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Eminence, the emeritis cardinal archbishop of HGN

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Foolish Obedience

A foolish obedience is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and Polish and German popes.

I paraphrased Emerson because obedience in today’s catholic church has become the new foolish consistency. Obedience is elevated as the highest virtue. It is a tragedy that this kind of consistency much beloved by small and insecure catholic minds finds support in the Vatican.

I encountered a story about this kind of foolish obedience at the blog Enlightened Catholicism, and it got me thinking. I appreciate what Colleen unearths on her blog. Her comments are always insightful as well as many of the follow-up comments. 

The blog article is about Father Adrian Egan of Mount St. Alphonsus Monastery in Limerick, Ireland. Father Egan complains publicly about the treatment of some of the priests in his group. One priest in particular, Father Flannery, a popular retreat director had been reported to the Vatican by these conservative church police. Father Egan calls them “Catholic agents”. He said these "agents" were subjecting some priests in his order to FBI-like attention.

The story continues that Father Flannery was reported to the Vatican for some deviation from the catechism. Father Flannery was called to the Vatican to defend himself. The result is that now Father Flannery is forbidden to write in the Redemptorists’ magazine or publish on the order’s web site. This article in the Irish Examiner details more about these events.

Obedience as the new foolish consistency may give those embracing it a sense that it keeps the group together and provides order; but this comes with many serious negative consequences. I wonder how the church got itself into the position where it will silence creative and original thinkers and theologians who spend their lives trying to make faith understandable and allow the Mystery of the Catholic faith to stir our hearts then discard them as today's rubish. The Vatican for its part reacts to these reports from scared, small minded people fearful that there is a violation or opposition to what's in the universal catechism by silencing dedicated and creative people.

A person does not have to be a genius to tell when someone is coloring outside the lines. It also does not make that person an art critic. In the church it seems that when these fearful people succeed in getting the Vatican to silence creativity the human spirit suffers. When someone’s fear of heresy based on the reading of the catechism causes this silencing of men and women of good will who serve the mission of the gospel, then true religion suffers. The Catholic Church suffers.

In the thoughts and words of two artists the problem can be expressed this way. Georgia O’Keeffe said: “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't  say any other way - things I had no words for.”  Francis Bacon put it this way: “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” Theologians like artists try to say things and explain faith in a way to deepen our understanding of Mystery.The result of right wing conservative “church agents” denouncing creative theologians who in their own way are like artists kills the Spirit.  Benedict and his church "agents" seem satisfied with a coloring book religion.

UPDATE - April 11, 2012 - From Clerical Whispers
Statement from Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland

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