Truth to Power — The Journalism of a Benedictine Monk

By Dennis Gruending

truth_to_power_cover_275.jpgI return to Saskatchewan every summer to visit friends and relatives and usually I drop in at St. Peter’s Abbey near Humboldt. I attended boarding school there in the 1960s and I retain a respect and fondness for the Benedictine monks. I spent several hours on my 2008 visit with Father Andrew Britz, the former editor of the Prairie Messenger, a newspaper published by the monks since 1904. Andrew, ill with Parkinson’s disease, asked if I would work with him to compile an anthology of his best writing during a long tenure as editor between 1983 and 2004. Our collaboration has resulted in a book called Truth to Power: The Journalism of a Benedictine Monk, which has been released by Kingsley Publishing of Calgary.

The book delves into debates and issues that have raged in Canadian church and society for the past twenty-five years: birth control, abortion, euthanasia, priestly celibacy, ordination of women, the church’s treatment of homosexuals, fundamentalism, ecumenism, sexual abuse, economic injustice, environmental abuse, and militarism. Andrew was, and remains, deeply committed to his church but he was fearless in speaking truth to popes and prime ministers, capitalists and clerics. His efforts were often not appreciated by those in power, not to mention some of his more traditional readers. There were discreet and at times public complaints about him to his abbot but Andrew’s monastic community protected him and allowed him to speak courageously. He called the church to a new age in the service of humanity.

Andrew had written perhaps 2000 editorials during his long and impressive tenure as editor. He asked Sister Marian Noll and Maureen Weber, two former colleagues at the Prairie Messenger, to help him winnow that number down, then he and I reduced it even further. I suggested that we ask two prominent and knowledgeable Canadians to read the manuscript and to write chapters commenting on Andrew’s writing and why it remains important for church and society today. Dr. Mary Jo Leddy is well-known author and activist, and Dr. John Thompson, a sociologist, is the former principal of a St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan.

Thompson writes this in his chapter analyzing Andrew’s work: “These editorials are engaging, eloquent and memorable in their language, subtle humour and clarity. They are words about the Word that is the Lord among us with which we fashion ourselves together in the Lord’s image as the People of God.”

Leddy writes, “The editorials assembled in this book tackle hot button topics: birth control, abortion, condoms, clergy abuse, sexism in the church. But in a way that gave full weight to the substantial wisdom of the Catholic tradition. This book could be called a textbook in political discernment.”

Gregory Baum, the eminent theologian, has written a review of Truth to Power and describes it as follows: “What is impressive is Britz’s thoughtful exploration of how the church understands itself and its mission in the world, based on the teaching of Vatican II. This book of practical wisdom deserves great praise.”

Here is a sampling drawn from a few of the editorials in Truth to Power:

The papacy: “Nothing that Christ said can be used to underpin the church’s hierarchical model of authority.”

The bishops: “The church needs some mavericks, even maverick bishops who do not hold exactly the ‘right’ position on celibacy, nuclear weapons, condoms and homosexuals.”

Lay people: “The laity is not present in the church for the clergy; the priesthood is for the people.”

Women in the church: “It is embarrassing to read what the great bishops and theologians of age after age in the church have had to say about women.”

Social justice: “The church seldom gets in trouble for proclaiming the importance of charity. Resentment mounts quickly, however, when the Gospel prompts its followers to strengthen the call for justice. ”

The environment: “A church based on sacraments should quite naturally be ecological.”

Birth Control: “To shore up teaching contained in the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (On human life), the church has centralized authority as it has never been previously exercised in the church.”

Ecumenism: “Gone – forever we hope – is the day in which we can boast that the Catholic church alone has the whole truth.”

Fundamentalism:  “[This] is about simple answers, answers freed from all humanization that comes from involvement in time and space, from dealing with life’s inevitable struggles.”

Vatican II: “Brilliantly conceived but abysmally executed.”

Should you wish to purchase Truth to Power, you can do so through the Prairie Messenger.

Published by

Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament

3 thoughts on “Truth to Power — The Journalism of a Benedictine Monk”

  1. I attended a book launch last Friday evening (Oct. 8th) at which Sister Marian, Maureen Weber, Dr. John Thompson and others recounted warm, funny and telling moments of their experiences with Father Andrew and paid tribute to his courageous work. Father Andrew’s own commentary and reading from the book demonstrated that, despite his health set-backs, he retains his sharp wit and his fierce tenderness for the ‘people of God’ and the church. A good evening and a good opening for a good book!

  2. The Prairie Messenger has always been in our family’s home. At 91 years of age, I can say that I probably read most of Fr. Andrew’s editorials. As a lay presider, Fr. Andrew was one of my favorite instructors– his spititual guidance combined with the reality of life on this planet was extraordinary. If I could send up that puff of white smoke, so Fr. Andrew could carry on with Vatican 11, I dare say that I would be making a significant contribution to greater good will and Peace on Earth.

    Dennis replies: Thanks for the comment Leo. I would say that you, too, have made a significant contribution and continue to do so.

  3. RE:Bishops – the church needs mavericks. Needs is perhaps too strong a word. The church has mavericks would be a truer description, starting in the tradition perhaps of Judas. Peter, perhaps but less so, as he listened to the rebukes and reoriented himself to conform to Christ’s teaching authority.

Comments are closed.