Second Vatican Council

Catholic Authoritarianism--Unchecked!

George Orwell made two mistakes in his classic novel, "1984". First, the date. Published in 1949 as a cautionary tale to what he perceived as the growing and dangerous totalitarianism of the state, Orwell, missed the target date by about 25 years. This is 2010, not 1984. Second, Orwell focused on the powers of the state, when arguably, the real threat comes from Church authority. Clearly, the civil authorities engage in abusive power and intrusion of privacy. In the United States, the government even suspends the Constitution at will. But it is the Church that engages in the most insidious attempts at mind control. And in the end, it is the control of the mind that allows power to go unchallenged and unchecked.

In 1976, the late Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit, hosted a gathering of Catholics to address concerns about the Church and urge reform. Known as "Call to Action" it quickly spread to other Catholic dioceses and gathered a significant following of laity and clergy, all of whom wanted to see the reforms of the Second Vatican Council fully implemented throughout the United States, and ultimately, the whole Catholic world. Among the demands of Call to Action was more lay participation in the decision making of the Church--clearly part of the vision of the Second Vatican Council.

I remember when Archbishop Mahony of Los Angeles appointed the first woman Chancellor. Sister Cecilia Louise Moore was extremely competent and an excellent choice, and there was some symbolic value to appointing a female chancellor. However, at its core her appointment was slightly above a public relations stunt. After all, she had no real power. That resides with the Moderator of the Curia, and needless to say that position is only filled by a priest--handpicked by the Archbishop.

Now comes an organization, the American Catholic Council, seeking to advance the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, supposedly the official teaching of the Church, being harassed and castigated by the current Archbishop of Detroit, Allen Vigneron. One must stop to wonder if he is at all familiar with the teachings of the Council, himself. One cannot assume that he is, simply because he also is the Archbishop. He has publicly decried the American Catholic Council, asked them to cancel their conference and warned all Catholics, laity and clergy, not to attend. He has demanded that no Catholic institution in the Archdiocese host any part of the conference. This is mind control run amok, but without a George Orwell to alert us to its dangers.

As we have seen over and over, the Catholic Church continues to be run by an old boys club. Yes, it is a tired cliché, but then again, the club itself is getting tired. The tragedy is that the powers that be, namely the Pope and other authorities in Rome, keep appointing as bishops only those apples that fall directly beneath the tree. How can we possibly anticipate that there will be growth and renewal in the Spirit of Vatican II, when each new crop of bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals is consumed with its own importance and the men driven by their own lust for power and control?

For the record, I do not overstate the case. From the parish level up, the voice of the laity is only advisory, not deliberative or decisive. While some few may exert influence, most pastors and bishops are free to ignore the advice of their councils. As for extending the Sacrament of Orders to include more, and some would argue more competent, persons, the Vatican has set up stumbling blocks for both women and married men. While people may disagree about the wisdom of admitting women to the priesthood, there is simply no sound theological, that is to say, doctrinal position against it. At best, the ordination of women is a disciplinary issue and, like married clergy, could be changed tomorrow if the Pope were a little more open to the movement of the Spirit.

Speaking of the movement of the Spirit, the American Catholic Council is convening its conference in Detroit on Pentecost, 2011. Historically, there has always been a certain tension between the free movement of the Spirit in the Church and the structured authority of the hierarchy. This tension is valuable, serving as a sort of checks and balances. Lately, it seems the balance has been lost as the Spirit is continually ignored. This might be a good time to remind Archbishop Vigneron that the Holy Spirit has been gifted by God to the entire church, not just to the clergy, and certainly not just to the Pope and bishops. Ultimately, it is the faith of the people, not the power of the bishops, that determines truth.

Welcome, Catholics, to Detroit--but only if you do not live here.