The Q&A part of the Bishops’ letter states excommunication is the Church’s way of saying a person has done something that harms the Church and also harms the person’s relationship with God. In threatening people who disagree in some way with the Church the phrase is often used that they are putting their immortal soul at risk. I don’t buy that. The Roman Catholic Church is not the only way to a relationship with God, with Jesus. A given action might damage a person’s relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, but that is not the same as damaging their relationship with God. Being in trouble with the RC Church is not the same as being in trouble with God. There are some wonderful folks who are in trouble with the RC Church, yet who are in a solid relationship with God and who are doing their best to respond to what they believe is God’s call to them. Can anybody absolutely say they are wrong? God and the RC Church are not co-terminus. I am not sure that the hierarchy have anything to do with anyone’s immortal soul other than their own. Jesus criticized the religious authorities of his day with saying pretty much the same thing – that their way was the only way to God for everybody always. I have served with many folks of many and no traditions who were good folks. Who is to say that they were not in a solid relationship with God, as they understand God, or with the good, as they understand it?
Can anyone say with absolute certainty that the priest in question is not in a real relationship with God, with Jesus, and doing what his prayer journey is calling him to do, that he is not in some way a prophet speaking out on the injustices and inequities in todays RC Church? Most of his critics, knowing very little about the practicalities of priesthood, find him to be wrong simply because he is not conducting his life as they believe he should, armchair quarterbacks who have no special insight into his prayer life or his journey. The words of Teddy Roosevelt come to mind here: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I am not sure that the promise of obedience made by priests at ordination is one of absolute or blind obedience. To me it is a mature attitude of listening to the Holy Spirit in the setting of what is going on in our life at any given time, prayerfully examining all courses of action available to us,. In many ways blindly following the dictates of a one’s bishop is easier than following the call of one’s conscience, especially if one believes the Holy Spirit is calling them to walk a difficult and lonely path. It might have something to do with taking up one’s cross everyday and following Someone.
The priest’s community has some discerning to do. As they have in the past, they will probably do their best to be open to the Holy Spirit. The fruits of their collective prayer life are obvious in their community’s ministries. Again, those with only a theoretical understanding will be quick to judge and declare solutions. They do not know the stories and journeys of the community’s folks as individuals and families, or of the community itself, yet they have the answers. I believe it is essential to posit good will for everyone involved on all sides of this issue. Self-righteous finger-pointing and judging do nobody any good. The important thing is for all of us to help each other heal the pain.
Benedict XVI tweeted that the way to follow Jesus is to “have a prayerful relationship with Jesus, listen to what he says to us in the Gospels, and look for him in the needy folks around us”. He also said that “Loving the church also means having the courage to make tough choices, suffering, having always before you the good of the church and not yourself”. He didn’t say anything about telling others that they have to live by our standards. His words are worthwhile for all of us on all sides of these issues.
I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is involved in all this. I do not claim to know just She is involved, nor do I claim to have any answers for anyone. I have enough trouble trying to figure out what I am supposed to do. The Holy Spirit has very good OPSEC (operational security, keeping Her plans secret).
This is both a disturbing and an exciting time for our diocese, and for the RC Church, but not pleasant by any means.
Just sayin . . .