“Intellectual fervor and huge stakes”

The current issue of America magazine includes a review article called “Vatican II: The Next 50 Years,” by Patrick Howell, SJ. Father Howell reviews three new books that he says “convincingly underscore the unfinished business of Vatican II and delve into the arguments and events that characterized the intense, dynamic debates that marked the council up to and during its four sessions.”

It’s a delight to see my own Struggle, Condemnation, VIndication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II included as one of the three, and humbling to be in the company of two fine books by two extraordinary theologians.

About my book, Howell writes:

Barry Hudock expertly narrates the intriguing and tortured history of the arguments of John Courtney Murray, S.J., for religious liberty that led directly to the council’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom.” As Hudock’s title, Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication, suggests, Murray valiantly threaded his way through the multiple obstacles posed by his theological adversaries, primarily the American theologians Francis Connell and Joseph Fenton, and the formidable Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani of the Holy Office.

Murray’s thesis ingeniously asserted that the religious liberty provided by the U.S. Bill of Rights has its roots in the Catholic natural law tradition. The American cardinals eventually brought Murray to the council as an expert (peritus), and the document on religious liberty became the singular American contribution to the universal church. By all accounts Murray was brilliant. Even one of his critics acknowledged Murray’s “impressive erudition, remarkable dexterity, and uncommon command of language.”

Hudock captures the intellectual fervor and the huge stakes in the battle. He lifts the curtain to reveal some of the machinations during the council to derail the effort. The document on religious liberty was, after all, the clearest reversal of the teaching of Popes Gregory XVI and Pius IX, who had condemned freedom of religion, freedom of the press and the separation of church and state. Murray lived to see his vindication, though he died shortly after the council in 1967. At his funeral Walter Burghardt, S.J., affirmed, “Untold Catholics will never sense that they live so gracefully in this dear land because John Murray showed so persuasively that the American proposition is quite congenial to the Catholic reality.”

My thanks to Fr. Howell and America magazine for the nod!


Do the “faithful” need more attention from the Synod fathers?

I must admit, I’m not especially keen on the occasional pleas that we have heard for the Synod to be more attentive to “faithful” families, the thinking being that they need the Church’s pastoral care, too.

This came most prominently in a recent blog post from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whom I respect a great deal and whose pastoral intuition is very often precisely on target (as I’ve noted on this blog here, here, and here). In a post he titled “Inclusion of the New Minority,” he opened noting that the theme of “inclusion” is a “very refreshing, consistent theme of the synod” and that the church “welcomes everyone, especially those who may feel excluded.” He continued:

Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church?  I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity: Couples who — given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony–  approach the Church for the sacrament;  Couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children — these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church!  I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.

Where do they receive support and encouragement? From TV?   From magazines or newspapers?  From movies?  From Broadway?  From their peers?  Forget it!

They are looking to the Church, and to us, for support and encouragement, a warm sense of inclusion.  We cannot let them down!

I saw it again more recently in a post by the popular and often very thoughtful Elizabeth Scalia. She went on at length about all of the “faithful families” who are “being under-served, and wandering about in serious pain and confusion because the pastors are distracted and delayed.”

These are the “faithful intact families” who follow church teachings, and the “faithful intact families” who suffer very real difficulties of all kinds, and the “faithful families” who have divorced and received or need annulments (not those who have divorced and remarried without annulments), and the “faithful families” who are “trying to figure out how to remain true to the Church and true to the love for their family members who are same-sex attracted”… A whole list of “faithful” people who need the Church’s attention. And the problem is, she says, that all of the attention the Synod is giving in its discussions of how to care for what we can only presume to be the “unfaithful” people is a “waste valuable time not discussing an awful lot of wounded sheep.” Someone, she says, needs to stand up and bang a few heads together and get these synod fathers back on track.

These cries for more pastoral attention to the faithful leave me feeling uncomfortable.

First of all, there’s no question that all Catholics, even the most faithful, need pastoral care. I won’t argue with that.

Second, the distinction between the “faithful” ones and the “unfaithful” ones baffles me a little. It seems to suggest there are certain sins and situations that define who gets to be called “faithful.” Do any of those intact-family parents cheat on their taxes, and if so do they still get to be called faithful? Any of those intact-family dads who dabble in online pornography, and if so do they still get to be called faithful? How about those parents of “same-sex attracted” children (really, it’s okay to say “gay”) who have failed once or twice in making their children feel loved and welcome? Are they still faithful?

But here’s the thing that nags at me about the posts above. Hasn’t most of the Church’s time in recent decades — indeed, recent centuries — been devoted to the care of these very faithful people? And is it really so troubling if the shepherds take some time to really give serious thought and discussion to how to offer pastoral care to the most difficult situations or those farthest from the Church? Do we think that such pastoral attention leaves the “faithful” ones without care, as though those very shepherds can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? And what does such a stance say about our response to the call to a new evangelization of the world?

I’m a member of one of those families I think (hope) Elizabeth would put in the category of “faithful.” There were a few years, early on, when my wife and I were living in an “irregular” situation (we may have been “unfaithful” then). But we did what we needed to do, went through the processes we needed to attend to, and abstained from receiving Communion throughout that that time (so maybe we were faithful after all). For a long time now we’ve been “in good standing” with the Church and working hard to raise what I truly hope is a faithful Catholic family.

And as one of those faithful, I say to the Synod fathers: I am happy to cede some of the time you spend caring for me and thinking about me to the faraway sheep, those who are more hurting or more angry than I have ever imagined being, those for whom talk of God’s love and mercy (which I know deeply and rejoice in regularly) is nothing but a foreign language. Talk about them. Pray about them. Argue about them. Listen to them. Learn from them. In doing so, you are at the very same time teaching me and my own family how to be better Christians and a more faithful family as well.

Makes my month!

Well here’s an email that does my heart much good. It came, out of the blue, a few days ago, in reference to my book The Eucharistic Prayer: A User’s Guide.

Dear Barry,

I’m a priest in [major archdiocese], ordained 46+ years. I have tried over those years to deepen my understanding of the Eucharist, reading lots of books and articles and attending occasional workshops, etc. I am writing to thank you for your book on the Eucharistic prayer. You bring together so much history and tradition, and present it in so readable a fashion that I’m sending copies to a couple of young priests with the hope that it will broaden their understanding and piety.
Thank you for your wonderful contribution to the sometimes very cerebral (and not easily followed) literature on his most important subject!
You can’t ask for better mail than that!
(I’d only add that The Eucharistic Prayer is definitely not a book only for priests. The “users” mentioned in the subtitle of the book are all of us. The book explains why that is in great detail.)

Exxon banks on global warming — while pretending it’s a hoax

So, this first installment of an important, ongoing series of reports from the L.A. Times makes it clear: Externally, Exxon was denying the realistic possibility of global warming since at least 1990 (and millions of people, including myself for a while, were duped by the charade), while internally it was basing extensive plans, calculations, and projections on its reality.
Aren’t we all fools?
And how — my conservative friends — are those who continue to support it, in the face of massive evidence, any better than Planned Parenthood and those who support its work?

20 years ago today: JP2 in Central Park

Today’s a good day for a look back at my post of last year on this date: “Only the Lover Sings.” It’s about Pope John Paul II in Central Park, 20 years ago today. Have a look.

New review of the Murray book

My book on John Courtney Murray reviewed in the new issue of the Journal of Jesuit Studies. Below is the full text of the review, which is by Fordham University’s William Gould. (It can also be found online here.)

Murray’s story is an utterly fascinating, timely, and yes, dramatic one, and it was a pleasure to retell it in this book. I’m relieved to think I succeeded to some degree. My thanks to William Gould and the Journal of Jesuit Studies!

. Collegeville: Liturgical Press. Pp. 216. Pb, $19.95.

American Jesuit John Courtney Murray (1904–1967) is well known both for his work as a public philosopher, as exemplified in his celebrated book , and as a leading architect of the church’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom” () at Vatican , which affirmed religious freedom as a fundamental civil right. In , Barry Hudock focuses chiefly on Murray’s contribution to church teaching on religious liberty.

Concerned that most younger Catholics are unfamiliar with Murray and his achievement, Hudock wants to make Murray’s work better known to them and to the larger community. As he indicates in his Introduction, his book is a successor to Donald Pelotte’s earlier work (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1976), which covered much of the same ground. While acknowledging the value of Pelotte’s book, Hudock notes that it is out of print, and that in the nearly four decades since its publication important new resources have appeared, including major articles by Joseph Komonchak, and the personal correspondence of Joseph Clifford Fenton, that greatly enrich our understanding of Murray’s achievement. In addition, the Pelotte book is scholarly in nature, while Hudock intends to offer something more accessible to the general public, which not only describes what Murray accomplished, but captures the personal drama he experienced.

The result is a lively, fast moving narrative in the form of “a theological adventure story” (as Hudock characterizes it), whose leading characters are Murray and his two principal antagonists, Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton, a theologian at Catholic University and editor of the influential , and Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). The story is set against the background of the pre-Vatican church’s support for the confessional state and the old thesis/hypothesis framework whereby the Catholic ideal was that in countries like Spain, with a predominantly Catholic population, Catholicism should be the state religion and restrictions should be placed on the freedom of other religions (the thesis), whereas in countries like the United States, where Catholics were in the minority and a Catholic confessional state was not feasible, the right to religious freedom was accepted (the hypothesis).

Hudock explains how Murray, beginning in the 1940s, responded to this situation by adopting an historically-minded approach to the way the relation between church and state is to be understood in the Catholic tradition, seeking to separate the permanent or transtemporal elements in that tradition from those that were historically conditioned. Murray argued that with the Gelasian dyarchy (from Gelasius I in 494), Christianity inaugurated a distinction between spiritual and temporal authority that gave rise to a nascent constitutionalism in the Middle Ages, but that with the subsequent emergence of the nation state the Gelasian principle took two divergent paths: in continental Europe, it suffered rejection, first at the hands of royal absolutism and then, following the French Revolution, from a virulently secular, anti-clerical liberalism. It fared much better in the Anglo-American world, particularly the United States, where the Gelasian dyarchy found substantial, if imperfect, expression in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Murray argued that condemnations of the separation of church and state and of religious freedom by nineteenth-century pontiffs reflected justified opposition to the laicism of continental liberalism, but did not apply to the American version of church-state separation (with which the popes were not familiar). Murray further contended that the encyclicals of Leo XIII, on which he wrote extensively in , the Jesuit journal he edited, constituted a revival of the Gelasian principle. Furthermore, this principle was further developed by subsequent popes, particularly Pius , along lines reflecting support for limited constitutional government and the rights associated with modern democratic states, including the right to religious freedom.

As Hudock recounts in detail, Murray’s interpretation of Leo XIII and the contribution of more recent popes met with stiff opposition from Monsignor Fenton and his Catholic University of America colleague Father Francis Connell, who rejected Murray’s historically-conscious approach and pointed out numerous papal texts that challenged Murray’s claims. Monsignor Fenton also sent a number of private communications to Cardinal Ottaviani, expressing concern about Murray’s views and calling for action from Rome against him. After a speech at CUA in 1954 on Pius ’s address to Catholic jurists, , in which Murray claimed that the pope had repudiated the thesis-hypothesis model of church-state relations, as well as also making remarks that were interpreted as critical of Cardinal Ottaviani, such action came. In 1955, Murray was required to cease publishing on church-state issues and his last major article on Leo was withheld from publication.

Hudock then describes in detail Murray’s subsequent vindication at Vatican II. Although absent from the first session of the council (from which Murray said he was “disinvited”), Murray was chosen by Cardinal Spellman as a for the second session and played a key role thereafter both as a major contributor to the many drafts of the document that eventually became and as an advisor to the American bishops, whose support for in debates on the council floor proved crucial to its approval. Hudock does a good job of capturing the tense and at times dramatic atmosphere in which the supporters, like Murray, of the document endorsing religious freedom and those, like Ottaviani and his allies, who opposed it, clashed. Ultimately, of course, Murray’s side triumphed, and he is credited with making a major contribution to the development of doctrine in this area.

This is a valuable book for anyone interested in Murray, but I think it will be especially so to readers new to the man, for whom it will serve as a good introduction. I can see it working well in undergraduate courses, for example. It is not, however, an in-depth study of Murray’s life and thought. One hopes that someday someone (Father Komonchak, perhaps) will give us this kind of intellectual biography of Murray.

As the Synod begins

In the conversation about marriage and family life that Pope Francis initiated over a year ago within the Catholic Church, we have heard a lot about what is and isn’t faithful to church teaching. More “progressive” figures, such as Cardinal Kasper, have proposed new pastoral approaches for our consideration, while more “conservative” minded figures, like Cardinal Burke, have rejected them as being unfaithful to Scripture, tradition, and Church teaching.

Having spent a good portion of the last several years exploring the thinking and the story of Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, I have to say the current situation has a very familiar ring to it. Murray got himself into trouble with the highest authorities in Rome for suggesting that, despite what might seem to be the case, support for the idea of religious freedom as a human right was not contrary to Church teaching and is in fact a true and important element of that teaching. He was criticized for contradicting the magisterium and Scripture. His work was condemned as erroneous by the Vatican’s doctrinal authorities.

And then, a decade later, he was dramatically vindicated in almost the weightiest way possible: through a declaration of an ecumenical council of the Church.

Just because someone — even someone with great ecclesial authority — thinks a proposition is contrary to Church teaching does not mean it is. It may be, of course. Some ideas are. But to treat as a villain — as a certain Catholic cable news channel has done for going on two years now — faithful pastors and theologians who work hard to offer new pastoral approaches in ways that is faithful to the Gospel and to the Church is wrong and does a disservice to the Church and to the truth.

Come, Holy Spirit, upon the Synod. Enlighten those participating in it with your holy Wisdom.