The Catholic Thing
A House Divided, but Not Beyond Repair Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Wednesday, 08 June 2011

Thirty years ago, it was already becoming apparent that the Church in the United States – and not only here – was terribly divided. The divisions arose from differing interpretations of Vatican II and they began to work their ways into dioceses, religious orders and congregations, and parishes.

These and the training programs for clergy and religious then began to fall into two well-defined camps, the orthodox and the heterodox. The former comprised of those who held that Vatican II, whatever new things it introduced, is part of the tradition of the Church; and the latter group held to the idea that Vatican II established a “new church,” a notion that left previous tradition behind as “outdated” and that cherry picked the teaching of Vatican II, when it did not just make things up from whole cloth.

The American ecclesiastical landscape then became the patchwork that we still see today with the intellectual divide cutting through religious houses, formation systems, diocesan administrations, national Catholic organizations and the clergy, religious, and laity, and through the episcopate itself. It’s not hard to identify the problem. Just raise any Catholic moral issue and the divide appears immediately, either actively or passively (in the sense that real Catholic teaching is downplayed or not mentioned at all).  

The group of “ageing hippies” still has its hands on the levers of power in many colleges, seminaries, and other Catholic institutions. It just takes one person in the right position to influence hiring, textbooks, and the institutional message. The effect of this patchwork on the mission of the Church has been to dilute the witness of the Catholic Church in the United States in a number of areas.

          Henri de Lubac

With his customary insight, Fr. Henri de Lubac (later cardinal) wrote that in this case “each man cites one of the ‘outside’ doctrines or parties in order to secure a triumph for his own ideas over those of another – who is, in fact, his brother. When this happens, the quarrels of the Church’s own children do not merely weaken the Church; they disfigure her in the eyes of the world: ‘the sensual man does not perceive those things that are of the spirit of God.’(I Corinthians 15:4-9)”

The notion of brotherhood goes right to the heart of the matter. The assertion of outside doctrines for one’s own power has been allowed to take precedence over the real meaning of the Church as a brotherhood that holds to one faith and one Lord.

The brotherhood as one presence “should be in her members what she is in herself; she should be through us what she is for us.”(de Lubac) Such a unity allows Christ to be clearly proclaimed, not as a blurred image, not as different Christs – Christ the liberal or Christ the conservative, Christ the yuppie or Christ the homeless man. There is one Christ who should not be a mere pretext for our poor efforts at remaking the world or at establishing ourselves and our group as the power group, instead of the one true Christ.

Fortunately for us, as de Lubac saw, “all these deviations are powerless against the Church herself. Men may be lacking the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit will never be lacking to the Church. In virtue of her witness and sovereign powers, she will always be the Sacrament of Christ, and make him really and truly present to us.” This means that Christ has a way of busting through the fog created by the poorly informed, the partisans and the downright malicious. Yes, we can and ought to make sure that we are not obstacles. But somehow the Holy Spirit daily tweaks consciences and voilà – in that public statement and in what that person over there is doing – Christ becomes public and visible and challenging once more.

When Karol Wojtyła was a priest and then a bishop under Communist oppression, he realized that culture was the place in which to affirm what is right about humanity. In clandestine play readings, or meetings in his residence (public gatherings were watched), or in the celebration of Mass in a field at Nova Huta (after the district had deliberately been laid out without a church), he simply and clearly asserted the presence of Jesus Christ, and the dignity of the human being within the society that Christ had died for. With such a clear division between the oppressed and the oppressor, the mode of response – which took grace and courage – became clear.

I would submit that the division today is in fact equally clear, what we are looking for is men and women of prayer, living embodiments of grace and courage, to unleash the great torrents of the Holy Spirit upon this divided house, and make it deeply and visibly one again.

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology. 

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Comments (9)Add Comment
written by Martinkus, June 08, 2011
There are men and women for which Father Bramwell is calling, as I'm sure he knows. As someone who has tried to be one of them, I want to add that we are often squashed by the dissidents who have gained control of Church institutions and who are masters of the arts of equivocation, ambiguity, half-truths, flattery, and covering themselves. Yes, the Holy Spirit is with the Church; but He respects free will, doesn't he? And without bishops who both have faith and are competent . . . Would it not help if every bishop asked everyone in charge of a Catholic institution for which that bishop is responsible, "What is your institution doing to show the world that the fullness of the means of salvation objectively subsists in the Catholic Church?" "Do you agree that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is objectively true from cover to cover?" "Do you agree that love never contradicts truth, and that truly being pastoral never contradicts infallible Magisterial teaching?"
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., June 08, 2011
Bravo and thank you to both Fr. Bramwell and Martinkus. The situation herre, as in in Europe, is quite grave. In the USA ex-Catholics comprise the larget relgious demographic, and large number of those who identify themselves as practicing Catholics do so because no one has told them from the pulpit or or in CCD that what they believe and practice sepearates them from full communion with Holy Mother Church. And, yes, I have even heard that veneralbe appelation of the Bride of Christ mocked from the pulpit. The most insidious and effective weapon sued by those who are out to destroy the Church--and while they cannot do so we cannot deny that such is their aim--is the misuse of the injunction that we not judge others. How can Catholic in America believe that the churhc's leaders take seriously what the chruch procalims when a man who never publicly renounced his boisterous support for both abortion and homosexual marriage is given a public Catholic funeral. anyone who thinks that many errant brethren did no take that as an endorsement of their errors is...well, let me think of something kind to say. Perhaps the US Chruch will be enriched by those now swimming the Tiber.
written by Alison Solove, June 08, 2011
I agree with you about the issue of division in the Church. But is it useful to spend time labeling and identifying our differences. "Orthodox" and "heterodox" are already weighted, judgmental terms--and, given the way some have responded to Vatican II by leaving the Church, not synonymous with "conservative" and "liberal" either.

My husband once pointed out to me that Christ only had three categories into which he grouped the people he encountered: people like the Pharisees who just didn't "get it"--at least not yet; people like the Apostles who tried to follow God's word and could be better; and the poor, sick, and discouraged who just needed love.

Perhaps the best way to begin bringing unity back to the Church is to stop focusing on our differences and instead looking for Christ in one another.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, June 09, 2011
On recalls St Joan of Arc: "I refer myself to God Who sent me, to Our Lady, and to all the Saints in Paradise. And in my opinion it is all one, God and the Church; and one should make no difficulty about it. Why do you make a difficulty?” (From the Eight Private Examination)
written by Fr. Bramwell, June 09, 2011
Some interesting points: I think that what needs to be clarified is the relation between truth and the the good. Then we can be clear about what orthodox means. Pope Benedict says: "Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:32)" (Caritas in veritate,1) This is where orthodoxy comes from. It is not an arbitrary truth.

Speaking about arbitrary truth: he goes on: "To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person. The search for love and truth is purified and liberated by Jesus Christ from the impoverishment that our humanity brings to it, and he reveals to us in all its fullness the initiative of love and the plan for true life that God has prepared for us." (Caritas in veritate, 1)
written by Martinkus, June 09, 2011
Thank you, Father Bramwell, for taking the time to read the comments to your column. My comment was a cry for help. Do you see that there are catacombs WITHIN the Church inhabited by those who fit Richard Neuhaus's description of those who see Vatican II in continuity with Sacred Tradition (as opposed to those who see Vatican II as discontinuous and who are thus more appropriately EITHER liberal/heterodox, as you wrote, OR conservative, e.g., the Lefebvreites, as you omitted)? And do you agree that a major reason we are in the catacombs (i.e., marginalized or harrassed by liberals in power) is because what George Weigel has said about our U.S. bishops' politics--that they don't want to appear conservative--is also true about their ecclesiology. As a result, consciously or unconsciously, they have accepted the liberals' lumping us in with the conservative kooks who attack Vatican II. Shouldn't our bishops agree with Neuhaus's way of describing the divide in the Church and then activley go about identifying and supporting those working in Church institutions who value Vatican II in the way that it should be valued--with John Paul II and Benedict providing the hermeneutical key--as long as they are competent in their jobs as well? Again, HELP! Or at least, please realize that following your and de Lubac's good and true guidance will also involve carrying a cross--in, of all places, the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
written by Fr. Bramwell, June 10, 2011
Thank you very much. I think that you are on to something. The core of the issue as I see it is that most people in the US read things through the political lens: who is for this idea, do I want to be with them? They do not push through to the truth question: is this idea true? Catholicism is about truth not simply about forming coalitions of like thinking people. This is why I quoted Caritas in veritate. This is the ultimate pronouncement from the Church about truth in love. It is about truth that leads to salvation. The corollary is untruth that does not lead to salvation.

You are right that this raises difficulties but as we had in the readings recently at Mass: Jesus says: "You will have trouble in the world." Raising the truth question is troublesome but we follow someone who was crucified. Can we expect any thing less?
written by Joseph Wichmann, June 11, 2011
I prefer the term "superannuated hippie" to "aging hippie" and believe that at this time it is much more accurate.
written by Chris in Maryland, June 14, 2011
I reckon that it has always been difficult for the ecclesial/orthodox man or woman in the Church to give witness to their baptismal responsibilities as "Priest, Prophet and King." Per Martinkus it is especially difficult to be a prophet, to bear witness to the truth, inside the Church today. This is because of something more malignant than the state of affairs described by Henri de Lubac, i.e., the penetration "of outside doctrines" inside the institutions of the Church has spawned (probably has always been spawning since Judas?) a 2nd parasitic 'brotherhood' within the Church wounding the brotherhood of those striving together to obey The Lord.

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