Robert Blair Kaiser, the East Valley Tribune informs readers, was once "a young journalist covering the heady and historic Vatican Council II in Rome for Time magazine." It appears that the "the Phoenix journalist and Jesuit-educated Catholic" is still lost in the Sixties, having written eleven books, "including four that deal with a call for church reform in the spirit of that council." His latest is a novel titled Cardinal Mahoney that depicts the Archbishop of Los Angeles being kidnapped by liberation theologians (I'm not making this stuff up; Kaiser is), and taken to a "southern Mexican jungle compound":
In Mexico, Mahony is put on trial for his failings and sins as archbishop. It is broadcast live worldwide by satellite television, with Vatican officials especially glued to what is said. Six retired Latin American bishops serve as the jury.
Just after Mahony is convicted on all counts, 590 million global viewers hear his fate: "We sentence Cardinal Mahony to become a Christian." Then moments later, Mexican commandos storm the compound blowing everyone away except Mahony, who suffers a head-grazing injury and is left unconscious. He wakes up in a Los Angeles hospital where he recovers, then embarks on a massive humanitarian mission as a transformed man. He also sets out to bring "democracy" to the Catholic Church in America despite Vatican objections.
For some reason I don't see this being made into a Hallmark Channel movie. This is all rather bizarre, it seems to me—and it doesn't appear that Kaiser has an altogether solid grasp on matters ecclesial:
In his 2004 book, "A Church in Search of Itself," Kaiser first introduced the idea of an "autochthonous," or homegrown American church "still in communion with Rome but on a model with the Maronites and Melkites, which have their own priesthood (some married)," as well as their own liturgy, language and polity, or form of governance. "Rome has never tried to rein them in," he said. They are "every bit as Catholic," he said.
Well, of course they are. But why do they need to "reined in"? After all, it's not as though the most visible and vocal of Catholic dissenters are Eastern Catholics; in fact, Eastern Catholic parishes are usually known for being a bit more traditional and orthodox in practice than, say, parishes with Jesuit priests (no offense to the wonderful and orthodox priests out there, but they know what I mean). Kaiser is apparently confusing having a different rite with some sort of autonomy from Church authority. (See this excerpt from Denis Crouan's The History and the Future of the Roman Liturgy for more on "rite".) Kaiser is also confused about some other matters:
Kaiser, who studied 10 years to be a Jesuit priest but left three years short of ordination, argues that many Catholics are leaving the church or are weakly engaged because "they've lost their trust in the pope and their 'lord bishops.' " He says because the church is theirs, they don't have to leave. "They just have to take it back, insist their lord bishops become servant bishops and do what Jesus told his Apostles to do: Listen to the people and serve the people."
"Mainly this novel shows how we can get the change that everybody wants," Kaiser said in an interview.
Everybody? Wow. I see that those years in seminary didn't impart much in the way of modesty. And where exactly is it that Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say unto you, listen to the people and do whatever it is that they wish. For surely a novel will guide the way and open up the path of communal bliss"? Jesus did say this: "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve'" (Luke 4:8). And when Jesus talks of service, it is always intertwined with the understanding that God comes first and that this requires death to self: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt 16:24). Not surprisingly, for Kaiser the three most important issues are power, Power, and POWER:
He conceives of a kind of American church "constitutional convention," like the one in 1787 in Philadelphia, creating a "constitution to supplant Roman canon law" with three branches, including a legislative branch with a House of Bishops and House of Commons, both filled by the election by voting Catholics.
"Autochthony isn't a heresy. It is just a restructuring of power," Kaiser insists.
"I wrote this novel to help people imagine the possibilities of a listening, serving church," he said.
Ah, the "listening Church"—we've heard that one before recently. When Kaiser talks of "restructuring of power" he is really talking of undermining authentic authority. Whereas clericalism exhibits a top-heavy approach to matters, Kaisers approach is simply top-less:
He calls the pope "the world's last great monarch" who "makes the laws, he interprets all the laws, he enforces all the laws and puts his blessing on a particularly narrow kind of 'Roman theology' and no other."
Riiiiiiight. Which must be why Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spent time praising, for example, Eastern Catholic/Orthodox theology and practice. And why there is the Code of Canon Law, tribunals, and such. More importantly, it ignores the fact that the Pope is not the Vicar of Himself, but the Vicar of Christ, and that he has been called to exercise both the authority and love of Jesus Christ for the Church. Compare, then, Kaiser's Americanized Sixties-Flashback Church of Democratic WCC-Styled Anarchy with this understanding of the Church and the papacy:
Eucharist is the basic form of the Church. The Church is formed in the eucharistic assembly. And since all assemblies of all places and all times always belong only to the one Christ, it follows that they all form only one single Church. They lay, so to speak, a net of brotherhood across the world and join the near and the far to one another so that through Christ they are all near. Now we usually tend to think that love and order are opposites. Where there is love, order is no longer needed because all has become self-evident. But that is a misunderstanding of love as well as of order. True human order is something different from the bars one places before beasts of prey so that they are restrained. Order is respect for the other and for one's own, which is then most loved when it is taken in its correct sense. Thus order belongs to the Eucharist, and its order is the actual core of the order of the Church. The empty chair that points to the primacy in love speaks to us accordingly of the harmony between love and order. It points in its deepest aspect to Christ as the true primate, the true presider in love. It points to the fact that the Church has her center in the liturgy. It tells us that the Church can remain one only from communion with the crucified Christ. No organizational efficiency can guarantee her unity. She can be and remain world Church only when her unity is more than that of an organization--when she lives from Christ. Only the eucharistic faith, only the assembly around the present Lord can she keep for the long term. And from here she receives her order. The Church is not ruled by majority decisions but rather through the faith that matures in the encounter with Christ in the liturgy.
That is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, from "'Primacy in Love': The Chair Altar of Saint Peter's in Rome", found in the collection, Images of Hope. Nothing novel there. Just authentic Catholic teaching. Wouldn't it be nice if the Catholic Church was, as Kaiser puts it, a "listening, serving church", and that all Catholics would listen to Christ and His Vicar and serve God in obedience and love?
No, I guess not. This is from Kaiser's website:
As the Vatican’s chief heresy-hunter, Ratzinger was the most prominent and articulate spokesman for the forces of no-change in the Church, perhaps even more conservative than Pope John Paul II. I never thought the conclave would choose him. I imagined the conclave would do battle over a host of divisive issues that had been put on hold during the very conservative reign of John Paul II. As it turned out, there was no battle. 89 of the 115 cardinal-electors (all but two of them appointed by John Paul II) would go along with the candidacy of Joseph Ratzinger, who promised them the same kind of Church favored by John Paul.
And this, about the priesthood and the Eucharist:
The new sacramental theology that was spearheaded by Edward Schillebeeck at Vatican II says that we can all "confect" (to use a phrase from Canon Law I don't like) the Eucharist. We get together. We say the words of the Canon of the Mass together, and we go to communion. This is being done already in convents all over the world where sisters do not call for a priest. They do their own Masses. That's the future of the priesthood.
No wonder this guy is now writing bad fiction...