Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Tide Turning

When even your friends start criticizing, you know something's up. From a Politics Daily article:
"There is absolutely no strategy, and I say that as a friend of the pope's," said an American bishop who travels to Rome regularly and voiced the frustration shared by many churchmen in the U.S. and elsewhere. Apparently, that sentiment is not widely-held in the upper echelons of the Roman Curia, the papal bureaucracy. "I don't think they know how to handle this."
Yes, "restless" is how I'd describe myself. I was a fan once, but he hasn't failed to disappoint:
In the United States -- where Catholics practice the faith more devoutly than in any other industrialized nation, and back it up with donations that are the Vatican's single biggest income stream -- Benedict's fan base is also growing restless, and even angry.

Conservative Catholics like writer Peggy Noonan have been taking the Vatican to task in The Wall Street Journal ("The Vatican badly needs new blood-and a woman's touch," she wrote) and in The New York Times, Ross Douthat said it was time for Benedict to perform an act of contrition (though Douthat also said Benedict looks good compared to John Paul's record -- which is a remarkable observation about the late, and much beloved, Polish pope).
I've also talked about how being a theologian is absolutely not what we want in a Pope:
Almost from the start, churchmen inside the Vatican and around the world complained that Benedict was not consulting widely if at all, even on critical decisions, and that he was refusing to delegate even the more prosaic papal duties. Instead he continued to focus on his own writing projects -- such as a work on the Jesus of history and faith, which has become a two-volume treatise expected to be completed this year -- and on preparing his lucid and profound homilies and other talks on the religious life.

When Benedict did bring on aides to help run his administration they also tended to be, quite naturally, theologically-minded colleagues like himself, and some of them veterans of his own staff at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The most notable appointment was that of Cardinal Bertone, a canon lawyer by training who worked for Ratzinger for years at the CDF, as Vatican Secretary of State, the key position at the Holy See. Bertone immediately telegraphed his preference for stressing moral truths over diplomatic niceties by saying he thought of himself as a "Secretary of Church" rather than a Secretary of State. Or, as the Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister summed up the new administration, "Less diplomacy and more Gospel."

The slogan fit, but hasn't worked out so well.
And here George Weigel even uses the term "scholar-pope"! Someone once suggested to me banning men with doctorates from becoming bishops. Maybe that is a good idea:
"I don't know what Bertone's gifts are," said George Weigel, a Catholic conservative and author of the most comprehensive biography of John Paul II. "He's a canonist, not a theologian, but he's simply not up to running the Church for a scholar-pope who has his own priorities," added Weigel.
The problem is with these damn nerds in the upper levels of the Church! We need a healthy dose of anti-intellectualism, perhaps, to qualify our anti-clericalism. At least, anti-academia:
Still, even in March, as the revelations were piling up and the heat on the pope was growing intense, Benedict continued to stress the importance of a theological approach to church governance, telling a public audience that to govern is "above all to think and to pray." [ Such passivity in our leaders is how children get molested.] The problem is that while theologians may be able to figure out the sex of angels, they are not necessarily so good at figuring out how to deal with a crisis like sex abuse in the clergy.
And it's a bunch of prissy little Catholic-nerds in the media who are rallying around him now too, because they were using him as a crutch for their own self-esteem, something they don't deserve (wow...I never though I of all people would be saying that!) But can you really expect not to attract a fair number of this type of man, considering that the criterion is basically choosing to spend life in a bureaucratic world of adult male virgins?
That's not how it was supposed to be, as one of the great hopes of Catholics -- not least those among Benedict's conservative fan base -- was that as pope, Joseph Ratzinger would be in the perfect position to finally reform the Roman Curia. During all his years at the CDF, Ratzinger was a leader of the curia who knew its problems, but was not a curial animal who played the byzantine games the papal court is known for. Now it may be too late.

"That he has done virtually nothing to reform the Curia is, to my mind, perhaps the greatest disappointment of the last five years," Weigel said via e-mail. "It [the curia] doesn't work; he gets hurt by its not working; but he seems unwilling or unable to do something about it, if the doing of it would cause anyone pain."

So yes, the Vatican -- and the church -- needs a capable administrative hand on the tiller, and one that is not afraid to ruffle feathers among those closest to him.

But if poor management helped land Benedict and the Vatican in this mess, good management is only part of the solution. Catholics also want a pope who can display the same sort of self-critical reflection that is expected of Christians, and that pontiffs regularly exhort their flocks to practice. In the context of the church, one might say, good management is a function of good Christian practices -- the kind of approach that would not have allowed child abusers to go unchecked in the first place, or would repent of shielding them as soon as it became clear how wrong that was.

Whether Benedict will do that kind of public penance, or can at this point, may depend on how willing he is to reconsider his track record, not just whether he can improve his crisis-management skills.

The omens are not promising. As a leading Vatican expert, John Allen, recalls, after Ratzinger was blasted for a speech he delivered in Paris a few years ago he confided to friends that the negative reactions didn't faze him.

"I'm like the cellist Rostropovich," he joked. "I never read the critics."

Today, however, they're impossible to avoid.
What an obscure nerdy little joke. Cellist?! Good grief. Now I see why they get beat up on the playground. Pathetic ivory-tower bookworms. Someone ought to go to the Vatican, grab their silk underwear ,and give them wedgies.

I'm just sick of all this. If he doesn't do something dramatic soon (and the longer he waits, the bigger it will have to be) then it's getting close to time for him to resign and live out his sad delusional life playing piano and mentally masturbating with his egghead little "musings" and his cats.

Enough is enough. I'm starting to think the Orthodox are right about the corrupting influence of Western "theology".

No comments: