Is Dialogue Compromised?

Is any sort of serious church conversation compromised before it even gets started? I’ve been distracted this past week with some intellectual challenges, some financial management (hopefully not mis- in these troubled days) and an upcoming medical procedure tomorrow. I haven’t been following the Tilley-Weinandy tussle, though I think I’d want to. Outside of Scripture and sacramental theology, christology was my most enjoyable study in grad school.

I want to pick up on Liam’s comment in the Wait thread that bothered me a bit:

To try to deploy such a process now will not be seen as good faith but game-playing (if not necessarily bad faith). It’s unseemly for progressives to try to use the sheep as a foil this way (it’s also unseemly for the hierarchy, but *we’re* supposed to be above that, aren’t we?). Leaves a disgusting taste in my mouth to contemplate this.

In the film version of Lost Horizon, Chang and Conway discuss the notion of conflict in Shangri-La. Have you seen it? Conway surfaces the scenario in which two men love the same woman and presumes they will fight to win her. Leaving aside the notion that a woman might choose for herself, Chang suggests the way of the valley is to accede to the man who already has her. The interloper insists, Conway posits; what then? It would then be good form for the original lover to withdraw.

It would be a heroic spirit to see people acting in such a way. Such spirit is missing from too much church dialogue these days. I was struck by Professor Tilley’s open letter to Fr Weinandy, not for its theology, but for the backstory. I’m not quite at the cynical point that some commenters have reached, namely that Fr Weinandy is running interference for episcopal authority and that this has nothing to do with christology, just for keeping mismanagement out of the news. That many of us readily think such things is another straw of evidence for my point that a greater issue is being ignored: unity.

The allusion in Tilley’s letter is that these guys know each other; they were classmates. The instant internet communications age would seem to include the ability to exchange e-mails or audio or video one-on-one. So why aren’t old friends doing this? Why distract the rest of us with a theological tussle that doesn’t seem to be scratching anything nearly heretical. And indeed, why is John Allen bringing this to our attention? Are his readers aware, for example, what Pope Benedict’s next synod will cover?  The uninformed can be sure it doesn’t have anything to do with liturgy, sex, or women. Otherwise we would all know about it and be hip deep in commentary already.

So I’m going to openly wonder at all this social misbehavior by openly religious people. Professor Tilley is calling out his old friend for being inattentive, academically lazy, and just plain wrong. And he backs his line up better than the USCCB rep. Next serve?

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the notes and comments of thanks, support, and likemindedness I get. That extends from written thank-you notes to your comments here to private e-mails. What I value even more is the mutual regard developed with people with whom I’ve been in serious disagreement.

When I was in grad school, one of my classmates was a solid traditionalist. He was one of my best friends. He was critical of every misstep after Vatican II. When the pseudo-scandal on Cardinal Bernardin broke, he virtually crowed. He disliked the man intensely. And yet, we always had a large territory of mutual respect. He trusted me to compose a setting of the Litany of Loreto for his wedding, and to play dulcimer along with his organist. As good friends, we were able to be vulnerable with each other with deeply personal issues I’ve probably never shared with a half-dozen other people in my whole life. How was this possible?

My friend Tom and I possessed and shared something the larger community of Catholicism lacks. Especially the internet community. From what I see, the hierarchy is impoverished, too. It’s quite simple: respect and brotherly love. Both are routinely withheld by many Catholics these days. This is a grave scandal. I know that I’ve repeatedly offered or suggested combined efforts in the Catholic blogosphere. In return, my efforts–the public ones here and the private ones by e-mail–have come to fruition twice. Once in a temporary mode never repeated. The other in a five-month experiment that netted my collaborators little more than a tidy dollop of venom from their more vehement supporters.

That’s not to say there isn’t some common ground to be found online. Of all my internet contacts, I would say I value the most those few in which conflict was transcended or set aside for the cause of love of adopted brothers and sisters. By all accounts, I’m still as stubbornly liberal as ever. I trust my friends are still conservative or traditionalists. We haven’t changed, except that we’ve managed to move beyond politics or even theology to something much more important for believers and disciples.

This is why I feel sorry for bishops and for Roman bureaucrats these days. Poverty is always lamentable. And estrangement between friends is certainly sadder than between people who’ve never known each other. As for the extreme factions of the blogosphere, I’d say many are beyond ignorant. They don’t even know what they’re missing.

As for Fr Ryan’s article and initiative, I find it hard to condemn sentiments that are certainly sensible and have recent historical precedent: test before using. Start today: why not? I know I don’t have enough information to suggest his intent here is either mean-spirited or duplicitous. With respect to my good friend Liam, I think it’s unseemly to suggest this. Whether it is true or not, or the prediction this effort will not be received will be true or not, two things: not much is going to get accomplished on this level anyway, and it will all get sorted out in the end. In other words, not everything true or suspected to be true need be pontificated on. That certainly goes more strongly for the more strudent blogosphere voices. I suspect it’s truer for me personally than I might like to guess.

Is it true? Is it helpful? I don’t know who linked those two questions. I know I use them a lot these days when parenting a teenager. The young miss went out last night in a light jacket. My wife insisted on a coat. The parents knew she would freeze her adolescent tushie off. But that truth could not be communicated in a helpful way. At least not any that I know of. My wife’s sensibility is to protect, so she had to insist anyway. Our daughter left her coat in the car when we arrived at our destination. She shivered on the long walk back to the car. She didn’t get injured or die. My assessment is that reminding this particular adolescent sometimes isn’t helpful. My wife’s is she will do it anyway.

How do I interpret this parable? My wife channels Fr Ryan, and my daughter the CDWDS. It’s not a perfect scenario. I know, for example, the young miss will grow up someday. I suspect the parallel unravels here, but if I’m proved wrong, it will be indeed cause for rejoicing.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Liturgy, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Is Dialogue Compromised?

  1. Sam Schmitt says:

    If I may offer a thought – I would think that you were able to have a genuine freindship with Tom because, for starters, you *actually knew each other* – in person. I know it’s a truism, but the Internet has away of depersonalizing people – making them into empty shells who just represent a position, or worse, an ideology (“liberal priest,” “conservative blogger”), which is then attacked mercilessly.

    I’m not accusing Fr. Ryan of being mean-spirited or duplicitous – at least I hope not. Goodness, I don’t know the man. What I find in the article, however, is the same ideas that got us into the present litugical mess in the first place.

    And – I have to admit – it gets me angry: with all the negative fallout from the past 40 years, here’s a priest who still doesn’t get it! If I then go ahead and express this anger on the Internet – which does not have the usual human safeguards that would be in place if I was, say, asking him a question after a lecture – it can come across as uncharitable, and in many cases, it is uncharitable.

    I see this dynamic at work in your own posts, Todd, for example, in labelling a group of fellow Christians as “beyond ignorant.” Sounds like something I would do.

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for the commentary here, Sam.

    Unfortunately for the “beyond ignorant,” by definition they go beyond mere philosophy/ideology and actually label persons. As I said in my post it includes more than just a single group and more than Christians. If my fellow believers, however, want to believe I’ve tagged them personally, I concede your insight is keener than mine.

    In all seriousness, though, it is possible to get beyond the “depersonalization” of the internet. It’s why I respect and cherish the private e-mails I get from other bloggers and commenters.

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