Thursday, September 11, 2003

"Healthy" Dissent?

Many of you, I'm sure, have already read about the upcoming Call to Action conference in Detroit this weekend. Apart from the problems with Call to Action itself, and the speakers (all notorious dissenters, some of whom have been subjected to discipline by the Holy See), another problem is that the University of Detroit-Mercy, an ostensibly Catholic university, is hosting it:
A Call to Action event: Sept. 13 - Women of Conscience: What Does Healthy Dissent in the Church Look Like? National Coalition of American Nuns daylong conference. Anita Caspary, Agnes Mansour, Margaret Susan Thompson, Christine Vladimiroff. Univ. of Detroit/Mercy, Detroit, Mich. 314 918-0621 or

Mark Shea and Greg Popcak (who first broke the story), have been urging a campaign to bring this into the light, hopefully to put a stop to it.

The part that bugs me is the phrase "healthy dissent". To ask the question "What does healthy dissent look like in the Church?" is inane. It is like asking "What does a healthy tumor look like in the brain?" There is no such thing as a "healthy" tumor, and there is no such thing as "healthy" dissent. Are there "healthy" questions? Yes. Is there "healthy" debate? Yes. But there is no "healthy dissent" because dissent takes a decided, settled position in opposition to the defined faith or discipline of the Church. (I urge you to read Greg Popcak's outstanding analysis on the unhealthy psychology of dissent.)

Catholic schools and colleges, as I've said before, exist to hand on the faith, to enliven and deepen the faith of the Church. Giving dissenters a forum in a Catholic college gives a witness contrary to the faith.

If you wish to protest this event, you can write:

Sr. Maureen Fay, University of Detroit-Mercy:
Ned McGrath, Director of Public Relations for the Archdiocese of Detroit:

Here's my letter:

Dear Sister Fay:

I am dismayed that the University of Detroit-Mercy is hosting the "Women of Conscience" Conference this Saturday, September 13.

I am sure that you are aware of and take seriously the obligation of Catholic institutions like the University of Detroit-Mercy to uphold Catholic teaching and witness to the truth and beauty of the Catholic Faith. So I am all the more perplexed at how the University could allow itself to appear as if it were giving support and a forum to individuals and organizations which actively oppose and work against Church teaching and discipline.

Call to Action has a lengthy track record of dissent from Church teaching, among other things for its call for the ordination of women and advocacy of the regularization of same-sex relationships within the Church. I would remind you that church teaching on these matters is "de fide", and therefore binding in good conscience upon Catholics. Furthermore, both Anita Caspary and Agnes Mansour have similarly lengthy resumes of advocating dissenting positions on matters of Catholic faith and morals. They and Ms. Vladimiroff have all been subject to discipline by the Holy See for their dissent and disobedience.

Can we as Catholics afford to give a divided witness in this time when there is such great confusion in the Church, and when the Faith is under attack from secular forces in our society? I think not. The members of Call to Action and the aforementioned speakers at the conference are certainly entitled to their opinions. But Catholic instutions are under no obligation to provide a forum for those who advocate an agenda contrary to Church teaching.

I urge you to cancel this event. By doing so you will send a clear message that the University of Detroit-Mercy stands with and for the Church.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Robert Johansen

cc: His Eminence Adam Cardinal Maida
Mr. Ned McGrath

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Turn Out The Lights.
Blow Out the Candles.
Melt Down the Vessels.
Empty the Fonts (And the Tabernacles).

That's what we might as well do if we follow the lead of Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.

In justifying the ECUSA's election of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop Griswold defended their definitive break with the constant and unanimous witness of Church teaching, the Church Fathers, and Scripture by saying, in effect, that none of that stuff really means anything. The "truth" is whatever you make of it:
There were no right nor wrong interpretations of Scripture, Bishop Griswold explained to the Primates. “There is no such thing as a neutral reading of Scripture. While we all accept the authority of Scripture, we interpret various passages in different ways." (thanks to Dale for the story)

OK, Bishop Griswold, what if my "interpretation" of Scripture was that Israel was the chosen people of God, and that He had given them the land of Palestine, so the Israelis have the right to nuke, burn, pillage and enslave the Palestinians? Is that a legitimate interpretation of Scripture? On what basis could you argue yea or nay?

What if my "intepretation" of Scripture was that since, in biblical times, women were given in marriage at age 14 or 15 (even the Virgin Mary - not that you believe she was actually a "virgin" - was that old when she was married to Joseph), it was perfectly acceptable for fathers to force their daughters into arranged marriages at age 14? Would that be OK? On what basis could you say?

Is this fatuous, vapid efflatus issuing from Bishop Griswold what now passes for thought in the Episcopal Church? Oh, for the days of Keble and Pusey! While they were in error in some things, they were men that you could take intellectually seriously. But Griswold and his confreres in the ECUSA are just pathetic.

While I was in grad shcool, a friend of mine met an Episcopalian cleric in one of his classes at CUA. One day in class they were debating something, and the Episcopalian was arguing a self-contradictory position. My friend, growing rather exasperated, at one point cried out "don't you see you can't have it both ways? You're violating the law of non-contradiction!" The Episcopalian glibly replied "Oh, I gave up on the law of non-contradiction years ago." My friend, after a moment of stunned silence, then said, "Well, then, I won't be able to talk with you further. Since your assertions have all the meaning of bibble-babble, I'll just have to ignore you."

Georgetown University:
Committed to "Inclusivity", Not the Gospel

I went to graduate school at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, studying Classics and Patristics there from 1990-1995. During this period the University was just starting to emerge from its nadir of the Curran-Byron years. Whereas now, under Fr. David O'Connell, the University is becoming vigorously and enthusiastically Catholic, while I was there that could not be said.

But even then it was joke among serious Catholics at CUA that you didn't have to go far to find a "Catholic" college even less Catholic than CUA: you just had to go across town to Georgetown. During the time I was at Catholic U., Georgetown gave official recognition to a pro-Gay student organization. During the mid '90's Georgetown's administration had to be arm-twisted by a group of alumni and students into placing crucifixes (which were paid for by donors) in classrooms. [corrected 9/10/03 7:11 PM]

So it didn't surprise me last summer that Cardinal Arinze provoked a firestorm of controversy by actually suggesting that Catholic teaching regarding sexuality and the family was true. His remarks were condemned as "out of place" and provoked a walkout of faculty and students who had become accustomed to Georgetown's complacent embrace of the world. I was used to the idea that Georgetown was an environment hostile to the Gospel.

Now the president of Georgetown has reiterated the university's "committment to inclusivity." (thanks to Amy for the story) President John DeGioia said yesterday that:
The commitment of this university and the underlying ethos with our commitment to the full inclusiveness and care of each individual has characterized this place since 1789...

"Committment to inclusiveness..."? Well, that's nice, but what happened to the committment to the Gospel? Not only does Georgetwon no longer see its mission as proclaiming the Gospel, but apparently the Gospel isn't even welcome there anymore. The university's adminstration and faculty view it as a problem when a Cardinal of the Church comes there and proclaims Catholic teaching, a problem which warrants reaffirming their fealty to the World, the Flesh , and the New York Times.

In place of the Catholic Faith, in the name of "inclusivity", Georgetown provides for its students things like a sex columnist in its official newspaper, The Hoya. Julia Baugher, who writes Sex On the Hilltop for the Hoya, has these gems of wisdom to impart to her fellow students:
"Do not fool around on the first weekend." [apparently it's OK to fool around afterwards]

"If you embrace the difference between love and lust — and feel that lust has a place in everyday life — hell, go ahead." [and indulge yourself in a "booty call"]

Go Hoyas! Embrace that Lust!

While I am sure that there are still some faithful Catholics among Georgetown's faculty and students (I did meet a few while I was in DC), can there be any doubt that, as an institution, Georgetown has lost sight of its identity and mission as a Catholic university?

Georgetown is an object lesson in the problem of so-called "Catholic" institutions losing their moorings that I discuss in my article The Bishops' Disciplinary Options:
Catholic institutions do not exist for their own sake, but in order to spread the gospel and nourish the faith and life of the Church's members. If they no longer do that, then they need to be reformed.

Georgetown, along with numerous other Catholic colleges and universities, is in desperate need of reform. If it won't be reformed, then it should at least have the integrity to stop calling itself Catholic. As things stand, places like Georgetown are being dishonest.

Who will reform Georgetown? Who will call it back to the Faith, or call it to be honest with itself and the world?

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The Meeting

Like some other bloggers, I too didn't have any expectations that something earth-shattering was going to come out of this meeting. As I have written before, many of our bishops have forgotten or never knew in the first place what their office is all about. Some are, painfully, beginning to learn it and find their shepherds' voice. Some, unfortunately, show no signs of learning it. In some of those cases, Canon 401 will be the means of restoring the diocese. In others, change might come by other means: As an old, wise priest once remarked to me, "it never ceases to amaze me how many problems in the Church can be solved by the Funeral Rite."

Some of the participants, such as Leon Podles of Touchstone, have expressed frustration at the tepidity of the bishops' response, and their apparent unwillingness to act. Many "conservatives" are expressing their anger all over St. Blog's, and some have chided them for uncharity. One commentor, in so taking people to task, noted the lack of furor or expressions of unhappiness from "liberals" in the aftermath of the meeting they had with the bishops earlier in the summer. He seemed to suggest that that was because the liberals are somehow more charitable than conservatives.

Oddly enough, I had been wondering about the same thing: Why was there no outcry of dissatisafaction from liberals after their meeting with the bishops? I would imagine that the bishops at that meeting responded in much the same way as they did to Deal Hudson and the conservatives: listen and nod a lot, make conciliatory noises about the need for "dialogue", stress the need for "moderation". I imagine they counseled "prudence" and urged "charity" on all sides. They probably spoke of their desire to avoid conflict.

Liberals wouldn't be unhappy with that sort of milquetoastian talk because that is all they need in order to advance their agenda. With a few exceptions, the ascendancy of Liberal Catholicism happened not as a result of episcopal connivance, but because of episcopal indolence. Bishops who are "terrified of conflict" and "hostage" to the secular media (in the words of Greg Popcak) are not going to be inclined to say no to Sister Mary Polyester when she announces her intention to include prayers to the Four Winds in her "Eco-Spirituality Supplement to the CCD Curriculum". Liberals will be satisfied with episcopal complaisance because it gives them a clear field.

Conservatives, on the other hand, understand that preserving orthodoxy requires vigilance and deliberation. It doesn't just happen. While the bishops receive the deposit of faith, and are charged "merely" with passing it on, that is hardly a passive enterprise. To do so requires attentiveness to the errors prevalent in one's own age, and courage to articulate the Gospel's response to those errors. The Gospel has always been opposed by the World and distorted (often without evil intent) by some within the Church. This opposition and tendency to error did not stop in 1965 with the close of Vatican II, and I fear that many in the Church (not just bishops and clergy) had lost sight of that salient fact.

Conservatives are unhappy with episcopal passivity because they see that it allows the rot within the Church to go unchecked. The Scandals of last year (which are still very much with us) are a warning of dangers unfaced, which have been allowed to go on too long and have the potential to cripple the Church for another generation. Unlike liberals, whose agenda is served by the status quo, conservatives see an urgent need for action.

What sort of action, though?

Well, there are all sorts of things that bishops can do to rein in dissent and disobedience, and I outline some of them in my article, "The Bishops' Disciplinary Options" (clicking on this link will cause the article to be downloaded to your computer), which was published in the August/September issue of Catholic World Report. I wrote this after the Chris Mathews incident Holy Cross College in June prompted me to take a look at just what Canon Law empowered bishops to do with dissenters. I discovered that the bishops have wide powers under Canon Law to deal with dissent, as I argue:
The issue is not whether the bishops have the powers enumerated in the law, but whether circumstances warrant its exercise, and whether they are willing to so exercise it. These are questions of prudence and courage... But the bishops have the tools they need at their disposal: They are not compelled to stand idly by while dissent and confusion are spread by institutions within their dioceses.

Orthodox Catholics have tired of standing idly by while confusion and heterodoxy muddle and weaken the faith and life of the Church. While some of the bishops certainly heard the discontent and disillusionment at yesterday's meeting, it remains to be seen whether anyone was actually listening.

And it remains to be seen whether our bishops will actually do anything.


I've given up on YACCS. It was never a really good comments system to begin with, and the week-long outage was just too much. So I'm trying Squawkbox, we'll see how that works.

I've also fixed a few other minor things, and updated a couple of links.

I was waiting for the comments function to come back before posting Part II of my essay on The GIRM and Culture. Now that I have comments again I promise I'll post it tomorrow. But since all of the fallout is happening today over the (in)famous meeting between the bishops and orthodox Catholics yesterday, I thought I'd post some thoughts on that before returning to the GIRM.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Quote For the Day

Your lives, while you are living, are wellnigh dead, wasting in sleep the better part of your years;
snoring while wide awake, empty minds assailed by empty fears.