Boston Globe interviews McBrien

I was alerted to this interesting piece from the Boston Globe.

My emphases and comments.

A talk with The Rev. Richard P. McBrien
Life as a theologian, commentator – and lightning rod
By Michael Paulson

December 28, 2008

CATHOLICISM IN AMERICA is riven by internal debates – often about gender, sexuality, and authority – and seemingly unending controversies, about politics and parish closings and the handling of sexual abuse. Whenever one of these battles catches the attention of the evening news, one of the likely commentators is the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a theologian [?] at the University of Notre Dame who is one of the most visible interpreters of Catholicism to the American public.

McBrien has helped translate the arcana of Catholic history [with the help of JND Kelly, I believe] and teaching to an increasingly religiously uneducated America, editing the single-volume Encyclopedia of Catholicism, and penning two popular reference texts, "Lives of the Popes" and "Lives of the Saints."

But McBrien has also become a lightning rod for criticism because of his outspoken support for women’s ordination and married priests and his willingness to sharply criticize bishops and popes. And he has become persona non grata in some quarters – his theology column, which he has written since 1966, is barred from many diocesan papers, and his commentary has won him the ire of many conservatives. The Rev. John T. Zuhlsdorf, a popular conservative blogger, recently referred to McBrien as a "heresiarch," meaning a leader of heretics.

A priest of the Hartford archdiocese, McBrien taught for a decade at Boston College before moving to Notre Dame in 1980. He has just come out with his 25th book, a history of Catholic ecclesiology called, simply, "The Church," and spoke with Ideas during a visit to Boston.

IDEAS: How would you describe your standing in the church now?

McBRIEN: Well, I’m a theologian and a priest in good standing. What more could I say? I’ve been around a long time, and I’m not easily disposed of, put it that way, even though some people would like to have had that done.

IDEAS: Your column is not running in some places that it used to run.

McBRIEN: If I had all the papers that once carried the column, I’d have nearly 50 papers, which is a lot in the Catholic market. Don’t ask me how many I do have, because I never really know, but I have a relative handful of that number.

IDEAS: What happened?

McBRIEN: As the Catholic hierarchy became more conservative under Pope John Paul II, bishops who were open to a diversity of viewpoints in the church either died or retired, and were replaced, in almost every case, by bishops who were more, let’s say, attuned to the desires and intentions of the Holy See. I used to kid, I’d say bishops get points if they drop my column. They get noticed, and then they get promoted eventually, and so forth. [It’s all about him, after all.]  I can give you so many examples. I mean, let’s take Boston. Cushing was a patron of mine. He liked me, and I liked him. He had his foibles, but we all do. I liked Cardinal Cushing very much. But Medeiros was in, and Medeiros once said to me, ‘Richard, what would my mother think if she read your column?’ and I said, ‘Your eminence, I don’t write my column for your mother.’ So then it got dropped.

IDEAS: Have you become more liberal or more outspoken over the years?

McBRIEN: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think of myself in those terms, [But he sure thinks of others in those terms!] although it’s a relative term. I mean obviously I’m liberal if you define liberal stands as being open to the ordination of women, feeling that abortion shouldn’t be a litmus test defining whether one is a good Catholic or not. I’m very much against the policy of a certain handful of bishops to threaten to deny Communion to Catholic Democrats – and they’re always Democrats. I think that’s counterproductive, and I think it’s a mistake, and I also think it’s contrary to the policy of the bishops conference[Wow… can you imagine being in conflict with a position of the bishops’ conference?]

IDEAS: Why are you such a lightning rod? Whenever I quote you, I get e-mails, and I see bloggers taking after you.

McBRIEN: That’s a good question. It might be because I have such a public image.  [Which doesn’t include a clear image as a priest.] I regard myself as a broad centrist. [But remember… he doesn’t think in terms of labels…] But to an extreme right-wing person, especially in religion, and within the Catholic Church, a centrist or a center/left person is automatically perceived as an extreme left-wing person, [But he isn’t into labels…  And note that to a lefty progressivist, someone in the dead center seems to be on the extreme right.] bordering on, if not actually in, heresy. But for every e-mail or blog that you would see that would condemn me . . . I can tell you I got a lot of e-mails and letters from Catholics who said that I had given them hope and that their teenage kids who had been alienated from the church said that, "If there were more priests like the guy we were watching on television, I’d still be a Catholic."  [Sure!  And you can continue to do anything you want, without reference to the Church’s teachings, and feel great about yourself!  Isn’t he just a great guy?  sniff … I get all choked up thinking about the wonderful inspiration he has given to so many young people.]

IDEAS: And why don’t you leave?  [This is a good question.  The Anglican communion seems perfect for a fellow who doesn’t want a Bishop of Rome who is Supreme Pontiff, who questions the authority of bishops, who doesn’t want a clear teaching on moral issues.]

McBRIEN: Because it’s my church. [read: my income?] It’s my home. And I was born in it. I’ve been a Catholic all my life. And I have affirmation from so many good people. I feel that I have a responsibility to them to continue working at it and doing the best I can.

IDEAS: You’re so critical of the bishops, but you don’t seem angry.

McBRIEN: I’m critical of the bishops not because I have any gripe against any one of them personally. John Paul II, in the 26 ?? years he was pope, did some good things. [But] the most serious deficiency the late pope had . . . was the poor quality of men he put in the hierarchy. And nowhere was this more obvious than at the height of the sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood. The truth be told, a significant number of bishops . . . including some high-ranking bishops at the time, were gay. I have no problem with people being gay, but the Catholic Church officially does, and it’s constantly making statements that are hostile to gays, and they were compromised. They could not exercise leadership because they could not speak comfortably about issues relating to sexuality, because they were conflicted themselves.  [How was this an answer to the question?  What is the connect between John Paul II and gay bishops?   He is using this moment to introduce a non sequitur because this is what he really wants to talk about.  He is trying to undermine the authority of the bishops and of the Roman Pontiff.  He is trying to undermine the Church’s authority to teach on moral issues.]

IDEAS: Why don’t you wear a collar?

McBRIEN: I only wear a collar when I go to my home parish in West Hartford to say Mass on a Sunday when I’m home. My Roman collar is my television uniform. You don’t see the apostles with Roman collars on. [They didn’t wear neckties either.] It’s a custom. And the custom in the academic world is that most priests who teach in Catholic colleges and universities wear a tie or just have an open sport shirt

Michael Paulson covers religion for the Globe

Poor guy.  What a victim.

I wonder how much of the proceedings from his books he dedicates to pro-life charities…. any charity.

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59 Responses to Boston Globe interviews McBrien

  1. Anthony says:

    “As the Catholic hierarchy became more conservative under Pope John Paul II, bishops who were open to a diversity of viewpoints in the church either died or retired…”

    This line really gets my hackles up. The truth is that those who champion a “diversity of viewpoints” in reality demand that everyone think as they do, otherwise they are dismissed as “extreme right-wing” and denied a presence in the Church.

  2. wmeyer says:

    It’s appalling to me that his book Catholicism is looked upon with great favor by catechists in my parish. But then, so few seem to have any slightest idea anymore that a book that adheres to Catholic doctrine would be expected to receive Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur–two endorsements which have been missing from all releases of Fr. McBrien’s work.

    I will pray for him, that he may rediscover the principles of the faith he so clearly has lost.

  3. TNCath says:

    This really is sickening.

    Fr. McBrien: “I’ve been around a long time, and I’m not easily disposed of, put it that way, even though some people would like to have had that done.”

    In other words, Fr. McBrien takes great delight in being perverse and dares anyone to try to get rid of him. This would be a great opportunity for his archbishop to do just that. Close out his gig and retire him!

    Fr. McBrien: “…I have such a public image.” And “I only wear a collar when I go to my home parish in West Hartford to say Mass on a Sunday when I’m home. My Roman collar is my television uniform.”

    So, Fr. McBrien is more an actor playing the role of priest only when it is opportune for HIM to do so? Shameful. What an insult to the priesthood!

  4. rosie says:

    This is the FIRST candidate for the woodshed.

    I don’t think I can handle any more dissidence for today. It is disturbing my Sunday peace.

  5. Laura Lowder says:

    Oh, dear. The damage this man does to people’s souls! – ! Where is his bishop? Why has he not been disciplined?

    And I guess it’s snobbish of me, but I have no tolerance, no patience whatsoever of a priest who holds his vocation so cheap that he scorns the collar.

  6. There is also the fact that the wearing of the collar is regulated by the USCCB for non religious priests and says:

    “Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric.”

    So while this might be a minor thing it is just an example of how he plays fast and loose with the rules as he does with theology.

    Earlier this year one of his columns called into question the Perpetual Virginity of Mary by saying that she did have other children and undermined the solid apologetics on this. Catholic in “good standing” only because his bishop does not act as he should.

  7. Eric G says:

    Apparently, the Holy Father himself approved of Father McBrien’s work and ministry, since he has not disciplined him, or asked the proper subordinates to do so.

    Again, we Catholics are no different than the Anglicans. Conservative “orthodoxy” and high liturgy is one option out of many that good Catholics may avail themselves of. The Holy Father recognizes this, when will the rest of us?

  8. Thomas says:

    Fr. Z, I logged on at halftime of the Patriots game just to send this interview to you. I see you’re already on top of it though, you popular conservative blogger you.

    His obvious heresy aside, the greatest threat to McBrien’s soul is his sickening pride. I’ve never heard a more self-absorbed man in my life.

    Why isn’t he excommunicated formally? He is as public and obstinate in his heresy as you can get.

  9. Jason says:

    Well, I’m a theologian and a priest in good standing. What more could I say?

    This seems to me a very lukewarm response. There is a lot more you could say. See, for example, the overflowing zeal and love for the Church of St. Luigi Orione:

    Let no one surpass us in loving, with all of our energy, the Pope and the Church which is the beloved bride of the Word made Flesh. The Church is His work, as the Apostle St. John says in Chapter XVII. And she is our dearest, sweet Mother until the end of time. Let no one, therefore, outdo us in the sincerity of our love, devotion, and generosity toward Mother Church and the Pope. Let no one outdo us in laboring so that the Church may be universally known–their desires realized and loved. Let no one outrun us in following the Pope’s directions, all of them–unreservedly and without complain, eagerly and without hesitation. Let us give full, filial, and perfect assent of mind, of heart, of action, not only to what the Pope as Pope decides solemnly in matters of dogma and morals, but also in all things, whatever they may be, that he teaches, commands, or desires. Let no one surpass us in showing the tenderest solicitude for the Pope, by sacrificing ourselves, and longing each day and each hour, to become living holocausts of reverence and tender love for the Church, and our sweet visible Christ on earth–the Pope!

    Does Fr. McBrien have nothing more to add than that he is merely a “Priest in good standing”? Imagine a husband describing his relationship to his wife as a “husband in good standing.” Is there nothing more you can say about your relationship to your wife!?

  10. Mary says:

    “It’s a custom. And the custom in the academic world is that most priests who teach in Catholic colleges and universities wear a tie or just have an open sport shirt.”

    My professors who were priests wore their collars on campus and while teaching, granted everyone once in a while they didn’t wear it, but their “uniform” was their “blacks”. Maybe Seton Hall’s not as bad as I thought. It’s getting better as the refurbished Chapel shows, I can’t wait to go see it and while I’m there I’ll say some prayers for Fr. McBrien.

  11. Jason says:

    *By the way, the book I quoted St. Luigi Orione from bears an imprimatur from Cardinal Medeiros. Just thought that was a funny coincidence.

  12. Kathy says:

    Fr. Z – love those comments of yours!

  13. Hugo says:

    I’m really surprised he didn’t use the usual comeback of his: “Fr. Ratzinger wore a tie.”

  14. Will says:

    So there are Catholics who are center-left and centrists, but the extreme left is an illusion that exists only in the heated imaginations of the wicked conservatives?
    Also “”If there were more priests like the guy we were watching on television, I’d still be a Catholic””. Hah! If there were more priests like him, I’d convert.

  15. kat says:

    The only thing I agree with him on is this:

    “I’m critical of the bishops not because I have any gripe against any one of them personally. John Paul II, in the 26 ?? years he was pope, did some good things. [But] the most serious deficiency the late pope had . . . was the poor quality of men he put in the hierarchy.”

    I’m critical of the bishops because most don’t seem to obey the Pope, dissent from Church teaching, and do not reprimand/counsel/discipline priests who say such outragous things as this guy says. Who put these men in positions of authority instead of sending them to backwoods parishes or throwing them out of the priesthood? JPII, that’s who.

  16. Geoffrey says:

    “JPII, that’s who.”

    Who are we to judge a Vicar of Christ in either case? Fr. Z wrote once of John Paul’s bishops and it made complete sense. I’m not sure how to properly search for it on the blog, though…

    So much criticism.

  17. tertullian says:

    As in the case of the Fr Tegeder thread, this man is selfishness personified.

  18. Kathleen says:

    I wonder….if Fr. McBrien were married, would he be so accomodating and indulgent to a spouse who only wore her wedding ring when she was at home, her “home parish”? Any sane person, religious or not, would suspect him to be unfaithful.

  19. athanasius says:

    I used to despise this man as one of the great heresiarchs of our time.

    Now on the other hand, I truly feel pity for him. Not that he isn’t a heretic as defined by the Church, although the fact that he remains in good standing is a sad reflection of the failure of the hierarchy to try and save souls.

    He has no idea of all the souls he is leading straight to hell, and it will be a shock for him. Wouldn’t it be great if every reader who reads this article would pray the rosary for him, that he might abjure all of his errors before he dies?

  20. TJM says:

    McBrien is a bon vivant who ain’t no Mother Theresa. His world is crumbling around him at Notre Dame. Hardly anyone takes him seriously anymore. Morever, many young students attend the TLM weekly, say the rosary en masse at the Grotto and have a Eucharistic procession every spring joined by young Holy Cross priests in their full religious habits. How much more suffering can this guy continue to take? Tom

  21. W. Schrift says:

    I’m a young person, and he doesn’t inspire me – “young person,” of course, being one of those relative terms.

  22. youngcatholicstl says:

    “And they’re all Democrats”

    I seem to remember Archbishop Burke very clearly stating that he would deny communion to Rudy Giuliani. And last time I checked, Mr. Giuliani fancies himeself as a Republican.

    Sounds to me like someone needs to get his facts straight and quit painting with too broad of a brush.

  23. Megan says:

    Applause for W. Schrift.

    Any comments of my own shall be kept to myself in the spirit of Christian charity, but I must say that I LOVED the red in this particular post. Interesting interview, to say the least.

  24. “…and they didn’t wear neckties either.”

    LOLOLOL

  25. Forrest says:

    Fr. Pfleger in a suit…

  26. Peggy says:

    Why has Fr. Bourgeois been excommunicated for his public position favoring women’s ordination while Fr. McBrien has not? [I have understood that it was Fr. B’s outspokenness that was the basis for excommunication, rather than his participation…Or am I misunderstanding that?]

  27. Thomas Grant says:

    This is so sad and frustrating especially seeing this “man” in a position of influence in a University. The line “feeling that abortion shouldn’t be a litmus test defining whether one is a good Catholic or not” says it all for me. Thank God we have men like you Father Z.

  28. Mary Jane says:

    This is the season in which newspapers publish articles designed to annoy orthodox Christians. It’s even better if you can find someone “in the business” to trash doctrine. And Fr. McBrien has always been ready. When I lived in New York, he was the NY Times “expert.” They would hold off on a Catholic-related news item until they could get McBrien’s spin. Consequently, the stories usually broke first in “da Post,” which didn’t waste its time looking for intellectuals.

    McBrien and company would usually be trotted out again at Easter. Of course, the Times would also feature some highly heterodox Seder to outrage the conservative Jewish readers. I just waited for these stories every year.

  29. David Deavel says:

    I confess I can’t think of Fr. McBrien as a heretic. Heretics are interesting people who take some truth from the Church’s treasury and then blow it up and interpret everything else in the light of their interpretation of that truth. Generally speaking, as the Venerable Newman pointed out, the Church often ends up being forced to define some truth that will correct the heretics’ strange and often brilliantly wrong visions.

    Fr. McBrien simply takes his marching orders from the NY Times and other approved modern liberal opinion and then spouts it out without a thought. If he were only a real heretic. . . he could do the Church some good.

  30. Brian says:

    “the most serious deficiency the late pope had . . . was the poor quality of men he put in the hierarchy. And nowhere was this more obvious than at the height of the sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood. The truth be told, a significant number of bishops . . . including some high-ranking bishops at the time, were gay. I have no problem with people being gay, but the Catholic Church officially does, and it’s constantly making statements that are hostile to gays, and they were compromised. They could not exercise leadership because they could not speak comfortably about issues relating to sexuality, because they were conflicted themselves.”

    Is McBrien saying that the reason gay Bishops turned a blind eye to gay-priest’s encounters with adolescent males was because unjust, hostile Catholic moral statements conflicted these poor victim-Bishops and compromised their ability to lead?

    What slimy sophistry.

  31. Paul says:

    What is the latin for “to make one vomit”

  32. TerryC says:

    I must say I’m a little disappointed by your comments Fr. Z. Way too many ad hominem attacks on Fr. McBrien when substantive remarks on his many heretical statements would probably have suited.
    I will admit that the man rubs me the wrong way too, and I remain puzzled by the hierarchy’s lack of action concerning him. They could at least require him to stop teaching heresy and retire to a private life. Or at least they could remove his ability to continue to say that he is a priest and theologian in good standing in the Church, when he should be neither.

  33. TJM says:

    Terry C, pray tell, which comments of Father Z are ad hominem? Pointing out such basic observations that McBrien doesn’t believe in labels and then proceeding to label everything is hardly ad hominem. I know McBrien personally and he is a showboat, pure and simple. He eats in only the best restaurants and has suffered nothing for Christ. He is an embarrassment. Tom

  34. Jason Keener says:

    Father McBrien might be a theologian, but he is certainly not a Catholic theologian. Catholic theology is necessarily done as “Faith seeking understanding” in communion with the Church’s Magisterium. Father McBrien violates these most basic principles of Catholic theological inquiry and should not be allowed to present himself as a professor of Catholic theology at a Catholic university. The University of Notre Dame should be embarrassed to have such an incompetent professor on their faculty who doesn’t even understand the first principles of his field of inquiry. Notre Dame’s Theology Dept. website even states, “Guided by the ideal of ‘Faith seeking understanding.’” Unreal. I wonder how many students McBrien has led astray over the years.

  35. Most Excellent Sledgehammer says:

    “I confess I can’t think of Fr. McBrien as a heretic.”

    I agree. Father McBrien is a dissident.

    Heretics make convincing points… Dissidents just whine.

  36. W. Schrift says:

    TJM: Sometimes ad hominem arguments are appropriate; for example, when the object of discussion is the man himself. This is one of those cases. Under examination are not just Fr. McBrien’s positions, but also Fr. McBrien himself.

  37. W. Schrift says:

    Sorry, I meant to direct the above to Terry C.

  38. Johnny Domer says:

    I know where his office is at Notre Dame…There have been a number of occasions in which I have resisted the temptation to cover his door with posters advertising the Tridentine Mass.

  39. What can you tell me about JND Kelly? I have a book by him somewhere on the history of the Popes and I must say it makes a very easy to use reference book.

  40. Athelstane says:

    Hello Fr. Z,

    Hearty congrats on the name drop. Your fame grows.

    And you can continue to do anything you want, without reference to the Church’s teachings, and feel great about yourself! Indeed: Since we’re speaking of recipes, McBrien’s seems to be equal parts antinomianism and immanentism.

    But even a stopped clock is right twice a day: He makes something of a fair point about the poor quality of many of the JPII bishops. It’s hard to argue against that point, although not always in the way he means: some of Fr. McBrien’s favorites, such as Mahoney and Lynch, were, after all, JPII appointees.

  41. Megan says:

    Paul: Loosely translated, “to make one vomit” would be “facere unum vomere” (to cause one to vomit) :D

  42. John Enright says:

    Canon 284. Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Episcopal Conference and legitimate local custom.

    Anything else to say? Don’t think so.

  43. Mark says:

    It took me a few hours, but I finally got Fr. Z’s reference to JND Kelly – I believe there were pretty substantial suspicions that McBrien’s book on the popes was, er, rather heavily dependent on Kelly’s. Is that it?

    Ah yes – a quick search.

    Here:

    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=6235

  44. Thorfinn says:

    Paul: in reference to dissenters the phrase “canis inhaeret” might be suitable. This fellow would certainly fit right in to the Episcopalian Organization, perhaps an exchange could be worked out.

  45. Baron Korf says:

    The difference between him and Fr. Bourgeois is that the latter actually participated in the mock-ordination, which was the excommunicatable offense.

  46. Ron says:

    I am a ND grad. At no time while I was there do I remembering McBrien inviting a single orthodox theologian to speak on campus. Not once. But he endorses a diversity of viewpoints. How does this man keep his head from exploding? And why hasn’t he been excommunicated?

  47. TJM says:

    Ron, he’s pretty crafty. I think he knows how to get as close to the edge without going over it from a canonical perspective. Tom

  48. Livia says:

    You are all appalling. What a sickening website this is. Just go away. [I guess that’s a “no” vote from Livia!]

  49. Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the Plenary Session of the International Theological Commission (5 Dec 2008) said:

    From the subjective point of view, that is from the viewpoint of the one who does theology, the fundamental virtue of the theologian is to seek obedience to faith, the humility of faith that opens our eyes. This humility renders the theologian a collaborator of the truth. In this way it will not happen that he speaks of himself. Interiorly purified by obedience to the truth, he will reach, instead, the point that the Truth itself, that the Lord, can speak through the theologian and theology.

  50. TJM says:

    Livia, the Empress Livia? Tom

  51. athanasius says:

    What is the latin for to make one vomit

    I would try “Me vomere efficit”, although my composition is bottom of the ladder. Perhaps the more able classicists would give it a try.

  52. W. Schrift says:

    I would try something along the lines of “fecit ut vomam” (it does such that I should vomit).

  53. LouisianaCatholic says:

    David:

    J.N.D. Kelly was a Anglican theologian at Oxford, he just passed away in 1997
    One of his signature works is “Early Creeds”. While he was raised
    as a Presbyterian, he entered the Church of England and seemed
    to be part of the Catholic leaning Anglican movement as he was
    part of (perhaps the Lead Anglican Theologian) the a commission put together by the the Anglican Primate Mike Ramsey that studied the possibility of corporate re-union between the Anglican communion and the Catholic Church. I think
    this is referred to as Anglican-Roman Catholic International commision
    (ARCIC). The findings of this commission lead to hope that
    the Anglican communion would re-unite with Rome. However, I think
    Michael Ramsey was the last Anglican Leader who was heavily
    influenced by the Oxford Movement and the so-called Tractarians, who
    found Cardinal Newman, Ron Knox, etc, as their theological guides.

    While the general substance of what I wrote is quite accurate,
    perhaps someone with more detailed knowledge and provide more
    info or clarification, if need be.

    Happy New Years

  54. Caeremoniarius says:

    “to make one vomit”–how about a simple “emeticum esse”?

  55. How about the Latin adjective vomificus, a, um meaning “something that causes vomiting”.

  56. RBrown says:

    Livia, the Empress Livia? Tom
    Comment by TJM

    No, Livia Soprano.

  57. TJM says:

    RBrown, touche! Happy New Year. Tom

  58. Son of Trypho says:

    I noted the comment of gay bishops and compromised and immediately thought of Abp Weakland – someone who, with little doubt, Fr McBrien agrees with in terms of liturgical reform and progressive ideas…beyond irony really.

  59. William Tighe says:

    JND Kelly’s numerous books include *Early Christian Doctrines*, *Early Christian Creeds,* biographies of St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom and other Church Fathers, and a commentary on the Pastoral Epistles in the 1960s in which he argued strenuously for their all being written by St. Paul rather than some later pseudographer.