Edward Peters is a well-known canon lawyer, an expert on the law of the Catholic Church. Dr. Peters has been much in the press lately. He provided expert canonical knowledge about what happens when a living Pope resigns, what Church law requires for the valid election of a new Roman Pontiff, as well as canonical commentary on actions of the new Holy Father, Pope Francis — especially regarding the Pope’s decision to include two young women in the foot-washing rite of Holy Thursday.
His most recent blog post provides commentary on the letter by Fr. Edward Salmon, S.J,, president of McQuaid Jesuit High School (Rochester, NY). Not surprisingly, Dr. Peters finds great fault with Fr. Salmon’s decision to permit two male students to attend that school’s Junior Ball as a couple. Also not surprisingly, I disagree with Dr. Peter’s in his assessment of Fr. Salmon’s very pastoral decision and his clear articulation of the reasons for it.
My purpose here, however, is not to argue the issue at McQuaid, but rather to take note of something in Peters’ post that seems to underlie much of his writing. Betraying his own very obvious biases, Peters writes this:
Catholics who were mercifully spared the “Church of the 70’s” might find illuminating Salmon’s letter; it’s vintage what so many of us were force-fed for ten dark years: condescending, platitudinistic, partial quotes of Church documents used to justify the exact opposite of what the Church wants her members to know about Christ and his Gospel. [emphasis added]
“What the Church wants her members to know.” This statement exposes a fundamental and serious theological flaw in Peters’ understanding of what (or, more precisely, who) the “Church” is. This language is rooted in a predominantly hierarchical understanding of Church and seems to equate “Church” with those who have particular leadership roles (i.e. popes, bishops, pastors and perhaps even canon lawyers), while “her members” appear to be those of us who do not have such roles and are supposed to be merely passive recipients of what those in authority “want us to know.”
Thankfully, God’s People understand more and more that “the Church” is not limited to those with leadership roles, but rather includes all — as we celebrated once again this past weekend — who have been baptized into the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through our baptism and our faith, there is also wisdom in the People of God and in our lived experience. It is this lived experience, I believe, that is behind the process that is forming the consciences of so many Catholics — now even a majority of Catholics — who see the full humanity of their/our LGBT brothers and sisters; and who likewise see the limitations of formal teachings that have called that full humanity into question.
In addition to “what the Church wants her members to know,” it’s also vital to the life of the whole Church that those in positions of leadership listen to “what her members” want them to know!