Thursday, November 18, 2010

"They Just Don't Know What's Going On..."

Many of you probably saw this on Fr. Z already, but for those of you who have the good taste to refrain from that particular spectacle (I myself can't resist watching the insanity; which in this case is actually a portmanteau for "insane" and "inanity")...I thought the following article was very good, and all the more amazing given that even Fr. Z seems to agree with a lot of it. Of course, many of his readers in the comment section still seem unconvinced and dead-set on defending the bureaucracy, living in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of papolatry and institutionalism-fetish...

If you are waiting for the Vatican to make clear, immediate and transparent responses to the ongoing global sexual abuse crisis ... well, don't hold your breath, two Vatican experts said Monday at a media seminar.

Neither can you expect anything to come from the 30 minutes or so that the world's cardinals will address this topic, among five topics on their agenda at their business meeting in Rome on Friday.

The frankly grim visions of Vatican structure and function -- in crisis moments and daily governance of a church of 1.2 billion people -- came from George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II and author of numerous books on the Church and John Allen, the National Catholic Reporter Vatican specialist for 15 years and a biographer of Pope Benedict XVI.

They agreed there is, essentially, no media strategy, no war room, no one with a handle on reforming communications or, worse, reforming the governing structure itself.

They spoke to reporters and columnists at this week's Faith Angle conference sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center on how the media has covered the 2002 explosion of the abuse crisis in the USA and the Spring 2010 sweep of the crisis across Europe.

Vatican officials, Weigel said, "can appear to be dissembling or disinterested when there is no well-formed intent to deceive, they just don't know what's going on," said Weigel. And their default position -- no story is a good story -- "is completely dumb."

He bluntly reminded the media that the pope is not a monarch, the bishops are not "branch managers," that he can appoint them but, realistically, he can't dump them for incompetence or malfeasance.

The Vatican's internal system of information is so antiquated that Pope Benedict XVI was blindsided by the failure of his staff to discover the common knowledge on the Internet that the renegade prelate he wanted to reel back into the church, Bishop Richard Williamson, was "a world class lunatic," said Weigel."

Weigel's answers: "The Vatican communications debacle has to end" and the Church must find a way to dump bad bishops, which he called, "...the single biggest management problem in the church today... and the single biggest fix that can affect the life of the Church."

Allen echoed Weigel's' points and added the obvious problem of the culture gap between the Americans and the Italian-dominated Vatican. Americans expect leaders to pounce on problems, "act and act now" but the Vatican culture is one of ruminating, often for years, simmering and studying and, in some corners of the curia (the church government in Rome) fretting about conspiracies.

Allen walked through the most controversial cases Benedict had a hand in when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and confronting the abuse crisis. The argument by supporters of Benedict is that he was the reformer who read every vile case of clerical abuse of a minor and kick started the church's response, finally, between 2001 and 2003.

But, says Allen, "If you want to say Benedict is the reformer, you have to explain the opposition he faced in the Vatican, what he did to overcome other officials and what those others did wrong. They have no way in their culture, no vocabulary, for saying anything critical about each other."

This governance mess is why a great teaching pope's legacy -- brilliant speeches, letters and books -- could be lost in coverage of the schoolhouse on fire, he said. Allen concluded, "The papacy is adrift and has been for a long time...(It is) a papacy defined by its train wrecks."

Allen quoted a favorite Italian newspaper headline printed after the Vatican took 19 days to debunk a false rumor: "The Vatican denies everything. No one believes it."

Thus the irony. When Ratzinger was elected pope, some in the media, including USA TODAY, revived the image of him as John Paul II's enforcer, as the Rottweiler. Said Weigel: "It turns out he's not a Rottweiler after all. People thought he would dramatically reform the Roman curia and that turns out to be an inadequate expectation. I think he thought he would die soon, so he would focus on what he knew best and leave the institutional rebuilding to the next guy."

And when that day comes, Weigel and Allen agreed, expect a long, long conclave as the cardinals look among themselves for someone with a demonstrated track record of managerial talent in the Vatican swamp.

While Benedict seems likely to be pope for years to come, what qualities would you want to see in his successor? Does the Church need a theologian with a CEO set of skills?


sortacatholic said...


Let's say it again. Wow.

Even the WDTPRS crew, the most loyal of the loyal, are calling for fundamental changes in curial government. Look at those piggies floating past my window!

Seriously, now even the ultra-dox are calling for the obvious: more transparency, more public accountability, more media savvy. I completely agree with those that want this curial meeting on TV and the internet. We the laity, the world, need to put the cardinals and the Pope in the spotlight and on the hot seat. How long can the cardinals shy from major structural changes when the electronic eye is focused on them?

No matter how desperate the situation, Pope Benedict and his loyal curial bloc will not throw themselves open to the world. If only they knew the way in which they have deeply alienated lukewarm Catholics and have even begun to weary the old guard. Bl. John XXIII propped open the windows. It's time to blow the barn doors down.

PS Spare me the "Williamson was a PR disaster" line. George Weigel knows better than that. I personally suspect Pope Benedict knew damn well that Bp. Williamson was a Holocaust denier. This was foreshadowed in Benedict's earlier refusal to revise the 1962 Good Friday presanctified liturgy according to Nostra Aetate. This move was certainly intended to appease the SSPX. Would Dietrich Bonhoeffer have sacrificed true grace to appeal to evil men? Bonhoeffer took up his cross instead. Benedict dropped his and ran.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, Bp. Williamson is not an evil man, even if he is a loon. The Holy Father knew all about his views but went ahead and dropped the excommunications anyway because it was the right thing to do. He even had to leak the document in advance to a blogger, in order to get round both the blockers in the Curia and their lackeys in the mainstream media.

Secondly, yes, of course we want more transparency. But the Secretariat of State is still in charge and they absolutely hate Ratzinger and the CDF (and spiritual, non-institutional Catholicism generally). Being able to see what they're up to would mean the Pope (with the support of most of the worldwide Catholic laity) would have to be in charge rather than they. Effectively it would be the end of their fun little fifteen-hundred-year-old power trip.

It ain't going to happen.

sortacatholic said...

I don't care about the legal justifications for lifting the automatic excommunications of three SSPX prelates. Both De Mallerais and Williamson have been known for their anti-Semitic comments. These statements are on the public record. Pope Benedict should have demanded that they publicly recant before lifting their automatic excommunications. Moral integrity must go before ecclesiastical justice. I suspect that neither prelate will ever fully repent of their hatred. For this reason they should never have been readmitted to the Church. Anti-Semitism is mortal sin, end stop, regardless of the desire of some traditional Catholics to bring rad trads back into the fold.

My views on the subject of anti-Semitism and Catholic traditionalism, should you care. This hatred is destroying the traditional movement, and the SSPX are emblematic of how deep-seated hatred inevitably corrupts the beauty and profundity of the Holy Mass.

As for Pope Benedict's willingness to call a televised consistory or even synod: don't pin it on the Secretary of State. Bl. John XXIII was able to initiate an ecumenical council largely on his own initiative. No, neither Pope Benedict nor the Curia want to admit and confront the extensive moral rot in the clergy. Justice, ethics, and morality demand that they do so. The time is now, as the Church cannot wait another second to address the deep crisis in leadership and socio-spiritual psychosis.