Two competing visions. There are, to a greater or lesser extent, two competing visions of the Catholic Church. The vision of Vatican II, a vision of significant change such as the proposition that the People of God are the Church, not the priests and clerical hierarchy. The competing conservative vision is of a traditional rules-driven Church where change is unwelcome, power remains in the hands of few, and it’s all about the rules—a version of the Church that some describe as “Taliban Catholicism”.
It’s not hard to see the influence of the conservatives. Even today, the ban on artificial contraception remains despite near total disregard by the faithful; LGBTQ Catholics are shunned; divorced Catholics are denied Communion; and many prelates continue to live lives of power and luxury.
Worst of all is the failure of conservatives to allow needed action on clergy sex abuse, notwithstanding the drumbeat of disclosures that continues. Yes, reporting of clergy sex abuse is now required but the required report is to the Vatican, not to local law enforcement.
Clericalism. What is the frame of mind that justifies this resistance to change?
As author James Carroll describes it in his recent Atlantic magazine article, the Catholic Church has always been and continues to be a quasi-imperial institution with the bishop of Rome (the Pope) reigning as monarch over the worldwide Church.
Perpetuating such an ossified institution has produced what is termed clericalism. Clericalism finds expression in the priests and Church hierarchy who believe that having been given “holy orders”, they are somehow beyond the judgement of the likes of us mere mortals. Such clergymen are committed to beliefs such as their superiority over women (especially in regard to their possible priesthood) and that lay people are rightfully subservient.
This is a vision that cannot be reconciled with the Vatican II vision of priests being servants of the Catholic community, not its rulers.
Pope Francis himself has identified clericalism as a major cause of the sex abuse crisis. To put it in common jargon, clericalism is yet one more example of this world’s good old boys clubs that needs to go away.
Clerical misogynists are by no means confined to those in the Vatican. The conservatives are led by Cardinal Raymond Burke, a former Archbishop of St. Louis with a flair for authoritarianism. His career has not flourished under Pope Francis. Not surprisingly he recently joined the nefarious and unsupported attacks on Pope Francis by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. By appointment of Pope Emeritus Benedict, Viganò was the former papal nuncio to the U.S. He has complained of not being promoted to Cardinal by Pope Francis.
I wrote to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò years ago when our former Archbishop sent the UNM Newman Center Dominicans packing, despite the Dominicans’ wide popularity among their flock. This was my parish for more than fifty years. After many hours of drafting and redrafting, I sent by courier a long and detailed yet diplomatic plea requesting the intervention of Archbishop Viganò. Receipt of my letter was never even acknowledged, much less acted upon.
Viganò has also notably sought to blame gay priests for the clergy sex abuse scandal. Many priests are in fact homosexual. Yet scientific studies have found no link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse. Further, all Catholics should be grateful for the service of gay priests as the shortage of priests today would be far greater without them. In any event, trying to wrongfully pin blame on gay priests for the sexual abuse crimes is nothing short of despicable.
Pope Emeritus Benedict recently joined the Viganò cabal and has proclaimed his own theories about sex abuse by priests, saying the cause was the moral laxity of the 1960s. Yet when he was serving the papacy of Pope John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict prohibited bishops from referring cases of predator priests to civil authorities.
As additional evidence of their wrong-headedness, Cardinal Burke and his associate Steve Bannon (yes, that Steve Bannon) have praised anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political leaders such as Italian political figure Matteo Salvini and our own President Donald Trump. One has to give them credit for audacity: few would seek to turn the 2000-year old parable of the Good Samaritan on its head.
This post is the second of three. All are available at chuckwellborn.com