Louis DeThomasis, FSC, says the institutional church is dying, and tells why that’s good news for Catholics in his new book, Flying in the Face of Tradition: Listening to the Lived Experience of the Faithful (ACTA Publications, June 2012, $17.95 hardcover). DeThomasis, a Christian Brother for more than four decades who served as president of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota for over 20 years, is not a disgruntled exile. He writes in a spirit of passionate concern for a church beset by sexual abuse, corruption, and authoritarianism, and which has lost its moral authority.
The death of the institutional church can be the occasion for metanoia: “a change of mind and heart that would mean repentance that leads to transformation,” DeThomasis says.
The quandary the church finds itself in today is the result of a power structure peopled by militant ideologues. Their inability to admit they are sometimes wrong has grievously harmed the church, as “mean-spiritedness, hostility, and acrimony flourish in a church that should be about the peace and love that Jesus brought to our world,” Brother DeThomasis says.
DeThomasis draws upon the core values and beliefs of Catholicism, and upon the legacy of Vatican II—as well as his own 70 years of “lived experience” of the faith, to conclude that the church must:
- Ordain women: The arguments put forth by the institutional church that Jesus Christ would demand anything other than the full equality of all persons in his church are unpersuasive and often silly. Common sense tells us that women are and should be equal to men in every way and have gifts to offer that the church sorely needs.
- Recommit to a proper understanding of tradition: Catholics believe that God’s revelation can be found not just in Scripture but also in the experience of faithful Christians over the centuries. Tradition is a way for the People of God to read the signs of the times and invent the future. It is a liberating force, not an inhibiting one.
- Redefine what it means to be a “good Catholic”: It’s time to rethink to what degree the faithful must be explicitly obedient to all pronouncements of the hierarchy, especially when they ban further discussion of something that does not fall into the realm of doctrine or morality, e.g., women’s ordination. Other topics that “good” Catholics are not expected to discuss include birth control, homosexual unions, and spiritual pluralism.
DeThomasis suggests that it’s time to turn the tables on so-called “traditionalists.” They the ones who are picking and choosing what to accept as authentic Catholic faith, he points out, making them the “cafeteria Catholics.”
The good news is that belief in the ultimate holiness and faithfulness of the church does not extend to the leaders and organizational structures, DeThomasis says. The church, as it is lived by Catholics each day, is the “People of God” and can be seen in “the lay women and men, consecrated religious women and men, priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes who make real the love of Christ through the abundance of work and sacrifice they offer to the poor, the needy and the marginalized.”
Brother Louis DeThomasis, FSC, was president and professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota from 1984-2005 and is the co-founder and former president of the Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS). He is currently the President of CBIS-Global based in Rome, where he now resides. A Christian Brother for more than four decades, Brother Louis is the author of many books and articles on Christian education and has received much recognition for his lifetime of service to the church.