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A soon (we hope) to retire Austrian bishop says all the usual things, according to Austrian Bishop Questions Celibacy (the link is to a shorter version of the story than the one I received). Let priests marry, ordain women (maybe), let divorced and remarried couples receive communion, and be nice to homosexual people (I’m assuming this, because the Times ’ paraphrase tells us nothing about what he actually said), says Bishop Paul Iby of Eisenstadt. Fidelity to the Church’s centuries of deep and extensive reflection upon the nature of the Christian life is dismissed as “timidity.”

In other words, be bold and make the Catholic Church like the Episcopal Church. We know what a roaring success that’s been.

The Austrian Church is what happens when a body has for centuries a near monopoly on whatever it does and therefore no sense of urgency and risk and even more enervatingly, no sense of danger. The world becomes a friend — maybe not an intimate friend, and maybe the kind of friend you keep at a slight distance because of his temper or his drinking, but still a friend.

The easy response is to moan about the “Constantinian captivity” of the Church and the corruptions of power and to lament the Church’s intimate relation with society and the state. But that seems to me both ahistorical (to put it crudely: these things are going to happen, if the Church is what Catholics believe her to be) , and perhaps to romanticize powerlessness, and ungrateful for the benefits that “captivity” brought both the Church and the society.

At any rate, that “captivity” is now passing away, partly because the Church and her members have failed to do what they could have done with the blessings she and they were given (this applies to each of us individually) and because many powers in the world are increasingly hostile to the Church and her message.

What position the Church will have in the future remains to be seen. I am almost certain it won’t include bishops who say the usual things.

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