The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity

The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity

The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity

The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity

Synopsis

One deep problem facing the Catholic church is the question of how its teaching authority is understood today. It is fairly clear that, while Rome continues to teach as if its authority were unchanged from the days before Vatican II (1962-65), the majority of Catholics - within the first-world church, at least - take a far more independent line, and increasingly understand themselves (rather than the church) as the final arbiters of decision-making, especially on ethical questions. This collection of essays explores the historical background and present ecclesial situation, explaining the dramatic shift in attitude on the part of contemporary Catholics in the U.S. and Europe. The overall purpose is neither to justify nor to repudiate the authority of the church's hierarchy, but to cast some light on: the context within which it operates, the complexities and ambiguities of the historical tradition of belief and behavior it speaks for, and the kinds of limits it confronts - consciously or otherwise. The authors do not hope to fix problems, although some of the essays make suggestions, but to contribute to a badly needed intra-Catholic dialogue without which, they believe, problems will continue to fester and solutions will remain elusive.

Excerpt

Michael J. Lacey

This volume was initiated and supported by the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, to focus attention on some of the questions and problems that trouble reflective Catholics today about life within their polarized and fretful community of faith. It is oriented mainly to the situation in the United States and in Europe, but the editors feel that the issues dealt with are broad and general enough to be of interest to others as well. They have commissioned and gathered together a set of scholarly essays drawn from a range of disciplines—historical, theological, canonistic, philosophical, social-scientific—and some of those essays explore and assess aspects of the “lived” Catholicism of priesthood and laity.

Although in one way or another most of the essays cut across traditional disciplinary lines and cannot always be readily designated as theoretical rather than practical in nature or, for that matter, vice versa, we have grouped them loosely into three subdivisions. Those in the first part focus on matters historical, on the centrality of the appeal to the witness of the past in the Catholic tradition, and on the degree to which, at one point or another, the understanding and representation of the past has come to be the focus of contention. The essays in the second part can be classified most easily as theological, canonistic, or philosophical. Directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, they all touch upon the neuralgic issue of the role played by ecclesiastical authority in the life of the church. Though perhaps less obviously so . . .

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