Monday, May 5, 2008 vewwy, vewwy quiet....

We'we hunting hewetics!

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.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I agree with your uneasiness about the current trends in the RCC. Until 2-1/2 years ago, my husband and I were Roman Catholic. (Well, officially we still are, but we attend an Episcopal church now.) Then one Sunday we sat through a sermon that was a rant against people who dared to think it was ok to use birth control, and that it would be ok to have married priest and women priests. Our mouths fell open as we heard, "Unless you believe each and every teaching of the Catholic church, you have already separated yourself from it and should not be in full communion."

Since we weren't considered worthy to partake of Christ's body and blood, we left. (We did try to talk to our parish priest first, but all he did was hand us an 800-page catechism and tell us it was all of a piece and we couldn't pick and choose.)

I guess we were one of those star systems that slipped through the tightly grasped fingers. (Great analogy, BTW)

Sorry for the long comment. This hit a nerve. :)

Choralgirl said...

Oh, Ruth, how painful for you. I'm so sorry that happened.

I'm formerly RCC, too, but came to it as a skeptical 12-year-old. I don't think I bought the whole catechism "of a piece" THEN.

And I'm not sure Jesus minds.

But then, I'm sort of heretical on more than one level just by my existence as a partnered lesbian.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Then you have had your issues with non-acceptance there too.

I've been all over the denominational map: Baptist, Mennonite, RC, and now Episcopalian. So I was skeptical about the Roman CAtholic Church but was told by one priest that what really mattered was the creed and the rest was a matter of conscience. That seems to be changing. The leaving was worse for my cradle-Catholic husband than for me.

But we're both happy now that we've moved on. And you're right. I don't think Jesus minds. I don't think he's nearly as hung up on denominations as many people think he is.

Blessings to you.

Cecilia said...

That was in episode 1 (4?), when Princess Leia had a British accent, which mysteriously disappeared and reappeared from time to time.

Choralgirl said...

LOL, Cecilia! :-)

Have you ever noticed that, in the original trilogy, nearly every major cast member says, "I've got a bad feeling about this..."

Some of them twice.

Cecilia said...

Yes! Yes!!

You crack me up.

Pax, C.

Jan said...

I'm so sorry. I have a fondness for the RCC, because of going to a liberal theology school. However, it's a bastion I love, but don't find elsewhere in fundamental south TX.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

The line "I've got a bad feeling about this" appears in all six movies, but in the three prequels, it's usually only once. It was some sort of mantra for Lucas, I suppose.

Choralgirl said...

Hey there, Jan--yeah, I love the RCC, too; I think their sacramental practice is really beautiful, among many other things. I'm just a bit worried about it.

Ruth, you're a hard-core Star Wars fan! ;-)

Mrs. M said...

This is great. I particularly like this:
"However, to put that Church's teaching beyond scrutiny is terribly unhealthy, and does a grave injustice to its members."

I feel exactly the same way about the ECUSA's hierarchy sometimes.