A local progressive Roman Catholic church, frequently in trouble with the local archdiocese over its stances on various social issues, has dis-invited a U of M professor scheduled to speak about torture at their Sunday morning adult forum.
Because he has publicly stated his pro-choice stance on abortion.
More than twenty years ago.
About which he is not scheduled to speak.
Based upon my personal experience with this community (and that of my friends), as well as inference from this article and this column, it seems that this was not the decision of the church's own governing body. Instead, the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul intervened to smack the parish back into line, dogmatically speaking.
Thankfully, the talk has been rescheduled (and expanded to address this particular controversy) at a local conference center run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
One of the things I truly appreciate about Roman Catholic ethics is that they take individual conscience seriously. Why, then, is it not possible that members of that body could find something of value in a talk delivered by a professional ethicist who happens to disagree with official teaching on one topic entirely unrelated to his thesis for the day?
That seems pretty rigid, but absolutely in line with many of the other proclamations and actions enacted since Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict. I find it a bit frightening, in terms of the church's role in helping people to develop that conscience which is supposed to help them navigate the moral questions of their lives.
I understand the desire and responsibility of the Church to hold on to the core of its teaching. I sympathize, I truly do. It's a complicated, messy business. However, to put that Church's teaching beyond scrutiny is terribly unhealthy, and does a grave injustice to its members. Creation of a climate of fear is downright immoral.
Star Wars, that icon of pop culture, has served as a tongue-in-cheek source of citations for many a sermon. I think Princess Leia may also have a prophetic vision of the trajectory of Benedict's Church—at least the American piece of it:
Governor Tarkin: Princess Leia, before your execution, you will join me at a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.
Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.
If people don't have a voice within their church, they will disengage and seek a forum elsewhere. If controversial issues are not discussed fully and honestly, the Church's real influence on moral development is diluted. It is the job of the Church to be a place where we have conversations about the moral issues of our lives. A Church that doesn't provide that forum is shirking its responsibility to its members. History teaches that there are two possible outcomes for such a church. One is irrelevance; the other, revolution.
It seems to me that the Church lives inside a tension of self-definition, which shifts over time from one end of a spectrum to the other. That tension is this: in the working out of God's will for humanity, is the core of the church defined primarily by its historic teachings or by its members, the Body of Christ? No generation does a perfect job of finding balance inside that tension. However, it seems to me that this pope and the hierarchy he has put in place have swung quite far toward the former end of the spectrum. I pray that we find a way to live more productively inside that tension...more toward its center, before the American wing of the Church breaks right off the body.
I like the ELCA's balance better, expressed in a marketing campaign of a few years ago (and lived out with varying degrees of success). It said,
He died to take away your sins, not your mind.
I have to believe, this week before Pentecost, that it's OK for the Body of Christ to get its hair messed up from time to time by the rushing of a mighty Wind.