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"Veritatis Splendor" | davelovell.net
Aug 242010

The splen­dor of truth…

So far I have not reposted any of my the­o­log­i­cal writ­ing, mostly due to the fact that it’s still a sore point for me.  Today maybe I will share some of that story with you all. (I know…you’re excited)

I was raised Irish-Catholic and yes, every pos­si­ble assump­tion you could make about me from just that bit of infor­ma­tion, is true.  What made the expe­ri­ence rel­a­tively inter­est­ing was that I was born dur­ing the ses­sions of the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil, and both its hopes and ulti­mate fail­ures came to have large impact on my life.

The great Aggior­na­mento called for by the would be interim pope John XXIII, pro­duced a for­ward look­ing, intel­lec­tu­ally sturdy, gen­er­ous and hope­ful vision of the Church — one that I bought into com­pletely, until I found out that they were really only kid­ding with me…  Any­way, it left me to be raised in a bipo­lar church; the old priests from the old county made me love belong­ing to some­thing that tied me into a his­tory, and the young priests of Vat II filled me with belief that the church (with my help…), could change the world.

If you would like to read a bit more of what it was like growing-up Irish-Catholic in those years, at least for me, you can click here.

To make a long story… less long; I entered the sem­i­nary directly out of high-school and was sent to a small mid­west­ern lib­eral arts col­lege.  It was not what most would pic­ture a sem­i­nary to be.  We lived in a sep­a­rate dorm, attended morn­ing and evening prayer and daily mass, but other than that we were allowed, if not encour­aged, to live out a nor­mal col­lege life.

I fell in love with phi­los­o­phy and the­ol­ogy, not just the aca­d­e­mic joy of it (which is obvi­ous, I know), but that my teach­ers con­vinced me that it was the intel­lec­tual back­bone of a life spent in the ser­vice of oth­ers.  The church I was becom­ing trained to help lead seemed to be a place that trea­sured intel­lec­tual heft and prag­matic application.

From there the church decided to send me to Bel­gium, and the Katholieke Uni­ver­siteit te Leu­ven, est.1425.  My time there is a story all to itself, but it was the most extreme and reward­ing intel­lec­tual expe­ri­ence I could have had.  By the time I took my degree’s I had decided that the ordained min­istry was not for me, but it never occurred to me to live a life out­side of the churches’ employ.

Fast for­ward many, many years… I was in my 16th year teaching/coaching at a catholic high school, had been ordained a dea­con, and was serv­ing in many roles on behalf of the dio­cese, from cam­pus min­is­ter of a local col­lege, to chap­lain at the VA hos­pi­tal all the while serv­ing a parish and teaching.

…and then I was “let go.”

I had just pub­lished my third book and had set-up a meet­ing with the new prin­ci­ple to ask for a “jacket blurb” that my pub­lisher wanted, it was at this meet­ing that I was told that enroll­ment was down a bit, so I would not be needed the next year (it was late April).  The next day the prin­ci­ple from the other catholic HS called to ask if I would come run his His­tory depart­ment, I was able to fight through the haze and accept.  A week later I went to sign con­tracts, and was told (by a shamed prin­ci­ple) that he could not hire me as he had been told, by unnamed cler­ics, that I was the­o­log­i­cally unre­li­able.

That was about five years ago, and there is more to the story, but I’m not ready to tell all of it.  What brought all of this back to mind was a recent event con­cern­ing a local priest who hap­pens to hail from that same lit­tle mid­west­ern sem­i­nary as myself.

This soon-to-be octo­ge­nar­ian, together in dis­cus­sions with parish mem­bers, wanted to address con­cerns of catholics who had fallen away from the church — largely due to dis­agree­ments over doc­trine.  And so a deci­sion was reached to video­tape a dis­cus­sion with the pas­tor answer­ing ques­tions that fallen-away catholics might ask and then post it on the parish website.

Soon after that, a right-wing, bottom-feeding, anti-intellectual and self-important blog reposted the video to Youtube, and mounted a cam­paign to email the bishop with demands for an inqui­si­tion.  Clearly any­one who reaches out to dis­mayed catholics is deranged or pos­sessed and should be silenced or set on fire as soon as canon­i­cally possible…

I watched the video a num­ber of times, and it was obvi­ously a pas­toral attempt to address the very real con­cerns of large num­bers of for­mer catholics.  The point that the the­o­log­i­cally illit­er­ate blog­ger jumped on was when Fr. made the point that the ulti­mate author­ity for every catholic, is their indi­vid­ual, informed con­science.  The accu­sa­tions then flew that the priest was instruct­ing the faith­ful (pub­licly) that they owed no alle­giance to the author­ity of the pope or the mag­is­terium, which he nei­ther said, nor believes.

Toward the end of my for­mal stud­ies, John Paul II issued “Ver­i­tatis Splen­dor,” a doc­u­ment that came incred­i­bly close, in my opin­ion, to assert­ing mag­is­te­r­ial author­ity over an indi­vid­u­als own informed con­science.  I, and a great num­ber of aca­d­e­mics took excep­tion to this attempt and even Karl Ratzinger (then head of the holy office and now Pope Bene­dict) com­mented that it was the­o­log­i­cally untenable.

Any­who… the local bishop instructed that the video be taken down (which had already be done) and that a pub­lic retrac­tion and apol­ogy be made.  Clearly I am the­o­log­i­cally unre­li­able, but I can’t help but think of the pas­toral impli­ca­tions to those fallen away catholics to whom the video was intended.  Sup­pose they heard some­thing in it that made them con­sider return­ing to the church for the first time in years, only to then learn the fate of the pas­tor who had reached out to them?  Could the bishop not have offered some acknowl­edge­ment that much of what Fr. said was good and true, and that many for­mer catholics have legit­i­mate concerns?


…and again it seems far too clear that when the church faces a deci­sion between pas­toral con­cern and main­tain­ing unas­sail­able author­ity, it will choose power over glory.

 Posted by at 5:04 am

  One Response to “Veritatis Splendor””

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