Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics: Ten tips from Tom Reese, S.J.
Not all Catholics agree with the Church all the time, and Tom Reese, S.J., will tell you there is no point in denying it. Questioning is not, however, something most Catholics undertake lightly. These disagreements are often born out of conscience, of genuinely believing in the faith while believing equally something that is at odds with the accepted teachings of the Church.
Reese, the former editor of the Jesuit weekly magazine America, was a visiting scholar at Santa Clara during the 2005-06 academic year. In the Regan lecture delivered on April 26, cosponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, Reese outlined his strategies for Catholics who think, question, doubt, debate, and disagree. Here are those strategies in a nutshell:
Though much of the attention is on liberal Catholics urging the Vatican to allow female priests or birth control, questioning is hardly limited to one’s political alignment. From condoms to illegal immigration, the Church has taken many unpopular stands. Indeed, it would be hard for any organization with hundreds of millions of constituents in dozens of countries to be universally popular. Additionally, as Reese said, “a questioning mind is fostered by our education and the very culture we live in. It is part of who we are and we cannot run away from it.” That applies to all people, not just Americans, Democrats, reactionaries, or radicals.
The Catholic Church - Democratic?
Posted by Greg Diamond
Date: Sep-21-2006 at 10:4 AM
My quarrel with the CC is not doctrinal but structural. The structure of the CC is fundamentally at odds with democracy.
I stopped participating in the Catholic Church several years ago and took up attendance and participation in the Presbyterian Church of America and, most recently, the Episcopal Church. These are quite diverse Christian churches but even the PCA is enlightened compared to the organizational structure of the Catholic Church. The PCA (consider evangelical and conservative) vests power almost exclusively in the laity. The laity (albeit only men) select church ministers and national church leaders. Decision making is democratic, not tyrannical. Married and unmarried men can become ministers. The Episcopal Church goes further: power in the parish level rests in the vestry, including selection and retention of a parish priest. Like the PCA, there is no single authoritarian figure at the top of the organization in the Episcopal Church. Moreover, men and woman, regardless of sex, marital status or sexual orientation, can participate fully in all ministries in the church, including presiding bishop. National power in the EC resides in a mixed clergy/laity assembly that meets every three years to consider and decide on fundamental issues in the EC. While hardly free from controversy (as evidenced by the events in the EC over the last three years), at least the EC is an open organization that allows the free exchange of ideas and shares power equitably. The PCA and the EC are the better models for church organization.
At worst the CC is a dictatorship and, at the very best, an oligarchy of select bishops who have the final say on all issues, however small. While the Pope and bishops delegate authority, in the final analysis, they can overrule any decision by lesser clergy or laity. While some dioceses have a strong and oppositional priestly body (e.g., Chicago), this is hardly the norm. Even though most CC activities do not call for the involvement of the bishop or Pope, structurally all power ultimately rests in very few people. This is fundamentally undemocratic.
Any adult Catholic (regardless of sex, marital status or sexual orientation) should be permitted to enter training to become a member of the clergy, including the opporutnity to become a priest, bishop or Pope. Moreover, power in the CC should be shared among the clergy and laity at all levels in a democratic fashion. While it is legitimate to have clergy as leaders of parishes or dioceses, power at both levels should be shared in a council or vestry with the laity. The CC is empty without the laity; indeed it ceases to exist without the laity. Finally, the power of the Pope should reside in a mixed clergy/laity international assembly, with representatives from all dioceses allowed to participate.