Friday, November 27, 2009
I am grateful to Steve for his earlier posting today. As is typical, he raises many profound and excellent issues meriting our discussion on Catholic legal theory and related matters here at the Mirror of Justice. I have taken my turns previously in addressing matters dealing with the visitations that the Leadership Conference on Women Religious. In part I return to this issue, but I do so knowing that Steve has thoughtfully put his finger on the overarching issue of authority.
In a purely legal context, we lawyers deal with authority all the time—administrators, legislators, and courts are all authorities whom we respect because of their office. This does not mean that we always agree with them in how they exercise their office and the decisions that they make in doing so, but we must still respect them because of the office they hold. As lawyers and citizens, we have the responsibility to respect them because of their position; nevertheless, we also have the right and duty to contest them when they have veered from the straight course of the law—in a civil context, the Constitution. When it comes to the Church, indeed there is also a straight course to follow for all of us—be we cleric, religious, or lay. The most recent course was that given us by the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of another constitution: The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church—Lumen Gentium.
The sisters who are complaining about the visitations have taken it on their own authority to complain. I frankly do not see them relying on the Dogmatic Constitution when they argue their case. But what about the sisters who were the ones who have asked for the visitations? I think it safe to say that they rely on the authority on which I rely: the Church and her Second Council which ended in 1965. And their arguments do rely on this authority of the Church, her Dogmatic Constitution, as they try to present their case. I do not think the complaining sisters, whom I hasten to add have been given ample coverage in America, Commonweal, and the National Catholic Reporter, have done the same. They rely on themselves; that is their authority, the authority of exaggerated autonomy, an autonomy that knows no proper, legitimate authority.
Steve argues that the complaining sisters have presumably built their complaint on the advice of some canon law lawyers who “told the women they were not required to answer all the questions. Religious, unlike bishops, priests and deacons, who make up the clergy, are not officially part of the church’s [sic] hierarchical structure.” I must disagree. They—meaning the complaining sisters and their canonists—are a part of the Church that is hierarchical. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution, says so. But it also says so much more that is worth reading and rereading by all of us. Are we interested? It’s there for the reading—free of charge.
The women religious who are complainants, the women religious who asked for the visitations, the clergy, and the laity are all, all parts of the hierarchical Church. This is not by my saying so, or by my favorite canon law saying so, but by the Church through her Council, saying so. Again, read it: it’s all there. Each component of the Church has his/her/its proper role, but they all come together to form the Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God. To suggest otherwise is to ignore how the Church explained herself to her members and to the world in 1965. If the complaining sisters and their canon law lawyers do not understand this, I am sorry for them and I shall pray for them.
Steve raises an important issue when he points out that the visitations are part of a larger phenomenon. I agree. When any of us as members of the Church, of the Body of Christ, of the People of God betray that which has been entrusted to us, things can go very wrong. The sexual abuse scandal is one, but only one incident. True: we read about the failures of bishops in this context? Do we read about the failures of men and women religious who did the same thing as bishops with sinful members of their orders? Do we read about the psychiatrists, psychologists, lawyers, and other counselors whom bishops and religious superiors relied upon in reassigning errant members of the clergy or of the religious community who allegedly abused members of the Church?
It is very easy to complain about and disrespect those who hold positions of authority when they err? Do we hold ourselves to the same standard when we err? When we sin? When we harm God and our neighbor by listening only to that little inner voice within us that has been compromised by temptation? It may well be that some bishops, clergy, and religious did just this: to rely on that inner voice. But surely so have many others. This fault is not restricted to those in Orders; it finds habitation across the human family. And until each of us can admit this, we will see the accusations that permeate the complaints made against our Holy Mother, the Church, continue ad nauseam.
I don’t have much to say about publications that rely on the moniker “Catholic” tonight. But I will mention something about educational institutions that also rely on this important modifier. When good priests, religious, and laity who respect the Church’s authority find it either difficult or impossible to obtain a position in a “Catholic” educational institution because of their fidelity, there is no need for any ecclesiastical authority to remove the name “Catholic” from the institution. The institution—through its human membership—has already done that. I rely here on a recent case in point: the institution shall remain nameless, but it was founded by my religious order. Last year I made inquiries about joining its faculty of law. There seemed to be interest regarding my candidacy, and I was encouraged by the sentiments expressed to me. But then with the difficulties emerging from the economy were taking their effect across the academy, I was informed that it was not likely that there would be any hiring for this year. I accepted this explanation. But, in retrospect, I think I was fooled. I was more than surprised when I discovered that, notwithstanding the representation made to me by the institution founded by my order, six new faculty were in fact hired for this current school year. But previouslyl I was told that it was doubtful that there would be any hiring, period, because of economic exigencies. Fool me once: shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
I don’t think the Church should be fooled anymore.
Let me conclude this posting with a comment on Steve’s final point about his notion that the points he raised have “relevance for the Vatican investigation of the women religious.” I must insist here that we need to acknowledge that it was women religious who asked for the visitations in the first place. It was not imposed; it was, contrary to the complaining women religious whose views get ample treatment in the press, asked for by women religious who have had enough of their fellow sisters who impose on them. And what do they impose? It seems that the imposition is that which is not consonant with the explication of the Church, religious life, holiness, fidelity, etc. presented by the Second Council a mere forty-five years ago in the Church’s Dogmatic Constitution—an authority to which all, not just some, Catholics are called to respect and follow with the fidelity of the free will that prompts them to claim the name “Catholic.”