Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is the Church Useless?

Our Lady's College Fund

I can't get into any details yet, as I thought I'd be able to. Please wait a few days.

Is the Church Useless?

Rather, is the organizational structure of the Church so misconceived as to be effectively unable to promote its whole mission?

This is a question that I have been forced to ask myself over the 18 years that I have been in the Church, with greater and greater frequency. Is it just me or do Catholic things only not work when the clergy are involved, and only work when they are not involved?

All the great movements of the last while - so it seems to me - are lay-driven. And insofar as they are successful it is to that extent that clergy are not involved. The reform of universities, the reform of catechises, EWTN, a million lay-apotolates. It is almost as if the only function the clergy has is to offer no help to a disappointed laity who then have to take on the whole task themselves. So many times have I heard from bishops and priest reasons why the Church can't do the thing in question, because of legal reasons, or what have you. Lay people end up doing it.

Now back in the 90s, when I was coming on to the Catholic scene, the above sort of talk would be taken to be liberalism of the most vicious kind. When people spoke of the laity it was intended as a sort of levelling of the differences between clergy and the laity of the Protestant kind, basically a denial of the sacrament of orders. Thus, to denounce it as heretical - and it was heretical - was one way of ignoring that there might have been a grain of truth laying there somewhere.

I'd like to focus here on nothing other than the causes of the handicapping of the mission of the clergy, without blaming our pastors so much as to bring to light some problems and possible solutions to them.

1) Numbers. There just aren't enough of them to do more than run the bare minimum of parish life.

2) Propping up buildings. Although mass numbers have dropped off remarkably over the last 40 years, the number of buildings have not.

3) Propping up old spirits. Hatched, matched, dispatched. Priest are wasting so much time on people who do nothing for their parishes with their time, talent and treasure.

4) Propping up old practices. Meetings, catechetical programs that are not the preaching of the Gospel.

5) Law. The failure of clergy in the past means that all money and effort today is tied up with lawsuits, ongoing or threatened. It is almost vain to think about investing a diocese's money into any plan since bankruptcy is almost certain.

Lay organizations are detached from all of the above handicaps. The Church is not free. Paradoxically, the celibate are not free. Those who have families, mortgages, debts, these are the ones who are free to do God's work.

What can be done about this very unusual circumstance? I wonder if because of the siege on the Church whether the Catholic faithful ought to start diverting their money elsewhere. I know this might strike some, or all, of you, as outrageous. Rather than to give to future settlements, should we rather support organizations independent of the diocesan corporations? It is hard to say. I am not convinced that this is to abandon our bishops though. The Church is more than money, and our service to our bishops so much more than providing for future legal settlements.

And it is not only one thing that is handicapping the Church. Its the old buildings and the old set of obligations to organizations that have lost their Catholic character from 'Development and Peace' to your local neighbourhood 'Catholic' university. Back home, I can point to the Archdiocese of Halifax's relationship with the almost utterly worthless organization (in a Catholic sense) called the Atlantic School of Theology. The Archdiocese supports this organization that does absolutely nothing to bolster the mission of the Catholic Church. Most chanceries are full of people being paid by collection money who often do not hold the Catholic Faith in any real sense. The crew in the offices of Development and Peace would constitute a ideologically accurate cross-section of the sort of secularism involved in many of these antiquated institutions. The dispersal of moneys by D & P to abortion advocacy groups was not an accident. And it was not the work of bishops. It was the work of smart and deliberative lay people who were too clever for the bishops to whom they are suppose to answer. The employees of D & P reserched the groups to whom they gave the funds, and they were pleased with what they found.And then LifeSiteNews had to come and upset the good thing they had going there. Any of the D & P employees get fired over this one? After all, weren't they paid to do one thing and one thing only - find worthy institutions in the Third World to support?

Unfortunately, many social justice outfits are inundated with philosophies that cannot be reconciled with the Catholic Faith. At best we might apply the old term 'liberation theology' to them, but the thinking in some of these groups has become so paganized and socialistic that in some cases they have removed the 'theology' commitment altogether; they have left the essential foundations of the Faith far behind in a way that 'liberation theology' had not thirty years ago.

We love our bishops. We love our priests. How did things get this way? How did the Church's involvement suddenly become a liability?

The Church that many of us experience is an institution, a lifeless, temporally-constrained institution. It is too tempting for clergy to think in institutional terms and not in terms of the charisms of their mission.The great missions seem always to deviate from the mode of the time.

Personally, I need to get beyond something, beyond my disappointment with a prelate who could, but will not, help a certain apostolate with which I am involved. I have a dread fear that he is in the hands of lawyers and businessmen. In this fact alone do we see proof that the enemies of the Church have won. They have made us trade holiness for prudence.

These days the life of a devout laymen is one of disappointment, if he expects any apostolic help from the one place where he would naturally expect it. I imagine that it's always been this way, or almost always.

  • Bishops must promote the work of evangelization as if threats of bankruptcy were not there.
  • Lay people must divert more of their money to apostolates independent of the episcopal corporation.
  • Dying churches must be closed down with gay abandon.
  • The church must break its affiliation with institutions that have lost their way.
  • Priests must confine their services to the committed - not marry or baptize those who do not fulfill the precepts of the Church.
  • More and more lay-apostolates must rise up to fill in the vacuum left by the diocesan church.

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