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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Perplexing Sayings of Fr. O'Leary

Father O'Leary made his first appearance back in May 2005 in the combox of my father aka. Dr. Philip Blosser aka. the Pertinacious Papist, where he quickly made a name (reputation?) for himself by domineering the conversation with a voluminous barrage of posts.

As can be gathered by one of their initial exchanges, my father and Father O'Leary had actually met some time ago . . .

Dear Philip Blosser,

Though eternally grateful to you for the inspired advice you gave me in 1983, I am sad to see you so entirely uncritical of my former teacher the present Holy Father. His vision of Catholicism is simply too tight and too narrow. Unfortunately, this narrowness is not just a defect such as we often meet in debating clubs from Catholics of the Bellow-Waugh stamp. It is both theologically more powerful and more disinterested and humanly more destructive.

Anyway, best wishes, Joe

Joe O'Leary | 05.09.05 - 3:11 am | #

Joseph O'Leary,

What a wonderful surprise to hear from you! The "advice" I rendered you, as I recally, was in a Japanese restaurant in Pittsburgh where I told you how one could make about $75/hour teaching English in Japan. I was surprised indeed when, about a month letter, I got a card from you in Tokyo. I think I learned that you were also doing some teaching at Sophia U, where I graduated long ago. I trust you're doing more than making money hand over fist anyway.

You say you're sad to see me uncritical of the other Joseph, not O'Leary but Ratzinger. Such judgments, of course, are always a measure of one's perspective. I felt the copies of your articles you gave me at Duquesne were too uncritical of the assumptions of existential theology emanating from the influence of the Heideggerian critique of "onto-theological traditions" of the kind critiqued by Roger Johnson in The Origins of Demythologizing.

I'm sure we could have a stimulating conversation over a cup of coffee sometime when I'm in Tokyo. [. . .]

pb | 05.10.05 - 8:46 am | #

Dear Philip -- well, I've surely become more critical of the Heideggerian project, though still interrogating the patristic synthesis of Bible and metaphysics critically. And thanks for remembering those days. Joe

Joe O'Leary | 05.11.05 - 3:03 am | #

Just who is Fr. O'Leary?

Father O'Leary's blog links to an interview in Buddhist Christian Studies which opens with the following bio:

Joseph S. O'Leary has been named recipient of the 1998 Frederick J. Streng Book Award for his 1996 volume, Religious Pluralism and Christian Truth. Dr. O'Leary was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1949. He studied literature, theology, and philosophy in Maynooth, Rome, and Paris. After teaching briefly in the United States (University of Notre Dame and Duquesne University), he moved to Japan in 1983. He has worked in association with the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture and currently teaches English literature at Sophia University (with special emphasis on Joyce and the modernist period) and a course on Japanese values at International Christian University.

He has been working on a trilogy in fundamental theology that has taken on an increasingly interreligious character. The first volume is Questioning Back: The Overcoming of Metaphysics in Christian Tradition (Minneapolis: Winston/Seabury, 1985), reviewed in Buddhist-Christian Studies in 1987; a French version is in preparation. The second volume appeared first as La verite chretienne a l'age du pluralisme religieux (Paris: Cerf, 1994) and then as Religious Pluralism and Christian Truth (Edinburgh University Press, 1996). Joseph O'Leary is also coeditor of Heidegger et la question de Dieu (Paris: Grasset, 1980) and Buddhist Spirituality (vols. 8 and 9 of World Spirituality, New York: Crossroad, 1993 and 1999).

Impressed yet? -- Father O'Leary initially struck me as being very well-read and well-schooled in classical and modern literature, philosophy and theology (with an obvious fondness for Rahner, Kung, Teilhard, Schillebeecx, Barth and Luther). That he is well-educated priest is a simple fact -- one that is conveyed time and time again by the frequent peppering of his comments with perpetual recitations of authors, texts and obscure references.

Upon further exposure, I was inclined to wonder if all this bookishness might have gotten to his head and become somewhat debilitating to his ministry as a priest in the Catholic Church. Judging by his reception on my father's blog I was not the first to have such an impression.

Perusing his comments at The Pertinacious Papist, one may learn that Father O'Leary

  • positions himself to the left of America magazine ("America is a too conservative mag for my tastes and its title is idolatrous")

  • believes that the Church should abandon its old-fashioned prohibition on homosexual acts ["Churches should be opening a dialogue and learning more about [homosexuality], rather than going into tantrums about ill-thought-out doctrines"]

  • harbors a strong disgust for Opus Dei ["their disproportionate flourishing is a direct result of the Vatican's suppression of open discussion and democratic participation. Once again the Vatican finds itself in bed with fascism"]

  • believes that Fatima was a case of childish delusion: "The kids at Fatima saw hell because that is what their parents had filled their little imaginations with. . . . The idea that the shepherd kids had a prediction about the Turk's attempted assassination of John Paul II is ludicrous, and it is a sad commentary on the intellectual level of the Vatican today that both JP2 and Ratzinger took it so seriously."

  • takes a grim view of John Paul II's legacy: "The rage of Catholic women and of Catholic gays against JP2's obtuseness, which he transmitted successfully by unscrupulous demagogery and repression, is a prophetic rage that springs from the depths of the sensus fidelium. Dr Blosser does not want to hear this (hence my imminent expulsion from his site!) but is it the mighty roar of the Holy Spirit!"

  • and has a tendency to lapse into long spurts of Latin, as if to demonstrate his linguistic prowess (intimidating fellow readers and with the inevitable result of short-circuiting the conversation).

Browsing further the heated-yet-engaging exchanges between O'Leary and Dr. Blosser's commentariat, one may get a sense of the Father's opinion on a host of pertinent theological issues:

  • liberation theology (". . . the last major effort to reconnect church teaching with the agonies of mankind -- working on the inspired lead of Paul VI in Populorum Progression, Evangelium Nuntiandi and Octagesima Adveniens (texts buried in oblivion in the Wojtyla-Ratzinger pontificate) -- and was crushed on the basis of picayune arguments about the alterity of theology and politics, the danger of earthly utopias, and the fearful venom of Marxism. Now the only way the church connects with the world is by lambasting an alleged Culture of Death." - Joe O'Leary | 05.12.05 - 5:49 am | Source

  • the historicity of the Resurrection: ". . . The empty tomb story has ANGELS involved in all four versions, and the presence of Angels is usually an indication of non-historicity. The best historical evidence of the resurrection concerns the appearances (listed in 1 Cor 15 by the last eye witness), but the narratives in the last chapters of the four gospels are full of legendary or symbolic matter. This is all very well known . . . Joe O'Leary | 05.13.05 - 1:48 pm | Source

  • the reality of the heavenly and demonic realms: ""Hell, heaven, angels, devils -- historically all this scenario comes from Zoroastrianism and entered Jewish thinking only shortly before the time of Jesus. The "messengers" (angeloi) of the Old Testament are not angels in the Persian sense. Persian also is the time scheme of a being who existed from the beginning, appears at the centre of history, and comes again at the end. The idea of salvation and of the manner in which Christ is a savior obviously has to be radically rethought in our cultural context, in which such pictorial. representations carry little conviction. Joe O'Leary | 06.14.05 - 11:28 pm | Source

  • the miracles of Our Lord: ". . . The word "miracle" is not a biblical word -- the Bible talks of signs and wonders and is more interested in their prophetic or revelatory significance than in their contradiction of the laws of nature. St. Augustine on miracles comes close to saying that they are part of natural process. Magic stunts have no place in adult Christianity; the sign of Cana I take to be a symbolic narrative -- the water of the old dispensation yielding to the wine of the new -- rather than a literal account of carbon atoms being created ex nihilo. Joe O'Leary | 06.17.05 - 1:26 am | Source

  • and the glory-days (daze?) of Vatican II ". . . The blaze of inspiration that befell me when I read Teilhard, Le Milieu Divin, as an eighteen year old, making me pace the boards of the Irish College, Paris, with delighted excitement; the joy of hearing Rahner lecture in Maynooth, radiating like the sun; the challenge of Schillebeeckx's subtle and comprehensive vision, at a seminar in Leiden in 1974; all of that seems to have disappeared to be replaced by a minute parcelling out, a parcimonious rationing of divine grace by bookish clerks who are completely unable to give a sense of the majestic working of the spirit of God in creation and salvation. The evolutionary schema within which Teilhard and Rahner rethought Christology is even scoffed at, instead of being further developed, and these cautious bureaucrats rehearse instead the old, tired theologoumena of our Tridentine childhood. And the old dreary names of warped reactionaries are trotted out again and again -- Schall, Hardon, Kelly, Grisez, Schaeffer -- along with old-fashioned fuddy-duddies like Chesterton, Belloc, CS Lewis, Fulton Sheen. All of this is the narcosis of Catholicism, its hibernation. I note that Ernesto Cardenal says the election of Ratzinger is "fatal" for the Church, but perhaps that Spanish word translates better into English as 'awful'." Joe O'Leary | 06.15.05 - 9:24 am | Source

O'Leary vs. The Neo-Caths

Rise of the Neo-Caths [Update Now absent from his blog, but reproduced here in full] is one of Fr. O'Leary's groundbreaking posts to his blog, "Spirit of Vatican II", taking a wild and undiscriminating swipe at St. Blog's Parish and the "John Paul II Generation":

. . . I reserve the term Neocaths for a vocal ideological wing of the younger generation which is in alliance with older voices and organs such as The Wanderer, Catholics United for the Faith. They are particularly well represented in the blogosphere. They are led by academic mentors such as the philosophers Peter Kreeft and Philip Blosser, and some of the more flamboyant voices are those of Christopher Blosser, Jeff Miller, Jimmy Akin, Oswald Sobrino, Mansfield Fox[?], Earl E. Appleby, Amy Welborn, Arthur Tsui [Angry Twins], and at the youngest (and perhaps most genuine) end of the spectrum, Apolonio Latar III. . . .

One has only to read these bloggers to note the differences of tone, style and content, although I count myself duly privileged to be lumped together with the likes of such gifted bloggers as Jimmy Akin, Oswald Sobrino and Amy Welborn. (I'm sure my father is likewise thrilled to no end for his placement with fellow philosophy professor Peter Kreeft).

What then, are the alleged traits that bind this diverse group of bloggers together under Fr. O'Leary's heaping criticism?

  • That we "tend to sexual puritanism . . . vocal advocates and practitioners of a strictly-interpreted concept of sexual fidelity, with a strong emphasis on procreative sexuality";
  • that we engage in " combative apologetics . . . [devoting] treasures of ingenuity to proving that the Church has never changed her teaching on anything -- not on usury, slavery, torture, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and above all not on sexual matters" (what's this preoccupation with sex?);
  • that we are "'young fogeys' -- [taking] a delight in sporting old-fashioned references, such as Chesterton, Belloc, C.S. Lewis, Garrigou-Lagrange . . . [yearning] for an idealized church of Pius XII, a vibrant flawless Catholicism that never was";
  • that we "combine biblical and magisterial fundamentalism . . . in complete contempt of biblical scholarship and hermeneutics";
  • that we are "ill at ease with modernity . . . bewail confusion and uncertainty and call for a firm voice of authority to put an end to it";
  • that we are "ideological and political rightists [whose] papolatry commonly goes hand in hand with Busholatry"

Fr. O'Leary paints with a broad brush, and his wild strokes have already merited comments from Dale Price (Dyspeptic Mutterings) and responsory posts from Amy Giglio aka. R.C. Mommy; a New Englander blogging under the name of "Concerned Catholic", and Greg @ Vita Brivis.

Meanwhile, neo-Cath prodigy Apolonio Later III has penned a two-part substantial response -- Part I; Part II -- to Fr. O'Leary's article Dogma and Religious Pluralism (Australian E-Journal of Theology Issue 4, Feb. 2005). (See O'Leary's blog for a response).

What is one to make of Fr. O'Leary? -- Is he the voice of the future? The real and genuine "spirit of Vatican II"? Are his postings that of a prophet, crying out in the wilderness?

I know a few "progressive" Catholic bloggers who might answer in the affirmative, while others would probably consider him something of a curiousity, the very epitomy of intellectual hubris and disgruntled liberalism, an endangered species floundering in the wake of a thriving and vibrant renewal of orthodoxy.

In any case, I find him rather entertaining and -- despite his comparisons of John Paul II to Chairman Mao -- occasionally throught-provoking.

So permit me to close this post by exending a virtual welcome to St. Blog's Parish -- that is to say, if he can tolerate the presence of us "young fogeys." Those who are so inclined may offer a couple rounds of the rosary for the rehabilitation of his keen intellect and the spiritual welfare of his soul, bringing to mind the wisdom of Thomas A' Kempis (The Imitation of Christ):

Restrain an inordinate desire for knowledge, in which is found much anxiety and deception. Learned men always wish to appear so, and desire recognition of their wisdom. But there are many matters, knowledge of which brings little or no advantage to the soul.


  • North Western Winds' fisking of O'Leary calls to mind an applicable passage from the book of Ecclesiastes.

  • Fr. O'Leary on the Resurrection - The Pertinacious Papist responds to O'Leary's remark that "denying fundamentalist literalism in handling the Resurrection narratives is not the same as denying the Resurrection."

    See also "Fr. O'Leary's unorthodox "hot tub" Christology (Part I)" / Part II - responding to O'Leary's post "Demystifying the Incarnation".

  • Tony at Catholic Pillow Fight has another good fisking:

    I remember back in June, a man I consider a friend was ordained. Our parish choir was lucky enough to be invited to the diocesan cathedral to provide the music for the ordination. At one point Fr. Kevin was asked by our Bishop: "Do you promise to obey me and all my successors"? He answered with a resounding "I do" that we could hear all the way up to the choir loft.

    I wonder if Fr. O'Leary took a vow like that, when he writes like this . . .

  • A Neocatholic Strikes Back Teófilo (Theophilus) (Vivificat) — Beginning a 5-part response to Father Joseph O'Leary's The Rise of the Neocaths.

  • The Holy Fool rounds up some responses to O'Leary along with some remarks of his own.

  • "Is the 'spirit of Vatican II' Christian?" -- Pontifications weighs in:

    To be a theologian is to be a man or woman of the Church. It is to be a person who immerses himself in the apostolic revelation, a person who denies himself and allows his thoughts to be conformed to the mind of Christ as communicated to us in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. It is to become, in Origen’s famous words, “a man of the Church”; it is to become fully ecclesiastical. As Pope Benedict has explained: “Catholic theology is not individual reflection but thinking with the faith of the church. If you will do other things and have other ideas of what God could be or could not be, there is the freedom of the person to do it, clearly. But one should not say this is Catholic theology.”

    Read the whole thing.

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