Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


John Allen Jr. speaks to Rochester’s Ministerium

May 27th, 2011, Promulgated by benanderson

As previously reported by Mike, the nearly ubiquitous John L. Allen, Jr. sadly still writing for the ultra-liberal dissenting National Catholic Reporter (as Fr Z says) was here in Rochester this week addressing the Ministerium.   I’ve cut out some interesting parts of the article on which I have no comment, so be sure to read Mike Latona’s full article at

Disclaimer:  Mr. Allen is obviously MUCH more informed about global Catholicism than I and MUCH more educated about Catholicism in general.   So please don’t mistake my comments to be a correction to his overall message.  My comments are meant to offer perspective for those of us living within the Diocese of Rochester.

HENRIETTA — John L. Allen Jr. is out to clear up some widely held, yet mistaken beliefs among United States Catholics.

He shies away from the term “polarization” because that inspires the terms “left” and “right,” when in fact divisions in today’s church are more complex.

Well, sure.  However there is a great chasm between the hermeneutic of rupture and the hermeneutic of continuity.  Much of the “more complex” issues are downstream from that major distinction.  Though not absolute, I think we could start with a pretty big distinction between those who wish to change the Church and those who submit fully to her teachings.  This integral issue actually seems quite simple to me.

And, he said a bishop alone cannot be expected to shape any significant trends.

But he certainly can stifle trends.  He has a significant voice and significant power.  And beyond that, he controls the education (SBSTM) and appointment of many of our diocesan leaders, who in turn shape the minds of parishioners. Other trends outside his control are Catholic Radio, EWTN, the Pope’s voice, and this blog.  All of these “other” influences are quite new and I believe bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  And indeed there are forces outside the Church which shape trends inside the Church as well.

These were among the viewpoints Allen shared as part of his keynote address, “The Future Church,” at the seventh-annual Gathering of the Ministerium on May 12 at the DoubleTree Hotel. Approximately 400 pastoral ministers from across the Diocese of Rochester attended. [wow!]

Allen said U.S. Catholics have not only become more ethnically diverse, but also are splintered into many causes. Whereas he said polarized Catholics are commonly depicted as being either liberal or conservative, he prefers the term “tribalization” over “polarization.” Examples of so-called tribes are pro-life groups, peace-and-justice advocates, liturgical traditionalists and feminists.
“Each of these tribes tends to move in their own little world. They have profoundly different senses of what is happening in the world,” Allen said.

Let’s break down the groups he mentioned…

Being pro-life is non-negotiable.  If you are not pro-life, then you are rejecting a core teaching of the Church and endangering your soul.  Obviously, some people are more involved in the cause than others.  Not everyone spends their weekends praying outside of abortion clinics and that’s OK.  We all have different callings.  I’ve never heard a pro-lifer coerce someone into joining them with a line like, “well, you’re ignoring the Gospel message if you don’t come to our rally.”  However, we should all be supportive of the cause in whatever way we feel called.  We are not allowed to be unsupportive.

Peace and Justice Advocates
Let’s be honest – this “cause” is often extremely pushy of the social welfare state.  Many of these people pretend that their causes are non-negotiable, when in fact they are.   If you want to spend your free time passing out petitions to increase taxes and further enable the culture of the poor – that’s cool with me.  I won’t agree and I won’t participate, but I certainly won’t let it cause divisions between me and you as Christian brothers and sisters.  I have yet to meet anyone from the pro-life or liturgical traditionalist camp who would say otherwise.  I might, however, get upset when “peace-and-justice” advocates present their negotiable positions as if they are official teachings of the Church.  Just look at what these “expert” theologians had to say about House Speaker Boehner.   Fortunately, we are finally starting to see the hierarchy in the US take note of the legitimacy of various positions.

Allow me to also give the disclaimer that I don’t like the term “peace-and-justice” advocates.  Certainly we are all called to be such and I don’t want to mislead others into thinking that peace and justice aren’t important.  However, given the particular place and time we live in, the most grave offense to peace and justice is the murder of innocent children.   Let’s break down how many people are killed each year in the US due to a lack of peace or justice.  How many criminals have been executed in the US in the last 50 years?  How many poor people have died of starvation?  How many have been killed in the womb?  The answer to the first 2 questions is a handful.  The answer to the last is millions.  According to the principle of proportionality, where would our time be better spent?

Liturgical Traditionalists
As a convert I always find it funny when Catholics are labeled as traditionalists.  hmmm – Catholicism is all about tradition, n’est-ce pas?  All Catholics are in a sense liturgical traditionalists.  That doesn’t mean we are required to do everything exactly as it was done in 1950.  But it does mean that we should have great respect for our Catholic patrimony.  That said, I think we all know what he’s getting at.  I find this labeling to be somewhat of a straw man and perhaps even pejorative.  I would bet that for many who attended this conference, Cleansing Fire would fit the bill for this label.  Again, I don’t think this matter is quite as complex as some would make it out to be.  There are rubrics for the mass.  They should be followed.  If they are not, then people have a legitimate right to complain.  Also, people have a legitimate right to have differing opinions on things that are licit.  Some people will argue against the priest facing the people.  There’s nothing wrong with voicing that opinion as long as you acknowledge that according to the rubrics we have today, it is licit and valid for a priest to do so.  The number of people who go overboard in their “liturgical traditionalism”  is much smaller than the progressives try to make it out.  They attempt to label anyone who thinks liturgical rubrics ought to be followed as rad-trads.

Authentic feminism is a good thing, but the term is almost always used to represent ideas that are not in accord with Church teaching.  So, we’re back to the simple division of those who accept the teachings of the Church and those who don’t.  If you want to learn more about feminism, I suggest searching Catholic Answers’ radio archive.

He observed that not surprisingly, tribalization has hindered U.S. Catholics’ ability to come together as church.

I’m not sure I buy this.  I have yet to meet two people from different “tribes” who both accept the teachings of the Church and yet are unable to “come together as church”.  The inability to come together as church stems from the rejection of Church teaching.  In such a case, it is the group denying Church teaching who has hindered the relationship – not the other way around.

Allen said he supports the Common Ground Initiative, begun in 1996 to promote respectful dialogue among Catholics despite differing perspectives — “but more than 15 years after it was launched, we’re more divided than we were.”

Never heard of CGI, but I haven’t been Catholic for all that long.  Common ground is a good thing – I just hope our common ground is a firm belief in the teachings of the Church.

Allen reasoned that perhaps not enough Catholics have really cared to see eye-to-eye: “We all know 12-step programs don’t work for people who don’t want the help.” However, he emphasized that Catholics must strive to unite in order to withstand the growing influence of secularism and other religious denominations. One way to achieve this, he suggested, is not to view differing ideological camps in an either-or way but by “instead understanding the legitimate concerns of their positions” without passing quick judgment.

Let’s take Cleansing Fire as an example.  I think many progressives would try to say that we are quick to pass judgment and intolerant of different ideological camps.  However, that claim is totally without merit.  We are quite the mixed bag here.  We have people from all over the spectrum (ie the legitimate Catholic spectrum – limited to staying w/in the bounds of Church teaching).  One thing we all seem to unite on is standing firm with Holy Mother Church.

He added that Catholics need to focus on strengthening ties at the grassroots level, stating that “creative change in the church rarely originates with the bishop.”

indeed – sometimes creative change goes viral 🙂

This remark was made in response to the observation made during a question-and-answer session that Bishop Matthew H. Clark is due to retire in 2012. The keynoter said anyone expecting immediate and significant upheaval under Bishop Clark’s successor will likely discover otherwise.

How I would have loved to hear that question.  I find Allen’s response difficult to believe.  I suppose it depends on what you mean by upheaval.  If you mean that the DOR will immediately begin buying up all the churches she sold off, that mass attendance will sky-rocket, and that all of the diocese’s problems will go away, then obviously I’d agree with him.  However, if you mean that many people at SBSTM (and elsewhere w/in the diocese) will be dismissed from their positions, women “pastors” will be forced to stop playing priest, and orthodox doctrines will be allowed to be taught from the pulpit w/out repercussions, then I think this is more than a legitimate possibility.  There have been several examples of quick change after progressive bishops were replaced by much more solid leaders.  DrK posted a little while back about what Bishop Robert Finn accomplished in just his first week as bishop of Kansas City-St. Josph.  Rich Leonardi has also posted a few times concerning the many positive changes taking place within the Archdiocese of Cincinnati since the new bishop arrived.

Thus concludes my analysis of Latona’s article on Allen’s visit to Rochester.

Here’s a few more links of interest in regards to Allen:

A Recent Speech by Allen at Kansas University
(perhaps quite similar to the speech he gave to the Ministerium)

LifeSiteNews: John Allen’s strategy for legitimizing Catholic dissent (provides some insight into the Common Ground Initiative):

The Allen Strategy hearkens back to the 1990s, when Chicago’s Cardinal Bernardin sought to co-opt orthodox Catholics with the “common ground” and “seamless garment” initiatives. His apparent intent was to induce the faithful to compromise with liberal dissenters in order to promote “unity” in the Church. Inevitably he failed, although the Common Ground Project maintains a post-mortem presence at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union.

“Top Nine Reasons why Baseball is to Sports what Catholicism is to Religion.” (w/ Fr. Z’s commentary)

And speaking of tribalism, I think this joke is fitting (hat tip gadel)

A Franciscan and Jesuit were debating which order was the greatest. So, they decided to ask for a sign from God. This is what they received falling down from heaven:

My sons,

Please stop bickering about such trivial matters,




11 Responses to “John Allen Jr. speaks to Rochester’s Ministerium”

  1. avatar Mike says:

    Great analysis, Ben.

    BTW, Dr. K.’s post on Bishop Robert Finn is here. Perhaps we should send Allen a copy?

  2. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Thanks, Mike. I added the link in the post. Perhaps we should.

  3. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    St Teresa of Avila: Let nothing disturb you,
    let nothing frighten you,
    all things are passing, God only is changeless.

  4. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Thanks to Mike for preserving my short-lived comment on the Catholic Courier’s facebook page.

  5. avatar OLS Parishioner says:

    I attended the Ministerium. Regrettably, Mike Latona only stayed for the am session. I do not agree with everything that Allen said but he did give us materials to think about, including the rise of Islam, the rise of Catholicism in the Third World, and the concept of the universal church rather than the American church which many in this country believe is the worldview. This is probably the biggest reason, in my opinion, that the American Church is struggling. Allen reiterated time and again that the Magisterium was not looking for debate but is our Leader.

  6. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Allen reiterated time and again that the Magisterium was not looking for debate but is our Leader.

    maybe he did know his audience 🙂

  7. avatar Louis E. says:

    With regard to Bishop Finn,note that the Notionally Catholic Reporter is trying to end his career by fanning the flames about a priest he let stay in ministry months after questionable,if not clearly pornographic,images of girls were found on his computer.

  8. avatar Scott W, says:

    I’ve often said that when progressives are winning, the rhetoric is “ride the wave or be crushed by it”. When they are losing, it changes to “Oh why o why must we use these limiting labels like ‘left’ and ‘right'”? Can’t backpedal from “Taliban Catholic” fast enough? 🙂

  9. avatar Bruce says:

    WE should be so blessed to have such problems in this country. In other places in the world, people are literally DYING to remain Christians. Here, because of the laziness and complacency of baby boomer Catholics, we argue about tribalism and “taliban” Catholics, who are actually REAL Catholics in a world of protestant-wanna-bes. Mr. Allen, once you and your protestant dissident gang manage do deconstruct the very civilization the Church helped build, then you will be faced with only one choice: Remain 100% Catholic (“taliban” in his words) and be persecuted, or betray your faith. That is the choice in much of the world today, and our days of dissent and silly discussions in dying dioceses are numbered. We will be, shortly, asked to “put up or shut up” and I have a strong feeling the forces against us will be secularists and Muslims.

  10. avatar A Catholic says:

    I like the joke at the end but the version I’ve heard has God a Jesuit, not a Dominican.

  11. avatar Louis E. says:

    I’ve heard the joke with three,and the S.J. signature at the end,but in the current pontiificate S.D.B. might be more appropriate,with Bertone et al. in the ascendant.

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