4.11.2010

Fr. Tom Doyle: "Survival of the Spirit"

I just read a very insightful speech given by Fr. Tom Doyle at a SNAP gathering a couple of years ago. (I first read excerpts from it on Enlightened Catholicism, and as usual Colleen's comments on the address are worth reading as well.)

One thing Fr. Doyle said that struck me as having some importance:
Victim/survivors [of clergy sex abuse] need to explore the substance of some of the official apologies and then come to an emotional as well as cognitive acceptance of the fact that the institution and its office holders will not because they cannot respond in a manner that would reflect full awareness and accepted responsibility. Some victims get "stuck" in an almost endless contentious process trying to get the official Church to realize the enormity of their actions. They need to come to a realization that the Church's narcissistic self-concept of a perfect society renders its leaders incapable of comprehending that the responsibility is rooted in the very core of the institutional Catholic Church. (emphasis in original)
A lot of Catholics are calling for reform, but unfortunately the people who know what needs to be done and the people with the power to actually do it are two completely different groups of people.

Another thing he said:
The victim's anger at the Church and possibly at religion in general needs to be acknowledged and affirmed as a healthy response to the abuse. If it has not been done earlier in the recovery process this might be the appropriate time to examine the radical distinction between organized religion and spiritual security and strength. The toxic belief that God will be displeased if the victim feels anger towards the Church must be dispelled and replaced with a more realistic belief that the organized religious body has actually been a barrier to a secure relationship with the Higher Power. Victims attribute spiritual power to the visible Church because it has been presented as the only pathway to God. Most Catholics are never allowed to progress beyond a level of spiritual and religious development that is early-adolescent at best. The recovery process from clergy sexual abuse offers a unique opportunity for spiritual maturity. (emphasis added)
This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately: the possibility that this scandal might actually encourage spiritual development -- not only in victims of abuse, but among Catholics in general. After all, an individual's disillusionment with external authority can lead them to take greater responsibility for their choices, something far too few Catholics are willing or even able to do under normal circumstances.

At least, the optimist in me imagines that that might happen. The realist in me knows that things are going to have to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

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17 Comments:

Anonymous Henry said...

I came here from Crystal's blog and you have some interesting posts.

Regarding this post, I agree with you when you write: "the possibility that this scandal might actually encourage spiritual development -- not only in victims of abuse, but among Catholics in general. After all, an individual’s disillusionment with external authority can lead them to take greater responsibility for their choices, something far too few Catholics are willing or even able to do under normal circumstances." Bravo!

I plan on reading the original talk, thanks for linking it.

Pax,

Henry

4:30 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Henry, thank you for your comment.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

PrickliestPear,

I read Fr. Doyle's talk - The Survival of the Spirit... - twice and I think it's actually great. (Although, as an aside, I think Spong, et. al, would be considered heretics if they were Catholics.) He makes so many good and reasonable points and I was very impressed with it!

Since I am an adult convert the experience he describes is so alien to me. For example, I, quite frankly, am a bit anti-clerical mostly because so many of them act like a pompous ass. So, I never had them, and still don't have them, on a pedestal - which really upsets some of them. Also, while their are some parts of the current structure that should be changed, others should not - but that's a topic for another time.

I have a friend that was abused by a priest as a child and Fr. Doyle's analysis helped me better understand some of the things he has shared with me and I consider that new awareness I know have to be a great gift from Christ - thank you for being a conduit of that gift for me.

Lastly, reading the article really helped me understand some of the perplexing behavior of the cradle Catholics I meet and teach. It's true that they have many superstitious beliefs.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Oops, forgive the typos - haste makes waste!

Pax,

Henry

8:17 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Interesting. I think too that it's hard for many to separate spirituality from the religious institution - not surprising when the Vatican seems so often to conflate God and the church.

10:29 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Henry,

I agree that Spong would be considered a heretic if he was Catholic, there is no question about it. He would have been excommunicated long ago. I don't agree with Spong on a lot of things, but I think he provides an effective service in helping people to shake free of the trappings of the conventional/conformist/authoritarian form of Christian faith.

I'm kind of interested in this statement of yours: "Lastly, reading the article really helped me understand some of the perplexing behavior of the cradle Catholics I meet and teach." I was wondering if you might elaborate?

Crystal,

I agree. I think this astonishing display of incompetence by the hierarchy will have some benefits, in that at least some people will have to grow up a bit. But judging from some of the knee-jerk defences I've seen in the comments of various stories and blog posts, it's clear that for some people the Vatican can literally do no wrong.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

PrickliestPear,

I will begin by saying I apologize if I inadvertently insulted you with my “cultural Catholics” dig - no offense was intended.

Alright, to briefly touch on your question, your comment that Sprong helps people “shake free of the trappings of the conventional/conformist/ authoritarian form of Christian faith” points to the what I find most perplexing.

For example, I have found, that Cradle Catholics behave as if priests are free of Original Sin! Moreover, they believe that priests are automatically orthodox. In other words, they seem to forget that they - the lay people - have the gift of reason and discernment when they talk to a priest.

Of course, I think that the problem is rooted in bad ecclesiology. What I mean is this: the Church is NOT the Truth, no, Christ is the Truth! Now that doesn’t mean that we can disregard or discard the Church. Why? Because the Church is the divinely appointed vehicle (or conduit) for bringing us the Truth, which is Christ Himself. Who decided that this would be the vehicle? Christ! So, I agree that priests have been called to minister in a particular way, but they have not been called to lord it over the laity, but rather, to be servants of the Body of Christ. I can elaborate on this later if you wish...

(BTW, even though I don’t think it’s prudent, I have no problem with a married priesthood - after all, we already a married priesthood in the Eastern Rite Catholic Church and it’s only a discipline in the Latin West that can be changed.)

Regarding orthodoxy, I believe that the universal Catechism is one of the greatest gifts for Catholics in our time. You can’t believe how many books I had to read before it was issued! As you well know, Catholicism is a revealed religion and thus we reflect on what this being we call God has revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ. Well, when I hear a priest say something that sounds fishy to me, I can now check it against the CCC. For example, I once heard a priest say that the resurrection was just a spiritual experience that Jesus’s followers had. Well, again, you know what I mean but I can elaborate on it later...

Also, Novena’s to St. Jude. I understand the theological reasoning behind novena’s but people have reduced them to magic charms, BIG mistake.

I can tell you more if you wish later, it’s late and I have to go to bed now for an early meeting in the morning.

Would you please tell me what YOU mean by this statement: “the trappings of the conventional/ conformist/ authoritarian form of Christian faith.” when you have a chance. Thanks.

Pax,

Henry

10:05 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Henry,

Certainly no offense was taken. It's not often I hear self-described "conservative" converts criticise, even mildly, conservative cradle Catholics, so I was curious to hear your opinion.

I don't think the Catechism can, or should, be used to determine the "orthodoxy" of a priest. The Catechism still talks about Adam and Eve as if they were historical people, something not even the pope would affirm. It is a teaching instrument, not a measuring stick.

I do agree with your comment on Novenas. A lot of traditional Catholic devotional practices have little to distinguish them from magical practices, in my opinion.

As for my comment about "the conventional/conformist/authoritarian form of Christian faith," I would point out that much of what I've written on this blog is on precisely that topic.

I don't have a problem with all conventional/conformist/authoritarian religion; it can serve an important purpose under certain circumstances (it can help to bring order to societies where such is lacking). It is a kind of faith that can tame the egocentric impulses of children in our own society, which is a necessary preliminary to being a responsible adult. The problem is when it is portrayed as the final destination, and when further growth is stifled rather than promoted. That's a very common way that religion becomes destructive.

I gather that you approach things from a very different theological perspective than I do, and I don't expect that much of what I have to say will be acceptable to you, so I'll leave it at that for the time being.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Thanks for your reply. I hope you'll agree that life would be really boring if everyone thought the same thing, behaved the same way, etc – well anyway, I certainly think it would be.

Now, since you apparently approach the Faith from a different angle than I do, would you mind if we talk about topics occasionally?

For example, the question that naturally arises in me when reading your second paragraph is: “what criterion do you think should be used to determine if someone – priest or not - is “orthodox.” (N.B., I am using the word in its etymological sense and not as it is often used today.) So, for example, how would I know if I am adhering to and transmitting the deposit of Faith without deviation or distortion when I teach Adults and those interested in becoming Catholic?

I haven't read all the posts on your blog but if you have already covered this in one of them, please let me know and I will read it.

Now, perhaps you may say that it's not necessary to be concerned about whether a teacher (and that's a vital role of a priest (note, I said vital not essential, although some would disagree with me), and if you do, then I'd like to know why you believe that.

Alright, Adam and Eve. While you and I agree that they may not have been historical figures, if I believe they were and you believe they weren't, we would both be “orthodox” Catholics because of the genre of the first several chapters of the Book of Genesis. (I know that I don't have to explain what genres are to you because you have a Scripture blog. Moreover, I will assume you are familiar with Biblical Hebrew and Jewish exegesis, as I am) But, if I emphatically teach that Jesus is not truly God and truly man, then you could correctly tell me that I have denied a vital feature of the Catholic Christian Faith. My point is that, as I am sure you know, some teachings are more essential than others.

I chuckled when I read what you said about children because in my experience adults have, in many cases, stronger egocentric impulses and the only difference is that adults mask their egocentric impulses better than children do. I agree that “orthodoxy” is not the final destination, a deeper relationship with Christ is. But, I see the teachings of the Church as a map that helps me reach the destination, a destination which was not determined by me. It's obvious that I can't merely keep my gaze on the map, but, on the other hand, I can't be certain that I will reach the goal without it. Anyway, it's not a great analogy, but you get my point.

I definitely agree that growth is important and that it must be promoted; but it must be growth and not deviation, distortion, or destruction. And it takes a lot of dialogue and “listening” to determine which it is. And of course, we need a criterion to judge hence the question: what criterion should we use to evaluate/judge?

And yes, a militant orthodoxy that discards reason and, most importantly, love and respect, is dangerous!

I will read the posts on your blog to try and understand what you mean by conventional / conformist / authoritarian religion.

Pax,

Henry

3:29 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Henry,

I hope you'll agree that life would be really boring if everyone thought the same thing, behaved the same way, etc

About that there is no question.

...the question that naturally arises in me when reading your second paragraph is: “what criterion do you think should be used to determine if someone – priest or not - is “orthodox.”

I guess that depends on what you mean by "orthodox."

You indicated that you mean this in the "etymological sense," which would be something like "right opinion." In this sense someone is "orthodox" if they are correct in their thinking.

But surely you have a rather different and more restricted definition in mind. Correct me if I am mistaken, but I assume that by "orthodox" you mean "beliefs consistent with official Catholic teaching."

If that is the case, then I suppose I would have to ask why is it necessary to make such a determination about another person?

I suppose if one feels compelled to believe only that which is consistent with official Catholic teaching, one would indeed find it necessary to make such judgments about that which one hears from others. But because I feel no such compulsion, the question of whether someone is "orthodox" in this restricted sense is not something I frequently exercise my mind about. (I suppose you might say that I'm only really interested in whether what they are saying is "orthodox" in the broader sense of being "correct.")

I've written about the possibility of a foundation for theological judgments in this post.

Now, perhaps you may say that it's not necessary to be concerned about whether a teacher (and that's a vital role of a priest (note, I said vital not essential, although some would disagree with me), and if you do, then I'd like to know why you believe that.

This sentence, as written, seems incomplete, but I'm assuming you were asking why I would think that it is not necessary to judge whether a teacher is orthodox. Correct me if I am mistaken, but I believe I answered that in the present response.

While you and I agree that they may not have been historical figures, if I believe they were and you believe they weren't, we would both be “orthodox” Catholics because of the genre of the first several chapters of the Book of Genesis. (I know that I don't have to explain what genres are to you because you have a Scripture blog. Moreover, I will assume you are familiar with Biblical Hebrew and Jewish exegesis, as I am)

I don't know if I follow your reasoning here. In any event, yes I know what genres are, but I am still very much a beginner when it comes to biblical Hebrew, having taken only an introductory course some years ago. I'm not sure what that has to do with the matter at hand, however.

As for what I mean by "conventional/conformist/authoritarian" religion, see my post about James Fowler's "Synthetic-Conventional" stage of faith development.

1:48 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

That post on critical theology is interesting. Speaking of priests, one told me that theology is what people do after they've had a religious experience, to make sense of it. Do you see a place for experience in theology?

1:56 AM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Crystal,

Absolutely there is a place for experience in theology. A theologian whose work isn't fully rooted in personal experience needs to put away their pen and get a comfortable meditation mat.

In contrast to what that priest told you, I would argue that many (probably most) theologians do not write from their own experience. But the profoundest theologians are always mystics, even if not all of them are recognised as such.

No doubt you've heard Karl Rahner's famous assertion that "the devout Christian of the future will either be a 'mystic,' one who has 'experienced' something, or they will cease to be anything at all."

That will probably be in the distant future -- dogmatic religion is a tough stain to get out, and it will be with us for a while -- but I think he was basically right.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

PrickliestPear,

First, I love your screen name - every time I type it I have the image of a child whode parents were a pear and a cactus - it gives me a chuckle.

In any event, I haven't forgotten our conversation it's just that I've been side-tracked by illness. I will write again when I am back on track. I have, in the interim, been reading some of your older posts (e.g., the one on Tradition) and I see that you are a big fan of Lonergan. I have only read one of his books - or rather, one on his theology, Desires of the Human Heart - and so I don't know much about him.

Pax,

Henry

12:57 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Henry,

I am sorry to hear you have been unwell, but glad you haven't forgotten our conversation.

I am indeed a big fan of Lonergan, but I've never heard of that book you mentioned. It appears to be long out of print, so perhaps that is why. Is it one that you would recommend?

I'm far more interested in his philosophy (for which he is better known, as he wrote much more of it) than his theology. I think his philosophy has quite radical implications for theology (a common sentiment even among those far more knowledgeable of his work than I am), but I don't think his theological writings (what I know about them, anyway) are fully reflective of that.

Lonergan could not have been unaware of the radical implications of his own work, and I've sometimes wondered if it is precisely because of this that he avoided writing very much theology in the last several decades of his career.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I sent an e-mail to you, please let me know if you do not receive it.

Pax,

Henry

12:32 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I am reading some of your older posts (e.g., the one on Tradition)and I want to tell you that they are great! Is it too late to comment on some of them?

Pax,

Henry

11:39 AM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Henry,

I got your email and will respond sometime this weekend.

It is never too late to comment on my other posts. In some cases I might have closed the comments on a particular post for one reason or another (spam, trolls, etc.) but I always welcome comments.

12:37 PM  

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