Thursday, March 12, 2009

Continued Conversation about Catholic Centrists: David Clohessy on Michael Sean Winters

UPDATE (2 P.M., CST): Interestingly enough, the America thread to which I link below, by Michael Sean Winters, with David Clohessy's response, is now gone from the America website. And I've just gotten a press release from VOTF combating misinformation in the media about its role with the legislation in CT (now withdrawn) that provoked Winters' posting (here).

I noted yesterday that Michael Sean Winters questions the faithfulness of the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful in a posting at America magazine's blog this week (
here). Winters asks what criteria those who characterize VOTF as faithful use, and whether they are competent to make that judgment.

In response, I noted that the question of criteria used to judge brother and sister Catholics as faithful, and the question of the competency to make such a judgment, cuts both ways. It can be asked of Winters himself and of other centrist American Catholic thinkers who, as does Winters, write off millions of brother and sister Catholics to the left of the center-right as inadequately faithful.

I conclude,

I wonder what criterion they're using in making such a cruel judgment. And if they are competent to make it. And if they think it serves the church well to do so. And if they think that it doesn't undermine their pontifications about catholicity and love and justice and what "we" all believe.

I'm not the only one asking Winters those questions, I find. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), responds to Winters in a comment at America today (here):

What a mean-spirited, gratuitous and unfair slap at the many fine Catholics who are in VOTF! Regardless of how one feels about the legislation advanced by 2 VOTF members, few doubt the good intentions and genuine compassion of the largely well-educated and clearly compassionate members of this group.

Democracy is messy and any public forum attracts a few loud-mouths. But such sweeping disdain for good Catholics in a Jesuit publication is disturbing.

Clohessy is absolutely right. Winters's snide remarks about VOTF (which has supported SNAP and those abused by priests) implicitly write off a wide group of faithful brother and sister Catholics, including lay groups working for reform of the church, and those sexually abused as minors by priests, as well as those who stand in solidarity with survivors of such abuse.

As I have noted over and over on this blog, American Catholic centrists have constructed a narrow ecclesiology that apologizes for the status quo and excludes millions of brother and sister Catholics whose voices sorely need to be heard, if the church is to heal from the horrific clerical abuse scandal, and to face the challenge of this postmodern millennium effectively. VOTF and SNAP may well represent the future of the Catholic church--the viable future of the church--far more adequately than do centrist apologists for the status quo.

Pope Benedict XVI has issued a statement this week admitting that the Vatican mishandled its offer of reconciliation to the Society of St. Pius X and its bishop Richard Williamson. In that statement (I'm relying on a copy published on Rocco Palmo's Whispers in the Loggia blog yesterday), the pope speaks of the need for "breadth" in the church:

But should not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? (

A splendid statement, indeed. And one touching on the root meaning of the word "catholic"--a church with "broader vistas" and "great breadth," capable of accomodating everyone, and of "overlooking various faults" as it extends its broad welcome to everyone.

Benedict's ecclesiology here is at odds with the ecclesiology of Winters in his remarks about VOTF. As long as those occupying the power seats of the center find it possible to welcome SSPX and Williamson, while they cannot find room for their brothers and sisters in VOTF and SNAP as well as for millions of Catholics who stand in solidarity with those groups and what they represent, something will remain radically awry with the church and its claim to catholicity.