Saturday, February 22, 2003

More on Diversity

Another article on diversity appeared on the front page of our Catholic newspaper last week. An African-American priest who teaches moral theology urged Catholics to "cherish and cultivate diversity." The article states that diversity is resisted because "it reminds us of our personal faults and institutional failures." It goes on to say that we need to include more ethnically and racially diverse people in the Church.

I'm a little confused. The word catholic means universal. The Church is for every one of every race of every nationality. If some Catholics fail to embrace certain members of the Body of Christ because of cultural differences, certainly that is a problem. Without question, we must open our arms and hearts to all. Beyond that, I don't fully understand what American priests and Bishops are asking us to do. Are they calling for some kind of ecumenical affirmative action initiative, perhaps requiring a certain percentage of RCIA classes to be made up of minorities? Are we to make exceptional allowances for different cultures, and if so, how do those allowances manifest themselves within the Church and her liturgy? As I have wondered before, would we not do better to stress our unity within the Church rather than our differences?

Where do we get this idea that awareness of cultural diversity is necessary and desirable? I can appreciate the notion that alternative ideas can be challenging and inspiring. Our institutions of higher learning try to maintain a multi-cultural faculty and enrollment, and that is good. Sometimes, the manner of doing so may be questionable. The University of Michigan was recently criticized by President Bush for biasing enrollment requirements in favor of minorities. What does this quest for diversity really entail and when does it cross the line?

Diversity of Belief

Many of our Catholic colleges and universities apparently extend this need for acceptance of diversity to theological thought where it outweighs any obligation to teach orthodox Catholic doctrine. When the National Council of Catholic Bishops attempted to comply with Pope John Paul's assertion in Ex Corde Ecclesiae that Catholic orthodoxy should be maintained in all teaching at Catholic institutions of learning, the University of Notre Dame and Boston College were among the first to balk at the idea. Academia sees any attempt to curb intellectual exploration as unacceptable.

A unique situation arises in Catholic institutions when theological ideas challenge Church dogma or accepted doctrine. Such teachings are immutable. They have been effectively etched in stone. They are beyond dispute and to challenge Church doctrine indicates either a lack of understanding of the Divine authority bestowed upon the Church or a personal capacity for presumptuous defiance. Anyone so removed from revealed truth has no business holding a position of responsibility teaching theology at a Catholic institution. Yet, it seems our modern concern for political correctness has morphed into a quest for ecumenical correctness which somehow permits and even obligates our Catholic Universities to question the unquestionable.

Dissention coming from Catholic theologians at Catholic Institutions undermines fundamental Church teaching. It provides rationalization for all Catholics to challenge any teaching they choose not to accept.
In an Internet article published by Catholic Planet called A Time for Healing, author Anne Marie McDonnell talks about the infiltration of secular humanism into Catholic education. In the article, she states that "thousands of young people are endangering the spiritual health of their souls by attending schools with Catholic names that promote anti-Catholic teachings." Indeed this is true, and the damage extends far beyond the walls of the university.

Peter's Net is a web site that grades Catholic web sites according to their adherence to orthodox Catholic teaching. A site maintaining fidelity to Church teaching gets a green light. A site with some reservations may get a yellow light, and sites which contradict or undermine Church teaching get a red light. One of the most visible Catholic Institution in the United States, the University of Notre Dame, is also one of the most visible harbors for Church dissent. If web site ratings are any indication, the Notre Dame Theology Department and the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy both fail to make the grade for Church fidelity.

A regular internet Catholic forum board poster for whom I have tremendous respect, recently made the following comments on this topic: The intellectual paradigm in which many elites are educated (priests, lawyers, scholars, for example) prizes innovation above everything. The ultimate experience is to write or think things that are "controversial," "daring," and "cutting edge." Hewing to a received Tradition and an authority are the opposites of this culture, and so people who are trained in the culture tend to think that deep down they're being "inauthentic" when they "just parrot received wisdom" and "spoonfeed" people. It's ruining the law (I'm a lawyer). It's ruining academia (my father's a professor). And it's ruining the priesthoods of a lot of fine men. (I would like to credit the author, but I know him only as SAM.)

I am also troubled by Catholic institutions which provide a forum for guest speakers with an anti-catholic message. Ancilla College, a small Catholic institution nearby, had former NFL football player Rich Garza, give a motivational speech to students. While his audience may have found his message very uplifting, the crux was anti-catholic. His talk mentioned how he wasn't saved as a Catholic, justification is by faith alone, works aren't important, etc. Do the administrators feel the need to present contrary opinions in the interest of nurturing this perceived quest for diversity? Perhaps they do not even recognize the anti-catholic rhetoric when they hear it. Why do Catholic institutions allow these messages to be presented with no apparent challenge or response?

On Sunday, Feb 9, 2003, St Sabina's parish in Chicago permitted Al Sharpton to speak from the ambo. The controversial Sharpton is a pro-choice candidate for the presidency of the United States. His candidacy alone is enough to prohibit his speaking in a Catholic Church or any other church for that matter, because of IRS tax-exemption concerns. Furthermore, anyone professing a pro-abortion agenda has no place being provided a forum in a Catholic Church. Francis Cardinal George opposed the appearance, but did nothing to stop it. Father Michael Pflager, pastor of St. Sabina's, often appears defiant of Church leaders. Not long ago, Cardinal George attempted to transfer Father Pflager from St. Sabina's. Father Pflager resisted and amid the protests of his Parishioners, Cardinal George backed down.

Why is dissent permitted within Catholic institutions? Is there some perception that to squelch dissent is somehow discriminatory or not in keeping with a need for academic freedom or diversity of thought? How can the University of Notre Dame allow Father Richard McBrien to teach that the sinfulness of contraception or homosexual acts are left to individual conscience, or that papal judgments on moral matters do not bind individual conscience, or that miracles in the Gospels were concocted? Perhaps they should require his students to sign a disclaimer noting that McBrien's views do not necessarily reflect the Magisterial teaching, and therefore, could cause spiritual death or injury. Incidentally, Father McBrien was one of the more outspoken critics of Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

Anne Marie McDonnell's aforementioned article talks about the influence of two particular psychologists who taught that self-actualization was necessary for an individual's sense of fulfillment. According to the author, this ideology became widely accepted certain catholic academic circles in the 1960's. Individuals were encouraged to center on their own personal desires, often resulting in rejection of legitimate authority. The introduction of this ideology resulted in a mass exodus of priests and nuns from religious orders. McDonnell attributes the scandalous behavior among some clergy today to acceptance of moral relativism and rejection of Catholic teaching within institutions that still claim to be Catholic.

If the introduction of secular humanism in Catholic academia has been responsible for the shortage of priests and nuns, would the religious life still thrive in areas where orthodox Catholicism has been maintained? Catholic-convert Steve Ray's recently posted a message on his own web page where he talked about his home parish. They have 600 families. Their priest talks about sin and the need to confess it. Confessions are heard five times a week with long lines each time. They have perpetual adoration 24-7 and their priest shows wonderful respect for the Blessed Sacrament. And, they have 16 (yes, sixteen!) men in the seminary. I rest my case.