Truth to Power, Britz, Gruending

By Dennis Gruending

Fr. Andrew Britz OSBI have spent much of my time in the past months working on a book with an old friend, and I have been less active in the blogosphere as a result. The book will be called Truth to Power, and it presents the best from 21 years of journalism by Father Andrew Britz, a Benedictine monk at St. Peter’s Abbey in the hinterland of rural Saskatchewan, far from the centres of ecclesiastical and political influence. Kingsley Publishing of Calgary will release it in the fall of 2010.

Andrew was editor of the Prairie Messenger, a Catholic weekly newspaper that has been published by the monks since 1904. He was fearless in speaking truth to the powerful in church and society – to popes and prime ministers, capitalists and clerics. “It is not easy producing a prophetic paper year in and year out,” he writes in one of the editorials published in this book. “Prophets call us to a new age.”

The new age for him is one that resists an imperial papacy, one in which his church honours and takes seriously the gifts of all the baptized – lay people as well as clerics, women as well as men, and the poor, especially the poor. Andrew’s world is also one where the abuses of liberal capitalism are held in check, where militarizartion is curtailed, where the earth and all of its peoples are treated with respect, and one where all religions act in unity for the common good. Although he is best known for his provacative editorials, there is also a deeply contempaltive dimension to his writing, the legacy of his life as a monk and a trained liturgist who is deeply steeped in church history.

In his 21 years as an editor, Andrew wrote close to 2000 editorials. With some expert help from two associate editors, one former and one current, Andrew delved into the archive and sent me his first cut. We have worked from there and have chosen about 150 pieces.  In Truth to Power, Andrew confronts honestly and with clarity many of the issues that confront the church and the world. Here is a sampling:

The papacy: “Nothing that Christ said can be used to underpin the church’s hierarchical model of authority.”

The bishops: “The church needs some mavericks, even maverick bishops who do not hold exactly the ‘right’ position on celibacy, nuclear weapons, condoms and homosexuals.”

Lay people: “The laity is not present in the church for the clergy; the priesthood is for the people.”

Women in the church: “It is embarrassing to read what the great bishops and theologians of age after age in the church have had to say about women.”

Social justice: “The church seldom gets in trouble for proclaiming the importance of charity. Resentment mounts quickly, however, when the Gospel prompts its followers to strengthen the call for justice. ”

Economic development:  “Liberal capitalism, according to [Pope John Paul] cannot be trusted. It is not to be chosen as the model for socio-economic development.”

The environment: “A church based on sacraments should quite naturally be ecological.”

Abortion: “We like many Catholics have refused to see abortion as a single issue. We insist on keeping all the life issues [capital punishment, mindless militarization, nuclear war and terrorism] together in one ‘seamless garment’”.

Birth Control: “To shore up teaching contained in the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (On human life), the church has centralized authority as it has never been previously exercised in the church.”

Ecumenism: “Gone – forever we hope – is the day in which we can boast that the Catholic church alone has the whole truth.”

Fundamentalism:  “[This] is about simple answers, answers freed from all humanization that comes from involvement in time and space, from dealing with life’s inevitable struggles.”

Christmas: “Jesus became flesh. That is what Christmas is all about. In doing so he gave infinite value to the lives real people live.”

Easter: “It is the celebration of community. The community itself is our sign (sacrament) of the Lord’s resurrection.”

Vatican II: “Brilliantly conceived but abysmally executed”

I first met Andrew in 1965. I was a student at St. Peter’s College, a boys’ boarding school that coexisted with the monastery at Muenster, about an hour to the north and east of Saskatoon — and he was a seminarian. I have been a reader of the Prairie Messenger for all of my adult life and have also contributed news stories and columns to the paper. So it was perhaps not surprising that Andrew and I are cooperating on this project. The wonderful and courageous writing is his. I am the book’s editor and will write an introduction provide biographical information about Andrew and background about the rich progressive tradition of the Prairie Messenger.

In addition, two prominent and knowledgeable Canadians will contribute their insights. They will comment on Andrew’s writing and why it remains important for church and society today. Dr. Mary Jo Leddy is a well-known author and activist, and Dr. John Thompson, a sociologist, is the former principal of a St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan. Thompson says this in his chapter analyzing Andrew’s work: “These editorials exhibit a powerful mind at work – informed, subtle, at home with complexity and uncertainty, compassionate and ethical, clear, and prayerful.”

Andrew was ordained a priest in 1966 and it was his fate to come of age during the Second Vatican Council. He immersed himself in that great reforming project, not yet completed, and he used his long tenure as editor to explore and promote the teachings of Vatican II. In it he finds the keys to justice and to right relationships. Stay tuned.

4 thoughts on “Truth to Power, Britz, Gruending

  1. We Christians have allowed those who use the churches for selfish purposes to gains sway. Thank you for introducing us to someone who tried to steer us toward the God of love and justice.


  2. Dennis– I am grateful for your research on the organization National House of Prayer[NHOP]. I find it incomprehensible that the NHOP would support the present administration in Israel, after their horrendous bombing and military action against the people in Gaza.

    On another note: As a former lay presider, I have fond memories of Fr. Andrew Britz as my favorite teacher and mentor. I look forward with great anticipation to reading his book.


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