Faith That Dares to Speak
by: Donald Cozzens • Liturgical Press, 2004 Collegeville,
review by: Fr. Louis J. Trivison
With the Catholic Church still reeling from after shocks of the
clergy abuse scandal, Fr. Donald Cozzens has published his third
book dealing with the priesthood. His viewpoints are shaped by
forty years as a priest, time spent as a professor and rector
of a major seminary, and ministry as Secretary for Clergy and
Religious for the Diocese of Cleveland. His book attempts to
answer the questions faithful Catholics ask about how such a
tragedy could have happened and how Church leadership reacted
in efforts to heal the wounds. In keeping with the title, Cozzens
speaks from a deep faith that flows from a life dedicated to
the work of Christ’s church and he dares to speak the truth.
He sets the groundwork for the present state of
historically, taking us back into earlier centuries when the structure
of the church mirrored the structure of society. In feudal systems
loyalty and accountability
were always upward: vassals never report to the serfs, the serfs remain uneducated,
lords of the manor are never accountable to their vassals and dialogue involving
serfs was unthinkable. Such complete control was obvious in the church at least
until the second Vatican Council. Forty years after Vatican II, many signs of
such governance remain.
Hope for an end to feudal governance reached a high point at the
first meeting of U.S. bishops after the abuse scandal exploded
in early 2001. Margaret O’Brien
Steinfels and Scott Appleby were invited to address the bishops’ June meeting.
Steinfels said simply that the bishops had destroyed the trust of their people
by concealing the extent of the sex abuse for decades. She challenged the bishops
to rebuild that trust by being open and transparent in all future operations.
Appleby said the scandal demanded that the bishops build structures that enable
priests and laity to have a voice at all levels of diocesan decision making.
Predictably, essentially nothing has been done since then to empower the laity.
While the National Review Board could have been considered a start, some bishops
blatantly ignored the mandate they themselves had given to it.
It is clear from what Cozzens writes that no cardinal or bishop stepped forward
to provide leadership in calling for accountaiblity from his fellow bishops.
No successor of the stature of Cardinal Bernardin has emerged in the ten years
since his death. Even if a bishop took steps to involve the laity more fully
in church decisions, he would likely be attacked as Bernardin was after he called
for a Common Ground initiative in a badly divided Church.
In a telling remark, Cozzens points to the disillusionment that
Vatican II reforms did not materialize: “There was a palpable sense of
joy and vitality among Catholics in the years immediately following Vatican II.
But it didn’t last as powerful church authorities began to undermine the
countil’s dramatic and liberating reforms.Control over almost every aspect
of church life was reclaimed by the Vatican leaving diocesan bishops in the position
of branch managers and the lower ranks of the clergy along with their parishioners
frustrated and resentful.”
Cozzens recounts the origins of Boston’s Voice
of the Faithful and earlier efforts by FutureChurch and Call To
Action to provide vehicles for laity to express
their concerns and propose reforms consistent with Vatican II theology. Instead
of encouraging these groups, most bishops saw them as a threat to their authority,
control and power. Instead of welcoming offers from commited Catholics to dialogue
about healing the wounds caused by sex abuse and the abuse of power, many sought
to discredit priests and laity by publicly banning them from meeting on church
property. By such actions, they showed themselves to be intent on returning to “business
as usual” and they treated some of their best Catholic parishioners as
medieval serfs. Unfortunately for the bishops, their people and the Spirit will
not let that happen.
Fr. Cozzens ends on an optimistic note, He writes: “It is time for the
baptized to claim their liberation in the freedom of the Spirit- for the good
of the church. What lies ahead is not clear. What is clear is that we must be
as true as we can be to this moment in the church’s history.” Fr.
Donald Cozzens has given us a hopeful positive book that all faithful Catholics
would do well to read. And it is equally clear that Fr. Cozzens is himself, a
man of “faith that dares to speak.”