Today’s guest posting features Bob Stewart who has a wide experience in theology, pastoral work and the business world. In a previous posting entitled “Keep the Faith, Change the Church” I asked, “What does it mean to you? With many baptized Catholics leaving the Catholic Church and seeking other forms of sanctification, have they left the faith, left the church or both?” Bob Stewart addresses this very question in the article that follows. As always, lets keep up the conversation between good people and good priests.
Bob Stewart works as an Ignatian Volunteer for the Center of Concern-Education for Justice Project in Washington, DC and Social Action Linking Together in Northern Virginia. He currently lives in Chantilly, VA (located in the Washington, DC metropolitan area) and retired as the corporate director of retirement programs for union-represented and salaried employee for one of the Fortune 100 companies in 2007. He also worked as a field service representative for a multiemployer pension and benefit trust for union-represented employees. He has been married for over forty years, and he and his spouse, Charlene, are parents of four children; they have 9 (soon to be 10) grandchildren.
He has written articles regarding Catholic social teaching (CST) for publication on the web site for the Center of Concern—Education for Justice Project and the Catholic newspapers for the dioceses of Washington, DC; Belleville, IL; and Springfield, IL.
He has taught adult religious education classes and served as an elected member of the parish council. He was also a member of and served as chairperson for the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission for the Catholic Diocese of Belleville in Illinois.
Bob holds graduate degrees in industrial relations and pastoral theology, and an undergraduate degree in philosophy.
Keeping the Faith—Was it ever lost?
Faith essentially has to do with trust or confidence in God and the commitment that flows from that bond. I am persuaded that many who no longer consider themselves to be Catholic continue to be people of faith; and I believe the recent Pew report supports that position. These folks, at least many of them, are people who continue to put their trust in God and live as committed Christians, people who are faithful to God but no longer have allegiance to the Catholic Church. We Catholics do not have a monopoly on faith, although we have at times asserted such and acted as if we did; membership in the Church and faith in God are not synonymous.
Church reform, in my opinion, will not bring many of these folks who left the Catholic Church back to the faith, because they, the so-called “lapsed” Catholics, continue to be people of faith and have never abandoned their faith; they are simply no longer practicing Catholics. As for bringing these folks back to the Catholic Church, I believe what is required is much more than “reform.” Unless there is a genuine spiritual renewal of the Church, i.e., real metanoia that reflects a radical change of heart and mind, I do not see much happening with respect to slowing the exodus from the Catholic Church. Incredibly, the bishops have not spent any time in discussing the exodus!
The Catholic Church, or any church for that matter, will, I believe, attract people to membership and the returning to membership when people see in that body of believers “a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God,” as the late Pope Paul VI said when talking of the Church as mystery and sacrament. Unfortunately, in my opinion, people have left the Catholic Church and joined other churches because we Catholics, especially the so-called leadership, specifically the hierarchy, have failed by words and actions to mediate “a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God.” The blistering criticism of the Church’s leadership by the Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland makes the point much better than I could ever hope to do, doing so in his comments regarding the Cloyne report. He said the report:
excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day. The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold, instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation.’
“Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St. Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart,’ the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyze it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer. This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman church was founded.”
Those who have left, I have to believe, could no longer perceive the presence of God in the institution that became so dominated by a hierarchy that has failed as authentic leaders and teachers—words have little meaning if not supported by persuasive actions. Many of us who stay are also having problems perceiving the presence of God in an institution whose hierarchy has manifested “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism…narcissism” rather than the compassion of God.
It seems to me that a genuine reform that could again attract people to the Church can only happen when there is a spirit of renewal blowing through the Church, a spirit that brings hope and confidence, one that assures people that this institution is indeed “a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God.” I believe we had that sprit during the days of Vatican II, when so many bishops began to see the reality of the Church in a new way and experienced a conversion; but those days are long gone, unfortunately.
That spirit may again one day blow through the Church, but I am not expecting such until death comes to many bishops and their replacements are not clones of the current crop that came to be during the papacy of John Paul II, a pope whose primary criteria for selecting candidates for the episcopacy was their advocacy of celibacy for clerics, opposition to the ordination of women, and opposition to birth control. Now we have bishops who support all those positions but who also either covered up the sexual abuse of minors and moved these abusers from parish to parish without a word of their nefarious behavior to those in the new or old parish or have provided no criticism of such pastoral incompetence. Are these the concerns and actions that would persuade people that our Church is “a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God”?