From the archives, this was first published in February, 2009. Two years later, I am more convinced than ever by its central thesis: that in the Catholic Church as it is today, we too are called to be shepherds – including at times and in some respects, shepherds to the clergy.
After writing earlier this week about Bishop Robinson’s book (“Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church“) on power and abuse in the church, with its reflections on the attempts at Vatican II to re-balance the power structures, I was interested to find in quick succession two items which between them shed some light on the problem. And the answer, I suspect, lies not with ‘them’, but with ‘us’.
First,the more seemingly frivolous item: a report in New Catholic Times (sensus fidelium) on a novel, “Waiting for Mozart”, by Chuck Pilon, set in a Catholic parish 25 years after the conclusion of Vatican II. “Less than and somewhat more than” a review, it is John Quinn’s reflections that I found particularly insightful. Let me quote from Quinn’s review /reflection:
“In Chapter 2 of Waiting for Mozart, Fr. Joe Burns is described thus:
“A fine priest…Ordained before Vatican II but known for aggressive application of its directives.
In those couple of sentences we have the story of Waiting for Mozart captured.
“Ordained before Vatican II“, so socialized by a Catholic world-view radically different from that articulated by the council.
Joe was “known for aggressive application of its directives.” His was the responsibility of ‘applying” the directives of the council. This he would do “aggressively.“
And it was “directives“, that is something given him to implement, to put into operation.
Quinn goes on to describe an incident from his own parish experience, in which parish priests would not ‘allow’ development & peace groups (a diocesan initiative). This led to a follow up where his own PP prevented him setting up a children’s liturgy for the parish – so he went elsewhere, and set up a children’s liturgy in a parish 25 minutes away.
The point is, that even where clergy have embraced the ideas of V2 (and many have not), they still cling by habit to the old style – and too often, too easily, we let them. In my own experience on the Parish Council of a reasonably progressive Jesuit parish, I recall several instances where council members would privately say to each other “Fr….. will never allow that”, and so would never raise the issue! But it is not the business of the priest to allow, or to disallow, but to serve. In acquiescing without a fight, we are collaborating in our own oppression, to use the language familiar from my time in South Africa during the ‘struggle.’
Later, Quinn notes
“Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher said that an idea, once implanted in the mind, takes at least fifty years to see the light of day.”
If that is so, than the time is now.
(Read the full original article )
The same theme is put more formally in an address by Dr Diana Hayes given back in 2006 to the Call to Action conference, but posted this week on New Catholic Times (sensus fidelium): “Our Leaders are Like Sheep! so Rise up Shepherds! We are the Prophets. “ I loved the title! Even before reading the article,the key message strikes home. If the point of the re-balancing at V2 was to empower the laity, we are on weak ground blaming the hierarchy for the problems. If those at the top of the power pyramid are behaving like sheep (and it has often seemed so in recent weeks), then it is time for the rest of us to take charge, to become the shepherds.
I quote just a small part of this address:
“Where are the prophets of our time? Prophecy is a dangerous, thankless job. Too often it leads to martyrdom. It certainly leads to pain and suffering. But prophets we are called to be. For the rebuilding of the Church and the revamping of its structure is not the work of the weak or timid, but of those willing to rise up in God’s name and proclaim the truth!
The bishops are naked! They hide themselves behind vestments and liturgical rites and gobbledygook; they shield themselves behind cadres of yes-men – and a few yes-women. They destroy parish life, ignore the Holy Spirit’s voice and deny the fear and emptiness at the heart of their efforts to control rather than shepherd.
WE are the prophets
We are the prophets; all of us in this room and scattered throughout the nation in groups large and small are the voices that refuse to be silenced. How do we learn to prophesy? The late Monika Hellwig set forth two aspects of prophecy. The first is the willingness to turn towards God in receptivity of God’s grace and blessing. The second is to turn to the world around us as it stumbles forward, seeking the way to a better future.”
It is of course true that notwithstanding the council, formal power remains in the hands of the top echelons of the hierarchy. Even the bishops, as noted by Bishop Robinson, often seem helpless in the face of Rome. But in reflecting on papal history, I have been struck how, until modern times, the growth of papal power and control mirrored that of secular power and control in the emergence of the state. In recent times, though, we have seen seemingly powerful autocratic states crumble in the face of populations who refused to be cowed indefinitely. Certainly, in South Africa change did not come because the government decided to change the laws, but because the people gradually refused to cooperate in injustice.
So, take up your crooks – let us become the shepherds.
Robinson, Bishop Geoffrey: Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church