Thursday, March 02, 2006

Models of the Church

In the early 1970's, long before he was made Cardinal, Avery Dulles first published his well known book, Models of the Church. It has been updated and republished several times since its first publication. One of the criticisms of the book was that of a somewhat fragmented view of the Church. In other words, at least his earlier presentation suggested the models as "either/or" propositions rather then as manifold aspects of the One True Church.

The lack of appreciation that the Church is many things at once, seems to be a perennial problem for those raised in Western society where analytical thinking led to fragmentation of knowledge and a fragmented view of reality. Thus, it is common to take our favorite or most familiar secular institution that seems to correspond to the Church and impress this as a model for understanding, and more importantly, criticizing Her.

Thus, if our model is the military, and the bishop does not lead like General Patton he is criticized. If our model is a corporate structure, and he does not manage it like a CEO, the bishop is likewise, open to criticism. But the many models of the Church can best be encompassed in the idea of a family and the bishop a father. He is the father over all of his flock including his priests and he must have a fatherly solicitude for everyone.

Can fathers err. Of course they can. Sometimes they can let their love for their children allow them to misjudge situations. This does not mean that one fires him. In the case of Cardinal George and Fr. MacCormack, I do not suggest that he erred in his decision. Certainly, he is not infallible and could have made an error in judgment. However, I believe that at this point only a predisposition to mistrust could lead someone to conclude he had erred, or even worse lied, based upon the available information. Nevertheless, each new piece of data prompts certain groups to jump again to unfounded claims.

Within Chicago, there are many who are becoming more vocal in their support for the Cardinal but that does not seem to be the case yet in the blog-o-sphere. Considering only those Catholics who do not have a "Voice of the (un)Faithful" type agenda, there seems to be two types of response. The first, seems to be those who have adopted a faulty model of the Church and so a worldly view of how the bishop should lead his flock. They agree with the SNAP crowd, at least to the point that they think good bishops should have been "kicking butt and taking names" from their first day in office (military jargon for cleaning house in a very aggressive manner). Generally they will be unwilling to support a bishop unless his patron saint is General Patton.

There is another group that is sitting quietly on the sidelines, thinking maybe it is true that Cardinal George did make a mistake. To these I would say, maybe he did. However, supporting Cardinal George is more support for the Church's hierarchical structure. The issue at hand here is that this Saul Alinsky, type of aggressive activism that is now being used as a method for influencing change in the Church against him is not Catholic.

Whether he erred or not, Cardinal George is faithful Shepherd and deserves support. But this is also a defense of the Church against those who would redefine Her structure through their aggressive, activist type tactics. As long as they think that they can influence public opinion and thereby get the Church to change they will continue. The added effect will be to confuse the average Catholic and damage the Church's mission. They will not go away, but I believe that popular support for the Cardinal will attenuate this as a story of interest for the MSM and blunt the affect these activists can have.