In the last post, we took a look at nuns who were standing up to Church leaders. The nuns were not trying to subvert the Vatican – they were defending themselves in the face of hierarchical opposition. Today we profile a couple of organizations that are actively trying to reform the Church as a whole.
The Second Vatican Council was a big deal. Prior to its conclusion in 1965, all Roman Catholic masses around the world were held in Latin. Priests conducted masses with their backs to the congregation (everyone facing God). There was no such thing as a Saturday mass. Following the Council, the Church began to encourage open dialogue with other religions and prioritize individual conscience. Essentially, the Church began to open up. Critics of the Council cried that Catholicism was “protestantizing”.
This all set the stage for (or was precipitated by – depending on how you look at it) a lot more active involvement of the laity in the Church. In 1964, Roberty Hoyt, a Catholic Journalist founded the National Catholic Reporter with the aim of bringing professional standards to the Catholic press. Until then, every major Catholic newspaper or magazine in the US was published by the Church. As Hoyt put it “If the mayor of a city owned its only newspaper, its citizens will not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs.”
Since then, the NCR has been a thorn in the side of the Vatican, which has on numerous occasions called employees and readers of NCR heretics who will likely be one day excommunicated. Take a look at their website and you can see why the Pope is not a fan. NCR has been consistent in its editorial support for the ordination of women, the full acceptance of homosexuality, stem cell research and other “liberal” positions. NCR has a circulation of around 33,000.
In 1976 a priest named Dan Daley met a nun named Sheila at a Catholic conference in Detroit. The two fell in love and later married. The conference quietly passed a resolution stating that the Church must “reevaluate its positions on issues like celibacy for priests, the male-only clergy, homosexuality, birth control, and the involvement of every level of the church in important decisions”. After the conference, Dan and Sheila formed Call to Action, an organization that advocates for openness and reform within the church. Once again, the Vatican responded with heretical charges and excommunication. CTA currently has over 25,000 national members and 53 branches across the US.
So what’s the point in mentioning these two small outfits (there are many more by the way)? The next time you think to yourself that the Catholic Church’s teachings are outdated and need to be reformed, keep in mind that many Catholics feel the same way. There is a big difference between the proscriptions of Church leaders and the actual beliefs of most Church members. While these organizations are not mainstream yet, their views certainly are. The Vatican knows that if it hopes to stay relevant, it cannot excommunicate all moderate voices. For now, both sides are buying time until the day comes when their side prevails. I find it hard to believe that American Catholics will revert to believing that women are subservient, that homosexuality is evil, that embryonic stem cells constitute a human being, that a man with a big hat in Rome is infallible. It’s equally reasonable, however, to believe that the Vatican will not budge one bit.