Winds of Change in the Roman Catholic Church by Michele Stopera Freyhauf
In 2007, I had a conversation with a professor who felt that change was in the air for the Roman Catholic Church. The basis of this opinion was based on language. The words and the context used in writings that emerged from the Vatican were changing and somehow different – a difference that went beyond personal writing styles of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. This professor was hopeful that positive change for women could be coming. He was right about change in the Church, however, the changes surrounding women that emerged have not been positive.
As I continue to reflect on these words, I ponder the issue of language; specifically the impact words have and the way they are used to facilitate subtle changes in thinking, opinion, and beliefs. The method of persuasion that seems to be employed is the Aristotelian Rhetorical Theory that utilizes the five canons of rhetoric: invention, organization, style, delivery, and memory.
An example of this can be seen clearly in the changes in the liturgy that occurred last year. First, the teaching comes out with the rationale as to why the liturgy needs to change. From there a discussion, especially through the media, addressing the upcoming modifications are followed by subtle changes in the liturgy beginning with the call – response and the language in the creed. Next, the language of the celebrant began to change. Finally, the full implementation of changes is made with the addition of new gestures or movements. When I discussed the mass changes with a family member, there was an admittance that the changes no longer affect them – the changes were no longer noticeable. Their memory was impacted because the routine is now second nature.
In order to come to grips with the issue of language and the observation of my professor, I wanted to do a cursory review of the writings issued by the Vatican during this period. Admittedly, with a blog post, there is a limitation as to the depth and breadth of information that can be disseminated. It is my hope to eventually complete a thorough review of the modification of language used during Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy. For now, I want to address a few observations.
During a cursory investigation, I came across a common theme:
“the Vatican seeks to set the record straight on Vatican II’s ecumenical intent, saying some contemporary theological interpretation had been “erroneous or ambiguous” and had prompted confusion and doubt.”
In a Washington Post article dated July 10, 2007, “Vatican Reaffirms Catholic Primacy,” the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to other Christian denominations is examined. In essence, a statement was made that said any community outside the Roman Catholic Church suffers from defect:
“In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.”
This statement came after Pope Benedict’s decree restoring the Tridentine or Old Latin Mass – another movement backwards.
This is also the time that the Doctrine of Faith issued a decree, December 19, 2007:
“Remaining firm on what has been established by canon 1378 of the Canon Law, both he who has attempted to confer holy orders on a woman, and the woman who has attempted to receive the said sacrament, incurs in latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See.
If he who has attempted to confer holy orders on a woman or if the woman who has attempted to receive holy orders, is a member of the faithful subject to the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, remaining firm on what has been established by canon 1443 of the same Code, they will be punished with major excommunication, whose remission remains reserved to the Apostolic See (see canon 1423, Canon Law of the Eastern Churches).”
John L. Allen Jr.’s article “Has the ‘real Ratzinger’come out to play?” lists issues raised by the Vatican in April alone:
- “On April 18, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decreed a sweeping overhaul of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious, the main American umbrella group for the superiors of women’s orders, to correct what the congregation described as LCWR’s “corporate dissent” on issues such as women’s ordination and homosexuality, and its contamination by “radical feminism.”
At least five Irish priests have faced Vatican-inspired discipline, with implementation left to their religious orders. Two Redemptorists have seen their writings for a church magazine either withdrawn or limited (one was also dispatched to a monastery for a six-week “reflection”), a Passionist prominent in the English media is now subject to prior censorship, and both a Marist and a Capuchin have been told to stop writing and speaking on certain hot-button topics.
- On April 5, Benedict XVI included some blistering language in his Holy Thursday homily about a “call to disobedience” issued by more than 300 priests and deacons in Austria who oppose celibacy and support women’s ordination. The pope called the effort “a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas.
- On April 14, Benedict XVI ordered the German bishops to translate the traditional Latin phrase pro multis, from the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper in reference to the shedding of his blood, as “for many” rather than “for all”. (The Vatican had previously done the same thing for English.) In the politics of liturgical translation, “for all” has been the preferred post-Vatican choice among progressives; conservatives typically prefer “for many,” worrying that “for all” suggests a false promise of universal salvation.
- On April 25, Benedict created a commission of three veteran cardinals to investigate the recent Vatican leaks scandal, complementing two other internal probes. The suggestion was that the Vatican’s moles, assuming they’re identified, will face stern punishment.”
Since 2007, and thinking about the last few months, we have seen Fr. Roy Bourgeois excommunicated for supporting the ordination of women and Pope Benedict using his Christmas message to attack gay marriage. Instead of giving an uplifting message of hope, there is criticism. According to the NY Daily News:
“the Pope has said that gay marriage, like abortion and euthanasia, is a threat to world peace.”
As proposterous as this sounds, we just entered a new year. I fear what is in store for the Church. Benedict continues to move the Church backwards – as it existed before the implementation of the changes from the Second Vatican Council – with the use of rhetoric. He has brought back the red shoes, outside hats, and other vestments that have not been seen or worn by other popes on a regular basis, if at all, for quite some time.
This backward slide is subtle, but with the appointments and promotions of staunchly conservative Bishops and Cardinals, there is an aggressive enforcement of their interpretation of Catholic teaching, which seems to be singling out theologians, women, and homosexuals. This movement is unsettling and continues to alienate many of the faithful. For those who listen without question, rhetoric has caused compliance, but not necessarily obedience (as demonstrated in the most recent Presidential Election where the GOP lost the Catholic vote).
While there is so much more to say and examine, I will conclude with a couple of questions to ponder and discuss. Is Allen correct in his statement about the Pope? Are we far away enough from Pope John Paul II’s death that the policies and Benedict’s interpretation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, in favor of the Church of his youth? Will the Church become a smaller and “more faithful”? What will the Catholic Church look like in the future?
Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University. She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies, performed post-graduate work in History focusing on Gender, Religion, and Sexuality at the University of Akron, and is an Adjunct Instructor in the Religious Studies Department at Ursuline College. Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at http://durham.academia.edu/MSFreyhauf. Michele can be followed on twitter at @msfreyhauf.