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The Paralyzed Church

The decision the Church faces today is a very simple one: to “approach the future as a friend/without a wardrobe of excuses” in W.H. Auden’s memorable words.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., center, listens to a reporter's question during a news conference June 13, 2019, at the spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The Church is paralyzed today. Last November’s meeting of the USCCB, the recent papal motu proprio (which I discussed here), and now this month’s USCCB meeting have all demonstrated an exhaustion of episcopal imagination, which cannot conceive of ways forward through the abuse crisis except by mindless repetition of the very structures and processes which have, in many ways, given rise to the crisis.

We are caught in precisely the scenario Freud described in his 1914 essay “Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through”. The patient who neurotically and destructively continues to enact certain patterns of thought and action is repeating what he cannot remember clearly: some trauma is buried in his psyche, and it is evident only by and in his repetitive actions, which are a disguised form of remembering. A psychoanalysis helps him work through that trauma, ending the cycles of repetition by allowing him to remember the original event, helping to free the patient to move forward.

We are caught in the repetition of those deeply destructive structures and processes, and have turned one crisis into three: sex abuse is also (as Christopher Altieri has put it with unmatched clarity) an abuse of power and, as we are now learning out of West Virginia, money also. Today the Church is paralyzed and cannot find solutions for this tripartite crisis, and the risk we run here is that of descending into what Freud called the “death drive.”

Why are we paralyzed? What is the cause of the paralysis? Can we move forward, finding new life out of these death-dealing ways?

It seems to me the paralysis is of a pattern well known to the mariners and mythologists of Greek antiquity, who gave us the celebrated images of ships in the very narrow Strait of Messina being caught between Charybdis and Scylla. These were reputed sea monsters dwelling on either side of the strait and almost invariably capturing and capsizing those who sailed too close to one side to avoid the peril of the other. The Church today appears to be paralyzed by fear of the Charybdis of the papacy, on the one hand, and a Scylla called “lay involvement” on the other. We need to think carefully about these fears in order to see they are groundless. Like all neurotic fears, the images of them that lurk in our minds are far more fantastic and fearsome than the reality.

In my new book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico Press, 2019), I discuss these fears at length and how they have led us to be paralyzed—and how we can move beyond the paralysis.

Several people recently have asked me to give examples of what I mean. Let me give two such examples here briefly, while encouraging people to read the book for the details.

Let’s first consider the papacy. It has changed enormously over the centuries. For the last 150 years the Church has essayed a particularly hazardous model of maximal centralization, which as we now realize is not only profoundly unhelpful, but also without serious historical or theological justification, or ecumenical appeal. It has done so largely as a reaction to an unconscious traumatic pseudo-memory of the French revolution and Napoleonic ravages in response to which, it was claimed by many nineteenth-century Catholics, a “sovereign” pontiff was needed who would be untouchable by secular powers—or any other powers, including brother bishops.

That model is still operative today, because the “memory” still suggests that if we do not have a sovereign pontiff operating a very centralized system, then any day now a new Napoleon could arise to sack an entire episcopate. As Adam Phillips likes to say, “memories always have a certain future in mind.” “Memories” of long-dead tyrants in utterly singular and unrepeatable circumstances were used to justify a future in which no pope could ever again be at the mercy of a secular ruler. This has given us a system today premised upon near-absolute powers of “sovereign pontiff”.

American bishops in the nineteenth century happily went along with Pope Pius IX inserting himself more and more into their affairs and muscling them aside from their own responsibilities. We saw this again just last week in American bishops dithering about whether an abusive retired bishop can be in any way “restricted” or disciplined by his successor. The reluctance here to entertain such timid proposals comes from the fear that in advancing any such prospects, the bishops are treading on papal “sovereignty,” as, we are told, it is only the pope who can discipline a bishop.

Certainly in the current system that seems to be the case de iure. But de facto there is no discipline in a system that includes more than 5000 bishops in the world today. The prospect of one man supervising all of them is on its face problematic, if not impossible, and as we have seen with Theodore McCarrick (inter alia), not only was there no discipline, he continued to get promoted.

Many organizational experts today insist that nobody can realistically or justly supervise more than a dozen people (“direct reports”) in any adequate way. So, in practice, bishops today are accountable to nobody—the pope does not have time, and his brothers in the episcopate are too timid to think of alternative models by which local accountability could be restored to the Church. Even the “metropolitan” model advanced by such as Blaise Cupich is virtually impotent.

Clearly, then, this system, which preserves monopolistic structures and powers of the bishops (including the bishop of Rome), does not work and must be changed, especially as it has aided and abetted abusers for decades. But we have no sooner come to that conclusion, often very reluctantly, then we are paralyzed by a second set of fears. Here we run aground on the Scylla of something called “lay involvement”.

The fact that such involvement remains optional indicates just how much anxiety and fear there is today. Some bishops, to be sure—a clear minority in the conference—seem to grasp the point as when, for example, Bishop McKnight of Jefferson City was reported as saying that “it should be mandatory that we involve laity … because that is the Catholic thing to do.” But the fact that neither the American bishops nor the bishop of Rome have cemented such requirements into place indicates what, in my book (following the scholarship of Claudia Rapp and Peter Brown, inter alia), I call the snobbery of ecclesial elites: clerical and academic elites, having advanced theological degrees and belonging to cozy guilds, are loathe to think that unlettered people in the pews should have any serious say in anything—except, perhaps, paint colors for the parish hall or what kind of fish to fry for the Lenten fundraiser.

Our very language here is highly instructive: “lay” people, a phrase that, in conventional usage, is taken to mean someone who lacks something like advanced training, professional accreditation, or ecclesial office. They are, in short, little more than uneducated peasants who should be nowhere near church governance.

And yet those who think this way are mistaken, even delusional, imagining that the mere possession of an advanced degree, or a Roman collar, somehow make one into a trustworthy expert. This is a kind of magical thinking that should be strongly questioned whenever we encounter it. I have loathed this kind of credentialism my entire life, realizing that while I am the first person in my immediate family to attend university (never mind graduate with a doctorate), that in no way makes me superior in intelligence or virtue. My grandmother, with “only” a high-school education in interwar Scotland was extremely intelligent and well-read and effortlessly possessed in abundance certain virtues I have struggled to attain even to a small degree. It was she who introduced me to a model I have so often cited in this regard: Winston Churchill, who proudly had a union card for the brick-layers association, but held no Oxbridge diploma for he never went to university. And yet he led Britain to victory in 1945 and wrote many widely cited books of history and biography, even winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953.

Perhaps more germane here, I start every semester of every academic year by reading parts of Evagrius’ On Prayer to my students, telling them, as that great fourth-century monastic did, that prayer is what makes one a theologian—not an “A” in my class, or a degree from a pontifical faculty like mine. Prayer and holiness are what will gain them virtue and thus heaven. Degrees and books may in fact hinder both for they tend to make us (as St. Paul would say) puffed up with the arch-sin of pride. That sort of prideful credentialism and snobbery are really repugnant in Christians, whose first leaders were a bunch of fishermen following the unlettered son of a carpenter wandering around Palestine before getting himself killed at the hands of clerical and political elites.

There is, then, no reason to defer to elites in governance, and no reason to fear the “laics,” as I call them in my book, borrowing from Nicholas Afanasiev (whom I discussed here in this regard). But fear them many churchmen do, and here again we see unanalyzed pseudo-memories of “lay involvement” being used to justify this fear so as to continue to shut laics out from governance. In the neurotic unconscious “memory” of the Church, we are forever facing another Henry IV fighting Pope Gregory VII at Canossa in the eleventh century, or Thomas a Becket and Henry II in England in the twelfth, or Thomas More and Henry VIII in the sixteenth, or Pius VII and Napoleon in nineteenth-century France—or, in the same time, “trusteeism” in America (which I show in the book to be groundless).

But as the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar argued in an essay published in 1939 we cannot mindlessly defer to past examples, good or bad, for

no time is completely like another, and the Church is always standing before a new situation, and, therefore before a new decision in which she can let herself receive advice and admonition from her past experiences but in which, however, the decision itself must be faced directly: The past can never lighten, let alone dispense from, the decision itself.

The decision the Church faces today is a very simple one: to “approach the future as a friend/without a wardrobe of excuses” in W.H. Auden’s memorable words. The Church’s choice is to continue to be paralyzed by episcopal monopolies based on pseudo-memories from the past, or to open her structures to a better future in which age-old synodal practices return at the level of parish (where the laics and bishop together openly decide on when to move a priest, and why), diocese (where the laics and clerics, together with the bishop, vote in an annual synod on the budget, demanding accountability and closing off the means for “princes of the Church” to spend thousands of dollars on booze, flowers, etc.), and nation, where there will be real mechanisms for bishops to discipline and depose each other. (My book goes into great detail as to how this works, with a chapter each on parish councils, diocesan synods, and national or regional synods.)

Synodal governance at all three levels will introduce accountability to a degree totally missing today. Our future must be one in which the laics, clerics, and hierarchs each constitute one of the three irreplaceable “orders” dependent upon each other, accountable to each other, open to learning from and in charity supporting each other. Nothing in the apostolic constitution of the Church prevents this and everything in our present moment is crying out for this structural-synodal reform without which the free-fall of the Church will continue. The laics today, to borrow again from Auden, are “exiles who long for the future/that lives in our power” and “they too would rejoice/if allowed to serve enlightenment”.


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About Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille 72 Articles
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is associate professor and chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).

22 Comments

  1. The paralysis seems to be the powers-that-be protecting that power and its resultant perks — more-lavish-than-necessary residences, cash flow control, travel to upscale locations for conferences and meetings, limited or non-existent management involvement by the laity, etc.

  2. Take the advice of Father Gregory Hesse: Forget Vatican II.

    Then purge the Church of Modernism, and abolish the Novus Ordo. Reform Canon Law so that clerics who commit delicts against the Sixth Commandment will be removed from the clerical state.

    • I agree, but this hierarchy has a vested interest in propping up V2, as do many of the laity, who have installed little fiefdoms in their parishes with their morally timid priests who are loathe to be too ‘moralistic ‘ or ‘rigid’, as it would not be convenient for their parishioners. The canonisation of Pope Paul VI was a blatant attempt to imbue Vatican II with some element of gravitas or weight which it lacks and which it can never attain. The exodus of the young from the ‘modern’ and ‘relevant’ V2 Church says it all, really.

    • Yes,this would solve all the problems. Right. Did you not read the article? We need to do away with the pseudo Council Vatican I. The demand of compliance foisted on the bishops who attended by Pio Nono and the ultramontanism the infects the Church today is one of the major problems. Your version Of “Tradition” only dates back a few hundred years and is wrong and outdated. Only your suggestion of removing proven sexual offenders from the priesthood makes sense.

    • What would that look like? And how would one manage the transition smoothly?

      The following is a proposal. I don’t think it’s perfect; but it would be a good starting-point for discussion:
      1. For the following changes, some will take place over a one-year period (marked Immediate). For the others (marked Transitional) there will be a 10-year transition period.
      2. For changes marked Immediate, 10% of parishes in a diocese must be in full compliance after 3 months; 20% after 4 months; 30% after 5 months, et cetera, with 100% compliance after a year.
      3. For changes marked Transitional, in every diocese, 10% of parishes must be in full compliance after the first year; 20% after the second; 30% after the third; et cetera, with 100% compliance after 10 years.
      4. Immediate: All religious shall wear traditional garb for their order when out-and-about in public.
      5. Immediate: All priests shall wear the cassock when out-and-about in public.
      6. Immediate: The Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, the Mysterium Fidei shall henceforth be uniformly in Latin, using musical settings not less than 100 years of age, and at least one chant in Latin will be part of the hymnody of every Mass. The Kyrie shall be in Greek.
      7. Immediate: The elevation of the Host and the Chalice shall be performed facing Liturgical East.
      8. Immediate: Ugly, childish vestments not befitting the dignity of the priesthood shall be destroyed and replaced with vestments indicative of priestly character.
      9. Immediate: For clergy and religious, the living of a homosexual double-life shall qualify as the canonical delicts of sacrilege, dereliction of fatherly duty, and vow-breaking. All clergy reasonably suspected of these delicts shall be tried. Those convicted will be subjected to the disciplines in the famous quote by Peter Damian and reduced to lay state.
      10. Immediate: For bishops, the covering-up or knowing career-advancement of a cleric living a homosexual double life, or the failure to bring him to trial, shall be a delict of neglecting the duties of the episcopal office. The Roman Pontiff shall bring them to trial, and upon conviction they shall be hanged by the neck until dead, using gallows in the Holy See. The passage regarding the Death Penalty in the Catechism, recently revised so as to convey a meaning close-to-heresy, shall be revised again so as to clearly teach that recourse to the Death Penalty, even in the modern era, is sometimes morally licit (however rarely) and may in some cases (even more rarely) be morally obligatory.
      11. Immediate: All reception of the Eucharistic Host at Holy Communion must be on the tongue. Priests in every diocese must permit either genuflect-then-stand-to-receive, or reception-while-kneeling.
      12. Immediate: A revision of the Novus Ordo mass shall be issued, in which 33% of its text and instructions which differ most widely in theology and content from that of the Tridentine Mass shall be replaced by vernacular translations of the relevant corresponding portions of the Tridentine Mass. The priests of the FSSP, with observation and advice from priests of the SSPX, shall be responsible for selecting the 33% to be changed, and for approving the vernacular translations.
      13. Transitional: Once the revised Novus Ordo mass is issued, dioceses shall have 10 years’ transition-time to entirely replace the older Novus Ordo with the revised one.
      14. Transitional: Altar rails shall be restored to the sanctuary in all parishes.
      15. Transitional: A High Altar with attached tabernacle must be present in all parishes.
      16. Transitional: Every parish priest shall learn to properly say the Tridentine Latin Mass, which shall be offered at all parishes of every diocese on at least one Sunday per month.

      That’d be a good start.

  3. ”Many organizational experts today insist that nobody can realistically or justly supervise more than a dozen people (“direct reports”) in any adequate way”

    I agree, as this statement reflects common sense, while also reflecting the choosing and teaching of the first twelve Apostles by Jesus Christ.

    The problem of the credibility of the Priesthood to-day can only be resolved and restored by an outward manifestation of priestly transparency, in all things. A possible way forward, James 5:6 “tell your sins to one and other”… as in, reveal your selves (Confessing) to one and other in brotherly love, led by the Bishop been ‘open’, in unity, with all his priests (Once a year), as truth is the mortar that holds His house together, in this way accountability for anything that might bring the Church into disrepute, is shared/confronted.

    This would create an accountable, vulnerable/ humble/spiritual priesthood, one that serves/leads in humility, before God and His people. Trust would gradually be restored as they/we endeavour to create a culture of transparency/humility”

    It is said you cannot be what you do not see/envisage, we need to see our Shepherds holding the bright lamp of Truth high above their own vulnerabilities, teachings us by example, in humility, how we are also to be made holy (Sanctified) as in

    “Sanctify them in the Truth; thy Word is Truth as thou didst send me into the world so I have sent them into the world and for their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be consecrated in truth”

    I believe that the Shepherd leader for a new invigorated Church will be a transparent humble one, with the capacity to discern and direct the potential in others, leading them also to become (Working) Shepherds, who together hold each other responsible for their combined actions, before the faithful, underpinned by total honesty, the serving of the Truth in all situations would be the binding mortar holding these new emerging structures together.

    It could be said, that for true emotional inter-dependence to come about with others, we need to show/tell our vulnerability, for when we do so, it confers authenticity, a place from where we can truly share the communal meal and our life with others.

    Please consider continuing via the link

    https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2018/07/fifty-years-on-and-still-a-disputed-question/#comment-94797

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. To me the “Memories” the church is stuck in today are the old axiom.”Between a rock and hard place”. Which in turn causes our Pope,Cardinals,Bishops,and Priests to continue to walk in a never ending circle with their fingers in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

  5. Prof. DeVille’s very clear preferences for a particular type of lay accountability–despite his legitimately debatable contentions about the lay trustee crisis of the 19th century (which reappeared in the 20th among Ukrainian and Ruthenian Catholic Churches and led to unmitigated disaster)–would not only be an exercise in inauthentic ecclesiology (here read BAD…unless you’re Episcopalian or Presbyterian), but would simply replace one ruling power (corporatized, semi-oligarchic bishops) with another (ecclesiastical lay-sheriffs). As the late Prof. David Spitz of Ohio State noted as far back as 1957, “Every community, even one that is democratic in form, dwells always in the shadow of injustice.” (From “On the Abuses of Power in Democratic States”). Trading episcopal thrones for pews would be an exercise in futility. We know historically the dangers of both forms of polity, but like it or not, we are a hierarchical Church and (as badly as it sounds to modern ears), laypeople are not only cooperators in the promotion of the Kingdom of God with the hierarchy, but ultimtely the latter’s subjects. The bulk of our canonical and ecclesial history supports this. This is our lot, for better or worse. No, its not about which group can putatively enforce “transparency” or “accountability,” but rather renewing the episcopate with bishops (and we have many, although we don’t hear much about them) who have a zeal for the righteousness of the Lord and a burning desire to promote the salvation of souls, proclaiming boldly the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) within the Deposit of Faith; radically authentic shepherds who are acclaimed (or not…) for something other than environmental protection, fair immigration, voting rights or economic parity.

    • I don’t like what Mr. Urban says because I chafe at the idea of being “ultimately the latter’s subjects”
      but I believe that he is absolutely correct and has a very balanced insight. I think that I will print his response to reread when I get so frustrated and just want to get rid of bishops.

  6. We need to pray for a new leader to get to the core of what Jesus intended with the Papacy. With that in hand those duties and responsibilities should remain with the Pope but a new organizational structure needs to be put in place to manage the church.

  7. Lay involvement in church governance is completely dependent on how well the lay-man is catechized. The state of lay catechesis is abysmal. I appreciated the leadership style of my wife’s spiritual director when she lived in the South as a teenager: “I am the worship commission, the parish council, and the Christian service committee. All committees are disbanded”. He is an obedient pastor, now an exorcist. He knew few in his new assignment were catechized, but he knew he was so until holy people stepped forward, he was the benevolent dictator. It was not pride; it was truth. If you want to start somewhere with lay involvement, start with those who stay after Mass for 5 plus minutes to pray in thanksgiving and regularly attend daily Mass. Like Dr. DeVille stated, find the people that pray and demand that they take an oath of fidelity. Only those should be considered …. anything less would continue the train wreck that is the modern Novus Ordo Church.

  8. A very interesting and enlightening article. Bishops need to pray and reflect. But above all, they need to let Christ draw them nearer to himself.

    I can ask some questions: Can every bishop say that he is always living in grace? Can every bishop say, in the presence of the Holy Trinity, that he never falls into sin? Can every bishop say — to God — that he often fast, do penance, abstain from occasions of sin, engage in the mortification of the flesh and do everything for the glory of God?

    I can recall what St Jean Baptist Marie Vianney said to a priest on one occasion. This priest wondered how the Church sent missionaries to go and spread the gospel to sinners in foreign lands while in the case of St Jean Vianney the other way round happened: sinners themselves from different countries came to him in Ars.

    St Jean Vianney answered him: Do you fast every day? Do you sleep on the floor? Do you sleep four hours at night? Do you always live in grace? Do you joyfully accept anything God, in his providence, sends you whether you like it or not? Do you ever grumble? No answer from the priest. And in this case no answer meant a ‘no’.

    How did St Francis de Salle converted the district of Chablais? It’s wise if bishops go and examine what this bishop did.

    All bishops have quite a few saintly bishops to imitate!

  9. “The Church’s choice is to continue to be paralyzed by episcopal monopolies ….. etc….. yada yada yada …..”

    Wrong.

    NOTHING concrete can be accomplished unless/until each of our leaders individually comes to the humiliating and humbling realization that they have in large part lost the allegiance of the laity. Wave after never-ending wave of sexual abuse scandals, going back who knows how far, Bishops who – for whatever reason – refuse to stand and defend the faith, universities who reward those who stand in direct opposition to centuries old Church teaching, IMO Notre Dame being the most egregious example.

    This mess can be fixed. He promised he would always be here with us., We start with prayer and fasting.

  10. The aspect of Pride that is present after exposure of the lack of wisdom, knowledge and understanding it the telling fact that should be addressed and replaced by humility which is needed for the abuse crisis to be more accurately identified and CORRECTED.

  11. I don’t agree with the thesis proposed by the author. Can he tell me when in the history of the Church did lay people govern it? Not in the first century, nor the second, nor the third and so on. Yes, there were some prominent lay people such as St. Justin Martyr, but the vast majority of the authors contained in the Patrología Latina and Patrologia Graeca were bishops and some very outstanding presbyters such as Origen and St. Jerome. Does the author realize that without the Roman centralism throughout the last several centuries we probably would not have the Catholic Church, but a group of churches like the Orthodox Churches who have lost their catholicity to nationalism are incapable of agreeing among themselves on almost anything. We would have the French Church thanks to Gallicanism, a German Church and an Austrian one thanks to Febronianism and Josephinism and so on. It seems to me that trusteeism was a danger and for good reason Pope Leo XII wrote his Testem Benevolentiae against what he called Americanism. American Catholics have bought into the American system and it doesn’t seem to have had geat benefits for the Church there.

    As for Vatican I, it didn’t recognize that the Pope had any authority to change any doctrine, but only to repropose the Apostolic Tradition in every age. Bishops have often showed themselves to be lacking in courage and have in fact as a group caused the Church great damage, as is the case in the whole Arrian controversy in the IV century and later. Yesterday was the feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas Moore, the former being the only one of the 19 English bishops to oppose the plans of Henry VIII. It seems to me that the reform of the Church and the episcopate will not come from some administrative fiddling, but from ensuring that the vast majority of the bishops are truly men of notable holiness and willing to fulfill the mission they have received. The governance of the Church by divine institution is in the hands principally of the bishops and has always been so and this is derived from the Sacrament of Orders. Jesus chose the apostles and sent them out to preach the gospel and found the ecclesial communities. Yes, lay people do have a contribution to make in the governance of the Church, but they cannot be either Parish Priests or bishops nor are they commissioned to investigate or discipline bishops. I find that Americans seem to have a blind faith in democratic procedures, however liberal democracy is based on fundamentally flawed philosophical principles coming from the likes of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau etc. and the founders were imbued with these false principles. These princples have given rise to individualism proceeding from the false contractualism which is one of the bases of liberalism. The natural order of authority established by God is based first and foremost on the family, then there is the political community and also the intermediate associations and the Church has up to recently rightly preferred rule by kings which is closer to the authority of the father in the family. Authority in the Church is not democratic but hierarchical and this corresponds with the way God has established natural communities, the family, the political community and in the case of the Church “eklesia”, those called out (ex meaning out and kalo in Greek meaning called”. An association is a voluntary organization whilst a community as the family and what the nation should be are based on nature and designed by God. Ywa, some organizational reforms can and should be carried out, but a fundamental change in the way the Church is governed cannot be because it would be contrary to the divine will. Bishops have often failed to fulfill their duties and allowed Rome to do the dirty work or hidden themselves behind the bureaucratic structures of the Bishops Conferences. The great reforms of the Church have always been based on greater holiness, an increase in fervor and apostolic zeal in the clergy and religious as well as an importan proportion of the laity. Fiddling with administrative structures alone will not do the trick.

    The so called laity are not all saints and many of those who are “active in the Church” are not exactly exemplary in their personal conduct or their adhesion to the doctrine of the Church.

  12. De Ville makes his case for a synodal Church at three levels including diocesan. He also discounts too much the actual benefits of memory (“paralysis”). Four added pointers here:

    1. Institutional architecture. In Revolutionary France in 1789, the lower clergy, as the majority of the Third Estate (208 of 296 votes), joined the smaller First and Second Estates to compel the monarchy to recognize a single combined Assembly. It was this combined Assembly that then subjected the Church to populist supervision, confiscations and institutional and doctrinal deconstruction, and then ushered in the total Revolution.

    2. The Freudian syndrome (same action, same result). In America the mobilizing Call to Action in the United States peaked in a 1976 scripted fiasco in Detroit—another “single combined assembly” (one-third bishops, one-third other ordained plus nuns, and one-third laity). On the table was everything from candles to doctrinal and moral wedge-issues. A bad memory, later disowned by the partly complicit and duped bishops conference.

    The agenda had aligned with local native America and with the local American “war for independence” (not quite a French-style “revolution”), with warmed-over parallels to the upcoming Amazon Synod, i.e., inculturation, but now with the deified Mother Earth and ordained/married shamans, etc.?

    3. A new crisis, or instead the same thing all over again? Do our problems today have an earlier precedent or a microcosm not met with “paralysis”?

    A particular American diocese in Washington state was an aggressive pilot project in the 1980s for item #2, and later muddled its way (and worse) on a range of doctrinal, moral and ecclesial challenges—a “rabbit hole” combined, or course, with other genuinely good works. The Church’s on-the-run response gives not a template, but maybe some clues:

    A particular American diocese in Washington state was an aggressive pilot project in the 1980s for item #2, and later muddled its way (and worse) on a range of doctrinal, moral and ecclesial challenges—a “rabbit hole” combined, or course, with other genuinely good works. The Church’s on-the-run response gives not a template, but maybe some clues:

    (a) Rome orders a Visitation by an American bishop, (b) nuncio letterhead assigns corrective homework, (c) then an auxiliary bishop with special powers, (d) for two years progress is monitored by three American bishops assigned by Rome, (4) a successor archbishop is assigned, and the original archbishop eventually retired at the age of 70 rather than 75. (Nothing else anything like this drama in all of Church history, but not paralysis.)

    4. So, what then of de Ville’s synods at the diocesan level? Long after item #3, in 2001-4 an archdiocesan pastoral council was convened (bishops, laity, clerics, and religious, and listening sessions). All went well!

    At least five useful lessons. Work of the “combined assembly” (a) was broad but clearly consultative, (b) was temporary i.e., no bracket creep, (c) had an end point and final product addressed to the entire diocese, (d) avoided the activist, secularist media; and (e) the archbishop later defended in Rome the concurrent (and accepted) proposal for trained Lay Ecclesial Ministers—those called by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation and by nothing more novel. And, as an institutional “memory!” bearing on today’s turmoil, this new status quo is not restricted to women, e.g., the antiquarian and now-redundant “deaconess” proposal.

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