Dissidents in the Global Village

One year ago this month, the Catholic dissenters supporting the We Are Church referendum made a bold proclamation: They would deliver one million American signatures to the steps of St. Peter’s on Pentecost 1997. Their intention is to initiate Vatican III. We Are Church volunteers sought to collect signatures on their referendum from Catholics at parish events, schools, county fairs, and shopping malls. At mid-year the results were dismal.

Yet organizers headed to Detroit for the annual Call To Action (CTA) conference undaunted. They looked to European leaders to free them from “Roman domination” and to realize their dream of a democratically modeled church without sacramental penalty for conducting their sexual lives any way they chose.

The November 1996 CTA conference attracted five thousand participants to hear former Catholic theologian Hans Kung of Tubingen, Germany, and deposed French bishop, Jacques Galliot. Both had run afoul of the Vatican on matters of sexuality and authority: Kung dissented from Humanae Vitae; Galliot sanctioned the distribution of condoms and defended the ordination of women.

Hawking Heresy

On the day before Kung was to address Call To Action’s plenary session, it was business as usual in the convention hall: The familiar demands were barked by the usual roster of dissident speakers; heterodox vendors hawked earth-goddess statuettes, pro-abortion bumper stickers, unisex stoles, and other oddities. Dignity, the gay rights organization, passed out brochures for a book entitled Sex with God; priests roamed the concourses in fuchsia shirts to offset their collars; jeans-clad nuns thrust the referendum petition at passersby. “Have you signed, yet? We need a signature from everybody here.”

But even CTA’s packed convention would not help the referendum make good on its boast: A million American signatures have not been collected. At the close of the CTA conference in November, referendum representatives traveled to Rome to join their European counterparts in a strategy planning session. It was decided to buy time: They decided to present the petition on October 11, the anniversary date of the Second Vatican Council.

In the flurry of media attention given to the Catholic Common Ground Project, most Americans have forgotten the petition. Offered by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin as a salve to heal the bruises on Catholic America, Common Ground itself may be irretrievably mired in the dissent agenda. However, should Common Ground be derailed by cautious cardinals, rebellious Catholics believe they have a trump card to play.

After Common Ground Fails

A disgruntled coalition, fueled by a rejection of the teaching authority of the Church, is linking Catholics of European nations, Canada, Australia, and the United States. They insist that man is a self-perfecting organism who should be free to pursue consensual “truths” arrived at by mutual civility, tolerance, shared experience, and dialogue. Church authority is not merely an irritant but the prime obstacle to the process of human progress and perfection. Magisterial teaching, with an objective right and wrong, has been declared an enemy to be destroyed on sight.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has unmasked the intent of this global movement. In his words, they teach that the “Absolute is not to be believed, but to be experienced. God is not a person to be distinguished from the world, but a spiritual energy present in the universe. Religion means the harmony of myself with the cosmic whole, the overcoming of all separations.” This desire for harmony with the “cosmic whole” explains—at least in part—dissident enchantment with pagan nature worship, native culture liturgies, body prayer, and spirit dances.

In line with this way of thinking, persons must also be free to attain sexual “wholeness” as it is a primary method of communicating and sharing the self with the cosmos. Obstructing free sexual expression is withholding a portion of the developing whole which is moving inexorably to cosmic completion. “We must not sequester our radial energies. That’s why celibacy is a wasteful practice,” a Dignity supporter explained.

Faithful Catholics, who are earning a living, driving carpools, nursing the sick, and coaching Little League, are dazed by these salvos. “What does all this mean?” they ask. They know neither what WOC (Women’s Ordination Conference) is nor whom Dignity represents. They are weary of liturgical wars and yearn for solemnity and holiness. Catholics are mystified by homosexuals claiming to be victimized by the “sinful structures of the patriarchal Church” that refuses to marry them. They are aghast that Catholic politicians promote abortion and euthanasia. When Cardinal Bernardin characterized Catholic America as “mean-spirited” and “polarized,” faithful Catholics were dismayed and confused: How had this happened to us?

Kung and Gorbachev

This battle for the soul of the Church is being fought with strange allies. When “progressives” discuss “reimaging” the Church for the next millennium, they envision a global organization on a massive scale infiltrating the Catholic infrastructure in every country. The Catholic Church has schools, churches, offices, universities, hospitals, and personnel with authority around the globe. What other organization has such all-encompassing global assets? More frightening than any political thriller, a plot seems to be unfolding across national borders.

The “Initial Declaration Towards a Global Ethic” is the work of Hans Kung. Three years earlier, in Chicago, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, two hundred fifty world religious leaders signed Kung’s declaration. The November CTA conference brochure explains: “From this starting point [Kung] continues to move the different faiths to reach a fundamental consensus on binding values, a moral foundation for a new global order.”

Across the country, a month earlier, in San Francisco, Mikhail Gorbachev preached the same vision. Four hundred luminaries, paying $5,000 each, attended a planetary event hosted by the State of the World Forum entitled “Toward a New Civilization: Launching a Global Initiative.” Attending were media mogul Ted Turner, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall, ex-priest and Hatian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late Carl Sagan, and others. These dignitaries joined Gorbachev in launching an “Earth Charter,” which provides “a new ethical and legal basis and a new code of conduct for all nations . . . that should be adopted by all nations by the year 2000.”

Toward this end, the Gorbachev Foundation insists, institutions of global governance will have to be strengthened. The political leverage will be supplied by the ecological crisis. The convening speaker extolled “ecology as a rallying point for the religions of the world, a spiritual awakening, which sets the current and future agenda for traditional religious institutions.”

Gorbachev and his “State of the World Forum” and Hans Kung, the leader of the “reimaging” forces attacking the Catholic Church, speak of their goals in nearly identical terms. Their unlikely convergence unveils the source of Catholic dissident bravado: They believe the Catholic reform movement is assured of triumph, for it is part of the larger drive to “restructure the global community.” Kung warns, “Our earth cannot be changed unless in the not too distant future an alteration in the consciousness of individuals is achieved. And it is precisely for this alteration in inner orientation, in the entire mentality, in the heart that the religions bear responsibility in a special way.”

Gorbachev’s Dissident Guest List

Gorbachev outlined the need for a “new paradigm of existence” and instituted yet another organization dubbed Green Cross International, which seeks “a global value change embracing material values as well as spiritual ones.” Gorbachev chose a “Council of the Wise,” one hundred world political and spiritual leaders, who addressed “The Global Crisis of Spirit and the Search for Meaning.” This council, also called the “Global Brain Trust,” is to meet annually until the year 2000, developing a consensus for a global ethics, the “Earth Charter,” which all governing bodies will be asked to endorse. According to Gorbachev, “We must reinvent the world together.”

Gorbachev’s plea for “unity in diversity,” like his emphasis on ecology for political leverage, echoes the strategies of Call To Action and its goddess worshippers.

The State of the World Forum also tackled population control, as do CTA exhibitors, while affirming sexual freedoms. Gorbachev speaks of “developing a global consciousness, embracing the task of spiritual renewal, launching the next phase of human development.”

A glance at the guest list for Gorbachev’s State of the World Forum reveals a familiar roster: Sister Joan Chittister, Chairman of the Congregation of Religious Orders of the USA; Fr. Richard Rohr of Ennegram fame; Matthew Fox, former priest and founder of “Creation Spirituality,” which, among many other things, teaches massage as a sacrament. Fox and Chittister are CTA favorites.

Similar to Gorbachev’s activities, the Global Dialogue Consortium (GDC) is a project of Leonard Swidler, a professor of religious thought at Temple University and protégé of Kung. The GDC “honors the diversity and wisdom of the world’s religious traditions by encouraging open dialogue. Trusting that a vital spiritual awareness will emerge from their dialogue, these dialogical encounters will sharpen our awareness of the personal responsibility that is crucial to the future of the planet we can accept diversity, embrace pluralism, and foster inclusive modes of spirituality in the work place.”

Missing from all these “religious” organizations, of course, is any specific concern for the figure of Jesus Christ. There is a complete abandonment of the messianic mission of Christ. There is no call to conversion, because there is no belief in the Christian Savior, or a heaven where Christ is judge. This world will be made heavenly when all become “fully human.” Jesus, the “Good Galilean,” is understood as the prototypical “new man,” fully “self-actualized,” highly conscious of his “connectedness” to all things.

The religion professed in these groups is an old one, the incubator of political fanaticisms—the perfection of man. Its adherents foresee a rapture; not such as will precede the second coming, but a convergence, when all men are drawn into a oneness of consciousness, before their unified ascension. They have an evangelical belief in this process, hence the term “process Catholics.” This is also, in part, the source of their concern for dialogue—they want to change and control opinion.

The Grammar of Dissent

We do not need conspiracy theories to ask after such strange allies. All of these groups are the practical byproduct of an age dumbstruck with relativism. As Cardinal Ratzinger puts it, “Relativism has thus become the central problem for the faith at the present time. It is presented as a position defined positively by the concepts of tolerance and knowledge through dialogue and freedom, concepts which would be limited if the existence of one valid truth for all were affirmed.” The splendor of the truth evokes only howls from dissident Catholics.

Disaffected Catholics believe there can be no one definitive truth, for truth is whatever their experience tells them is valid. Thus, among dissidents, no teaching is valid until, by consensus, it is “received” by the whole community. Obedience to authority is hardly a virtue; indeed, it is often counted as a sinful participation in domination. Such an identification with their community also explains why sin for them is collective (poverty, pollution, injustice) rather than personal. The group is the arbiter of “truth,” and loyalty to the collective is the test of virtue.

Proponents of the We Are Church referendum seek elected bishops and pontiffs in order to escape objective truths. They demand dialogue in order to determine, collectively, what the truth of a given circumstance or a given community may be—everything depends on the “lived experience.” Therefore authority is rejected—no one, not even the Church, has authority to determine the validity of personal experience. All opinions are equally valid, and it is the collective wisdom of the community that will lead us toward a greater spirituality and into a higher form of humanity. This communitarian emphasis seeks a democratic model for the Church where the jurisdiction of a bishop is confined to the community that elects him to office. No central authority will be permitted; no catechism, no Magisterium, no Vatican has the final say. They demand communal autonomy.

Why do dissident Catholics insist that a political system be substituted for our faith in the revealed truth? Can it be simply that the truth is unwelcome? “I came to Call To Action because the Church is mistaken on birth control,” an elderly woman explained. “I had seventeen children, but my daughters ought to have a choice.” Admitting that she was unable to afford the CTA conference, she praised her pastor for donating parish funds, which made her participation possible. “I still go to Mass most days. I love my parish. But I don’t blame my children for leaving the Church. The Church’s teaching just isn’t relevant to modern times.”

This is the strongest indictment of the Church that dissidents hand down from their tower of Babel. Convinced that maturing humanity, now enlightened, has outgrown the “patriarchal” model of Church governance, they sincerely expect to “liberate” her from irrelevance. Such irrelevance is most apparent to them in matters of sexuality.

Other attendees agreed that they were uncomfortable with aberrant groups that dominate CTA conferences, yet they felt that dissent groups such as CTA will eventually cause change in the Church’s teaching on sexuality: “We no longer abstain from pork, do we? The times are different, and the Church must change. Sexual prohibitions don’t make sense any more, and even less for the next millennium.”

When Humanae Vitae was promulgated, many defected—it was, and is, a hard saying. Hans Kung, a promising young priest and scholar at the Second Vatican Council, was among those who dissented. In the years since Humanae Vitae was released, Rang has tirelessly assailed the authority of the Church and her doctrine of infallibility. But prior to Humanae Vitae, Kung had been an eloquent defender of the papal office. In his 1961 book, The Council, Reform, and Reunion, Kung writes, “the only Church there is, and in which we believe, is simply and always the visibly and hierarchically organized totality of the baptized, united in the external profession of faith and in obedience to the Roman Pope.”

The Message We’ve Heard Before

Thirty-five years later Kung stood before five thousand very confused American Catholics. Kung’s image was projected on four six-foot screens above the crowd assembled on the convention floor below. This is what he told them:

Man, in the beginning, was tribal—he had no concept of himself as person. His only history was the history of the tribe. He was unaware of an identity separate from his community, and his opinion was the opinion of the tribe. His survival depended on the tribe; individual potential was not conceived. As humanity advanced, man realized his destiny could be different from that of his community. He then learned to make decisions for the sake of his self, apart from the interests of the tribe. This was a necessary stage of human development, but man has now become too self-absorbed, too greedy and territorial. The human community suffers. As we move toward a higher evolutionary plane each individual must bring his talents and gifts back to the community. Each of us must once again become part of the whole—through dialogue we come together as one and reinforce the life of the community.

The spirit of the age beguiles even the brightest among us. Kung promised his adoring onlookers that in Germany, Ireland, Italy, France, Austria, and Japan, their spiritual brothers and sisters labored to complete the work of reform. He assured them that a global initiative was both inevitable and growing. All peoples, all religions, would join together. A new kind of church was forming, not from the top down, but from the grass-roots of humanity.

On the eve of the third millennium mankind is expectant. Those expecting to find the truth in the wash of dissident opinion are sure to be frustrated. Mankind, once again, is in great need of the “revelation of the sons of God.”


Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and public speaker. She is a board member of Women for Faith and Family and has served on the Legatus Board of Directors. With co-author Robin Bernhoft, she wrote Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (Catholic Answers Press, 2005).

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