David's previous articles
April 29, 2012 David Timbs
(Melbourne) David's previous articles
Season on the US Religious Women
Mandate of Christ to the Church
the very heart of the memory of the
early Jesus Movement was the overwhelming imperative to leave the land of its
origins. Its members were not only summoned but commanded by the Risen Christ to
leave home and spread the Gospel message to a world far different from its own
former social and religious environment.
the post-Pentecost years, it became clearer and clearer to Jesus’ disciples
that their future lay beyond the borders of Palestine. Within decades, even the
most homesick of the Jesus Movement realised that Judaism was becoming too
restrictive, too introspective for them to exercise any effective ministry in
movement from a symbiosis or exclusive
existence to that of an osmosis or
inclusive identity proved a sometimes painful experience. The transition
involved a process of determining just exactly what was core to its Gospel
message, what could be left behind, what adjustments to their new world were
needed and what were the limits, if any, to the absorption of foreign customs
and ways of thinking.
fact that the Jesus Movement, the Church, succeeded in its mission to evangelise
is ample evidence that it took its faith in the Incarnation seriously. They made an evident reality the message of
Jesus that God is with humanity and
that the Word of God had pitched a tent with the outcast and fringe-dwellers.
They gave the Word a home in foreign cultures and societies, And
the Word was made flesh and became a Gentile.
had to find imaginative strategies to embed
the Gospel message in a new world and give it a new language. It took
patience, imagination, fearlessness, maturity and great faith. The Church has
always been at its best and its Gospel welcomed when these virtues flourished.
Defeat for Christ and his Gospel
the Catholic world is witnessing right now is the sad spectacle of a large group
of modern Apostles losing their nerve once again, as they did at the time of
Jesus, and placing a stumbling block in the way of the Gospel and scandalizing
those whom they were charged to lead.
United States Episcopal Conference is mimicking in spectacular fashion the
current behaviour of the Roman Curia in targeting individuals and groups of
Catholics and prosecuting them as if they are fifth columnists, out to subvert
essential doctrines and disciplines of the Church. This is not a new story but
it is a very American one.
at the possibility that Catholicism in the United States of America could drift
patterns of thinking and governance, Pope Leo XIII
issued an 1895 Encyclical Letter, Longinqua
Oceani (Wide expanse of the Ocean)
to condemn the heresy of Americanism.
Leo expressly warned the bishops against promoting or encouraging the doctrine
of the separation of Church and State and called for recognition of the Roman
Catholic church as a special category in American society and in its political
followed up the Encyclical with an 1899 pastoral letter, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, addressed to Cardinal Gibbons. Leo
reiterated what he had written in the earlier document and went on to condemn
roundly growing tendencies among American Catholics to make independent
decisions about doctrine. Leo called on American Catholics to submit obediently
to the magisterial teaching authority of the Church and to understand in no
uncertain terms that this obedience was a fundamental principle of Catholic
was worried that American Catholics were thinking and doing their faith too much
like liberal democrats. This grated against the Roman demands of obedience to
its own centralised and autocratic ways. Catholicism in the United States
regressed into a state of blind and supine obedience to the Papacy and Roman
Curia and it has never completely recovered.
is precisely this kind of autocratic mind and exercise of authority which has
been adopted by the US Bishops. They have become obedient franchises of the
Vatican in dealing with anyone demonstrating tendencies or activities which
might resemble deviance from orthodoxy or orthopraxis. The many and varied
stories are well documented.
such example is current headline news with the announcement that the CDF has
launched an investigation into the faith and practice of the Leadership
Conference of Women Religious. The process will be conducted by three bishops
from the USCCB.
bewildered by this move, LCWR spokeswoman, Sr Simone Campbell has declared: that
the sisters have no idea what they are
talking about; that while there are differences between themselves and the
bishops on policies, faith is not an issue,
role is to live the gospel with those who live on the margins of society.
That’s all we do.
Campbell, in a recent BBC interview
also suggested that the bishops had not grown up.
And there’s plenty of evidence to support her claims and there is plenty of
evidence to show that the religious women now singled out are a group who have
matured and act like it. As Sr Campbell says, they answered the call of Vatican
II and educated themselves and prepared themselves with the utmost diligence to
their mission in the Church. At least half of these women have gained Masters
degrees while a full quarter of them hold doctorates in various disciplines.
They are perhaps the most highly qualified, prepared and articulate sector of
the Church in all of its history. They are not a soft target.
recent times, a small group of the new self-styled evangelical moderate
conservative bishops, known in some circles as the Kansas
Farm Boys - ++Charles Chaput of Toowoomba fame is one - have made a point of
demonstrating their devoted loyalty to the person of the Pope in matters
liturgical and unswerving doctrinal orthodoxy.
of them, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, AZ, has been a spectacular
disaster in both areas. His embarrassments have perhaps become something of a
major honour-shame issue with the USCCB and are, in some part, driving their
zeal to scapegoat somebody and causing them to place scorched earth around
Olmsted has been testing the waters of popular sentiment in the areas of liturgy
by issuing instructions in his diocese banning female
altar servers and
severely restricting Communion from the cup. Not only could he not get away with
he suffered the indignity of another bishop warmly commending Communion from the
cup and declaring it to be expected.
far greater importance and more relevant to the announced Vatican crackdown on
the LCWR Sisters is the excommunication of Mercy Sister, Margaret McBride, her
ethics and medical staff at St Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix.
Not only were the latae sententiae (automatic)
excommunications for permitting a direct abortion confirmed by Bishop Olmsted
but he also withdrew the word Catholic
from St Joseph’s Hospital. As final punitive act of collective punishment,
exclusion and dissociation, he also ordered that the reserved Eucharistic wafers
be removed from the Chapel.
behaviour very quickly came under critical examination from both Canonists and
Moral theologians alike. The verdicts from both groups were not at all
flattering for Olmsted, promising for his career prospects or a good omen for
the arbitrary use of episcopal authority in complex situations.
Olmsted was found to be wrong in Canon
Law and defective in the
application of Catholic Moral
Thomas Olmsted, maybe in line for the vacant Archdiocese of Denver, has, in
recent years, been an episcopal flag bearer for the more robustly aggressive
wing of the New Evangelisation.
However, he has blundered, publicly and spectacularly so. He has not only
damaged his own reputation and honour, he has symbolically diminished the
collective authority of the entire US episcopate. He is the tarnished
representative of them all. It has happened not just because he tripped up over
the altar girls or got his rubrics wrong about the
Communion cup, but most tellingly because he was unsuccessful in imposing
episcopal moral and legal authority on a symbolically important religious woman.
Bishops, it seems, have learned little or nothing from the memory of the
capricious authoritarian Roman crackdown on the US episcopate in 1895-99. They
certainly have not responded to this experience with the measure of
understanding and compassion which might normally flow from such treatment. It
seems that they are now finding it almost impossible to deal on a mature adult
level with their own people, to encourage initiative, co-responsibility,
partnership and, above all, that kind of obedience which is found in listening
closely to the promptings of Spirit and Word and not to magisterial diktats.
is clear that the US hierarchy has lost an enormous amount of credibility among
their people for many reasons and on a variety of issues. Believers feel
betrayed, manipulated and ignored. The treatment that the Vatican proxies are
now preparing to dish out to the last of the little
people of the Church will not go unnoticed by American Catholics.
will backfire on them badly. The people know it, the Sisters know it. Do they?
Timbs writes from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
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