.

Intellectual, emotional and spiritual honesty requires at least admitting the possibility I might be wrong. When it comes to assertions a move permissive sexual ethic, I need look no farther than the daily paper (e.g. Mark Sanford) to see that that voice of the (Holy) Spirit might just be my own voice justifying my own misbehavior. How can I check my behavior if my first and last basis for comparison is me?

It can't be done.

I bet Mark Sanford, in "expressing [his] sexuality" thought he was "experienc[ing] wholeness, love, and deeper [a] connection with self, others, and God. Was Sanford right or wrong - and why?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

Just a couple of (very late night) thoughts of my own in response:

1. What I take from your comments is that individuals require a community, institutions, collective wisdom, etc, to help them make good decisions. I have no problem with this. Of course the collective wisdom of such corporate bodies is constructed on people's experiences as both individuals and members of various groups. In other words, individual human experience is one thing that informs and shapes, over time, our collective wisdom, the guiding wisdom of our institutions - both secular and religious. The individual and the corporate are in relationship - an interdependent relationship. I maintain that any institution that consistently fails to hear and integrate the experiences and insights of its members rapidly loses credibility and authority.

2. I see revelation as a two-way street. God reveals, humans awaken to God's revelation. It's this "awakening" part of revelation that I maintain is ongoing. For example: Humanity is still awakening to the revelation, the (complex) truth, of gender and sexual orientation.

3. You write: "Revelation was completed in the person and ministry of Jesus. Jesus Himself is the entire Deposit of Faith to which the People of God and, yes, their "institutional Church" bear witness." Hmm . . . so what did "the person and ministry" of Jesus reveal about what we now understand as sexual orientation? It seems to me that the institutional church itself has added quite a bit to the supposed "entire deposit of faith" through (according to folks like Anonymous) its infallible teachings on issues such as sexual orientation and gay marriage. If the historical Jesus didn't discuss such things but the Church - centuries later - does, how does that jive with that "final, complete revelation" in the historical person of Jesus?

4. God is still speaking, you say, but repeating only the same things. Okay, so what's the thing being repeated about sexual orientation? Or is what's being repeated something broader? Could it be that it's to do with foundational qualities such as justice and compassion? And if these key gospel qualities - qualities that we can definitely say were embodied by the historical Jesus - are similarly embodied in gay lives and relationships, well . . . aren't we awakening to something here? Something that's been obscured for centuries by ignorance, fear, and bigotry? Could not gay lives and relationships that embody justice and compassion be said to be bearing witness to the deposit of faith contained in the life and ministry of Jesus?

I think we could. Indeed, I think the Church as people of God is definitely awakening to this reality through its witnessing of the loving lives and relationships of its members' LGBT sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, parents, neighbors, co-workers, etc, etc, etc. What's holding back the institutional church - or at least the part of it that wields power - from being awakened in this way? Could it be the vestiges of that ignorance, fear, and bigotry?



Anonymous said...

William Lindsay should be ashamed of his misrepresentations. The Church is hierarchical, according to Lumen gentiumthe DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH (Chapter III) at Vatican II.

The Church urges society to become communitarian, a political theocracy in which the community prevails over the individual, and the Church prevails over the community, as outlined in Gaudium et spes THE PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD.

So Lindsay has it backass BACKWARDS. The DOGMATIC constitution is de fide, dissent de facto excommunicating an individual save for conscience. The PASTORAL constitution can change next week, just as the Holy Roman Empire can fall.

The LIES and MISREPRESENTATIONS are not a form of DISSENT, but prevarications.

Liam said...


Your candid acknowledgement that these are observations, not necessarily Truth in the sense that it has been received by the faithful at large (which would include not just you or me or any of the participants here but no less the bishops et cet.), is all that I am underscoring as vital. The more those observations are presented as if they were such Truth, the more distant genuine dialogue will be and remain. In my experience, Catholics tend to feel *very* uncomfortable in remaining for very long in that place of observation without claiming for it the status of such Truth - call it the pontificating gene, if you will. Progressives are as vulnerable to the pontificating gene as any other flavor of Catholics as best I can discern from many years of close involvement. And, when we wonder why dialogue is not happening, it's not only the pontificating bishops and their minions that are a problem - it also tends to include at least some of us. Since we only have control over ourselves, I tend to think change starts with Us, not Them. That is, emotionally, not very satisfying at all (and even worse). Hence my repeated bleatings about detachment and spiritual direction to deal with desolations and dryness. I don't like to be grim. I just recognize that the workings of grace often start in the bleakest of contexts and that the scenery only appears to change in long retrospect.

Anonymous said...


I apologize for my late response as I was out of town for the weekend.

A few thoughts...

First, your position on the infallibility of the ordinary, universal magisterium seems to be clouded by what Pope Pius XII referred to as "archeologism". The idea that if something wasn't directly proclaimed or taught by the early Church, that it must be man-made and false. Just because the infallibility of the Ordinary, universal magisterium wasn't directly and specificly proclaimed until 1862 doesn't mean it can be dismissed.

Second, you cite various theologians and authors who dispute the teachings on infallibility. Notice, I tend to avoid citing theologians, especially modern ones as "proof" for my position. I could cite numerous modern theologians who would take the exact opposite position from those you cite. Alan Schreck, Fr. Dan Pattee, Andrew Minto, Christopher Thompson, Scott Hahn, Don Briel...I could go on and on.

The goal of any theologian shouldn't be to actively undermine the teachings of the Church. It is to dig deeply and better understand and explicate those teachings. Otherwise, you are simply setting up dissenting theologians as a parallel magisterium to the real one.

Best to stick with official, declared statements of the Church to back up your positions. If the Church truly is silent on some matter, then I shouldn't be able to find anything on it. And if that were the case, I would recant my positions. But the Church HAS made infallible statements on issues such as homosexual sex acts, artificial contraception and women's ordination. That is the problem you and the dissenting theologians out there are doing mental gymnastics to try and overcome. I suppose I'd be doing the same thing, trying to find loopholes everywhere I could, if there were some Church teaching that I just didn't like and didn't fit my version of Truth.

William D. Lindsey said...

Anonymous, I find your way of reasoning about what you regard as infallible, defined positions of the church truly baffling.

Essentially, I hear you saying that, regardless of the ambiguity and multifaceted nature of the tradition on many issues, there is an established, infallible position on these issues, which must be taken as the norm for all subsequent theological reflection.

But because you prescind from theological reflection (as your last statement admits), you have no way of establishing that infallible position except by circular argumentation: it's established, and I therefore declare it as established.

This is theological balderdash. Michael is right--very much so--about the open-ended nature of many of the moral declarations of the church. I understand your need to force conformity with regard to those declarations, and even your need to regard them as "authoritative" and unquestionable.

But your wish to make what you regard as infallible authoritative and unquestionable is not going to suppress theological discussion of issues you regard as closed, because the Spirit-led experience of the people of God continues to probe these "closed" issues.

That's what life in the Christian community is all about: living, under the impulse of the Spirit, the life of faith, and living it in common with others who share the experience of faith--and reflecting together with others who want to understand and extend the experience of faith.

The Spirit-led experience of faith comes before questions authority. It has to do so. We have no need for authority or questions of authority if we don't have authentic religious experience as the ground for such questions.

The premature, coercive concern with authority among some of the faithful today suppresses the Spirit and the Spirit-led experience of faith. This concern is not primarily about encouraging others to grow in the experience of the Spirit and the life of faith--or encouraging oneself to grow in the experience of the Spirit and the life of faith.

It's about the desire to control, coerce, establish boundaries, create definitions that make some insiders and others outsiders. Those are understandable impulses in the life of any human community, including the church. Definitions and authority are important to any human community.

But in the Christian community, these serve the experience of the Spirit and the life of faith. They do not precede and dominate that experience.

I am sorry that you and others who share your concern on this thread find it difficult to imagine that those who remain open to the Spirit's leading regarding issues of sexual morality and the ordination of women are experiencing the Spirit authentically. I'm sorry that you seem to have concluded that only your experience of the Spirit and that of others who share your views is authentic.

I am, however, convinced that the Spirit is at work in the lives of many of us who do not share your views--including non-apologetic, openly gay Christians who celebrate our sexual orientation as a gift of God and an essential component of our experience of God.

Perhaps your view of the church--and your experience of God--would be much richer if you accepted that many of those you imagine as outcasts are capable of experiencing the Spirit authentically.

Re: the church's multi-faceted, complex response to the reality of gay persons in all societies throughout history, at all times, in all places, you might read John Boswell, who shows that the church's response to that reality has been anything but the uniform (and uniformly condemnatory) position you want to promote as "the" "infallible" and "authoritative" position.

Anonymous said...


I am also baffled by your line of reasoning or lack thereof. You appear to be saying that if some theologians say an issue isn't "closed" than it isn't regardless of any Church teachings on the matter. You also generally say that the Holy Spirit is leading people of your thinking and that those of "my" thinking are just flat wrong and not listening to the Spirit.

This is where we have a problem that is difficult to overcome. What you refer to as the "institutional Church" (and I'd include myself in that line of thinking) believes the Spirit has guided the Church into the Truth on these matters. You claim that "we" are wrong and you and those of your line of thinking are actually the ones heeding the Holy Spirit. I think you'd agree that one side IS very, very wrong. People can discuss these issues all they want (and I have no problem with that), but it won't change what the Church teaches.

This has absolutely nothing to do with insiders and outsiders or some sort of power struggle that you are projecting onto the Church. It has to do with all of us being sinners in one form or another through our actions and the opportunity to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and healing.

I guess in the end, this debate will rage on because I don't see your side coming around to the teachings of the Church and I don't see the Church changing her teachings on these issues. This is especially true considering the seminarians, younger priests and even new bishops these days are much more orthodox. In speaking with seminarians I know for the Archdiocse of St. Paul and Minneapolis, they couldn't think of even one classmate either at college seminary or major seminary (that's almost 200 potential priests from various dioceses) that would be even considered mildly "liberal".

And the ultimate answer I guess will be discovered when each of us dies: Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. I'll stick with the Church, Her magisterium and the promise of Christ to the apostles as the true roadmap. I will pray for you and I hope you for me.

"The gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few." Matthew 7:13-14

Mark Andrews said...

A comment about Bill Lindsey's last post: when the result of all my searching and seeking results in the realization, whether slow or sudden, that the Holy Spirit thinks just like I do, I worry.

I don't want the Holy Spirit to agree with me. I want to agree with the Holy Spirit. There is a difference in terms of who is leading and who is following.

It is illogical for the Holy Spirit to lead us into opposite, irreconcilable views of the same issue.

Michael J. Bayly said...


I know it was the Spirit - God's Spirit of love - that gently led me to come out and accept myself as a gay man, even though the thought of being gay was for many years the last thing I wanted to consider. Like many, I tried to hide from that possibility, that truth.

Yet God's Spirit of love is a relentless thing - forever drawing us to greater depths of awareness and expressions of wholeness. I realize that I'm a better man, a more conscious and loving person as a result of trusting the Spirit and living my life truthfully as a gay man.

I wonder if it's possible for us to agree that the primary work of the Spirit is to led us ever deeper into the truth of who we are in relation to ourselves, others, and God? And is it possible to think that when we pool the experiences and insights of such leadings, such journeys, we develop and expand our collective wisdom and insight into God's truth manifested through and in our lives - all our lives?

If such ways of thinking are possible, then the differences between whether we're living this truth and thus growing into wholeness as straight people or gay people, as men or women, etc., don't seem that important.

What is important is that we're embodying that same Spirit that Jesus embodied and, in doing so, bringing justice and compassion into the world through our thoughts and actions. "By their fruits you will know them . . ."

I don't experience or witness either homosexuality or homosexual relationships being intrinsically disordered so as to hinder such embodiment. Similarly, I don't see women being somehow lesser than men and thus limited in how they can be agents of such embodiment. Yet there was a time when the Church viewed women as very much inferior to men. (And in terms of ordination, the institutional church still does.)

Yet the church changed. No theologian today would describe women as the "devil's gateway." I believe the church has also changed in its understanding of gay people (no more burning "sodomites" at the stake!} and that it will continue to change.

I have other thoughts to share but such sharing will have to wait as I want to take advantage of the last hours of light and do some planting in my garden.



William D. Lindsey said...

Anonymous and Mark,

Thank you both for your comments. Michael has addressed your concerns far more elegantly than I could ever do.

I find your insistence that some brick wall pf authoritative "truth" stands over against the Spirit-led experience of countless Catholics who continue to seek God's will for the church in various areas baffling. Especially when the issues we're discussing are far from closed, except in your own minds, and when the process you want to use to shut out discussion is essentially a process of circular reasoning, which seeks to discredit the faithful lives and Spirit-led experience of countless believers by announcing that some issues are closed because, well, because you say that they are closed.

Wouldn't our church be far richer--not to say more catholic--if we paid closer, serious, and respectful attention to the experience of countless faithful believers which points to ongoing clarification of open theological and ethical issues?

Your belief that the quest for authoritative truth stands over against and forecloses the valid religious experience of millions of the faithful troubles me. It seems driven more by a kind of fundamentalism that is difficult to reconcile with catholicism at its best, than by catholic values and catholic insights.

I seriously doubt that, regardless of how hard those within the church who want to discredit the religious experience of gay believers, of many women, and of millions of married couples practicing contraception push, those gay believers, women, and married couples are going to renounce our experience of the Spirit.

And as small, certain-to-a-fault, and ill-informed groups within our church continue trying to read huge masses of the faithful out of the church, when the issues at stake are not even church-dividing or core theological issues, our church continues to experiences a mass exodus of believers in Western nations including the U.S., and in the process loses its ability to proclaim Christian values effectively to the culture.

A sad situation, isn't it? So much energy and so many gifts offered to the church from many quarters, while tiny watchdog groups within the church are intent on patrolling the boundaries and assuring that those gifts and that energy are not received by a church desperately in need of what is being offered.

kevin57 said...

"But the Church HAS made infallible statements on issues such as homosexual sex acts, artificial contraception and women's ordination."-Anonymous

And here, Anonymous, is precisely the problem. Consider that, using this criteria, a likely 95%+ of Catholics--at least in the first world--are material heretics brings this entire discussion to a head. Yes, Gay Species, Lumen Gentium does describe the hierarchical nature of the Church, but that document also reoriented the Church to be acknowledged first and foremost as the People of God. The People of God. I'm not going to set one aspect over against the other in this. I DO believe that authority and hierarchy are important facets of Church life, but NOT isolated from the larger recognition that all the baptized are led by the Holy Spirit. That, in turns, has value for this discussion on infallible teachings. The infallibility of the pope and councils and bishops makes sense theologically ONLY once the infallibility of the CHURCH is defined. Otherwise, we're talking about a subtle form of not only funny-mentalism, but also idolatry...which, Gay Species, is even more to the point of Paul's message in Romans 1. As William has said, what tilts me more to the 95% than to hierarchical teaching is that the hierarchy is NOT even listening to the faithful in these matters. "Listen" for me should at least invite dialogue. When the U.S. bishops released their most recent pastoral statement on homosexuality, they did not call a single gay man or woman to speak about their experiences, their hopes, their anger, their love of Christ...or anything else. Just from a human organizational process, this invites rejection. How does this build "communio," a term that JPII rightly used often to describe the Church? What is "communio" about this dynamic?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Looking back over some previous posts, I came across one that includes the following quote by Catholic scholar and theologian Richard Gaillardetz. It’s a quote that's pertinent to the discussion on this thread.

“. . . By appealing to the Holy Spirit as the source of all gifts the council was able to reconcile what had often been opposed. For almost four centuries Catholicism had rallied around authority of church office (e.g., pope and bishops) while classical Protestantism stressed the indispensability of charisms given to all the faithful. In [the document Lumen gentium] the council contends . . . that both office and charism find their source in the work of the Holy Spirit. The authority of church office and the Spirited insight of the faithful cannot be put in opposition to one another because they share the same source. The Spirit builds up the life of the Church in different ways. Even the teaching ministry of the Church, while exercised in a uniquely authoritative way by the ecclesiastical magisterium, also requires the Spirit-assisted insight of all the faithful.”



William D. Lindsey said...

Michael, thanks for the wonderful quote from Richard Gaillardetz. I find it very helpful.

You quote Gaillardetz to say,

"Even the teaching ministry of the Church, while exercised in a uniquely authoritative way by the ecclesiastical magisterium, also requires the Spirit-assisted insight of all the faithful."

Yes. That's exactly my point in my responses to Anonymous. The Spirit-led life of faith always has priority in the church, because without that experience, there is no reason at all for the magisterium or for questions about authority.

I find it distressing when the attempt is made to play the experience of the faithful, led by the Spirit, against the magisterium (or, usually, against very reductive notions of what some people believe the magisterium teaches), in a way that erases and denigrates the lived experience of faith, under the impulse of the Spirit.

Unless that lived experience is held in balance--and sometimes in tension--with the authoritative sector of the church, there is really no need for the church at all. If the church and the life of faith are really in the final analysis all about authority, we might as well have a ticker-tape machine issuing daily messages to the faithful about what we need to believe that day, and do that day.

Anonymous said...

Michael and William,

I'm wondering why both of you consistently refer to dissident theologians as though their writings are "proof" that the Church teachings on this issue are wrong. I would appreciate any direct quotes from Church councils, papal encyclicals or other such documents that support your positions on infallibility, sense of the faithful, etc.

I wouldn't use Gaillardetz if you actually hope to change the mind of myself or anyone else on my "side". He is a typical dissident theologian who supports homosexual acts, women's ordination, has a quite flawed view of the structure of the early Church and a narrow view on papal infallibility and the magisterium. In other words, he fits perfectly with the viewpoint you espouse. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I believe it is best to just read/quote what the magisterium has actually said. Otherwise it devolves into a "my theologian is better than your theologian" argument which goes nowhere.

William, you say "The Spirit-led life of faith always has priority in the church". A pretty strong statement, care to back it up with a quote or passage from a council or pope? It seems more like your opinion than anything else. How do you KNOW that any actions are truly led by the Holy Spirit? Just your gut feeling? Maybe you've convinced yourself some actions are good or should be considered good just because you want them to be. You assume that the faithful are led by the Holy Spirit and the magisterium is not or at least isn't listening.

It really comes down to what you or I or anyone really believes. Do we believe that there is an absolute, objective Truth that can be discovered or not? Does that Truth change based on cultural times and places or not? Does the "institutional Church" as you refer to it, really have the protection of the Holy Sprit as promised by Christ to the apostles or not? The Church throughout Her history has always taught that there is an absolute, objective Truth revealed by God, that is doesn't change based on culture, etc. and that the Holy Spirit has led and continues to lead the Church into all Truth.

Do you really think the positions you take would be supported by any of the Apostles? Any of the Church Fathers? Any of the saints? Any pope in history? Can you find official support in any Church Council? Or is your only support from the uncited, vague parallel "traditions" you continually refer to and modern dissenting theologians?

It is like a child who is kicking and screaming because they can't do what they want or get their way. Sometimes the parent has to do or say what is best for the child even if the child doesn't like it. It has nothing to do with authority. The parent simply has a responbility to tell the truth and try and protect the child.

I always tell my moral theology classes that the Church can't stop them from doing anything but it can teach the Truth in the hopes that they will listen. Heres hoping that one day you and others of your mindset would finally listen.

Liam said...

I would like to underscore and extend somewhat a vital dimension of Anonymous' last comment:

Catholicism and Orthodoxy are about the last major vocal institutional defenders of (to put it most simply) realism in metaphysics and what is often called in shorthand objective truth in epistemology. (Ayn Rand doesn't count - it's the one thing she respected about the Catholic Church, but she disagreed about philosophical axioms because she a priori adopted a purely naturalist philosophy. I digress.) Any argument in favor of fundamental human rights that does not in some important way ground itself similarly is bound to founder on the shoals of utilitarianism and philosophical pragmatism. So, advocates for the fundamental rights of women and gay folk need to remember that this aspect of the Church's teaching tradition is more fundamental to the success of their own arguments than they may realize.

A world where utilitarianism and philosophical pragmatism form the dominant philosophical language is a mine in which all peoples without productive value to the majority (such as gay folks, the unborn, the disabled, the terminally ill et cet.) are like canaries in the mineshaft.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Good grief, Anonymous, I read your latest comments and just cringe. I keep thinking they can't get any worse in terms of both condescension and triumphalism - and yet they do!

I think that what I find most disturbing is your relegating of theologians to the status of stenographers for the Vatican. What a betrayal of Catholicism’s rich intellectual heritage!

I don't reference and/or quote from the theologians I do so as to change your mind, Anonymous. Rather, I do it for the benefit of others less of your way of thinking. I'm aware that others are following this thread - others who recognize and appreciate the important role of theologians in our tradition; who recognize and reject that closed-circuit system of circular logic that you insist comprises the totality of Catholic theology. It's for them that I cite the theologians that I do.

I don't recognize - nor do I wish to be part of - the "church" you're describing. Oh, to be sure, the narrow, fundamentalist understanding of Catholicism that you put forth has existed within the Church for quite some time. One of the best ways I've heard it described is as the ‘Big Book of Doctrine’ school of theology.

In his book, Treasures from the Storehouse, Catholic theologian Gary Macy makes some insightful observations that are relevant to this discussion.

For instance, he suggests that the Catholicism's fundamentalist strain's aversion to diversity cannot be said to be the theology of our forebears, who as Macy documents, embraced a theological tradition which recognized “each generation of Christians [as being] equally graced by God, [and] striving to fulfill God’s will as they understand it.”

No, the theology that today’s so-called traditionalists embrace is far more narrow, prescriptive, and authoritarian. It's Macy who describes it as the ‘Big Book of Doctrine’ school of theology.

“This strange form of authoritarianism,” says Macy when describing this particular school of theology, “fomented both by the ultra-montanism of the late nineteenth-century papacy and by Enlightenment anti-clericalism, understands Roman Catholicism as fundamentally an attempt to provide the definitive answers to all questions, usually in one ‘big book of doctrine,’ whether it be Thomas’s Summa, Denzinger’s Enchiridion, or lately the Roman Catechism of the Universal Church.”

Macy points out that Church history shows that “in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a truly autocratic notion of Church was propagated with great success and then read back into the rest of Christian Catholic history. [In the] twenty-first century we are still wrestling with this terrifically successful campaign of misinformation.”

We certainly are.

Michael J. Bayly said...

I also think the perspective of Jesuit Phillip Endean is worth highlighting. Endean, in reflecting on the work of the great Karl Rahner, reminds us of the authentically Catholic perspective which recognizes that “dogmas of tradition exist not as truths complete in themselves, but rather as resources for helping us discover the ever greater glory . . . of the God whose gift of self pervades all possible experience.”

Basically, to quote one of my favorite lines from the movie Ben-Hur: “The world is more than we know.”

And whereas I, and others, find hope in such a description of reality, I sense, Anonymous, that your response would be one of distrust - maybe even fear. As a result, I believe you're clinging so desperately to aspects of the known that you prop them up as idols, from whose shadow you dare not venture (or allow others to venture) out into the world.

Yet as Endean reminds us, “Christian fidelity is not a matter simply of preserving a heritage unsullied, but rather of courageous engagement with what is new, with what seems strange.”

His words recall those of Pope John XXIII: “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

Endean goes on to say that, “The proclamation of the gospel is permanently interactive: no one is untouched by the grace of God, and the proclaimed message will be heard aright only if it somehow interacts – in ways that might be surprising, creative, or unprecedented – with the self-gift of God already present. It follows, too, that Christianity is permanently growing and in process.”

“What Christianity is committed to,” concludes Endean, “is not the claim that its traditions possess the whole truth, incontrovertibly, but rather the claim that its traditions possess one resource among others – admittedly a privileged and indispensable one – for continuing to discover God’s truth.”

I really haven't much else to add to this conversation. I thank you for sharing your perspective here, Anonymous, but feel it would not be a good use of my time to engage your way of thinking any further.



Anonymous said...


This will be my last post on the matter then. Thanks for your time on the topic.

What you see as triumphalism and condescension is truly neither from my perspective. I don't claim to be better than you, William or anyone else for that matter. I actually view all of us, in the grand scheme, the same. We each have our vices and sins to overcome, though they may be different ones.

What I say here isn't out of any sort of fear. I'm not afraid of what you are saying, I just find it to be false. I could probably describe your position as condescending as well as you continually assert that my position and that of the Church is hateful, illogical and fearful and that you and your "side" really have the answers.

The theologians you cite always display various forms of religious or moral relativism and a clear view that they somehow know more than the Church. That has never been the way real Catholic theologians have operated. It is one thing to explore the depths of the Gospel and Church teaching, it is quite another to attempt to undermine it at every turn to justify vice and sin in the name of freedom.

I'll conclude by once again pointing out that you seem unable to cite any magisterial teaching to support your conclusions on infallibility. Simply referring to dissenting theologians who agree with you doesn't cut it.

All of the above doesn't mean I'm better than you or any of those of your mindset. I say it with the hope and prayer that you AND I will both work to be more faithful to Christ and His Church. God knows we, and all other sinners, need help in that area.

Thanks again for the back and forth, it gives me greater insight into your positions.

Mark Andrews said...

A very good discussion. Thanks everybody!

William D. Lindsey said...

Anonymous, it's interesting, how you keep trying to frame this discussion. It's very Kafkaeseque. It's a story of an innocent person who is called by the authorities to the office of the authorities, and suddenly finds himself accused and guilty of a crime he hasn't done and couldn't have done.

Nothing the innocent man could ever say or ever do will remove from him the mark the authority figures have placed on him, in the Kafkaesque world. If he protests his innocence, the authority figures will simply point to the mark on his forehead.

It wouldn't be there, would it, if he were innocent?

It puzzles me that some brothers and sisters in Christ seem intent on placing their gay brothers and sisters in Christ in that no-exit, no-salvation place, and then on chiding them if they refuse to accept the imposed judgment that they are guilty and incapable of life in the Spirit.

When you ask what pope or theologian holds that the life of the Spirit through the experience of faith is fundamental in the church, I am baffled? Can you really have gotten yourself so far outside the mainstream of the tradition, with your search for absolute authority (and handy weapons to bash many of your brothers and sisters)?

Can you really have any doubt about such a fundamental aspect of our faith, which is deeply grounded in the gospels and St. Paul, and runs through Origen, Augustine, Benedict, Hildegarde of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Newman, Franz Jaeggerstaetter, and on and on, right up to Benedict and John Paul II and the catechism?

I do understand your pique. For some time now, those who want to place that authoritarian frame around everything have had their way in the church, and it must seem vexing that those you've framed as outside the experience of faith and as guilty are refusing more and more to accept the frame you place on our lives.

But that's how it is with the Spirit in the church. It keeps working, calling, moving, even when we want to stop everything and construct a world comfortable for ourselves and those like us.

You might jump in and try the water, the water the Spirit continuously troubles. It's wonderful. It does make us question much that we've taken for granted.

But the world we see when we do that, on the other side of our sad little certainties, is well worth seeing.

Anonymous said...

Dogmatic theologians insist only conciliar pronouncements proposed de fide as either an article of faith and/or an instruction in practice is "dogmatic" -- i.e., unquestionable, unchangeable, inviolate.

The two exceptions are the Dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the BVM, which were issued "ex cathedra," a power supposedly granted to Popes at Vatican I (but significantly restricted at Vatican II). The question is whether the episcopal college can abrogate its collegiality, and most theologians think not; so whether either of these infallible pronouncements are "de fide" is up for debate. The Church cannot violate its own methodology.

The church's teaching authority (magisterium) are teachings to be given one's assent whenever possible, but it lacks the "de fide" status that conciliar statements require. Notice, that ONLY TWO DOGMATIC constitutions occurred at Vatican II (Lumen gentium and Dei verbum); those documents are "infallible." Anyone who teaches to the contrary is "de facto" excommunicated a heretic.

Everything else is either "pastoral" or "disciplinary" and can be changed on a moment's notice, including Gaudium et spes, which was a strange novation on Marxism.

The Nicene Creed, the Homoousia of Chalcedon, the seven sacraments, are "infallible pronouncements." To date, NOT ONE moral pronouncement has been established "infallibly." Abortion came very close during the Pontificate of JPII -- but he lack episcopal collegiality and deferred. Meanwhile, the magisterium has always, everywhere, and at all times condemned homophilia -- from Scriputres, the Didache, by Natural Law Theory, by Ratzinger's "intrinsically disordered" theory, and I can assure readers it would be the second most likely Moral Axiom to be defined "infallibly." The magisterium has never waivered on this teaching, and individual dissent -- remember -- is heterodoxy, schism, and apostasy.

Anyone who has read the history of Christianity vis-a-vis homophilia (e.g., Louis Crompton's Homosexuality & Civilization -- Harvard, 2003) will quickly come to understand that Christianity regards homophilia as "debased, unnatural, futile, worthy of death." The word "faggots" arose because homophiles were burned at the stake -- with ecclesiastical approval.

William D. Lindsey said...

Gay Species, your analysis is perplexing.

On the one hand, you claim that only certain dogmatic teachings have been infallibly declared de fide, and that moral teachings are treated by the magisterium as disciplinary and open to further discussion.

But then you take away with one hand what you gave with the other, by trying to claim that the teachings against abortion and gay acts have a quasi-infallible status and have been regarded by the magisterium as unofficially declared, throughout history.

You try to argue that there is some clear, consistent, unambiguous teaching "at all times" from scripture, the Didache, in natural law theory, and in Ratzinger's theology that always condemns what you call "homophilia."

This is simply nonsense. First, there's a linguistic problem. What does homophilia mean? And do all the sources you cite use that term (no, they don't)?

It's clear to me you're choosing the term because you know that the term "homosexuality," which is more often cited in such discussions, is very problematic here, given its late linguistic origin, and the problems of retrojecting a modern term into ancient texts.

But the same problem is there with the term "homophilia," and it's even more problematic in this instance, because the term "homophilia" is both vague and non-standard Greek.

And then there's the problem of lumping together disparate texts from wildly disparate periods and cultures, and claiming that they give some consistent testimony to a universal, always-held teaching.

One has to look at each text in its own context, beyond our contemporary preoccupations and linguistic structures, and ask what it seems to be doing, if it adverts to a question like sexual acts between members of the same sex.

Why this need to universalize teachings you yourself admit are disciplinary and not infallibly defined? And why the need to discount the abundant evidence that folks like John Boswell have found, that there has been a wide range of reactions to same-sex attraction within the Christian tradition over the years, and that when such attraction has been condemned, the reasons for condemning it have varied widely in different times and places?

Why not admit, simply, what is clearly true: the tradition is much broader and multi-faceted than magisterial fundamentalists want to make it out to be? And our modern preoccupation with homosexuality as the end-all and be-all issue on which churches stand and fall is just not there for much of the course of Christian history?

And the most fundamental, core aspects of our tradition, which must always be held in tension with everything else in it, make it extremely problematic to exclude anyone from the Christian community on the basis of sexual orientation, since our entire tradition is built on the impulse to bring in, bless, save, include, love?

Anonymous said...

Homophilia is in most dictionaries, biology texts, and philosophical texts. Even Wiki has it. Your ignorance does not need further addressing.

Anonymous said...

If you knew Greek, you would know same-sex relations were not "physis" -- not natural, which is how authoritative translations translate Romans 1. I have no idea what "unnatural" means, because the opposite of natural is artificial, and homophilia is not unnatural if 1400 different species engage in it.

Whether it is "sinful," I leave to god to tell you through his oracles.

Anonymous said...

There is a HUGE mistake, one taking SPECULATIVE THEOLOGY and considering it DOGMATIC DISSENT. The license to practice speculative theology is solely Rome's to confer, because it is inherently dangerous. Apparently, some laity think they're experts, but cannot decipher a simple distinction between "dogmatic" and "magisterium." Hell, I'm not even Catholic, and I know the difference. You guys just blow it out your mouths without thinking.

William D. Lindsey said...

I'm sorry to be blunt, GS, but I'm afraid you don't know what you're talking about.

I do know Greek. I had two years of Homeric Greek in college and another two years of New Testament Greek at the graduate level.

Of course, I know what the neologism homophile or homophilia means, because I can add two Greek words together and understand the sense of that combination, just as many folks can.

I'm noting, though, that this Greek word was not even used in the texts to which you refer--not even the ones written in Greek. And that poses quite a problem for someone who wants to say that there has been a consistent teaching throughout Christian history condemning homophilia.

Words matter, and it's shoddy scholarship to retroject modern terms into ancient texts and then claim the ancient texts were talking about terms we've invented at a later date.

A license to practice speculative theology, conferred by Rome? What on earth does that mean? I've never heard of such a thing.

I have a master's and a doctorate in theology from a Catholic university, and I'm not aware of anyone, lay, cleric, or religious, who graduated from that university and obtained a license from Rome to be a theologian.

I'm afraid you don't know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

You only prove "degrees" do not confer intelligence. I can hold my own among Catholics -- Jesuits, Dominicans -- but if YOU confuse hierarchical for communitarian, you cannot even use words correctly. And don't impute to me something I neither wrote nor claimed. I did not mention Homeric poetry. You're nothing but a tinkling cymbal. Which is why I think your ideas are . . .

Anonymous said...

I really cannot be bothered by pompous illiterates, especially those that deceive and call it "truth." As I told Michael, I won't bother him, much less address you.

Anonymous said...

If I were as pretentious as you, Ms Lindsay, I would mention the Biblicum, the Gregorian, both in Rome (not that you know or care) or the Blackfriars as Oxford (that's in Great Britain), but I don't stand a chance against your superiority. Uncle.

William D. Lindsey said...

Thanks for your response, GS. And for an interesting conversation.