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ted schmidt

The post-Conciliar Catholic Church was well on its way to becoming a "kingdom" church but then it was hobbled by a failure of nerve. Only an authentic return to a focus on Jesus' yearning for the kingdom, the reign of peace and justice can save it.

     Jesus' death on the cross is the consequence of a life in radical service of justice and love, a consequence of his option for the poor and outcast, of a choice for his people suffering under exploitation and oppression.

Edward Schillebeeckx OP

Kingdom people are history makers. People who are still living in the false self, in the false world of illusion, are history stoppers. They just keep repeating. They're conformists, fearful people, the nice respectable proper thinkers of every age who think collectively and have no power to break through...the system is the way people think when they stop thinking. Kingdom thinking will never be commonly accepted.

Richard Rohr OFM

We have come a long way from the fiery prophetic figure of Nazareth who shocked and disturbed the conventions of his day in the name of justice and liberation. Our respectability has taken a terrible toll on the authentic calling of Christian life. We have lost sight of the deeper vision and lost heart for the passion and enthusiasm of God's New Reign. The following of Jesus is not a respectable religion.

Diarmuid O'Murchu

It is necessary to immerse oneself with courage and simplicity in tough situations as they present themselves. You do not save those who are drowning in the river of current events by standing on some imaginary "river bank of eternity" but only by having the courage to swim in the current.

Karl Rahner in Handbook for Pastoral Theology

The Catholic Church as an institution has become one large bureaucratic civil service.

Karen Armstrong


It has often been said that only by constant vigilance can the gains of history be safeguarded. The forces of reaction are omnipresent and timidity is always an option. So it is and has been with the history of the Catholic Church. The extraordinary efflorescence of the Church with its new birth in the halcyon days of the 1960s has been stalemated at its highest institutional levels. The pontificate of John Paul ll, as time goes by, has proven to be the inevitable historical response to the revolutionary impulses of the Second Vatican Council. "The greatest change in thinking in the history of the Church" was the analysis of the late great bishop of Durban South Africa, Denis Hurley. In many ways it was naive to expect that such a revolution would proceed with no bumps in the road.

     It was naive to think that power, no matter what the institution, is ever willfully ceded. It was naive to believe that a Church which redefined itself as the "People of God," with all its inclusiveness of baptism, would not be resisted by a clerical culture --secretive, exclusive, patriarchal and hierarchical. Nevertheless the global clerical sex scandals, and the awareness that all over the Catholic world celibacy was simply not being observed, has ended lay deference and the unearned status of the clergy. For a creative minority of clergy the change has been welcomed as necessary and salubrious, but to the institution, it has not been without a struggle. The tendency (as in any institution) as we saw so clearly in the sex abuse scandals was to protect the club (the institution at all costs) even to the point of denying core values that the club was mandated to preach --the protection of the anawim, the voiceless ones, those with no power.

The post-Conciliar Church evangelizes culture

As the powerful Spirit roiled through the Church in the 1960s and 1970s, lay people flocked to theologates, graduate schools and summer institutes becoming more and more theologically sophisticated and ready to put into practice the collegial vision of the Council. Many parishes hummed with activity with a wide variety of ministries. Progressive pastors welcomed the "co-responsibility" the Council promoted. When one reads the progressive social documents of national episcopacies of these decades one is struck by the prophetic attempt of the Roman Church to evangelize the culture, to attempt to purify it of its xenophobic tendencies, its structural addictions to war-making, racism, and economic marginalization. This was a time of immense pride and ferment in the Church as it moved beyond an individualist paradigm to a socio-cultural critique of society at large. Catholics awoke to the fact that sin was more than individual transgression and was often defined by apathy, silence, and complicity. The liturgy asked forgiveness for not only the things we did, but the things we failed to do. Sin was more often willful blindness than active malevolence.

     As Catholics became more attuned to scripture and were encouraged to let go of crude fundamental approaches to God's word, it was inevitable that new understandings of Jesus and his world would develop. The Council had liberated the Catholic world to a deeper understanding of literary forms and their use by biblical authors. It also forced us to get away from abstractions, and in the challenge of the atheist Albert Camus, "to confront the bloodstained face of history." The Council Fathers, many of whom saw first-hand the horrors of World War ll, grasped the radical failure of a Christianity based on the pillars of a worn out Thomistic philosophy. There was an immediate need to make Christianity real and existential, a God walk more than a God talk.

     Catholicism had managed somehow to separate the Head and the Body. Sixty million people, 37 seven million of them civilians, were killed in the heart of Christian Europe. Baptized Catholics put children in the ovens of Auschwitz. A Catholic chaplain blessed the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan. Huge numbers of Catholics thinking they were serving Christ were duped into supporting anti-gospel ideologies --like Nazism, fascism, and the mass murder of noncombatants killed by firebombing civilian areas. Catholics were now ready to confront "social sin."

     Gaudium et Spes, the great document of the Church in the Modern World, addressed this in many passages. "Sacred Scripture teaches us that love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbour" (#24). No more separating God from humanity, "The new social order must be founded on truth, built by justice and animated by love" (#26). Now the Church was demanding that we move beyond the individualist paradigm. Hess the commandant of Auschwitz, a Catholic, loved his children. He forgot what the Council demanded. "In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbour of absolutely every person"(#27). Social justice now became a rallying cry as, "the human family now comprises a single world community" (#33).

     The Church was not naive about the price to be paid, because it already had been paid by Jesus "who taught us by example that we too must shoulder that cross which the world and the flesh inflict on those who search after peace and justice"(#38).

     A decade after the Council, the marvellous Pope Paul Vl wrote quite possibly the greatest encyclical of the twentieth century, certainly of his own pontificate. He reminded us in Evangelium Nuntiandi ("On Proclaiming the Good News" December 8,1975): "Christ first proclaims a kingdom, the kingdom of God; and this is so important, by comparison everything else becomes 'the rest,' which is 'given in addition.' Only the kingdom is absolute… and it makes everything else relative..." And that includes the Pope, sacraments, the Bible, priesthood and even the Church. Only God's reign of peace and justice is ultimate.

     Vatican ll saw the coming of the new-world Church leaving behind the old Eurocentric model. The bishops of Africa, Latin America and Asia were speaking a new word to a rapidly shrinking world. Philosophical argumentation withered next to the monumental suffering of the poor. A new universalism embracing the whole human family was emerging. The technological and communications revolution brought this all home to our living rooms. Ignorance was no longer an excuse for inaction. The civil rights movement, the shocking merciless bombing and killing of over a million civilians in Vietnam was right in our face demanding a response. The emergence of 60 new nations was marking the end of imperial and colonial adventurism. Catholics were galvanized by all of this as the wind and the fire of the Spirit summoned us to deeper involvement in the world.

The role of Pope Paul Vl

Paul Vl in insisting on Jesus' central proclamation of God's reign in history was merely pointing out what the Church Fathers (sic) had said a decade earlier in Gaudium et Spes. "The spiritual agitation and the changing conditions of life are part of a broader and deeper revolution." This wasn't simply the 1960s. This was the Holy One, the Divine Disturber inviting us to "scrutinize the signs of the times and of interpreting them in light of the Gospel"(#4). Pope John XXlll named the cry of women, of the poor of the earth as a divine summons. The sanctuary needed to embrace the street; the broken bread on the altar needed to be seen in the broken bodies of every society --or else there was no authentic communion.

     In a famous address at the Council, Paul VI insisted on this spirituality of the Samaritan where, "behind the face of everyman...we must recognize the face of Christ, and the heavenly Father." When this happens, then "our humanism becomes Christianity." There is no better answer to those who accuse activists as simply doing "social work." Within six years of this statement, the bishops of the world reminded all Catholics that social justice was not simply an option for Catholics but "a constitutive dimension of the Gospel."

     Pope Paul went searching for bishops to put the kingdom into practice and where better than in the United States. He sent an amazing Belgian named Jean Jadot to get the right men who would become authentic Catholic leaders.

     Robert Blair Kaiser writes, "Jadot took his instructions from Pope Paul VI, who saw an evolving role for his nuncios after Vatican II --not to be the Pope's eyes and ears, but his heart...Nuncios should travel, Paul VI said, not so much as the representatives of Rome to secular governments, or even as legates between Rome and the world's bishops. They should "show the Pope's concern for the poor, the forgotten, the ignored.'"

     It was Jadot who from 1973-1980 appointed "kingdom" men who were in-synch with the Council's reformist tendencies. For example: Richmond's Walter Sullivan, Milwaukee's Rembert Weakland, Saginaw's Ken Untener, Roger Mahony (who marched with Cesar Chavez), and Rochester's Bishop Matthew Clark. There was also Seattle's Raymond Hunthausen (who challenged America's first strike nuclear policies), San Antonio Archbishop Patrick Flores, former Newark Archbishop Peter Gerety and Texan Leroy Matthiesen (who challenged the production of nuclear weapons in his diocese). The much-loved Joseph Bernadin became a bishop of a major see under Jadot too. As soon as John Paul ll became Pope, Jadot was summoned back to Rome and immediately the "Pope's men," cautious, conservative, chancery types were imposed on dioceses. These were "company men" certainly loyal to the Church, but men who had never engaged in the social struggle like those mentioned above.

     One such papal appointee was Cardinal Edward Egan (now the Cardinal Archbishop of New York) who was a Vatican insider with no experience as a parish priest. Egan became notorious for his remark that bishops and the Church hierarchy could not be held responsible for pedophiliac crimes against minors, because priests were private contractors rather than employees! What was Egan's summary of the Jadot bishops? "He hurt the Church in the United States by picking the very worst bishops. This is because John Paul II had changed the criteria. It was part of his plan to bring a runaway, post-Conciliar Church back to its senses."

     Cardinal Egan (and too many like him) certainly fit the description of Notre Dame theologian Richard McBrien who wrote in The New York Times of the John Paul ll bishops: "These bishops tend to be uncritically loyal to the Pope and his curial associates, rigidly authoritarian and solitary in the exercise of pastoral leadership and reliably safe in their theological views . . . Since 1980, with the exception of the Archdiocese of Chicago . . . every major appointee has been more hard-line than his immediate predecessor."

     In Canada in the post-Conciliar years Jesuit Bill Ryan and layman Tony Clarke working for the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops (CCCB) marshalled the Church through these years with an extraordinary litany of impressive statements, which focused on the Church's commitment to the broader society and the common good. In particular the 1976 statement From Words to Action stands out as a model invitation for Catholics to be heralds of justice. Bishops like Remi De Roo, Bernard Hubert, and Hull's Adolphe Proulx stood out as true progressives committed to the reign of God.

     This all stopped during the last pontificate. It was ironic that John Paul ll had a marvellous understanding of the Church's social mission, and had been active in his native Poland, yet he micromanaged Episcopal appointments in a way that hobbled the Church. Few of his appointments raised up men with any record of social engagement.

Kingdom Catholics and Church/Communion Catholics

These new appointments were "Church" Catholics not "kingdom" Catholics, supposedly fixated on "Catholic identity." Under these men the Church has ceased being a major player in the Great Spirit movements of our time, preferring to focus on internal "Catholic" issues. In particular their failure to challenge Rome on the female question has done serious damage to Church credibility. As male vocations to priesthood diminished all over the world, the Church adamantly refused to consider ordaining married men and women. The reasons given were so embarrassing, so intellectually unworthy of refutation that it has done serious damage to the Church's great intellectual tradition. Suffice it to say, it has virtually nothing to do with God's reign and everything to do with a genuine fear to change. Baptism inaugurates a kingdom of equals --yet patriarchy, hierarchy and clericalism continue to deform the Body.

     The former Master of the Dominican Order and a self-described 1960s radical, Timothy Radcliffe, attempted to deal with this in a talk he gave in California last May. Radcliffe rightfully expressed sadness at the polarization in the Church and chose to describe the division thusly: There are Kingdom Catholics and Communion Catholics.

     The Kingdoms see themselves as the pilgrim people on the way to the kingdom. Influenced by the great theologians of the Second Vatican Council like Rahner and Schilebeeckx and latterly Gutierrez --they are open to the world, and see the Spirit outside the institution working for freedom and justice.

     The Communions --who came after the Council-- see the need to rebuild the inner life of the Church. They are associated with Hans Urs Von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger. They are wary of modernity and stress the cross. Radcliffe admits this is a caricature (developed more fully in his book) yet not a bad starting point. Try to see their positions, he asks. Fair enough. Both groups are suffering "root shock," their identities threatened and undermined. The Communions in particular saw their comfortable Catholic world crumbling, sliding into a Church with no rules, no discipline, and no deep beliefs.

     Here Fr.Radcliffe fails to convince. One can relate to the disequilibrium felt after the Council. For many it was too new, too fast. Beyond a doubt this is true, but to imply that "kingdom" Catholics have no fundamental beliefs is a gross distortion verging on a calumny. The issues that exercise kingdom Catholics are seldom dogmatic and mainly involve issues of church governance (parish control, lay leadership) and discipline (celibacy, female ordination) all of which could be changed as Pope John XXlll said, by a stroke of a pen.

The Cross

As far as Communion Catholics focusing on the Cross, I see no evidence at all of this. The Cross is the price paid for following Jesus, for becoming serious disciples. It is a freely chosen act to live out the reign of God in a world which inevitably will resist as it did the prophets and Jesus. I see little evidence of this in the Communion camp. There seems to be an obsession with "orthodoxy" here, an unwillingness to even grant that dogmas grow and develop with time. The attack on the brilliant theologians of the last 30 years, men like Roger Haight, Edward Schillebeeckx, Jacques Dupuis and Charles Curran --with nothing ever proved-- has cast a McCarthy-like pall over the authentic role of theologians. But what about "orthopraxy," the authentic following of Jesus in history?

     Communion Catholics too often do not "swim in the current with others," (see Rahner above) but are content "to stand on the river bank of eternity" ready to die for a conclusion, but not for a cause. There seems a distinct unwillingness to join those religious nomads, many unbaptized and unchurched, who are challenging the enemies of life. There seems little understanding that dogmas neither inspire nor animate; real movements and holy martyrs do. It is often said of the Catholic Church, if it is not leading the parade, it's not in it. However as history shows the Spirit blows where it wills (John 3:8), and there's a howling gale outside too many chancery offices.

     How utterly appalling to see some of those well-heeled Communion spokesmen cozy up to the Bush regime in Washington supported by wealthy think tanks and reactionary foundations. Where is the Cross in all of this? If the kingdom relativizes everything else, then America is not Lord, nor the Republican Party (or the Democrats for that matter), but by publicly supporting the Bush agenda they are not only making war on the global poor and the environment, but on the domestic poor as well. As Richard Rohr has said so bluntly: "Our religious doctrines have been allowed to become the smokescreen for our real doctrine: Our privileged position. Christ is too often a cover for our de facto allegiance to Caesar."

     Timothy Radcliffe is a fine Churchman with much of value to say, and it is certainly important to engage in ongoing dialogue (and "conversation" as he prefers) with all segments of the Church. But in my judgment he is off the mark in equating kingdom and communion. The Cross is the question as the Communions suggest, but it is not to be found in Church statements or dogmas as important as they are. Catholic identity as well is important, but there is no identity which bypasses the anawim: Those left behind in a vicious turbo-capitalist world where three billion live on less than two dollars day. There is no identity which does not radically side with God's Body, the earth slowly being rendered uninhabitable. Jesus lived and died for God's dream not for the power and respectability of the Church. A Church which refuses to serve the reign is creating an idol to which few will be attracted. An old Church saying goes, "Ubi ecclesia, ibi Christus." (Where the Church is, there also Christ), but if the Church is not anchored in the poor and the reign of justice and peace, Christ will be elsewhere which is why we pray, "Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth."

Ted Schmidt is the author of Journeys to the Heart of Catholicism (Seraphim). He is currently editor of New Catholic Times: Sensus Fidelium ( He may be reached at

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