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Catholics, Carey's "means," and twenty-first-century mission.

It is common to observe that geography is no longer an ,important aspect of world mission, yet a remark made by Marshall McLuhan (1911-80)--"We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future" (1)-describes nothing so well as the mental furniture many of us use to image mission as something done by members of Catholic religious orders and Protestant mission societies working "overseas." Indeed, "mission" and activities directed from North to South seem embedded in the DNA of missiology, no matter how we try to shed them. These images are outmoded, yet they dominate our imagination because of the way they so nobly captured an aspect of the church's missionary identity. The issue? Formerly missionary-exporting lands are today in greater need of evangelization than formerly missionary-receiving lands. The Roman Catholic Church, the focus of this article, thus faces a problem of where and, possibly more urgently, how pastoral care of the faithful and evangelization of the fallen away and nonbelievers should be directed. If I read the tea leaves correctly, the principal alternatives appear to be equally unattractive to the church's episcopal and papal leadership, since (1) maintaining present policies seems to ensure that the current personnel shortage will hamstring efforts to mount a "new evangelization" in the West, (2) and (2) reopening post-Vatican II debates on issues like the nonordination of women and whether to maintain celibacy for its priests threatens to dissolve basic Catholic theological and identity markers.

A Conundrum for Catholic Leadership

In the discussion that follows I seek to sketch the ways in which many Catholics look back at means of evangelization that served the church well for two centuries but that may need recalibration in an era that began in 1989 with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the realignment of the world's power blocs. In particular, I draw attention to the fact that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have each called for a "new evangelization" but did not and have not made provisions for overcoming the dearth of personnel needed to carry it out.

As Sharon Welch has noted, without the right sort of "subjects" or people needed to carry on a mission, nothing will happen. Even more pointedly, she notes that the kind of "humanity envisioned [for mission].., does not come about naturally; it has to be achieved." (3) Welch is speaking about what she calls the "strategic knowledges" necessary to carry on liberation. It is my contention that historically missionary religious communities were zones of evangelical intensity where men and women were formed, to paraphrase Ephesians 4:23-24, "in the furniture of their minds to put on a new self, created to be like God in the kind of rightness and holiness needed in the apostolate." That transformation, in effect, is the prerequisite "strategic knowledge" necessary to be a missionary of Christ--and such knowledge is much more than instrumental or conceptual.

It is not as simple as "modernizing" by ordaining married men or women, as many progressives have argued. First, because the Catholic Church has been engaged--quite properly, at least in my opinion, in many if not all its efforts--in resistance to the proposition that secular national and transnational organizations ought to be the supreme arbiters of morality. Second, because the papacy has resisted the demolition of tradition by much of academia since the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. In large parts of the Catholic world, there is at present no opposition to current ordination policies. Absent a broad-based clamor for change, imposing married or women priests universally at the behest of Western theologians runs the risk of ignoring the principle of subsidiarity, which involves allowing decisions to be made at the level closest to those being affected. More positively, the insistence of Rome on the maintenance of its rules for selecting leaders and making other decisions is integral to the reform project begun at the Council of Trent (1545-63), which aimed at producing a cadre of well-educated, ordained priests grounded in Catholic tradition as refined in the agenda of Trent. At least since the age of Kant and the Enlightenment, a piece of this agenda has quite properly insisted that modern canons of what is provable (for instance, in historical-critical scriptural studies) not be allowed to trump the Bible and Tradition as ways of knowing who Jesus of Nazareth is. In the Vatican's view, in other words, it is essential to maintain a leadership cadre loyal to maintaining fundamental church structures in the face of changing cultural vogues, and even forces as basic as the democratic spirit and new views of gender identity and social roles cannot be allowed to trump tradition.

The question in the background throughout this article is whether the Catholic Church is wise or foolish to insist upon its traditions in the face of globalization and in the face of a mindset that has been influenced by democratization to believe that everything cultural is subject to change if a majority so desires. In resisting this worldview, is the church standing for deeper and more valuable tradition? When does the maintenance of traditions begin to occlude "Tradition" in the sense of passing on the core of Christian doctrine and experience? Is the church losing the ability to adapt its means of evangelization and pastoral care in an era of globalization that, ironically, necessitates ceding more authority to men and women at the local level as opposed to maintaining universal hierarchical structures?

Like the opening of the petals of a flower, or the peeling of layer upon layer of an onion, a number of interrelated and consequential developments unfold in the discussion that follows.

Catholic Recession and Protestant Advance

For background and context, we begin with the Catholic church's adaptation to the challenge of Protestant missions in the late eighteenth century, an adaptation that set the stage for the current situation. To a large extent, these Protestant missions were sparked by William Carey's provocative book An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792). For Carey, the signs of the times indicated that missionary societies were necessary as "means" to bring about the conversion of non-Christians, which was the animating goal of mission. While churches in countries such as England were favorable toward the mission ideal, Carey believed that neither ecclesiastical structures nor congregational or parish organizations were flexible enough to lead. For that function, mission societies were required.

The importance of Carey's book and of the challenge posed for Catholics by the modern Protestant missionary movement can scarcely be overstated. Protestants argued for dispersing the organizational aspects of missionary work among scores of self-initiating voluntary societies, which were patterned, in turn, on earlier Catholic missionary orders and secular commercial practices.

Early modern Catholic missions began with the founding of the Society of Jesus in 1540. Building on the traditions of their Franciscan and Dominican forebears, Jesuits pioneered new means of evangelization in Europe and then carried those methods to their new missions. (4) Under the inspiration and guidance of men like Francis Xavier (1506-52), Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606), Jose de Acosta (1539-1600), and Roque Gonzalez (1576-1628), Jesuits wedded a peculiarly modern evangelical fervor to the spirit of the Renaissance and exploited the shrinking of the globe accomplished by Spanish and Portuguese mariners. For reasons too complex to go into here, the Jesuits' Japan missions were effectively ended by 1644. (5) Their mission in China was stymied in 1724 by internal Catholic contentions as well as nationalistic rivalries among Catholic powers. (6) As those conflicts grew, the Society of Jesus was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, a suppression that also ended its influence in Latin America and reduced Catholicism there to subservience to Spanish and Portuguese colonial predation. (7)

Samuel Moffett terms the fifty-year period after 1773 as one in which Catholic world missions slid into a period of steep decline,s Although the Jesuits were refounded in August 1814 with the permission of Pope Pius VII, Catholics were largely in a reactive mode in the face of two geopolitical and religious vectors. The first of these was Protestant Britain's position as the superpower of the day, which brought British customs and rules into ascendancy, so much so that, even where other colonizing nations were locally more powerful, the terms on which commerce and colonization were carried on were largely set by a Britain that had very low regard for Catholicism.

The second was the development of the mission agency as a religious voluntary society. With Catholic missions in disarray, the stage was set for Protestants to enter into world mission with British Protestant hegemony behind it. Carey's Enquiry, in effect, marked the emergence of currents that brought into being or informed groups such as the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (1792), the London Missionary Society (1795), the Church Missionary Society (1799), the Basel (1815) and Neuendettelsau (1841) societies, and a host of others. Whether intentionally or not, these organizations owed a great deal to the famous Jesuit "way of proceeding," that is to say, they were highly centralized organizations rooted in evangelical piety. (9) They were flexible and were able to gather both personnel and money for missions. The mission societies used advances in technology and became the principal "means" that the Protestants used as they entered the mission fields of India, China, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania.

More ambiguously, for all the creative dynamics it embodied, the Protestant missionary movement would splice the genes of nationalism and colonialism into what was emerging, tragically repeating patterns that had so wounded early modern Spanish, Portuguese, and French Catholic missions. Even more ambiguously, it would bequeath what may be termed an entrepreneurial spirit to the churches that were born. By this I mean that--unlike earlier periods of evangelization, which nurtured a spirit of organic "communion'--the new churches were entities that could merge, split, and follow innovating trends with little to inhibit them. Rivalries sprang up, not only with Catholics but also among Protestant missions, so much so that the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 was convened to overcome them. Edinburgh achieved many great things, but nurturing a spirit of communion among all the world's Christians was not one of them. The missions so much embodied the modern spirit as the water in which they swam that they could not perceive the problems it caused.

The Catholic Response I: New Orders as the Catholic "Means"

The Catholic world awoke to the Protestant challenge during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As Protestant missionary successes multiplied, Catholics realized that they needed to develop similar organizations to implement their own missionary ideals. A host of "orders," both male and female, (10) were founded that to a greater or lesser degree embodied three principles:

* The Jesuit way of organizing, financing, recruiting, and training missionaries, which brought men and women into the orders from every strata of society, nurtured bonds that would hold them together no matter how widely they were dispersed, and offered a structure in which ordinary people could achieve extraordinary results.

* A spirituality of self-sacrifice and total commitment to the church, which flowed from what can loosely be called the "French spirituality," epitomized in Abandonment to Divine Providence, the classic work by JeanPierre Caussade, S.J. (1675-1751). Caussade counseled self-abandonment to God, obedience to the church, and finding God in the demands of daily life. This ethos of self-abandonment worked its way into the understanding of the missionary vocation in most nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Catholic orders.

* Official recognition by papal authority and conformity to rules set up by the Holy See.

The missiological premise of these communities was twofold and completely in keeping with the philosophy of Carey and his appeal to "means": first, to seek the conversion of the "heathens" and the establishment of the church, and second, to uphold the idea that mission demanded personal holiness. Long periods of training, beginning with a rigorous one- or two-year novitiate, were required in the belief that one needed to turn one's back on worldly values to convert oneself to Christ in one's inmost being. The training process also socialized members into an ethic of self-abnegation and cooperation for the goal of the order. In each of the constitutions of the various orders, the Holy See insisted that two things be clear: on the one hand, the special "charism" of the order and devotion to the larger church; on the other, the primacy of becoming holy as the goal of becoming a member. (The language of "charism" in the parlance of religious orders reflects belief that the order's founder was led by the Spirit to gather a group of followers to serve God in a special manner. The Passionist order's charism, for example, was one of making manifest the love of God shown in Jesus' undergoing his passion and death.) Holiness was a reflection of that charism and was the result of the Spirit's leading a member to surrender to God by living out the charism.

Two other characteristics are also important. The first is that these orders were to be close partners of the pope, dedicated to planting the Roman Catholic Church. Their constitutions were all approved by Rome and contained clauses that inculcated loyalty to the Holy See and obliged the orders to undertake missions at the direction of the Holy See's central missionary coordination agency, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (founded in 1622, now known as the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples). In a practice that continued until 1969, specific territories were entrusted to specific orders which then became responsible for staffing them.

Although less frequently recognized, a second characteristic is, I believe, extremely important for understanding what happened to the orders in the West after Vatican II. These orders had a utilitarian side that reflected the rise of capitalism in several important ways. They were organized bureaucratically around concrete tasks. They attracted men and women who were task-oriented. And they relied upon what might be called, in sociology-of-knowledge terminology, a constellation of beliefs and values that made the choice to join them "plausible" to youth who contemplated taking that step. The result was that the Catholic people as a whole viewed the vocation to religious life as a calling to a "higher way of life," and they supported their children in embracing the option for celibacy that joining an order entailed.

Catholicism Faces Modernity

A recent book makes the case that issuance of the 1917 Code of Canon Law as a result of initiatives undertaken by Pope Pins X made the Catholic Church the world's first truly global organization. (11) Under that code, religious orders were granted special privileges to manage their own affairs without the interference of local bishops. The price for this "exemption," as it was called, was supervision by the Holy See. Thus religious orders were simultaneously a major means by which Catholicism grew and by which the Holy See exerted control of the results globally. But each organization also had its own particular spirituality and ways of approaching tasks. Despite the emphasis on obedience, the best communities were not ruled from the top down; instead, they were zones where individuals were respected and where ways were sought to utilize their particular gifts.

By 1959, when Pope John XXIII conceived of summoning the Second Vatican Council, the process of globalizing Roman authority had led to the church's encounter with one of the paradoxical effects of globalization. That is to say, the force exerted to create global uniformity engenders a counterreaction at the local level as peoples seek to maintain their cultures against what they perceive to be an imposed hegemony. Viewed from the perspective of globalization, the Catholic Church was both the first truly global organization and among the first to feel the discontents such an organization causes. While organized vertically from local missions up to the level of the general council and superiors general residing in Rome, members of the orders were also inserted into local cultural realities. Moreover, members were used to having a voice in decisions within their order. Members of these orders embraced the winds of Vatican II theology, it is my contention, as a way of opening up to adaptation at the local level, where the rigidities of canon and mission law often seemed ridiculous. Both men's and women's orders were among the groups that engaged most seriously in theological updating, and it is fair to say that many members came to feel a deeper loyalty toward newly discovered Gospel values than they did to Roman directives. This tension led to a great deal of what causes an impasse today in Catholic evangelization efforts.

The Catholic Response II: Women's Orders as Integral to Modern Mission

It is important to observe that the orders that were instrumental in modern mission were not only male. Equally important were orders of women, some of them founded as branches of male communities, more of them as independent congregations. Indeed, their emergence may have been more important for the credibility and success of Catholic missions than the work of ordained men. There has been, I will admit, little serious study that can assess whether this hunch of mine can be proved. Nevertheless, several studies do point In this direction. A leading example would be the work of Dana Robert of Boston University. (12) A seminal article by her, for instance, raises the question of the significance of the fact that world Christianity is predominantly a woman's movement. (13) A book recently published by Ana Maria Bidegain makes the case for the importance of the role played by Catholic women in the evangelization of Latin America. (14) Susan Smith has published an important book on the role of women in mission throughout the history of Christianity.Is Smith's book has the disadvantage of surveying twenty centuries, but when one is finished reading it, one realizes that historical and theological studies of the expansion of Christianity have almost totally ignored women.

Why raise this issue? Not just because women's issues are in vogue; indeed, many aspects of twentieth-century feminism are today regarded as ambiguous. Rather, it is because the role of women needs to be factored in as we consider why the new-evangelization agenda has not gotten off the ground. I propose we move forward with a look rearward, noting, as Rodney Stark has shown, that the attractive ethos of Christian communities gave the nascent Christian movement credibility in the first centuries. (16) While I do not claim to have the sort of evidence used by Stark, I am convinced that when such research is done, we will realize that the point at which Christianity became a plausible option for vast numbers of people in Africa, Oceania, Latin America, and Asia was when women's work in hospitals, clinics, schools, and catechesis convinced their fellow women that there was something in Christianity worth investigating. Becoming Christian, in other words, became plausible because of women's work.

We ignore that lesson at our peril if we think any kind of new evangelization among and carried on by Catholics can occur in the Americas or Europe without the enthusiastic endorsement and participation of women. In saying this, I am not denigrating the work of male missionaries, but if the alienation of so many women in the West is not overcome, we can predict that it will be difficult to attract the kind of "subjects" necessary for a new evangelization. If women do not believe they are respected or given equal rights, they will not work to bring people into the church or to improve the life of the church.

Likewise, if Catholicism is to be given a second chance as a vehicle for presenting the Christian message today in areas where such faiths and outlooks as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and secularism are predominant, it will be because women think Christianity both identifies for them something they want to be saved from and offers a community that enhances their ability to engender better futures for their families, cultures, and nations. This is not the same thing, I hasten to add, as endorsing the ordination of women or of married men everywhere in the world. The situation in different cultures necessitates different solutions, including solutions to the problem of cultures that retard the development of women and girls.

Catholicism at a Crossroad

In the rest of this article I address fundamental issues surrounding the need to find adequate "means" for evangelization of each new areopagus in the world, a term I borrow from [section] 37 of Redemptoris missio, John Paul II's encyclical on the permanent validity of the church's missionary mandate. (17) In speaking of a "new evangelization" and of "many other forms of the 'Areopagus' in the modern world toward which the Church's missionary activity ought to be directed," John Paul is speaking of the need to move beyond geographic criteria for mission and instead to enter into an understanding of "new worlds and new social phenomena" that are created by social differentiation and stratifications, migration, demographic slices, and the reality of "cultural sectors" in which the Gospel is absent or poorly represented (e.g., the worlds of scientific research and international organizations).

Redemptoris missio was issued to counter a notion that the pope believed had become prevalent, namely, the reduction of Christianity to the status of "merely human wisdom," in which mission takes place in a "merely horizontal dimension" ([section]11). He seeks, moreover, to bring to the fore fundamental teachings from Ad gentes (1965), the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church. For both Roman documents, it is axiomatic that mission must move from being the activity of specialist volunteers in religious and apostolic life communities to an activity of the whole church under the guidance of bishops (RM 61-76, AG 28-41). The integrating element of mission is the attempt to make known the person, work, and ministry of Christ in God's plan (RM 4-11), a work animated by the Spirit of God (RM 21-30).

Most missiologists heap praise on Redemptoris missio. Yet as alienation has increased among men and women who--especially in the West--subscribe to a progressive interpretation of Vatican II, the notion of plantatio ecclesiae (planting the church) has dropped out of discussions of mission practice. Is it not ironic that so little seems to have been done to nurture the sort of communities that alone will produce the functional equivalent of the religious order "missionaries" for this "new evangelization"?

The reality is that dioceses and parishes are struggling to maintain themselves. True, lay ministries take up the slack in many areas. (18) David Gibson has written a much-acclaimed book on how the laity is transforming American Catholicism. (19) Yet as much as Gibson makes the case for a transformation, I read him as proposing a path not unlike that taken by the Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, United Methodist, and other churches-denominations that are losing members steadily. Transformation for Gibson seems to be marked by how progressive and "American" the church becomes--but not by the standards of Ephesians 4, which highlights the transformation of the mind and heart of the faithful as the Gospel of promise and forgiveness of sin is embraced.

Catholicism, it should be noted, claims to be a sacramental church in which the formation of all members takes place in the context of the celebration of a Eucharist that is both a communal meal and the place where one, first, joins the Lord in his paschal passage and, second, finds one's place in the paschal mystery. Vatican II sought renewal based on this kind of insight, yet we must admit that, if this is the criterion, the council failed. Finding ways to create a communal celebration of liturgy is at the heart to the conciliar vision of the center, from which the mission of the community and of each individual proceeds. (20) Yet celibacy, on the one hand, seems to be ever less plausible to the average Catholic in the West as a requirement for becoming a priest-elder in the community, even as arguments, on the other hand, over the discipline of celibacy and over whether women can be priest-elders create a bitter impasse in many places, one that keeps the church from articulating and embodying a more vibrant missional message and way of life.

Western Catholicism at an Impasse

Why is this impasse not resolved? There are numerous possible explanations, but here I highlight the one that seems most persuasive to me. At Vatican II the scriptural ideal of service in the world with everyone responsible for testifying to God's work in Jesus of Nazareth in every areopagus triumphed. (21) But along with the triumph of the view that baptism confers a missionary vocation on every Christian came another set of insights that unfortunately were kept from maturing so consequences could be drawn from them. The insights I refer to were perhaps first and best captured in the modern era in Luther's teaching on the vocation of all Christians to be active in whatever way of life they found themselves, coupled with a stringent critique of monasticism as obscuring true Christian vocation. (22) Luther, as he channels St. Paul on vocation, still has the power to command attention, and his insight marks his key contribution to the theology of mission, convincingly applying Paul's message to societal conditions emerging in the early modern period.

In the post-Vatican II period, the adoption of the scriptural ideal first retrieved by the Reformers has become a veritable sensus communis fidelium (the common "sense" of the faithful) among Catholics, essentially replacing the medieval and its modernized French spirituality of celibate and religious life as "a more perfect way." In Lumen gentium, chapter 2, "On the People of God," Vatican II applied that renewed and wider vision of Christian identity to the mission of the entire church. But it did so looking backward through its tradition that religious and the clergy are set apart from the laity and called by God to be celibate.

Although it appears to be undiminished in broad swaths of Oceania, Africa, and Asia, the plausibility of religious life and priestly celibacy as a requirement for ordained leadership has waned in Europe and America. Though religious life as lived in monastic communities (such as the Cistercians and Carmelites) and in new kinds of communities "in the world" (such as the Little Brothers and Sisters of Charles de Foucauld) survives as "special calls," the days of numerically large missionary and religious communities founded in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for specific tasks appear to be numbered unless there is a strong, shared commitment on the part of members to a hardy contemplative and semimonastic dimension. It is scarcely a secret that a large percentage of religious took the teaching of Vatican II to mean that this monastic or semi-monastic dimension was superseded by the need to take down the barriers and live in the world. Young people have not found the results attractive, at least not in numbers large enough to give most orders a vibrant future. According to a recent study, for communities to thrive they must have a way of life in clear contrast to the dominant society--one marked by a strong spirit of joy, the wearing of some form of religious habit, regular communal prayer, and insertion in the life of the people, especially of the poor. (23) Even such communities, I suspect, will never enroll the numbers that American religious communities enlisted at their high-water mark around 1970 (35,000 religious order priests in the United States then, about 13,500 today, according to the 2009 National Catholic Directory; 173,000 women religious then, about 61,000 today, despite the fact that U.S. Catholics have grown from 48 million in 1970 to 68 million today). And those who remain in religious life are growing older, while few young members are joining what appear to be moribund communities.

Gender Issues, Orders, and the Impasse

I shift gears now to ask about the issue of gender in the church in the contemporary West. As is well known, in the aftermath of Vatican II, Catholic women discovered the possibility of serving God in venues other than religious life, just as women's roles in society at large were undergoing major changes. In this context, many women religious found it difficult to operate in subordination to male authority structures, whose warrants in Scripture and Tradition seemed unconvincing to them. Whereas in an earlier era the "mission" of women religious was delineated as working alongside of, in support of, and under the direction of ordained males, many now began to work where and how their new consciousness led them.

The result? Not only did many women leave religious life altogether, but even many of those who remain are in serious tension with the hierarchy. They have a highly refined sensitivity to conditions in which men exert power despite lacking the qualities of character and insight that engender the genuine authority people gladly give to true leaders. The result is the alienation of many of the church's most devoted members from a hierarchy they believe has refused to be open to the call of the Holy Spirit.

At another level, many religious orders, male and female, adopted the language of mission to express their raison d'etre but understood that mission less as revolving around attracting converts to Christ and the church or church-related action. Instead, the ideal became action to promote human liberation and to alleviate suffering. To their critics, this new understanding seemed to downplay the importance of introducing people to saying yes to the promise of new life in Christ, of founding and guiding Christian communities, and of liturgically celebrating the Christian mystery. And the critics may have a point. Check the Web site of any dozen orders of men and women chosen at random. Bringing people to Christ is usually not listed as integral to their mission. But neither can anyone deny that in putting themselves at the service of the poor and oppressed, whether the poor be Christians or not, those making the option for such ministries have a genuine, Gospel-derived vision.

But these shifts were not the only changes to occur in the wake of Vatican II. While I simplify greatly, I think three things can be said to characterize what has been going on at the very top of the Catholic Church since Vatican II as it affects the orders and evangelization. First, several superiors general and others in a position to confirm their statements have told me flatly (on background and not for attribution) that Pope John Paul II had lost confidence in the orders and viewed many of them as saturated with a spirit of independence and dissent. When I asked for evidence, they related concrete situations in which religious orders were treated with calculated disrespect by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life, with the knowledge of the pope. One man pointed to words that were written by the pope, in a different context certainly but indicative of his mind-set. Speaking of true "renewal" in the church in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul notes that renewal "at one time ... took place mainly through the religious orders" and names the Jesuits, Redemptorists, Divine Word Missionaries, Salvatorians, and Salesians. (24) In this book, the pope seems to see more hope today in groups like Opus Dei and Communione e Liberazione, thus coming down on the side of the idea that the active orders are exhausted, at least in the West.

A second shift since Vatican II is that all popes since Paul VI have given evidence that they believe that the progressive wing of the church, in the vanguard of which are many members of the orders, is overaccenting critical studies of the Scriptures, is downplaying the divinity of Christ and the transcendent nature of the Gospel, and has become skeptical about the role of the church in the divine plan. Defending "Tradition" in these areas is the popes' way of keeping threatening influences at bay.

Third, the recent popes have sought and seek to keep in one ecclesial body elements that in Protestantism have splintered into a host of competing churches. But in doing so, they seem to be insisting on uniform discipline worldwide. At one level they have succeeded, but only at the cost of what the Dominican Timothy Radcliffe, in a 2008 address to Canadian religious, has called "sameness ... the imposition of uniformity." Religious orders, Radcliffe notes, used to break that pattern. They could do so once again. (25)

At a second level, as Peter Hunermann has written, the church in Europe as a whole is in a process of dissolution and operates in ways that contemporary Europeans consider substandard in critical areas such as the observance of human rights. (26) Hunermann wrote before the eruption of the clerical sex abuse scandal in the United States, Ireland, and Germany. Since then, the credibility of Catholicism among its active, alienated, and nonpracticing members, as well as among nonbelievers, has certainly not increased.

I am personally convinced that the impasse surrounding celibacy and the nonordination of women will continue to impede recovery of the church from its persistent low-grade fever. But in saying this, I am only drawing attention to a more basic question: Should the church return to being such a large-tent organization? That question brings the following two issues into relief.

* Catholicism since the beginning of the Middle Ages was a church of the masses. But belonging was at least as much a sociological fact as it was a matter of personal conviction. Is the challenge today, rather, one of discerning what sort of church we must become to be the community willed by Jesus in this age and in specific contexts?

* Is a more faithful church of the future likely to be a "contrast society," a minority within a larger secular and religiously plural world, a community whose mission is to witness prophetically to Jesus and kingdom values?

It is virtually impossible, I believe, to imagine a reversal in the United States of the social changes that have made the traditional requirements for admission to ordained leadership implausible to the broad middle sweep of Catholic laity. And if we select only men who wish to be celibate and continue to bar women from ordained leadership, we will be restricting our potential leadership cadre to a very few. De facto, we will cease to be a broad-based sacramental church.

For people at the center-left and on the left, it is axiomatic that if the church is to solve its leadership problem, it needs to resolve the questions of the nonordination of women and married men in favor of the new outlook. The key question here is whether the church can make a change of this sort without losing a distinctive Catholic identity. With that question in mind, we do well to remember that the genius of the orders founded in the modern era was to practice a form of Christian life in which the contemplative gifts of monks were married to the practical effectiveness of groups that were simultaneously a part of the broader church and yet apart from it, acting as catalysts that brought specific charisms to bear in a host of ministries.


The conundrum faced by Catholic leadership today is one in which the old models seem unable to attract large enough numbers to carry on the missionary task, and more recent proposals for change seem designed to bend the church to conform to what modernity finds acceptable. Although I do not wish to calumniate the current cadre of seminarians, today's models of priesthood and of training for priesthood do not seem up to the task. Certainly the numbers are not there. (27) Yet to turn to the stock solutions of progressives--including my own proposals in the past--if one simply opts for a married male and female clergy, this change alone would not address the need to form the clergy as radically as the Ephesians ideal suggests. Seminaries and other forms of academic education seem to be the default funnels through which leaders would come, yet there is little to suggest that current models of preparation are able to transcend the problems caused by the professionalization of ministry, which amounts to a substitution of academic criteria for Ephesians 4 criteria.

Scott Sunquist's recent article "Wrong Time, Wrong Place, Wrong Courses: The Dangers of the Unconverted Seminary" says much about the problem of the "unreformed seminary." (28) His title evokes the memory of a famous 1740 sermon entitled "The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry," delivered by Gilbert Tennent during the First Great Awakening. The sermon presents the prospects for evangelization in mid-eighteenth-century America as dire if ministers themselves are not deeply converted; the life of many ministers reminded Tennent of unconverted "Pharisee shepherds" who were as "crafty as foxes" but lacked the spiritual qualities needed to be evangelizing ministers. (29) Sunquist, a seminary professor and a scholar with great accomplishments, is not opposed to high academic standards. But he convinces me that contemporary models of seminary--or any other type of academic institution I can imagine--are less than promising as places to prepare the sort of missional leaders today's church needs. Instead, as Sunquist says, seminaries in following the academic institutional model are preparing ministers for a "vanishing Christendom."

Aware that I may be indulging in nostalgia for my formation years in the Society of the Divine Word (from 1958 through 1972), I cannot overcome my sense that the orders have a great deal of wisdom to contribute. The eminent Presbyterian missiologist Ralph Winter, aware of the pitfalls of purely functional mission societies and of bureaucratization of mission, wrote extensively on the fate of American Protestant societies. He shows appreciation for the way in which Catholic orders serve. Winter even goes so far as to say that he is "convinced that the Roman Catholic tradition, in its much longer experience with the phenomenon of the 'order,' embodies a superior structural approach to both renewal and mission." (30)

If present impasses can be transcended, it may be that bishops and popes may appreciate the orders just as much as Ralph Winter did, and may encourage them to share their wisdom in a church that can figure out which parts of its history, as revealed in a rear-view mirror, must be attended to and which parts are mutable, thereby helping stewards well-versed in the ways of the kingdom to bring out both old things and new from the storehouse of missional tools (see Matt. 13:52). In itself, renewed regard for the orders will not solve all the Roman Catholic Church's problems. But it would encourage these communities to renew their charismatic identity through the act of passing it on to men and women--celibate and married--who could, in their turn, pioneer new ways of invigorating the church and could mark out new forms of community so as to be present in and reach out to each new areopagus.


(1.) For these and other McLuhan quotations, see the McLuhan estate Web site,

(2.) See especially the apostolic letter of John Paul II Novo millennio ineunte ("Entering the New Millennium," January 6, 2001), www hf_jp-ii_apl_20010106_novo-millennio-ineunte_en.html, as well as Joseph Ratzinger, "The New Evangelization: Building the Civilization of Love" (address to catechists and religion teachers, December 12, 2000),

(3.) Sharon Welch, Communities of Resistance and Solidarity: A Feminist Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985), p. 66.

(4.) See John O'Malley, The First Jesuits (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993), esp. pp. 91-126. O'Malley maintains that both Jesuits and Protestant Reformers drew their inspiration from the Mendicant Orders (i.e., the Dominicans and Franciscans), founded in the thirteenth century, and that accounts that see Jesuits responding to Protestants as the pope's counterreformation assault troops are wrong. See also Liam Matthew Brockey, Journey to the East: Jesuit Mission to China, 1579-1724 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2007), pp. 290-314.

(5.) Andrew C. Ross, A Vision Betrayed: The Jesuits in Japan and China, 1542-1742 (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1994), pp. 99-110.

(6.) See Brockey, Journey to the East, pp. 185-203.

(7.) See bull of Clement XIV Dominus ac Redemptor, July 21, 1773; see William Bangert, A History of the Society of Jesus (St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1972); see William F. Jaenicke, Black Robes in Paraguay: The Success of the Guarani Missions Hastened the Abolition of the Jesuits (Minneapolis: Kirk House, 2008), for a synthetic account of the intrigues that led to the suppression of the Jesuits.

(8.) Samuel Hugh Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia, vol. 2, 1500-1900 (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2005), pp. 176-81.

(9.) On this ,way of proceeding,,, see O'Malley, The First jesuits; Peter C. Phan, Mission and Catechesis: Alexandre De Rhodes and Inculturation in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998); and Brockey, Journey to the East.

(10.) Orders of men include Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (founded 1816), Congregation of Holy Cross (1840), the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (1842), Salesians of Don Bosco (1845), Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (1862), St. Joseph's Society for Foreign Missions ("Mill Hill," 1866), Comboni Missionaries (1867), Missionaries of Africa (1868), and Society of the Divine Word (1875). Orders of women include Marist Missionary Sisters (1857), Congregation of Our Lady of the Missions (1861), Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco (1872), Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (1877), Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (1889), and Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (1900).

(11.) Carlo Fantappie, Chiesa romana e modernita giuridica, 2 vols. (Milan: Giuffre, 2008).

(12.) A book edited by Dana Robert, Gospel Bearers, Gender Barriers: Missionary Women in the Twentieth Century (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2002), offers studies of important women missioners.

(13.) See Dana Robert, "World Christianity as a Women's Movement," International Bulletin of Missionary Research 30, no. 4 (2006): 180-88.

(14.) See Ana Maria Bidegain, Participacion y protagonismo de las mujeres en la historia del catolicismo latinoamericano (Buenos Aires: San Benito, 2009).

(15.) Susan Smith, Women in Mission: From the New Testament to Today (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2007).

(16.) Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1997).

(17.) John Paul II, Redemptoris missio (encyclical on the permanent validity of the church's missionary mandate, 1990), text available at www See also the book edited by me for both the text of the encyclical and an authoritative commentary on it by its behind-the-scenes drafter, Marcello Zago, Redemption and Dialogue (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2009).

(18.) Mary L. Gautier and Brian T. Froehle have documented how lay leadership is emerging in the United States as ordained leadership declInes, in Catholicism USA: A Portrait of the Catholic Church in the United States (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2000).

(19.) David Gibson, The Coming Catholic Church: How the Faithful Are Shaping a New American Catholicism (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003).

(20.) See Vatican II constitutions Sacrosanctum concilium [section]2 and Lumen gentium [section]7, and the decree Ad gentes [section]9.

(21.) See Ad gentes [section][section]11-12.

(22.) See Martin Luther, "The Freedom of a Christian," in Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1961), pp. 42-85.

(23.) See the recent study by Mary L. Gautier and Mary E. Bendyna, Recent Vocations to Religious Life: A Report for the National Religious Vocation Conference (Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 2009). This lengthy study (406 pp.) examines the attitudes of men and women who have joined religious communities in recent years.

(24.) John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Knopf, 1994), p. 168 (italics in original).

(25.) Timothy Radcliffe, "The Future of Religious Life," address to Canadian Religious Conference, June 6, 2008, bd/fichierNouveaute/478_2.pdf.

(26.) Peter Hunermann, "Evangelization of Europe? Observations of a Church in Peril," in Mission in the Third Millennium, ed. Robert J. Schreiter (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2001), pp. 57-58.

(27.) According to the National Catholic Directory, there were 8,000 major seminarians in 1965, but only 4,900 in 2006. In 1965 the church ordained 1,575 new priests; in 2005, the number was only 454, a decrease of more than two-thirds. See John McCloskey, "State of the US Catholic Church at the Beginning of 2006," www.catholicity .com/mccloskey/state_of_the_church_2006.html.

(28.) Scott W. Sunquist, "Wrong Time, Wrong Place, Wrong Courses: The Dangers of the Unconverted Seminary," Presbyterian Outlook, September 14 and 21, 2008, available at File / faculty/Unconverted%20seminary.pdf.

(29.) For the text of the sermon, go to Sermons/Gilbert%20Tennent/danger_of_unconverted.htm.

(30.) Ralph D. Winter, "Protestant Mission Societies: The American Experience," Missiology 7, no. 2 (1979): 139-78 (italics in original).

William R. Burrows, a contributing editor, is managing editor emeritus of Orbis Books and research professor of missiology at New York Theological Seminary. The working title of his forthcoming book from Orbis is "Mission, Church, Cultures.'"

--wrburrows@optonline. net
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Author:Burrows, William R.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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