Thursday, March 12, 2009

Opening the Closed Center: A Utopian American Catholic Fantasy

If I may be permitted to indulge a utopian fantasy for a moment, I'd like to imagine that America magazine decides to make its decision to remove the posting about VOTF and the Connecticut legislation (here) the topic of an open discussion. An open, public discussion. One undertaken to benefit the American Catholic church.

Of course, I'm not on the inside and don't know what lies behind the removal of that posting, or, honestly, if it even was a removal of a posting and not a technical glitch. I assume that the posting was removed, because others have been uploaded following it, and a glitch that affects one posting would surely affect all.

How would an open discussion of this matter help the American Catholic church? Well, it might help us rethink the center. As I have repeatedly argued on this blog, in my view, the center has gotten mighty narrow, mighty closed, of late. It seems increasingly to reflect the viewpoint of only a handful of the faithful who are willing to put up with the church as it is, as we now know it has been for some time, following the revelations of the abuse scandal.

The center has become apologetic--at a moment in the history of the church when apologia just won't do. When it seeks to cover too much that ought to be brought out into the light of day and examined and discussed openly.

And by all of us, not just those occupying the seats of power at the center. Whose perspective is limited in numerous ways that go beyond their willingness to apologize for the church at a time when the church needs critique and not apologias. It is limited geographically to the church of the large urban centers of the east coast, in a huge nation in which Catholicism has much richer, more vibrant textures than those evident in the rarefied perspectives of the center.

While our political and religious culture is slowly shifting in reaction to the gruesome excesses of the previous federal administration, excesses from which the American Catholic center has been exceedingly slow to distance itself, the American Catholic center seems stuck. Defensive. Turned in on itself. Battened down and ready to fight.

And still willing to dismiss the important contributions of faithful Catholics who are more interested in admitting frankly that the church needs reform, if it is to meet the challenges of the day, and not apologists. Faithful Catholics like those in Voice of the Faithful.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: it scandalizes (and deeply saddens) me that my brothers and sisters of the center seem willing to write so many of us off, and to go about their business of praying and talking about what "we" all believe, when so many of us continue standing on the outside looking in. And, as we stand there, are treated as if we have ceased to exist, once the church decided it no longer needed us and our contributations.

The center needs to open up. America could do a valuable service by recognizing that and promoting conversation about it--a far more wide-ranging conversation than the one now represented at its blog. And yes, despite what the Vatican did to Thomas Reese when the current pope took office.

Now is a time for critique, not apologia. For the sake of the church, whose festering wounds won't heal if we continue acting as though they're minimal, and as if those drawing attention to the wounds are traitorous, unfaithful believers.