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Monday, April 05, 2010

James Alison/dissent

I saw this today and thought I'd post part of it here ....


James Alison and the reconciled discourse of dissent
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
By Rosalynde Welch

Last week a friend invited me to attend a lecture sponsored by the SLU Theology Club and featuring James Alison, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian. Alison grew up in Britain, was raised in a low-church Protestant tradition, converted to Catholicism, and now resides in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, living as an openly gay Catholic and working with AIDS patients .......

Alison opened by observing that ecclesiology, or contemplation of the church as an institution, is always a “broken-hearted” discourse, informed by communal contrition and enlivened by love infused with great pain. He connected a broken-hearted ecclesiology with the sacrament of baptism: we enter the church by way of a symbolic death, and that humble entrance should inflect the way we inhabit the institution—that is, with humility, not triumphalism.

This struck me as a profound reading of the sacrament of baptism. Alison’s subtext, it seemed to me though it was never mentioned explicitly, was both his experience as a gay men in the church as well as the turmoil surrounding the sex abuse revelations. But the larger point is pertinent to any individual with deep personal commitments to a human institution—even a human institution striving to signify Christ in the world—that necessarily reflects and transmits the frailties of its human limbs. We love the institution for what it gives to us and what it allows us to give, but we do so with a broken-hearted awareness of its imperfections.

In the remainder of the talk, Alison set himself a challenging task, as I interpreted it: to work out a social position within the church that accommodates a certain kind of critique, but at the same time remains reconciled to church leadership and authority. He accomplishes that double feat first by gently diminishing the importance of the episcopacy in the spiritual life of the laity, emphasizing the role of the church hierarchy as the servant of Christ’s body rather than its ruler. The magisterium exists to make possible our ordered response to Christ’s call, he suggested, not to order us around ........


You can check out Fr. Alison's latest stuff at his website.


Blogger Fran said...

Very interesting take... I am intrigued. I just posted her piece on my FB page, it will be interesting to see what comments, if any, emerge there. Or here!

2:59 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Fran. Don't think I'll get many comments here, but thanks for your comment :)

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Crystal, it's Henry.

Hmm... James Alison is an interesting theologian and I have read his book "The Joy of Being Wrong, Original Sin Through Easter Eyes." He certainly is creative but some of his stuff skates very close to being heterodox. Also, is he still a priest (not in the ontological sense) because I thought he was laicized? If anyone knows, I'd like to know.

1:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry. Thanks for commenting :)

I believe (but don't know for sure) that James Alison is still a priest but no longer in the Dominican Order. I think he's perceived as very liberal because of what he writes about gayness, but I think his theology is actually pretty moderate on the whole.

One of his books I liked was Knowing Jesus

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I knew he left the Dominican order but I am curious about his faculties - but I can't seem to find anything about it on the Net - oh well, it's just curiosity any way.

I haven't read that book but I will check it out.

Liberal doesn't bother me as much as heterodox - but I am sure you already know that from my posts at WD! ;)

I hope you had a blessed Easter - I prayed for you, especially for your vision.

BTW, I love your photos and the art you put on the blog!



4:58 PM  
Blogger Mike L said...

In March he spoke at St. Louis U and the blurb for his talk refers to him as a priest. Several references say he is a priest, but an ex Dominican.

So it would seem that he has not been defrocked and is still a priest.


Mike L

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Paul Maurice Martin said...

This brings to mind a recent report I heard on the pedophile scandals where the reporter was saying that contrary to a lot of people's expectations, none of that seems to have driven Catholics out of the church.

The way the reporter put it was that Catholics distinguish between the "supernatural church" (he seeme to be searching for the right word) and the institution as owned and operated by humans.

8:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I don't think Fr. Alison could be called heterodox. If you get a chance to read some of his articles at his site, you may see that he's really in the zone, orthodoxically speaking - much more so than me :) You might also look for some of the articles he published in the New Blackfriars journal when he was in the order - I posted about one here on Leo Boff - link

Thanks for the kind words/thoughts, and happy Easter.

1:51 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

I hope you had a good Easter. Thanks for the info about Fr. Alison - that's what I've read too.

1:52 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I think that reporter is both right and wrong. There are lots of Catholics who are very disturbed and angry about how the church has dealt with the abuse problem and with their cover-ups and refusal to be accountable .... there are posts all around the blogosphere on this, from Anerica magazine and its blog to Commonweal and dotCommonweal, etc. I'm upset too.

And from what I've read, people in Europe have been leaving the church in droves because of the abuse stuff coming out now there.

But it's true - I think most Catholics make a distinction between the church and the hierarchy of the church, and so they may not leave but instead hope to change the hierarchy.

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Thank you all for the info! As I said, Fr. Alison is a very creative theologian and I'll have to read more than one book to have a more balanced opinion. BTW, his idea of servant leadership is NOT heterodox and I want to clarify that because I was unclear.



3:38 AM  

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