“A Profound Examination of Orthodoxy & Dissent”

Sometimes, it is helpful to step back from the discussion of Catholic LGBT issues and look at some of the broader issues in the church which affect how LGBT issues are treated.

Jerry Ryan provides some profound perspectives on church governance in an article in Commonweal magazine entitled “Orthodoxy & Dissent:  Truth & the Need for Humility.” (This link to the full article may only be available to Commonweal subscribers.)


Though Ryan takes the raging debates in the church about sexuality as his starting point, he is not focused on studying these questions, but instead examines the larger questions of orthodoxy, authority, dissent, and the development of doctrine.  His article provides an insightful analysis of the tensions between the Catholic episcopacy and Catholic lay people when it comes to retaining the status quo and proposing new paradigms.   He states:

“To understand dissent, you first have to understand authority. Authority in the church must be based on truth. Episcopal authority is not the source of truth, as some would have us believe. ‘What is truth?’ The question posed by Pilate was left unanswered by Truth Himself who stood before him, humiliated, in the praetorium. We too humiliate Truth when we abase it to our level and pretend to have power over it. Truth is a divine name and to pretend to possess it, individually or collectively, is to manufacture an idol. We can no more claim to possess truth than we can claim to possess justice. And this holds for the church’s pastors, as well as for their flock. For Christians, truth is Someone who possesses us, Someone who reveals as much of Himself to us as we can bear. It is this self-revealing Truth who founds authority in the church. The role of the magisterium is to maintain the purity of revelation by warning against aberrations without denying or minimizing the elements of truth behind them. The magisterium might be infallible in what it affirms, yet what it affirms is often just one aspect of a complex reality whose components are still not fully understood.”

There is enough material for reflection in that paragraph to last for a week-long retreat! And even longer!

Ryan doesn’t mince words when he makes the case for continued discussion of topics of controversy, and yet he has an obvious deep respect for Catholic tradition:

“The church, individually and collectively, is forever docens et discens, teaching and learning. To deny the possibility of further elucidation of doctrine is blasphemous. It is tantamount to pronouncing the church dead, no longer vivified by the Spirit nor tending toward an ultimate manifestation still to come, when all that has been hidden will be revealed. The reception and assimilation of God’s word by the pilgrim church will forever be partial and variable. It will depend partly on psychological, social, and historical circumstances. Every cultural cycle, every scientific advance, can serve to deepen our understanding of revelation, to illuminate one or another of its aspects. There is, however, an objective deposit of faith, constantly elucidated through the ages, to which the blood of martyrs has borne witness. Any development in the church is made possible only by what has preceded it, yet the intoxication of a novelty often leads to a rejection of what went before.”

Francis DeBenardo, New Ways Ministry

-continue reading at  « Bondings 2.0.

While we grapple with the oligarchy’s continuing crackdown on what they see as “dissent”, we must never forget that this has a long and honorable place in church history. Some of our most revered saints were once labelled “dissidents”. Pope Benedict, notably, reminded us last year that Joan of Arc was once condemned and burnt for heresy by the theologians and leaders of the church, and added very pointedly, that theologians (and by extension, other leaders of the church) can be wrong.

In the comments thread to a post at Queering the Church, a reader noted:

Somebody shared this article about how St. Catherine, herself a lay person and an illiterate one at that, who was able to do something to instill change, not because she is a saint, but because she is a simple person of faith – St Catherine of Siena and Gregory XI

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, the great champion of Trinitarian orthodoxy, was banished and excommunicated for his opposition to Arianism not once, but several times. But history now sees Arianism, not the views of Athanasius, as heresy.

Heresy (also known as “dissent”), they say, is just a matter of timing.

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