A little while back I posted How Did We Get from Scanlan to #straightouttairondale?, which posed the obvious (for me at least) question: how did Michael Scanlan, who (when I was going to the Steubenville conferences in the early 1980’s) was promoting a Charismatic type of spirituality, end up at the conservative Catholic type which I characterise as #straightouttairondale?
One of the commenters on that post may have, IMHO, come up with the answer. He commented as follows:
What I am about to say is really the proposal of a theory. It’s a theory that may not sit well with many people, not only because it characterises the participants in a less than perfect way, but also because so many people do not grasp the institutional dynamics that drive non-profit institutions such as churches, universities and governments. Having worked in these, I can tell you that institutional survival drives many of their decisions and overrides the ideological or religious motivations that drive the faithful.
One of the things that “full-gospel” Christianity has dealt with from Azusa Street onwards is a deficiency of respectability. That’s driven a great deal of the history of the movement. Focusing on institutions of higher learning, if we look at a Pentecostal institution like, say, Lee University, we’re looking at a place which has experienced a long, hard road to get where it’s at today. With respectability comes moneyed donors and students who can afford the tuition, both vital ingredients for the survival and prosperity of any private college.
In the case of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the participants started further up the “food chain” than most of their Pentecostal counterparts did both in the beginning and really during the Renewal’s heyday. But that doesn’t always translate into the donors and students that the Franciscan University of Steubenville needed to survive. For all the conferences they hosted and the prominent place the University attained in the Renewal, they still experienced financial difficulties, to the point where the existence of the institution was in play.
Enter conservative, #straightouttairondale Catholicism. There’s no denying that the Renewal and #straightouttairondale had touchpoints, as anyone who has read Ralph Martin’s Crisis of Truth is aware of. (Some of you will also remember Mother Angelica’s famous rant after Christ was depicted as a women during a papal visit.) But the means the two had to meet their common goals were highly divergent, and means is key here. From their divergent musical tastes to their view on the working of the Holy Spirit, the differences between the two are profound.
#straightouttairondale Catholicism, however, was more respectable than the Charismatic Renewal, and that made it attractive for someone like Michael Scanlan, who was trying to make his institution viable. Making the transition between the two was tricky enough on its face, but Scanlan had another problem: the existence of the Servants of Christ the King covenant community, which was under the direction of the Sword of the Spirit movement. Guitars and folk music were anathema enough to the #straightouttairondale people, but a group connected to Sword of the Spirit, with its dicey connections to the Catholic Church and autocephalous authority structure, wouldn’t do at all.
In 1991 a group which spent a lot of time talking about visitations from God got a visitation from on high in the form of Steubenville’s Bishop, Albert Ottenweller. He basically broke the group up. That breaking up–a major point in the University’s history–was hardly acknowledged by Scanlan in later communications, as indeed was the Charismatic Renewal at the University.
I think it boils down to the respectability issue. I’ve noted a broad reluctance to discuss the Renewal from many of its participants. If we consider the practices current in the Renewal vs. those in #straightouttairondale, it’s not hard to see why. On a deeper level, the Charismatic Renewal attempted to import the free exercise of the spiritual gifts into a church which had absorbed them into its sacramental and hierarchical system centuries before, and that was an uphill battle from the start, one only made easier by the state of Roman Catholicism in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Based on these considerations, I believe that we can make the following assertions about Scanlan and the break-up of the community:
- I think that Scanlan had advance knowledge of Ottenweller’s visitation and the result that it would have. I think it’s a stretch at this point to say that Scanlan actually induced Ottenweller to come to the University, but it’s possible. Even at that, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Scanlan threw the Servants of Christ the King under the bus.
- I think that he used the results of that visitation to further the transition of the University from a Charismatic institution to a #straightouttairondale one. The University has, frankly, prospered from that transition. Whether Roman Catholicism is better for it, or the state of the souls of those involved in all of this improved, is a trickier proposition.
Some of this monograph was drawn from John Flaherty’s compilation on the subject; I would especially draw your attention to the National Catholic Reporter’s article on the University, which was especially informative.