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.