COVER

JOHN PAUL’S RESTLESS CATHOLICS

CHRIS WOOD September 14 1987
COVER

JOHN PAUL’S RESTLESS CATHOLICS

CHRIS WOOD September 14 1987

JOHN PAUL’S RESTLESS CATHOLICS

COVER

In Toronto’s Oratory Church of the Holy Family, the rumble of streetcars drifts through the open door, obscuring the soft chanted song of a Latin liturgy that has changed little over the centuries. The Sunday service—the only one still regularly conducted in Latin in Canada’s largest English-speaking diocese—usually attracts about 150 people. In the small red-brick church, the faithful find comfort in a spiritual lineage that claims unbroken descent from St. Peter, Christ’s chosen leader of his disciples. There is a bracing orthodoxy in the messages delivered from the pulpit by priests of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. The themes on one recent Sunday included a defence of Pope John Paul n and an attack on homosexuality. Rev. Daniel Utrecht compared the pontiff to the prophet Jeremiah, proclaiming God’s word to an unreceptive public. “He stands up for virtue,”

Utrecht declared, “and they tell him he is not being compassionate.”

With equal vigor,

Utrecht castigated those “tempted to acts of impurity with their own sex.”

Welcome: Neither message would have elicited much enthusiasm from the group that gathers later the same day in the living room of an expensive downtown apartment several kilometres to the west.

Of the six men who sit in a circle, praying and discussing their spiritual commitments, five are Catholics—and all are homosexual. They

hold services every second Sunday in the home of one of their members because they say they do not feel welcome in church. Even so, the lay host of the meeting is defiant in the face of the pontiff’s condemnation of homosexuality last year: “I am as much a part of the church as the Pope, whether they like it or not.”

Moral: Those two scenes of worship illustrate the distance between millions of Canadians holding contending visions of faith and struggling to find a home in the Roman Catholic Church. For many, the church’s catholic—the word means universal—welcome has been strained by disagreement over artificial contraception and the exclusion of women from the priesthood. At the same time, other Catholics are dismayed by church-run separate schools that they say fail to promote their faith. And as John Paul launches an 11-day visit to North America this week, those divisions underscore the challenge faced by a pontiff determined to end the relatively recent selfscrutiny of the church and reassert the Vatican’s moral authority in the mission to save souls.

Few of Canada’s 11 million Catholics appear to disagree with that mission. But many, especially among the growing number of welleducated and well-off Catholics, do argue

0 strongly with John § Paul’s tactics, especially 1 his dogmatic approach ^ to sexual morality. Van1 couver’s Rev. James

Roberts, for one, questioned the merits of the Pope’s high-profile globetrotting. Declared Roberts: “It’s simply a lot of Catholic hoopla. After the Pope goes home there’s not one Catholic couple that throws away their contraceptives.” Stronger language has greeted the Polish-born Pope’s apparent indifference to demands by women for a larger role in the church. Said Joyce Deveau Kennedy, a Dartmouth, N.S., theology graduate who concedes that she is unlikely to become a priest during John Paul’s tenure: “My church is sick.”

Greed: That is an assessment that conservative Catholics also make frequently—but from an opposite viewpoint. For them, the problem is in the casual way in which most of their coreligionists disregard church doctrine. To conservatives, the Pope’s stern orthodoxy on such matters as contraception, divorce and a celibate clergy are a necessary moral warning to a culture obsessed with sex and greed. Observed Regina Catholic Vonda Kosloski: “He has remained true to the teachings of the church.”

Most conservatives also reject the charge that their rigorous moral stands would deter many Canadians from joining the church. Said Rev.

William Mendenhall, spokesman for Vancouver’s conservative Archbishop James Carney: “Democracy makes

good government. It doesn’t make good religion.”

Still, the Pope will face a mixed wel-

come this week from his North American flock—large numbers of whom disagree strongly with many of his views, especially on contraception and the celibate clergy. John Paul’s tour was designed to concentrate on blessing the

crowds and meeting the faithful in Miami, New Orleans, and seven other U.S. cities, and on the delivery of inspirational homilies drafted by American speech writers. But the pontiff was expected to confront demonstrations by feminists and homosexuals at some of his stops. And in Los Angeles, the Pope was to meet more than 350 U.S. bishops for a closed-door discussion of relations between Rome and the 53 million Catholics of the United States. Those relations have been strained since the Vatican disciplined Seattle’s popular liberal Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen one year ago for allegedly deviating from church teachings by dispensing marriage annulments too freely. At the g same time, Rome had a g professor of moral the£ ology fired from the I Catholic University of I America in Washington, S D.C., for expressing un? orthodox opinions.

But church officials expected the mood to be far less confrontational during the brief Canadian leg of the pontiff’s tour. John Paul’s five-hour stop on Sept. 20 at Fort Simpson, N.W.T., a town of 1,000 people on the banks of the Mackenzie River, will make up for a visit cancelled because fog prevented his plane from landing during his 1984 Canadian tour. The Pope is scheduled to fly from Detroit, his last U.S. stop, to Edmonton on Sept. 19. The next day he will board a Boeing 737 chartered by the Canadian government for the 90minute flight to Fort Simpson. There the Pope is expected to greet more than 5,000 well-wishers gathered at a riverside meeting place traditionally used for important gatherings by the area’s Dene natives. Organizers have planned a papal walkabout and a private meeting with native leaders. Later, the pontiff will celebrate mass and serve communion to 100 area Catholics. Then, at 3 p.m. the Pope will fly back to Edmonton and board another plane for Rome.

Passions: The tightly scheduled and highly telegenic itinerary for Fort Simpson is characteristic of many of the stops that the Pope has made in 35 international trips, often designed to call attention to the problems of the

poor and dispossessed (page 36). Indeed, the defence of the world’s exploited has been one of the abiding passions of his high-profile pontificate. And in that area, at least, most Catholics appear to fully support him. They also appear to favor his high-profile activities. Vancouver housewife Marie Luttrell, for one, says that she would like to see papal opposition to women priests diminish, but that she remains an ardent admirer of the most public pope in history.

Doctrine: Still, the substance of the Pope’s guidance on other subjects has dismayed some Catholics. “He is a media superstar,” Vancouver’s Roberts told Maclean's, “but he does not listen sufficiently to people.” That is a familiar criticism of a pontiff whose views—tempered in the authoritarian climate of Poland during and after the Second World War—leave little room for dissent. Since John Paul II took office in 1978, charged Nova Scotia theologian Rev. Thomas Mabey, “there has been an obvious retrenchment to reassert the central authority as the source from which doctrine is imposed.”

The right turn in the interpretation of church doctrine has been especially noticeable in attitudes toward women. After more than 20 years in which women had seen their role in the church expanded dramatically in response to the liberal themes of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, recent Vatican direction has effectively halted reform. In 1983 a letter circulated by Rome warned local bishops against allowing women to infringe on sacramental duties reserved for priests. And last month John Paul told a gathering at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, that while the sexes have “equal dignity” in the church, their missions are different. The priesthood was to remain all male. Sister Frances Ryan, editor of Catholic New Times, a liberal biweekly, said that since then “there has been a cooling off.”

Celibate: Those developments have led many Catholic women to express sorrow and anger. “The Pope reminds me of a Victorian father,” said Dartmouth’s Deveau Kennedy. “He sees women as a different species.” Winnipeg’s Bernadette Russell, who serves on a diocesan committee examining the role of women in the church, said that she regretted the loss of a female perspective on faith. “We see things in a different way than men do,” Russell said. “The church is the loser by not using half its population to the fullest.”

John Paul’s critics claim that they detect other blind spots in his vision for the Catholic church. Catholic

homosexuals have objected to the church’s new attitudes toward them. Last October the Vatican withdrew even the limited acceptance it had earlier granted to homosexual impulses,

which were suppressed within a celibate lifestyle. That decision led Stephen Manning, a homosexual priest, to abandon the Dominican order after 10 years. Said Manning, who is now executive director of the AIDS Committee of Toronto: “I entered the church in hope of effecting change in attitudes toward sexuality. I have concluded that the church cannot make room for homosexuals.”

John Paul sparked another controversy last March, when he issued an instruction denouncing test-tube fertilization and other technological intrusions into reproduction. It echoed the tone set by Pope Paul Vi’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which banned most forms of contraception for Catholics. Humanae Vitae touched off angry protests that faded after Canadian bishops agreed that Catholic women could follow their conscience on the matter of contraception in light of the teachings of the church. Most women chose to ignore the papal encyclical. By last month, according to a poll published by The

Toronto Star, 85 per cent of Canadian Catholics had decided there was nothing immoral about contraception. Now, John Paul’s statements on procreation could set off a similar debate. Said

editor Ryan: “It’s hard for a well-educated Catholic couple to believe that a bunch of celibates know everything there is to know about reproduction and rearing a family.”

But for Catholic conservatives, the chorus of liberal complaints has the gratifying ring of moral victory. Many have been deeply unhappy with the liberal trend initiated by the Second Vatican Council. Others have opposed what they see as moral laxity and indifference to church doctrine by a majority of Catholics. Now, most conservatives regard John Paul’s clear and unambiguous defence of the church’s position on such issues as sexual morality as an overdue return to the basics of the faith.

Stark: One observer who holds that view is Welland, Ont., author Anne Roche. Some Catholics dismiss her studies of the modern church —which bear such pessimistic titles as The Desolate City— Q as the isolated view of a radical. But she has g many supporters and I admirers in the church I hierarchy. Joseph Cardi-

nal Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which monitors the orthodoxy of the world’s 800 million Catholics), has written approvingly of Roche’s vision. It is a vision as stark as it is uncompromising. “The church is in ruins,” Roche told Maclean's. “The vast majority of Catholics have abandoned the Catholic authority. They pick and choose the doctrine they want to believe. I don’t think you can be a Catholic and pick and choose. The truth is not relative.”

Disease: Many Catholics support that view, and at Toronto’s Oratory Church of the Holy Family, Utrecht’s homily dismissed polls that indicate widespread disregard by Catholics for such moral teachings as the doctrine on birth control. “It may be that the

polls are correct,” Utrecht told his congregation, “but God’s word does not come to us from opinion polls.”

Encouraged by the pontiff’s moral example, conservatives in some provinces have started campaigns to reassert strict control over the religious instruction offered in Catholic schools. That movement created controversy earlier this year in Toronto, after Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic accused some religion department heads in the diocese’s high schools of being “infected” with the “disease” of liberal orthodoxy. Declared Ambrozic: “This orthodoxy is characterized by an insufficient attention to God’s absoluteness and to the authority of the church.”

In the United States, observers predict that conflict between that country’s democratic tradition and the Pope’s more authoritarian attitude may cause extreme friction with Rome. But Canadian Catholics generally do

not foresee a similar trend developing. “For Canadians, traditions are valuable,” noted Sister Mary Jo Leddy, who differs with the Pope over women’s rights and other issues. She added, “Links with where you came from are valuable.” Leddy said that Canadians are used to having important decisions made beyond their borders—in matters of faith as well as in politics and economics. Said Leddy: “In the church, the head office is Rome, and we are branch-plant Catholics.”

Still, John Paul has made it clear that most of the reforms that flowed from the Second Vatican Council will remain. Indeed, a statement made by the Pope in 1983, confirmed that women—and other lay Catholics—could serve communion. Lay people of both sexes are deeply involved in the management of

most Canadian parishes and dioceses. In some parishes in the West and Quebec, where the shortage of priests is acute, many pastoral duties—with the exception of hearing confessions and consecrating the eucharist—have been turned over to sisters and lay worshippers. And at least one Catholic woman was prepared to declare last week that she had found “less sexism in the Church than in business.” Added Suzanne Scorsone, a social anthropologist who heads the Office of Catholic Family Life for the Archdiocese of Toronto: “I have never been taken anything less than seriously.”

Cry: In October a four-week international synod—or gathering—of bishops will begin in Rome to consider the role of the laity. And last month John Paul seemed to offer an olive branch to disaffected women when he noted that the time seemed “propitious to examine ways to assure a greater participation of

women in the church.” The synod has already stirred passions among many Canadian Catholics. When the diocese of St. John’s, Nfld., held hearings in June to seek parishioners’ views on the meeting, most speakers argued for a still greater role for lay Catholics. The demand, wrote then-editor William Callahan in the diocesan journal The Monitor, reflected “a cry from the very soul of lay Roman Catholics to be given a right to play a full part in the running of their church.”

Misery: But it is not clear that John Paul will listen with sympathy to those mostly well-off Canadians and Americans who are struggling against the church’s moral strictures. In the encyclical Redemptor Hominis—The Redeemer of Man—with which John Paul set out the agenda for his papacy,

he accused the developed world of “a certain abuse of freedom” as “rich countries accumulate goods to an excessive degree” while the poor “are being driven to conditions of even worse misery and destitution.”

That statement was a new affirmation of the Gospels’ message of Christian charity. But they also provided a moral background for John Paul’s brief journey to Canada at the end of next week. That visit, without stopping at the temples of commerce in Canada’s southern cities, will see the Pope keep his promise to go to a northern hamlet. There, a handful of the country’s poorest citizens plan to share communion with the man whom they—and many others—revere as Christ’s vicar on earth.

CHRIS WOOD

MARK LEIREN-YOUNG

ANN WALMSLEY

TOM REGAN

in Halifax and correspondents'