Sunday, December 26, 2010

Legalism and Teaching Authority

The disagreement between Bp. Olmstead of Phoenix, AZ, and Catholic Health West is an excellent example of a profound systemic problem within the Roman Catholic Church worldwide: Does the magisterial authority of a bishop override the magisterial authority of the sensus fidelium of the general Catholic community and/or the magisterial authority of the theologians--in this case moral theologians? Bp. Olmstead--no theologian in his own right--has depended almost exclusively on the advice of canon lawyers--no theologians in their own right--to arrive at a conclusion that differs from the way in which the Roman Catholic professional health community interprets the Church's teaching.

The Council of Constance in the 1400's--the last regular council of the western part of the church--reached the peak of limiting papal and episcopal authority, subjecting it to conciliar authority--and electing a new pope! Beginning with the Council of Trent--which systematically excluded any northern European bishops who had expressed sympathy with the reform element of the church--canon lawyers began to dominate the interpretation of the church's teachings in practically every area. This development intensified and reached its highest expression at the First Vatican Council: the pope's authority was--successfully for the first time--defined as 'universal ordinary jurisdiction' over what was left of the papal church. Canon lawyers moved into a definitive role as the interpreters of the church's faith in every area.

Vatican Council II--Pope John XXIII's 'fresh air' council--attempted to restore some balance in its decrees and recommendations. One need only read the writings of official theologians like Hans Kueng and the then Josef Ratzinger to discover the scope of the reforms intended by the Council. Theologians regained their rightful magisterium as did the faithful in 'Lumen Gentium'. Despite the binding nature of conciliar decrees on all Roman Catholics, the intense campaign to discredit and reverse the decisions of the Council began almost immediately on the election of Papa Woytyla and has continued under Papa Ratzinger. Support and encouragement for politically right-wing, ultra-consevative movements like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, as well as Maciel's profoundly corrupt and corrupting religious order came from the highest papal circles in the Vatican. This anti-conciliar movement has concentrated itself on discrediting theologians as interpreters of the Church's teachings and on preventing the active participation of lay Roman Catholics in the life of the Church. The attack on women's religious orders in the United States must be seen in this larger arena.

The Fathers of Vatican Council II rejected what the inner circle of the Vatican had prepared for them to rubber stamp, and moved the Church into the modern world. The Council laid the foundation for a new 'Proclamation of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ'. Almost all of those bishops are gone now, the towering brilliance of the leadership of the Council is remembered by increasingly fewer and almost all of the present bishops and cardinals in the church are appointees of the anti-conciliar popes Woytyla and Ratzinger.

Thus, the tension between the papal hierarchy and its bishops and the theological and lay communities continues to prevent the Church from being what Vatican II intended it to be: the continuously reforming, vibrant, forward moving Body of Christ proclaiming the good news of justice, peace, and love. Despite the best efforts of the anti-conciliar forces, the genie cannot be put back in the bottle; the Holy Spirit will prevail!