Monday, November 02, 2015

Ross Douthout, Academics, Robert Barron and Me (Blogger)

Ross Douthout

Now, though, the pope has actually made a major move on marriage. He’s changing canon law governing annulments, making it much easier for divorced Catholics to have their first marriage declared invalid, null and void.

The changes do not merely streamline the existing annulment process, as many expected, by removing a mandatory review of each decision. They promise a fast-track option, to be implemented at the discretion of local bishops, that would allow annulments to be granted in no more than 45 days if both parties consent and certain personal factors are involved. Since that list of factors seems capacious and varied, in effect the pope is offering bishops the chance to expedite most annulment petitions involving consenting ex-spouses, without fear of rebuke from Rome.
This is a major liberalization of the church’s rules, probably the most significant of Francis’ pontificate to date. In the United States, home to about half the world’s annulments, the process already errs on the side of the petitioners, but even in the U.S. the path is lengthy and rigorous; it’s just that the American Catholic Church has the resources and personnel to keep the wheels moving. Whereas the new policy might actually make the process easier than secular divorce, depending on what individual bishops choose to do.

What the new rules do not do, however, is explicitly change the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, in the way that admitting the remarried to communion absent an annulment would. This may seem like theological hair-splitting, but from the point of view of Catholic unity it’s crucial. Fast-tracking annulments weakens the credibility of Catholic doctrine, in both implication and effect. But it does not formally reverse the church’s teaching about the nature of marriage and communion.

Which is why annulment reform has long been seen as a possible compromise between the two sides of this Catholic civil war. What Francis has done is clearly a liberal move, more liberal than I expected. But it’s still not the wider opening on sex and marriage that many progressive Catholics sought, since it doesn’t imply (as Kasper’s proposal does) that cohabiting and same-sex couples — and, in African societies, the polygamous — might also be welcomed to communion. And while it gives conservative Catholics grounds for dismay and critique, it doesn’t directly undercut belief in the pope’s infallibility or the permanence of doctrine.

But what does it mean that Francis has made this move pre-emptively, before the next half of the synod begins? Perhaps, as the veteran Vaticanista John Allen suggests, he wants to dial down the synod’s temperature, avoid more pitched battles over Kasper’s proposal, and create “space for other issues to emerge.” This seems plausible, especially since the new rules address many of the cases that presumably made the Kasper proposal appealing in the first place.

At the same time, advocates of opening communion more directly aren’t obviously giving up the fight — and their ranks still include many of Francis’ friends and allies, in his own Jesuit order and the hierarchy. From the liberal perspective, the new annulment rules may simply move the goal posts farther in their direction, setting up a future settlement that’s even more favorable to their ambitions.
For instance: They might hope the annulment ruling’s emphasis on the local bishop’s authority would be extended to issues of sexuality generally — that Francis, in a post-synod document, would avoidovertly endorsing communion for people in irregular situations, but use language that makes it clear to bishops that they need fear no repercussions if they go the liberal way. (Indeed, by tolerating a German hierarchy in open revolt on these issues, the pope is effectively doing this already. )
What this liberal-friendly settlement wouldn’t do, however, is actually settle anything for the church. Instead, it would harden the church’s existing divisions, with increasingly divergent Catholicisms in different parishes, dioceses, and countries.

Which remains the great danger of Francis’ current course. He may have planned to start a civil war and then cleverly resolve it. But he could end up making that conflict more enduring, a split that widens and a wound that doesn’t heal.

The Plot to Change Catholicism
OCT. 17, 2015

THE Vatican always seems to have the secrets and intrigues of a Renaissance court — which, in a way, is what it still remains. The ostentatious humility of Pope Francis, his scoldings of high-ranking prelates, have changed this not at all; if anything, the pontiff’s ambitions have encouraged plotters and counterplotters to work with greater vigor.

And right now the chief plotter is the pope himself.

Francis’s purpose is simple: He favors the proposal, put forward by the church’s liberal cardinals, that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without having their first marriage declared null.

Thanks to the pope’s tacit support, this proposal became a central controversy in last year’s synod on the family and the larger follow-up,

But if his purpose is clear, his path is decidedly murky. Procedurally, the pope’s powers are near-absolute: If Francis decided tomorrow to endorse communion for the remarried, there is no Catholic Supreme Court that could strike his ruling down.

At the same time, though, the pope is supposed to have no power to change Catholic doctrine. This rule has no official enforcement mechanism (the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the crucial check and balance), but custom, modesty, fear of God and fear of schism all restrain popes who might find a doctrinal rewrite tempting.
And a change of doctrine is what conservative Catholics, quite reasonably, believe that the communion proposal favored by Francis essentially implies.

There’s probably a fascinating secular political science tome to be written on how the combination of absolute and absolutely-limited power shapes the papal office. In such a book, Francis’s recent maneuvers would deserve a chapter, because he’s clearly looking for a mechanism that would let him exercise his powers without undercutting his authority.

The key to this search has been the synods, which have no official doctrinal role but which can project an image of ecclesiastical consensus. So a strong synodal statement endorsing communion for the remarried as a merely “pastoral” change, not a doctrinal alteration, would make Francis’s task far easier.

Unfortunately such a statement has proven difficult to extract — because the ranks of Catholic bishops include so many Benedict XVI and John Paul II-appointed conservatives, and also because the “pastoral” argument is basically just rubbish. The church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble has already been pushed close to the breaking point by this pope’s new expedited annulment process; going all the way to communion without annulment would just break it.

So to overcome resistance from bishops who grasp this obvious point, first last year’s synod and now this one have been, to borrow from the Vatican journalist Edward Pentin’s recent investigative book, “rigged” by the papal-appointed organizers in favor of the pope’s preferred outcome.

The documents guiding the synod have been written with that goal in mind. The pope has made appointments to the synod’s ranks with that goal in mind, not hesitating to add even aged cardinals tainted by the sex abuse scandal if they are allied to the cause of change. The Vatican press office has filtered the synod’s closed-door (per the pope’s directive) debates to the media with that goal in mind. The churchmen charged with writing the final synod report have been selected with that goal in mind. And Francis himself, in his daily homilies, has consistently criticized Catholicism’s “doctors of the law,” its modern legalists and Pharisees — a not-even-thinly-veiled signal of his views.
(Though of course, in the New Testament the Pharisees allowed divorce; it was Jesus who rejected it.)

The Theological Academics...


NB: This letter is posted with Dr. Massimo Faggioli’s permission.  As usual with guest posts on Daily Theology, this does not necessarily reflect the views of all DT contributors.

To the editor of the New York Times

On Sunday, October 18, the Times published Ross Douthat’s piece “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is. Moreover, accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. This is not what we expect of the New York Times.

October 26, 2015

John O’Malley, SJ (Georgetown University)
Massimo Faggioli (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota)
Nicholas P. Cafardi (Duquesne University)
Gerard Mannion (Georgetown University)
Stephen Schloesser, SJ (Loyola University Chicago)
Katarina Schuth OSF (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota)
Leslie Tentler (Catholic University of America, emerita)
John Slattery (University of Notre Dame)
Megan McCabe (Boston College)
Thomas M. Bolin (St. Norbert College)
Kevin Brown (Boston College)
Alan C. Mitchell (Georgetown University)
Elizabeth Antus (John Carroll University)
Kathleen Grimes (Villanova University)
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
Christopher Bellitto (Kean University)
Corey Harris (Alvernia University)
Kevin Ahern (Manhattan College)
John DeCostanza (Dominican University)
Daniel Cosacchi (Loyola University Chicago)
Amy Levad (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota)
Christine McCarthy (Fordham University)
Sonja Anderson (Yale University)
Fr. Robert A. Busch (Diocese of Amarillo)
Brandon Peterson (University of Utah)
Heather Miller Rubens (Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies)
Daniel Dion (Rivier University)
Mark Miller (University of San Francisco)
William T. Ditewig (Santa Clara University)
Stuart Squires (Brescia University)
Gerald O’Collins, SJ (Gregorian University, emeritus)
Anthony J. Godzieba (Villanova University)
Terrence W. Tilley (Fordham University)
Michael J. Hollerich (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota)
Gerald Schlabach (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota)
Luca Badini Confalonieri (Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research)
Francis Schussler Fiorenza (Harvard Divinity School)
Rebecca A. Chabot (Iliff School of Theology)
Mark Massa, SJ (Boston College School of Theology and Ministry)
James T. Bretzke, SJ (Boston College School of Theology and Ministry)
Anne Clifford (Iowa State University)
Jack Downey (La Salle University)
Sherry Jordon (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota)
Julia Lamm (Georgetown University)
James F. Keenan, SJ (Boston College)
Ma Christina Astorga (University of Portland)
Thomas Rausch, SJ (Loyola Marymount University)
James P. Bailey (Duquesne University)
Philip Endean (Centre Sèvres, Paris)
Giuseppe Prigiotti (Duke University)
Andrea Grillo (Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo – Rome)
John Baldovin, SJ (Boston College School of Theology and Ministry)
David Schultenover, SJ (Marquette University)
Peter C. Phan (Georgetown University)
Maggie McGuinness (La Salle University)

Response of Ross Douthat

Letter to the Catholic Academy
OCT. 31, 2015

MY dear professors!

I read with interest your widely-publicized letter to my editors this week, in which you objected to my recent coverage of Roman Catholic controversies, complained that I was making unfounded accusations of heresy (both “subtly” and “openly”!), and deplored this newspaper’s willingness to let someone lacking theological credentials opine on debates within our church. I was appropriately impressed with the dozens of academic names who signed the letter on the Daily Theology site, and the distinguished institutions (Georgetown, Boston College, Villanova) represented on the list.
I have great respect for your vocation. Let me try to explain mine.

A columnist has two tasks: To explain and to provoke. The first requires giving readers a sense of the stakes in a given controversy, and why it might deserve a moment of their fragmenting attention span. The second requires taking a clear position on that controversy, the better to induce the feelings (solidarity, stimulation, blinding rage) that persuade people to read, return, and re-subscribe.

I hope we can agree that current controversies in Roman Catholicism cry out for explanation. And not only for Catholics: The world is fascinated — as it should be — by Pope Francis’ efforts to reshape our church. But the main parties in the church’s controversies have incentives to downplay the stakes. Conservative Catholics don’t want to concede that disruptive change is even possible. Liberal Catholics don’t want to admit that the pope might be leading the church into a crisis.

So in my columns, I’ve tried to cut through those obfuscations toward what seems like basic truthThere really is a high-stakes division, at the highest levels of the church, over whether to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to communion and what that change would mean. (My emphasis: blogger).  In this division, the pope clearly inclines toward the liberalizing view and has consistently maneuvered to advance it. At the recent synod, he was dealt a modest but genuine setback by conservatives.

And then to this description, I’ve added my own provoking view: Within the framework of Catholic tradition, the conservatives have by far the better of the argument.

First, because if the church admits the remarried to communion without an annulment — while also instituting an expedited, no-fault process for getting an annulment, as the pope is poised to do — the ancient Catholic teaching that marriage is “indissoluble” would become an empty signifier.

Second, because changing the church’s teaching on marriage in this way would unweave the larger Catholic view of sexuality, sin and the sacraments — severing confession’s relationship to communion, and giving cohabitation, same-sex unions and polygamy entirely reasonable claims to be accepted by the church.
Now this is, as you note, merely a columnist’s opinion. So I have listened carefully when credentialed theologians make the liberalizing case. What I have heard are three main claims. The first is that the changes being debated would be merely “pastoral” rather than “doctrinal,” and that so long as the church continues to say that marriage is indissoluble, nothing revolutionary will have transpired.

But this seems rather like claiming that China has not, in fact, undergone a market revolution because it’s still governed by self-described Marxists. No: In politics and religion alike, a doctrine emptied in practice is actually emptied, whatever official rhetoric suggests.

When this point is raised, reformers pivot to the idea that, well, maybe the proposed changes really are effectively doctrinal, but not every doctrinal issue is equally important, and anyway Catholic doctrine can develop over time.

But the development of doctrine is supposed to deepen church teaching, not reverse or contradict it. This distinction allows for many gray areas, admittedly. But effacing Jesus’ own words on the not-exactly-minor topics of marriage and sexuality certainly looks more like a major reversal than an organic, doctrinally-deepening shift.

At which point we come to the third argument, which makes an appearance in your letter: You don’t understand, you’re not a theologian. As indeed I am not. But neither is Catholicism supposed to be an esoteric religion, its teachings accessible only to academic adepts. And the impression left by this moving target, I’m afraid, is that some reformers are downplaying their real position in the hopes of bringing conservatives gradually along.
What is that real position? That almost anything Catholic can change when the times require it, and “developing” doctrine just means keeping up with capital-H History, no matter how much of the New Testament is left behind.

As I noted earlier, the columnist’s task is to be provocative. So I must tell you, openly and not subtly, that this view sounds like heresy by any reasonable definition of the term.

Now it may be that today’s heretics are prophets, the church will indeed be revolutionized, and my objections will be ground under with the rest of conservative Catholicism. But if that happens, it will take hard grinding, not just soft words and academic rank-pulling. It will require a bitter civil war.

And so, my dear professors: Welcome to the battlefield.

Comment of Bishop Robert Barron:

"Ross Douthat and the Catholic Academy"

"The letter to the Times is indicative indeed of a much wider problem in our intellectual culture, namely, the tendency to avoid real argument and to censor what makes us, for whatever reason, uncomfortable.

Los Angeles, October 29, 2015 

Many years ago, a local Chicago sportscaster named Howard Sudberry recounted a curious controversy surrounding a major league baseball game. Late in the contest, the team that would eventually win was up by 10 runs. A player for that squad hit a single and then stole second base. The catcher of the trailing team whined after the game that this base-stealer was rubbing it in, essentially being unsportsmanlike. Well, Sudberry was having none of it. He looked into the camera and spoke, as it were, to the catcher himself: "Then throw him out!" He was implying that the base-stealer had done absolutely nothing opposed to the rules of baseball and that, if the catcher didn't like it, he should try to beat him fair and square within the context of those same rules.

This incident came to mind when I read, just recently, about a similarly curious controversy, this one within the groves of academe. The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has been opining quite a bit about the Synod on the Family in Rome, suggesting, among other things, that clear factions among the bishops have emerged, that Pope Francis favors a more liberal resolution of the key questions, and that heretical viewpoints are afoot in Rome. In response to Douthat's ruminations, a letter, signed by some of the leading lights of the Catholic academy, was sent to the editors of the Times. The professors and pundits complained that Douthat was proposing a politicized reading of Church affairs and that he was, at the end of the day, unqualified to speak on such complex matters, presumably because he doesn't have a graduate degree in theology. Their prim closing remark - "This is not what we expect of the New York Times" - was an unmistakable insinuation that views such as Douthat's simply should not be allowed into the arena of public conversation.

Are all of Ross Douthat's opinions on the Synod debatable? Of course. Do I subscribe to everything he has said in this regard? No. But is he playing outside the rules of legitimate public discourse in such an egregious way that he ought to be censored? Absolutely not! Anyone even casually familiar with Douthat knows that he is exceptionally smart, articulate, careful in his expression, and a committed Catholic. So he has argued that divisions at least analogous to political factions have emerged at the Synod. From the Council of Jerusalem in the 1st century through Vatican II in the 20th, the Church has been marked by conflict, rivalry, and faction. If you doubt me in regard to the first, take a good look at Chapters 11 through 15 of the Acts of the Apostles; and if you're skeptical in regard to the second, peruse any two pages of Yves Congar's massive diary of the Second Vatican Council. And while you're at it, read John Henry Newman's history of the Council of Nicea in the  4th century, or any treatment of the 16th century Council of Trent. When has the life of the Church not been susceptible to a political reading?

And the suggestion that, because he doesn't have a credential from the academy, Douthat isn't qualified to enter into the discussion? Please. If a doctorate in theology were a bottom-line prerequisite, we would declare the following people unqualified to express an opinion on matters religious: Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis, William F. Buckley, W.H. Auden, or to bring things more up to date, Fr. James Martin, George Weigel, and E.J. Dionne. In point of fact, it is often the case that those outside of the official academy often have the freshest and most insightful perspectives, precisely because they aren't sequestered in the echo-chamber of politically correct faculty lounge discourse.

The letter to the Times is indicative indeed of a much wider problem in our intellectual culture, namely, the tendency to avoid real argument and to censor what makes us, for whatever reason, uncomfortable. On many of our university campuses this incarnates itself as a demand for "safe spaces," where students won't feel threatened by certain forms of speech or writing. For the first time in my life, I agreed with Richard Dawkins who recently declared on Twitter, "A university is not a 'safe space'. If you need a safe space, leave, go home, [and] hug your teddy...until [you are] ready for university."

So in the spirit of Howard Sudberry, I would say to those who signed the letter against Ross Douthat, "Make an argument against him; prove him wrong; marshal your evidence; have a debate with him; take him on. But don't attempt to censor him." I understand that the signatories disagree with him, but he's playing by the rules.


 I would take a different tack. I find myself with Karol Wojtyla who described the attitude of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council: they were not interested in discussing this or that truth of the Catholic faith, but rather what does it mean to be a subject (person believing). In short, what does it mean to believe. On the plane from the US to Rome, he said: “They don’t get married. It’s a pastoral problem for the Church. Another problem: the affective maturity for a marriage. Another problem: faith. ‘Do I believe that this is forever? Yes, yes, yes. I believe.’ ‘But do you believe it?’’ The preparation for a wedding: I think so often that to become a priest there’s a preparation for 8 years, and then, it’s not definite, the Church can take the clerical state away from you. But, for something lifelong, they do four courses! Four times… Something isn’t right. It’s something the synod has to deal with: how to do preparation for marriage. It’s one of the most difficult things.”[1]

            What’s the problem? The union between the man and the woman – a consent that represents the gift of the whole self to another to death (forever), is a mysterious absolute that replicates the union of Christ and the Church (The “Great Mystery,” the instantiation of Christ into history again and again as husband and wife) Head and Body. As Christ and Church is One, “Unum” (Gal. 3, 28), so husband and wife as the primordial sacrament of creation imaging the Trinity of Persons as One God, are “One.” This needs preparation of Intelligence and formation of will.

            And who knows who has made this total gift of self, or the real intention, at the moment of “I do,” except the spouses themselves? And possibly a confessor ? And if the intention of the total self-gift is not present, neither is faith. And if faith is not present, neither is the sacrament nor the valid and ontological bond between them.
            And so the problem does not devolve on yes and no answers or points of doctrine but on the priestly soul of the ministers. “So I believe that this is forever? Yes, yes, yes. I believe.’ But do you believe it?”

But isn’t faith deeds?

So, is the pope trying to change the Church? I would say so.

No comments: