Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Response to Thomas Cahill's NY Times Piece on JPII

“The Price of Infallibility”
Thomas Cahill NY Times OP-ED Contributor, April 5, 2005
Response By Jay Cuasay

[Abstract of Cahill’s piece is available at :]

I thought the best written piece, or at least the most comprehensive (though repetitive) piece was the NY Times obituary printed on Sunday by Robert D. McFadden prior to Thomas Cahill’s Op-Ed. Most other pieces try to present a generally even tone concerning the late Pope John Paul II's progressive and regressive contributions. Cahill's obviously opts for the latter more.

I can't say that I agree 100% with Cahill’s assessment because I feel the need to put some clarifications onto the discussion. The big plus for JPII's papacy is that it breathed new life into the catholic church, post-Vatican II to present the religion as a world religion with moral force that had something to say to the modern world. In a word, it was still relevant. At the same time, post-JPII, we live in a world where the largest increases in catholics are in so called "developing countries", priests are in shortage, and Islam is on the ascendancy. Rather than evaluate that like a job performance review for the pope, I look at it from the point of view of what are its implications for the catholic church in order to maintain its global moral force and its perceived global mission?

This to me, like Cahill is an issue of ecclesiology. What do we mean by church and how ought it to be managed? To me, this has broken up into the categories of discipleship and mission. But not everyone thinks in those terms on a day to day basis. In terms of ecclesiology, perhaps a helpful image is to say the church is a communion of communities (koinonia not just ekklesia). And thus, while I agree a strong centralized papacy with a rigid hierarchical structure is counter to this, we have to be careful about the structural solutions we put forth and the source of their motivations.

Another term that we don't think of in day to day terms is MINISTRY. The pope is "the first bishop among equals." But perhaps a more helpful way of thinking about it is to see the pope as exercising the ministry of unity. Thus issues of ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, reaching out to youth, placing catholicism globally in a modern pluralistic context all become a different matter, a matter of ministry, not simply authority or authoritarianism.

Many of Cahill's concerns tend to accord with dissent in the AMERICAN catholic church experience, particularly over sexuality. These same issues have a very different meaning, and ministerial response--for example reproductive choice for women, even poor women in the U.S. and reproductive choice as it pertains to the spread of AIDS in Africa. The former often appearing as a case of championing "moral values" or freedom to choose. In the other, it's mortally about basic subsistence and survival.

Any way, to the extent the papacy is in need of reform, I suggest reading Ut Unum Sint [], JPII's 1995 document based on the Johanine passage "That all may be one". This is the document that perhaps would best present his thoughts on the papacy itself, especially paragraphs #88 and following. You will see a careful, ministerial and spiritual deliberation over the issues of church mission, papacy as office of unity, pope as one of a college of bishops, and the need to exercise functions of koinonia in that light.

Finally, note in #96, the pope writes: "This is an immense task, which we cannot refuse and which I cannot carry out by myself. Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jn 17:21)?"

Again, this is not the language of every day, and indeed Karol Wojtyla continues the dialogue with the communion of saints. But for us here, church leaders, theologians, disciples with the spirit active in our midst, we need to be clear on how we are church as we exercise our respective ministries.


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