The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Voice of the Faithful is not the church

By John Mallon, 9/6/2002

THE RECENT scandals in the Catholic Church have created a free-for-all for those who wish to vent against the church. They employ cliches over facts and agendas over genuine healing. It is one thing to criticize the bishops' handling of this affair, but it is another to continually bash teachings that Catholics believe come to us from Christ.

These critics go so far as to mention the ''letter'' as well as the mythological ''spirit'' of Vatican II. Members of the group Voice of the Faithful proclaim, ''We are the church.'' They are not. Insofar as they are truly faithful they are part of the church. Jesus did not collect a group of leaderless first-century flower children as his followers. No, he called Peter and the Apostles whom he taught and formed as he went about his ministry to be the leaders of the church he was building, to carry on his ministry and protect the integrity of his teachings. The Gospels take pains to point out how imperfect these men were, like their successors, our bishops today.

The ''We are the church'' slogan is a gross misreading of Lumen Gentium, one of the Second Vatican Council's main documents, which Catholic dissidents have invoked to attempt drive a wedge between the church's teaching authority and ''the people.'' But a simple glance at Lumen Gentium's table of contents reveals the error. Here the church defines herself: Chapter 1: The Mystery of the Church. 2: The People of God. 3: The Church is Hierarchical. These chapters, along with the rest of the document and all of church teaching are, Catholics believe, part of an integrated expression of God's revelation to us, not a source for out-of-context sloganeering. If you are going to toss out the hierarchy, you'll have to throw out Vatican II as well.

The people in Voice of the Faithful imply in their clamor for ''reform'' that their authority trumps that of the bishops. They do not specify what they mean by ''reform,'' but if they mean the ordination of priestesses and the blessing of promiscuity, adultery, abortion, or contraception, the wait will be even longer than they imagine. There is not a syllable in Vatican II that gives any reason to expect these changes. What part of ''Infallible Teaching'' don't they understand?

These teachings, Catholic believe, are not the inventions of men but come to us from the authority of Christ, as discerned by the Magisterium of the church - which, Catholics believe, is guided by the Holy Spirit whom Christ promised would guide in the way of all truth (John 16:13). G.K. Chesterton warned us to beware when Jones claims to be worshipping ''the God within'' because it won't be long before Jones is worshipping Jones.

As we have seen, bishops can botch things, but teaching in union with the pope on faith and morals, as on the issues above, they make up the ordinary Magisterium which adds up to infallible teaching. To reject this is to reject a central claim of Catholicism and, essentially, Catholicism. What then occurs is not reform but the formation of a new sect.

If one disagrees with the Magisterium's interpretation of God's revelation, one can go elsewhere, but those who make up the Magisterium trace themselves in an unbroken line to those present at the Last Supper to whom Christ spoke those words. Take it or leave it, but that is constitutive church teaching taught and believed for 2,000 years. Yet, those who defend this tradition are mocked as ''self-styled'' orthodox - an oxymoron. The issue is not ''power'' but integrity.

Unfortunately, whatever authority Voice of the Faithful may have rightly had as laity has been squandered by becoming just another carping dissident group. Demanding change of unchangeable church teaching is incompatible with being faithful, much less claiming to be the ''voice'' of the faithful.

Furthermore, the victims of clerical abuse run the risk of diluting their legitimate cause should they be absorbed into groups with dissident agendas, which would constitute a second victimization.

John Mallon is contributing editor at Inside the Vatican magazine.

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 9/6/2002.
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