The Roman Catholic Church: A Nursery?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about this dream as I continue working with others to bring about reform within the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if an adult faith is even possible in today’s Church. It certainly doesn’t appear to be encouraged. Rather, the expression of Roman Catholicism that currently dominates is reactionary; it is one that demands unquestioning obedience and is intolerant of diversity, development and change. It doesn’t sound very adult-like, does it? Nor does it sound like what the Catholic Church should be all about. I mean, the Church shouldn’t be envisioned primarily as a nursery, should it?
Sometimes I think that those who uncritically support this reactionary way of being Catholic are like those crying babies in my dream, whereas those of us seeking reform and the flourishing of adult faith want to redecorate the nursery; want to makeover the Church so that adults can be comfortable in it. And like in my dream, we sometimes wonder if it mightn’t be easier to simply go find another room in the house, i.e., another denomination – one that is more welcoming of us as adults.
A Church for Adults
But then I think of the rich, living tradition of Catholicism, of the role of conscience and faithful dissent. I think of mustard seeds and of God’s generous invitation to “come as you are.” And I remind myself not only of the reality that the Church is so much more than the Vatican, but of the many and varied efforts – “underground” and at the periphery – that are taking place all around the world and challenging that narrow, rigid, and reactionary way of being Catholic. Together, these efforts embody what’s often called the “emerging church” – a church that is participatory, collaborative, valuing of dialogue and diversity, and open to development and change. A church for adults, in other words.
The pressing need in our Church is not for adults to be forced out by crying babies – who, let’s face it, aren’t really babies. No, the need is for these “babies” to grow up.
Childlike vs. Childish
Ah, but Michael, I can well hear some saying, didn’t Jesus tell us that if we are to enter the “Kingdom of Heaven” we must “become as little children”? Well, yes, as a matter of fact he did. But scripture also tells us that there comes a time for “putting away childish things.” I do indeed believe that our loving Creator God invites us to be childlike - to be, in other words, adults who are ever open to and trusting of God’s loving presence within and around us; adults who are ever willing to be surprised. That’s very different, of course, to being childishly dependent on other people and institutions. And by childish I mean unquestioning and uncritical.
Now, you may be wondering what prompted me to recollect this dream? Well, I was reminded of it after reading a very thoughtful and powerful letter by Jane Anderson, published in the July 25 issue of the British Catholic journal The Tablet. This letter is reprinted in its entirety below.
[The Tablet reports] that Pope Benedict reprimanded progressive Catholics and repudiated “dissent as not being the mark of grown-up faith.” We progressives are wholeheartedly engaged in the process of reform that has its foundations in the Second Vatican Council. We consider the Church to be much more dynamic and complex than those who promote restorative policies.
While we generally accept core Catholic ideals, we want and need our Church to adapt to allow for beliefs, values, and practices that are relevant to our search for a contemporary faith, which, in contrast to what has been claimed, can be differentiated from “the pattern of today’s world.”
In the meantime, the institutional system reduces Catholics to immature children who are to obey “Father” or, in this case, “the Holy Father.” We are to give unquestioning loyalty to and rely on the Church’s teachings and laws in every circumstance.
We are to accept that we have neither right nor privilege to differ from the current orthodoxy and, equally, have no access to formal avenues to contest the charges made against us.
Paradoxically, Pope Benedict is loath to admit to difficulties arising from theological and canonical constraints, which today are many and increasing. That reluctance has the potential to limit individual Catholics from making mature decisions to self-regulate, negotiate complexities, or respond creatively to life’s challenges. These qualities symbolize adulthood in most cultures, but are not recognized as such in the Catholic Church.
So, when Pope Benedict suggests that progressives do not have a “grown-up” faith, he implies that we should acquiesce to clerical advice, which for us would mean a return to an immature faith.
It is therefore better to remain misunderstood or misrepresented and risk being wrong in what the Pope might refer to as “dissent.” Because, for us progressives, such sincere attempts to have our concerns heard are integrated to discerning an authentic, mature, and Catholic faith.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to Be Catholic
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)
Many Voices, One Church
“Something Exciting and Joyful”
A Declaration of Reform and Renewal
Clearing Away the Debris
James Carroll and Catholic Understands of Truth (Part 1)
James Carroll and Catholic Understands of Truth (Part 2)
James Carroll and Catholic Understands of Truth (Part 3)
James Carroll and Catholic Understands of Truth (Part 4)