Underground Church

My attention has been drawn to a review of The Underground Church, a book the looks into Roman Catholic dissident movements. Religioscope is run by Dr Jean-François Mayer of Fribourg University and I usually find its articles balanced and non-polemical.

Something shines through this analysis – the fact that the Roman Catholic Church cannot accept certain orientations without totally changing it own character. However, something else shines through, which is the relative narrowness of criteria of orthodoxy and general correctness. Thus we find an institution that alienates both Hans Küng and Bishop Williamson at the extremes, and a lot of others in between. We are being told that the various reform movements are causing the generation of new churches and movements outside the official Church.

Perhaps the conservatives might be thrilled by such a development, but I have written before that an organisation that narrows the criteria of membership to a “razor edge” are condemned sooner or later to implode.

This point of view, though it states the obvious, is interesting and thought-provoking. The clerical sex abuse issue has fuelled the schismatic movement. To what extent it is happening in Europe, especially the German-speaking countries, as well as the USA, it is difficult to tell. Sooner or later, there will be schismatic movements on the left as well as the traditionalist world. Of course, when I use the words schism and schismatic, I strip them of their polemical and derogatory overtones.

We seem to have arrived at a time when reform-minded Catholics give up trying to stay within the official structures. However, these movements seem to be fading and giving way to apathy. This might work to the advantage of the conservatives or a fairly narrow middle-of-the-road institutional orthodoxy. Of course, the issues are the ordination of women, LGBT acceptance and the abolition of compulsory clerical celibacy. Some of these people may be drawn to the larger American independent jurisdictions or to conservative Old Catholic or Anglican jurisdictions if the question of married priests stands alone from those three issues.

I have yet to see evidence of large numbers of lay members in American independent churches, and I suspect this book, which I have not read, may be more speculative than empirical in its methodology.

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