Authority and Obedience and Charm

A few readers sent me this link as a follow-up to our discussion on obedience: Andrew Greeley’s “Authority as Charm.” Fr Greeley makes a convincing case that authority, as the Church has known it, is dead. Sure, priests, bishops, and Rome are accountable up that thin black line. But there is no secular arm that will lasso the laity into line when they stray from the clergy. Lay people decide for themselves what is and isn’t a mortal sin, and if they run into roadblocks in their parish, they’ll just pack up and go elsewhere. Greeley laments the authoritarianism of the local parish and its administration of the sacraments. I think I must be on the side of charm because I don’t honestly see these kinds of battles in my parish. I like Greeley’s writing and his spirit, but I do think he’s stuck in the 60′s and 70′s sometimes.

I propose to suggest a reform of authority at this local level and then argue that a similar reform should occur up the line. Relying on the theology of John Shea and the scriptural analysis of Roland Murphy, O.Carm I propose that the church re-model its authority to reflect God more as final cause than as efficient cause, God as inviting, calling, attracting, instead of God as controlling, directing, regulating …

As von Balthasar says we apprehend first the Beautiful and perceive that it is Good and then finally that it is True. Often, it seems, in contemporary American Catholicism we start with the True and never get beyond it.

Isn’t that the truth?

Leave it to an Irish priest to make the argument for charm. Maybe his argument for the tyranny of the Catholic parish can be shifted to the internet. We are certainly up to our elbows with all sorts of Catholics, mostly conservative ones, who are ready to cut-and-paste the rules (sometimes without adding link credits) and tell other people how they should be Catholics. Or how they should consider themselves not to be Catholics.

Perhaps charm is a harder sell at St Blogs. It’s certainly difficult enough to learn it and practice it in real life.

Clearly, most of the present crop of bishops lack charm. Not only do they attempt to govern the sacramental system from afar (even from Rome!) but they have to realize their impotence. There are no consequences for defying a bishop out of his sight. Do you think internet insults are persuasive? Heck, even Sam Brownback gets them when he pulls out of FOCA fundraising and sends a kind word his governor’s way. I think the neo-orthodox Catholics have effectively sent themselves to the sideline in most of these tussles. You know that no matter how it turns out they will be ninety-decibel angry at someone. You can’t change it, so why bother engaging at all?

Anybody think Greeley’s on the right track? Any pastors out there who should be outed for being more into charm than the big stick?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Authority and Obedience and Charm

  1. Tony says:

    I think the neo-orthodox Catholics have effectively sent themselves to the sideline in most of these tussles.

    Jesus tells how to deal with wayward brothers and sisters:

    Matthew 18:15-17

    “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

    We never seem to follow Jesus’ advice right to the end. Some of these “Catholic” politicians need to start being treated like “tax collectors” (outsiders, excommunicants)

  2. Jim McK says:

    As I remember, Jesus was known for eating with tax collectors. Perhaps the conclusion should be permitting them to eat with Jesus?

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