This book, which contains the proceedings of a conference sponsored by Yale's Catholic Center in March 2003, is an excellent series of essays touching key areas related to the current crisis in the church such as canon law, theology and history.
One theme running through the historical perspectives is that the church has never been static or monolithic in its faith and practices. Francine Cardman critiques those who use theological assertions to fill in gaps in historical knowledge. Both Cardman and Marcia Colish agree that the political and sociological structures of particular periods influenced church organization. Medieval ecclesiologists, says Colish, did not correlate theological unity with uniformity. They believed the faithful were endowed with divine rights; and that general councils, representative of whole church, were necessary to insure papal accountability and safeguard true faith, declares Brian Tierny. Citing Aquinas' assertion that the integration of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy was the basis for a better constitution, justifying representative institutions in church and state, he stresses the medievals' belief in a mixed constitution for the church. Francis Oakly cites the medieval canonists' use of the Roman law of corporations to explain the collegial structure of church, and asserts that constitutional mechanisms for accountability need not be invented but recovered. The current crisis calls for the conciliarist tradition to be embraced. Tragically Vatican II has not fulfilled its promise to redress the imbalance between papal primacy and episcopal collegiality. Gerald Fogarty concludes the first part of the book by discussing early American precedents for a more developed episcopal collegiality.
Canonist John Beal reflects that failure to take the rights of the faithful seriously, stifling both healthy public opinion in the church as well as constructive dialogue, reveals a systemic and "long festering crisis in church's law" that renders the revised canon law's claims regarding rights and duties of the faithful as hollow rhetoric. He offers prolegomena for canon law in the future.
Theologian James Heft focuses on New Testament themes of conversion, truth and authority and the formative influence they ought to exert on church structures. Truthfulness must be demonstrated through concrete acts such as annual publication of diocesan finances. The exercise of authority must incorporate the role of laity and enable the voice of the faithful to become regular part of church's discernment.
The crisis results from a failure to follow existing Church laws, says Francis Butler; inadequate accountability to the faithful, and ineffective management are key problems. Studies show that in parishes where Catholics are especially generous there is a strong sense of belonging and a culture of transparency. The talents of the laity for leadership and administration must be marshaled. Historian John McGreevy underscores that failures in accountability and credibility produced the crisis. Political Scientist Thomas Reese forecasts continued turbulence as he considers the impact of the crisis on the church's public influence, its internal life and the possibility of reform. He exhorts the laity to become proactive. Laity with diverse perspective can work together for agreed upon reforms such as the need for greater involvement and financial transparency. History reveals church reform rarely comes from top.
Scandal has tainted the church in the UK, Ireland and across Europe, says Gerard Mannion, because there too a "haze of fiction" isolates the hierarchy. Misunderstanding between genuine authority and its abuse causes bishops to assume defacto authority, considering themselves above accountability. The call of Pius XII to apply subsidiarity to the lay apostolate must be heeded. Pseudo-accountability mechanisms, bred by poor knowledge and over-simplification, sidestep true accountability.
Peter Phan holds up the Asian churches as models for co-responsibility and transparency. They have moved from "church-centered" to "Reign of God-centered" ecclesiologies. Local churches are communions of communities, affirming the fundamental equality of members as disciples; the participatory-collaborative nature of ministries is realized, the spirit of dialogue and prophecy are alive.
There is much to be learned from these essays. Even the conference should have better modeled the collaboration it calls for. The conference began with a keynote by Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh who did not remain to participate in the conference dialogue. I suggest that in the near future, bishops should only be invited to act as respondents. If they claim to be too busy to participate, they should be challenged to rearrange their priorities. As Donald Cozzens proposes in his essay, misguided notions of loyalty and obedience impede speaking the truth in love. To adequately respond to this crisis, every member of the church must be willing to listen and learn
The essays are hopeful, sharing the conviction that that the church has the resources to engage in a process of reform. They are also challenging because they lay out the demands of reform. The hierarchy must give up dogmatic thinking, used as a deus ex machina, and face history. The laity and the lower clergy must develop the knowledge to enable them to claim the rights that are historically theirs and compel accountability.