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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action

 

The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and conditio n.
 
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC President
 
President's Message - Advent/Christmas 2019
The Humility of Uncertainty
 
 
 
 
 
A short time ago, I was called by an individual who was concerned about an annulment process for a friend. Most of the call was spent wading through the rather legalistic language associated with marriage, annulments, and all the rules. It was an interesting conversation, to say the least. After the call, I reflected on what had just taken place. The caller was quite surprised to learn that there are few solid answers to these kinds of questions. We were engaged in careful interpretations of words in scripture, along with the formal processes used by the church to resolve such things. Sometimes, I think we are all determined to get firm answers to things that don't avail themselves to such clarity.

A couple of weeks later, I was presenting a class on collaboration. One of the videos that I use in that class is a TED talk about how we can learn to disagree productively by Julia Dhar. She used a phrase in her presentation that really struck me as important - "humility of uncertainty." Her point was that skilled debaters should be willing to rely on this characteristic. That phrase stuck with me for the next few weeks. I wonder about ourselves in terms of our church and even our values and politics. We seem to engage in our disagreements as if we are certain of the truths behind them. My question is: "how can we be so sure of our positions?" We are dealing with issues beyond human knowing. More to the point is how we disagree with one another so unproductively. Whether one is a traditionalist, conservative, liberal, or radical, we argue our points by assaulting the character of those with whom we disagree. Dhar makes a very valid point when she explains that this is not the way to carry on a debate. 

In the readings from the Second Sunday of Advent, we learn about John the Baptist. At one point, he addresses the Sadducees and the Pharisees as a "brood of vipers." (Matthew 3:7) In the homily delivered by my pastor, he describes these two groups as the conservatives and the liberals of that time. Yet, John makes no distinction between them. Perhaps, this is because both groups claim a level of certainty about what is truth. In our own time, we mostly do the same as these groups. We make claims about what others should or should not do based on our convictions of what is preferred by God. I have received letters, emails, and even phone calls from those who disagree with us. These are not particularly cordial messages. Mostly, they are rather ad hominem attacks. 

Looking back on my conversation with my caller who was concerned about the merits of an annulment case, I realized that she was looking for those clear answers, for certainty, in matters that are not always clear. In the process, there was a great deal of parsing of language in scripture to justify a position. The result of the conversation was that she said I left her with a lot to think about. I believe that we can ask for nothing more. In the bigger picture, perhaps we need much more of the "humility of uncertainty." 
I finished a book recently that was a brief history of the papacy. In general, I have to say it did not paint a pretty picture. However, I came away with something of a different perspective. In spite of all the broods of vipers involved in this history, we still have a church. If we take an honest look at our history, we must come away with a stronger faith in the Holy Spirit. We have seemingly done everything we can to screw it up. Yet, we still have a faith tradition that passes on the wisdom of the gospels. 

As we have begun another liturgical year, perhaps it is most fruitful to consider the power of the Holy Spirit and to let go of our need to be right. We have serious disagreements. Christianity itself is now confronting a huge identity crisis. There may even be need for a new reformation. At the same time, we need a "humility of uncertainty" more than ever. As such, the reason for the existence of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church is to preserve the right for each person to seek the truth and to develop their primacy of conscience. There is a good reason not to impose our beliefs on to another person. We walk by faith, not by certainty. The Holy Spirit remains in charge. Our mission "to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and condition" is more vital than ever. 

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I know that you get a ton of requests for financial support from many causes. If you cannot give to us this month, will you consider giving next month? Please support us in whatever way you can. 

I am confident that 2020 will be a productive year for us. So, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.


Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA
 
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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action

 

The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and conditio n.
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC President
 

President's Message - Lent 2019

Recently, I was visiting my niece in another state.  When Sunday came around, she invited me to attend church with her.  She warned me that it wasn't a Catholic church, if that was all right.  I assured her that it was more important that I go with her that day. When we arrived at the church, it was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  The building looked more like a shopping center than anything else. Everything seemed to be very well organized. The child care center was set up by age group with clear signs for each.  The children were given tags that identified them, so they could be scanned, making it much easier to retrieve them after the service. We entered what was much like a theatre with a stage in the front.  While we were waiting the jumbo screen was showing the previous week's NFL games.

The service began with music presented by a rather professional sounding group.  The words were projected on the jumbo screen, but the congregation was not singing.  I didn't get the impression we were supposed to do that. After a couple of songs, a gentleman that I assumed was either a business manager or organizer, said a few words about some recent endeavors and future activities.  The gist of his main report was the steady increase in membership. Especially significant, was the number of young people who were active in the community. This was followed by a presentation by the person I think was the pastor but didn't really introduce himself as such.  The talk was about personal growth and achievement. He encouraged us all to become better spouses, parents, and neighbors. Most of all, we could achieve great things if we just have faith.

This prompted me to reflect on the status of the Catholic Church itself.  According to the most recent data provided by the Pew Research group, there is a significant decline in the numbers of practicing Catholics, especially among the younger population.  This has been noted as a huge matter of concern for many. Anyone who is paying attention should notice the diminishing congregations and the aging of those left. I know that whenever I attend the conferences dedicated to reform such as Call to Action and others the percentage of grey-haired participants is rather striking.  The obvious shrinkage of membership in ARCC is well worth noting. We on the board frequently discuss the need to get younger members. We have tried for years without much success. Although, I am pleased that we have recently added two younger members to the board.

My thoughts went to a different place that day, however.  What is it exactly that we are hoping to save? If we want to sustain or even grow our numbers in the church, we must be clear on what it is that we are really advocating.  My theologian colleague, John Dick, has written in his reflections that we share in our newsletter and on our site about the true roots of the church. As I read through his reflections, I asked myself whether that is what we are still doing, or have we gone on a different track.  My point is, are we correctly focused on the "why" of our faith tradition? It seems to me that the whole purpose of the tradition is to bring about the Reign of God. This is the central message of the Gospel. While we certainly hear about those ideals each week, I am not so sure that we are authentic in our purpose.  Most of our energy seems to circle around the preservation of the institution and not on being truly committed to the calling of Jesus of Nazareth. The vigorous discussions, or more accurately, arguments are focused on specific language or practices in our liturgy.

During the past three weeks, we have been hearing about the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-26), loving our enemies (Luke 6:27-36), and not judging others (Luke 6: 37-42).  These, to me, are central teachings of our faith. In the Sermon on the Plain, we are given four blessings and four woes. They call us to a level of self-giving and warn us of the hazards of self-congratulation.  This goes to the heart of my reflection. If we are to be poor, hungry, weeping, and hated to bring about the Reign of God, then we must be willing to look at ourselves honestly with humility. To my mind, this means we must be one with those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated.  Given what I see and hear much of the time, I am not so sure we are doing that. The following woes caution us against self-satisfaction. If we just go around essentially boasting that we are the one, true church, I wonder if we might be going down the wrong path.

Thinking again of the need to increase our numbers, especially among the young; I believe we need to consider carefully to what we are recruiting them.  Is it a church of blessings or one of woes? I don't think we will be successful if we are not particularly faithful to our calling. The young people are seeking purpose.  Yet, we show them our medieval traditions. We are witnessing profound shifts in the concepts of relationship and inclusion. Yet, we offer staid views of sexuality and belonging.  I recognize that there are many of the faithful who do follow the gospel teachings to the best of their abilities. The point is that it is vital that we become more vocal about what it means to be followers of the gospel.  Every Catholic has the right to be supported in the journey to be empowered by the Spirit in bringing that to fruition. The very concept of a hierarchy is contradictory to that message. Instead, every one of us should be taught the true meaning of the gospel and not be subjected to the manipulations of clericalists and dogmatists.  

But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself [sic] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (Luke 6:35)  This is our calling.  It is also our right to be supported by a community that lives out the Sermon on the Plain.  As we begin this season of Lent, let us recommit ourselves to seeking always to be merciful. Let us also be humble in seeking ways to open ourselves to the Spirit and become the church that does not need to recruit members but, instead, is an open door through which all may enter.  

Peace, and all that is good,

Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA
President, ARCC

 
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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action

 

The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and conditio n.
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC President
 

President's message Advent 2018

Patrick Sullivan, DPA

I have struggled mightily to decide what I should say this Advent season.  The church is facing one of its darkest moments in a long time. What does one say in the light of such controversy and division?  It is becoming increasingly clear that there have been so many people willing to look the other way from abuse. Permit me, then, to speak from a personal perspective, followed by one that is more professional.  Not that the two are actually separate from one another. I have found it problematic to distinguish our personal from our professional. We are only one person.

I was an abused child.  Sometimes, it is hard to say that.  I experienced terrible beatings, along with emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of my step-father.  I don't mean simple spankings. I mean broken ribs, concussions, and chipped teeth kind of beatings. It is incredibly troubling to realize that the very people who are charged with caring for you are the ones who are hurting you.  It took many years for me to come to grips with this reality. Looking back, it is equally disturbing that so many people were aware but did nothing about it. At that time, children were the property of their parents. Parents were free to discipline their children as they saw fit.  No one cared, not even good Catholics.

So I can relate to the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests and other adults who were charged with their care.  One point I feel needs to be made is that abuse is abuse. I believe we should look at what happened to these children as acts of violence.  Sometimes, I think we separate sexual abuse from other forms of abuse incorrectly. Both are a violent invasion of the child's being. To these children, what is added to their pain is the embarrassment associated with their sexuality.  We do not have a mature sense of our sexuality in many ways. We can speak of other acts of violence with openness and clarity. However, as soon as anything is associated with sex, we speak of it in cloaked terms and shame. Perhaps it would help if we discussed the abuse of these children as acts of violence and just left the sexual part out of it.  Then we could be very honest about what happened. Our discomfort with our sexuality may have been a significant factor in the cover up. Adults could not bring themselves to believe that the offending priests were sexual beings. Maybe, just maybe, there is too much focus on what happens below our waist. The children were hurt because their dignity as human beings was compromised.  They were used as objects for the pleasure of those who had power over them.

Now, the really hard part is before us.  The leadership in the church was complicit in the abuse.  Those who centered their lives on following the gospel fell far short.  They turned away just as they turned away from abuse in general. How could this have happened?  For this, I turn to my professional perspective.

Unlike my distinguished colleagues on the board, I am not a theologian.  The DPA after my name stands for Doctor of Public Administration. The separation between the two areas is not as large as one may think.  After all, the root word of administration is "minister." In my current position, I am responsible for teaching leadership practices. My take on the challenge is how it relates to leadership.  Two critical areas come to mind-authentic leadership and self-deception.

When we speak of authentic leadership, the starting point is to operate from one's values.  An authentic leader is aware of his/her values and acts out of those values. The first challenge is to be sufficiently aware of these values.  In teaching leadership principles, we focus on developing a greater self-awareness. Frequently, this can be an enormous challenge. It is not unusual for us to lose sight of who we are and what we value in our determination to be successful.  Through a process of teaching mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and a respect for the uniqueness of all human beings, we find that we become much better leaders. This is what can be most puzzling about what happened with the church leadership when it came to abuse.  One would assume that since their formation as priests focuses on following the gospel, especially relating to loving one another, that authentic leadership would naturally follow. Clearly, that is not always the case. My experience of priestly formation was not one that centered on the gospel.  I found there was much more emphasis on obedience to the hierarchy. In an odd way, that may explain part of the problem.

The other part is the phenomenon of self-deception.  I have been privileged to be certified through the Arbinger Institute to teach their concept of an Outward Mindset.  A core feature of this is the common occurrence of self-deception. Even though we have a sense of what the right thing to do is, we frequently do not honor that sense.  When that happens, it is typical that we engage in a process of justification. This justification protects an incredible need we have to be right. Ironically, the justification itself becomes more important than almost anything else.  When I betray my sense of what is right, I immediately move to seeing others as objects. I failed to do what I should because they are the problem. I can rationalize away almost any bad behavior this way. It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see how this could play a role in what happened in church leadership.  When they were confronted with allegations of sexual abuse, they may have had a sense of what was right, i.e., report this to the authorities and protect the children. However, they did not honor this sense. Instead, they began a process of justification. This justification became more important than the children. In fact, because of this, the children became objects.  Once they were objects, it was relatively easy to see that protection of the institution became more important.

Now is the time for all of us to face up to this self-deception.  To be authentic leaders, we all must rid ourselves of the justifications we have developed over the years.  It is time for the People of God to heed the call of John the Baptist and repent. That means we can no longer stand by while children are being abused.  Part of our justification is that we are powerless. That is simply not true. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out the good news. The mission of ARCC includes:  "...to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and condition."  As we begin this New Year in the church, we should all commit to honoring this mission.

 
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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action

President's Message Christmas 2017
 
Last month, I took a leap that I had wanted to for some time.  I went through the process of changing my name.  I decided to return to the name that I had at birth-Sullivan.  This is not a change that I took lightly.  In fact, I put it off because it was going to be such a hassle.  Then my daughter reminded me that women do it all the time.  The name that I carried before, Edgar, was that of my stepfather who adopted me when I was ten.  However, he was extremely abusive.  I survived broken ribs, concussions, chipped teeth, and bruises the size of saucers at his hands.  I also endured emotional and psychological abuse, even after I became an adult.  So this is a big step in healing for me.  I now shed myself of all that and reclaim my identity.  What stands out for me is a tough recollection.  My siblings and I recently discussed an article we found online.  The article described how "everyone knew" of the abuse the writer and her mother suffered but kept quiet.  We had the same experience.  Everyone knew that we were abused, including the Catholic community of which we were members.  As long as we looked like the good Catholic family on Sunday, with all the children who were so well behaved, no one cared.  How could a faith community that claims to follow the Prince of Peace allow such a thing?  
 
ARCC has always promoted a message of rights.  Primarily, we emphasize the rights as they are presented in Canon Law.  Let me suggest that we should also advocate for human rights-those that are God-given.  We have a right to peace in our homes.  We have a right to basic human dignity, that which is derived from the fact that we are all children of God.  Yet, we have allowed the abuse of children and women over all the centuries.  The continued preservation of patriarchy only facilitates these abuses.  This system is premised on the idea of hierarchy.    Much of the concept of hierarchy can be seen arising from the Genesis story.  The emphasis on a "fall" in Genesis 2 and 3 projects the idea that there is this order.  It has come to be viewed as God, angels, man, woman, animals, and plants.  What if there was no fall?  Anne Primavesi, in her book From Apocalypse to Genesis, makes just such a point.  She suggests that the consumption of the fruit was not a fall but a choice for free will.  Since the tree is identified as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it would seem rather paradoxical that one could sin prior to this knowledge.  By assuming that there was a fall, we find ourselves submerged into the hierarchy:
 
This step [the fall] demands that we consider the mechanisms which turn us into unwilling co-authors of this sin.  It is not just outside us, we are part of it: we are its accomplices.  This is one clear fact which emerges time and time again from ecological studies of environmental problems with their quota of death, destruction and suffering.  One of the mechanisms is the relationship between us and hierarchical law, including religious law.  There is an inertia involved in living under the rule of law, in which sins are by omission, by going along with the policies of exploitation against "them."  Women know this only too well.  Hierarchical government sanctions the rule of "power over" at the cost of power-from-within.  It sanctions sins against the Spirit, devaluing and destroying diversity which creates ecological community and fills the earth with glory.  (Primavesi, 1991, 236)
 
This same hierarchy is incorporated into all our lives, even into our families.  Parents continue to have ownership of their children and men have continued to claim ownership of women's bodies.  Now, we are witnessing an incredible cultural phenomenon in the #metoo movement.  Women are boldly claiming their voices and exposing this systemic sin.  This will likely continue to have a tectonic impact on our society.  I cannot begin to say how much I am in awe of these powerful women.  It is time to shake the hierarchy, especially as patriarchy, at its very foundation.  When Jesus of Nazareth declared to the disciple "here is your mother,"(John 19:27) he was not just telling him to care for her.  Rather, he was commanding that he view all women as he would his mother.  To honor her and follow her example.  As we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, let us remember who it is that says, "let it be done unto me" (Luke 1:38) for all of us.  This was an incredible act of faith that transforms all of us.  Let this time of empowerment for all women and children be such a time again.  I hope that all of us will support these brave women so that we may bring about a world that we wish for our daughters.  
 
My leap cannot be compared to that of the courageous women or of a young Miriam.  But I can relate to the need to shed the power of the hierarchy and reclaim my name-both as one who refused to be governed by violence and as a beloved child of God.
 
We at ARCC have experienced a year of discernment which, I believe, has brought about a re-energizing and a newness at the same time.  We are more committed than ever to promote the rights of Catholics in the church.  We are also committed to providing resources to continue that mission.  I hope that all of our members and those who read our newsletter will find the knowledge they need to claim their voice.  We will also be launching some online courses so that anyone can learn more about the sources of personal empowerment.  We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to grow in the Spirit, the source of Wisdom.  
 
I know many of you have benefitted from our message and that we have opened eyes to the richness of our faith tradition rooted in human dignity.  If we have touched you in any way, I hope that you can find it in your heart to support us and tell others.  We no longer send out membership notices because we found that it wasn't particularly effective.  Nevertheless, we still need your support.  As the year comes to a close, consider giving to ARCC.  For those who can give generously, we rely on you to continue our work.  
 
Merry Christmas to you all,
 
 
Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA, M.Div. 
President, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church
Director. Professional Development Center
State of Montana
 

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