Duomo Press: Featured Book

Excerpts: Reforming Church Authoritynext

Bas relief, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence, Italy

St. Francis holding up a falling church, Giotto, Upper Church of San Francisco, Assisi, Italy

quoteIn the old days, the hierarchy was responsible for thinking institutionally and the faithful followed along. But that fell apart in the times after Vatican II. The hierarchy lost the trust of the faithful, the institution lost the power to define sin, and the individual became the arbiter of belief. Yet an institution is required to pass on the fullness of faith to succeeding generations. This is the exact thing we are failing to do.
We need what we don’t have: a trusted institution. To get one, the whole structure must be re- imagined.


Aquinas tells us that morality, and in particular natural law, is based on our use of reason to grasp God’s Law and deduce from it rules of moral behavior. ... We, therefore, have the obligation to form our consciences by thinking straight. We also have the obligation to form our consciences by avoiding voluntary ignorance. If you actively choose to be ignorant about what you ought to know, or remain ignorant through negligence, you are responsible for the evil in which you participate. This is very much to the point, since the world is swimming in workable governance models. Good governance is ultimately a moral question. ... The crucial question the faithful have to ask themselves is this: just how much longer will we allow the Church to remain an organizational disaster? ... Reform will come from the faithful who choose to exercise the power they have to make change happen. It isn’t going to happen from the top down. When it happens, it will happen from the bottom up.


One of the most effective things the faithful can do to open possibilities for change is to exercise its voice. ... we should publicly challenge our bishops to produce rational theological justifications for the positions they hold. It’s both foolish and harmful to the Church to continue to tolerate positions we know are circular and disconnected from reality. ... Those of us not subject to investigations, sanctions, secrecy, oaths of fidelity, mandatums, and smackdowns have two further obligations. One is to exercise our voices and apply pressure as needed, since the hierarchy has few levers over us. The other is to protect the intellectual freedom of those upon whom the hierarchy can apply coercion. ... While it is legitimate to argue about what can authentically be considered Catholic, we should forcefully and vocally require that any such argument be made in public and resolved by debate on the merits. Anything less is unacceptable from leaders of a faith that believes in the coherence of faith and reason.


What power does the laity have besides knowledge and voice? Money. ... Organizations only change when they absolutely have to. ... They will not change until they have some extremely strong reasons that give them permission to change. This is why the faithful should consider the thoughtful utilization of a revenue boycott. Should the faithful simply cut off the money? Of course not. Yet in light of the dysfunction evidenced in the sexual abuse crisis and the lack of consistent accountability and transparency in parish and diocesan finances, it is less and less realistic to simply provide a financial contribution to a parish or diocese and hope it gets properly utilized. ... The specific Catholic contribution to faith, which marries the richness of the Catholic intellectual and sacramental traditions with modern methods of governance, has not yet been tried. It deserves a shot.


The Catholic tradition contains a wealth of wisdom and practice available for the asking that can help us understand what it means to be alive: the intellectual tradition, the rituals enriched by the sacramental imagination, Catholic social teaching, and the power of community. It is a way to understand the world, our current slice of space-time, in the most intimate and powerful way imaginable. If the world is good and faith and reason are coherent, which if you’re Catholic it is and they are, then we should move the line between knowledge and mystery until it ends up in the right place. That’s what Catholics do. That is the legacy of Aquinas and that is our challenge: to reground the faith in the slice of God’s creation in which we live, the modern world.