Is There Healing for the Dialogue of the Deaf?

Is There Healing for the Dialogue of the Deaf? June 13, 2012


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.

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