Institutionalized Dissent Greets the Holy Father

Deal W. Hudson
April 10, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in the United States next week. It’s predictable that various Catholic groups will use the occasion to gain visibility for their cause. Such is the case with Voice of the Faithful, whose full-page ad in the April 8 New York Times begins with “On behalf of all Catholics who share our desire to help our Church.”

In many ways, VOTF and the message of its ad together represent the most serious problem Benedict will face in America. Let’s call it “institutionalized dissent”: I don’t mean organized dissent, but dissent is woven into the fabric of Catholic institutions, especially Catholic colleges and universities.

Institutionalized dissent, by its very nature, is slippery, difficult to pinpoint because it never says what it really means. Take the case of VOTF. Since its founding in 2002, VOTF’s program “to help the Church” has always been to change the Church. Using the sex-abuse scandal as a launching pad, VOTF traced all the reasons for the priest scandal to the need for “structural change” in the Church.

The ad published by VOTF only hints at its real objective: “The laity continues to be excluded from meaningful participation in decision making… The hopeful vision of Vatican II remains largely unfulfilled.” Unpack these two phrases, and you have the purpose of VOTF and its purported justification.

By “meaningful participation” of the laity, this Boston-based organization would like to dismantle the hierarchy of authority that descends from the Holy Father through the bishops to the clergy and laity. VOTF’s purported concern for victims of sexual abuse has been used as an excuse to seek the “transformation” of the Church through the subjugation of priests and bishops to committees of “enlightened” laity.

This “hopeful vision of Vatican II” is nowhere to be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which were intended for pastoral purposes rather than doctrinal development. In other words, Vatican II changed Church practice, not its doctrine. One day, dissenting Catholics will stop waving the flag of Vatican II over every challenge they make to Church teaching because the laity will finally get the joke.

This myth of a post-Vatican II Church is still believed by many lay Catholics because it is a constant drumbeat in most major Catholic institutions. It has become the “sacred deposit” of the institutional dissent that opposes the ban on contraception and abortion, promotes female priests and would “transform” the Catholic Church into a democratic body, ruled from below. As the VOTF ad puts it, “Laity would be fully involved in the decisions that impact the lives of our parishes and our dioceses.”

The claim that VOTF is a “worldwide movement of concerned mainstream Catholics” is hyperbole unless you consider the combination of Boston, Long Island, and northern New Jersey “worldwide,” and the few hundred VOTF activists and dissidents “mainstream.”

But in spite of its inability to create a strong national organization, VOTF represents a deep inclination in most established Catholic institutions still controlled by the generation of Catholic leadership shaped by post-Vatican II dissent and its associated mythology.

It’s sad that VOTF has chosen the occasion of Benedict’s visit to unpack its worn-out catchphrases of barely concealed dissent for public viewing. Catholics in the pews simply don’t share the views of VOTF. They never did and they never will. That the laity has not gone along with the institutionalized dissent that pervades Catholic institutions is a tribute to the legacy of Pope John Paul II’s impact on the Church in the United States.

John Paul II helped to create new and orthodox Catholic apostolates throughout this nation that served as a platform for his genuine implementation of Vatican II reforms. Benedict arrives in the United States to continue the work of his predecessor. The Holy Father knows very well that when he meets with the presidents of more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities, there will be only a relative handful who have embraced the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, issued over 18 years ago by John Paul II.

Most of the secular media is trained on what Benedict will say about the Iraq War – but in the life of the Church in this country, the real action will come on Thursday, April 17, when the Holy Father meets at the Catholic University of America with the college presidents. What he will say to those who safeguard institutionalized dissent will not change anything overnight, but it will send a forceful message to the laity to demand their institutions reaffirm their true Catholic identity.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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