Sunday, March 28, 2010


From an article:
"There is a real possibility that this is the tipping point of a 2000-year-old institution," said Peter Borre, chairman of the Council of Parishes in Boston. "The speed with which this thing has gone to the top is most alarming. It's like the early phases of Watergate."
I think I've made the comparison to Watergate before. Certainly, in no other institution would any executives implicated (if only just through negligence) in something this repugnant, of this magnitude, survive.

Of course, the conservatives are all battening down the hatches, showing all sorts of support for the Pope, being all defensive of the institution. Trying to spin this all out of existence and minimize the horror of it, worst of all by saying "but all sorts of groups have these problems!" Please. "Everyone else was doing it!" is basically as bad as the Nuremberg defense.

They can say what they want about media bias or spin or about people "using" the scandal to push for change in the Church...but the change is needed! The scandal proves it! Sure, quotes like that above may be chosen selectively but the media both reflects and influences public opinion, and this time (regardless of your opinions on the "objective" reality) they are stirring this up into a maelstrom. That's the direction it's going, and eventually that cannot be ignored. Nor should it be in this case.

The Vatican is once again showing its incompetence in the area of dealing with the press. Even if they truly believe there is no link between the closed culture of celibate clerics and the crisis of covering-up abuse, the fact that the chatter is growing louder and louder in that direction, the fact that the media pressure is increasing...cannot simply be written off.

Because their credibility and moral authority (inasmuch as they have any left) is determined by public perception, which is largely filtered through the media. If they ignore the rising outrage and demands for structural change, they could well find themselves facing severe political and economic sanctions.

Secularist politicians may well start dismantling the Church and doing things (like requiring them to "ordain" women, classing our teachings as hate-speech, etc) that they've wanted to do all along, but haven't yet been able to do. But if they gain the political support to do such things "for the protection of children," who knows what could happen. And certainly courts might start issuing settlements and sanctions that will bankrupt whole dioceses and force the closure of many churches. And if the institutional clergy is viewed as little less than a self-perpetuating perverse criminal enterprise (and at this point, it's sort of looking that way) then the public will support all that.

The conservatives will cry "persecution," but I'll have to say "it's your own damn fault." Because if they act quickly and make substantial structural changes, people will accept that response. And the structural change is going to have to be something on the magnitude of a massive personnel overhaul (this means firing bishops!), or ending mandatory celibacy, or the popular election of bishops, or lay control of finances, etc.

To clarify: I don't necessarily support all those options listed, especially not the last two. I was just saying something of that magnitude of structural change to the clergy is going to be needed to convince people that reform is real this time. I could as well have listed women priests, though I clearly don't support that or even think it is possible. My point is that people need to see a constitutional change to the socio-political structure and dynamics of the clergy. Somethings gotta give, and since ordaining women or lay election of bishops are's going to have to be mandatory celibacy, or their own careers.

Some Synod to simply reaffirm abuse-handling policies that were already technically in place (they just weren't followed) basically just a repeat of what happened in the US at Dallas. And that isn't going to cut it this time. Not by a long-shot. If people don't see systematic, structural changes that go beyond trying to legislate problems out of existence, then the current hierarchy will be perceived as the mafia it may indeed be, and people will rightly ignore it and fight to destroy it.

But that's not what we want or need, we need reform that is constructive, not destructive. But that means being willing to let go of some things, like mandatory celibacy...or your own careers and reputation. For the good of the Church.


George said...

apparently cardinal martini has now said celibacy should be reconsidered! that makes several cardinals, including schonnborn...

sortacatholic said...

Optional celibacy? Always been on board with that.

Parish autonomy? Yes, parishes should control their own checkbooks. I don't think that parish councils should have the ability to hire/fire priests unilaterally (no hiring vagantes priests, rouge ordinations etc.).
Parishes should at the minimum be able to expel an abusive priest without episcopal consultation.

Firing bishops? That's an imperative. Pope Benedict will (and should) replace significant chunks of national hierarchies (especially Ireland).

But the last one ... popular election of bishops?

Day that happens you'll find me preparing for my Orthodox Chrismation.

Would we sacrifice ancient apostolic tradition because of this scandal? What would laypeople know about a potential abuser? Would they get a background check printout before voting? All of the previous points except this one are orthodox and do not challenge apostolic tradition. The popular election of bishops would do grave damage to
Holy Orders. Only place left to go then would be Constantinople or Moscow.

tony said...

Yeah. Not down with popular election of bishops. Sometimes the unpopular bishop is required to set a parish straight.

And I'm on board in defending the Pope these days. Its hogwash, if you ask me to consider him complicit in these scandals. Hindsight might reveal ignorance but not necessarily negligence. Not everyone is to blame to blame. Not all, as I discussed with sortacatholic today over brunch, have their hands soiled in this mess. Massive restructuring? Maybe. Restructuring where necessary? Definitely. But do YOU know where, exactly; and who? I think you don't.

Which is why you'd just like to see the whole thing come down and a new one go up. Which might be pragmatic in terms of Church-world relations, but c'mon. You're still pushing for this extremism, friend? How would we be so sure management would be any better with the replacements? Moreover, and more fundamentally, how would these candidates be selected? There is no sorting hat, like in Harry Potter. So I ask you again: Assuming BXVI agreed to step down (stupid) along with every other bishop on the face of the planet (equally ridiculous and simply implausible!), how are you so sure we wouldn't be stuck with a worse liberal crack house?

I know you're a man of action. You're also intelligent, and quite reasonable. But (!) you're also a man of passion. I think the man of passion is winning on this one.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I would guess St. Ambrose was the exception, not the norm.

A Sinner said...

To clarify: I most definitely am NOT for the popular election of bishops. I was just listing examples of the SORTS of fundamental constitutional changes to the socio-political structure of the clergy that it would take to take to convince people. I've updated the post to explain this.

At the same time, I will say we need to wean off the system whereby the Vatican directly appoints all Western bishops. Popular election is not an option, but election by the Chapter of Canons of the cathedral, as used to be the case, merely "confirmed" by the Pope...would be an ideal to strive to eventually get back to.

"But do YOU know where, exactly; and who? I think you don't."

I know that the fact that Cardinal Law hasn't been totally defrocked is a disgrace.

And why is Egan still a cardinal?

And, as I said, personal innocence really doesn't matter here when moral credibility comes from the media. At that point, you sacrifice your own career and reputation and step aside for the good of the Church, to minimize the "scandal" they were so worried about in the past. Like Gregory XII did to end the Western Schism.

As I've said before, I don't particularly want the Pope himself to resign, but if he doesn't do THAT...then he has to do SOMETHING. And it's going to have to be structural change. Constitutional change to the whole social structure of the clergy.

"How would we be so sure management would be any better with the replacements? Moreover, and more fundamentally, how would these candidates be selected?"

Massive personnel overhaul is one thing. And the replacements are going to have to be OUTSIDERS.

There are plenty of priests in the world who I know wouldn't take crap.

As I've said before, why do we have a hierarchy (especially in the Curia) of theologians? They're trained to theologize, not to lead.

It's tough, asking a bureaucracy to self-reform. Because, as you say, how do you choose the replacements? Well, maybe the example of St Ambrose gives us an idea.