I have observed the misery of my people . . . ;
I have heard their cry. . . .
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them (Exod 3:7f).
For fifty years, the vast majority of Roman Catholic priests and theologians have been forced into a reluctant silence when it comes to birth control, celibacy of priests, ordination of women, and homosexuality. I myself, while teaching in Roman Catholic seminaries for twenty-five years, was required to keep a guarded silence on all these issues. But this reluctant obedience has not served me nor has it served those whom I helped prepare for lay and ordained ministry. Likewise, as a Catholic theologian, I have not served the sons and daughters of God by my silence.
As Fr. Helmut Schüller, the charismatic founder of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, says, “Obedience has been overrated. The times require of us that we speak out.” Hence, 425 priests joined together in drafting their “Appeal to Disobedience” whereby they pledged to God and to his people to bring about urgently needed pastoral changes that the Austrian bishops were unwilling and unable to support because they owe their first allegiance to the Vatican.
Pope Francis, for his part, has forthrightly warned our bishops against “the temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word . . , within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve” (source). When this happens, “the bread” that Jesus blesses and gives to his disciples is transformed “into a stone” that is either “cast against the sinners” or it is carried by them as an “unbearable burden” (Luke 11:46).
By way of atoning for my years of silence, I have prepared clear and compelling case studies that will offer you informed and reliable examinations of topics that have largely been obscured by authoritative pronouncements, by shoddy biblical scholarship, and by ignorance of Catholic history. Whether you want to speak to your teenage daughter or to your bishop, these case studies will offer talking points that will enable you to make sense out of the faith that is intended to nourish us, to make us free, and to draw us into harmony with the mind of Christ.
For those who are confused by claims and counter-claims, this book will offer powerful tools for reconsidering the issues and for engaging family, friends, and church leaders to do the same. Blind obedience may be suitable for children; adult faith requires much more.
We need to give up the idea that religion is perfect—that the church of which we are a part is perfect or infallible. Religion, like out parents, has the capacity to bless us and to wound us and it inevitably does both at different times. . . . Only when we are aware of the capacity of religion to abuse can we guard against that abuse and take steps to curb it where it exists. [Keith Wright, Religious Abuse: A Pastor Explores the Many Ways Religion Can Hurt as Well as Heal]