Demanding Accountability as a Road to Healing Catholic Divisions?
Some weeks ago, I read an speech by Fr Timothy Radcliffe (who used to be the head of the Dominicans) called “Overcoming Discord in the Church”, which he gave originally the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.
The intention is honourable. Fr Radcliffe wishes to find a way forward in the current impasse of deep polarisation and division between the “left” and the “right” in the Catholic Church. Try as one might, one cannot escape the use of these labels (or some equivalent) today. Fr Radcliffe suggests the alternatives of “Kingdom Catholics” (ie. the Left) and “Communion Catholics” (ie. the Right).
[Believe it or not, I was once asked soon after my conversion, by a Lutheran pastor, which Catholic Church I had joined! He sincerely believed that there actually were two Catholic Churches and that the “split” had become official!]
Radcliffe’s speech is a good read, but it seems that the only ones who are welcoming it are the Left (sorry, the “Kingdom Catholics”), who are desperate to regain the high ground of authentic Catholicity and suspect that they may be failing in this achievement that once must have seemed so attainable. For example, you can find copies of this speech on the websites of “Voice of the Faithful” and “National Catholic Reporter”, and op ed pieces about it in “On-line Catholics” and in “The Tidings” by Richard McBrien.
But what a funny thing it is to read the “Writers Desk” column in the June 2 National Catholic Reporter [which for some reason has disappeared from their website to be replaced by the April 2 column—I wonder why? Nevertheless you can find it here on another site], in which editor Tom Roberts defends himself against the charge of exacerbating the very divisions Radcliffe had sought to heal.
And as examples of the failure of the Catholic Right (sorry, the Communion Catholics) he holds up two NCR articles:
- an article on the Church in Philadelphia "Shining light on a cover-up” which “detailed the hierarchical clerical culture in which the sex abuse scandal flourished in that archdiocese” and
- A series of stories about Bishop Finn in Kansas City.
You may recall a few blogs ago that I posted what was happening in Kansas City from the Catholic Culture site. I had one reader say she wanted to begin plans to emigrate straight away! Whether you view what is happening in Kansas City as a good or a bad thing is an excellent illustration of the divisions currently existing in the Church.
As for the Philadelphia article, I don’t think trying to pin the sexual abuse case on “Communion Catholics” is very charitable. It is perhaps the spikiest of the jibes shot from the pens of the “Kingdom Catholics”.
Roberts quotes Radcliffe in a private conversation as saying that what is needed to heal the divisions is a “balance between intellectual generosity, imaginative sympathy and the demand for accountability”.
Roberts seems to interpret the demand for “accountability” as being a reference to the accountability of bishops to their “constituency”. It would perhaps be more helpful and healing if we were all to realise that both bishops and faithful, both Communion and Kingdom Catholics must finally give account to God alone.