Robert Kaiser
Memorial website in the memory of your loved one
His legacy
Tribute in Catholica, an Australian website  
A reflection on the discernment & courage required to defy Authority...
Early this morning when I awoke there was an item playing on ABC News Radio which caught my attention. Unfortunately I missed the start of the item but what I picked up is that it was about the controversy, or dilemma, the German people have faced as to whether they should honour or dishonour those who plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a link to the item online. News Radio is operating on a skelton staff over Easter and not uploading items to their website that listeners can check out later.
What do you think? Was the assassination of Adolf Hitler a morally justifiable act? Should the few Germans who attempted to end his reign be honoured or excoriated?
I've been mulling on those questions ever since. And it has linked into some other reflecting I've been doing over this Easter period. If you think deeply about it, the entire Jesus' story is a story of defiance of the elected authorities. He ended up getting killed for his thinking, or behaviour. It is a debatable argument is to whether he was defying the Roman Secular Authorities or the Religious Authorities of his day by what he was doing and preaching.
Jesus is often presented to us as the great iconoclast — the destroyer of false idols; "a person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions, etc., as being based on error or superstition. a breaker or destroyer of images, especially those set up for religious veneration" [].
Over the last few days I've also been mourning the death of a good friend and great encourager of our own endeavours here at Catholica, Robert Blair Kaiser. Kaiser was a person of great courage. He challenged the religious authorities of our own time, including a couple of popes, over the correct interpretation to be placed on what was discerned by the collective bishops of the world at the Second Vatican Council. He was one of the leaders in the world seeking to defy the "reform of the reform" spirit that came to infect Catholicism in recent decades. While you mull on the rest of this editorial you might like to play in the background this tribute to Bob Kaiser which Amanda and myself have put together...

The challenge all of us human beings face is firstly being able to discern when we should "go against the flow" in society; and secondly having the courage when "push comes to shove" to stand up for our beliefs and convictions.
So often in society one sees people getting all "religious" about some belief or conviction — such as the adulation of the German people for a leader in the 1930s and 1940s — that later they come to realise were deeply flawed. We see in the world today with the extremist religious violence in the African continent and the Middle East, that the challenge has not gone away. Even in "following Christ" we face a challenge of discerning precisely what his "way" or "message" is. "Following Jesus" is not simply some endeavour of seeking to be different or defiant to everyone else for the sake of being different or defiant. There is a process of discernment called for in what beliefs, convictions or principles you are actually trying to stand up for, or follow. There is much confusion within Catholicism at the moment with different people with diversely different agendas and beliefs to the point where some of them are mutually exclusive — they both cannot be correct at the same time. The same could be said for most other religions in the world. They all seem to have tiny "fringe elements" who sincerely believe they have the answers and everybody else is wrong.
What do we do in circumstances like this? We human beings are a peculiar people. So often it is easier "to go with the flow". That's what the discussion was about that I heard on the radio this morning. A few German people defied what many of their confreres would have seen as the "common sense" of supporting their leader. They paid heavily for their defiance. They all ended up getting executed — and for good measure the Fuhrer rounded up about 7,000 others and executed them as well. Today the German people are debating whether these "rebels" ought be honoured or not for what they attempted to do.
In a sense, Robert Blair Kaiser could be considered a member of one of those "fringe elements". Some in other fringe elements thought he was wrong, misguided or even heretical [See Tom Fox's obituary in the National Catholic Reporter below]. The same could be said for many of us attracted to the sort of conversations we have here on Catholica. What is the "correct way"? To follow Cardinal Raymond Burke; Marcel Lefebvre; to follow Pope Francis; or to follow those like Robert Blair Kaiser who believed the spirit of the Second Vatican Council was defied and turned back? Or do you take some "middle course" of pretending there is no question to be asked, or decided, and to go on pretending that somehow the Holy Spirit will sort it all out and bring harmony to these mutually exclusive beliefs?
Our own sense is that the great masses of the baptised at the moment are a bit like the German people in the 1930s and early 1940s. They're not sure what to make of it all. Many no doubt wish a pox on all of the houses of these "fringe groups" — the conservatives and traditionalists who are forever harping on about "God's Laws" as though they're the only ones with exclusive insight into "the mind of God"; and those like Kaiser agitating for a return to the spirit discerned by the majority of the world's bishops at Vatican II. In the middle are those now employed by the Church, the ecclesial bureaucrats, more interested in protecting their jobs and superannuation, and trying to sit on the fence, or hope to buggery that Pope Francis is the answer with all his current popularity. As World War II demonstrated, it takes a huge amount to wake the vast masses from their slumber.
I'm not sure that I was the one who chose the song "Holy Spirit Come" which I've included above. I was actually looking for something else on my computer when it started playing and I thought "how appropriate at this time for Kaiser?" It's appropriate for all those who knew and loved Kaiser, particularly his family, who need the "Holy Spirit" at this time to help mourn our loss. But is is also appropriate for all of us in these trying times where we are trying to discern precisely what the "Way" of Jesus actually is.
Bob Kaiser in the end had great faith that Pope Francis offered a way forward. I tend to differ with Kaiser because I don't think Francis is going to go within a million miles of examining any of the fundamental beliefs that need re-examination if the Catholic Church is to be revived in the educated, affluent, first world. He appears to be placing emphasis on the mercy and compassion of Jesus and trying to build consensus across the divergent elements in the Church whose beliefs, I believe, are ultimately mutually exclusive.
It is perhaps interesting and also worth reflecting on that in his Easter Vigil Mass last night, Pope Francis is urging us Catholics to "shun indifference" [LINK | HOMILY]. We certainly applaud that sentiment. In the final analysis though, we all have to make a choice. Just as the German people have to do at the moment, and as Jesus had to do in whether he continued on preaching the way he did given that the inevitable outcome was that more than probably he would be put to death.
This Easter, both in mourning the passing of Robert Blair Kaiser, and in what we need as we face what seems to be an increasingly divided religious world, and rising sectarian tensions in society, we sure need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. On behalf of all of us who have anything to do with keeping Catholica alive, we wish you a very meaningful and fulfilling Easter.
Tribute in the National Catholic Reporter, 4/3/15  
Robert Blair Kaiser, journalist and inveterate church lover and critic, died at the age of 84 in a hospice center in Phoenix yesterday, on Holy Thursday, with daughter, sons, and grandchildren at his bedside. Janet Hauter, co-chair of the American Catholic Council, a church reform group, today called Kaiser “a courageous man with the biggest heart of any (church) reformer I ever met; he was dauntless in pushing, prodding and confronting injustice in the church.” Just a year from ordination into the Jesuit order, Kaiser left and returned as a journalist, soon moving to Rome to cover the Second Vatican Council for Time magazine. His writing, and passion for church, propelled him forward. For a period he was a staff writer for The New York Times. A half dozen of his books were to focus on the post-conciliar church and the council's unfulfilled vision of church. Throughout the decades that followed he was a highly outspoken critic of those he felt were trying to impede or stop the council’s reform agenda, most notably Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the bishops they were appointing. He pressed for reform to the last breaths of his life, a computer on his chest while hooked up to oxygen. In recent months he was finishing a book on Dominican Father Tom Doyle, who for forty years has been one of the church’s most outspoken critics of clergy sex abuse. I worked with him, writing an epilogue for that book, “Whistle: Tom Doyle’s Steadfast Witness for Victims of Clerical Sexual Abuse,” set to be published in June. Lecturer and author of 16 books, included two novels, one about Cardinal Roger Mahony called Roger Mahony, Kaiser found every vehicle he could to fan the flames of church reform, often focusing on the need for lay men and women to elect their bishops as they once did a millen'nium or more back. He was the editor of Just Good Company, an online journal of religion and culture, and co-founder of, a web community of American Catholics whose stated mission was to seek “ownership and citizenship in the people's church envisioned at Vatican II.” The group advocated the election of local bishops and the power to dismiss them. More recently, he co-founded Catholic Church Reform International with which American Catholic Council, another church reform group, is associated. He was an Accelerating Catholic Church Reform (ACCR) Board member and Founding Editor/Publisher of its on-line quarterly magazine OMG!, a Journal of Religion and Culture. Hauter, writing on the council’s website today, called Kaiser a “powerful force in the reform community partly because of the curmudgeonly personality with which he forcefully and unabashedly delivered his message to the world.” Kaiser’s reform activities also included a speaker’s bureau he formed in Phoenix. Supported by friends, including current and former Jesuits with whom he had stayed in touch, the bureau for years gave progressive Catholics a forum to share ideas and hopes, allowing Vatican II Catholics to keep these ideas alive in dark times. It was during the council years in the mid-1960s, a turbulent time in the West and within the church, that Kaiser formed his progressive and eventually radical vision of church: collegiate, even democratic, in nature, open to the world, and endlessly pursuing justice. It was a compelling vision and it stayed with him through his life, passionately shaping his values and writings. For his supporters, he was a one of a kind energy source, courageously combative and a spokesperson for a church of service and the poor, one that kept the needs of ordinary people foremost in mind, a “peoples’ church.” For his critics, he was an unyielding and arrogant ideologue. Friends and critics alike recognized his propensity for self-promotion, either accepting it as “simply Kaiser,” or viewing it as an off-putting characteristic. He once wrote: “Clare Booth Luce discovered me when I was a young reporter for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. Soon I was covering the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in Rome, winning prizes and plaudits for my inside reporting on the progress of Pope John's push to bring the Church up to date. Since then, I've done five books on the post-conciliar Church, and a dozen others on various other obsessions.” Whether one liked Kaiser or did not, there was little question he stayed close to the heat, at the center of church controversy and reform efforts, helping to shape the conversations, probing ideas, organizing efforts aimed at building the Vatican II church he first encountered during the council. He spent 12 years in the Society of Jesus as a novice and scholastic before leaving to marry. Once in Rome as a young journalist, his Sunday evening dinner parties became a hot ticket item and the scene for lively conversations among journalists, priests and prelates. He published Pope, Council and World: The Story of Vatican II, in 1963, telling the story of the struggle between progressive clerical forces and old guard-bishops as the council took shape. His writings and those of “Xavier Rynne” (Redemptorist Francis X. Murphy) in The New Yorker helped bring to wider audiences the high stakes story, the very struggle for the future of the Catholic church, that was going on at the Vatican. The council was a high mark in Kaiser’s life, shaping it indelibly. It was also one of its darkest chapters. During those years, Kaiser and his wife hosted a friend, Jesuit Father Malachi Martin, who betrayed Kaiser, running off with his wife. That betrayal tortured Kaiser for many years. Four decades after the episode he wrote about it in a personal book called “Clerical Error.” If Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were primarily responsible for thwarting the winds of conciliar reform in Kaiser’s eyes, Pope Francis, now two years into his pontificate, has been its principle prelate conveyor of fresh hope. Kaiser was particularly proud of having written, "The Politics of Sex and Religion," the story of the Pope John XXIII appointed lay commission and how its "Majority report" called for the church to change official teachings on birth control. Instead Pope Paul VI followed the "Minority report," which became the basis for his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae. The Kaiser book, originally published in 1985, was republished as an e-book in 2012. Last year, Kaiser published “Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis Is Changing the Church and the World,” a work in which the author argued that Francis’ “Jesuit DNA” is central to understanding his vision of church and its place in the wider world. Throughout the book Kaiser emphasized not only that Francis is different from his predecessors, but also that the nature of this difference lies precisely in the fact that he is a Jesuit. The book once again allowed Kaiser to write personally about his own experience as a Jesuit, an experience that shaped his own DNA. Kaiser was among the last of the journalists to have reported the Second Vatican Council. With his death, a rich and lonely living memory of that epic church event is being silenced, the reforms Kaiser sought still remaining to be fulfilled. The family announced on Kaiser's Facebook page a wake and celebration of his life will be held at 6:30 p.m., Thursday April 9 at Santa Lucia Yaqui Church, 5445 E Calle San Angelo, in Guadalupe, AZ 85283. A Mass will be celebrated at 1:30 p.m., Friday April 10 at Francis Xavier Church, 4715 N Central Ave., in Phoenix, AZ 85012. Fox is NCR publisher and can be reached at
If you have any material to add to this section, please contact the website manager. If you are the website manager, you can enter edit mode to upload material by clicking here.