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All you need to know to understand the errors in this piece by Father Richard McBrien is that he deliberately conflates centrism and truth.

I published an article almost 13 years ago in America magazine (8/22/92) entitled, "Conflict in the Church: Redefining the Center." I may be presumptuous in saying so, but I believe that the article is even more relevant today.

It began with a reference to a familiar Scholastic axiom that truth is found in the middle, somewhere between two extremes. Many Catholics in the middle-aged and senior generations heard that axiom frequently repeated in their seminary, college and university classes, where they were admonished to always look for truth and virtue in the center, while avoiding the extremes.


The pope offered no examples of left-wing Catholics, but if the late Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers constitute the right wing of the Church, would that not mean that Opus Dei, the Legionaries of Christ, Crisis, Communio and First Things magazines, as well as most of the bishops appointed and/or promoted by John Paul II occupy the center?

And if such individuals, groups, and publications are in the center of the Catholic Church, it would also follow that the late Cardinals Joseph Bernardin and John Dearden and such bishops as John Quinn and the late James Malone --- all former presidents of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops --- as well as the Catholic Theological Society of America, the drafters and supporters of the U.S. Catholic bishops' pastoral letters on peace and the economy, and Commonweal and America magazines are left-wing and, therefore, out of the Catholic mainstream.

The "center" was introduced as the place to find truth. Now he's pitting First Things and America against each other as contenders for the center. Also, please note the decidedly American tilt of the list in that last paragraph. Apparently to McBrien, the center of the Roman Catholic Church was found in 1983 in the United States.

The real problem is that politics prevails in McBrien's thought. Instead of seeking out orthodoxy as a reference point and aligning himself with it, he uses American Catholics of 20 years ago. Ths leads to some absolute absurdities of reasoning.

For instance:

Catholics of the center-left and the center-right differ only on the pace of change and the details of implementation. The center-left, for example, favors a much quicker time-line for a change in the discipline of clerical celibacy and in the church's official stance on the ordination of women.

Catholics of the center-right (which includes the shrinking band of so-called moderate bishops, many of whom were appointed by Pope Paul VI) prefer a more cautious course, stressing continuity more than change, while not opposing the two.

To McBrien, the "center-left" includes those who want married priests and ordained women (two vastly different topics by the way) on "a much quicker time-line." Let's analyze this with regards to the ordination of women.

If you want to divide up views left and right, this is actually a kooky far-leftist position that is never going to happen. However, let's assume that it is as McBrien says. If "a much quicker time line" for women's ordination is a center-left position, and a "more cautious course" is on the center-right1, then what else could be between them but the "fact" that ordination of women is coming eventually?

In other words, the center - or, as McBrien stated earlier, the locus of "truth and virtue" - is the condemned heresy that eventually women can be ordained. Somehow, this man is allowed to teach Catholic theology at a University dedicated to Our Lady.

To properly confront this topic, the real question is not "should women be ordained?" It would be "what is the truth of the role of femininity in God's plan for humanity?" The "center" could be found in the late Pope John Paul the Great's writings on the dignity of women. Insisting that women need ordination to gain dignity insults the real dignity and inestimable value they already have.

Such thinking is too complex if your view of the Church and of the truth is bound up with ideas of power and gender politics. Unfortunately this piece appears to be the first in a series.

1. McBrien's description of the center-right is also informative. Who are these people who want women to be ordained, but want to be cautious about out of respect (!) for continuity? One gets the feeling that these are the people he wishes he were in dialogue with. He (and the others who are pushing for "reforms" that will never happen) can't grasp the reality that the Church - guided by the Holy Spirit - has already come to a definitive conclusion on this topic. Instead, he creates a position nearly identical to his own and held by nobody, and claims that it represents a part of the center of Catholic thought on the matter.

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Fr. McBrien is evil (in my humble opinion). He has a weekly column in our diocesan paper, The Tidings (www.the-tidings.com). I have written and have been published, a couple of letters to the editor regarding his views and articles. Luckily, on the same page as his column, he is 'balanced' with an article by George Weigel.

You make a very important point about the difference between political centrism and Christian orthodoxy. Way too many people seek for political leaning and forget that Christ's teachings are conservative enough to protect sexuality as sacred and at the same time liberal enough that whatever we do to the least we do to Him.

I suspect that Richard McBrien's influence is on life support. I checked the class registration for Summer Session -- he only has 13 students registered for the 1 class he teaches (Ecclesiology) -- out of 30 possible spaces.

He is a media darling, but even lost ground in that arena when JPII died and the networks were forced to find Catholics who actually knew something about the Pope.

That's a great point Mary. The only reason these ideas need to be dealt with and rehashed is the amplification they get from so many who are outside the Church. Numbers, of course, aren't everything, but they can be a useful indicator, and theirs are falling fast.


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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on July 5, 2005 9:10 AM.

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