Keep the Faith, Change the Church.

Reform or dismantle? Why we need to keep the institutions that keep us / Commonweal

The division of Catholicism into various brands—liberal, progressive, conservative, traditionalist—fosters a spirit of zero-sum competition rather than communion. (Commonweal)

One of the effects of the sex-abuse crisis is the current moment of institutional iconoclasm—the temptation to get rid of the institutional element of the Catholic Church. The failures of the church’s institutions are now on full display, even more so than after the revelations of the Spotlight investigation. It is hypocritical, however, to interpret the abuse crisis as a clerical abuse crisis rather than a Catholic abuse crisis. Obviously, the clergy had a unique role in the crisis, but the moral and legal responsibilities do not belong exclusively to those wearing a Roman collar. We are still reluctant to acknowledge the systemic nature of this crisis as something that affected the entire Catholic world and not just its ordained ministers. We would like to contain it neatly within the hierarchy so as to exempt ourselves from the burden of critical self-reflection.

“American Catholicism has not yet found its way out of the blame game for the abuse crisis. One sees this on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Recent attempts to use the crisis as a pretext for abolishing the priesthood are just a liberal version of conservative attempts to blame sexual abuse on gays or the sixties. All such strategies spare lay Catholics the bother of having to ask ‘What did do wrong?’ The abuse itself damaged the lives of the victims and their families, friends, and communities. Now, the shortcomings of our response to the abuse crisis—our failure to deal with its root causes—is causing another kind of damage. When prominent scholars of Catholicism publicly display their ‘disgust’ for Catholicism, it is clear that the abuse crisis has blurred the line between an ecclesially engaged Catholic theology and the more dispassionate, agnostic religious studies of Catholicism. The abuse crisis has produced two kinds of counter-evangelization:

  • first, the counter-evangelization of the hierarchical church, whose example scandalizes the faithful and repels outsiders;
  • second, the counter-evangelization of those who have used this crisis to self-righteously declare their liberation from what they describe as a morally corrupt institution.

There is a prefabricated quality to at least some of these declarations. They seem less like honest reckonings with new information than shrewdly timed expressions of old resentments. There will always be an appreciative audience for “Why I Left” pieces.”

By Massimo Faggioli, Commonweal — Read more …