Mar 7, 2010


Have been neglecting this blog once again because I'm still in a tizzy over my new apartment.
But I have had time to read John Cornwell's superb evaluation of the contemporary church, entitled Breaking Faith,  published in 2001, just before the passing of John Paul II - and much of the book is anticipating that famous death and it's consequences for the church. Throughout the book, Cornwell quotes a number of distinguished theologian, journalists, commentators who lament the present state of the institutional church and warn of schism and fragmentation if things  continue on their present course. Every time I came across one of these very sincere laments, I had a very curious reaction - one of optimism and anticipation of a bit of schism and fragmentation, as a very healthy thing, provided one has trust in the Holy Spirit. That is probably an irresponsible attitude to take, but there it is. Cornwell quotes the then Cardinal Raztinger to the effect that a smaller, more purified church, purged of it's rebellious, heretical liberals, would not be a bad thing at all. In the final chapter, in which Cornwell surveys the field for possible contenders for the papal throne, he mentions a number of distinguished, graying gentlemen in crimson, but does not include Raztinger on the list. Curious omission. Well, we now know with startling clarity that the good German theologian/Cardinal has embarked upon a policy of purification and seems to be deliberately inviting schism of one sort or another. Except the days of schism are long past. As witnessed by such groups as Roman Catholic Women priests, the Spiritus Christi community of Rochester, New York, St. Mary's Brisbane and the Home Eucharist community, we see communities seemingly inspired by the Spirit striking out on their own without considering themselves formally separated from the Catholic tradition, the fulminations of authority figures notwithstanding. In other words, the pronouncements of 'leaders' are becoming increasingly irrelevant for a growing number of mature, responsible Catholic Christians, who are looking to the 'sense' of the whole church, the sensus fidelium, for their guidance and direction. And that certainly applies to sexual ethics. Again, in Breaking Faith. Cornwell quotes Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, on the danger of schism and fragmentation. And the good Cardinal remarks that if the Catholic Church were to allow the ordination of women, we would see a fragmentation 1,000 times worse than the breakaway communities of Marcel Levebre and like. Perhaps. But that just reminds me of a quote by Irish theologian DIARMUID O'MURCHU:

What do you do with the people who don't want to move, that want to keep things as they always were, and are so rigid and frightened and scared, and you can't get them to move without badly damaging them, which I don't feel I have any right to do or anybody else has a right to do. Supposing you have this group That are totally rigid and stuck, if you like, and you have 50% that are yearning to go. Insofar as there are people that are committed primarily to life and to the evolution of life, the primary energy should move with the 50% that want to move. And then we keep a secondary energy to try and help and maintain the others in a meaningful way. So this principal is that you go primarily where the life is! I think the tendency, particularly in churches, is that we try to keep everything at the lowest common denominator to please those who want to keep things the way they are. That, in my opinion, is not what Jesus would do. That is not Christian gospel. I think we need to go where the life is, primarily, without abandoning the others. And we need to try and bring them with us, in so far as we can, in love, in charity, and also in challenge! And ok, if they choose to remain totally stuck, or totally where they are - let me not be too judgmental about it - ok, that is their freedom, that is their right if you like, but I think in the overall sense of things, whether at the human level, at the religious or spiritual level, I think this commitment to life always has to be honored. And so go where the life is primarily, put your energies primarily there. And then also spare some to try and maintain, in kindness and dignity, those that pretty much want to remain. And a corollary of that, of course, which is much more difficult and this requires a lot of skills, we do not allow this subgroup to dictate. And I think that's where leadership has a huge responsibility. Leadership has to put it's commitment with the new primarily.

And this leads me to another interesting and provocative quote from an unlikely source, Stephen Spielberg's Jurassic Park. The chaos theory scientist, Malcom (played by Jeff Goldblum) is talking to the biologist Wu (played by B. D. Wong - who played the transvestite Chinese opera singer in M. Butterfly) and the director of Jurassic Park, John Hammond (played by Richard Attenborough). The conversation focuses on the assurance given by Wu and Hammond to Malcom that the dinosaurs on Jurassic Park will not breed because they have been genetically modified:

Malcom: But again, how do you know they're all female? Does someone go into the park and, uh - - lift up the dinosaurs' skirts?

Wu: We control their chromosomes. It's not that difficult. All vertebrate embryos are inherently female anyway. It takes an extra hormone at the right development stage to create a male, and we simply deny them that.

Hammond: Your silence intrigues me.

Malcom: John, the kind of control you're attempting is not possible. If there's one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks through barriers. Painfully, maybe, even . . . dangerously, but . . . and ... well, there it is.

Wu: You're implying that a group composed entirely of females will breed?

Malcom: I'm simply saying that life - - finds a way. 

And of course, life did find a way, the dinosaurs did breed, because the scientists had committed one major oversight. They had used frog DNA to fill in the gaps in the partially damaged dinosaurs DNA recovered from mosquito blood frozen in fossils - not realizing that some South African frogs had the ability to change sex within one generation. Life finds a way! It doesn't take much ingenuity or imagination to see how this conversation applies metaphorically to the present state of the Roman Catholic Church - in reverse. The present day Vatican biologists are attempting to impose a thoroughly masculine order on the church, denying rights to women and gays. But the witness given by such Spirit inspired communities as St. Mary's Brisbane, Spiritus Christi, Roman Catholic Women Priests, and the Home Eucharist movement - to mention only a few - is that


(or as Scripture Scholar, Father Edward Malatesta S.J. said to a group of Jesuit novices in Montecito, California in 1970, referring to the sometimes startling and surprising appearance of new forms in the institutional life of the church)

and... well...there it is.