This post is a follow-up to Sunday’s entry about the closing of a Catholic high school in the Buffalo suburbs. What I have done here is copied a sampling of local reaction from news and social media sites with a personal comment or two after each. My opinions and reactions are interspersed throughout.
We are praying for a miracle !
Unless God approves of corporate welfare, you might do better to pray in thanks for the incredible commitment that the Franciscan sisters have made to your community—as religious, educators, and benefactors—for nearly 90 years. And maybe follow up your prayers with a gift the community’s retirement fund.
Shame on those that made this decision.
No, shame on those who have lived off the graciousness of a very generous religious order and don’t have the Christian civility to say thank-you after all these years.
This School should be Saved!
OK, create a master plan, run it past KPMG, and put it out there.
How sad. How horrific for those who have to find another school. So many schools and churches have closed. Why is that? The bishop recently announced a program of collecting $100 million. What is he going to use that money for? Why are schools and churches closing. Where is all that money going? Too bad things like Catholic Charities aren't audited
This sounds like a 1950’s existentialist pacing his study at 3 AM. Why? Why? Why? Maybe I can help. For starters, the designations of the $100 million—as yet a hope, not a fait accompli—are clearly delineated on the Diocese of Buffalo website. And au contraire, the annual IRS 990 filing for Catholic Charities and all non-profits are in the public record.
NOTE: Hilbert College/Boneventure U should take in the upcoming senior class of 2017. More than half of those girls are in AP courses which are level 100 courses for college anyway.....as for the rest the teachers who are losing their "jobs" could sign on as "special adjunct instructors" for the college to take care of those 45 girls so they graduate & the parents tuition rate would apply for the school year salaries......it is just WRONG & not responsible of IA..........the freshman/sophomore class has 2-3 more yrs of HS and can easily transfer out.
For starters, it is St. Bonaventure University, not Boneventure U. If you are looking for a sugar daddy, be sure to at least get his name right. Now if I have this right, we jump the 2016 juniors straight into college since half of them are taking honors courses now as juniors. To facilitate this, we ask “Boneventure U” to hire 45 faculty for a class of 45. Everybody else, find your own lifeboat. Not exactly an AP solution.
No shortage of Dollars flowing in to the Vatican. Here in Orlando they only build in new rich parts of town.
Rarely do you see two canards so neatly packed together. The Vatican spends about $325 million annually on worldwide missions, and in 2011 operated at a deficit of about $18 million. Pope Francis himself lives a simple life with other religious. And living in the Orlando Diocese myself, I can point out that that the last two Catholic elementary schools were constructed twenty years ago. Last year I attended Mass in a new parish…in a strip mall next to a tattoo parlor.
Sad... Yes. Heartbreaking... Absolutely. Disgraceful... You bet!
The Franciscan Sisters have poured millions into the South Towns while a modest local capital campaign among the school’s alumni, benefactors, and local parishes failed. Disgraceful? You bet!
As parents of [deleted].....we are absolutely distraught today. We came home from work to find our daughter in tears. The news hit social media (& our daughters) before many of us parents even knew what had happened. Our daughter, along with so many other students of Immaculata are inconsolable right now. Wishing this were all a bad dream.
And probably wishing you had done some homework on the financial realities of the school over the past decade, I imagine.
So sad that the Catholic Church is removing itself from education. Then they wonder why so many are not attending Mass anymore. Seriously!
The Catholic Church, contrary to popular belief, does not own its own minting operation. Church authorities such as bishops and pastors (and in IA’s case, a Franciscan religious community) do what they are enabled to do by the tithes and offerings of its members. If services and schools are cut, it is because the offerings, too, have been cut. Why has church support dropped so drastically? There are a number of studies now appearing on the subject. As to the faith of Catholic youth, may I recommend “Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Catholic Church.” (Oxford University Press, 2014.)
My heart breaks for the current students. I had four wonderful formative years there to make me a strong woman who learned about community and the importance of friends.
And, hopefully, tithing.
Handled very badly!!!
From what I see, an argument can be made for that. The communications between the FSSJ community, the local IA advisory bodies, and the Diocese of Buffalo are confidential, but the dynamics over the past year or two between the members of this triad would probably explain many things. I have to think that the failure of the capital campaign had symbolic as well as financial repercussions; thoughtful parents and others might have read the tea leaves sooner, too.
would it be possible to save the school if we all, all alumni, pitched in with a good donation.
My understanding is that the alumnae were approached (or should have been) in 2013 and beyond for the campaign. For that matter, successful Catholic schools contact alumnae/alumni every year with news and requests for support. A competent development office puts high priority on such matters.
I don't know why any one saw this as a surprise. We live an increasingly secularly society which doesn't identify with any religion and for the last 35 years wages have been flat for the working class. Most people are just trying to keep their head above water. This school wasn't Nardin or a Canisius (I realize IA is a girls only school). The schools are independent and don't have anything to do with Diocese. The arguments blaming the Diocese are without merit. I do believe the Bishop needs to start falling in line with the message from the Holy Father, but that's not what this article is about.
This post does make several good points; the writer does understand the independent nature of Catholic high schools, which as a rule are not attached to a parish like an elementary school. In Buffalo, several Catholic high schools are owned and operated by the diocese, and others, like Nardin, Canisius, and Immaculata, are owned by religious orders. It is critical for high schools to build a regional following and identity as part of their fiscal planning. I assume the writer is referring to the bishop’s residence. Not every shepherd in the U.S. got the pope’s fax about “smelling like sheep.”
Even in his statement this bishop shows he is out of touch. He apparently doesn't realize that many families that desired this type of education for their daughter will now have very limited access as the next closest similar school Mount Mercy in South Buffalo, another 10 or so miles away. May not seem too far but tell that to the folks in parts of the Southtowns that no longer get bus service or live even further away. Bishop clearly thinks Western New York ends south of Delaware Avenue
I am not sure what the bishop could say in his statement. IA is not a legal entity of the Diocese of Buffalo. Bishop Malone—and certainly his predecessors—have known for a long time that IA survived through the beneficence of FSSJ community. In truth, the Bishop (Malone) has been fortunate not to have had to face this sooner. If the writer believes that another diocesan school should be built in the South Towns, he or she should read the multiple warnings included in the letter of closing. I do wish the bishop had been more expansive in his gratitude to the sisters who have served and supported the school since 1928. His “We are saddened over the Sisters’ decision to end their sponsorship of Immaculata Academy and the decision of the Board of Trustees to close the school” didn’t cut it for me.
Sharing your gifts in love of God and neighbor. In the Diocese of Wichita, our parishes have accepted responsibility for providing Catholic education to active parishioners without charging tuition for grades K-12. Therefore, you can help the most by being an active steward and a generous supporter of your parish.
I am not familiar with the Wichita system; I have heard of similar successes around the country. The operative word is tithing, inspired by faith and trust. I can safely say that if tithing was a general practice in the Buffalo diocese, the mood and discussion would take on a different tone. Repeated studies, by the way, indicate that Catholics on average donate 1% of income to their churches.
No one wants private schools anymore public schools are now like private teachers making more than college professor s taxpayers are chooking on the school tax bill
What people want are effective private schools where the Catholic Faith is the uniting focus of the institution. But what they don’t always want is straight talk about the sacrifices necessary to feed the bulldog.
A few years back, the diocese decided to close many parochial schools in the southtowns and south Buffalo. There is reason to suspect the diocese knew down the road, Catholics high schools would have to close with the loss of these feeder schools. Yet we constantly are asked to donate more for the good of the church. How about the good of the children?
The diocese did not “decide” to deprive children in the South Towns. Those elementary schools were closed for many of the same reasons that IA is closing: the local communities cannot or will not sustain them. Was the diocese happy about this? Of course not. Did diocesan planners see the domino effect on high schools? Probably. But previous and present bishops can only play the cards they are dwelt. Incidentally, the diocese is currently asking for $100 million, of which 12% is earmarked for a tuition assistance endowment.
Tomorrow's parishioners are today's Catholic school students. End the schools, and you will no longer have any sheeples.
One of the biggest problems in parish life—school and CCD—is the fact today’s students are not in fact today’s parishioners and Sunday Mass worshippers.
Our Bishop inspires no one. When Francis spoke forward about mercy and kindness, he was busy explaining how the rules have not changed in the church; rather than magnify Francis's message. A Conservative much more interested in dogma, than the message and truth of the radical Jesus Christ
But some conservative doctrine from the Wharton School of Business might help matters along some, too, for the survival of Catholic schools.
Vouchers would have saved this school. It is shameful the young women are not able to achieve the highest ideals the school offers. Now their minds can be twisted at the public schools which endorses the liberals on every issue we face in this country. The indoctrination into BIG government lives on and grows larger with each passing day.
Here is a writer who deeply fears big government but argues that “[state] vouchers would have saved this school.” I have to respect the apocalyptic touch, though.
“We always a few nuns come to our school,” said [name]. They’re so cute and old and we would be excited to see them. Sister Jean [the school’s president] is a nun and we would go over to see them and say hi to all of them so we never really felt that was problem.”
They’re not old. They are the median age of their community. They need medical care and housing. “That’s the problem.”
Good location for future Tim Hortons
Now that’s cruel.
Catholic education is disappearing fast.
Since 1962, from a study I read last night. Einstein was right: time is relative.
Parents too cannot escape from this. Many I know chose trips to Disney world and when asked why they didn't send their children to Catholic school relied: "we cannot afford it". It comes down to priorities
Boy, talk to principals about that reality.
Sad that the girls in attendance now won't be able to graduate from the school. A better plan might have been to accept no more students and close after the last graduating class. That would have had to have been planned about 2 or 3 years ago which I'm sure they were aware of the financial situation. A loss of an excellent school.
Get me another form for Wharton, honey. I am reminded about a time when I was about $130,000 in the hole with my parish school and a parishioner on the street told me, “we can use less lighting.”
Perhaps they are closing because the nuns spent about 15 MILLION dollars for their new convent....then they fired a LOT of the staff at the convent....I should know, I worked there for 10 years! I love so many of the nuns, but what those in charge did to the convent staff was very un-Franciscan.
It is my understanding that the community demolished its old and costly motherhouse, sold the land to developers as was its right, and used the proceeds to build what I believe to be a residence and care facility. The architect’s rendering is here. By this writer’s reasoning, the elderly sisters should pass their final days at the Days Inn down the road.
Do you think if New York had a school voucher system for all that a school such as this would be thriving instead of dying. The catholic school system was strong at one time.
I know the government school system is glad to see these schools shut down
Another poster who sees big government (Erie County?) at the heart of the plot. The Catholic school system was numerically impressive for a time, but the major reason was the largely unreimbursed services of 30-ish religious sisters. I am reminded of an economist’s analysis of McDonald’s” “If you are operating a business where you depend upon minimum wage as your standard, you are a sick corporation.”
contact the Bishop !! He claims that He wants to help Catholic Education by raising $100,m in 5 yrs. Tell him you need $$ to attract more students & save the school. See what his response is - good luck
The interesting thing in many of these posts is that the words “bishop” and “state” are interchangeable. The bottom line is: who will rescue us?
Very sad. I attended OLSH. When it closed it was horrible. But can someone answer me this. Catholic health system is growing and schools are closing. Is money is more important than education?
Oh, demographics maybe. There are fewer children and more folks my age. Moreover, Catholic health systems are self-sustaining and accountable to stock holders. And, incidentally, most Catholic sisters were nurses long before they became educators.
11 million spent on new building downtown for the Catholic health system. And we can not educate our children? Why are there so many charter schools opening up and ours closing. Someone explain please
The second half of the post is easier: present day American Catholicism has not developed a funding model to properly operate the schools at the numbers of the post-WW II era, when the work force of Catholic schools was comprised of religious who lived with a commitment to poverty. As to charter schools, I have no data about comparisons in Western New York.
IA has been a second tier school for a long time and now they've found a better way to make money off the real estate. Watch in the next two years and see what they do with it. Rest assured it won't be gathering dust.
Here is a hard-boiled observer. It hasn’t occurred to the writer that if the facility is sold, the proceeds rightfully belong to the owner—in the American Way—who in this case has made millions of dollars’ worth of gifts in labor and cash to the community. My guess, and it is only that, would be that the land resources will be joined to the Hilbert Campus, also owned by the FSSJ, or sold at best market rate for the care of the elderly sisters and other apostolic ventures of the FSSJ community.
I must disagree [name]. Catholic educated students do not outdo their public counterparts. They haven't for decades. My husband and I are faithful practicing Catholics who are extremely involved in our parish. We choose not to send our children to Catholic schools anymore because the public schools where we live are superior in many ways. We examined all our options. We investigated everything. We prayed about it. Sending our children to public schools, and taking full responsibility for their religious education, has been the absolute right choice. They are getting a better education and they are as involved in parish life as we are. (Meanwhile, many of the people in my neighborhood who send their children to Catholic school don't even attend weekly Mass, let alone volunteer at the parish.)
I cannot comment to IA’s academic rating; in various places it is reported that nearly 100% of its graduates progress to college, though probably not to the Ivy League. This writer does note that there are good public high schools in the South Towns, which may be what the community’s letter referred to in its comments about discouraging demographics. I note, too, that these parents here take a very active role in their children’s faith formation, which theologically is the official teaching of the Church regarding parenthood.
Why do people give money to this bishop? He's main goal is just rising money and cares about know one but him self. Was a devoted catholic for 50yrs until I got sick of their money scams .It's felt good to leave.Why doesn't the attorney general ever investigate the organization?
For someone who professes that “it felt good to leave,” I’m not feeling the joy. It is no secret in Buffalo that the Bishop’s mansion is a bone of contention; the diocese does seem tone deaf to that, and the mansion is probably not going to help his upcoming appeal. But that said, I can tell you from my own experiences that closings and capital campaigns rip open old wounds, so my prayers go out to Hamburg, Buffalo, and the Diocese as a whole.
The day for collecting hard data on the immediate reception of Vatican II by the Church has well passed, and like everyone else I am left with my own impressions from having grown up during the Council and working with its teachings for a half-century now. The Swiss theologian Hans Kung wrote extensively on the measures by which a council might succeed or fail, but from this chair I would make the following observations.
First, Vatican II was a statement of the desperate need of the Church to look at itself, to reassess its identity, so to speak, in the light of Scripture, Tradition, and history. The very act of calling a council nearly a century after the declaration of the doctrine of infallibility reawakened the Church to earlier days of identity, mission, and governance while rescuing the Church from the excess of a “monarchical papacy” which would have diminished the role of the Holy Spirit in all of the baptized.
Second, the Vatican II established a new template for “engagement” with the world, religious and secular. It is often forgotten that in the early sessions of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) an effort had been made to invite early Protestant leaders such as Melanchthon into the Council debates, but for many reasons this did not occur and even during Vatican II some prelates—and certainly much of the Curia—referred to all non-Catholic Christian communities as “dissidents” who must confess their errors before any meaningful dialogue with Catholicism could begin. Popes John XXIII’s and Paul VI’s warm embraces during the Council years with Orthodox Churchmen and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, by contrast, symbolized a basic communion of faith in Christ that superseded doctrinal hostility.
Third, Vatican II played a large role in rescuing the image of the Church from that of a late medieval court to an entity deeply emerged in the joys and sorrows of the present day world. In his autobiography Kung reports that the ritual of the opening of Vatican II included the pope being carried in by multiple attendants on a throne, and the kissing of his ring by the bishops, and his feet by religious superiors. The entire rite lasted seven hours. It is hard to conceive of such a papal rite taking place at the end of the Council; Pope Francis may have driven the final nail into that coffin during his pontificate.
Fourth, Vatican II—in a number of its documents—strongly endorses a more rigorous study of Catholic theology in tandem with the best of contemporary thinking in philosophy and the sciences. Had Vatican II never occurred, Catholicism was well on its way to the abandonment of Aquinas and the medieval university model of interdisciplinary study. Moreover, given the Council’s particular attention to the academic excellence of seminaries, greater attention to the academic and preaching skills of future priests became standard—though this exhortation has not been always greeted with high energy, particularly as bishops grow more restive about declining numbers and the need for “warm bodies,” as the saying goes.
Fifth, the Council emphasized a return to a Bible centered understanding of the Church and its spirituality. The post-Trent description of the Church as the Kingdom of God on earth was gradually shifted to that of the Church as “The Pilgrim People of God.” Given our common status as sinners, we begin with a unity of identity and purpose. Prior to Vatican II, Catholic devotion was very private. After the Council, emphasis upon “community” came to the fore in prayer, sacraments, and service to the world. This is easily seen in the RCIA, where the unbaptized receive baptismal washing on the night of greatest Church unity, the Easter Vigil; and the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance in common during Lent and special occasion such as retreats.
Sixth, the Council laid down the principles for the full participation of the laity in the sacraments, most importantly the Eucharist, described in Council documents as “the source and summit” of all Christian life. The celebration of Mass in the vernacular or local language, and reception of the Eucharist under the form of the bread and the cup, are but two examples. The integration of the laity into liturgical ministry—as lectors and ministers of communion, among others—is another indication of the Church’s desire to draw the laity closer to the center of the Celebration.
Fairness obliges me to mention two areas of liturgical life where the Council’s (and the Roman Rites’) directives have not been adhered to: the quality of preaching and the proper use of music in the Mass. In the United States, for example, immediately after the Council the American Church adopted a “four hymn sandwich” approach to the Eucharist, where the directives call for antiphonal use of the Psalms. In recent years the missalette companies, probably for financial reasons, are now producing assembly line hymnody for missalettes and ecclesiastical jumbo-trons. Poor music and substandard preaching are not products of Vatican II, but rather examples of where the “Spirit of Vatican II” has been sidestepped for a number of reasons.
Seventh, the Council declarations on religious orders mandated all communities to return to the founding charisms of the orders’ founders. For my own Franciscan training, this effect of Vatican II led to considerable struggle. My branch of the Order was primarily priests, living what were then middle-class comforts. The founder of the Order, St. Francis of Assisi, by contrast, lived in austerity in an early community of non-ordained brothers. From a distance today, I would have to say that my former Order has done quite well in adapting its apostolates to the immediate service of the poor.
Vatican II has been blamed for a lot of things, notably a decline in vocations, Mass attendance, religious literacy, and closings of Catholic schools. But in these cases I caution against post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking. (That is, if event B occurs after event A, A must have caused B.) In truth, a number of historians and analysts are now coming to the conclusion that “the grand old days of the Church” prior to the Council in the United States were, numerically speaking, something of a statistical spike corresponding to such diverse events as the Depression, WW II, the GI Bill, and the post-war economic boom. Seminaries, for example, provided the only opportunities for young men to get private secondary and college educations during the Depression in many parts of the country. Such was not the case during the height of the post-War recovery of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
But I think that G.K. Chesterton, who has provided us with a good many insightful witticisms over the years, probably has it right about Vatican II as he had it right about Christianity: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” And so we keep trying.
Four days before the close of Vatican II on December 4, 1965, Pope Paul VI invited all of the Council Fathers and all of the official non-Catholic observers to an interdenominational “Liturgy of the Word” or Bible Service in the Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. No pope had ever before participated in a service of this nature. The service consisted of prayers, psalms, lessons from Scripture, and hymns from several Christian traditions, the solemn closing marked by “Now Thank We All Our God” written by the seventeenth century Lutheran composer Johann Cruger. About 1000 of the Conciliar bishops attended and Xavier Rynne notes that they were “greatly edified” by Paul VI’s encouraging words about a future day of Church union. At the same time, two curial archbishops solicited a number of signatures from other bishops (including a number of Americans) expressing their amazement at Pope Paul’s encouragement of worship with heretics. (Rynne, 570)
Pope Paul spent a great deal of time during the ceremonial closing days meeting with a variety of intimate emotional private audiences for specific reasons. In his meeting with the Italian bishops, generally unhappy with the drift of the Council, he stated that “the period after the Council cannot be one of back-to-normal or the good-old-days.” Cardinal Siri, seated next to the pope, was reported to have said to a group of disgruntled clerics that “they [the documents] are not definitions; they will not bind us.” By contrast on December 7 Pope Paul and the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople embraced each other and jointly “consigned to oblivion” the millennium old excommunications between the Orthodox East and the Roman West. It is worth noting that a few days ago Pope Francis embraced the Russian Patriarch in Cuba on his way to Mexico, continuing the long efforts of reunion between East and West Christendom.
The closing event of the Council in St. Peter’s Square was, in Rynne’s words, “overly pompous and anticlimactic” by comparison (572) and I suppose it is fair to say that every Council father returned home with a deeply personal interpretation of what he had experienced. The Council peritus Father Joseph Ratzinger—who would become Benedict XVI years later—would say that the men who entered the Council were not the same men who departed from it. In a few cases this was literally true, as Bishop Burke of my hometown Buffalo died during the first session in 1962. But Father Ratzinger was certainly correct in his assessment that the Council had roused new energies and deeper retrenchments, factors that would certainly affect the implementation of the Council’s decrees in every diocese and parish in the world.
In his post-game wrap-up, so to speak, Rynne cites the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Kung, who was one of few Catholic theologians before the Council to write and lecture extensively about the nature and potetial of an ecumenical council. Kung laid out an aggressive agenda in his internationally published works about Council goals, a fact which angered the Curia as it prepared a brief and inconsequential agenda of a council lasting a few weeks. Despite the fact that the Holy Office opened a file on Kung’s works before the Council started, Kung was appointed a peritus or expert by his own bishop and played an instrumental role in a number of the Council’s formulations. (One of history’s ironies: Kung and Ratzinger were close contemporaries at the Council.)
One of the most controversial points of Kung’s thinking was the question: could a Council fail? This was hardly hypothetical. The Council Lateran V (1512-1517) dispersed six months before Martin Luther issued his famous cry for reform of the Catholic Church. Rynne believes that the Council Vatican II did not fail in many critical aspects. In the first instance, Vatican II opened an intangible but real “reappraisal” of Catholicism, changing the ways that people thought about the Church. For Kung, for example, a “monarchical papacy” no longer served the Church nor even made sense to the world. Kung lost his license to teach in a Catholic university in 1979 for his critiques, but remains at this writing a priest in good standing, now in his late 80’s.
Rynne goes on to quote the Decree on Religious Liberty where the admission is made that the Church does not have at its hand solutions to every particular problem. Put another way, the Church continues to grow in the face new challenges (as with Pope Francis and global warming, for example.) In the Decree on Ecumenism the Council states that there is a hierarchy of truths. Rynne himself uses as an example the priority of the Doctrine of the Trinity over the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.
The Council redefined the Church in Biblical terms, restoring the ancient biblical concept of the People of God, where rank was replaced with the concept of a worldwide community of the faithful. Laity, religious, and clergy might have different responsibilities, but they were of equal importance to the Church as the Body of Christ. Aligned with this was the restored belief in the collegiality of the bishops as fellow governors and leaders with the pope.
This is Xavier Rynne’s brief summary of the Council in which he himself participated and reported upon. His summary was written in 1968 for the one-volume account of the Council I have used liberally here. This is a condensation of a four-volume work undertaken by Rynne somewhat earlier. I was 17 when the Council closed in 1965 and have lived 51 years in the “post-Vatican II” world, many of those years in professionally bringing the Council’s teachings into public recognition and practice. So, I decided to devote two blog entries to my own experience of the Council: on Saturday February 21 I will reflect upon matters where the Council—or more likely, its implementation—may have created difficulties; and on Monday February 22 I will give my own ground view of how the Church has been enriched by the Council.
As I posted on Saturday, October 28, 1965 began the process of final promulgation of a large number of documents. There were several among them that I did not treat in our running log but which do deserve some mention here, because the American bishops were significantly involved in the discussions. The Decree on Priestly Formation (seminaries), while speaking highly of St. Thomas Aquinas, did not command strict adherence to his philosophy or his structure of teaching. This allowed seminary curriculums to focus upon the theological advances of the twentieth century and the great thinkers of this era. The document called for seminarians to gain greater understanding of the churches and theologies not in communion with Rome (i.e., Protestants), in order to promote greater possibilities of Church unity. “Such a ruling would have been unthinkable had it not been for the Council,” Xavier Rynne observed. (534)
In terms of governance, national conferences of bishops were charged with exercising more control over their seminaries, instead of the Curial oversight then in practice. This charge concerned some American bishops; Rynne points out that the United States Conference had a very poor track record of joint action. Each diocese (and particularly its bishop) cherished its own seminary, which tended to create something of an unhealthy academic hothouse effect. Diocesan seminaries were not known, as a rule, for global academic excellence, and some dioceses sent their candidates to Catholic University in Washington or to the major religious orders who had formed consortium graduate schools in Washington, Chicago, and Berkeley. I myself am a graduate of the Washington Theological Union, which closed, alas, in 2015. [Fellow alumni: you can pick up your transcripts at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York.]
Another topic close to the hearts of American bishops was the Declaration on Christian Education. Cardinal Spellman was prominent among many U.S. bishops who lobbied for inclusion of a statement on the obligation of the state to pay for Catholic schools. This did not happen. Moreover, the document softened the requirement of parents to send their children to Catholic schools due to the wide range of conditions and resources around the world. Rynne reports that such language did not sit well with the Americans, who were currently administering the largest private system in the world. (535)
That the American Catholic school system rested upon the labors and poverty of religious orders—a majority of them women—should have brought a keener attention to the spiritual and personal morale in the religious life. Unfortunately, the document Decree on the Religious Life is remembered as one of the worst documents to come out of the Council in terms of closing the barn door after the horses had fled. It did not help matters that the Curia refused to allow a single woman religious to address the Council as their very lives were under discussion. The Roman Offices tended to view all distresses in religious life as matters of disobedience.
I have a close kinship with this document, Perfectae Caritatis in Latin. Three years after its promulgation I took the habit and entered the Franciscan novitiate, a 366-day intensive immersion into religious life and a break from formal college studies. We did have classes—how to use a breviary, for example—but the two courses I remember best were the History of the Franciscan Order and Perfectae Caritatis. (Blogger Amy Troolin has a good summary of Perfectae Caritatis here.) The primary theme of PC that was drilled into us was the need to “return to the sources” or the founder’s original vision. For Franciscans this was complex: the unique charism of Francis, it may be recalled, was his idea that the Gospel itself could serve as a religious rule. He was counseled to accept the Rule of Benedict or Augustine until Pope Innocent III approved his unique way of life. I can remember the staff advising us that when we left novitiate and entered regular friar communities, we might not see as much of Perfectae Caritatis as we might like. There was an understatement.
The big outstanding hurdle for the Council was the critical document Divine Revelation, where the redrafting of the text was taking on the precision of nuclear physics. Rynne helpfully breaks down the three doctrinal questions in play: (1) the relation of the Scripture to Church Tradition, known popularly as the “two-source” definition; (2) the inerrancy of the Bible or “truth” of Scripture; and (3) the historical nature of the Gospels.
The Orthodox Church and Protestantism in general has questioned the Catholic power to expand doctrinal definition and practice. The protest is a matter of degree: all Christians hold to the validity of the pronouncements of the Christological Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries regarding the Trinity and the identity of Christ and the Holy Spirit as put forward in the Nicene Creed we proclaim at Sunday Mass. The turn in the road came about as Eastern Christianity objected to claims of the primacy of the Roman see and its bishop, the emerging papacy. The Roman Church has held throughout history that by virtue of Jesus’ commissioning of Peter as the rock, and of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the organic Church that followed would enjoy the authority to articulate aspects of the Divine Revelation in a fashion that binds the faith of believers.
This power to teach existentially through history, so to speak, is known as Church Tradition. Such matters as the formal definition of sacraments, indulgences, the infallibility of the papacy, and the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary cannot be found literally in the Scriptures. The Catholic Church maintains that many of its teachings are intended in the Scriptures or implied there, and that through the ongoing power of the Holy Spirit the Church cannot err in its Biblical discernment process. Such teaching fall into the body of Tradition; every catechism you ever owned states that we know our faith through Scripture and Tradition.
The Council was laboring (as I just did) to put forth a definition of Tradition that would preserve its authority without verbally and theologically overreaching, and would better explain the relation of Scripture and Tradition. Of course, one thing leads to another; if Tradition rests on Scripture, how are we to approach Scripture—literally, metaphorically, analytically? Hence the discussion points on the Scripture points itself.
It would be impossible to calculate how many man-hours of work went into the work on Divine Revelation. With luck, I will summarize it all on Saturday.
I try to shy away from politics on the blog, one reason being that political debate is saturating so many other faith-based outlets—not to mention the news media in general—that I see no useful purposes in repeating what most of you read from your other internet sources. But I am intrigued by media reports and conjectures on “the Evangelical vote,” and to be honest, I am not absolutely clear on what is implied by the word “evangelical,”, along with its cousin, “Judeo-Christian values.” Perhaps it is the irony of polling, which reveals that in Iowa the two leading contenders among Evangelical voters might not be, well, the evangelicals I tend to think of. Their appeal, along with several other contenders, is apparently not with their histories but with their promises: to make America a Christian nation again.
In researching today’s topic, I came across a very interesting working model of Evangelical Christianity called the Bebbington Quadrilateral. David Bebbington is a Scottish historian and professor at Stirling College; he is also a practicing Baptist. In 1989, he wrote a history of Evangelicalism in Great Britain from the 1700’s to the present day, notable for at least two major accomplishments. First, Bebbington identified four pillars of Evangelical belief and practice, the quadrilateral. Second, he established by historical research something we have seen in our own lifetimes, the impact of Evangelicalism as a movement affecting all denominations, including Roman Catholicism.
Bebbington’s quadrilateral of Evangelicalism looks like this:
Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
Crucientism: a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
Conversionism: the belief that human beings need to be converted;
Activism: the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort
I should add here the observation of a very astute Amazon reviewer who includes a very important corollary, that Evangelicals share a high confidence in their personal salvation.
At first glance, it is hard to argue with this outline. But with some reflection, it is obvious to a Catholic what is not here. Evangelicalism, as a theological system, is ahistorical. While it is so that spiritual truth emanates from the Scriptures, it is also true that contemporary man is continuing to dig for these riches, as well as for more accurate renderings of the Bible itself. Evangelicalism is often connected, rightly or wrongly, with fundamentalism, the belief that every word of the Bible is factually true.
The emphasis on “crucicentrism” is handled with considerable reservation by Catholic theologians, on the grounds that if the crucifixion is just about atonement, then the coming of Christ to earth is essentially a juridical process of paying a fine to an implacable God of judgment. This is not exactly the God revealed by Christ in the Gospels, particularly in St. Luke, where symbols of a loving Father (“Abba”) The Coming of Christ’s Kingdom in Catholic theology is a much more expansive event, an enrichment of human meaning.
Again it is hard to disagree with the contention that human beings need to be converted. However, both the process of conversion and the conduct of the converted are somewhat more complex than what I have seen and heard from Evangelical sources. As a pastor in the 1970’s and 1980’s a goodly number of my Catholic adult members would demand to know why they could not be “born again” or re-baptized. I gathered they were being told by evangelical family members or neighbors that they were not truly baptized in the Catholic tradition. I would point out that while Roman Catholic teaching on baptism—the birth into God’s grace, favor and vocation—cannot be repeated, baptism can be renewed at a number of junctures in official Church life: The Sacrament of Penance, recitation of the Creed at Mass, participation in the Easter Vigil, seeking an indulgence during this Year of Mercy or other times, etc., come to mind immediately.
A further point on baptismal conversion is the long and continuing tradition of moral development in the Roman Catholic Church, a process Catholics believe to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Evangelical thinking derives its morals directly from the Scriptures, but as we discussed earlier, deducing literal moral code from the Bible itself is a tricky business: if your right hand is an occasion of sin, (Matthew 5:30) are we really supposed to cut it off? The Catholic Church recognizes the guidance of the Spirit, called Tradition, as a guide to understanding the mind of God in his Revelation.
I want to make it clear that there is a difference between “Evangelicalism” and “evangelization,” the process of making the Good News of Christ known throughout the world. Hopefully we all have evangelization in our bones. Bebbington’s Quadrilateral is an organized understanding of portions of the Christian faithful who understand the Jesus event through a certain prism. And yes, there are Evangelical Catholics whose understanding of their faith contains one or more aspects of Bebbington’s outline: Catholics who adopt an ahistorical understanding of the Church such that any change in Church morals or practice is wrong or even evil, for example.
In the political sphere, it is my guess that “courting the Evangelical vote” is a promise that the values of “Christian America” will enjoy a place of preeminence in a candidate’s thinking and exercise of office. Issues such as same-sex marriage, to cite one, are indications to many that America is on a downward religious spiral and that the clock needs to be turned back to a golden age of Christian observance.
The most basic point to remember, though, is that America is not a Christian country, and it never has been. Its founding documents are based upon the Enlightenment thinking of John Locke. The founding fathers base the premise of the “American experiment” upon the inherent right of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The founding vision was a land where all could worship by the dictates of conscience, without coercion or persecution.
There is no doubt that the practice of Christianity has shaped the culture of America, but not always favorably. Christians owned slaves until 1864. Protestant Christians excluded Catholics and Jews in a variety of ways from full exercise of rights and potential (one reason for the establishment of the Catholic school system in the 1880’s.) Sociologists often speak of Sunday morning as the most segregated morning of the week. There are a good number of moral/ethical issues facing our country, but hard as I try, I cannot find a golden age of Christianity better than our time.
...my post will probably be up. My other life is impinging. I think you've had those weekends, too. Actually, I am off right now for my second interview of a faith formation director. (The first interview is being shined and polished for publication.)