Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Which will reign—fear or love?
I received a message showing the power of the hierarchy to intimidate. Fear is gripping some Catholics. This came home to me in a personal way when I learned more this past week about how a community I love is restricting its educational outreach for fear of reprisals from the hierarchy. Signs of this growing fright have been dribbling out during the past months as we wait to see who will be appointed the new bishop.
I wish I could give details but they are not mine to give. Think fear of the Inquisition and you will be in the neighborhood. This is overblown because the Inquisition carried out physical punishment. But parallels exist, and ultimately leading the charge is the pope who used to be Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, head of the Vatican office formerly called the Inquisition. Pope John Paul II began the campaign to reverse the fresh-air reforms of Vatican II, his chief ally Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI. These two popes repudiated the Council, refused to share power, and appointed bishops they knew would carry out their repressive agenda. Fear of such a bishop infects this monastery.
I was studying for my masters at the School of Theology from 1986 to 1988 and was fortunate to have as an instructor the renowned Fr. Godfrey Dieckmann, one of the periti or experts educating bishops at Vatican II. Among the memorable moments in that class were Godfrey’s admissions that some of his views would not be approved by the Vatican and frankly asking for our silence regarding them.
“Epistemic closure.” This is the phrase David Brooks, conservative commentator on National Public Radio, used to describe his own conservative side. “Epistemology” is the science of knowing and this phrase means closing one’s eyes to what one does not want to know. He was referring to the pre-election Republican conviction that Romney would win, despite the polls indicating an imminent Obama victory. E.J. Dionne, the liberal counterpart in the conversation on NPR, applied Brooks’ phrase also to the Republicans’ denial of global warming despite the evidence produced by science.
I apply it to the Christian right’s denial of evidence refuting traditional beliefs on a wide range of issues—biblical interpretation, the rise of women, the legitimacy of non-Christian religions, and advances in moral awareness, particularly gay rights.
Catholic bishops campaigned against gay rights and greater access to contraception before the last political election. They were defeated. Contributing to the defeat were religious leaders who campaigned against the repressive amendment in Minnesota. Especially courageous were prominent Catholics who spoke out for justice. They won. The bent of history is clear.
Another sign of history’s direction is the flourishing Catholic womanpriest movement, which has the only liturgies that do not suggest God is exclusively male.
Would that my beloved monastic community placed itself on the side of history and of courage! Fear never rewards. It diminishes us as it cramps more and more. It robs our integrity, thus alienating us from our Beloved Source. I plead with you to release the resources of intelligence, learning, wisdom, and compassion in your community to educate, to model, to inspire, to spread the true message of Jesus of Nazareth. Let creativity and freedom ring!