Saturday, August 21, 2010

In the News: Theology of the Body, Revolt in Irish Catholic Church

In case you missed these articles in the past week: lots of interesting commentary on events in the Catholic church.  I’m highlighting a number of pieces that deal with topics I’ve mentioned frequently on this blog in recent days.

I’ve critiqued John Paul II’s theology of the body a number of times lately.  As I’ve noted, its biologically deterministic understanding of gender and gender roles is increasingly forming the basis of a concerted attack on gay and lesbian persons.  It purports to be grounded in a dispassionate reading of nature accessible to any person of good will, regardless of that person’s faith perspective (or lack thereof).  But, in fact, it imports into its reading of natural law strong theological presuppositions about the place of men (dominant) and women (subordinate) in the scheme of things, and makes these gender assumptions central to the entire Judaeo-Christian revelation.

The theology of the body’s male-female complementarity thesis is increasingly employed not only by Catholics seeking to defend patriarchal social arrangements, but by many evangelical Christians and Mormons as well.  And so this theology deserves careful attention on the part of those promoting women’s equality and the equality of gay and lesbian persons in societies around the world.

Wherever opposition to women's rights and the rights of LGBT persons surfaces anywhere in the world today, some version of John Paul II's theology of the body is likely to be found there, wielded as a weapon by people of faith intent on keeping at bay open discussion of gender roles and the need to renegotiate them in the postmodern period.

I’m far from the only person writing about these issues right now.  This week’s issue of National Catholic Reporter carries an insightful article by Eugene Kennedy on the theology of the body.  I highly recommend it.

Kennedy notes that, under the guise of reforming the reform of Vatican II, the current leadership of the Catholic church wants to rehabilitate guilt-focused notions of human sexuality that began to wane in post-Vatican II Catholicism.  And he points out that this backwards move is written right into John Paul’s theology of the body, since John Paul agreed with Augustine that the fall of Adam and Eve introduced concupiscence into the world: the fall of the first couple was specifically attached to sexuality, and it was this attachment that brought shame into the created world via the sexual act itself.

Irish priest Kevin Hegarty also notes the confusion inherent in Catholic sexual theology today, and the roots of that confusion in the restorationist papacy of John Paul II.  Hegarty is cited in an Irish Times article yesterday.

As I did in my recent posting here linking the theology of the body to patriarchy, Hegarty maintains that the top pastoral leaders of the Catholic church today are primarily intent on safeguarding male domination of clerical life.  He states, 

It seems to me that the Vatican’s main concern is to preserve the male hierarchical character of the Catholic Church in its present form. Its procedures are archaic, cumbersome and precious, utterly out of sync with the ways of the democratic world.

And he notes that this preoccupation with preserving male domination of ecclesial (and social) institutions is rooted in the restorationist project that began with John Paul II and continues with Benedict::

Since the 1980s the church has been in the grip of a restorationist mentality. The ‘glad, confident morning’ that followed the Vatican Council has long faded into the distance. Reform has stalled, and some liberal theologians have been silenced.

In appointments, passive docility to papal teaching in all its aspects is valued way above creative fidelity to the work of ministry in today’s complex world.

With the recent decision of the Vatican to reject the resignation of two Irish bishops who had covered up cases of clerical sexual abuse, and with the Mass boycott being organized by Ms. Sleeman, an 80-year old grandmother in Co. Cork, the Irish church is very much in the news right now.  The Vatican decision vis-à-vis the two bishops is eliciting strong reaction in the Irish church.

As a result, Robert Blair Kaiser’s keynote address on Thursday at the opening of the Humbert Summer School in Co. Mayo, Ireland, is receiving a great deal of online attention (e.g., here and here).  Citing Ms. Sleeman's Mass boycott as a sign that "the revolution may have already started," Kaiser urges the Catholic people of Ireland to remember that the Irish church is their church.

Not the pope’s.  Not the bishops’.  Theirs.

And he urges them to take it back.  Before Rome and the bishops ruin it.