Tuesday, June 13, 2006

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:

  1. 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

  2. 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.

9 Comments:

At Tuesday, June 13, 2006 6:27:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I’m not sure you’re being entirely fair to Tom Roberts.

Far from holding up the articles about Philadelphia and Bishop Finn as example of failures of the Catholic Right/Communion Catholics, he uses the articles to question the role that the NCR is playing in buliding and sustaining the church. (“How, some ask, can you talk about healing divisions and keep reporting on stories that raise such unpleasantness and criticism?”) Exactly the same question could – and should – be asked about article that imply failures on the part of the Catholic Left/Kingdom Catholics. (I don’t read the NCR, and don’t know whether it publishes such articles, but we both know that there are plenty of organs that do.)

And Roberts confesses to being troubled by this question. (“It’s a fair question, and I am certain only that I don’t have the entire answer.”)

Then he offers us Radcliffe’s answer. What is needed is a “balance between intellectual generosity, imaginative sympathy and the demand for accountability.”

The “demands for accountablity” are the NCR articles; Radcliffe is not saying that such articles ought not to be published or the questions they imply asked, but that the NCR must balance that attitude with intellectual generosity and imaginative sympathy.

The implications of Radcliffe’s view are signficant. Let us suppose that the NCR only publishes critical articles from a “left” perspective. In Radcliffe’s view, the situation would not be in the least improved if it published critical articles equally from “left” and “right” perspectives – a chip on both shoulders, so to speak. The point is that “demands for accountability”, whether directed by the left against the right or vice versa or simply unclassifiable, need to be balanced by generosity and sympathy.

Unless I’m misunderstanding you, your own position seems to be that the “demands for accountability” – e.g. the NCR articles, and presumably similar articles from a different perspective – are misplaced; that bishops (like the rest of us) have to account to God for their actions, the implication being that bishops (and the rest of us) don’t have to account for one another.

If I understand you correctly, I disagree, and strongly. The church is the body of Christ; a refusal to account to the church implies a refusal to account to Christ. This is hardly revolutionary theology; not for nothing do I confess my sins every Sunday morning both to God and to you, my brothers and sisters. My sin, as St Paul makes clear, affects the health of the entire body of Christ, and addressing that must also involve the entirely Body of Christ. And this is doubly true if my sin is directly against the Body of Christ.

It’s not my business to accuse Bishop Finn, or the Archbishops of Philadelphia, of sin, but what I say about sin is more generally true. We make up the Body of Christ together; if we are doing that collectively, then we must be ready to account to one another for what we do; to acknowledge our own weakness, as well as supporting others in theirs. Radcliffe suggest that it is right for us to expect our bishops – and others - to account to the church; and right for us to respond with intellectual generosity and imaginative sympathy. That seems to me to be correct.

 
At Tuesday, June 13, 2006 7:41:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

The thing is precisely as you say, they never do publish anything about the damage that the Left does to the faith of the Church (I won't blame "Kingdom Catholics" because I really agree with Radcliffe here and see no inherant conflict between Kingdom and Communion). It is as if all is sweetness and light on their side, and all the evils in the Church would be overcome if the Right would simply shut up and go away.

There are indeed plenty of other journals that do the exact opposite. One that gets up my nose is "Fidelity"--which they keep on sending me though I have told them I don't want to receive it (I certainly don't pay for it as I do for my subscription to NCR--as an aside, I don't mind paying for good journalism, even if I disagree with their theology/politics/ideology; which is probably why I subscribe to The Age too.)

Roberts seems to suggest that the "demands for accountability" are all on the bishop's side, and not on the side of the various clergy and lay theologians etc. who staff the agencies of dioceses (such as Kansas City, but we could chose any number of places). I don't think Roberts took the "demands of accountability" to apply to the editorship of the NCR.

I think you do understand me correctly, and that we do disagree. In the final analysis, Bishops are accountable to God, to Christ, and not to the faithful.

As an example, the naval captain is accountable to the Admiralty and to the Monarch, not to his crew. Of course, those in authority over him will hold him accountable if he mistreats the crew, loses their trust, loses the ship to the enemy, etc. etc., but the captain is not beholden to the desires and wishes of the crew.

The Bishops have been given the duty to feed God's sheep. If they fail in this duty, they will have to give account to God. This is the thrust of Heb 13:17 "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account." It doesn't expressly say "to God" in this passage, but that is the inference, as one gives account to the one under whose authority one serves, not to those who are under one's authority.

In the meantime, we all remember that in the final analysis we are all accountable to God alone (Romans 14:13).

 
At Wednesday, June 14, 2006 5:29:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Hi David

You said:

“I don't think Roberts took the "demands of accountability" to apply to the editorship of the NCR.”

I don’t think that’s entirely fair, either. The whole thrust of Roberts’ article is to question the morality of what the NCR does. He offers a defence of what he does, of course, but you would expect that; he is the editor, after all. But I don’t see how you can infer that he believes the NCR to be beyond accountability.

“Roberts seems to suggest that the "demands for accountability" are all on the bishop's side, and not on the side of the various clergy and lay theologians etc. who staff the agencies of dioceses . . .”

A quick glance at the ncronline.org website today shows a headline suggestive of an article (I haven’t actually read the article) critical of a lay organisation (the Catholic League), so the batteries of the NCR are not directed exclusively at bishops.

But, in fact, a focus on bishops would be excusable. Bishops play a role (including, but not limited to, the wielding of authority) that no-one else in the church plays – not lay people, not parish priests, not nuncios, not cardinals - and what they do or don’t do is absolutely crucial to the life and health of the church; to its very existence. I freely confess that a bishop does a job that I wouldn’t do in a fit. But the signficance of their role is such that, if you or I want to play our modest part in building up or sustaining the church, it is difficult or impossible to do so without responding to, reacting to, or taking a position on things that bishops have or haven’t done.

“I think you do understand me correctly, and that we do disagree. In the final analysis, Bishops are accountable to God, to Christ, and not to the faithful.

As an example, the naval captain is accountable to the Admiralty and to the Monarch, not to his crew. Of course, those in authority over him will hold him accountable if he mistreats the crew, loses their trust, loses the ship to the enemy, etc. etc., but the captain is not beholden to the desires and wishes of the crew.”


I think your analogy breaks down, though, for two reasons. First, the crew, the captain and the monarch are separate from one another in a way that is not true of the church, the bishop and Christ. It is by being in communion with our bishop that we make the local church. And it is by communion between our bishops that we make the universal church. Bishops, therefore, are absolutely fundamental to the existence of the church.

Secondly, the monarch is not incarnate in the crew, whereas Christ is present in and through the church – truly, actually present; not merely metaphorically, symbolically present.

So a bishop may not be “beholden to the desires and wishes of the [church]”, but he is responsible to the church - the presence of Christ – in an absolutely fundamental way. He is not merely responsible for the church to a God who is separate from the church.

I think there is no contradiction between your view that a Bishop is accountable to God, and mine that he is accountable to the church. Being accountable to the church is one of the ways in which his accountablity to God is made effective.

Which is why Radcliffe’s point that demands for accountability must be matched with generosity and sympathy is spot-on. Christ is not vindictive. Christ is not partisan. If the church holds bishops to account, it must do so with the unqualified, boundless love of Christ. We all play our part in bringing that about – or failing to.

 
At Wednesday, June 14, 2006 9:13:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

I read somewhere recently--don't know where, but I think that it was in respect to Pius XII's exposition of the doctrine of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ--that we can make too much of "The Church" = "Christ". It is true that the Church is his body, but Christ is its head. The Bishop (in fact, the priest in the local parish also) is in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ the Head. You can't play Christ off against Christ, nor say that Christ is accountable to Christ. In the end the bishop is not accountable to the lay faithful, although he is entirely responsible for the spiritual well being of the lay faithful (and, as you say, I wouldn't want that job in a blue fit either). What he does here he will be answerable for in eternity, which is a whole lot weightier than anything you or I could bring to bear.

My perspective on this is probably coloured also by the fact that I have lived most of my life in a "democratic" ecclesial community in which the leaders were able to be voted out if they didn't meet the expectations of the members. In this community, any suggestion that a bishop should be given life tenure was rejected with a sharp "What if he's a disaster?!".

Well, we have seen and we know what disasters bishops can be, but we need to trust in the Lord that he knows what is best for the Church and that he will take care of things in the end. Bishops need the freedom to be able to act in the name of God without constrictions of those who think they know better (like you and me sometimes).

I read a comment by John Allen Jnr recently about Pope Benedict that went like this: "At 79, with nothing left to prove, never facing reelection, and carrying an enormous burden he never sought, Benedict exhibits a remarkable interior freedom by the standards of major world leaders."

While you can't say that every bishop has a position that "he never sought", we must rejoice that our leaders are not bound by the limits of having to please everyone (or even anyone) all of the time (or even most of the time). They remain totally free agents of Christ, and we receive them as such.

 
At Thursday, June 15, 2006 3:39:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Hi David

I think you and I are understanding “accountable” in slightly different ways. You are thinking – no doubt in part because of your denominational background – in terms of electoral accountability, the possibility of dismissal by the people of God.

I am not. (In fact I think that would be a disaster, but that’s another story.)

In secular politics, so far as I am concerned the main advantage of the electoral system is not that it leads to unpopular or unworthy politicians being dismissed by the people; it is that it gives the politicians a strong incentive to listen to the people and to be responsive to their concerns, in case they might be dismissed.

I don’t advocate the popular election or popular dismissal of bishops, or anything like, as a method of making bishops listen. But what I do want is a culture of communion (there, you see, I’m on the “right”!) in which bishops are attentive to their people, and people to their bishops. And that attention would take the form (inter alia) of a recognition that, if a bishop does something which concerns his flock, this matters. It is a proper matter for investigation, comment and in the right circumstances protest. A bishop should recognise that he serves Christ through his people, and if they don’t feel well-served by him, and say so, well, they might be right. And he will never know this if we have a culture in which the laity are not permitted to say it.

I’m putting this in very negative terms, suggesting that it only “bites” when a bishop does something controversial or unpopular. That’s not the way I see it, though. The point is that you and I, to paraphrase Teresa of Avila, are the human instruments of Christ. A bishop who wishes to hear the voice of Christ must listen not only to his brother bishops, but to the faithful. Not everything the faithful says or appears to say is divinely inspired, of course, far from it. But Christ acts through his church, and that doesn’t mean just through the College of Bishops (and still less the dicasteries). Bishops should be able to listen to the people, and that means the people should be able to talk to bishops. And the role of the Catholic press in facilitating this is obvious.

 
At Friday, June 16, 2006 12:47:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

There is much in what you say, Peregrinus. We are now arguing very fine points.

However, I would put such consultation as you speak of in the area of "wise governance" rather than absolute requirement.

(Although, I am aware that there is a paragraph in the Code of Canon Law which safeguards the right of the laity to speak up and to be heard--can someone help with the exact reference?)

As is acknowledged by custom, it is wise even for the bishop of Rome to consult the "sensus fidelium" before making ex cathedra statements (there is emphasis in the phrase "sensus fidelium" upon the genative!).

I think any bishop who wishes to see his policies implimented with a lasting impact would be wise to do all he could to get the faithful on side with his program.

Nevertheless, true leadership in the Church (and even in politics) is shown when the leader is prepared to do what is right rather than what is simply popular--even if the people damn him for it.

However, since it is God alone who truly has the power to condemn or to save, it is to God alone that the bishop is ultimately accountable.

 
At Friday, June 16, 2006 2:43:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Hi David

“ . . . paragraph in the Code of Canon Law which safeguards the right of the laity to speak up . . .”

You want Canon 212 para 3: The faithful have the right – and sometimes the duty - to make know their views on matters concerning the church “in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position”. They can do this to their pastors, and also to other members of the faithful, but in the latter case they must “respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals”.

Canon 212 para 2 also allow the faithful to make known their needs and wishes (especially, but not limited to, their spiritual needs) to pastors.

By way of completeness, Canon 212 para 1 requires them to show obedience to what their pastors teach and prescribe (but, intestestingly, they are to do so “conscious of their own responsibility” – I wonder what Cardinal Pell would make of that?)

“. . . it is wise even for the bishop of Rome to consult the "sensus fidelium" . . . any bishop who wishes to see his policies implimented with a lasting impact would be wise to do all he could to get the faithful on side with his program . . .”

I’d go a little bit further; it’s not just a matter of wisdom or practicality; it’s theologically appropriate (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious).

“Nevertheless, true leadership in the Church (and even in politics) is shown when the leader is prepared to do what is right rather than what is simply popular--even if the people damn him for it.”

Absolutely. My point is that, in discerning what is right, the bishop cannot ignore the understanding, experience, views, etc of the church at large.

The point is that the bishop is trying to God’s will, not his own will, or the pope’s will, or the will of the Congregation of Bishops, or whatever. How is he to discern God’s will? By listening. How does he listen? Prayer. Reflection. Openness to revelation in scripture and tradition. Openness to church teaching. And openness to hearing the authentic voice of the continuing incarnate presence of Christ, wherever it may be heard.

 
At Friday, June 16, 2006 5:51:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

More importantly, what does he listen to? To "the Word of God", and in the magisterium, that expression is used almost exclusively for the Incarnate Son of God and for the written Scriptures. What Cardinal Pell was getting at is people who form their conscious by listening to unauthentic sources of "the Word of God" (See Archbishop Hart's own thing on this published in the Melbourne Kairos http://www.kairos.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13&Itemid=28)

Thank you for the canonical references. Yes, it was precisely these passages to which I was referring.

And as far as not doing one's own will, but God's, Papa Benny put it well in his Wednesday Audience on the 17th of May:

"So it is that Peter tells us: You think you have the recipe and that it is up to you to transform Christianity, but it is the Lord who knows the way. It is the Lord who says to me, who says to you: follow me! And we must have the courage and humility to follow Jesus, because he is the Way, the Truth and the Life."

 
At Monday, June 19, 2006 1:00:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I wouldn’t differ from any of this, David.

But I don’t see the formal magisterium and the sensus fidelium as being inherent opposed; in principle, the reverse, in fact.

To go back to the two NCR articles that were referenced, the church had much to learn (and has learned much) from the clerical sexual abuse crisis. I think the reaction of the laity to the uncovering of the scandal is important not just for practical or pragmatic reasons; it reflects a basic moral truth that was perhaps eclipsed while the crisis was unfolding behind closed doors. I’m not interested all that in passing judgment on how individual bishops did or did not handle the matter at the time with a view to rewarding or punishing them, but I do assert the real possibility that the pain and anger which is voiced through articles like the NCR embodies a fundamental Christian truth which bishops need to be open to hearing.

As for the article on Bishop Finn, I know next to nothing about the situation. I gather that the administrative changes implemented by Bishop Finn are perceived as being in general pleasing to “conservatives”; I really don’t care what constituency they appeal to. But on an issue like diocesan organisation or policy, where formal magisterial teaching is likely to speak only in very broad-brush terms (and to give the bishop a very wide discretion), the way in which the bishops actions are received by his diocese is important, and not just for pragmatic reasons. I’m not saying that the bishop must defer to the most vocal elements in his diocese; not at all. The decision, and responsibility for it, rests with him. But I am saying that he must listen and, once again, the role of the media in enabling this is obvious.

 

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