Is There Healing for the Dialogue of the Deaf?

Ouch. What a morning.

So far I have already: Missed a meeting that I have inexplicably had in my calendar for two weeks as being scheduled for this afternoon, when it was this morning at 9:30—in Cincinnati. Been told that my post on St Patrick’s Purgatory represents the worst of the “world-rejecting” worst of Irish Jansenism. (Yup. That’s me. If it’s a choice between the world and a place of pilgrimage, prayer, and penitence, I’m kicking the world to the curb. Especially this morning.) Offended people in a Facebook discussion by appearing to side with the CDF (“everything I loathe about the Church,” as one commenter describes it) against the good, courageous, discreet, prophetic, passionate women of the LCWR.

How did I get here?

I used to have a brain, but it’s gone missing. There’s an Amber Alert out to St Anthony, but I’m not hopeful. I used to rail against Irish Jansenism—in the Church, in my blood—with all the fervor of a heart sorry for nothing and eager to embrace the world. I was formed by the good, courageous, discreet, prophetic, passionate women of the LCWR, to be a good, courageous, discreet, prophetic, passionate woman myself.

How is it I am suddenly everything I used to loathe about the Church?

And now, with the publication of Cardinal Levada’s “dialogue of the deaf” remarks to NCR’s John Allen after yesterday’s meeting with representatives of the LCWR, I’m starting to worry that I’m actually ghostwriting for everything I used to loathe. This comment of Cardinal Levada’s, in particular, is drawing the wrath of those who already see the hierarchy as too male, corporate, and clueless—too 1%—to be permitted to keep stealing oxygen from the rest of us:

“Too many people crossing the LCWR screen, who are supposedly representing the Catholic church, aren’t representing the church with any reasonable sense of product identity,” Levada said.

Product identity? the comboxers are shouting. WTFrack?

But it makes absolute sense to me. In fact, I used much the same language in a post a while ago, trying to respond to media claims that the CDF’s attempts to bring the LCWR’s public stance into conformity with Church teaching constituted a hostile takeover. Canonically speaking—and that’s the only way to speak about this, because it is an issue of Church polity—that’s an inaccurate analogy. Hostile takeovers occur between autonomous corporations. The LCWR is not, under canon law and in the flow charts I’m sure Cardinal Levada has posted on a wall somewhere, an autonomous anything. It is a branch office of the hierarchy itself, and the product identity being misrepresented is the body of teaching with which the home office, the magisterium, is entrusted. Not hostile takeover, then, but corporate retreat during which middle management is briefed on getting back to the brand.

Now, I love the scene in Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle tells Macy’s customers to shop at Gimbels if it’ll make their kids happier. And it turned out, in the movie, to be great marketing strategy for Macy’s. But that’s a movie, and I can—even when I loathe myself for doing it—understand why Cardinal Levada might think that the LCWR is just wacked when it seems to be saying, “Catholicism not making you happy, kids? Go shop post-Christianity!” Even if that turns out to be, as the sisters believe, a terrific marketing strategy for the Church-as-they-see-it in the long run, Cardinal Levada just doesn’t have a business plan flexible enough to incorporate it. This is not Silicon Valley, this is the Eternal City. If banks are too big too fail, the Vatican is a box too big to think outside of.

So, in addition to taking the fall from the right for 35 years of Bad Catechesis, I’m prepared this morning to take the heat from the left for supplying Cardinal Levada with a Bad Soundbite. Maybe he even asked me if he could use it, but my brain was absent at the time, and I forgot.

But the serious part, the painful part is that this is not a movie or a joke. I do believe, this morning, that I am seeing a deep fissure in the Church I fell back in love with. The split is coming, if it is not already here and just awaiting confirmation. The issue, as it was in what I suspect someday will be called the First Protestant Reformation, is authority. The LCWR (and a large part of the Church in the United States, and around the world) no longer acknowledges that the Vatican, the home office, has any kind of authority or merits any kind of respect. The converse is also true. This is a dialogue of the deaf, I’m afraid, on both sides. And God knows the CDF’s decision on the possibility of the SSPX returning to communion—another Levada announcement expected today—has the potential to deepen the deafness all around. Obedience—listening with humility—has gone missing, and I want to send out an Amber Alert.

The Good News, and there is always Good News, is that Jesus makes the deaf to hear and the blind to see. He does it, quite often, by spitting, for which I don’t in the least blame Him. Have mercy, Lord, on the Church I loathe and love.

  • Brian Sullivan

    “How is it I am suddenly everything I used to loathe about the Church?”
    Tis one of the great mysteries of Catholic blogging. As to the dialogue of the deaf: “Ephphatha!”

  • Diane at Te Deum

    “I used to have a brain, but it’s gone missing. There’s an Amber Alert out to St Anthony, but I’m not hopeful.”

    Joanne, St. Anthony won’t find it because your brain is not missing. In fact, it is precisely because you are using your God-given intellect, in a humble way, that you are given the gift of understanding.

    I’ve been often told by many that I shouldn’t let the Church think for me. Yet, how can I ascent to all that the Church holds true, if I did not use my brain to get there? Even when I don’t fully understand something, I recall that faith precedes understanding, and that next to giving up my life, the next greatest thing I can offer is my will, for the will of my mother – the Church.

    Christ has to be the center of our faith, and our life. This means we must seek and follow the mind of the Church, not demand that the Church mind us! This requires tremendous humility. Put another way, it requires us to imitate Christ.

    If the hierarchy didn’t stand their ground and remained silent, they would be guilty of allowing the weeds to choke out the wheat. I’m not talking about people here, I’m talking about weeds in the form of strange teachings (Heb 13:8-9)

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    “The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…

    “It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution – when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.” — Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future”)

    The sad part is, people I like and respect will be, within the resulting fissure, abandoning the Church of Rome for the one that speaks to the times. They’ll choose the trends over the sign of contradiction which the church must remain, for Christ himself called for contradiction. And so, so, so much hate will be unleashed and so, so, so much pride as so, so, so many people are sure that their lights are right — whether they are tethered to everything that came before, or are proclaiming that everything that came before is wrong. But then again, Jesus did say he came to bring division and a sword. Which TOTALLY does not fit with the Jesus is only about love and gentleness and being nice all the time. My prediction about the church of the future: she will continue to be a church that drinks! :-)

    • Jo Ann


  • Mary

    If everyone is willing to learn some sign language, the dialogue can continue.
    This “discussion” between the Bishops and the nuns reminds me of “discussions” with my husband before he chose to become my “wasband”
    Words like:
    fissures, schisms, divorce
    should be impossible… This is a chance for the hierarchy to set a good example for us all…

  • Lone Star

    The Catholic Church in the USA (indeed in all of Western Christendom) is having to deal with some of the same forces destroying (and perhaps ultimately purifying?) Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, and other Protestant mainstream denominations. Those issues/forces, in my opinion, are relativism and many types of heresy, especially Gnosticism. The nuns need to be reminded who they are and Whose they are.

    Purification is painful but necessary. God bless Cardinal Levada and His Holiness Benedict XVI.

  • Elizabeth K.

    Elizabeth S.–Thank God for your last line, because Imma gonna need one (a drink, that is).

    Joanne, I know what you mean. I’ve had to give up commenting on a certain priest’s Facebook page, because while I love his work, I am finding it hard to love the disingenuous “hey, just posting this slanted article from Commonweal for your info” and the inevitable firestorm of “the bishops are the anti-Christ”(an actual response) that inevitably ensues. And then I can’t believe who I have become–I was way, way cooler before. I am strange to myself; stranger, perhaps, to those who have known me from before. If it helps, I thought your post about Purgatory was really cool, and I plan to reference it when I write my planned Hamlet, purgatory, St. Patrick post (really). Mainly,though, I am sad, sad, sad. The only thing that I like about the LCRW mess is that it’s bringing into relief just how far we’ve jumped the shark here in America and have already created our own church, how much it centers around birth control and all of the attendant issues. Like you, I was badly catechised, and I came through pre-marriage training with the idea that NFP was a good idea for some, but kind of optional–so I’m not surprised at the divide that’s emerging over the HHS mandate and now “the nuns”.

    I’m really surprised, though, to find myself on this side of the line. And I’m kind of wishing the line weren’t there, because I’m really not all that brave.


    • joannemcportland

      Thanks, Elizabeth K. But in full disclosure, I have to say I myself was well catechized. But then I spent a lot of time in catechetical publishing, so people tend to blame me for poorly catechizing others. :)

    • midwestlady

      Elizabeth K.
      Sometimes you read the comments and they’re just so much dishwater, but I like this pithy comment. Especially, “The only thing that I like about the LCRW mess is that it’s bringing into relief just how far we’ve jumped the shark here in America and have already created our own church, how much it centers around birth control and all of the attendant issues.” We have made our own version in the US with our dumb sex, pills and “don’t bother me” culture and it’s high time we stopped and thought hard about that.
      I am with you on, “I’m kind of wishing the line weren’t there, because I’m really not all that brave.” Being pruned is scary!

  • John

    Anyone else notice the irony that those who preached for 40 years about the glories of “dialogue” and “mutual understanding” are now the ones seriously calling for schism and who generally refuse as a practical matter to actually engage in, well, “dialogue” and “mutual understanding” with “the other side” as individual people vs. stereotypes?

    If you preach relativism and “well that may be your truth, but my truth…” for 40 years, how exactly can you gin up an intellectually satisfying premise to condemn anything another person opines, be it the Pope or your local politician? Me, I just shake my head at the childishness of those who preen and pride themselves at being so mature and ‘educated’.

    If the good sisters are so prophetic…why didn’t they see this coming?
    if the good sisters are so Gospel oriented, so full of the spirit…. then there’s the love for those who disagree with them? Why all the high dungeon drama? Yes, yes, because they’re victims and the other side is so ‘unfair and mean’ but hey, it’d be one thing if they admitted to being juveniles but they’re the ones claiming superior maturity and spiritual insight aren’t they? So where’s the superior magnanimity, take-it-in-stride, ‘suffer fools patiently’ that we’re supposed to expect from our superiors?

  • Elizabeth K.

    Sorry–my bad! And believe me–anyone is better catechized than me, which is not at all the fault of anyone in catechetical publishing of any era, and only an outcome of my rather idiosyncratic upbringing and abandonment of actual thinking about religion (all on me) back in my earlier years. And maybe post 1970′s California is to blame a little bit, too (the pre-marriage class). Mainly, though, it was me.