Are we becoming a "fear based Church?"

If you read in an earlier post Bishop Kevin Dowling's talk (given his home diocese of Rustenburg in South Africa) you may be interested in Fr. James Martin's reflections on the bishop's remarks. Here's a sampling of Martin's musings:
...We live in a church where almost any disagreement to almost any degree with almost any church leader on almost any topic is seen as dissent. And I'm not speaking about the essentials of the faith--those elements contained in the Creed--but about less essential topics. Even on those topics—say, the proper way to deal with politicians at odds with church teaching, new translations of the Mass, the best way for bishops to deal with complicated pastoral issues, and so on—the slightest whiff of disagreement is confused with disloyalty.

Certainly disagreement with any statements from Rome, even on non-dogmatic or non-doctrinal matters, is seen as close to heresy... Even for bishops! Kevin Dowling is, for Pete's sake, or for Christ's sake--and I mean that literally--a bishop. A teacher. A successor to the apostles. Not simply a branch manager of the Vatican's main office. Not some lowly functionary. Not a cog. But a teacher in his own right. And even he feels the "pressure to conform."

What does this engender? It engenders a fear-based church. It creates clergy and religious frightened of speaking out, terrified of reflecting on complicated questions, and nervous about proposing creative solutions to new problems. It leads to the laity, who have a hard enough time getting their voice heard, giving up. It causes the diminution of a thoughtful theological community. It muzzles what should be a vibrant, flourishing, provocative, innovative, challenging Catholic press. It empowers minuscule cadres of self-appointed watchdogs, whose malign voices are magnified by the blogosphere, and who, with little to no theological background, freely declare any sort of disagreement as tantamount to schism--and are listened to by those in authority. It creates fear.

Now, does this seem like what Jesus wanted to establish on earth? It doesn't to me. I thought he said "Fear not!" And I thought St. John said, “There is no fear in love." And "Perfect love casts out fear." But perfect fear casts out love, too...

(Read the whole of Martin's article over at America's In All Things.)

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  1. You didn't copy the best part.

    Bishop Dowling's blunt address was not only about what he called the “dismantling" of Vatican II, but about something else: the "pressure to conform.” And here’s the irony: the one speaking out about speaking out did not feel that he could speak out, at least not broadly, or at least not to everyone, or at least not publicly. His desire not to speak more publicly on the topic effectively proved his point.

    Get it? Dowling feared speaking out. That's one of the points of his talk.
    This should produce discussion. Let's hope so, and not disrespectful and discourteous, inappropriate remarks towards those that don't have the same opinion.

  2. I didn't repeat in this post that which was available in the first one.

  3. In the health care debate, despite all the controversy among Catholic legislators, the CHA, and even Sisters and priests, not one bishop among hundreds apparently had a differing opinion. Then I was very disappointed that when quite a few bishops started calling people “so-called ‘Catholics,’” none of the others spoke up. My impression: they are still relying on “experts”(this time lawyers) to determine what to think, so they all “speak with one voice” -as usual.

  4. Thank you for posting this.

    Fear, fatigue, hopelessness. Only negativity seems to come out of Rome.

    Thank God for the rest of the Church!

  5. Claire wrote:
    "Only negativity seems to come out of Rome."

    That, of course, is not true. Unfortunately, generalities of that kind, on ALL sides, hinder efforts towards reconciliation and seeking the truth.

  6. We are a fear based church. CP, your response to Claire’s comment is one example. For her, and many others (including me), there are not a lot of positives coming from Rome. For us, that IS the truth.

    You marginalize her experiences and feelings by saying, “That, of course, is not true.” Why do you get to make that judgment of her experience? Then you observe that her comments hinder reconciliation and truth seeking. Do you not see that your comment hinders reconciliation and truth seeking? Has your comment not closed the possibility for discussion? There have been no comments since. Would another approach have been to list some of the positive things you see coming out of Rome?

    It has taken me a few days to respond due to FEAR of disagreeing with “the priest”. But I want a church where people can be heard, discuss, and disagree without being marginalized, dismissed, or silenced, the way the pope silenced Cardinal Schonborn for criticizing Cardinal Sodano.

    Our problem is we say one thing and we do another. I thought “fraternal correction” was encouraged among the bishops. Then the pope says only he can criticize a bishop. I thought this blog encouraged dialog. But maybe that depends on the opinions expressed.
    I know you have closed comments on some posts. That’s your right as the moderator of this blog.

    I went back and read your posting from June 29th about being misunderstood. I have copied it and used it as a resource to try to help me understand.

  7. Michael:

    I'd venture to say, without fear of generalizing, that the majority of the comments you submit to my page include a negative critique of things ecclesial. I might be mistaken but I don't recall having not published any of your comments. (I'm certainly willing to be corrected on that point.) I believe you've been heard here, without being "marginalized, dismissed, or silenced." Your comments are almost always of some length, substantive and with evidence for your point of view. I appreciate and publish them whether I agree with you or not.

    Some submitted comments are brief sweeping generalities about the Church. I prefer not to reject comments but if I let statements like these go without any response from "the priest" then I get complaints and demands from other readers assuming that I have agreed with the comment I published. It's this dilemma that keeps me constantly on the edge of simply closing the comboxes altogether or refraining from posting anything apart from my prayer and scripture material. That's not a direction I want to head in.

    While I understand a responsibility to not let sweeping generalities go without some response from me, I don't believe I'm responsible, for instance, for detailing the positive things that come out of Rome daily - nor do I think Claire is unaware of those things. While I doubt that Claire intended her comment to be taken literally, I know what kind of response such comments bring in.

    And I stand by my statement that generalities, especially negative ones, do little to enhance dialogue or the pursuit of the truth.

    I'm pleased to note that Claire has commented several times since the comment you referred to and I hope she did not take offense at the comment I made in response to hers.


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