Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Obedience to Pastors as the Center of Catholic Faith: A Postscript to Discussion of Chicago Priests Challenging Cardinal George

A postscript to what I published earlier today about the challenge a number of Chicago-area Catholic priests are mounting to their archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, as he makes the curious choice to focus Catholic time, energy, and money on giving the honorofic title of monsignor to a number of priests, at a moment when Catholic time, energy, and money need to go towards addressing the crisis caused by years of clerical abuse of minors and of hierarchical cover-up of that abuse:

It strikes me as significant that Cardinal George has repeatedly made the fatuous claim that the "Catholic way of life" centers on "assent to revealed truth and obedience to appointed pastors, both of which create the unity Christ wishes us to enjoy."  As a posting I wrote about this claim a month ago notes, Cardinal George made the preceding statement to the Knights of Columbus at their national meeting early in August.  And was then praised by Catholic journalist Michael Sean Winters for hitting the nail on the head with his analysis of how Catholics today need to go about "binding up the unity of the faithful."

As I wrote in response to Cardinal George's statement and Winters' praise of it, obedience to appointed pastors is a thin and exceedingly shaky foundation on which to place the church's unity.  Here's my reading of what grounds and  (and effects) the unity of believers, instead: 

This formulation of the church’s unity allows a formal obedience to pastors (at every level: George’s statement is unqualified except by the adjective “appointed”) to eclipse what actually is central to the church’s unity: that is the lived experience of love that unites all believers within the body of Christ. The sacramental unity of the church—its communion—is grounded not in assent to statements of dogmatic truth and obedience to pastors. It’s grounded in an experience of communion at the bottom of which has to be love, if the church is what it says it is. 

And this is what I hear those pastors saying, who are now challenging George's decision to name 40 new monsignors, rather than to focus on the abuse crisis and the damage it has done.  It's the lived experience of the faith, centered on love, not obedience, that binds us together and creates Catholic unity.

And when our chief pastors seem to keep putting obedience ahead of that experience, and ignoring everyday Catholics' lived experience of the faith and love-centered interpretation of our tradition, and making decisions that militate against against love as the central imperative of the Christian life, we have a problem on our hands.

A very serious one, indeed.

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