Monday, July 27, 2009

Robert Caruso's Scholarly Introduction to Old Catholicism

I take the opportunity today to share a review by local writer Elaine Klaassen of my friend Robert Caruso’s recently released book on Old Catholicism.

But first a bit of background information: I first met Robert, who serves as pastor at Cornerstone Old Catholic Community in St. Paul, when he presided at a Dignity Twin Cities liturgy in July 2007. (He’s pictured at right with Dignity president Brian McNeill, center, and Dignity member Jeanne Cornish.)

Finding myself intrigued by Old Catholicism, I accepted Bob’s invitation to attend, later that summer, both a conference on Old Catholicism in Collegeville, MN, and Cornerstone Old Catholic Community’s annual retreat on the shores of Clear Lake (left). It was around this time that I asked Robert if I could interview him for The Wild Reed. He happily obliged, granting me an extensive and insightful interview (which can be found here). We’ve been friends ever since that summer two years ago.

Earlier this year, Robert and his partner John hosted a wonderful “Passover seder meal for Christians” (right) – to which I, my housemate Brian, and my friend Kay were invited. More recently, Robert shared his thoughts on The Wild Reed about the Rainbow Sash presence at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and presided at a Mass in my home for members and friends of Cornerstone Old Catholic Community.

Robert’s currently completing his Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Religion and Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and has just had his first book published, The Old Catholic Church: Understanding the Origin, Essence, and Theology of a Church that is Unknown and Misunderstood by Many in North America (Apocryphile Press, 2009), described as “one of the most well researched and perceptive expositions of Old Catholic ecclesiology in the English language.”

Earlier this month, Bob’s scholarly book was reviewed by Elaine Klaassen for the Minneapolis neighborhood newspaper Southside Pride. Following is Klaassen’s review.


New Book on Old Catholic Church
Explores Nature of Church

By Elaine Klaassen
Southside Pride
July 2009

Bob Caruso, that is Rev. Robert Caruso, or Fr. Bob, has written a book called The Old Catholic Church: Understanding the Origin, Essence, and Theology of a Church that is Unknown and Misunderstood by Many in America. The book, which is part of the Independent Catholic Heritage Series published by Apocryphile Press in Berkeley, California, has been available in bookstores and online since June 1.

In the book, Caruso is not talking about the day-to-day level of church concerns. And he is not interested in church as a sociological or anthropological phenomenon, but rather as a theological and visionary, if not mystical, entity. He is talking specifically about the Old Catholic Church and its vision of what being church means. He’s saying that church mirrors the mystical body of Christ.

The book is scholarly and theological, so don’t feel bad if you need to keep your dictionary handy. Get used to terms like “eucharistic ecclesiology.” Although the book is not easy to read, and you have to use your imagination to envision what would be the tangible manifestation of the theology, it’s worth the trouble. Only briefly does he cite concrete outcomes, such as the ordination of women and the blessing of homosexual relationships. I asked him about the sharing of earthly goods, and he said the theology could easily lead to that. Bob says, “Theology is not understandable except as lived in the church.”

Five short chapters and many pages of footnotes will get you started in your understanding of the Old Catholic Church. Caruso’s ardor is present on every page.

In chapter one, he covers the historical developments that led to the Declaration of Utrecht in 1889, in Holland, a document that describes the theological consensus of a consortium of autonomous Catholic churches who differed with Rome and gradually became known as the Old Catholic Church. One of their main differences was that they rejected the theological doctrine of the pope’s infallibility. They also longed to recapture the theology of the early church, an essence that all Christian bodies could embrace; they fostered an ecumenical consciousness.

Chapter two is a soaring outpouring that outlines what the church truly is. These are the distinguishing characteristics of the Old Catholic Church: The reality of love and freedom that exists in the relationship within the Trinity is present. The body is conciliar (open to discussion in groups, where everyone has a voice), dynamic (nothing is set in stone), relational and organic – the opposite of institutional, imperial, and sovereign. There is shared authority among the laity, clergy, and bishops.

The first two chapters support Caruso’s argument in chapter three that independent Old Catholic groups in North America are not aligned with the Union of Utrecht. He writes, “There are some who still insist that a reliable Old Catholic church in North America exists, however, this claim is not based on reason but exists rather in the realm of illusion. Old Catholicism is fairly new to North America, and its history in the U.S. is complex to state the least.”

Bob discovered the Old Catholic Church online at a time when he realized the Roman Catholic Church, in which he was raised, and with whom he studied for the priesthood, would never accept him as a gay man. The idea for the book came about when he started researching Old Catholicism and became aware of the limited information about it available in English, and the inaccuracy of much of it. According to his perceptions based on his research, only the Union of Utrecht is authentically Old Catholic. “Old Catholic history has been distorted and inaccurately represented for a very long time in North America by many self-published authors,” he writes.

Bob considers his book an introductory work. His goal was to create a foundational book, to present Old Catholicism in an authentic light, paving the way for further scholarship on the subject. “It hasn’t been presented like this in English,” he said. He wants other scholars to “take the work seriously and move it forward.”

He plans to finish his Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Religion and Theology at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton by 2012. He is ordained for the Cornerstone Old Catholic Community in St. Paul, where he presides at Eucharist and makes pastoral visits.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome
The Declaration of Utrecht
Robert Caruso on the Pentecost Rainbow Sash Presence at the Cathedral


Dan said...

"Bob discovered the Old Catholic Church online at a time when he realized the Roman Catholic Church, in which he was raised, and with whom he studied for the priesthood, would never accept him as a gay man."

I think it bears noting that the Roman Catholic Church does not teach her members to reject gay men. Instead, she teaches that they are called to repentance of their sins along will all other followers of Jesus Christ, as well as chastity in all their relationships. Regardless of sexual orientation, ALL Catholics are called to abstain from sex outside of marriage between a man and woman. This in no way singles out gay men as "unacceptable."

I realize Rev. Caruso and others feel otherwise, but the distinction remains.

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective.

Perhaps before asserting the things you do you should consider and reflect upon the experiences of dismissal and rejection that many LGBT individuals and families live with as a result of the attitudes and words of the hierarchical church.

I'm sure that from the hierarchical church's perspective there is no awareness that anyone's life and/or relationships are being dismissed and rejected. (Instead it's all very cut and dry, legalistic, simply a case of following the rules, etc. In other words, totally lacking in compassion and wisdom.)

I think you'd find a very different experience from the perspective of actual gay people - a perspective that the Church, incidentally, deems unacceptable in helping inform and shape its theology on sexuality. That's a great tragedy, and guarantees a theology that in its impoverishment fails to address the real concerns and issues many people are facing.

I think it also needs to be said that the Vatican clearly singles out gay men as "unacceptable" for the priesthood (see here and here). What message is that sending to "her members"?



Anonymous said...

Heterosexuality is such an enormous assumption to have glided so silently into the foundation of our thought.

Adrienne Rich

Along with Scripture, the teaching of the church on sexuality is based on what is called ‘natural law.’ By no means do I want to dismiss this tradition. Indeed, in its positive dimensions, the natural-law tradition is compatible with my argument that moral thinking should begin with what God discloses to us in creation. But I add three cautionary points: (1) appeals to what is “natural” are often in fact appeals to what is culturally constructed (Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11 on the veiling of women comes to mind), and must always be challenged on the basis of actual human experience; (2) determining what is “natural” or the “order of creation” is often-as in recent Vatican theology-far removed from the analysis of actual human existence, and instead represents a form of essentialist thinking on the basis of Scripture; (3) appeals to the order of creation need to be chastened-as Paul himself recognized in 1 Corinthians 11-by the recognition that the “new creation” brought about by the Resurrection of Jesus has real implications for our understanding of the body and sexuality (see 1 Corinthians 6-7).

Luke Timothy Johnson, Commonweal, June 15, 2007

I find the Pope’s stance on homosexuality scandalous in the full theological sense of the term (“stumbling block” to faith). GAUDIUM ET SPES (1965 - #62) requires that “in pastoral care, sufficient use must be made not only of theological principles, but also of the findings of the secular sciences, especially of psychology and sociology,” but this principle is utterly ignored in Vatican pronouncements regarding GLBT people; there is not even an attempt to engage the evidence or to show some hesitation or humility in face of its challenges.
This doctrine against GLBT people is offered as though there were nothing in Catholic tradition that might give us pause on this crucial matter, and yet, for instance, the Vatican’s use of the Bible is embarrassingly simplistic and fundamentalist. We need to recover the resources of our tradition that enable an alternative view to that of Benedict XVI. We might, for instance, resurrect the care-full response of the CTSA to PERSONA HUMANA, which was published in 1979, titled HUMAN SEXUALITY.
It warns against “citing verses from the Bible outside of their historical context and then blithely applying them to homosexuals today.” Such (ab)use of the Bible “does grave injustice both to Scripture and to people who have already suffered a great deal from the travesty of Biblical interpretation.” It counsels pastors to leave in peace homosexuals who are in stable, loving relationships, and it even goes on to say that “prayer, even communal prayer, for two [homosexual] people … incarnating the values of fidelity, truth, and love, is not beyond the pastoral possibilities of a Church whose ritual tradition includes a rich variety of blessings.”
The study is sadly aware, however, that “social repercussions” might make such “blessings” inadvisable. The scandal of Benedict’s stance is that he speaks as though faith provided a certainty that is simply not available, and in doing so his pronouncements are cruelly misleading and unjust.
Vincent M. Smiles December 23, 2008