THE VOICE OF THE FAITHFUL IN A CLERGY
by Dan Maguire, Marquette University
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
restaurant. Everything the waiter suggested had meat. Finally,
deferring somewhat to my scruple, he suggested a spinach filled
When it arrived, it was covered with bolognese meat sauce.
asked him if he was a Catholic. "Cattolico lei?"
(Aren't you a
Catholic?) His response requires no translation: "Cattolico,
fanatico, no!" My education had begun.
Still in the salvific Italian spirit badly needed in the United
the story is told of a cab driver in Rome in 1968 on the day
Vitae was issued. Even though the pope's advisors overwhelmingly
to change church teaching on contraception, the pope sided
minority and chose to continue the ban. There was great excitement
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
one priest "what happened?" The priest replied solemnly:
"The pope came
out today and condemned the pill." The cabby shook his
disconsolately and finally said: "Why did they tell him
That was Italian Catholicism behind that wheel. He knew the
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
Let me add a few more keynoting quotes and stories to illustrate
theological message. My next keynoter is my son Tommy. When
three I noticed on a September day that he did not recall
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
to share this precious moment. What I heard was Tom giving
whole message on autumn. With a voice full of reverence and
said: "Patches, all leave green. All turn yellow, red,
All fall down."
I realized that if I had told Tom that all the trees out back
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
shocked by birth and the noises and discomforts thereof, it
compared to the comfort of the womb. When Tom's little face
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:
experience, which is very impressive, and authority, the authority
these massive figures on which we are totally dependent. As
as sense experience is, telling us what is hot or cold or
hard, etc., if
the authority says something that contradicts that sense experience,
authority prevails over everything that you feel and see.
At that age,
we require an infallible authority system. And here is the
often we don't entirely grow up and we hanker for infallible
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
independent judgment; some authority structure takes control
mind. With Protestants and Muslims this often takes the form
magically interpreted scripture; with Catholics it is more
likely to be a
magically interpreted hierarchy. In both cases, the cultically
religion inhibits growth. St. Paul's advice is relevant: "Do
childish, my friends...be 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
Vatican Council he wrote: "The Church is not the petrification
once was, but its living presence in every age. The Church's
is therefore the present and the future no less than the past."
My keynoter is Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. In his Presidential
to The Catholic Theological Society of America he said that
"implicitly taught the legitimacy and even the value
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
Henri de Lubac, and Yves Congar. . Dulles says that certain
the hierarchy "seem to evade in a calculated way the
findings of modern
scholarship. They are drawn up without broad consultation
theological community. Instead, a few carefully selected theologians
asked to defend a pre-established position..." Dulles
with those theologians who do not limit the term "magisterium"
hierarchy. He speaks of "two magisteria--that of the
pastors and that of
the theologians." These two magisteria are "complementary
corrective." The theological magisterium may and indeed
the hierarchical magisterium. Dulles concludes: "we shall
insist on the
right, where we think it important for the good of the Church,
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
faithful. Catholic theology at its healthiest said the search
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.
Historically, none of them has turned out to be infallible.
each has led. The hierarchy were ahead of the other two magisteria
an early medieval pope condemned the torture of prisoners
confessions. The laity led the way in showing that not all
interest-taking is excessive and sinful as was once taught
ecumenical councils and theologians. It took the theologians
to admit that, and then, a century later, the Vatican got
banking business and finally conceded---two centuries behind
and one century behind the theologians--- that moderate interest
fine. The theologians were leaders in preparing the way for
and the pope is still resisting those advances.
My next keynoter is Thomas Aquinas himself, the saintly theologian
exemplified theology done ex corde ecclesiae. Thomas drew
a sharp and
still useful distinction between the officium praelationis
administrative office) of bishops and the officium magisterii
office) of theologians. What Aquinas is saying here, as Cardinal
observes, is that the hierarchy does not monopolize the charism
and "the theologian is a genuine teacher, not a mouthpiece
for higher officers."
Elsewhere, and relevant to our purposes here, Dulles, speaking
Catholic University of America wonders whether Thomas Aquinas,
were alive today...would be welcome" at The Catholic
America. Once again, he insists that the "magisterium
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
direct control over the content of theological teaching."
Dulles insists "was primarily pastoral, rather than academic."
My next keynoter is Paul Lehmann, olim Professor of Christian
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,
Dr. Lehmann with pride. Lehmann mounted the pulpit, looked
out into the
sea of joyful faces in that beamingly well-lit building, and
these words: "Do you know what you have built here? A
mausoleum. It stands incandescent in the glow of its own irrelevance
the dynamics of the time rush to pass it by." After they
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
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.
say there was a need for golden chalices or multi-million
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
Trinity College, Dublin. The See of Dublin was newly vacant
and a group
of Catholic professors were gathered in a pub near the College
their hopes that a progressive and powerful leader would fill
archiepiscopal chair. McCaughey was the lone Protestant in
When he heard their aspirations, he replied with a twinkle:
"I hope you
get a terrible bishop here who provides no leadership at all.
maybe, at last, you Catholics will respond to your baptismal
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
Next, two keynoting stories: Charlie Curran, while still at
University, had a call from Jimmy Carter, at the time Carter
for president. Some years later I had a call from Geraldine
asking me to do a briefing to Catholic congresspersons. Why
politicians---people shrewd enough to run for office and win---why
they calling two Catholic theologians? Did they want to inquire
Catholics' burning concern for African Americans, the perennials
of American conscience? Did they want to explore Catholic
about a military budget that impoverishes our nation, sucking
thousand dollars a second our of our wealth while our schools
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
only thing they thought Catholics were morally serious about:
None of the other issues were seen as "Catholic issues,"
though every one
of them relates to the heart and core of biblical values.
they read it, are fixated on pelvic issues, particularly abortion.
Somehow we have to get the abortion bone out of the Catholic
just wrote a book reporting on a three year project involving
from the world's religions. (Sacred Choices: The Right to
and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Fortress Press) The conclusion
that almost all religions have a conservative, "no choice"
abortion. Yet all of them also came to realize that fertility
such a blessing can also become a curse and that contraception
abortion as a backup when necessary is permissible. Both these
coexist in the world's major and indigenous religions. The
comparable to the ethics of war. Some religionists read their
as rejecting all violence and they become pacifists. Other
same traditions as permitting a "just war." The
state gives the
pacifists conscientious objector status and allows the others
thus honoring both readings of the religions. The same is
abortion. The religions can be read as permitting no abortions
also can be read as permitting the choice of abortion for
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
year by reciting the mandatory Oath Against Modernism. That
committed us to teach what was "always and everywhere"
taught in church
history. When we finished, Raymond Brown, the distinguished
scholar commented to me: "I can't think of anything that
was always and
everywhere' taught." And he is right. Rembert Weakland
that the church today has to "reimagine" itself.
In fact, it has always
been doing so. There is a widespread illusion among Catholics
issued a blueprint for all church structure and teaching.
happened. People kept interpreting teachings and church structure
then assuming in each age that things had always been that
Let Professor Dennis Nineham of Oxford University take us on
a visit to
10th century European Catholicism. (See his CHRISTIANITY MEDIAEVAL
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,
alas, some of them sinned and fell into hell. To make up for
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,
estimated that only one out of a thousand could avoid this
mostly monks and nuns. Many would try to take the cowl when
to try to slip into heaven. Babies who died unbaptized and
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
taught that volcanoes were the mouth of hell. Mt. Etna was
thought to be the opening to hell. Purgatory or limbo were
God, obviously, and Jesus by association with the Father, were
central to piety. Clearly they were too threatening and arbitrary.
Devotion focused on the saints who really had divine status.
this was polytheism. All the saints by the way, had been upper
people. Not until the 12th century were poor folks sainted.
Eucharist was mainly seen as a ritualistic means to obtain
Menstruating women were not permitted in church and, after birth,
woman could not enter a church for 40 days. Pope Gregory,
some reason "the Great," taught that to marry is
So that is how they imagined the church and its teachings. We
imagined it differently but not all our imaginings were helpful.
example, we have imagined the church as a monarchy, not as
That is neither helpful or necessary. It certainly has no
One of the sayings attributed to Jesus that some scholars believe
does originate with him, relates precisely to governance and
organization. "You know that in the world the recognized
rulers lord it
over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the
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
monarchy. Not surprisingly, the New Testament shows fidelity
mandate. There is no pope in the early Christian community
monarchical bishops operating as local popes in the style
they do today.
As church historian Walter Ullmann says, as late as the year
was, as yet, no suggestion that the Roman church possessed
any legal or
constitutional preeminence." Bishop Leo decided to change
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
episcopate in terms borrowed directly from the Roman imperial
one who was called summus pontifex (supreme pontiff), who
plentitudo potestatis (the fullness of monarchical power)
principatus (primacy) was the Roman Emperor. Leo grabbed all
language and applied it to himself. As Walter Ullmann says,
plentitude of power was...a thoroughly juristic notion, and
understood only...against the Roman Law background."
Leo did not even try to justify his pompous claims by referring
text in Mathews gospel, "Thou are Peter, etc." That
argument was added
later. Leo had his eyes on the church in Constantinople which
power claims that Leo didn't appreciate. As one theological
wag put it,
Jesus no more planned the current form of papacy than did
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
things up as they went along. There are lists of ministries
Corinthians 12, Romans, 12 and Ephesians 4 and they all vary
apology. The word which came to mean bishops is used synonymously
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
rather devote themselves "to prayer and to the ministry
of the word." So
they appointed servants (deacons) to wait on tables. Lo and
before long the deacons seem to have tired of table work also
opted for preaching. Today, the office of deacon is tied to
We have to imagine that the women had to take over table work
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
was the norm, the Christians eventually imitated and aped
hierarchical forms of their civil society, leaving us with
monarchical papacy and episcopate. Monarchy is a political
The pope and the bishops needs downsizing to ceremonial status,
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
sheep. They must stop acting as medieval subjects of medieval
Priorities for Reform
Catholic reform should start with its strength. The Protestant
theologian Emil Brunner said: "While the Catholic Church,
centuries of tradition, possesses an impressive systematic
justice, Protestant Christianity has had none for some three
years. past." Applying basic concepts of justice from
storehouse, these are the first practical issues that should
(1) Lay control of finances:
There is no auditing of diocesan monies, no transparency, and
accountability. This is obvious when Rembert Weakland could
$450,000.00 out of diocesan funds to someone alleging abuse,
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.
bishop should answer to an elected diocesan board, not the
around. The rulings of this board should be deliberative,
Church dollars are sacred dollars donated by widows on fixed
factory workers, children, and truck drivers. The days of
treating these dollars as a private cache is an immoral practice
must be ended.
A lay board in Milwaukee, for example, should immediately
sale of the lake front seminary property. The American landscape
dotted with half empty seminaries. The seminary property is
fortune. It is also unjust to the Milwaukee community to keep
prize real estate "tax free." "Tax free"
is a fiction; what it really
means is tax shifting. The tax burden is shifted to other
Catholic or not. The case for such a sale is all the more
when you realize that Catholic seminaries are discriminatory
like the Augusta National Golf Club where the Masters is played.
institutions, women are barred for no just reason. Theology
since established that, if there are to be priests in the
community, they need not be male. The state has no right to
breaks to discriminatory institutions, thus underwriting them
Also, and obviously to anyone who has read a newspaper in the
months, the resurgent laity must demand an end to mandatory
celibacy as a
condition of service. It is irrational and sick. If it were
required that all mathematicians and brain surgeons had to
would the mathematicians and surgeons not immediately ask:
"what in the
world does celibacy have to do with my work??!!" Church
ask the same thing. When seminarians enter the seminary full
and good will and ready to serve the church and the world,
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-
work of The Boston Globe. When a bishop like the new bishop
Milwaukee, Timothy Dolan, arrives at this scandal-ridden scene
responds to the crisis by launching a campaign to recruit
people into the sickness of an enforced, not-job-related celibacy,
part of the problem not part of the solution. Here again the
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
The philosopher John Dewey offered a simple ethics question.
what we would think of the ethics of a U.S. senator who would
broker before a major vote and ask how he should vote to best
personal portfolio. Obviously such a senator is totally corrupt.
Dewey moved forward and said that any citizen who votes for
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.
tough message---prophetically tough. It means that most citizens
totally corrupt and politicians know it and appeal to it.
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
decisions should be judged by this criterion. This is a simple
application of the Hebrew idea of the ANAWIM, a rich word
just the poor, but the needy, the weak, the exploited poor.
with their absolute dependence exemplify the poor, but there
e.g. African Americans whose lives are shortened and embittered
genocidal and long tenured prejudice. When I was young in
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
Islam where such prejudice is rare; they did not turn to us
prejudice is rampant. Others such as those insulted because
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
suffering discrimination lest they offend the Catholic voters.
is a dream!
In all the theories of justice I have studied, none match in
power the Hebrew word for justice, TSEDAQAH. (Accent on the
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
compared to this. Our image of justice is a blindfolded lady
scales that perfectly balance. Isaiah, Micah, and Jesus would
symbol hopelessly naive. They would advise the lady to take
blindfold and see who is fussing with the scales.
The biblical symbol of justice is more dynamic and realistic.
gives it. Justice is a roaring mountain torrent, an ever flowing
rushing down the side of a tall mountain. I never caught the
of this image until I spent a week in Colorado talking to
pastors. One day I climbed a mountain. As I neared one of
streams I first heard the thunderous roar of the water smashing
the rocks, rocks that that water would eventually defeat.
Fed by winter
snows and unmelted glaciers the tonnage of water is enormous.
neared it I could see the spume rising, and when I came closer,
back defensively. It was as formidable as it was beautiful.
Now that is scriptures's image of justice and it is no static
a blindfolded lady. First of all it is water, the prerequisite
Secondly it is not water at rest, but water with a mission
direction, tumbling powerfully down the mountain. One of the
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
where he would have spent the rest of his life if we had not
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
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
If Catholicism is to be healthy it will incarnate TSEDAQAH.
instinctively reach out to the poor and the wounded, the insulted
weak, planting justice so that there can be peace. It will
Judith that our God is a "God of the humble...the poor...the
desperate...and the hopeless." (Jud.. 9:11) When Catholicism
recognized by dogmatism on issues that are genuinely debatable
people, not by its unnecessary and unsuccessful insistence
for its ministers, not by its anachronistic insistence on
rule by pope and bishops---but by the justice-love that make
"good news to the poor" and a prime force for peace...when
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
to adapt the words of the Irish poet Yeats, tread softly if
tread upon that dream!