Thursday, February 23, 2012

Celebrating Vatican II

Not everyone in the Catholic world is eager to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Writing from Rome, Drew Christiansen, SJ, editor of America magazine, said in the February 20, 2012, edition, "I have been here a week and seen no reference to the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, even in the tourist shops attuned to every other observance."

On the other hand the newly-formed Association of US Catholic priests (AUSCP) has planned a conference for June in Tampa, Florida, with the theme, "Keeping Alive the Vision and Passion of Vatican II." And Catholic University of  America, Washington DC, is sponsoring a four-day conference in September titled "Reform and Renewal: Vatican II after 50 Years."

Undoubtedly Church officials in Rome will in some measure commemorate the council's anniversary, but will they celebrate it?

I suspect they will use the occasion to repeat their interpretation that the council is fully in continuity with tradition as opposed to those who interpret the council as a rupture in the history of Catholicism.

The distinction between "continuity" and "rupture" arose when a symposium held in Bologna in 1996 used the term "event" to describe Vatican II. Some theologians and members of the hierarchy rejected the idea that the council was an event because in historical sociology an "event" is understood to be a detachment from the ordinary or traditional.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) weighed in against calling the council an event, saying, "There is no "pre-" or "post-" conciliar Church...There are no leaps in its history, there are no fractures, and there is no break in continuity. In no wise did the Council intend to introduce a temporal dichotomy in the Church."

Cardinal Camelo Ruini criticized lay theologian Giuseppe Alberigo, a participant in the "Bologna school," for describing the council as event, noting that his use of the term "event" was a borrowing from secular social science and implied a rupture, a change from received norms and ways.

In his analysis of this controversy, church historian John O'Malley writes, "I do not see that Alberigo and others who have used 'event' as an instrument to interpret the council have given it the radical meaning that their critics attribute to them."

Commenting on Alberigo's five-volume history of the council, O'Malley continues, "Nowhere in the Alberigo volumes is there the slightest suggestion that 'new beginning' meant in any way a rupture in the faith of the Church or a diminution of any dogma."

Listening to the two sides of this controversy, one might well conclude that Rome is rightly concerned that no one should think of Vatican II as a dogmatic break with the past, and it wasn't. At the same time there is reason to acknowledge that something new did occur in this 21st ecumenical council that makes it different from the previous twenty.

As cardinal and now as pope, Joseph Ratzinger has cautioned those who are enthusiastic about Vatican II to remain faithful to the letter of the council and to be leery of embracing the so-called spirit of the council.

O'Malley points out the inadequacy of simply appealing to the spirit of the council since your spirit of the council is not necessarily my spirit of the council. At the same time he acknowledges that there was in the council a certain orientation or direction that can rightly be called its spirit.

The work and influence of Vatican II are far from over. This upcoming golden anniversary commemoration is pregnant with possibilities for reviewing the letter and releasing the spirit.

Not everyone in the Catholic Church is eager to celebrate Vatican II, but, God willing, all will commemorate it and re-discover Pope John XXIII's dream for "a new Pentecost in our time."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Value of History

I have been reading M. Edmund Hussey's new book Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati. Father Hussey is a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Archbishop Purcell, from 1833 to 1883, was the second bishop of Cincinnati.

John Baptist Purcell was born in Ireland in 1800, came to the United States in 1818, entered Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1820, and was ordained a priest in 1826 in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France.

Upon his return to America, Purcell served as a teacher and then rector of Mount Saint Mary's, his alma mater. In 1833 he was consecrated bishop and was formally installed as bishop on November 14 of that year.

The record of Purcell's 50 years as ordinary of the diocese is overshadowed by what has become known as the "1878 Financial Failure of  the Purcell Bank." Rather than entrust their savings to area banks (which frequently went bankrupt) many Catholic Cincinnatians entrusted their funds to Bishop Purcell's brother, Father Edward Purcell, for safekeeping and for earning interest. Having invested these funds in church building projects, the Purcells faced the day when there was a "run" on the Purcell bank and neither the bishop nor his brother could meet the demand. One of the kindest criticisms was the observation that "Edward Purcell's record keeping was casual to say the least."

With 20/20 hindsight we can see another shadow cast over the Catholic Church during the Purcell years, namely the Church's attitude toward slavery.

It was common practice not to assign bishops favoring abolition to dioceses in the southern states.

Although Ohio as a whole maintained opposition to slavery, Father Hussey notes, "southern Ohio resented student abolitionists and also the growing number of free Negroes who were competition for unskilled white laborers."

Just five years after coming to Cincinnati Purcell had publicly noted the inconsistency between the existence of slavery in America and the American principle that all men are created free.

After the bombardment of Fort Sumter Catholic bishops north and south tended to give loyal support to their respective regions. On one occasion Purcell suggested that the South could convert their abolitionist foes if only it would agree to end slavery over the next 50 or 100 years. In the face of backlash to Purcell's remark, the Catholic Telegraph, the diocesan newspaper, explained that Purcell was not saying that the federal governemnt had the right to demand abolition.

Hussey believes that the Catholic Telegraph "tried to balance two somewhat inconsistent editorial policies, one stressing the interests of white workers" (there was the fear that emancipated slaves would move north and take jobs) "and the other upholding African American rights against white prejudice."

The Telegraph's April 15, 1863, editorial sounds patronizing and derogatory, suggesting that Negroes cannot compete with the white man ("It is not in his blood or muscle or brain"). Then affirming its opposition to restoring slavery (Lincoln had issued his emancipation proclamation), the editorial turned again, saying, "We do not wish to see the black man in competition with the white. We desire to see them far apart; there ought to be no partnership between the two races...The natural superiority of the white race ought to be carefully observed."

The inconsistencies between Purcell's statements and the editorials of his newspaper make it difficult to discern his true convictions regarding slavery and the black race versus white supremacy.

After the war the Catholic Telegraph sometimes advocated leniency toward the South but declared itself opposed to Negro suffrage. The paper stated that it was the Christian thing for whites and blacks to live side by side but the editor was vague about particulars.

Hussey's history of Archbishop Purcell is available for Nook and Kindle readers for only a dollar.

Hussey did not write hagiography, but tells the story of a real person living in difficult times.

Purcell's story serves as a reminder that human beings are often a bundle of contradictions, that all of us must work through our fears and prejudices, that we are capable of heroic action and fallible choices.

It would be the height of hypocrisy to condemn the man because of failures. At the same time it is worth noting the caution we ought to place upon our own judgments and those of others. History is our teacher.

Philosopher/poet George Santayana put it succinctly: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Climate of Fear

Fear is an emotional response to the threat of danger. It often induces flight or excessive caution. Sometimes it paralyzes.

"Do not be afraid" is frequently heaven's advice in encounters between God and human beings.

Fear or inducing fear is a common tool used by those in authority to maintain control over their subjects. Israel's God uses it with people, parents use it with children, court judges use it with those on trial, bishops use it with priests.

The Book of Proverbs teaches that fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (1:7). The Hebrew word for fear is yare. Depending on context it can also be rendered reverence, but there are psychological and emotional differences between fear and reverence.

Bishops deserve reverence. They take the place of the apostles. We give them the title "Most Reverend."

But are bishops to be feared? They themselves agreed that "in exercising his office of father and pastor the bishop should be with his people as one who serves" (Vatican II, Christus Dominus, 16).

Lumen Gentium, 28, explained that priests should see in their diocesan bishop "a true father and obey him with all respect," while the bishop "should treat the priests, his helpers, as his sons and friends, just as Christ calls his disciples no longer servants but friends."

The relationship between bishop and priest, between bishop and people, between priest and people, then, is to be marked by reverence, not fear.

Should bishops be afraid? The relationship between bishops and the pope is difficult to comprehend. And without doubt we hold that the college of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff as its head. Nevertheless it is also clear that bishops are not to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiff (Christus Dominus, 27). They have authority too.

Bishops owe the pope reverence but should they be afraid of him or fear the Curia (the Holy Office, that is, the Vatican bureaucracy)?

It is well-known that the bishops at Vatican II were eager to reform the Curia. For example, Bishop Maximos IV (more correctly known as His Beatitude Maximos IV Saigh) proposed the establishment of a central government of the Church composed of pope and bishops from around the world rather than pope and Roman-oriented clergy. He urged a rotating membership. He said he wanted the central office to reflect the doctrine of collegiality.

Not much came of his intervention. Historian John O'Malley noted that the proposal to create a body superior to the Curia was well-received by most in the assembly, but Pope Paul VI stepped in and created the less effective Synod of Bishops as an alternative.

How the Church was to be run was a fundamental issue at the Council. Would it continue its highly centralized mode of operation or would it accept management with broader consultation and sharing of responsibility?

Saigh's proposal to reform the Curia or create a superior body for oversight of the Curia's work did not produce much fruit. In many areas it seems as if Vatican II never happened.

The collegiality of conferences of bishops around the world has been stifled; for example, the US Bishops' Conference's translation of the Roman Missal was rejected by the Vatican and the current translation was substituted.

Pope Benedict XVI has permitted use of the Tridentine Liturgy (the reformation of which was the primary focus of the liturgical renewal envisioned by the Council).

The Vatican's handling of the pedophilia crisis, the silencing of Church representatives who discuss ordination of women, the secret disciplinary meetings reprimanding bishops and priests, the refusal to include in catechetical texts the writings of Trappist monk Thomas Merton on the spiritual life --all seem contrary to the direction of Vatican II.

Further, these policies and disciplines create a climate of fear. Priests are afraid of being reprimanded or disciplined by their bishops; bishops fear censure by the Curia.

As a result many if not most bishops are reluctant to accept any innovative ways of evangelizing or overseeing their dioceses lest they offend Roman sensibilities. Bishops routinely require letters of acceptability from other bishops before allowing speakers into their dioceses. An Ohio priest was reprimanded by his bishop for publicly criticizing the new Roman missal translation.

Reverence is never out of style, but there is a great deal of fear in the Church climate of 2012.

As I look at the Church I think things are not as they should be, and I know that reform has always been part of the Church's self-assessment (reformans et reformanda). 

I need to remind myself frequently that Jesus remains the life and spirit of his Church, no matter its confused state. I need to pray for the ongoing reform of the Church. I need to hear, "Do not be afraid."