by Dan Maguire, Marquette University

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trange as it may seem given the state of the church, I begin this paper on a hopeful note. My hope is grounded in my impression that the American Catholic Church is becoming more and more Italian. My reference is to culture, not to an increased number of Italian Americans. When I was sent to Rome for my doctorate, I am sure the hierarchical hope was that it would give me an infusion of Vatican rigidity. It didn't, thanks to the broader education that the Italians gave me.

Once, on a Friday in Rome, I was trying to get a meatless meal in a
restaurant. Everything the waiter suggested had meat. Finally,
deferring somewhat to my scruple, he suggested a spinach filled pasta.
When it arrived, it was covered with bolognese meat sauce. Annoyed, I
asked him if he was a Catholic. "Cattolico lei?" (Aren't you a
Catholic?) His response requires no translation: "Cattolico, si;
fanatico, no!" My education had begun.

Still in the salvific Italian spirit badly needed in the United States,
the story is told of a cab driver in Rome in 1968 on the day when Humanae
Vitae was issued. Even though the pope's advisors overwhelmingly voted
to change church teaching on contraception, the pope sided with the
minority and chose to continue the ban. There was great excitement that
day in Rome and the cab driver had been doing the Vatican beat picking up
a lot of priests who were talking about the encyclical. Finally he asked
one priest "what happened?" The priest replied solemnly: "The pope came
out today and condemned the pill." The cabby shook his head
disconsolately and finally said: "Why did they tell him about it?"

That was Italian Catholicism behind that wheel. He knew the pope was
wrong--was not pope-ing well that day--and he felt sorry for the pope and
was annoyed at the people who had gotten him into such an unseemly

Let me add a few more keynoting quotes and stories to illustrate my
theological message. My next keynoter is my son Tommy. When he was
three I noticed on a September day that he did not recall the previous
two autumns. I came upon him standing in the den, with his thumb in his
mouth and his cloth dog Patches in his arm. I said: "Tom, what color are
those leaves on those trees?" "Green," he replied. "Tom," I said, "soon
all those leaves are going to turn yellow, red, orange and brown and then
they will all fall down." He looked at me seriously and I could not
guess how my message had been received." The next day I was passing the
den and Tom was at his post talking to Patches. I snuck up close quietly
to share this precious moment. What I heard was Tom giving Patches my
whole message on autumn. With a voice full of reverence and belief he
said: "Patches, all leave green. All turn yellow, red, orange, brown.
All fall down."

I realized that if I had told Tom that all the trees out back would soon
lift out of the ground and hang in the air for the winter, he would have
believed, and shared it with Patches. I realized that when we are
shocked by birth and the noises and discomforts thereof, it is baffling,
compared to the comfort of the womb. When Tom's little face emerged in
the birthing process, I think the question on that face, if it could find
words was "what in the world is going on?" That, of course, is the
beginning of Who_are_we and theology.

There are two sources of information for the infant/toddler: sense
experience, which is very impressive, and authority, the authority of
these massive figures on which we are totally dependent. As impressive
as sense experience is, telling us what is hot or cold or hard, etc., if
the authority says something that contradicts that sense experience, the
authority prevails over everything that you feel and see. At that age,
we require an infallible authority system. And here is the problem:
often we don't entirely grow up and we hanker for infallible guidance,
whether found in a misused Bible, a Qur'an, or in a cult leader.

All religions have a tendency to become cults. Cults take away your
independent judgment; some authority structure takes control of your
mind. With Protestants and Muslims this often takes the form of a
magically interpreted scripture; with Catholics it is more likely to be a
magically interpreted hierarchy. In both cases, the cultically distorted
religion inhibits growth. St. Paul's advice is relevant: "Do not be
childish, my grown-up in your thinking." (1. Cor. 14: 20)
Face the fact that infallibility is not in the human repertoire.

My next keynoter is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. At the end of the
Vatican Council he wrote: "The Church is not the petrification of what
once was, but its living presence in every age. The Church's dimension
is therefore the present and the future no less than the past."

My keynoter is Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. In his Presidential address
to The Catholic Theological Society of America he said that Vatican II
"implicitly taught the legitimacy and even the value of dissent."
Dulles, conceded "that the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Pontiff had
fallen into error, and had unjustly harmed the careers of loyal and able
theologians." He mentions John Courtney Murray, Teilhard de Chardin,
Henri de Lubac, and Yves Congar. . Dulles says that certain teachings of
the hierarchy "seem to evade in a calculated way the findings of modern
scholarship. They are drawn up without broad consultation with the
theological community. Instead, a few carefully selected theologians are
asked to defend a pre-established position..." Dulles aligns himself
with those theologians who do not limit the term "magisterium" to the
hierarchy. He speaks of "two magisteria--that of the pastors and that of
the theologians." These two magisteria are "complementary and mutually
corrective." The theological magisterium may and indeed must critique
the hierarchical magisterium. Dulles concludes: "we shall insist on the
right, where we think it important for the good of the Church, to urge
positions at variance with those that are presently official."

Cardinal Dulles was only two thirds right. There is a third
magisterium, the sensus fidelium, the experience-rich wisdom of the
faithful. Catholic theology at its healthiest said the search for truth
rests on a tripod: the hierarchy, the theologians, and the wisdom of the
faithful. Again Paul's words: "In each of us the Spirit is manifested in
one particular way, for some useful purpose." (I Cor. 12:7)
Historically, none of them has turned out to be infallible. At times
each has led. The hierarchy were ahead of the other two magisteria when
an early medieval pope condemned the torture of prisoners to get
confessions. The laity led the way in showing that not all
interest-taking is excessive and sinful as was once taught by popes,
ecumenical councils and theologians. It took the theologians a century
to admit that, and then, a century later, the Vatican got into the
banking business and finally conceded---two centuries behind the laity
and one century behind the theologians--- that moderate interest was just
fine. The theologians were leaders in preparing the way for Vatican II
and the pope is still resisting those advances.

My next keynoter is Thomas Aquinas himself, the saintly theologian who
exemplified theology done ex corde ecclesiae. Thomas drew a sharp and
still useful distinction between the officium praelationis (the
administrative office) of bishops and the officium magisterii (teaching
office) of theologians. What Aquinas is saying here, as Cardinal Dulles
observes, is that the hierarchy does not monopolize the charism of truth
and "the theologian is a genuine teacher, not a mouthpiece or apologist
for higher officers."

Elsewhere, and relevant to our purposes here, Dulles, speaking at The
Catholic University of America wonders whether Thomas Aquinas, "if he
were alive today...would be welcome" at The Catholic University of
America. Once again, he insists that the "magisterium of the
professors" relies "not on formal authority but rather on the force of
reasons." He unites himself with St. Thomas Aquinas' view that "with the
growth of the great universities the bishops could no longer exercise
direct control over the content of theological teaching." "Their role,"
Dulles insists "was primarily pastoral, rather than academic."

My next keynoter is Paul Lehmann, olim Professor of Christian Ethics at
Union Theological Seminary in New York. Lehmann was invited to give the
inaugural address at the dedication of a new church and educational
building in Towson, Maryland. The pastor, a former student, introduced
Dr. Lehmann with pride. Lehmann mounted the pulpit, looked out into the
sea of joyful faces in that beamingly well-lit building, and began with
these words: "Do you know what you have built here? A resplendent
mausoleum. It stands incandescent in the glow of its own irrelevance as
the dynamics of the time rush to pass it by." After they revived the
pastor, Dr. Lehmann went on to argue that it need not be so if the Church
could read the signs of the times and respond with courage.

My next keynoter is St. John Chrysostom. He said, and let Catholic
reformers take note: "Whoever is not angry when there is cause for anger,
sins." That deserves a banner in every church.

My next keynoter is an anonymous Boston layman interviewed on National
Public Radio. He said: "The gospel says that where two or three are
gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. He didn't
say there was a need for golden chalices or multi-million dollar
cathedrals. Let the church sell its lavish properties and return to the
simplicity of its Master."

My next keynoter is professor Terence McCaughey, a theologian at
Trinity College, Dublin. The See of Dublin was newly vacant and a group
of Catholic professors were gathered in a pub near the College expressing
their hopes that a progressive and powerful leader would fill the
archiepiscopal chair. McCaughey was the lone Protestant in the group.
When he heard their aspirations, he replied with a twinkle: "I hope you
get a terrible bishop here who provides no leadership at all. Then,
maybe, at last, you Catholics will respond to your baptismal promises to
grow into a mature adulthood in the very image of God." The point was
taken but no offense was felt in a pub atmosphere that was flowing with
sanctifying grace.

Next, two keynoting stories: Charlie Curran, while still at Catholic
University, had a call from Jimmy Carter, at the time Carter was running
for president. Some years later I had a call from Geraldine Ferraro
asking me to do a briefing to Catholic congresspersons. Why were these
politicians---people shrewd enough to run for office and win---why were
they calling two Catholic theologians? Did they want to inquire about
Catholics' burning concern for African Americans, the perennials orphans
of American conscience? Did they want to explore Catholic indignation
about a military budget that impoverishes our nation, sucking about ten
thousand dollars a second our of our wealth while our schools and
infrastructure deteriorate? Were they exploring Catholic sensitivities
to the takeover of government by corporate lobbies, or could it have been
Catholic rage at the absence of daycare and adequate welfare?

No. Sad to say, it was none of the above. They were calling about the
only thing they thought Catholics were morally serious about: abortion.
None of the other issues were seen as "Catholic issues," though every one
of them relates to the heart and core of biblical values. Catholics, as
they read it, are fixated on pelvic issues, particularly abortion.

Somehow we have to get the abortion bone out of the Catholic throat. I
just wrote a book reporting on a three year project involving 14 scholars
from the world's religions. (Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception
and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Fortress Press) The conclusion is
that almost all religions have a conservative, "no choice" view on
abortion. Yet all of them also came to realize that fertility which is
such a blessing can also become a curse and that contraception with
abortion as a backup when necessary is permissible. Both these views
coexist in the world's major and indigenous religions. The situation is
comparable to the ethics of war. Some religionists read their religion
as rejecting all violence and they become pacifists. Other read those
same traditions as permitting a "just war." The state gives the
pacifists conscientious objector status and allows the others to serve,
thus honoring both readings of the religions. The same is true for
abortion. The religions can be read as permitting no abortions but they
also can be read as permitting the choice of abortion for good reasons.
Both views are "orthodox" and, speaking for Catholicism, neither one is
more Catholic or more "official" than the other.

Possibilities for Catholic Reform

When I taught at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, the faculty began the
year by reciting the mandatory Oath Against Modernism. That oath
committed us to teach what was "always and everywhere" taught in church
history. When we finished, Raymond Brown, the distinguished scripture
scholar commented to me: "I can't think of anything that was ‘always and
everywhere' taught." And he is right. Rembert Weakland once commented
that the church today has to "reimagine" itself. In fact, it has always
been doing so. There is a widespread illusion among Catholics that God
issued a blueprint for all church structure and teaching. That never
happened. People kept interpreting teachings and church structure and
then assuming in each age that things had always been that way.

Let Professor Dennis Nineham of Oxford University take us on a visit to
10th century European Catholicism. (See his CHRISTIANITY MEDIAEVAL AND
MODERN) If we were time-warped back into that time, we might find a copy
of the Nicaean Creed and think we would feel at home. But wait and see
how these folks had reimagined their Catholicism.

First, they imagined that God enjoyed the company of many angels, but,
alas, some of them sinned and fell into hell. To make up for the
missing, God made humans. However, he made too many of them to fit into
heaven, so most of them would die and go to hell. Indeed, it was
estimated that only one out of a thousand could avoid this horrible fate,
mostly monks and nuns. Many would try to take the cowl when near death
to try to slip into heaven. Babies who died unbaptized and people who
lived in parts of the world where there were no Catholics and hence knew
nothing about the faith....all of these would go hell. Many teachers
taught that volcanoes were the mouth of hell. Mt. Etna was especially
thought to be the opening to hell. Purgatory or limbo were not imagined

God, obviously, and Jesus by association with the Father, were not
central to piety. Clearly they were too threatening and arbitrary.
Devotion focused on the saints who really had divine status. In effect,
this was polytheism. All the saints by the way, had been upper class
people. Not until the 12th century were poor folks sainted. The
Eucharist was mainly seen as a ritualistic means to obtain favors, like
good crops.

Menstruating women were not permitted in church and, after birth, a
woman could not enter a church for 40 days. Pope Gregory, called for
some reason "the Great," taught that to marry is a sin.

So that is how they imagined the church and its teachings. We have
imagined it differently but not all our imaginings were helpful. For
example, we have imagined the church as a monarchy, not as a democracy.
That is neither helpful or necessary. It certainly has no biblical

One of the sayings attributed to Jesus that some scholars believe really
does originate with him, relates precisely to governance and structural
organization. "You know that in the world the recognized rulers lord it
over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of
authority. This is not the way with you; among you, whoever wants to be
great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be the
willing slave of all." (Mark 10:42-43) That is the very opposite of
monarchy. Not surprisingly, the New Testament shows fidelity to that
mandate. There is no pope in the early Christian community and no
monarchical bishops operating as local popes in the style they do today.
As church historian Walter Ullmann says, as late as the year 313, "there
was, as yet, no suggestion that the Roman church possessed any legal or
constitutional preeminence." Bishop Leo decided to change that. The
papacy as we know it is not Petrine, but Leonine. The Leo was Leo I,
Bishop in Rome from 440 to 461, a Roman jurist who cast the Roman
episcopate in terms borrowed directly from the Roman imperial court. The
one who was called summus pontifex (supreme pontiff), who held the
plentitudo potestatis (the fullness of monarchical power) and the
principatus (primacy) was the Roman Emperor. Leo grabbed all this
language and applied it to himself. As Walter Ullmann says, "this papal
plentitude of power was...a thoroughly juristic notion, and could be
understood only...against the Roman Law background."

Leo did not even try to justify his pompous claims by referring to the
text in Mathews gospel, "Thou are Peter, etc." That argument was added
later. Leo had his eyes on the church in Constantinople which was making
power claims that Leo didn't appreciate. As one theological wag put it,
Jesus no more planned the current form of papacy than did Sitting Bull
plan the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The papacy was not original equipment nor were papal-like episcopal
leaders in charge of local ecclesial communities. Clearly in the early
church, close as they were to the historical Jesus, they were making
things up as they went along. There are lists of ministries in I
Corinthians 12, Romans, 12 and Ephesians 4 and they all vary without
apology. The word which came to mean bishops is used synonymously with
the word that came to mean priest in Acts 20. In Acts 6 we see that the
Apostles had been serving people at table but decided that they would
rather devote themselves "to prayer and to the ministry of the word." So
they appointed servants (deacons) to wait on tables. Lo and behold,
before long the deacons seem to have tired of table work also and they
opted for preaching. Today, the office of deacon is tied to preaching.
We have to imagine that the women had to take over table work when the
boys left to pray and preach..

Clearly, there was a freedom and fluidity to the formation of
administration and structure. Taking off into a society where monarchy
was the norm, the Christians eventually imitated and aped the dominating,
hierarchical forms of their civil society, leaving us with the current
monarchical papacy and episcopate. Monarchy is a political anachronism.
The pope and the bishops needs downsizing to ceremonial status, following
the model (to take one of the more benign royal examples) of the Danish

The laity must exercise their role as shepherds and stop behaving as
sheep. They must stop acting as medieval subjects of medieval monarchs.

Priorities for Reform

Catholic reform should start with its strength. The Protestant
theologian Emil Brunner said: "While the Catholic Church, drawing on
centuries of tradition, possesses an impressive systematic theory of
justice, Protestant Christianity has had none for some three hundred
years. past." Applying basic concepts of justice from the Catholic
storehouse, these are the first practical issues that should be

(1) Lay control of finances:

There is no auditing of diocesan monies, no transparency, and no
accountability. This is obvious when Rembert Weakland could pay
$450,000.00 out of diocesan funds to someone alleging abuse, and this
figure does not show in any reports. For there to be real reform in the
Catholic Church, there must be lay management of all finances. The
bishop should answer to an elected diocesan board, not the other way
around. The rulings of this board should be deliberative, not advisory.
Church dollars are sacred dollars donated by widows on fixed incomes,
factory workers, children, and truck drivers. The days of bishops
treating these dollars as a private cache is an immoral practice that
must be ended.

A lay board in Milwaukee, for example, should immediately consider the
sale of the lake front seminary property. The American landscape is
dotted with half empty seminaries. The seminary property is worth a
fortune. It is also unjust to the Milwaukee community to keep all that
prize real estate "tax free." "Tax free" is a fiction; what it really
means is tax shifting. The tax burden is shifted to other citizens,
Catholic or not. The case for such a sale is all the more compelling
when you realize that Catholic seminaries are discriminatory institutions
like the Augusta National Golf Club where the Masters is played. In both
institutions, women are barred for no just reason. Theology has long
since established that, if there are to be priests in the Catholic
community, they need not be male. The state has no right to give tax
breaks to discriminatory institutions, thus underwriting them with public

Also, and obviously to anyone who has read a newspaper in the last 18
months, the resurgent laity must demand an end to mandatory celibacy as a
condition of service. It is irrational and sick. If it were suddenly
required that all mathematicians and brain surgeons had to be celibate,
would the mathematicians and surgeons not immediately ask: "what in the
world does celibacy have to do with my work??!!" Church ministers should
ask the same thing. When seminarians enter the seminary full of idealism
and good will and ready to serve the church and the world, current
discipline says to them: "You may do all that, but you may never fall in
love. Married love would pollute your mission." What an invitation to
pathology and the evidence of that pathology is overwhelmingly,
sickeningly visible for all to see thanks to the Pulitzer-prize- worthy
work of The Boston Globe. When a bishop like the new bishop of
Milwaukee, Timothy Dolan, arrives at this scandal-ridden scene and
responds to the crisis by launching a campaign to recruit more young
people into the sickness of an enforced, not-job-related celibacy, he is
part of the problem not part of the solution. Here again the people must
lead because clearly the hierarchy cannot.

(2) Establishing a new Catholic, justice-based political identity:

The challenge here is to redefine what are "Catholic issues" and to do
so on biblical grounds and in terms of Catholic social justice theory.
The philosopher John Dewey offered a simple ethics question. He asked
what we would think of the ethics of a U.S. senator who would call his
broker before a major vote and ask how he should vote to best enhance his
personal portfolio. Obviously such a senator is totally corrupt. Then
Dewey moved forward and said that any citizen who votes for the same
reason, to enhance his finances, is equally corrupt. Voting is an act of
social and distributive justice, the citizen's response to the needs of
the common good. It is not an act of personal acquisition. That's a
tough message---prophetically tough. It means that most citizens are
totally corrupt and politicians know it and appeal to it. "Are you
better off than you were four years ago?"

Let's dream of a Catholic citizenry who take this as their biblically
grounded first principle: WHAT IS GOOD FOR KIDS IS GOOD AND WHAT IS BAD
FOR KIDS IS UNGODLY. All foreign policy decisions, all domestic spending
decisions should be judged by this criterion. This is a simple
application of the Hebrew idea of the ANAWIM, a rich word meaning not
just the poor, but the needy, the weak, the exploited poor. Children
with their absolute dependence exemplify the poor, but there are others,
e.g. African Americans whose lives are shortened and embittered by our
genocidal and long tenured prejudice. When I was young in Philadelphia
and they spoke of a parish as "going down," it meant that people of color
were moving in and we were moving out. Blacks turned in great numbers to
Islam where such prejudice is rare; they did not turn to us where such
prejudice is rampant. Others such as those insulted because of their
sexual orientation should be the darlings of Catholic conscience.

Imagine it: Catholics as a powerful lobby for the ANAWIM. Politicians
checking their votes to see how they might affect the poor and those
suffering discrimination lest they offend the Catholic voters. Now there
is a dream!

In all the theories of justice I have studied, none match in heart and
power the Hebrew word for justice, TSEDAQAH. (Accent on the last
syllable.) The word has an Aramaic root meaning "mercy toward the poor."
The goal of TSEDAQAH shows up in Deuteronomy 15:4: "There shall be no
poor among you." The goal of justice in this classic theory is the
absolute elimination of poverty. Our notions of justice are thin broth
compared to this. Our image of justice is a blindfolded lady holding
scales that perfectly balance. Isaiah, Micah, and Jesus would find this
symbol hopelessly naive. They would advise the lady to take off the
blindfold and see who is fussing with the scales.

The biblical symbol of justice is more dynamic and realistic. Amos 5:23
gives it. Justice is a roaring mountain torrent, an ever flowing stream
rushing down the side of a tall mountain. I never caught the full force
of this image until I spent a week in Colorado talking to Lutheran
pastors. One day I climbed a mountain. As I neared one of these flowing
streams I first heard the thunderous roar of the water smashing against
the rocks, rocks that that water would eventually defeat. Fed by winter
snows and unmelted glaciers the tonnage of water is enormous. As I
neared it I could see the spume rising, and when I came closer, I stepped
back defensively. It was as formidable as it was beautiful.

Now that is scriptures's image of justice and it is no static statue of
a blindfolded lady. First of all it is water, the prerequisite for life.
Secondly it is not water at rest, but water with a mission and
direction, tumbling powerfully down the mountain. One of the Lutheran
pastors was trying to take a picture of his wife standing on a bridge; he
slipped and fell in. Fortunately he was thrown against a large rock,
where he would have spent the rest of his life if we had not been there
to get a rope around him and pull him to safety.

In the biblical image, this torrent represents justice, TSEDAQAH,
rushing---gobbling up everything it touches---Lutheran pastors and
all---and to what end? Back to Deuteronomy 15:4. "There shall be no
poor among you." Justice is a force sweeping away all the causes of
poverty, cleansing the earth with the peace-bringing water of life.

If Catholicism is to be healthy it will incarnate TSEDAQAH. It will
instinctively reach out to the poor and the wounded, the insulted and the
weak, planting justice so that there can be peace. It will say with
Judith that our God is a "God of the humble...the poor...the weak...the
desperate...and the hopeless." (Jud.. 9:11) When Catholicism is not
recognized by dogmatism on issues that are genuinely debatable among good
people, not by its unnecessary and unsuccessful insistence on celibacy
for its ministers, not by its anachronistic insistence on monarchical
rule by pope and bishops---but by the justice-love that make the church
"good news to the poor" and a prime force for peace...when that happens
reform will have happened and bare ruined choirs may fill and sing again.

Perhaps all of this is but a hopeless dream, and indeed it may be, but,
to adapt the words of the Irish poet Yeats, tread softly if you would
tread upon that dream!

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