Stephen Kokx
The danger of dissent
By Stephen Kokx
April 29, 2012

There's been a lot of intra-Catholic wrangling going on since the Obama administration announced it would force religious organizations to provide contraception to its employees even though doing so goes against the tenets of their faith.

One of the most popular stories being promulgated within anti-Catholic circles right now is the decision of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to essentially chastise the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) — a type of trade association for roughly 80% of the 57,000 women religious in America — for their "scant regard for the role of the magisterium," adoption of "certain radical feminist themes" and inability to sufficiently provide doctrinal formation for superiors and formators.

In an interview with MSNBC host and self-described Catholic Lawrence O'Donnell — a man who recently praised Hugh Hefner — Sister Jeanine Gramick, a well known dissenter from church teaching, exclaimed that "the government of the Catholic Church is very totalitarian." Adding that, "women come from a different conception of church from the Vatican," but "in a totalitarian institution, there is no disagreement."

As if on cue, left leaning Catholics took to their keyboards.

"What's left to say? By now the whole world has heard the Vatican is going to take care of those uppity, radical feminist nuns," wrote Phyllis Zagano of the National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Benedict XVI "fails to [acknowledge] that Jesus was obeying God while also radically disobeying the religious leaders and laws of his time" claims Jamie L. Manson.

Others still contend this amounts to bullying of the women religious.

For a more sobering assessment of the situation, here's George Weigel, official biographer of Blessed John Paul II:
    Yes, many sisters continue to do many good works. On the other hand, almost none of the sisters in LCWR congregations wear religious habits; most have long since abandoned convent life for apartments and other domestic arrangements; their spiritual life is more likely to be influenced by the Enneagram and Deepak Chopra than by Teresa of Avila and Edith Stein; their notions of orthodoxy are, to put it gently, innovative; and their relationship to Church authority is best described as one of barely concealed contempt.
The problem with Gramick's assertion is that she is allowing her political ideology to infiltrate her understanding of the "mystical body of Christ." If her characterization is correct, then it follows that Jesus was nothing more than an intolerant, right-wing dictator.

The fact of the matter is that the church cannot be compared to civic institutions as such. As Benedict M. Ashley O.P. pointed out in Justice in the Church: Gender and Participation, "it would seem obvious that it is risky to presume that what is just in a democratic state is just for every human community without taking into account of what is unique for each."

Because "Jesus clearly claims to be the head of the church and demands absolute obedience from it members," the church can only be understood as a hierarchical institution.

"All members of the Christian community are equal in that all have the right to the same truth of the Gospel," Ashley continues, but there must be a "hierarchy of superior and inferior offices" that are "personally equal" yet "functionally unequal."

Critics of the Catholic Church love to invoke the idea that it is nothing more than a white-male dominated institution that clings to antiquated understandings of sexuality and human nature.

Often times they couch their efforts to undermine Catholic orthodoxy in terms of human rights, justice and tolerance, but educated Catholics know better.

In Christianity and the Crisis of Culture, Pope Benedict warns that
    [A] new moralism exists today. Its key words are justice, peace, and the conservation of creation, and these are words that recall essential moral values, of which we genuinely stand in need. But this moralism remains vague and almost inevitably remains confined to a sphere of party politics, where it is primarily a claim addressed to others, rather than a personal duty in our own daily life.

    Consequently, the same is true of a Christianity and a theology that reduce the core of the message of Jesus, that is, the 'kingdom of God,' to the 'values of the kingdom,' identifying these values with the great slogans of political moralism while at the same time proclaiming that these slogans are the synthesis of the religions. In this way, they forget God. And all that remains in the place of God are the big words (and values) that are open to any kind of abuse.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, therefore, should be commended, not castigated, for their work. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, Christians need to "take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded."

© Stephen Kokx


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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