While attending the Nov. 4-6 Call To Action conference in Milwaukee, I had dinner with a few other 20/30s. One was a chaplain whose department actually sent her. She couldn’t believe they did it. And she knew outsiders must never find out.
Two and a half weeks later, I read an NCR blog post from veteran journalist and CTA member Robert McClory, entitled “The high cost of lost integrity”. McClory begins:
In commenting on my article concerning the nonreception of church teaching (“When is dissent not just dissent?” Nov. 17), Jim McCrea made some valid points well worth considering: “How many of us know priests and lay people, active in parishes and dioceses, who compromise their core beliefs so as to carry on the good work they are doing within church structures? Whether the issue is Eucharistic inclusivity, option for the poor, a thinking laity, married clergy, women’s ordination, homosexuality, contraception, our Church fosters a culture of keeping quiet so as to keep going…”
And McClory concludes:
I may be wrong but I submit a direct link exists between…survey findings showing the withdrawal of trust people place in church leadership and the inability of church leaders to be open, candid and transparent about their convictions. You may include here a great number of priests, religion teachers, laity working in Catholic hospitals, universities and other institutions, pastors, chancery officials and those bishops who understand what’s going on [bold text mine]. They remain outwardly discrete and noncommittal lest honest candor cost them their jobs. And everyone sees through this thin disguise. The result is often not sympathy for their plight but sad disillusionment among many Catholics and angry cynicism among others.
To be fair, Church structures do have a few slots for mavericks. As a semi-Chicagoan, I think first of Father Michael Pfleger, a social justice priest known nationally for his in-your-face activism and Masses featuring lots of praise-and-worship music, lots of liturgical dancing, and lots of Pentecostal-style preaching. He has usually, though not always, served with a free hand.
However, Pfleger does not survive by charisma alone. He is pastor of St. Sabina’s, a vibrant mega-parish with huge neighborhood clout on the South Side. Without that clout, progressive ministry easily turns into high-stakes poker.
I was on the inside of lay ministry as an amateur. I know first-hand that the ranks are heavily composed of colorful closet radicals, compassionate people insatiably attracted by the hope of a world made new. And they are always meticulously checking themselves, constantly alert, like the deer in my backyard listening for coyotes.
Over time, as I tuned in to the myriad backroom machinations of our polarized Church, I realized all this was prudent. But the undercurrent of evasion increasingly put me off. And I’ve stopped considering professional ministry in part because, as my blog presumably makes clear, I can’t shut up.
But for those whose discernment leaves you no escape, where are you to turn? Job loss is the least of your problems. Ministry possesses you. The call to be a Christ-light for others will burn you if you reject it. It is who you are. And there are so few places in our society, let alone careers, where you are allowed to even approximate who you are.
Some would say: “just go find another church.” But again: you’re either a Catholic in your gut or you’re not. And if you are, you’re incurable–a gift and a curse.
Mike Royko, in his 1971 book Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, quotes the legendary mayor’s customary rant against neighborhood groups he considered pushy:
I want you to tell me what to do. You come up with the answers. You come up with the program. Are we perfect? Are you perfect? We all make mistakes. We all have faults. It’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to find fault. But you tell me what to do. This problem is all over the city. We didn’t create these problems. We don’t want them. But we are doing what we can. You tell me how to solve them. You give me a program.
It is easy for us to criticize church employees. It is easy to find fault. They didn’t create these problems. They do what they can. And I do not know how to solve it. I do not have a program.
But I know that once you truly understand your participation in a fearful, conformist environment, you have to examine your complicity. I know that complicity creates cynicism that cripples the Church. I know complicity must somehow stop. I know it must somehow stop down here on the bottom, with the lowly priests, the campus chaplains, the social services, the sisters, the brothers, and the laity.
Because, above all, I know this: the revolution will have no cardinals.