The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Memoriam, Avery Dulles

My alma mater Fordham University is in mourning this week; Cardinal Avery Dulles, who was the first American theologian to be raised to the College of Cardinals died at Fordham's infirmary for Jesuits last Friday.

Cardinal Dulles was a conservative--he resisted the Catholic Church's efforts to enact a a national policy barring from ministerial duties any priest who had ever sexually abused a minor, Cardinal Dulles said the policy ignored priests’ rights of due process:

"In their effort to protect children, to restore public confidence in the church as an institution and to protect the church from liability suits, the bishops opted for an extreme response,” he said. He noted that the policy imposed a “one-size-fits-all” punishment, even if an offense was decades old and had not been repeated. “Such action seems to reflect an attitude of vindictiveness to which the church should not yield.
His conservatism was theological, too; again from the obituary:
In “The Reshaping of Catholicism” (Harper & Row, 1988), he wrote that the Vatican Council had acknowledged the possibility that the church could fall into serious error and might require reform, that the laity had a right to an active role and that the church needed to respect regional and local differences. But he also emphasized that “a measure of conservatism is inseparable from authentic Christianity.”
This equation of conservatism with authentic Christianity would be, I think, shocking to the Jesus that Dulles described so movingly in his scholarly writings. His own Establishment background, and the increasingly conservative ethos of the Roman Church, reinforced this tendency, perhaps.

And yet--Dulles did write so movingly of Jesus, and, in true Jesuit fashion, managed to celebrate life even under affliction:
Well into my 90th year I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
One need not share the Cardinal's views to honor a superb intellect, and a life fully lived, and lived ad majorem Dei gloriam.

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