Blog on Christianity by Dr.Adam DeVille - Author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy; a tenured associate professor and chairman of the Dept. of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana; and a subdeacon of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC) resident in the Eparchy of St. Nicholas of Chicago.
I have previously interviewed my friend, the Orthodox priest William Mills about his various books; you can read those interviews here, here, here, and here.
Now he has a new book out, Losing My Religion: A Memoir of Faith and Finding(Wipf and Stock, 2019), 170pp., and it is a corker. Forgive the hackneyed expressions, but they are true: You will laugh; you will cry; you will wonder that, except for grace, nobody would put up with the stuff parish clergy do and persist, but persist he has. This is a book that belongs on the reading lists of every seminary in the country for it shows plainly in an unvarnished light the sorts of things one will encounter. It is also a book that clergy, especially married Eastern clergy, should read and will enjoy if and when they do for doubtless they can relate to its many struggles.
As is my practice, I sent Bill some questions about the book, and here are his answers. AD: Tell us about your background.
WCM: I attended Millersville University in Millersville, PA. After college I attended Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary where I received two degrees, a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theology and then eventually received my Ph.D. in pastoral theology from the Union Institute and University in Ohio where I focused my studies on the intersection of both liturgical studies and pastoral ministry, eventually writing my dissertation on Alexander Schmemann’s thoughts on pastoral theology.
AD: You've written a number of other books--more traditionally theological and academic type books--that we have discussed on here over the years. But this one is quite different--much more personal and autobiographical in nature. Your subtitle calls it a "memoir of faith and finding." Tell us, first, how you use the concept of "memoir" in this book. Isn't a memoir something old people write before they die?!
I never set out to write a memoir. One day my therapist asked if I was planning on writing a book about my experiences. I responded, “No way.” First, I was in too much pain to write my story, too many emotions and feelings were bubbling up to the surface. Secondly, in reality, I’m a nobody: I’m not Billy Graham or Martin Luther King Jr., I’m just boring guy who has a small parish in North Carolina: who in the heck wants to read about me?
After my therapist suggested the book idea I began keeping a journal. The floodgates opened and from the journal came a few chapters, and the few chapters turned into more chapters which eventually became a book. It was a long and painful nine-year process.
A memoir is a slice of life, it’s not an autobiography. A memoirist creates his or her narrative within a specific context. It’s certainly not, “everything but the kitchen sink” type of project, which some poorly written memoirs turn into, usually due to a lack of editing.
AD: Your book has already attracted a good bit of attention from very prominent Christians across the spectrum. Why do you think you seem to have struck such a nerve among Christians of all traditions?
I’m thrilled that my story has garnered such attention from such a rich and wide spectrum: Episcopal, Reformed, Methodist, and Orthodox. I think because my story is universal it rings true to a wide range of people. I also think that many clergy memoirs focus only on the good parts, on how wonderful parish ministry was: the baptisms, weddings, building campaigns, and the numerical growth.
While writing my book I read numerous clergy memoirs. I was hard pressed to find a radically truthful and human story about being a minister, so I decided that I need to write one! In many ways I wrote my story as a way to show new clergy the various pitfalls and people to keep an eye out for. I wrote it to a younger me, a book that I wish that I had when I was a new pastor.
AD: Your preface mentions a number of stereotypes or assumptions people have about what you do as a priest, but you note that much of your time is spent quite simply and regularly drinking coffee and listening to people. Was this a big surprise to you when you began parish ministry?
At first, I thought my job--besides leading the services of course--was to convert everyone whom I met, to make sure there was money coming into the collection plate each week, and that I had to always talk about God and the Church. In othe words, my job description consisted of what I call the four B’s: butts, bucks, buildings, and budgets. The more butts in the pew the more bucks in the collection plate so that you can build your new building and have a great big fat budget. But when reading the gospels we see that Jesus’ wasn’t interested in the 4 B’s which should tell us something. Along the way the Church got it wrong and we are suffering today because of it.
Over time I realized that when I met with parishioners they did all the talking and I did all of the listening. I also realized that most folks just wanted to share their pains, problems, sufferings, joys, hopes, fears, and stories with me. They just wanted someone to listen and affirm their stories. Occasionally I would say a few words and then leave. After time, I realized that I had to be myself. Too often clergy, like doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals overly identify with their role, and in the end they loose their true identity--hence the title, Losing My Religion.
AD: While in seminary, and thinking about and preparing for ordained ministry, what were your expectations about parish life? Do you think in general people in seminaries have realistic visions and ideas about what parish life really entails?
I discuss my seminary formation in a chapter called “Nirvana.” And for me seminary was Nirvana. You need to keep in mind that I had visited Saint Vladimir’s numerous times when I was young: Education Days in October, the annual High School Christmas retreats that were held during Winter Break, and other events that they hosted. My mother bought books published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press and she always donated money to the annual Saint Vladimir’s Foundation. Entering Saint Vladimir’s was akin to entering Harvard or Oxford University. In my opinion it was the crème de la crème.
I had a stellar academic education. I had very good professors and read a lot of important books and wrote research papers. However, many of the professors were not ordained and others had left parish ministry a long time ago and were out of touch with the realities, choices, and challenges, of parish life. We also lacked the practical preparation that I would eventually encounter in community life: managing and working with people, leadership skills, and financial and practical skills akin to leading and organizing a community.
I also realized that this problem wasn’t just for those of us in the Orthodox Church, but in every denomination. Over the years I met many pastors who have complained of the same problem. Seminaries often do a great job with the academics, but do poorly when it comes to pastoral and spiritual formation. Do seminaries have spiritual directors or pastoral counselors on staff as resources for seminary students? Do they expect seminarians to attend chapel services regularly? Do the faculty talk about the importance of self-knowledge, reflection, personal prayer, and sabbath? I fully realize that seminaries cannot do everything, but they can make some inroads in areas that are currently lacking. My hope is that my memoir would bring about a constructive conversation about these important topics.
I also hope that pastors in congregations seriously take my advice for maintaining self-care. Self-care is not selfish. It is essential if one wants to be a pastor for ten, twenty, or thirty years.
AD: You note a crisis point in your parish when, in a "public power play" a large number of people left. How did you survive that?
I owe everything to George and Gordon Jacobs and Tom O’Neal at the Davidson Clergy Center. They found me broken and beaten, lost, and discouraged, and put me back on the road to health and healing. The Clergy Center was a miracle just down the road from my house.
I also have to commend lay leaders in the parish for rising to the occasion. After the “exodus” as I call it, several key people rose to the occasion and took care of the community tasks that were left vacant from directing the choir, to organizing coffee hour, to cleaning the Church. We were very fortunate to have caring and compassionate people in our parish family.
AD: I've been reading the Catholic theologian James Allison lately, and he says (with reference to sex abuse in the Catholic Church, but I think the point admits of much wider application) that one of the last places you can find honest talk about our struggles is in the Church. You, commendably, seem to break that pattern with this book, opening up honestly about various struggles. Was that hard to do? Why don't we have more of that?
There are a few reasons for this I think. Firstly, people come to Church in their Sunday best: suits, ties, dresses, hats, makeup and jewelry. Yet underneath all of that, behind the makeup and hair and dresses and ties are people, just people like you and me who have doubts, fears, stresses, strains, trials, and tribulations. They have broken families and failed dreams. But our ego, our pride, keeps us from really opening up. We want to put on the best face for our neighbors, while inside we are hurting. Now, not everyone is suffering all the time and not everyone suffers the same, but we all have problems. One of my hopes is that my story will give people the signal that is okay to open up and be vunerable in Church, it’s okay to share one's pains and problems, it’s okay to say that I’m hurting or that life isn’t always going well.
I recently was talking with a friend of mine who is a Jungian analyst who was reflecting on how someone can attend Mass or Liturgy on Sunday morning and be in the same room with a lot of people and barely talk to them, let alone make eye contact, or really share their struggles. And yet, this same person, on Wednesday night can go to an AA meeting in a dingy church basement and bear his or her soul as total strangers embrace them, cheer them on, console them, and confide in them! The Church community on Sunday needs to become like this community meeting in its basement on Wednesday nights! That is, the Church needs to become what it is supposed to be: a place for everyone to work out his or her salvation--and not just smile and say everything is fine when it really isn’t. The Church needs to be much more honest with itself and with the world around us.
AD: Your chapter "My First Date" is just marvelous--all the struggles of finding a first parish appointment, and many of the horrifying things you see along the say (a slop bucket!), but by the end you've been completely turned around, and turn the reader around, to show that your critical eye overlooked the one truly crucial thing: a loving community of normal people. You say it took you "a long while" to recognize this. When did you finally come to see that community in those terms? Was there a specific incident that led you to a transformed vision of them?
A lot of people told me that that particular chapter is funny and also hard to believe, but as they say truth is funnier than fiction. Looking back it is hard to believe that they wanted me to live in a glorified shed!
I cannot say exactly when I realized this, but it came over time. There really wasn’t a specific incident, just small little epiphanies over the months and years serving the community.
AD: Your chapter "Into the Depths" was just agonizing to read, but I think very necessary to show people who the Church has no shortage of nasty characters often trying to manipulate people over money and issues of control. These are "clergy killers" and "alligators" as you call them in a later chapter: why do you think every parish seems to have a few? Is there something unique to the dynamics of parish life that brings out such people and such behavior?
Power, power, power. It’s always about power. Over the years I have heard many similar stories. Stories of parishioners stalking their pastor at the grocery store, intentionally saying nasty things about the pastor in front of the pastor’s children, or trying, like Walter did, to remove me from the parish. Since the publication of my memoir I have heard from pastors who have shared with me some of their tragic stories as well.
Some of this has to do with the social dynamics of a community. A healthy community, one which has mutual respect and openness towards one another, which invites people to be vulnerable and open with one another, and who respect their pastor, wouldn’t tolerate a Walter or Linda. The community would treat them like a virus or bacteria and either ask them to leave or not give them free reign.
Alligators or clergy killers survive when there is dis-organization or dysfunction in the community, and where there is weak leadership. Strong leaders, smart leaders, healthy leaders, will quickly pick up on the various signs and signals that the alligators and clergy killers give off and respond accordingly. By the way, alligators and clergy killers also exist in the business world too, but often a large company has levels of authority and a system of checks and balances which often--when working well--will prevent someone like Walter or Linda from causing too much harm.
My problem was that I was too young, too inexperienced, too conflict avoidant, and was overwhelmed by the situation. I was drowning before I could even ask for help.
AD: The effects of these alligators--whom you dub Walter and Linda--were really deep, and you needed the help of others to work through some of the pain and suffering. In doing so, you seem to be in a minority among clergy, who generally try to tough it out. What led you to realize you couldn't just tough it out on your own, and that there was no shame and no problem in seeking the help of others?
Well, when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, when you don’t want to visit with friends or neighbors, when you can’t sleep at night, when you’re not eating, you know you have a problem. After a few months of this I knew that I needed help. A few days before finding the Davidson Clergy Center I was contemplating seeing a psychiatrist or checking myself into a hospital. I hit bottom. I mention this in one of the chapters, but I had typed up a resignation letter to my bishop which I never mailed. I’m sure, however, he wouldn’t have accepted the letter, but it felt good writing it.
AD: I laughed and laughed when you told the swimming instructor you hated her for making you get in the deep end. But then I cried at the end with the story of the cake. That seems to be the dynamic of the book--hilariously unexpected things, and deeply moving ones, too. It's a real triumph of grace, and I think clergy everywhere, and seminarians now, should all read it. Having finished it, are you at work on other writing projects just now?
I’m always working on something. At the moment I have three writing projects going. When I get bored with one I turn to another.
I’m finishing up a book called "Paul The Pastor: Metaphors for Ministry for the 21st Century Church," which takes a look at several metaphors that Paul uses in his letters: pastor as soldier, pastor as gardener, pastor as architect, among others.
Then I’m editing a collection of my sermons called "Bread for the Journey," which I delivered over the course of several years.
Finally, I just started work on a book focusing on Scriptural images for ministry, "Called to Lead, Called to Serve," which weaves Scriptural reflection with personal anecdotes, using some stories which never made it into the memoir but will make it into this book. A good writer is one who uses all their material in different places.
A few people asked me whether or not I was planning to write another memoir. I said no. But since then I had a few ideas, we’ll see. The memoir took a lot of emotional energy and I will need some more time and space to think more about it.
AD: Sum up your hopes for the book.
I really hope, as John Breck says in his endorsement that, “every seminarian should read it.” However deep down I know that they won’t. Some may not feel comfortable with my radical honesty about parish ministry or the pastoral life, others may think that they know it all. That’s okay. Let them think that. Eventually some of the naysayers may come around, especially when they, like me, hit bottom.
My main hope for this book is that it creates a space where both pastors and people in general can speak about what it means to have a genuine faith in God, stripped bare of all of the idols that we carry around with us; idols of Church, idols of ministry, and even idols of spirituality. It’s so easy to cling to the externals: icons, prayer ropes or rosaries, church buildings, cassocks, crosses, and clerical attire, titles, and so forth. Jesus called Peter and the disciples into the deep waters of the Sea of Galilee, away from the safety and security of the land, to walk in faith. It’s much easier to stick with religion rather than with faith. In the end I opt for faith.
My other hope is that my story will show people in the pews that clergy are just like everyone else, fallen and fallible, hurting and hopeful all at the same time. We rise, fall, sin, ask forgiveness--just like everyone else. We’re human.
When I began the book last summer, these stories had not really begun to emerge--they really are that recent. If I were writing the book now, I'd include a chapter on nuns and abuse; but in fact what I do say in the book about power applies equally here as well. The book's arguments about the need for local structures of accountability, about abolishing episcopal-papal monopolies on power, and about dethroning false ideas of "obedience" all equally apply to religious/monastic communities as much as to parishes and dioceses. If bishops must now be held to local account, and if their near-absolute monopoly on power must be removed, so too must superiors-general of all the religious orders (I suggest starting with the Basilians) be stripped of their monopolies of power and their ability to manipulate and destroy people in the name of "obedience" and "God's will" and "avoiding scandal" and "the good of the Church" and all the other self-justifying lies these people tell.
The overlooked factor here is indeed power and the structures by which it is maintained. Some people have not mastered that lesson yet. As I noted here, I first wrote about this crisis more than twenty-five years ago, and these stories no longer surprise anybody. But, alas, these stories have now hardened into a narrative that certain Catholics cling to, excluding any and all epistemic humility by which they might realize that the crisis is not just one of "clericalism" or "homosexuals in the priesthood." The insistence by which such simplistic and mono-causal narratives are still defended is depressing to behold.
So too is the apparent inability of certain Catholics to walk and chew gum at the same time. If some fetishize one "cause," other Catholics think there is only one "solution." These types obsessively focus on one aspect and insist we can talk about no other. Why can people not recognize that this crisis is about sex, about power, about clericalism, about the structures by which clerics maintain and abuse their power, about misogynistic violence towards women, and about abuse of boys and men by other men? As Christopher Altieri argued last summer, we need to get out of the ideological blind-spots to look at the whole crisis without sparing anyone's blushes. My book does not get caught up in such useless intra-Catholic battles, but says: what can we do, going forward, to build a stronger, more accountable Church?
In point of fact, as the title of the book makes clear, this is a crisis of sex and power--and whether the victims are young or old, male or female, school children or nuns, makes no difference at all: they are all victims and that is the first, and only, thing we need to know about them. Exploiting some victims while ignoring others to advance some pet theory about "lavender mafias" or to push for the ordination of women or some other cause is appalling. The only "cause" we should be consumed with is the one that works to get all the stories out, all the abusers named and removed from power, all the filth purified from the Church.
As we now are seeing in these new stories about the abuse of nuns, it is clear they do not fit into the hardened ideas, ideological stereotypes, and blindly held notions of the Vatican as one giant closet of gays and nothing else. Some people pop up tediously to quote some statistic or other about "80% of victims are male," which claim they brandish to slay any stories about, e.g., the abuse of women (a "distraction" as one man said in reference to the NPR story, apparently with a straight face but clearly not a conscience).
To counter this all-too-human propensity to falling into ideological if not idolatrous thinking, most of which happens outside our conscious awareness, I began the book, and spent the first chapter, drawing in particular on the Jesuit psychoanalyst Carlos Dominguez-Morano to help us bring to the surface the ideologies and idols that so often govern, bind, blind, and limit our thinking as Catholics through myriad distortions. His book Belief After Freudis invaluable in this respect and many others.
I also returned to Paul Ricoeur, who, more than forty years ago now rightly argued that the Freudian project is useful in one key respect: showing us the human propensity for idolatry, and helping us to outwit that. (Adam Phillips has said that Freud was a “man whose project was the destruction of idolatry.")
And Catholics are especially stupid and blind if they think they/we are exempt from the dangers of idolatry. The Catechism itself says that "Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc." (s.2113). For too long we have not merely revered but idolized clergy, the pope above all. That must end. The whole cult around him, the fawning, the interviews, the endless talking and writing by him and his courtiers: the whole weary roadshow must end.
Let us return to the days when the name of the pope, or any of his ideas, are about as well known as the name or ideas of the secretary-general of, say, the UN or the World Health Organization. We have to Google those people up to find the first thing about them--the pope should expect no more. He's not some oracle or idol, and we must get that through our thick skulls.
There is still much to be learned about early Muslim-Christian encounters in the first generations of Islam and its gradual conquest of the Middle East. In the wrong hands, this history can be portrayed tendentiously, as either relentless bloodshed and suffering or impeccable peace and amity. A book released last summer tries to recognize the complexity of decisions facing Christians living under Islam: Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World by Christian C. Sahner (Princeton University Press, 2018), 360pp.
About this book the publisher tells us the following:
How did the medieval Middle East transform from a majority-Christian world to a majority-Muslim world, and what role did violence play in this process? Christian Martyrs under Islam explains how Christians across the early Islamic caliphate slowly converted to the faith of the Arab conquerors and how small groups of individuals rejected this faith through dramatic acts of resistance, including apostasy and blasphemy.
Using previously untapped sources in a range of Middle Eastern languages, Christian Sahner introduces an unknown group of martyrs who were executed at the hands of Muslim officials between the seventh and ninth centuries CE. Found in places as diverse as Syria, Spain, Egypt, and Armenia, they include an alleged descendant of Muhammad who converted to Christianity, high-ranking Christian secretaries of the Muslim state who viciously insulted the Prophet, and the children of mixed marriages between Muslims and Christians. Sahner argues that Christians never experienced systematic persecution under the early caliphs, and indeed, they remained the largest portion of the population in the greater Middle East for centuries after the Arab conquest. Still, episodes of ferocious violence contributed to the spread of Islam within Christian societies, and memories of this bloodshed played a key role in shaping Christian identity in the new Islamic empire.
Christian Martyrs under Islam examines how violence against Christians ended the age of porous religious boundaries and laid the foundations for more antagonistic Muslim-Christian relations in the centuries to come.
As I noted in the first installment, the prospects of major structural reform to the Church make a lot of people nervous, and that anxiety is very considerably deepened if some of the alternative structures come from non-Catholic sources, including especially the Anglican Communion. For the Catholic Church has often been not merely a conservative organization--loathe even to acknowledge, let alone tolerate, external change in the world (think how long it took to make its peace with, e.g., human rights), especially if those external changes (e.g., the French Revolution) might seem to demand internal changes in Catholic structures, practices, or beliefs, at which point the Church has historically been not just conservative but in fact reactionary if not revanchist. And yet...and yet, the Church has changed, and with surprising alacrity when circumstances demanded it. Thus, very quickly, judiciously, wisely, rightly and very recently new structures have come into being to fulfill new needs. In my chapter "The Principles of Accommodation and Forgetting," in the two-volume collection John Chryssavgis edited, Primacy in the Church, I discussed in detail several such examples in the Latin Church since the early 1980s down to 2010. In that period, the Church has not been conservative and stodgy, but flexible and nimble, creating at least three new structures--personal prelatures, military archdioceses, and the Anglican ordinariates, inter alia--because the needs of the Church required them. So the clear lesson we need to draw is that Church can change structures, and has done so in significant ways in order to serve the gospel and the salvation of the Christian people.
Surely those needs are vastly greater today. Surely, hemorrhaging massively from a crisis that (as the invaluable Christopher Altieri has reported) keeps on going, the need to change structures is even greater today than it was to accommodate small numbers of Anglicans in 2009, or even smaller numbers in Opus Dei in 1982. If the Church changed then in calmer days concerning fewer people in far less dire circumstances, the need to change when so much is under water and sinking fast is indescribably greater today. If, to put it bluntly, the rape of children as well as other men and women, and the utter destruction, including suicide, of their lives afterwards, does not justify major change, then all moral sense has been utterly degraded and the Church is hopelessly depraved.
I have, in the first installment and elsewhere, recently discussed how much the book was indebted to Orthodox thought, stressing that Orthodoxy has preserved its liturgical and theological patrimony with far fewer scars than the Latin Church has in the past half-century and more. So the idea that structural changes will bring a liberalization of doctrine--a common fear among some--is not borne out by the fact that Orthodoxy's deep conservatism and traditionalism exists within, and not in spite of, much more localized and synodal structures.
Aha! says the suspicious interlocutor, but what about the Anglicans? You not only talk about their structures with approval, but you got one of their biggest names, their most learned and accomplished theologians in fifty years at least, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to blurb your book! (This was my publisher's doing, I would add. Let me publicly pay tribute to John Riess of Angelico Press, who has been absolutely superb to work with. I know editors at far larger and longer established presses who are not nearly half as devoted as detailed as he has been.) About my book, Williams very kindly wrote:
This book eloquently and cogently pleads for the Roman Catholic Church to be released from the captivity of an over-centralized, over-individualized model of authority, arguing that this model is at the heart of many other dysfunctionalities. While we should harbor no illusions about the problems alternative systems may face, Adam DeVille makes a strong case for seeing the existing paradigm as both quite recent in its development and as consolidating a damaging set of attitudes to clerical power. A sober, theologically informed, and very significant work. —RT. REV. ROWAN WILLIAMS, Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, former archbishop of Canterbury, and author of many books, including a lovely book on icons of Christ, and another on icons of his mother, and Dostoevsky and a book on Bulgakov.
But if one Anglican wasn't enough, a second also wrote kindly of the book:
“Adam DeVille’s proposal for cleansing and reform in the Catholic Church today is crystal-clear: the Church must stop being governed by a caste of clerical guardians and start governing itself. How might this happen? The way it has always happened: through the practice of conciliar government, or to speak Greek, synodal government. Councils are not a panacea against mortal ills, but they do excel over all the alternatives when it comes to the cardinal virtue of a system of government—namely, accountability. Conciliar government is shared government. DeVille wants to see it instituted on all levels: parish, diocese, national church, and global communion. In this learned, passionate, and ecumenically informed book, DeVille leaves his readers eager to get to work on his proposal today.” —PAUL VALLIERE, Professor Emeritus of Butler University, whose book Conciliarism I drew on in my own. His earlier work Modern Russian Theologyis something of a landmark work, widely read and rightly so.
So you, DeVille, got two Anglicans to endorse your book. Aren't Anglicans the ones who--unlike the Orthodox--have both localized synodal structures and gay priests, lesbian bishops, and innovations and heterodox deviations beyond numbering?! Surely you cannot want them to be a source of anything, a model of any kind of structures that the Catholic Church might want to contemplate?
These are not arguments, of course, but sneers; they are not reasoned claims but smugness and snobbery. And smugness, as Flannery O'Connor once famously said, is the Catholic sin. Since it is Lent, let us set it aside and repent of it.
But let us also make some necessary distinctions between the disciplinary nature of structures and the doctrinal nature of magisterial teaching. For Catholics the former can change while the latter cannot, and the relationship between the two is by no means unidirectional or simplistic--change one and the other changes with it. Nonsense!
Here we also need--as I do in the book--to tackle those questions head-on, noting that as someone who spent the first 25 years of his life as an extremely active Anglican who participated as a voting member in many local, diocesan, and national synods, I know the problems (doctrinal disorder among them) within that communion, but those are not problems likely to be replicated in any significant way within the Catholic Church for reasons I discuss in the book. I also note that Catholics must "be prone to an acute form of sanctimonious blindness to assume that there is no such disarray within Catholicism."
Even with our own internal disarray on doctrine and much else, Catholicism, however, as even the earliest ARCIC documents conceded, has one matchless gift that the Anglican Communion lacks: a formal and binding teaching authority that has, e.g., given us a universal catechism (which I bought and devoured in 1992 when it was first published, a full five years before I became Catholic).
My proposals, borrowed from Anglicanism and Orthodoxy, are modified to take account of certain weaknesses of both, and to fit them more felicitously within Catholic structures. Thus what I propose in the book are modified versions whereby what is best in provincial and regional structures is maintained while also accounting for a significant trans-national role exercised by the bishop of Rome as the universal “sentinel” whose job “consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein)” over “all the particular Churches” in which “the una, sancta, catholica et apostolica Ecclesia is made present” as Pope John Paul II put it so compellingly in Ut Unum Sint, on which I wrote my first book. So, to put it succinctly, in no way do I propose that the pope become the rather impotent titular figure who holds either the see of Canterbury or Constantinople. But neither do I allow the pope of Rome to maintain his totally unjustified and unjustifiable monopoly on power, a situation made all the worse by the disgusting fawning personality cult which has surrounded him for nearly 200 years, the utter abolition and destruction of which cannot come soon enough.
In both books, then, I have followed faithfully the idea of an "ecumenical gift exchange," a notion that was reiterated and given concrete expression as recently as last August when, in the latest ARCIC document (“Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church—Local, Regional, Universal"), Catholics are asked “to look humbly at what is not working effectively within one’s own tradition, and...to ask whether this might be helped by receptive learning from the understanding, structures, practices, and judgements of the other.” This is a notion given detailed consideration by the late Margaret O'Gara in her 1998 book, as well as an extremely valuable and very learned collection edited by Paul Murray, Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: Exploring a Way for Contemporary Ecumenism.
To me, UGCC Subdeacon Adam is one of the most significant contemporary voices in ecclesiology since he is both conversant in ancient Church structures and their history in East and West, as well as compelling in the case he makes for their proper reappropriation into Catholic ecclesial life which has suffered no shortage of folly as a consequence of Catholicism’s later development of an intrusive and utterly novel papo-centrism in practice. This novelty has caused the normal organs of ecclesial accountability to atrophy, as was seen in Nov 2018 with Pope Francis’ entirely unnecessary and unwarranted interference with the USCCB vote on measures to deal with abuse and episcopal accountability.
This folly is also in part to blame globally for much of the turmoil currently underway in response to the clerical abuses of sex and power.
Adam argues in a manner both orthodox and traditional for the Church to return to its proper sense of Synodality at the parochial, diocesan, national, and universal levels, while respecting and upholding a proper sense of Primacy at each level. In doing so, not only would every particular Church potentially enhance the vibrancy of its common life and mission, it would also ensure proper accountability for its clergy and lay leadership.
The other day I received a welcome announcement from the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University telling us of the publication of the first volume in a new series that Fordham UP is putting out, "Christian Arabic Texts in Translation."
About this book the publisher tells us the following:
The first publication in a new series―Christian Arabic Texts in Translation, edited by Stephen Davis―this book presents English-language excerpts from thirteenth-century commentaries on the Apocalypse of John by two Egyptian authors, Būlus al-Būshī and Ibn Kātib Qas.ar. Accompanied by scholarly introductions and critical annotations, this edition will provide a valuable entry-point to important but understudied theological work taking place at the at the meeting-points of the medieval Christian and Muslim worlds.
Very much in my mind as I was writing Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Powerwas the anxiety I have often heard, and still hear, from those who identify themselves as "conservative" or "traditional" Catholics. Such people often regard the idea of structural reforms to the Church with fear and loathing. Some of this, as I suggested here, has to do with an undiagnosed and ancient theological mistake of a crypto-monophysite sort--regarding, that is, the Church as some purely spiritual body untouched by the grubby concerns about politics and organization, and the politics of organization and structure.
Much of this anxiety has to do with internal ecclesial perceptions of the last thirty years or so: "conservatives" think everything, including structures, must be preserved unchanged; and those they regard as "liberals" are associated in their minds not only with dodgy ideas and heterodox theology, but with structural reforms to accomplish those apparently nefarious goals. Oppose the reforms--so this thinking runs--and you cut off the necessary route for the imposition of "heresy." But the problem is that we have not had real structures of local accountability and real synods (local and otherwise), but only appallingly easily abused and very shabby simulacra of them, as I argued here. So the fear of structural reforms is (as our father among the saints Sigmund of Vienna might say) merely a fearful fantasy.
My task, then, was to show the "conservatives" and "traditionalists" that the current structures, which they want to hold on to, are modern inventions, scarcely a century old, and thus in no serious way "traditional." Moreover, and more to the point, they simply do not work--no matter who the pope is. As should be obvious to everyone by now, even having "conservative" popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI manhandling the structures did not prevent the present crisis from breaking out.
Quiz: which pope appointed McCarrick to Washington and the college of cardinals? Which pope elevated Pell? Who was bishop of Rome who made Barbarin archbishop of Lyon and a cardinal? Who refused to allow Bernard Law to resign before shuffling him off to a cozy sinecure using the time-tested technique of promoveatur ut amoveatur? Better still, which sainted recent pope appointed not one but two bishops in succession to Palm Beach, Florida, both of whom had to be removed for abuse? Assignment: Why not collect a statistic of how many of the current bishops in the United States knew of what McCarrick (and others) were doing, but themselves did nothing, assuming that it was not their job? Do we want to continue to allow them to get off so easily?
Bonus Assignment: what percentage of American Catholics was edified by watching their bishops last November stand around doing damn all because apparently their brother in Rome told them not to? Who was heartened to hear them claim they could not discipline each other, but only the pope could do that--and since there are 3500 of them in the world, and only 1 pope, the chances of him doing that are vanishingly small? Is any of this a system any sane person wants to hang onto?
No "conservative" with a functioning brain should thus want to conserve the structures that have given us these disasters--and countless others. No Catholic has any interest in hanging on to the worst structures conceived at the most infelicitous of times (after the 1848 revolutions) and in a context and crisis that have long since past. In holding tightly onto those structures, we are preserving sclerosis in the body of Christ, and preventing it from undergoing necessary reforms and purification. Catholics who resist structural changes today are harming the Church, not helping her.
My additional task was to show such anxious types that John Paul II's constant call "Be not afraid!" applies to reform in the Church as this dark hour. One need not be afraid of such reforms if one can see that they work elsewhere, especially in parts of the Christian East, almost all of whose churches--Catholic and Orthodox--have so far largely preserved their liturgical traditions intact, and whose theological patrimony has been subject to far less craziness than we have seen in the West for a half-century and more now of "experimentation."
In other words, if the structures I propose are largely drawn from the very conservative Armenian Church, then anxious conservative Catholics can take some measure of reassurance that structural reforms do not in themselves go hand-in-hand with liturgical destruction and theological heterodoxy. (I also reference structures in the Anglican Communion, which may well cause the aforementioned "conservative" anxiety to spike sharply upwards. I will address that on Monday, for in fact what I propose takes only selective parts of Armenian and Anglican structures and sets them in a Catholic context, allowing for a considerable role of insight reserved to the bishop of Rome and avoiding some of the problems of both systems.)
At the same time, however, the book is unapologetically "liberal" in the sense that the theological case for the liberation of the laics (a term I borrow from the invaluable Nicholas Afanasiev) to take their place in the councils of governance--parish council, diocesan synod, regional, and even international synods--is overwhelming.
Equally, the case against the current system--of papal-episcopal monopoly on power at all levels--is overwhelming: such a system is (to coin a phrase) objectively disordered. It must go. Even if there were no crisis at all, I would argue this with the same vigor. There is nothing to be afraid of in having the governance of the Church in the hands equally of laics, clerics, and hierarchs. The current system barring laics from any serious say in the running of parishes and dioceses is perverse.
I was on sabbatical last year with plans to finish a book ("Theology After Freud") I had been researching and writing for the better part of two years (but, really, for the last twenty-five years). But very early into my time away, and quite unexpectedly, I set aside the writing of the Freud book--temporarily I thought--to flesh out some ideas for reform to the Catholic Church in light of the McCarrick story, which broke in June 2018 and quickly became a story of a global epidemic of abuse everywhere in the Church. I toyed with writing a short article (and ended up writing several for Catholic World Report including this one), then a long one, and then I thought I'd see whether it would be better to flesh things out into a book. I decided to give myself two weeks to rough out material to see whether I had enough to write a book I could be satisfied with--or whether I would simply return to my Freud book.
Once I began writing I could not stop, nor did I have any urge to. I did not write in my usual halting style of drafting, reading some more, redrafting, reading, redrafting, and so on. The writing of this book was an unusual experience for me, unlike anything else I have written (for whatever that is worth, and likely not much). It was written in what I would call a psychoanalytic style not just of (relatively) free association unencumbered (initially) by the back-and-forth of editing, but the process also very clearly manifested to me what Christopher Bollas calls the "unthought known." The writing was merely the vehicle for putting the known into thoughtful form on the page.
Those who read drafts last fall regularly described the book as "explosive."
Here is the blurb I wrote for the book:
The most serious sex abuse crisis in Catholic history demands the most serious and far-reaching response. This book is a contribution to that response. Its proposed changes would revolutionize Catholic structures from the parish to the papacy. Unlike other revolutions, however, this one is anchored with great care in both history and theology, including that of the various Eastern Churches.
This book shows that the current monocausal explanations of abuse and cover-up (either “clericalism” or “homosexuality”) both overlook the structural issues of governance. The current centralized structures, which monopolize power in the hands of bishops and popes, must be reformed and in their place new structures of local accountability implemented, in order for the Church to move past the present crisis.
This is a radical book in the original sense of the word: a return to root practices that structured much of Catholic life for hundreds of years. It is thus a deeply “traditionalist” book rooted strongly in venerable Christian practices, but is also an openly “liberal” book that argues in favor of liberating the laics so they can resume with voice and vote their rightful role in the councils of governance.
Here is the table of contents:
Introduction 1 Toward a Future without Illusions 2 Reforming Parish Councils 3 Returning to Regular Diocesan Synods 4 Reforming Episcopal Conferences 5 Married Priests and Bishops? A Concluding Unscientific Postscript Annotated Bibliographical Essay Acknowledgments
Freud and the analytic traditions following after him are very much in evidence not just in the method of the book, but in its contents, especially the first chapter, which is an obvious reference to Freud's 1927 book. I draw on Freud in the first chapter alongside the philosopher Charles Taylor to argue for dramatic changes in what I call the "Catholic imaginary" in which the papal cult of personality is seen for the semi-idolatrous problem it is, and is therefore dismantled. This chapter also looks at the twin problems of sex and power. It may be something of an old saw, but it is nonetheless true as Freud showed us: everything is about sex, except sex--which is largely about power. Chapter 1 shows how we can disentangle these things and why we must do so as we come to conceive of, and subsequently to structure, the Church in different ways.
For most of the rest of the book, the second major interlocutor is Nicholas Afanasiev. Indeed, my book would largely be inconceivable were it not for Afanasiev's landmark and invaluable book Church of the Holy Spirit.In that book he rightly insists on seeing the laics, as he calls them, as an integral order alongside clerics and hierarchs.
This three-fold ordering of the Church shows up in Chapter 2, which calls for reforms to parish councils, making them obligatory for parish governance as a process of mutual accountability between people, pastor, and bishop.
Chapter 3 looks at the overdue reform of diocesan synods so that bishops can be held accountable by and to their people--both laics and clerics.
Chapter 4 looks at necessary changes to episcopal conferences so that they can become true synods with, again, accountability to the people, and disciplinary power among bishops so they do not--as the American episcopate did so pathetically last November--stand around meekly waiting for texts from Rome telling them when to sit down and when to stand up.
Chapter 5 Was perhaps the most unexpected chapter, and I surprised myself by the conclusions I arrived at there, which you can read for yourselves. It is the most tentative chapter because the changes proposed there would require the greatest, and costliest, changes across the Church.
In the coming days I will discuss parts of the book, including other interlocutors as well as those who very kindly and lavishly agreed to endorse it.
I've been recommending his book to my friends in parish ministry, and to those I know in seminaries as well. It is a very important book especially for these latter to read--those preparing for parish life need to know what they are in for, and this book offers just those sorts of invaluable insights in deeply personal ways. It is at its most admirable in its refusal to romanticize parish life, or to gloss over its sometimes deep pathologies which often do lasting damage to clergy and their families.
Bill is very forthright in acknowledging at least one particularly painful attack, and in describing the struggles he had afterwards, putting me in mind of D.W. Winnicott's famous article, "Hate in the Countertransference." Equally commendably he acknowledges his own need for help in dealing with it, and this brave acknowledgement is encountered perhaps too infrequently among clergy schooled on the "just offer it up" mode of coping. Why clergy feel this is how they must cope is a mystery to me. In saying that, I am aware that I have long been influenced by Henri Nouwen's notion of the "wounded healer." And perhaps even more I'm aware of, and find value in, the practice still insisted on by those training--as I once thought I would--to be psychoanalysts: you yourself must be in analysis, and have a supervisor with whom to work out the hostility and pathology you receive in the transference from your patients and parishioners.
But this is not a scandal rag retailing only naughty bits. Like all good books, it is aware of both lights and shadows; and like all Christians stories the "light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." The book ends with both deep Christian hope, and deeply hilarious human experiences. It is, in many respects, a very Winnicottian approach to parish life in showing the importance of the "good enough" approach that avoids the temptations to become liturgical fanatics or perfectionists in other areas.
If you are yourself thinking of, or already enrolled in, seminary, or know someone who is, you need to read this. If you have clergy among your friends, send them a copy of this book. It's a cliché, but you and they will both laugh and cry as you read this book.
The one person who has forced me to think about pacifism and the role of violence within Christianity more than any other is Stanley Hauerwas; and the one person who has probably done more than any other to make me aware of the invaluable lessons we can learn from those with Down syndrome and other handicaps is Jean Vanier. Now the two of them have teamed up to co-author Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2018).
About this book we are told the following:
How are Christians to live in a violent and wounded world? Rather than contending for privilege by wielding power and authority, we can witness prophetically from a position of weakness. The church has much to learn from an often-overlooked community―those with disabilities. In this fascinating book, theologian Stanley Hauerwas collaborates with Jean Vanier, founder of the worldwide L'Arche communities. For many years, Hauerwas has reflected on the lives of people with disability, the political significance of community, and how the experience of disability addresses the weaknesses and failures of liberal society. And L'Arche provides a unique model of inclusive community that is underpinned by a deep spirituality and theology. Together, Vanier and Hauerwas carefully explore the contours of a countercultural community that embodies a different way of being and witnesses to a new order―one marked by radical forms of gentleness, peacemaking, and faithfulness. The authors' explorations shed light on what it means to be human and how we are to live. The robust voice of Hauerwas and the gentle words of Vanier offer a synergy of ideas that, if listened to carefully, will lead the church to a fresh practicing of peace, love and friendship. This invigorating conversation is for everyday Christians who desire to live faithfully in a world that is violent and broken. This expanded edition now includes a study guide for individual reflection or group discussion.