Fr. Richard McBrien, theologian and church expert, dies at 78 | National Catholic Reporter

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.

via Fr. Richard McBrien, theologian and church expert, dies at 78 | National Catholic Reporter.

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.

canadian bishops optimistic about synod

I was away from writing during the recent Synod on the Family, but I tried to stay on top of the news coming from the Vatican. Pope Francis promised a more open synodal format, encouraging dialogue and debate rather than the usual litany of speeches towing the party line. By all accounts, there was dialogue and debate. And disagreement. And grumbling. And dire predictions of divisions and schisms.

The open negativity of some conservative bishops during and after the synod was astonishing. Their fear of any movement from doctrinal certainty to pastoral compassion was not surprising. Most were outspoken cultural warriors whose names have graced media headlines in the past. What was surprising was their open criticism of the pope.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, was “very disturbed” by the synod’s open discussions of current church practices towards gay people and divorced and remarried person. The discussions, he believed, sent a confusing message and “confusion is of the devil.”

“Pope Francis is fond of ‘creating a mess,’ ” said Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I. “Mission accomplished.”

The loudest voice of discontent came from Cardinal Raymond Burke, he of Vatican high fashion fame, who said “At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,”

Sadly, these were the voices that garnered most headlines. Meanwhile, here in Canada the bishops are much more optimistic.

Michael Swan , of the Catholic Register, writes,

From Newfoundland to British Columbia, bishops said there’s nothing to fear in open debate and even disagreement.

“Within that definition of Catholic is a broad range of opinion, which when you throw it all together and sift it all out you get the wisest way of proceeding,” said Regina Archbishop Daniel Bohan. “I’m delighted that we have lay people invited to continue their participation. I have no fears about that. There will be no floodgates let loose that are going to drown us all.”

Swan also quotes PEI, Charlottetown Bishop Richard Grecco who wants an ever-widening discussion among all Catholics while remaining true to core beliefs.

“You can’t walk down the road just barking truth and barking judgments. You have to walk down that road of life and love giving hope, accompanying everybody. Because the holy church is a church of sinners — we’re all sinners. You have to walk down that road in hope. Don’t compromise the church’s teaching,” (Read more…)

Francis’s greatest achievement with this synod was one of process. Yes, there were opposing voices. There always are. But, this time all voices were heard without threat of censure or silencing. I share the optimism of our Canadian bishops and others around the world who see this as a golden opportunity to reignite the spirit of renewal begun at Vatican II.

I hope that these and all voices speaking out for greater pastoral compassion and understanding do not remain too polite and quiet. It’s time to drown out the naysayers and doomsday predictors in our church.

cafeteria catholics

Several months ago, I was asked by U.S. Catholic to write an opinion piece on “cafeteria Catholics” and the need for a new style of conversation in the church. Is it OK to be a cafeteria Catholic? was published on line this week.

Writing in defense of cafeteria Catholics landed me in hot water in the past. Basically, on one side of the argument we have passionate traditionalists that equate Catholic faithfulness with unswerving belief and and obedience to each and every teaching of the Church. On the other are those of us who sincerely love our faith and love our church, but struggle with some of her teachings. So, the issue of cafeteria Catholicism becomes yet another divisive debate along the old trad-lib ideological lines.

I’m hoping that the article and attached survey will be a spring-board for dialogue…