Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

I’m Just Sayin’

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 21, 2007

In Wednesday’s blog entry, I reported the widespread attitude that holds the Church guilty of heavy-handed authoritarianism whenever she attempts to prevent her representatives from teaching whatever they want in her name. Consider the following quotes from eight different writers who posted comments on about the Vatican’s investigation of Georgetown theologian Fr. Peter Phan.

  • “If the Church is wise they will let Fr Phan and all others like him have their say without censorship…. Save your breath, and wait and see how history and the Holy Spirit sort this out. Authoritarian heavy-handedness has never served the Church, except to give it a black eye. And that approach will not serve now.”
  • “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Fortunately, he does not have a monopoly on salvation. This means that the Pope should dialogue with others, not censure them. Censure is uncivil…. The idea of papal infallibility is a psychologically unsound idea, both for those who are in the Papacy and those who are among the ‘faithful’.”
  • “I consider myself a loyal and faithful follower of Christ within the Roman Catholic Church. I sometimes feel the powers that be parse language to such an excruciating degree as to make their criticisms of theologians so arcane as to make the whole effort nearly meaningless.”
  • “Father Peter Phan is an excellent theologian and a beautiful human being.”
  • “This to me is yet another reason that the Church is continuing on the path of irrelevance. Whether you agree or disagree with Fr. Phan's thinking, to censure or otherwise try to restrict this type of thinking is ridiculous.”
  • “The doors to the Catholic Church need to be opened, not narrowed as if they were the gate through which we must strive to pass.”
  • “The Catholic Church has spent almost two thousand years to establish themselves as the One, but this is futile. HE, our beloved GOD is all that matters; He doesn't separate those who did His Will according to the scriptures or to the dictates of the Church, but only to the spirit of His Being, Who is supreme.”
  • “Benedict’s approach seems to be the heavy hand of authoritarianism over dialogue. This is not too far removed from the way George W. Bush operates and reflective of the trend toward the return of Fascism in the world at large.”

If you take the time to read the posts in their entirety, you will be even more forcefully struck by the ignorance, confusion and imprecision of the correspondents. Never mind the monstrous disconnection from reality which must characterize anyone who thinks Benedict XVI is tempted by authoritarian fascism. And never mind that this controversy is not about the Church’s willingness to engage the world in conversation but about internal quality control. What interests me here is the universal attitude represented by these remarks.

One wonders what could possibly lead people to think that the Church is better off, even perhaps obliged, to permit her representatives to publicly advance whatever views they choose. Any organization established to propagate specific ideas betrays itself, its mission and those who depend on it insofar as it permits its official representatives to propagate other, contradictory ideas. This is true of advocacy groups, media outlets, think tanks, and even ordinary companies with particular images, attitudes and methodologies critical to their well-being. Moreover, the Catholic Church has a better reason than any other organization for insisting on the fidelity of her representatives: She is charged by God to preserve and propagate not the ideas of her leaders but Divine Revelation itself, and she takes God at His word when He says her mission is essential to the well-being of man.

Of course, people never take an “anything goes” point of view when an organization is charged with promoting ideas they cherish. Rather, permissiveness is always urged upon those with whom the critic disagrees. The toleration of those who constantly proclaim themselves tolerant routinely dissolves as soon as their own pet ideas are called into question. Such people generally assume their own ideas are obvious, which in their minds renders criticism futile, inappropriate and even reprehensible. Worse still, those who preach a relativistic sort of tolerance almost always turn their own intellectual laziness into a mark of superior virtue.

Unfortunately, the self-contradictory and self-defeating idea that the Church should not take prudent steps to secure her own mission appears obvious to many, even among those who call themselves Catholics. But when people say absurd things about the Church that they would not countenance for a moment if directed at an organization whose ideas they love, we may logically infer that they do not love the Church. In fact, they do not wish the Church as they know it to survive. They want a new Church made in their own likeness, or perhaps no Church at all.

I’m not saying that such people are unworthy of respect or that they do not merit our efforts at constructive discussion, but it is foolish for any entity to look for guidance from those who do not wish it to survive. I’m not saying that the Church should not do her best to win people over with understanding and charity, but it makes no sense to craft internal policies to preserve your identity based on the advice of people who want your identity to change. I’m not saying that the Vatican’s efforts to control the mouths and pens and policies of its official representatives should not be marked by greater forbearance and kindness than similar efforts by secular organizations, but it is just plain stupid to base strategic decisions on the counsels of the enemy.

I’m not sayin’. . . . I’m just sayin’.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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