Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Church is the People of God...

July 19, 2011 Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Philadelphia’s Cardinal Rigali and named Charles Chaput as its new Archbishop in the wake of recent rampant clergy sex abuse issues there.  Chaput has a reputation for zero-tolerance of clergy sexual impropriety yet vigorously lobbies against extending the statue of limitations for criminally prosecuting those who sexually abuse minors.  (He thinks this unfairly targets clergy, though it applies to anyone who sexually molests a minor.)  He has a reputation for judgmental conservatism stemming from his actions such as barring the child of a lesbian couple from attending Catholic school in his diocese, and enthusiastically supporting the use of Holy Communion as a weapon to influence people’s political votes.

Recent opinions about Chaputs appointment published in the Philadelphia Inquirer gave me pause for reflection.  Christine Flowers applauds Chaput’s appointment and accuses people, especially Catholics, of “anti-Catholicism”, who don’t support him and his agenda.  She writes, “Catholicism is, for them, a dirty word. Because it judges. Because it has rules and beliefs they just don't buy. And Charles Chaput, like New York's Timothy Dolan, isn't going to let them get away with it anymore.”    She vilifies “Voice of the Faithful”, an organization that advocates for abuse victims because they seek to identify and address the root causes of the church’s systemic abuse and accountability issues.  She mocks people who properly quote church doctrine that the church is “the people of God” not an institution.  For her, the church is the institution with its rules and hierarchical governing bodies to keep people in line. 

Let’s address that last point first.  Though presenting herself as an authority, Ms. Flowers’s statement directly opposes church teaching.  Here is an excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Paragraph 2. The Church - People of God, Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit

Please note the Catechism states the church is the people of God, not the institution or its hierarchy.  Furthermore, this section of the Catechism includes such teachings as:
804 One enters into the People of God by faith and Baptism. "All men are called to belong to the new People of God" (LG 13), so that, in Christ, "men may form one family and one People of God" (AG 1).

805 The Church is the Body of Christ. Through the Spirit and his action in the sacraments, above all the Eucharist, Christ, who once was dead and is now risen, establishes the community of believers as his own Body.

806 In the unity of this Body, there is a diversity of members and functions. All members are linked to one another, especially to those who are suffering, to the poor and persecuted.

807 The Church is this Body of which Christ is the head: she lives from him, in him, and for him; he lives with her and in her.

809 The Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the soul, as it were, of the Mystical Body, the source of its life, of its unity in diversity, and of the riches of its gifts and charisms.

810 "Hence the universal Church is seen to be 'a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit'" (LG 4 citing St. Cyprian, De Dom. orat 23: PL 4, 553).

A  July 25, 2011 letter to the editor by Mr. Daniel Dufner echoes Ms. Flowers’ opinions on what defines Catholicism.  Mr. Duffner writes, “Archbishop Charles Chaput is just the person we need to ensure the message is delivered to the entire archdiocese that you cannot sit back and claim to be a Catholic and not embrace church teachings, values, and fundamental beliefs. No gay marriage. No abortion. No just going to Mass when you feel like it. No euthanasia. No tolerating child abuse.”  Mr. Dufner and Ms. Flowers seem to define the church as a hierarchical institution opposed to “bad” things and Catholics as a homogenous group of unquestioning followers.    

However, the catechism teaches that the church is the people of God, a diverse people, unified by their faith and baptism in the Triune God.  Actually, rather than primarily being an institution “against” things, the church is the people of God who are “for” what Christ is “for” with particular concern for the suffering, poor and persecuted.  This reflects what we see Jesus practice in the gospels: radical inclusion, radical forgiveness, radical detachedness from material goods, radical concern for the poor, and radical healing of the suffering. 

As an aside, Jesus also said to leave judging to God at the end of time.  This has been the focus of the last two weekends’ gospel readings (MT 13).  Why would someone think the church’s job is to judge people on a daily basis? 

Furthermore, how can one reconcile the church’s teachings with leaders who judge and persecute rather than forgive and free from persecution?  How can the faithful rejoice in the prospect of excluding members of its body through rejecting the diversity of its parts and suppression of individual charsims?  More importantly, why are there so many Catholics who believe they are superior protectors and defenders of the Catholic faith when many of their actions and beliefs directly oppose church teachings and Jesus’ examples? 

I actually think I can answer that last question.  Beginning in 1978 with Pope John Paul II’s papacy during which Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there has been a systematic and concerted effort to narrow the Catholic faith to a few teachings (Berry “Vows of Silence” and Reese “A Flock of Shepherds”).  Rather than gather all to Christ, they wish to “purify” the church and make it smaller by excluding and driving out people who differ with them on select teachings. 

The questionnaire for potential new bishops reflects this attitude.  It asks church leaders for the bishop candidate’s stand on, “the priestly ordination of women, on the Sacrament of Matrimony, on sexual ethics, and on…loyalty and docility to the Holy Father, the Apostolic See and the Hierarchy; esteem for and acceptance of priestly celibacy.”  This focus, in effect, has narrowed the definition of Catholicism to anti-female clergy, anti-gay civil unions, anti-birth control, anti-abortion, anti-married clergy and pro-unquestioned hierarchical power. 

Every bishop appointed over the last 33 years by John Paul II and Benedict XVI must be in lock-step with their beliefs on these aspects of doctrine, effectively elevating them to pre-eminent importance over all other church teachings.  This mantra is reinforced as bishops ultimately control who teaches within the institutional church, and censure and persecute believers who question this narrow definition of Catholicism.   

The question I can’t answer is why the real church, the people of God, settles for this cheapened, narrow definition of Catholicism and does not reclaim the church.  

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