The blog of America Magazine has re-posted a piece that appeared on the site of the Independent Catholic News. The piece is the text of an address “given by Kevin Dowling CSsR to a group of leading laity in Cape Town, South Africa on 1 June." [Note: the text has been removed from the site of the Independent Catholic News but has been posted on the website of the National Catholic Reporter, with the bishop's permission.]
Bishop Dowling’s address essentially takes a metaphorical scalpel to a trend that has developed over the last 30 years in which all Church authority has steadily become concentrated in the hands of the pope and the “Curial Departments and Cardinals.” Much of this authority, according to Dowling, rightfully belongs in the hands of the People of God at the level of the local churches and of the local episcopate, and of the Synod of Bishops. The letter and spirit of Vatican II, which reaffirmed this horizontal paradigm, has been replaced by
“the mystique which has in increasing measure surrounded the person of the Pope in the last 30 years, such that any hint of critique or questioning of his policies, of his way of thinking, his exercise of authority, etc. is equated with disloyalty. There is more than a perception, because of this mystique, that unquestioning obedience by the faithful to the Pope is required and is a sign of the ethos and fidelity of a true Catholic.”
For Dowling, a potent symbol of the “restorationism” that has been taking place these 30 years was the “cappa magna” worn by Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma as he celebrated a Tridentine Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington in April. Dowling describes the garment as “the 20-yard-long brilliant red train behind a bishop or cardinal that has become one of the symbols of the revival of the Tridentine Mass.” The wearing of the cappa magna and the elaborate processional pageantry that preceded the Mass in Washington “bore the marks of a medieval royal court, not the humble servant leadership modeled by Jesus.”
Dowling laments the disappearance of
the great theological leaders and thinkers of the past…and the great prophetic bishops whose voice and witness was a clarion call to justice, human rights and a global community of equitable sharing….Again, who in today’s world “out there” even listens to, much less appreciates and allows themselves to be challenged by the leadership of the Church at the present time? The moral authority of the Church’s leadership today has never been weaker. It is, therefore, important in my view that Church leadership, instead of giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige, should rather be experienced as a humble, searching ministry together with its people in order to discern the most appropriate or viable responses which can be made to complex ethical and moral questions—a leadership, therefore, which does not presume too have all the answers all the time….
The concentration of authority in the hands of the Pope and the Vatican Curia and “the policy of appointing ‘safe’, unquestionably orthodox and even very conservative bishops to fill vacant dioceses over the past 30 years” has made it very unlikely that the College of Bishops “will question anything that comes out of Rome, and certainly not publicly.” How courageous it is, then, for Bishop Dowling, a single voice in this deafening chorus of orthodoxy, to raise it in respectful and humble dissent and to point out, however indirectly, the hubris of those who would take it upon themselves to reject the spirit of Vatican II and scorn the legacy of Blessed John XXIII by usurping the authority of the local churches and thus the People of God.
And how clever the bishop is to use the words of Joseph Ratzinger himself to demonstrate how far we have strayed from Vatican II:
Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism.
(Joseph Ratzinger in: Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II ,Vol. V., pg. 134 (Ed) H. Vorgrimler, New York, Herder and Herder, 1967).
Among the many things about this article that impress me is its call for greater humility on the part of the leadership of the Church—“the humble servant leadership modeled by Jesus.” Church leaders would do well to return to the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus so that they might learn the true meaning of humility. Surely a man who regularly ate with sinners, with the impure, and with the marginalized; who, unlike “foxes and the birds of the air,” had “nowhere to lay his head;” and who allowed himself to be subjected to the most degrading punishment of his day, has by his very way of life and death something to teach the wearers of the “great cape.”
When will they attend?
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