Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Think Kafka

Before I went to bed last night I read a couple of posts - one at the Episcopal Cafe and one at Reuter's FaithWorld. They seemed to compliment each other in a horrible sort of way and I thought I'd mention both ....

First the one from FaithWorld .... Embarrassing Vatican letter hailing bishop who hid predator priest

As a tide of previously confidential Catholic Church documents about child sexual abuse by priests has risen over recent weeks, the Vatican has been able to say that none of them was a “smoking gun” proving it had instructed bishops to cover up the scandals. This defense looks thinner than ever with the posting of a 2001 letter by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos congratulating (yes, congratulating!) a bishop for not only hiding a self-confessed serial abuser but earning himself a criminal sentence for doing so. For more on the 2001 case, click here.

This amazing letter, in which Castrillon Hoyos promises Bayeux Bishop Pierre Pican he will be presented as a hero to all Catholic bishops around the world, exudes the arrogant atmosphere of Church superiority that victims say they have had to battle against for years to have their grievances taken seriously. It puts forward the incredible argument that a bishop, because he has a kind of “spiritual paternity” for priests under him, is equivalent to a father who is not obliged to testify against his son. It even cites Saint Paul and the Second Vatican Council as supporting this view.

You can read the Vatican's spin on this in John Allen's post at NCR ...

Late Thursday evening Rome time, the Vatican released a statement in response to media reports in France about a September 2001 letter from Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, at the time the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, congratulating a French bishop for not reporting an abuser priest to the police. In effect, the Vatican statement suggests that Castrillón Hoyos was part of the problem which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, eventually solved.

Austen Ivereigh discusses all this in a post at America magazine's blog and adds bits from a rather creepy interview with Hoyos, with this commentary ....

This astonishingly unedifying display shows why, even while Rome cannot be held responsible for local Churches' failure to disclose clerical sex abuse cases to the police, it could at times help to foster the mentality that was disposed against that disclosure. The message, at least from the head of the Congregation for the Clergy until 2006, was to regard "paedophile acts" as minimal mistakes, to doubt the veracity of evidence brought against priests, and to regard a bishop who turned over an abusive priest to the police as betraying his "son" ..... there is one more step to take: to name what is wrong. It's what Castrillón-Hoyos displays so vividly. Its name is clericalism.

This rang a bell when I saw a post at the Episcopal Cafe - Silk and Hertzberg on the Catholic Crisis - which mentions Rick Hertzberg's essay in the New Yorker on the abuse crisis and Mark Silk's comment on that essay. Here's a bit of what Mark Silk wrote ....


[...] Those who conceive of religious institutions as the unique stewards of moral values in contemporary Western society need to think about that. But Hertzberg also makes an historical misstep that's important to correct:

The Catholic Church is an authoritarian institution, modeled on the political structures of the Roman Empire and medieval Europe. It is better at transmitting instructions downward than at facilitating accountability upward. It is monolithic.

Authoritarian and monolithic the Church may be these days, but not because it is modeled on the political structures of the Roman Empire and/or medieval Europe. It isn't. Bishops were very much independent actors in Antiquity, chosen by the local clergy with the assent of the community of the faithful. Church doctrine was decided by councils of bishops. The pope was the first among equals, if that. In the late fourth century, when the emperors were seriously going about the business of suppressing all religions other than Christianity, the most powerful ecclesiastical figure in the West was the bishop of Milan (Ambrose), not the pope in Rome.

In the Middle Ages, the papacy did turn itself into a universal court of ecclesiastical appeals, and took charge of such matters as making saints and promulgating canon law. But bishops remained powerful, autonomous figures, chosen locally and running their dioceses without instructions from Rome. To be sure, popes (as well as secular lords) liked to get involved in episcopal elections--and complicated compromises were always on order. But though the Reformation (and beyond), the Church was a big, diverse, complicated, feudal entity, with lots of power centers and sources of influence and authority.

The model for the Catholic Church today is actually the modern authoritarian state. Doctrine and appointments are made at the center, and anyone who wishes to rise to the top knows that the curia must be cultivated. Sure, the wheels often don't run smoothly or efficiently--that's what modern authoritarian states are like. Think Kafka ....


Vatican III, please.


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