Fr. Richard McBrien, who as a scholar brought distinction to a university theology department and who as an author and often-interviewed popular expert explained the Catholic church to the wider world, died early Sunday morning. He was 78.
Here on the Canadian prairies, the Prairie Messenger has long been our source for Catholic news. The weekly newspaper provides us with local, national and international coverage of current affairs in both the world and the church. It is also a rich depository of varied voices in its columns. Over the years, writers like Fr. Andrew Greeley, Sr. Joan Chittister, Eugene Kennedy and Fr. Richard McBrien challenged readers to embrace the church with an adult faith. This required going beyond an unquestioning obedience or turning a blind eye to the human weaknesses of the institutional church. It meant bringing issues of faith and practice out into the open for honest dialogue and discussion.
As we moved further and further away from Vatican II, in years and in practice, ecclesial censorship attempted to silence these voices. The NCR article above describes Fr. McBrien’s experiences with this censorship. One writer on the NCR discussion boards mused that censorship often comes from a mere 1% of the church’s population; the high and mighty who are more concerned about wielding power in the name of purity than promoting a healthy dialogue.
Sadly, NCR had to close the article’s comment board because of vicious and disrespectful attacks by some more traditional minded posters. The irony of these trolling heresy hunters calling themselves faithful Catholics and good Christians continues to amaze and sadden me.
Luckily for us, the Prairie Messenger never stopped publishing Fr. McBrien’s articles. The first time my simple column shared a page with this giant of a writer I was thrilled, honoured and humbled. Fr. Richard McBrien’s love of Catholicism while presenting thoughtful criticism is a model and inspiration for me and, I’m sure, for many progressive Catholics.
May he rest in eternal peace and joy.