Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Family Values, Theologians, and Archbishop Nienstedt: A Theological Discussion Pertinent to the Synod on the Family

I just wrote that I'm seeing a strong hunger for authentic dialogue expressed in much commentary in Catholic circles about  the upcoming synod on the family. The hunger for authentic dialogue manifests itself as an impatience with rhetoric that never moves beyond the realm of symbol to effective action. Here's a snapshot of where many American Catholics may be right now, vis-a-vis that hunger for . . . something: for real change in our church and how it does business, for effective action in areas like the abuse crisis, for authentic dialogue that involves talking with and not down to.

Two days ago, in the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, tenured theologians of St. Thomas University published an open letter to Archbishop John Nienstedt (NCR has posted the letter online). The theologians tell their archbishop:

Leave the legal talk to the lawyers; bring pastoral talk to the people (italics in original).

They then go on to recommend that he organize a liturgical event that would aim at spiritual healing and reconciliation. In response to that recommendation, Frank Meuers of SNAP Minnesota writes,

Their [i.e., the theologians'] recommendations largely involve symbolic or long term moves.

But, Meuers insists, children need to be protected from abuse now because they are at risk now. And symbolic or longterm gestures won't accomplish that goal: Archbishop Nienstedt needs to be pressed, he insists, to engage in actions that go beyond the merely symbolic and help safeguard children from abuse here and now.

Having read the preceding documents/statements this morning, I then see Madeleine Baran's report at Minnesota NPR, noting that documents released yesterday in the litigation over abuse cases in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese show cover-up of abuse cases extending back to the 1950s — a decade earlier than Catholic officials of that archdiocese have previously admitted the cover-up to have been in place. As Baran notes, 

The previously confidential documents reveal a world in which church leaders protected priests who sexually abused children and downplayed complaints from parents and their children, while victims suffered in silence without the aid of support groups or therapy.

This statement casts light, surely, on why so many Catholics are so intent to see real dialogue take place about family issues in our church, as opposed to merely symbolic or rhetorical window-dressing discussisons. This statement drives right to the heart of the matter for many of us, as the synod on the family nears: namely, the fear that our leaders will once again seek to dupe us, that they'll once again refuse to listen to us in any effective way, that they'll once again talk down to us rather than with us.

As real human needs like protecting children from abuse continue to be in the forefront of the concern of many of us who are Catholic and who live in the families being talked about . . . . 

The graphic: a multi-generational family photo of a type that used to be common in American families. This one shows my grandfather Lindsey's brother Samuel Mark Lindsey with his wife Ava Frances Nix, their children Rochelle and Mamie, and Ava's mother Mary Octavia Harris Nix—who was an aunt of my grandmother Lindsey.

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