Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Outside Experts Are Needed

This article by Thomas Reese makes some good points, and it gets to the heart of what I've been saying about the outrage not even being about the problem of abuse itself anymore, nor even the cover-ups (both of which are more and more being seen as just symptoms)...but about the meta-problem of reforming the structures of management and clerical culture that allowed (and, I would argue, encouraged) such dynamics to occur:
The two interventions point to a fatal flaw in the papacy of John Paul II. John Paul trusted those who cheered him and tried to crush those who questioned his ideas or actions. This led him to trust Maciel and distrust questioning Jesuits.

Having grown up in a persecuted church where unity was a mater of survival, John Paul could not accept open debate and discussion in the church. Loyalty was more important than intelligence or pastoral skill. As a result, the quality of bishops appointed under him declined, as did the competence of people working in the Vatican.

...the sad truth is that while he was good for the world, he was bad for the church. His suppression of theological discussion and debate, his insensitivity to women's issues, and his appointments kept the church from responding pastorally and intelligently not only to the sexual abuse crisis but to other issues facing the church.

I have no doubt that John Paul is in heaven, but the effort to canonize him should be put on hold along with that of Pius XII.

But the Vatican response needs to focus not only on the Legionaries but also on itself. Why did it take 13 years for the Vatican to intervene? Why did the Congregation for Religious not investigate the numerous accusations against Maciel? Why did it approve such a defective constitution in the first place? ["Why?" is the big question. The answer that it was just "human sin" or lack of spiritual rigor or non-enforcement of regulations is a trivial non-answer. They need to be willing to examine their own structures when it comes to why all this stuff was allowed to go on, positively enabled through gross negligence even by those not directly guilty, for so long, and how accountability can be added to the system.] Is it true, as Jason Berry alleges in the National Catholic Reporter, that Maciel used Legionaries' money to buy influence with cardinals in the Vatican?

If the pope wants to deal with the core issue, he should hire an outside management consulting firm to answer these questions and to make recommendations on improving the Vatican curia. The sexual abuse crisis was not only caused by bad priest, it was compounded by bad management at the diocesan and Vatican level.

It will be too easy to blame John Paul for these failures without recognizing that the Vatican has systemic flaws. First among these is a culture that prizes loyalty above competence. The Vatican still acts more like a royal court than a modern bureaucracy. Cardinals and bishops in the Vatican act like and are treated like papal nobility and princes rather than civil servants. There is no theological reason why any Vatican official needs to be a bishop or cardinal.

The Catholic Church encourages the faithful to examine their consciences. The pope and the Vatican need to examine why the church failed as an institution to respond appropriately to the sexual abuse crisis. Such an examination must lead to repentance and change.

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