From top to bottom?

10 Responses

  1. Johnny says:

    Theocracy: A form of civil government in which God himself is recognized as the head. The laws of the commonwealth are the commandments of God, and they are promulgated and expounded by the accredited representatives of the invisible Deity, real or supposedgenerally a priesthood. Thus in a theocracy civic duties and functions form a part of religion, implying the absorption of the State by the Church or at least the supremacy of the latter over the State. — Catholic Encyclopedia

    Working for a large company, it becomes the accepted norm that certain decisions are made by certain individuals at certain levels of authority. Of course it can be argued that in most companies the path to success is based on leadership taking all members views into consideration when making decisions that will affect the company and its profitability. However, at the end of the day the final decision is made by those at the top of the pyramid and the decision is accepted by all parties.

    I must ask then but why cant dissenting Catholics apply this same logic to the Church? Sure, we can give our input to the priests and bishops, but at the end of the day the final decisions on any matter is decided by the bishops and our Holy Father. And as a normal worker in the company these decisions should be accepted, embraced and worked through where the entire Church moves forward in unity. After all, the Church has been around for 2000 years, one can safely assume that it knows what its doing, that it is definitely guided by the Holy Spirit.

    Just some food for thought but perhaps this article should also be considered where a letter by St. Ambrose is quoted: Gentle reminder: Laymen cannot judge Bishops on matters of faith

    Laymen are laymen; priests are priests; bishops are bishops. Each one has his position in the Church.

  2. Rosemary Gravenor says:

    Can you, Johnny, give us one example of a working Theocracy today? If one exists, how is it working for those our God is traditionally concerned about: Gods beloved anawim: the poor, the marginalised, the outcast, the sick, etc. etc.

    Your worldly example of how a pyramid structure works for profitability is ludicrous when you consider we are supposed to be following Jesus, the Divine Son, who had nowhere to lay his head (that he called his own).

    Furthermore, Jesus never ever critiqued the civil authorities even the oppressive government of his day. But he critiqued the religious leaders, again and again.

    In answer to your question around dissenting Catholics, I will do the Irish thing and ask a question: why do fundamentalists avoid any attempt to see the pattern (read logic) of Jesus life, death and resurrection?

    No one has to rely on a pyramid structure to get into a real relationship with the historical Jesus and more especially available: the Risen Christ.

    Patrick Giddy voices the concern of many Catholics not only here in SA but worldwide.
    In the harsh structure of pyramid pictured so graphically, the Holy Spirit has no place. What does that say to us? The Spirit was the Comforter (and more) that Christ knew was essential for any disciple of His to be energised by.

    We have come a long, long way from: “without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold, or silver, or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or a walking stick (Mt 8b to 10a).

  3. Johnny says:

    @ Rosemary: Wow! And here I thought I was just making a simple suggestion and a few simple remarks.

    Rosemary before we continue our discussion, which I would greatly like to as I believe I can respond to your remarks and explain myself better, I ask that you pray with me to our Lord Jesus Christ to guide our discussions and for the His Mother, Mary to bring us closer to Him. I will be saying a prayer at 12:00 this afternoon and ask that you join me in saying an Our Father and 10 Hail Marys. After this I will respond to your comment and we can then take it from there asking the Spirit to guide us.

  4. Rosemary Gravenor says:

    In reading between the lines of Patrick Giddy’s letter, I thought the following was appropriate:

    Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they dont know it, are asleep. Theyre born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.

    You know all mystics Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.

    Anthony de Mello Approaching God How to Pray

  5. Johnny says:

    @ Rosemary: My dear sister in Christ, here are my responses and remarks to yours made above:

    1. My worldly example used of a company: Forgive me if this example did not make much sense or if it was ludicrous. It was just an example that I thought would make sense in trying to understand peoples general perceptions.

    2. Jesus criticized religious authorities: Yes this is true, however he criticized them mainly for their hypocrisy. Are you implying that our Bishops and priests are all in the same league as the Pharisees of the days of Christ? That they are all hypocrites?

    3. The Holy Spirit has no place in the Hierarchy: I find this point most disturbing Rosemary, as it seems that you are implying that the Holy Spirit does not guide any of the bishops and priests in the Catholic Church. This for me is more of a Protestant view and is very disturbing indeed.

    I can honestly state that in my experience most of our bishops and priests confer with the Holy Spirit in all matters of faith. They consistently pray for Gods grace and assistance to guide them in helping to guide the faithful. All of this in the goal of assisting us in getting to know and love God more and more. Also, our Church Fathers and Doctors themselves believed in the Catholic Church and in Her structures. I quote the following:

    In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of the apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a church. I am confident that you accept this, for I have received the exemplar of your love and have it with me in the person of your bishop. His very demeanor is a great lesson and his meekness is his strength. I believe that even the godless do respect him” (ibid., 3:12). — Ignatius of Antioch.

    Even here in the Church the gradations of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles and who have lived in complete righteousness according to the gospel” (Miscellanies 6:13:107:2 [A.D. 208]). — Clement of Alexandria.

    Also, if I may add, if we look at the lives of the saints, do we not see a pure devotion to God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Holy Catholic Church? We most certainly do! Mother Theresa who served God so passionately and her fellow man loved the Catholic Church so much. Other saints like Saint Faustina is another brilliant example of devotion to Christ and the Holy Catholic Church.

    And if I may answer your first question on the matter of which established theocracy looks after the sick, poor etc. then I can easily answer you that the Catholic Church does. The Church has countless hospitals, schools, old age homes, feeding centres throughout the world caring for those in need. Of course one may argue that a large portion of these funds are donated by the public, but is that not what the Gospel teaches?

    If I may make a suggestion, perhaps the pyramid has not been correctly drawn. A level should be placed above the Pope where the Holy Trinity and the saints in Heaven are situated. Or perhaps a circle should be placed around the whole pyramid where the Holy Trinity and the saints in Heaven guide all of the Church. Be this as it may, the authority of the bishops and priests on matters of faith must be respected as has always been the case since the beginning of the Church. This formula has proved itself throughout the ages, proved itself in the lives of the saints who loved, respected and believed in the Divine authority of the Catholic Church.

  6. Derrick Kourie says:

    Jesus clearly required his followers to interact in a very egalitarian fashion. His words are quite incisive and unambiguous, even though we try to water them down:

    “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9).

    “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15).

    Paul is equally clear about the radical equality between Christians:

    “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (Matthew 20: 24)

    “and in that image there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between the circumcised and uncircumcised, or between barbarian and Scythian, slave and free. There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything.” (Collosians 3:11)

    “But now that faith has come we are no longer under a slave looking after us; for all of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female — for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:25-28)

    The greatest Christians took words such these from the bible very seriously. They frequently clashed with the church authorities: St. Athanasius, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St Joan of Arc, Venerable Mary Ward, St Francis. They did so respectfully, but quite firmly. And of course, we all know how firmly Paul opposed Peter’s view of evangelisation. Even wonderful Christians in modern times have butted heads with religious authorities. I think for example of Doris Day, (read about it in the SC at and I think of Teilhard de Chardin. (How I wish the Church would canonize him!) He was, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century whose writings were banned by the Church. He was also a deeply pious man. He never retracted his radical theological views, and continued to propagate them, although never disobeying his superiors by having his texts published in his lifetime. His works remain a beacon of light, powerfully influencing modern Christianity and, in my opinion, destined to do so much more fundamentally in the future.

    As Christians, we should love and respect the hierarchy, just as we should love and respect the beggar. (Perhaps we are even called to love and respect the beggar more!) We do not serve the Church and our fellow Christians and human beings by remaining silent in the face of shortcomings that we perceive in our Church, whether in its practices or its teachings. Of course, as lay persons, our primary task is divinising the world through our work and our interaction with society. But there can be no question of a one-way, top-down interaction with the hierarchy. They have to listen and respond to our experiences of the world, and we have to give them robust and honest feedback.

    The notion that the hierarchy are somehow more pious, prayerful and theologically informed than the laity is not accurate—there are many many deeply devout and theologically well informed lay people. One just has to think of the many wonderful religious sisters: I suspect that the majority of them have tertiary qualifications in the all sorts of areas including theology. We all know saintly lay people of strong faith, some of whom are more qualified in areas such as biblical studies, theology, church history, etc, than the majority of priests and bishops.

    Johnny is not wrong to point to the management structures in industry, but he does not take things far enough. It is well-known that the best companies have close interactions with management and factory floor workers. Creative, vibrant industries tend to have very flat hierarchies with a strong egalitarian culture. Those with rigid steep hierarchies tend to be bureaucratic, soul-deadening and inefficient—civil servant structures being the worst of these. Such companies tend to collapse when the environment changes because they lack the structures and ability to adapt. (Think USSR!)

  7. Derrick Kourie says:

    Apologies for the error above: I was, of course, referring to Dorothy Day, and not Doris Day who is the singer/actress.

  8. Rosemary Gravenor says:

    @ Johnny

    [snip] “people’s general perceptions”. What about the incorrect (and dead wrong) perceptions of ‘people’?

    [snip] “3. The Holy Spirit has no place in the Hierarchy”

    please go back and read my actual words…!

    My thoughts are this: Is Trinity a pyramid? Obviously not – in my understanding – because all Persons are equally God? And if the second Person – the Divine Son – became incarnate, effectively God moved – in accordance to a pyramid structure – to the very bottom. If this second Person aligned Himself to humanity – how does pyramid work in the mind of the historical Jesus?

    To take Patrick’s line of thought further: Did Jesus want to initiate the type of structure the Roman Empire was based on? It seems that because of Constantine imposing Christianity on the whole Empire, that the Holy Spirit was not in the ‘church’ but commandeering the Emperor and thus the Empire as the way for the future of Christ’s movement.

    [snip] “the authority of the bishops and priests on matters of faith must be respected as has always been the case since the beginning of the Church.” Here I would not be so certain. Read the thesis of, now Blessed, John Henry, (Cardinal) Newman which was written while still Anglican – about the time the church was torn apart by heresies in the 3rd and 4th centuries, AD. JHN’s bottom line appears to be strongly in favour of the faithful who kept the Church on the narrow path – not any Pope, Bishop or Priest.

    Ideally, we should be respectful of the authority of the bishops etc on matters of faith but the reality is that the word ‘authority’ has to encompass not just words but deeds!

    [snip] “in my experience most of our bishops and priests confer with the Holy Spirit in all matters of faith”. Even if you could have written ‘all’ instead of the generalised ‘most’, my comment is: what does it profit the common good of the whole diocese (Catholicism at large) if Bishops concerns and decisions are overridden by the Pope or have to be kept under wraps because of vows of loyalty and obedience (not to mention fear of being deposed and replace! (refer the original letter). The poor Holy Spirit [for them] is curtailed.

    Sorry if I seem to over-react to you Johnny but your experience, assumptions and perceptions (the latter two especially about me and my experiences) are from another plane. My initial over-reaction was around your assumption and labelling of ‘dissenting Catholics’. To me that shows you are burdened by dualistic thinking i.e. who is in, who is out, who is right, who is wrong, who is authentically ‘catholic’ and who is not, which to me shouts against the person of Christ himself. Just read your words again in the light of Jesus saying: I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life.

    I think that is enough for now and I want to read Derrick Kouries’ input.

  9. Rosemary Gravenor says:

    @ Derrick

    Thank you for your sound and balanced reality – and more important – how it should all come together as Church or church. You keep my hope flying high!

    Here is another wonderful testimony of Jesus Incarnate in humanity, in the world of daily realities:

    Into the Future

    The journey of women religious since Vatican II
    Nancy Sylvester JULY 16, 2012

    The bishops are right. Women religious have changed, not only in the United States but throughout the world. We have changed in ways that invited us to let go of who we thought we were. Surrendering to the Spirit, we awakened to new understandings that touched our deepest core. Change at that level is transformation. It radically altered how we see ourselves, the Gospel, our church, our world and most importantly how we understand our God. This change in consciousness was not easy. No, it was painful, but like the pain at childbirth it dissolves in unspeakable awe at the life that emerges.

    I do not want to pretend that everything that transpired over these past 50 years was perfect and without mistakes or poor choices. But what is clear to me is that the renewal that followed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council invited women and men, vowed religious and lay, to experience our faith in ways that both permeated and was shaped by a modern, pluralistic, democratic society.

    The council document, Gaudium et Spes, invited the church to embrace the joys and hopes, the pain and suffering of the people of God and to be in the world and not stand apart. It opened the windows of an institution that had been nailed shut and freed the Spirit. In that invitation the official church echoed what Jesus did in his life when he opened the windows of the restrictive purity system that prevailed in his time and proclaimed in word and deed that everyone was welcome to the table and loved by God.

    An Act of Obedience

    Women religious took that invitation seriously and, urged by the official church, undertook renewal. That was an act of great obedience. I know because I entered religious life in 1966 having grown up in Chicago in a Catholic enclave. Catholic defined every aspect of my lifeCatholic schools, Catholic funeral parlors, Catholic sports teams, Catholic spirituality, the list goes on. The official church today would be very proud of who I was back then. I did not want things to change. I envisioned wearing a habit my entire life, living in a convent with a daily routine, teaching in schools. So when I entered and things began to change it was not an easy road for me; however, I obeyed and took seriously what I was being taught in our theology and philosophy classes.

    Integrating the questions that arose about faith, scripture and theology into my prayer life was key to my journey, as it was for many women religious. We began to see with new eyes who Jesus was and how the Scriptures were formulated within the context of its time. We learned the history of the church and its tradition of social justice teachings. We learned liberation theology and began to understand how structures and systems of political and ecclesial power too often oppress the very people they were formed to serve. As U.S. dioceses paired with cities in Central and South America, many sisters served in those newly established ministries and experienced the power of liberation theology and were transformed by the people they served.

    Guided by the council documents we learned about other faith traditions and that they, too, had something to offer to the exploration into God. Liturgical renewal brought an openness and freshness to liturgical celebrations that had ossified within the Roman church.

    Prepared in the 1950s through the Sister Formation Movement, women religious were poised to move quickly to prepare themselves academically following the council. And we did. Liberal arts, the social sciences as well as hard sciences became friends to us. The insights of quantum physics, evolution and discoveries about the origins of the universe were not alien or suspect. Rather they too were pointing to a greater understanding of God and who we are in this marvellous world.

    Immersing ourselves in the world opened up new ministries in which women religious worked directly with women who were struggling with abusive relationships or decisions about carrying a pregnancy to term; with young girls who mistakenly understood that according to the churchs teaching it was better to have an abortion and be forgiven for one mortal sin than to use contraceptives and be in a constant state of mortal sin. Our ministries brought us face to face with the outcasts of our societythe homeless, those in prisons, those on drugs, the economically disadvantaged, those suffering because of their sexual orientation. These experiences seeped into us and as we brought them to prayer they transformed us. We saw and understood that those are the people today who Jesus would have called friends and welcomed into his company.

    The Awakening

    Our life within congregations was changing as well. As we changed the clothes women wore in an earlier era to clothes of our time and began to live in different types of community, we experienced ourselves as individuals in our own right. Like women everywhere in those years we awakened to our own identity as women and claimed the rights that were ours, equal to those of men. Having ministered among women we felt in a new way the challenges that are ours because of our gender, the gift of our sexuality and as bearers of new life. We came to understand that the official churchs teaching on sexuality was not accepted by most Catholic women because it did not touch womens hearts, our lives, address our pain or the difficult choices facing us, or celebrate the joy of our sexuality.

    Having grown up in the United States women religious began to integrate democratic principles into our governing structures. The council asked us to move toward servant leadership and we saw that patriarchal and hierarchical structures do not foster that model. Rather we chose more circular models of leadership with an emphasis on participation and shared leadership even as we affirmed and accepted certain individuals among us as our elected leaders.

    The social movements of our time became part of our livesthe womens movement, the civil rights struggle, the non-violence and anti-war movement and more recently the gay and lesbian movement. What we learned was a visceral knowledge that every human person is endowed with certain inalienable rights regardless of race, gender, religion, class or sexual orientation. All are children of God.

    More recently, women religious have brought to prayer the insights from quantum physics and cosmology that reveal the interconnectedness of all life. We have consciously chosen to see the plight of our Earth as a justice issue and to formulate congregational directions and public positions regarding sustainability, global climate change and the care of Earth and its natural resources.

    Speaking Out

    We found ourselves immersed in a society that was pluralistic, democratic and secular and we knew that our faith had something to offer as well as to receive from the culture. We spoke out about the abuses of greed, consumerism and selfish individualism and the public policies that are shaped without regard to the common good or to those who are the least among us. We lobbied and we demonstrated. We used our economic power through shareholder resolutions. And we offered at our retreat centers and educational forums opportunities for others to integrate their experience as adults in this culture with their evolving faith.

    Women religious have changed. And that change is shaking the very foundations of what continues to be a church seemingly caught in an earlier time and place. That is not what is needed now. The signs of our times reveal to us persons who are Catholic but who no longer can go to church because of feeling alienated and angry at the corruption and lack of integrity among many of its male clerical leaders. These persons so want to know God as adults. They are longing for a spirituality that is rooted in their faith and in their life.

    I believe that the Gospel and the richness of our Catholic tradition have something to offer our post-modern world. I dont want to see it collapse under the weight of structures that maintain power relationships that no longer serve. I believe that the faith that is waiting to be offered to the 21st century is one that comes from a stance of openness and understanding of the changes that our evolutionary development has brought us. It cannot be a faith that comes from a position of condemning modernity. It will be a faith that has been tested in the crucible of our time and has emerged with new insights and new interpretations of how we can love one another as Jesus did. In difficult and chaotic times we can come to a greater awareness that we are more alike than different, more one than separate.

    Yes, women religious have changed. And I believe that our journey has much to offer this moment in history. Together with others who have walked in similar paths, the future of our faith has been beckoning us forward since the Second Vatican Council. On the 50th anniversary of that event let us move courageously into the future claiming once again that we are Catholics and we are the church.

    Nancy Sylvester, I.H.M., is founder and president of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious from 1998-2001 and was the NETWORK National Coordinator from 1982-1992.

  10. Derrick Kourie says:


    I have just read the piece you placed above by Nancy Sylverster. Thanks so much. I hope that her voice of sanity is heard in the right places.