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‘Holier than thou’

The Charismatic Structure of the Church: Priesthood and Religious Life at Vatican II is Michael McGuckian SJ’s latest book on the intriguing and mostly untold story about a serious dispute that arose during the Council regarding the status of religious life. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, he explains in detail the story and what he believes are its sorry consequences.

The argument centered around the issue of the call to holiness. Religious bishops and their theologians held fast to the traditional Church position that those in religious life were called to a special form of holiness that was different from and superior to the type of holiness required from secular clergy or bishops or the laity.

The traditional position calls on some ‘heavy hitters’ of the Church for support, like Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Pope Paul VI, but having spent the last 12 years studying and researching this serious rift, Michael McGuckian is adamant they are wrong.

He argues that not only did their position and that of the religious bishops lead to a dilution of the understanding of Church in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, but it also influenced, for the worse, subsequent Church teaching from successive Popes.

In essence, says Michael, the ‘universal call to holiness’ of all the baptized, despite their status, was undermined in this dispute and, contrary to popular belief, did not become the official teaching of the Church.

He argues that the current position on the call to holiness as a type of ‘helpful suggestion’ needs to be revisited and that the call must be incorporated into Church teaching as a command that must be taken seriously. He believes that to date, the failure to do this is one of the key factors regarding the sorry state the Church finds itself in today.