Via Media

Is there a different, parallel universe of which I’m not aware?

Does former NCR editor Arthur Jones live in it?

It’s a fierce screed. In fact, if you were going to give an example of "screed" to the uninitiated, this would be it. Jones unleashes his fury against John Paul II and Benedict (the "Wojtyla-Ratzinger" response), positing the church he thinks they created against the more authentic "conciliar" church, pre-eminently concerned with the poor. Supposedly. He says that this W-R church, so intent on pomp and ceremony, is ripe for a Francis and Clare, to renew it.

Well, on one hand, the old boy is right. The Church is always ripe for a Francis and Clare, and the US Church, existing in and through the most prosperous society the world has ever known, would be no exception.

However, I have to wonder, if one actually bothered to crunch some numbers, how many members of religious orders and new movements who are perfectly content with the W-R Church (his terms, not mine) are actively serving the poor at this moment (think Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, think Opus Dei efforts around the world…just think), when compared with how many (numbers people, numbers) adherents of his "conciliar" Church are doing the same, actively and consciously in service to Christ through the poor. Somehow, I’m guessing the former would come out on top.

I also think it will be deliciously ironic if, as John Allen implies, Archbishop Romero’s cause proceeds under the Evil Ratzinger. What say you then, Arthur?

Look. The Church of 2005 is not perfect. But it is also not what Arthur Jones says it is. The American bishops are not a flawless group, but who in the world can look them as a group and say that:

Appoint U.S. bishops more Roman than American. So by the 1990s we had the Wojtyla-Ratzinger duo piously dictating a revisionist Vatican II to a body of near-traumatized bishops reduced to a papal claque and demoralized senior bishops

I can think of some senior bishops I wish were demoralized. Then maybe they’d learn about humility. There is quite a bit of Romanitas politicking in bishop-selection, still, and some senior bishops have a surprsing lack of pastoral experience (i.e., outside chancery and curial offices), when you examine their resumes. But in all, they’re just as diverse a lot as they ever have been, taken as a whole. Some smart, some dim, some leaders, some followers, some sued by their employees for sexual harassment, some not.

Another lie – a more serious and laughable one – that Jones presents here is that the Church is now rather radically re-clericalized as opposed to the flourishing of lay ministry post-Council, blah, blah, blah.


Once again, I’d ask. When it comes to public Catholicism, when it comes to the figures in this country who are representing Catholicism in the media, in books, in print…is that a scene overwhelmed by clerics? Actually – no. Who were the Catholic "experts" all over television in March and April? It was a very balanced crew, with, I’d say, a slight edge going to the laity. Look at the bestselling Catholic book titles. Who’s writing them? The ONLY priest who consistently appears on that list (aside from Benedict) is DEAD.


Who are the most popular and sought after speakers on the Catholic speaking circuit? With a couple of exceptions (Groeschel, Corapi) – they’re laity.

And really – I defy you to look at, say, the staff listings for the Archdiocese of Denver, led by a figure I can only assume would fall under the heavy hand of Jones Judgment. The staff isn’t listed all in one place, but quick clicking shows a high proportion of lay staff, even leading the Archdiocese’s highly regarded adult catechetical and formation programs – one would assume that this, of all places, would be wear the Wojtyla-RatzInger Clerical Cabal would show its ugly head, in intense cassock-clad clerics brainwashing the adult laity.

Guess not.

The rest of the piece is ripe for the picking:

John Paul II realized that the U.S. Catholic church — more specifically the renewed women’s congregations, the engaged laity with highly networked women backed by many priests and some bishops — was the only entity in the world loyal enough to the council, energetic and imaginative enough, educated and organized enough, wealthy and capable enough to challenge his pontificate’s intention to undermine Vatican II reforms and reimpose a top-down rule. (Historically there had always been a dash of Euro-deceit within the Vatican and papal hubris: The Vatican may like Americans, but it doesn’t admire them. Add to the late pope’s anti-Americanism the West’s repeated betrayal of Poland.)

The Wojtyla-Ratzinger response to a mobilized U.S. Catholicism was fierce. Oust or demoralize the conciliar Catholics, in America and elsewhere. Appoint U.S. bishops more Roman than American. So by the 1990s we had the Wojtyla-Ratzinger duo piously dictating a revisionist Vatican II to a body of near-traumatized bishops reduced to a papal claque and demoralized senior bishops. The new model is a reclericalized church with little faith in the faithful, none of that sensus fidelium nonsense. Make the educated feel unwanted and unwelcome by reimposing pietistic nonsense and childish attention to ritualized minutiae (the birdie-bobbing heads at Communion?) and bingo! it’s the 19th century of blessed memory again. As a Wojtyla-Ratzinger Eurocentric and Euro-eccentric strategy, it’s successful; as a model of church, it’s pitiful.

It doesn’t matter that JP2 and Ratzinger say that they are about fully and more deeply implementing the vision of V2. No, no, no. Arthur Jones knows better. He knows the real story.

Oh, and do you detect a bit of arrogance in that first paragraph? The "only entity in the world" who really got the Council, these fab Americans?  Ironic, since he flails the popes for Euro-eccentricism. But American-centrism? Now that’s the ticket.

Oh, and Arthur Jones doesn’t like you either:

The Wojtyla-Ratzinger continuum doesn’t play only to empty pews. Hundreds of millions of heaven-bound Catholics just want Jesus. They stand in line and question nothing. As is their right. Others, more pugnacious, Catholics steadfastly loyal and questioning, rooted in their eucharistic communities and New Testament realities, remain to demand better from the institution. People of large heart and devotion still confidently demur from much the Vatican would impose.

You, my friends question nothing. Did you know this? Did you know that your searching, your prayer life, your voracious reading, your arguments in these comments boxes, your dogged, brainy blogging, your magazine and book writing, your intense discussions with friends and relatives about matters of faith, of life and death, is really, in the end…questioning nothing? Did you know that you’re not pugnacious, that you’re not rooted in New Testament realities, that you’re giddily satisfied with the institution (that should make you spit out your coffee right there), and that you have a tiny, cold, rubric-besotted heart?

So there it is, still mired in the Old Dispensation, eye for an eye, screed for a screed. But really – the arrogance, the ignorance, the insularity. God, my prayer this morning is that I learn from this silly, vicious piece of close-minded fantasy, and never fall into the same trap, never cease looking about me and the world and Church I live in with open eyes, with honesty, willing to see things as they are, not as I would like them to be.


Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus