Monday, April 16, 2012

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: "What Really Did They Accomplish," Those Theologians of Vatican II?

Anonymous gets around a lot on Catholic blog sites.  (S)he often strikes me as having the temperament that ancient proto-psychological theories describe as choleric: given to fits of rage induced, the ancients thought, by an excess of bile in the system.  The term "chillax" hadn't been invented when the ancients talked about the four humors and what caused them.

But "chillax" is a good prescription for Mr. or Ms. Catholic Anonymous, with his/her strong propensity for bilious rage.  Take a chill pill, take a deep breath, enjoy a long, cool drink of water (or a nice cup of soul-soothing chamomile tea), and get a handle on the rage: good prescriptions for the bilious temperament, to ward off strokes and heart attacks.

Here's a choleric-bilious comment that ever-busy Anonymous made a day or so ago in response to an eminently sane proposal by Thom Curnutte at his Faith in the 21st Century site for liberal Catholic theologians to begin recognizing that when they go on and on about socioeconomic marginalization, there are marginalized communities right within their own Catholic church to use as case studies.  As Thom points out, these include gay and lesbian Catholics and Catholics committed to feminism.

To which Anonymous helpfully (?) replies:

I suppose it all comes down to what you mean by progressive theologians. One by one theologians like Hans Kung, Gregory Baum, The Berrigan Brothers, Richard McBrien, Charles Curran and so forth are falling by the wayside with no one to replace them. And what really did they accomplish? In what way have they left their mark on the Church beyond gathering to themselves disciples who now dispair that the Church has not gone their way. Ask yourself what you are looking for, Thom and then ask yourself whether what you are looking for was ever realistic.

So.  The classic theologians of the Vatican II period, several of whom were periti at the council itself, one of whom was my own professor in graduate school: "What really did they accomplish?"  "[T]he Church has not gone their way."  All those theologians who did those many years of research, who wrote article after article and book after book, whose powerful and spiritually rich thinking significantly influenced an entire generation of Catholics: they're history.  They lost!

And so let's forget about them.  Let's bury them among the grimy footnotes of history where losers (like Jesus?) live.

Let's get on with the ungrimy business of celebrating victory!  We're number one!  

Numbers win!

Whatever money has the clout to buy: that's real victory!

When Anne Hendershott (with whom I have a bit of history)* and Christopher White published an op-ed piece in that eminent Catholic publication Wall Street Journal last week with the title "Traditional Catholicism Is Winning," I immediately thought to myself: Wonder what the prize is?

Because if what reactionary Catholicism is doing these days is winning, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want any prize they're winning.

Since while a third of American Catholic adults have walked out of the church as fast as their feet can carry them in recent years, a few super-rich Catholics, for whom Wall Street Journal will always speak (just as it will always attack reform movements in the Catholic church, especially when they call on the church to adhere to Catholic social teaching), have been able to manage to buy/take control of a hand-picked set of Catholic institutions, have stamped these with their "Catholic" (i.e., right-wing) brand, and claim this as "victory."

From where I stand, the mass stampede of American Catholics to leave the church as fast as their feet can carry them hardly looks like a victory worth celebrating.  Nor does the seamy, scandalous abuse crisis, which goes on and on (see: Kansas City; see: Philadelphia), with revelations about precisely what rich reactionary Catholics have been helping the bishops cover up for years now inside the structures of the church.  Nor does the ability of rich right-wing Catholics to buy a handful of "Catholic" institutions.

The rich always have had and always will have the ability to buy selected institutions and brand them as . . . whatever the rich want.

That's not victory, from where I stand.  That's the rich behaving predictably like the rich.  That's the Wall Street Journal celebrating what it's designed to celebrate.

That's not Catholic values that are being celebrated by Anonymous or Ms. Hendershott or Mr. White.  Because Catholic values center on what we do to and think about the least among us.  Catholic values center--to put the point more sharply--on the least among us.  Not on the rich.

You know what's really astonishing about Anonymous and his/her response to Thom Curnutte?  It's the proposition that, in obliterating a whole era of valuable theology that gave life to and then flowed out of the last ecumenical gathering of the worldwide Catholic church, we're somehow gaining a victory.

In obliterating one's enemies, and in defining an entire generation of the church, not to mention the last ecumenical gathering of the whole church, as a mistake, we're gaining a victory.

Maybe Mr. and Ms. Catholic Anonymous need to read Plutarch on the victory of King Pyrrhus of Epirus at Heraclea and Asculum while they also study classical theories of the humors and their prescriptions for dealing with bilious temperaments.

It's hard to think of any community outside the community comprised by today's Catholic right that so gleefully celebrates the total eradication of the witness of a whole generation of the community's prophets, thinkers, mystics, and poets.  I wonder if the Catholic right ever thinks very seriously about precisely whose voice they may wish to silence, as they consign the theological giants of the Vatican II generation to silence.

Sometimes the voice we want so desperately to put to death turns out to be the voice of the Spirit itself.

And we never win when we try to consign the voice of Holy Sophia to the dustbin of history.

For Tom Roberts' commentary at National Catholic Reporter on the Hendershott-White op-ed statement, see here.

*For more on my history with Hendershott, see also here, here, and here.

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