Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Working Catholic: Division within the Church by Bill Droel

The internal battles are the hardest. The particulars of an internal dispute quickly seem inconsequential but the long term stakes can be significant. For example, during the four years prior to its 1972 convention, the credentials committee of the Democratic National Committee wrangled over delegate seating. The eventual decisions shifted the focus of electoral politics in this country.

The recent Catholic bishops’ Synod on the Family provides a second example. For nearly three years the Synod process was given to debate on relatively obscure rules regarding divorced Catholics and the Eucharist—as if no other issues were of crucial importance to family life. And yet, the eventual outcome of this internal battle might have significance beyond its particulars.

Which brings us to a second observation about internal battles. They are often not about what they are about. This is always the case in polarized battle. “Polarization is not the same thing” as conflict, writes Holly Taylor Coolman of Providence College. Conflict, if conducted fairly, can be resolved satisfactorily. Polarization, by contrast, means two poles with no third or fourth option; no middle ground. Each pole increasingly turns inward, “demanding even purer and more total commitment,” explains Coolman in her contribution to Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church (Liturgical Press, 2016).

So for example, those who wage a polarized culture war over the serious matter of abortion are not really talking about abortion. For the culture warriors an entire worldview is at stake: the value of individualism, the autonomy of science, indeed the foundations of modernity.  Not everyone who engages the topic of abortion is an ideologue. Some thoughtful people, including those who use an objective moral method, are open to a middle position for the time being. However, someone who proposes the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is on a polarized crusade; no compromise is acceptable.

Which brings us to a third observation about internal battles—one with a twist. Even though a topic is serious, the majority is not invested in either pole on that topic.

The people who are leading the internal battles within U.S. Catholicism are older, Christian Smith of Notre Dame tells us in Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church. By contrast, “the vast majority” of those in their 20s or 30s “do not care that much.” Based on research, Smith says these young people “are not generally hostile to the church, not antagonistic or fundamentally dissenting. It is more a matter of general indifference.” This is something for Catholic leaders to ponder.

Mary Ellen Konieczny, one of three editors of Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church, says the same. “Only between 10 and 20% of the American public hold polar positions around most culture wars issues.” Further, “the culture wars debates are waged largely by elites.” And, to repeat Smith’s point, when it comes to Catholic topics, young adults are not among the 10% to 20% who battle the internal issues.

This twist presents a dilemma for U.S. Catholicism. The polar positions of those who battle over the status of divorced Catholics might represent something bigger. Those Catholic leaders who battle over gender requirements for legal marriages might be upholding valuable worldviews. But are these and other internal polar battles a distraction from the crucial project of attracting and retaining young adults in the faith? Is a both/and approach a fallacy—both attention to culture wars and attention to the young adult topics of work and relationships? Does Catholic polarization itself (on the left and right) cause thoughtful young adults (rightly or wrongly) to further disaffect from the faith?

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Working Catholic: Yankee, Go Home by Bill Droel

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP of Peru is rightly receiving awards these days for his role in developing liberation theology. His 1973 book, A Theology of Liberation, signaled the end within Catholicism of the Western European theological monopoly. It is also now worthwhile to recall Ivan Illich (1926-2002). In early 1964 he gathered several Latin American theologians and church leaders in Brazil. It was there that the methodology and major themes of what would become libration theology took shape. Thus, Illich “played a major role in fostering liberation theology” and subsequently in its propagation, writes Todd Hartch in The Prophet of Cuernavaca (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Illich was born in Austria and was ordained to the priesthood in 1951. Later that year he was sent to Princeton University to do research. He served among Puerto Ricans in a Manhattan parish. Cardinal Francis Spellman (1889-1967) was impressed with Illich and so appointed him a rector to a university in Puerto Rico. Illich, at age 31, was made a monsignor—the youngest ever in the United States.

Today, the required reading list for a college class might include one or another book by Illich. The class will be in education, philosophy or social science. Hartch’s contribution is to put Illich squarely inside Catholicism and inside the priesthood. “He is best understood as a Catholic priest of conscious orthodoxy grappling with the crisis of Western modernity,” says Hartch. Thus, Illich’s later critiques of education, medicine and other institutions are but further examples of his prime example, the church.

The church loses its mission, said Illich, when it adopts a modern business model with its preoccupation with status, obsession with money, a fondness for measurable outcomes, a disposition to bureaucratic processes, an overuse of vacuous language and more. Illich devised an unusual way of reforming the church. He started, Hartch details, “an anti-missionary training center designed to discourage would-be missionaries” at the very moment that the Vatican and the U.S. bishops made a significant commitment to sending missionaries to Latin and South America.

Illich believed that the church’s mission effort had lost its original aspiration. Like many modern institutions, the unintended bad side effects outweighed the good intentions. Programs directed from North America to South America under the banner of development amounted to more colonialism, he said. Illich, to be clear, was not against the church and its essential missionary endeavors. Nor subsequently was he opposed to medicine, education, transportation and the like. He felt, however, that once a threshold of modern bureaucracy had taken hold, the church impedes faith, the schools hamper learning and hospitals discourage wellness.

Hundreds of missionaries attended Illich’s center in Cuernavaca because it offered the best language class, the best cultural analysis and on-and-off again the latest theological insights—all the while telling the missionaries, in effect “to go home.”

Illich, like all prophets, was contradictory. For example, here was a missionary of sorts who came from Europe to New York, then went to Puerto Rico and onto Mexico saying that imported religious education and devotions are types of disabling help. No surprise then that his anti-missionary effort had contradictory results. The number of Western European and North American missionaries to Latin America indeed dropped well below the goals set by bishops. At the same time, members of religious orders and other missionary types went back into their North American and European settings with a passion for opening the whole church to its global mission, particularly its solidarity with the poor.

As for Illich, his influence on many Catholic leaders was significant but his footing within Catholic structures was unfixed. He was for a time in regular conflict with one or another bishop and with the Vatican bureaucracy. “Many have assumed that [Illich] was forced out of the priesthood or even that he renounced Catholicism,” writes Hartch. Not true. Illich knew and believed “that priestly identity was permanent.” During 1967 to 1968 Illich gradually withdrew from active priesthood so that he would not be a source of embarrassment. His precise status defied the usual categories—not exactly a leave of absence, not at all a suspension. Illich was a radical thinker; a person willing to experiment. He was churchman, always “trying to understand the nature of the church and its relationship to his age,” Hartch concludes. 

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Thursday, November 10, 2016


   A Latino mom, the wife of a board member of the Milwaukee Immigrant Worker’s Center, Voces de la Frontera, reported that kids were crying at school in anticipation of being deported.

   Our seven year-old granddaughter Monique was upset election night.  She was convinced Donald Trump was going to bomb San Francisco.  Dori and John, her parents, assuaged her fears and by bed time she was OK.

   Sunday, December 71941 as a six year old I had similar fears.  We were at my grandparents' for Sunday dinner when we became aware of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Everybody gathered around the radio and I knew the news wasn’t good.  My uncle Ed had already been drafted; all were concerned.

   On the drive home I asked my parents if the war would come to our country.  They said no – not to worry, but I could tell they weren’t sure.  

   As for the age of anxiety in the 50’s, my fears of nuclear warfare were suppressed with little conscious awareness. During serving time in the Army I accepted the threat of war as just part of everyday life.

   I don’t remember ever going to bed as a child with a fear like Monique’s of being bombed; I was willing to accept that it just wouldn’t happen.  But what about the kids in Aleppo – it happened – it’s happening – will we welcome them as refugees or have we been so desensitized by constant war that we will say no?

   Monique’s eight year old cousin Sean in London was empathetic. When he overheard the story of Monique’s worries he said, “She can come to London and sleep in my room if she wants.”

   But Monique is doing fine.  Wednesday at supper she offered a toast: “to Hillary, she will run again – she never gives up.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


   Our seven year old granddaughter Monique is as precious to us as life itself, but she’s a handful.  Dori and John trust us to care for her at times and it can be exciting.  She’s quick, she’s a climber, she runs, she zips around on her bike.  Last summer a neighbor cautioned me:  “You should watch her more closely, did you know she is way up in that tree?”  I looked up and was startled. 

   Last winter we spent some time visiting the family in San Francisco.  I was watching a Wolf Blitzer interview with Donald Trump. Monique was dashing around here there and everywhere, but I tried to concentrate on what was being said.  Suddenly Monique was cuddling right next to me.  I tried to focus but Monique had some questions:

“Boppo, does Donald Trump say bad words?”                                       
“Yes! Let’s watch and listen.”                                                   
“Boppo, is he saying bad words now?”                                               
“Why not?”                                                                                                    
“Ahhh – he’s trying to be nice for television?”
"But he’s not nice; he keeps interrupting; does Donald Trump know what nice means?”

   Joanne reports a conversation this summer.  “Grandma if Donald Trump wins we will have to move to another country, but we should all move to the same place.”

   Monique is now playing soccer.  Last week she scored a goal and celebrated running in circles screaming, “I’m Hilary Clinton – I’m Hilary Clinton and I never give up, I never give up.”

   I’m expecting some interesting comments tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2016


  The Cubs won the World Series; it’s only a game but let’s get serious.  The structure of being itself has been altered: nothing is sure anymore, we must live life simply making good guesses.
   And now some guesses:  Two games lost in Chicago; could we see this as a reminder that Chicago-land is historically Native American?  After all, the name Chicago comes from the Potawatomi language.  (Field of garlic) 

   As kids we played baseball and football in pasture land just west of Chicago’s Harlem Avenue.  It was formerly a Native American burial ground, but is now ‘developed.’ Thanks to the Great Spirit, the forest preserve across Thatcher Avenue remains.

   Let’s not forget, in 1917 Fred Toney of the Cincinnati Reds and Hippo Vaughn of the Chicago Cubs pitched a double no-hitter.  In the tenth inning Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete, squeezed in the winning run for the Reds. 

    The game took place at Weeghman Field renamed Wrigley Field in 1925.  William Wrigley, the gum baron, bought the team in 1921.  Before transferring to Weeghman Field (nothing to do with garlic) the Cubs had won two World Series Championships while playing at West Side Park as their home field.  In contrast, the Cubs have gone 2 for 10 in World Series match-ups at the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field.  The 1918, Cubs vs. Boston Series, featuring the pitching of Babe Ruth and Hippo Vaughn, was held at the home of the White Sox - Comiskey Park - because it had a larger seating capacity than Weeghman.  The Red Sox and Babe Ruth won the war time Series.  Had Jim Thorpe already fostered the tradition of Cub tragedy in 1917?

   Perhaps the Cubs would do better in Chicago World Series games if the owners, the very wealthy Ricketts family, built a new stadium and then sent some money to the protesters in North Dakota.

   But Cub fans are definitely among the most admirable.  They mirror the Divine in that they have faced stark nothingness for over one-hundred years - with love, created and maintained the Cub entity of frustration - with hope.  And it happened – well deserved congratulations to the fans and the indomitable Cub ball players.  

Note: For full and complete disclosure – Bill Lang played for the Cubs at West Side Park from 1893 – 1899.