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We have a fairly new Catholic archbishop here in St. Louis, Archbishop Raymond Burke. One of the first things he did upon assuming the office was to act to settle a dispute between the archdiocese and one local Catholic church that's been simmering for roughly a hundred years. You see, virtually every Catholic church building in the world, and every Catholic church building in America, is actually owned by, is titled to, the local diocese. But not the St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church here in St. Louis. A bit over a hundred years ago, the local diocese allowed a group of embattled, hated ethnic minorities, the Poles, to set up their own Polish church. Because nobody in the diocese wanted to associate with the Polacks, the Polish-American community here in St. Louis ended up actually owning their own building. Higher-ranking church officials almost immediately noticed how irregular this was, and stepped in to ask the board of directors to deed the church property over to the diocese, in keeping with traditional Catholic practice. The Poles, feeling deeply suspicious of the motives of ethnic groups that hated them, dug in their heels ... for a hundred years.

Well, Archbishop Burke decided that no matter what past Archbishops have done, he wasn't going to put up with this flouting of church authority. One of his first acts was to order St. Stanislaus Kostka Church's board of directors to deed the church over to the diocese, and gave them a fairly short deadline to comply or risk excommunication. They called his bluff, betting that no Catholic official would have the guts to excommunicate an entire congregation over an administrative issue, not a doctrinal one. So he fired a warning shot by firing their priest, forcing him to retire. They responded by hiring their own Catholic priest, which shocked him to the core. Individual congregations don't do that. Worse, to accept the job, to move between parishes, the priest they hired need permission from his own superiors, which he was denied. He moved anyway, calling their bluff, betting that no Catholic official would get away with excommunicating a church over an administrative issue, not a doctrinal issue.

Burke responded by excommunicating him and the entire board of directors. The new priest and the board decided to go ahead and hold Sunday mass anyway. Roughly 2000 people showed up, far more than St. Stanislaus has drawn in decades. This so shocked Burke, and enraged him, that the other day he went the final step, and evicted the church from the diocese altogether, in essence declaring that any Catholic who so much as attended a rebel congregation and accepted the sacraments from a rebel priest working for a rebel board was, themselves, excommunicate. (See Aisha Sultan, "St. Stanislaus Out of Catholic Church," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan 6, 2006.) In a few hours, St. Stanislaus Kostka Church will open for its second Sunday mass since the excommunication. A great deal may hang on the turnout.

Ever since the current pope, who was Chief Inquisitor at the time, began spearheading a counter-revolution against the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, he has been powerfully unpopular here in St. Louis, and in many places in the United States. One of the things I've been seeing a lot for the last 20 years, and more and more as the years go by, is American and European Catholics who describe themselves as "Catholic, but ...." Catholic, but evangelical. Catholic, but Pentacostal. Catholic, but gay or lesbian. Catholic, but not practicing. Catholic, but not observant. Catholic, but also Pagan. Catholic, but not strict. Catholic, but in disagreement with one or more recent doctrinal pronouncements. Catholic, but pro-choice. Catholic, but OK with artificial birth control. In other words, what they all boil down to is one variation or another on, "Catholic, but not willing to accept the authority of the Pope and his designated surrogates." Or, to be blunt, Catholic, but disobedient.

For those of you who've missed the significance of this, they fought a several hundred year war in Europe over this. It was called the Reformation, and Catholic or ex-Catholic theologians so firmly and consistently insisted on the right of each believer, or at least of each local church and priest, to interpret God's word and will for themselves, despite intense opposition from the Vatican and legal opposition from Vatican-obedient civil governments, that vast seas of blood were shed on both sides. To the extent the war was ever concluded, the conclusion was this: you don't get to say that and still call yourself Catholic.

But what else are you going to call someone who is obedient in general to a thousand years of Catholic doctrine, including many specific doctrines that are unique to Catholicism? Who also reveres the Virgin Mary and many other Catholic saints, and celebrates them on their Catholic-designated holy days? Who thoroughly believes in, and seeks, all seven of the Catholic sacraments according to long-held Catholic traditional doctrine and the practices long-prescribed by church law? And who self-identifies as a Catholic? That's what's really going on with all of the hedging of "Catholic, but."

And by giving this prima facie ridiculous and doctrinally indefensible order, Archbishop Burke has just pushed not just an entire large congregation, but vast numbers of their believing-Catholic supporters, into open rebellion against central Catholic authority. Many of them may think that they're standing up for the much-abused desire of many congregations to stay open despite the centralized Church's (not unreasonable, quite defensible) conclusion that many inner cities now have more open Catholic Churches than they have sufficient population to sustain them, that when a city loses more than half of its population, including more than half of its Catholic population, that raw economics dictates that half of its church buildings have to close. The only Polish-Catholic church in the greater metropolitan area has not entirely unreasonable fears that the real reason that the Archbishop wants their property is not to protect the principle of mandatory obedience to Rome but so that he can force them to close (despite a more than adequate congregation and solid finances) as part of a parish consolidation plan, and not coincidentally potentially sell the property to developers for a lot of money. But no matter what they think they're standing up for, the doctrinal principle that they're backed into a corner over is just exactly that, obedience to Rome.

What if they stick to their guns? What if it catches on? What if the real reason that the Catholic Church is in slow decline among established American families, and across Europe, that in the long run Rome won all the battles of the Reformation but lost the war for public opinion? Some scholars have been speculating that the doctrinal gap between American Catholics' personal beliefs and practices and the pronouncements from the Church in Rome has become so wide that it inevitably had to lead to a schism, have been speculating for longer than some of you have been alive that "any day now" we were going to see a second Great Schism and the formation of an American Catholic Church. It never happened because while the Vatican was in a good position to ignore the wishes of American Catholics, and American Catholics (except for a few on the payroll who lacked the good sense to keep their mouths shut in public) were beyond the reach of the Vatican to punish, what happened instead was an informal mutual agreement to ignore each other.

From one perspective, that is, seen from above him, Archbishop Raymond Burke picked a very good time to pick this fight. Anybody who's even passingly familiar with the writings of Pope Benedict XVI from back when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger knows that he was even more obsessive about the doctrine of papal authority and papal infallibility than his predecessor, John Paul II, was. So by asserting the authority of the Catholic hierarchy over the religious lives of their subordinates in the Church, Burke has taken a position that is profoundly unlikely to be overturned by the Holy See. But if the next several masses at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church continue to be crowded and successful, if their priest continues his announced determination to ignore this order rather than fight it and gets away with it, then they will have established a visible example, a precedent, for a Catholic congregation standing up and, in essence, denying the Church the power to excommunicate. They will have established a definition of a Catholic as someone who practices Catholicism and self-identifies as Catholic, rather than as somebody in obedience to the heir of St. Peter. And that could have really interesting long term consequences.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 8th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)
I am very interested to see what the outcome of this is!
Jan. 8th, 2006 02:14 pm (UTC)
This story fascinates me, both religiously and politically. Thank you for sharing it!

An American Catholic Church would be fascinating: it would be recognized as apostolic, assuming that a bishop changed to this church. Therefore, followers of the American Catholic Church could rightly call themselves obedient to the heirs of Saint Peter... just not the most popular branch of the heirs.

I have no clue, however, how far it would drift from the Catholic Church. I think about the current struggles within the Anglican church -- which seems about to bifurcate over homosexuality.

The religious battles are wonderful to watch. I'm glad that I'm not in the middle of them.
Jan. 8th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)
I have often wondered how the Catholic Church makes excommunication stick. Especially in this world where the priest can't possibly know everyone in his congregation.
Jan. 8th, 2006 04:13 pm (UTC)
Theoretically, God takes care of that. The idea is: If you've been excommunicated and you haven't been forgiven in some way, you can trick your way in and take the legitimate sacrements all you want, but it's not going to do a damn bit of good. Excommunication is supposed to be horrifying because it imperils your immortal soul, not because burly men with sticks will show up to stop you from taking Communion.
Jan. 8th, 2006 02:29 pm (UTC)

I don't see the idea as "catching on." I have been Catholic since birth, mind you, so I do see through those lenses. I went to a Catholic grade school, and a Catholic (Jesuit) University. My Catholic parish here, in Atlanta, where Catholics are considered 'not Christian' by many of the locals, just built a new church, and the parishes I have visited are stronger than ever. The death of Pope John Paul II brought Catholics together like perhaps no other event could have done, and surprisingly, relatively few people object to the current Pope. When I was still in high school (about ten years ago) there was a great fear that the youth of the church might be falling away -- and yet the participation in the Catholic World Youth Day events went a long ways to dissuading those fears.

Americans are a different sort of Catholic than anywhere else in the world. They have always demonstrated a tendency towards "Catholic, but" and been a little more out from under the thumb of the Pope. And churches that are not in communion with Rome are not a new thing -- witness some of the churches that rebelled at the post-Vatican II liturgy in favor of 'traditional' practices. Or those churches that accept the liturgy, but not the legitimate succession of the current Pope. There is the CMRI schism that I know of specifically as well.

Nor was the reformation the first schism in the Catholic Church, as the Eastern Orthodox community would be quick to point out.

It's an interesting story, and it may have some consequence, but I don't think the institution is going to take the time to be particularly worried about the precedent. Catholicism, despite claims of its decline is still the largest Christian religion (accepting that 'Protestant' is an overarching title and not a denomination itself), and arguably the largest world religion (some say there are more who follow Islam, but they have their own schisms, and the numbers don't discriminate between those).

Garry Wills wrote a book entitled Why I am a Catholic that you might find interesting. It details how, despite his own disagreements with Rome (and he goes through a detailed, somewhat dry history of the church dating back to the earliest popes) he remains a Roman Catholic. I don't agree with everything he says, but I think many people would echo some of the sentiments found in the book. The last chapters are the best ones, if you want to skip the doctrinal lessons.

Jan. 8th, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)
I skimmed the book a lot of years ago. I'm a theologian by hobby and I grew up in a very Catholic city; I may have grown up nominally Protestant, but I'm hardly unfamiliar with Catholic history and theology.

I'm aware of the difference between the Great Schism and the Reformation, which is why I referred to them separately. And I'm aware that there have been rebel churches before. But what I think may make this one significant is that the congregants at St. Stanislaus seem to be standing up for something that American Catholics (a term I use not to mean a separate church, just to mean the overwhelming majority of the Catholics in America) have been edging towards since the ban on artificial birth control. There is already a generation-long culture of contempt for the authority of Rome in this country. What I'm wondering is if, by forcing the issue and making people take a stand one way or another, Burke isn't accidentally encouraging the nation's Catholics to stand up and say whether they're going to obey Rome in everything or not. And it's my perception that if he were smart, he wouldn't force that issue right now; that's not a vote he's guaranteed to win.

Catholicism is the world's largest single religious denomination, yes. But it scarcely exists at all any more in Europe and is dwindling perceptibly in North America, hence the millions of gallons of ink that have been spilled on the subject of "the decline in vocations." Most of the 3rd World prefers the traditional Catholic church. Most of the Old World and the New World are in open disobedience of the Bishop of Rome. If it doesn't lead to a schism, if the bishopric forces this issue and then loses, it could end up reviving Catholicism in Europe and North America, by making it socially acceptible within the church to proclaim the priesthood of the believer in developed countries. Ironically, by so doing, it would fulfill what Benedict the XVI says is the primary mission of his papacy, reviving Catholicism in Europe ... at the cost of one of his most dearly held religious beliefs, absolutely papal authority.
Jan. 8th, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC)
Keep us posted!
Jan. 8th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
inevitable wisecrack
But what else are you going to call someone who is obedient in general to a thousand years of Catholic doctrine, including many specific doctrines that are unique to Catholicism? Who also reveres the Virgin Mary and many other Catholic saints, and celebrates them on their Catholic-designated holy days?...

An Episcopalian?
Jan. 8th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
Re: inevitable wisecrack
Actually, when I was re-reading it for what passes for proofreading at 4:30 am, it occurred to me to add the following sentences after that rhetorical question, but I didn't:

A Lutheran? Well, yes, that would be fair, that's more or less what Luther was doing was trying to stay Catholic but disobey the Catholic chain of command, and the Lutherans have preserved the vast majority of Catholic doctrine and practice. Which is why I've been asking disobedient Catholics, for almost 30 years now, why they didn't become Lutherans.

The answer I have always gotten has been, "because we're not Lutherans, we're Catholics." Because they've never had any personal problem with ignoring one of the central tennets of Catholicism and still calling themselves Catholic, something that used to completely baffle me. Because Catholicism isn't just a doctrine, it's a distinct culture, a tribe, and one that in many ethnic communities in America is a distinct point of cultural identity. This puts them in the position of saying, whether they realize how revolutionary and radical this would be or not, that it's not the Heir of St. Peter who has the keys of heaven, who decides who is and isn't a member in good standing of the Catholic Church. That being Catholic is something that you're born and raised, and just barely something you can convert to, not something that you have to obey to be saved. Which is, ironically, what the Protestants were fighting for in the Reformation.

I ended up leaving it out in the interest of brevity.
Jan. 14th, 2006 09:40 pm (UTC)
Re: inevitable wisecrack
Ironically, this makes the Catholics sound more and more like the Jews. It's an ethnic identity, not a religion....
Jan. 16th, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: inevitable wisecrack
I think Winston Churchill had a quote which was something to the effect of "I consider myself a graduate of the church, in the same way I consider myself a graduate of Oxford." I'm not sure if he meant RC or CoE, but it's something I've found easy to understand.

Lapsed Catholic is how I've been feeling lately, but the observation about it being something you're born and raised, but don't have to obey, I quite feel that too. "Oh just ignore it, I do" has been a common response to anything a friend who came along complained about.
Jan. 8th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)
There's already a schismatic Polish-American denomination. And a smaller French-Canadian one. And groups which split over Papal infallibility.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 8th, 2006 09:40 pm (UTC)
I am not even vaguely suggesting that this is the end of the Catholic Church, something that has been forecast even more frequently than the death of the Internet and for something like forty times as long. What I am suggesting is that it has the potential to be the end, at least in North America and Europe, of the doctrine of Papal authority, of the authority of the bishopric over local churches and of the local priests over the spiritual lives of their congregants.

Nonetheless I remain confident that even after staking out such a radical viewpoint, the people involved will continue to call themselves Catholics in good standing, because (as I said to someone else above) in their minds, being Catholic isn't something that anybody can take away from you, it's something that you're born and raised with.
Jan. 8th, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC)
Is it wrong of me to hope that this causes the Catholic Church to fragment completely?
Jan. 8th, 2006 09:11 pm (UTC)
Only if you're Catholic. ;)
Jan. 8th, 2006 09:24 pm (UTC)
Hard Core
The impression I've gotten is that the Catholic Church is really disgusted with all the "modernism" that is sneaking into Catholic practice. Catholics, for example, use birth control at about the same rate as everybody else, despite it being cause for excommununication. Their answer is to yank the chain as tightly as possible and just let the dropouts go hang. Pope says "frog", you jump and ask "how high?" on the way up, or you ain't Catholic.

Analogy is the Jews and the Babylonian captivity. The Jews that came back to Jerusalem were the "hard core", and preserved the religion. The Jews that stayed in Babylon just faded into the general population.

If the Church is really trying to do this, it's a really high risk maneuver. A schism into "Roman" Catholic and "Don't Be A Jerk" Catholic would be really nasty. The US and Canada would probably go DBAJ, Latin America would probably stay Roman, and Africa would be a battleground (literally!)

"Traditionalist" religions of all flavors are having a hard time of it. It's becoming more and more obvious that if you practice the "traditional" version of a religion, you're generally poor and you stay that way. Get on line with the secular world, and you can get rich (or at least a pickup truck and a satellite dish.)
Jan. 14th, 2006 09:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Hard Core
"Traditionalist" religions of all flavors are having a hard time of it. It's becoming more and more obvious that if you practice the "traditional" version of a religion, you're generally poor and you stay that way. Get on line with the secular world, and you can get rich (or at least a pickup truck and a satellite dish.)

Is this why the "traditional" religionists in the US are teaming up with the people who don't want there to be any middle class?
Jan. 9th, 2006 04:32 am (UTC)
It's not only the RC Church that is having a disconnect in North America and Europe...the Anglican Church, which many consider just one step from the RC Church. I think this will only grow...as our lives become increasingly information based, hierachical based organizations will suffer from the same problem that corperations have...they either flatten their heirarchy, or loose touch with the people at the bottom...in a church's case, their base membership. Time to re-read Toffler...


Jan. 9th, 2006 10:14 am (UTC)
Various odds and ends, and I'm also replying to the previous "because it's a rule" post--I've been having connectivity problems bad enough to make livejournal no fun. Now that I have a phone number from my isp which merely bad rather than horrendous, I'm commenting again. (And seriously considering DSL.)

I admit I've been looking forward to a schism in the Catholic Church, which hardly makes me an unbiased observer. The problem is amplified by the fact that I don't seem to understand Catholics--I know something about the theology, but all I can manage is to recognize the emotional pull of the religion without really empathizing with it. On the other hand, it's hard for me to understand how the Catholic Church can go on as a single organization when it's alienating so many of its members.

Is there any flavor of "Catholic, but" which relates to the pedephile priest scandal?

One of my friends tells me that there are two attitudes towards rules in the Catholic Church: the Italian, in which there are a whole slew of rules, but you mostly get to choose which ones you want to follow, and the Irish, in which all the rules are very important and you have to follow all of them.

Does it seem to you that Americans go in for law worship much more than they used to? It looks that way to me.

Experimental argument: An answer to the claim that we can't treat illegal immigrants decently because, after all, they've broken our laws could be that being somewhat casual about the law is a fine American tradition and we need to get back to it.

Book possibly of interest: _In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets_ by Richard Strozzi-Heckler. It's got some mulling about the difference between actual warriorship/masculinity and the action movie version.

See also http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/007098.html#007098
which is a substantial discussion of survival in cold weather. While it doesn't have anything direct about masulinity or action heroes, it does have a general point that the tough people who survive do it by calmly knowing or figuring out and doing the right thing (and probably enduring quite a bit)--it's not a matter of overwhelming the odds by the magnificence of your intensity.

Jan. 10th, 2006 12:23 am (UTC)
About this...
I had been mulling over thoughts of religious ideological movements within world history, and while it is a preliminary hypothesis, it seems that it may be supportable that within 500 year intervals, with about a century +/-, the pendulum of religion moves to form something novel and different. It can be seen in Classical Era India with Siddhartha, then 500 years later in Israel with Jesus, then 500 years later with Mohamed. In many ways, certain Protestant branches have moved into what seems to me to be an unsupportable theological conservancy. Put this in line with the doctrinal re-mainlining after Vatican II for the Catholics, and then move throughout the world to Wahhabism and other religious issues, and I think that the world is headed for a war of faith, and I'm not sure if there is anything that can be done to keep the world out of it. Of course, I haven't taken the time and research to determine if there is the historic support for this position, but it's a start.
Jan. 25th, 2006 02:37 am (UTC)
Hey, I just found your journal, and after soaking up the Ford/nuclear power/Apple rants, I decided we were meant for each other and clicked your icon. Alas, you're not in the Bay Area. Seriously, though, damn fine writing.

So how did the Catholic thing turn out?

And have you written any posts you'd point me to about your religion? I'm interested in Hellenic Reconstructionism.
Jan. 25th, 2006 05:25 am (UTC)
I've been waiting to hear more about the revolt at St. Stanislaus myself; nothing's been in the papers. Which leads me to think that the second and third Sunday masses have been, at best, back to their normal size, which would make a sustained spreading rebellion against papal and episcopal authority less likely. But until I hear something specific, I've got nothing but guess work.

You can find my stuff on my own religion mostly at http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/tag/hellenic+reconstructionism
Sep. 29th, 2009 07:06 am (UTC)
Very nice post
Very nice post, far much better than most that I have read. I like the way you mentioned the facts of the matter and the sequence that you followed because that is where it all is.

keep us informed.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )