By Dennis Gruending
Ted Schmidt is a former teacher in the Toronto Catholic school system and a staunch critic of a church hierarchy that he says is “patriarchal, misogynist and out of touch.” Schmidt also served as editor of the defunct Catholic New Times and has now written a book called Journeys to the Heart of Catholicism. He was in Ottawa on a recent evening to talk with about 30 people in a small room adjacent to an old church hall where a choir was rehearsing Christmas songs.
Schmidt’s book launch was reminiscent of a much larger event in March 2007 when the well-known theologian Hans Kung spoke to an audience of about 1200 people in Ottawa. Kung talked about how Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had systematically undercut the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, which in the 1960s opened the doors and windows to change in the Catholic Church.
Those proposed changes were many but foremost among them were that the lay men and women in the church are not simply passive recipients of commands from on high but important agents in the church and the world; that all religions offer a path to salvation and that ecumenical dialogue is essential; that the pope is the bishop of Rome and perhaps the first among equals, but that the papacy was not meant to be an autocracy. The pope must consult widely and regularly with the world’s bishops on church matters.
Kung told a receptive audience that Pope John Paul appointed only “yes men” as bishops. “A priest can only become a bishop if he agrees with the Vatican, especially on birth control, celibacy and the ordination of women.” Kung also said that, “There can be no peace among nations if there is no peace among religions and there will be no peace without dialogue.”
Ted Schmidt would agree. He said in Ottawa that there has been a “slow motion coup attempt to turn back Vatican II.” He lays much of the blame at the feet of Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI in an election by the church’s cardinals upon the death of John Paul II in 2005. “Pope Benedict wants to winnow the church down to a little flock,” Schmidt said. “This is just a cover for stale orthodoxy.”
Schmidt talked of “a church below the church” and about Catholics who are struggling to remain within an institution where “faith has been replaced by creed — an heirloom rather than a living fountain.” There were nods and murmurs of assent among his audience. Schmidt expands upon those and other points in his book, which consists of revised and new essays and some poems. He is particularly distraught, and angry in a prophetic sense, about war and the response by churches to it.
“Our most unlived teaching,” he said, “is of peace and war. What are we doing to disavow the idea of war? This is part of the great turning point in Christianity.”Â The war in Iraq has been “catastrophic” – with 600,000 killed and four million refugees as of October 2006. Schmidt acknowledged that Pope John Paul spoke out strongly against the war but adds that America’s Catholic bishops have been timid in their comments and even more so in their actions.
“Catholicism, despite its institutional size and cultural clout,” he writes in his book, “has become a silent accomplice to the horrific homicidal violence which has taken place in Iraq.” His criticism also extends to rank and file Catholics, who Schmidt said, “have made too much money and have fallen asleep.”
The behaviour of evangelical churches in the U.S. has been even more egregious regarding the war in Iraq. Christian evangelicals, Schmidt said, have been enthusiastic backers of the war and he predicted they will “take the greatest hit” as a result. Evangelical enthusiasm for the war and Catholic silence, he said, “tell us that the non-violent voice of Jesus has been totally muted in our time.”
Schmidt announced in his Ottawa appearance that the Catholic New Times, which ceased publication several years ago, will be revived as an on line publication called New Catholic Times. “We’ll take the best of the Catholic New Times type of writing and analysis and put it on line. Our inspiration is the social teaching of the church.”Â New Catholic Times will publish twice monthly and will ask for $20 per year in support from individuals who read it and $50 from institutions.
Schmidt provided further details on regarding New Catholic Times on a December 5 posting on his blog, Theology in the Vineyeard.
Journeys to the Heart of Catholicism is published Seraphim Editions and sells for $20. You can contact Seraphim by telephone at 905-525-5509 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org