[Paleopsych] NYT: On the Sidelines, Catholic Liberals Still Seek a Ray of Hope
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Mon Apr 18 20:01:42 UTC 2005
On the Sidelines, Catholic Liberals Still Seek a Ray of Hope
By IAN FISHER
[I have not been following Roman Catholic politics very closely. My
personal attitude is arch-Protestant, that it is up to me to decide what
certain revealed texts mean and, indeed, whether they were revealed.
That being the case, I'd as soon the next Roman Catholic pope be an
incompetent liberal from an incompetent country. I don't know how many of
my readers know that I am the pope. On Reformation Day, 1963, a classmate
tried to covert me to Lutheranism from atheism. He proudly showed me his
prayer book, which had a tree diagram of the history of the Christian
church, with Peter on the Rock of Galilee at the base. The Arians and
other heretics went off in separate branches. The Greek Orthodox went off
in 1053. I recall that there was a break in continuity, with the Greek
branch reorganizing later, so that they could not make an equal claim to
be the continuation of the one, true Church as founded by Peter on the
Rock of Galilee. In 1517, of course, Martin Luther staged his
Reformation. There was also a break and the Lutheran church got going
before the Roman Catholics did. So on that same Reformation Day, I
extended the tree diagram, decreed a Second Reformation, and set up the
Charlottesvillian Catholic Church (I was going to UVa at the time)
immediately. So far, the Lutheran Church has not reorganized or even
deigned to take notice of the Second Reformation. So far, I have only one
faithful follower, my roommate at the time, who is known as Louis the
Pious. His financial contributions are meager, I am sad to report, but his
faith that I am the true Pope remains high to this day.
[At any rate, my claims on Popery are not subject to refutation.]
ROME, April 16 - The idea was so preposterous that Sister Christine
Schenk's first response was a long and resigned laugh. Would she and
other liberal Catholics have any influence in the conclave that
chooses a new pope?
"Oh, no, not at all," Sister Christine, director of FutureChurch, a
coalition of progressive American Catholics, said in a telephone
interview from Cleveland, where the group is based. "I think that is
one of the difficulties with the conclave. Because you are a Catholic
and because it doesn't happen very often, it feels like you are a
"But to think that there is any way to influence it is a complete
fantasy." They may be idealists in general, but on this issue - the
essential irrelevance of a liberal voice in this conclave - they are
definite realists. Of the 115 cardinals taking part in the conclave,
which begins on Monday, almost none of them have been outspoken on
matters important to the liberal wing of the Catholic Church, like the
ordination of women, more inclusion of laity in church business or
easing bans on contraception.
Luigi De Paoli, one of the founders of We Are Church, the largest
liberal church group in Europe, said his group had no cardinal inside
the conclave representing its views. "We know some of them, and we
think some of the most 'progressive' are in favor of our positions,"
he said. "But most of them are really conservative."
Still, liberals do not seem to despair (which is, anyway, a mortal sin
for all stripes of Catholics). While questions like sexual morality do
not appear to be on the table, that of collegiality - allowing bishops
a greater say in adapting church doctrine locally - transcends the
bounds of liberal and conservative. And many experts believe it will
be one of the major issues discussed in the conclave, and could result
in more local control, a change liberals would like.
Isaac Wüst, a liberal Catholic activist from the Netherlands, said
that under Pope John Paul II, and especially in his later years,
decisions came "from top to bottom, and no voices came from bottom to
"Or at least no one was listening at the Vatican," he said. "That is
what we want to change most of all," he added.
Like many matters facing the church, the liberal-conservative divide
is not clear-cut: some liberals make the case that the conservative
viewpoint dominating the Vatican and the College of Cardinals does not
reflect ordinary Catholic life, and is one reason for declining church
attendance in developed countries. But conservatives note that
liberals do not represent all Catholics, particularly among the most
Liberal groups themselves face contradictions. Although they say they
represent Catholics around the world, their movements are based
primarily in the United States and Europe, where church attendance is
declining. In the third world, where the church is growing fastest,
many Catholics remain deeply conservative, especially on sexual
But even among the cardinals, easy definitions of liberal and
conservative do not always fit. In the third world, many cardinals are
conservative on sexual issues. In Latin America, many strongly oppose
liberation theology, but are outspoken on poverty and social justice.
In Italy, one strong contender for the papacy, Dionigi Tettamanzi, the
archbishop of Milan, is by most standards a conservative, especially
on sexual morality, and is close to the conservative lay group Opus
Dei. But he has sympathized with antiglobalists, and is outspoken on
the need to find common ground with Muslims.
One progressive cardinal said the real divide in the College of
Cardinals was simply between those who favored discussing delicate
topics, like bioethics or sexual morality, and those who wanted them
declared settled and off limits. Still, several activists said they
believed that the reality of the church would force some changes.
Sister Christine noted that the dire shortage of priests and
seminarians would have to be confronted. She said she hoped support
would grow for the idea of married priests, and for allowing the
ordination of women as deacons and someday priests.
"In the long term, our faith is with the Holy Spirit," said Linda
Pieczynski, spokeswoman for Call to Action, based in Chicago, the
largest Catholic reform group in the United States. "It's not with the
individual men who govern the church."
"Jesus said the Spirit will always be with us," she added. "How else
could the church have lasted for 2,000 years given the terrible
leadership it has had at times?"
Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting for this article.
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